Artist, Writer… Know Thyself!

2016 Artwork Artist writer know thyself

Although this is an article about learning more about yourself, I’m going to have to start by talking about myself for a few paragraphs. There’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious later.

Anyway, when it comes to both art and writing, one of the things that I have learnt about myself is that I tend to work best when my art and/or writing includes a high level of either visual and/or emotional intensity.

When I make art, I tend to feel at my best when my art contains bold contrasts between light and darkness. I tend to work best when my art has an underlying gloom, which allows the central parts of the picture to stand out even more by comparison.

After I scan my art, I usually digitally decrease the brightness levels and increase the contrast levels, to give my paintings a “vivid” look. Likewise, I also enjoy producing striking black & white drawings, which require a heavy amount of contrast between lighter and darker areas in order to really stand out.

When it comes to writing, I’ve found that I tend to do my best work when my fiction is related to “emotional” genres like the comedy genre or the horror genre. These are genres that are designed to provoke an intense emotional reaction in the reader.

Interestingly, these genres share a lot of features with each other – from the impish feeling of inventiveness that is needed to come up with good story ideas, to the fact that all of these genres rely on anticipation or suspense (eg: they all use similar types of pacing), to the heavy focus on clever and dramatic descriptions.

Most of my writings that have “pretty much written themselves” have been in at least one of these emotionally-intense genres – for example, my interactive story from last October, includes both comedy and horror.

By learning all of this, I’m able to produce better and more distinctive work by playing to my strengths. But, how did I learn all of this and, more importantly, how can you learn more about yourself as a writer and an artist? There are several ways to do this.

The simplest and most obvious way to learn these kinds of things is just through experience and a lot of practice. If you write a lot or make art regularly, then you’ll eventually learn what works for you and what doesn’t. For example, thanks to lots of practice with making comics, I now know that I tend to produce my best comics if I spend no more than a week on a comics project and if I use black & white artwork for narrative comics and colour artwork for “newspaper comic”-style webcomics.

Likewise, from countless failed attempts at writing novels when I was teenager, I’ve learnt that I tend to do my best writing when I’m writing either short stories and/or novella-length fiction. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn through simple experience and failure.

Another way to work out more about yourself is just to follow your feelings and your instincts. If you’re fascinated by a particular type of fiction or art, then try to make some of it yourself and see how it feels. If the experience doesn’t feel as great as you expected, then either move on to something else or try adding something from another genre that you like. However, if the experience feels more like fun than work, then you’ve learnt something about yourself.

Finally, if you really don’t know that much about yourself creatively, then just take a look at your favourite things. You’d be surprised at how much you can learn about your artistic and/or literary sensibilities just from looking at the things that you really love. Although most artists and writers don’t really understand all of their influences until after they’ve been influenced, you’d be surprised at how much you can learn about yourself from just looking at the things that have the most impact on you.

For example, the largest influences on my high-contrast art style include cool things that I loved when I was a teenager (and still do) such as the movie “Blade Runner” (with it’s gloomy settings and neon-lit streets) to Derek Riggs’ excellent cover artwork for many of Iron Maiden’s albums. These were things that I loved long before I really considered myself to be an artist and it’s only within the past couple of years that I’ve realised just how much of an influence they’ve had on my art.

Likewise, the influences on my writing include things like the ultra-gruesome second-hand 1970s-90s splatterpunk novels that I eagerly read when I was a teenager, to the William Gibson cyberpunk novels (which use a very intense and fast-paced narrative style) that I enjoyed during my late teens and early twenties.

These are just a few of the ways that you can learn more about yourself as a writer and an artist, but if you want to produce things that both you and other people think are cool, then you’re going to have to learn where your strengths lie.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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