Three Basic Tips For Making Tenebrist Art

Well, for today, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about using my favourite lighting style in your paintings or drawings. I am, of course, talking about gloomy, shadowy tenebrist lighting.

So, how do you use this amazing style of lighting?

1) Black paint/ink: I’ve mentioned this rule more times than I can remember, but it is always worth repeating. Try to make sure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of your painting or drawing is covered with solid black paint or ink. Like in this digitally-edited painting of mine:

“Spotlight” By C. A. Brown

Not only does this make any lighting or colours you add to your art stand out a lot more by contrast, but it is pretty much essential to creating the type of gloomy, tenebristic look that you want to achieve.

2) Light sources: Although darkness might be the most noticeable feature of a tenebrist painting, the genre is actually all about painting light. It is about playing with light and/or using light to draw the audience’s attention to a certain area of the picture.

Generally speaking, it’s best to only have one major light source in your tenebrist painting (with perhaps a couple of smaller ones in the distant background at most). Whether this light source actually appears in your painting (eg: a computer monitor, a lamp etc..) or whether it is outside of the picture, you need to know where your light source is and to paint your lighting accordingly.

If you don’t know how to do this, then just imagine a 3D model of everything in your painting. The sides of everything that are facing towards the light source should be either the same colour as the light (if the light is red, green, blue, yellow, orange, purple etc..) or they should just be brighter (if the light is white). Conversely, the other side of everything should be darker (and should have shadows behind it).

Another way to think about it is to imagine “rays” of light emerging from your light source. Everything they touch should be brighter. Here’s a diagram to show you what I mean.

This is a quick diagram showing rays of light radiating out from a light source. The areas facing towards the light source are brighter, whereas the areas facing away from it are darker.

3) Realism (doesn’t matter as much as you think): Although it is important to understand the basics of painting realistic lighting, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

If you are faced with a choice between illuminating a part of your picture that you want your audience to see and being ultra-realistic, then go with the former. As long as the lighting looks reasonably right and helps to add visual drama to your picture, then it’s ok to use a bit of artistic licence. For example, here’s a preview of one of my upcoming paintings.

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 18th October.

The main light sources in this painting are the ominous green sunset and the light behind the door. Yet, several of the shadows are technically in the wrong place. However, this was done for artistic reasons. For example, the light on the door has a large shadow above it, which is unrealistic but it makes the light stand out more by contrast.

Likewise, the far wall is a lot gloomier at one side than the other – in a way that implies that the light source is in a different place to where it should be. Again, this was done for an artistic reason:

The “unrealistic” shadow at the right-hand edge of this wall is there to add depth and to signify that the two walls are not connected.

So, yes, it’s ok not to be 100% realistic with your lighting if there’s a valid artistic reason for it. Still, try to make sure that the lighting looks at least vaguely realistic at first glance.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Making Art – Do The “Graphics” Matter? – A Ramble

Although I was being a little bit facetious with the title of this article, I thought that I’d talk about things like realism, visual detail etc.. in art today. And how important they actually are when you are making art.

If you’re a regular reader, you probably already know my attitudes towards “graphics” in computer and video games. Basically, since I can count the number of years in which I’ve been even vaguely “up to date” with mainstream gaming on the fingers of one hand, I generally tend not to care whether a game looks ultra-realistic or not.

In fact, I’d actually argue that less realistic graphics are better – since they not only make the audience use their imaginations more, but they also mean that the people making the game have to impress the audience by actually making the game fun, interesting, creative, compelling etc… instead of just dazzling them with almost photo-realistic visuals.

So, I wondered… is the same sort of thing is true with traditional/digital art?

The simple answer is yes… and no. Although art might appear to be literally nothing more than “graphics” at first glance, I’d argue that there are a lot of underlying things that are equally important as absolute technical perfection.

These include things like the artist’s use of things like colour and lighting, the composition of a drawing or painting (eg: where everything is placed in the picture), visual storytelling, having a unique style (developed through practice and taking inspiration from lots of different things), subject matter, humour, atmosphere etc…

To give you an example of this, here’s a preview of a digitally-edited gothic horror painting of mine that will be posted here in a few days time.

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 13th October.

On a purely technical level, this isn’t one of my best works. For starters, the woman by the window has an eerily long neck and ridiculously long arms. Likewise, some of the shadows are probably in the wrong places too.

But, I tried to compensate for this by creating a gloomy, gothic and ominous atmosphere through the use of things like chiaoroscuro lighting, old fashioned location/fashion designs, an imposingly tall background and a slightly unsettling variation on a yellow/purple complementary colour scheme.

Likewise, I’ve added some mysterious visual storytelling to the picture by drawing the woman looking out of the window at something. Even though this picture was terrible on a technical level, I actually quite liked the finished painting.

So, if you’re even vaguely ok at using underlying elements like the ones I’ve mentioned, then your audience will probably be more willing to overlook any technical shortcomings in your art for the simple reason that they’re either more interested in the overall “look” or “atmosphere” of the picture, or what is happening in it.

A great example of this sort of thing can be found in regularly-updated webcomics and syndicated newspaper comics. Since they to be made in a short space of time, the “graphics” tend to be a lot more basic and minimalist.

Yet, this doesn’t matter in the slightest because the audience is more focused on things like the characters, dialogue and humour. The classic example of this is the webcomic XKCD – the characters are literally stick figures, yet it is rightly one of the most popular webcomics on the internet because of the clever humour, writing etc…

But, at the same time, “graphics” still matter to a certain extent if you are making art. After all, in order to express yourself visually as well as possible, you need to put in the practice and learn the basics.

You need to learn things like the rules of perspective, colour theory, the basics of drawing people, the basics of realistic lighting etc… So, yes, some level of technical skill is still needed. Not only will gaining more technical skills will allow you to draw more stuff and it will also help you to impress the harshest critic of all… yourself.

I mean, when I decided to start practicing every day in 2012, my art looked a bit like this….

“Midnight Haunting” By C. A. Brown [26th April 2012]

And, no, I’m not going to say how old I was then. Other than to say my art looked like something someone half my age could have drawn. But, I kept drawing (and, later, painting) because I enjoyed making art and I wanted to be an artist. I wanted to make art that looked cool.

So, I kept putting in the practice and gradually, I got better at it (to the point where the art I make actually looks a bit like the scenes I’m imagining when I draw or paint them). I’ve probably still got a long way to go, but learning technical skills through lots of regular practice really helped a lot.

So, yes, “graphics” do matter when you’re making art. However, they aren’t the only thing that matters. Things like personality, clever design decisions, visual storytelling etc.. matter just as much as technical perfection and/or realism do.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Reasons Why Creating Stuff With Older And/Or Low-Tech Tools Is Awesome

A few days before I wrote this article, I happened to read a really interesting BBC Future article about modern photographers who enjoy using primitive low-tech cameras that were originally designed to be affordable cameras for people in 1980s China.

This made me think about the subject of creating things with older and/or low-tech tools, since I usually tend to do a mild version of this sort of thing. For example, here’s a preview of one of my upcoming digitally-edited drawings.

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size picture will be posted here on the 8th October.

The line art was drawn with a pen and pencil, then it was scanned using a mid-’00s scanner connected to a mid-’00s computer. Then, the image editing and digital colouring was done using an old program from 1999 (“Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6” if anyone’s curious). The most modern element of the production process was some small corrections I made using a version of MS Paint from 2007 (but could have probably been done in even older versions of the program).

Although I often use watercolour pencils rather than digital tools to add colours, this is pretty much my “ordinary” routine for making art. Yes, all of this stuff isn’t exactly that old-fashioned, but it probably gives me some vague insight into why using older or low-tech tools to create things is so awesome 🙂 So, here are some of the reasons:

1) Simplicity: Old and low-tech tools can sometimes be a lot simpler and more user-friendly. For example, although I’ve dabbled with graphics tablets in the past, nothing is more intuitive than just using a pen and/or pencil when it comes to drawing complex things. You don’t have to worry about drivers, settings or anything like that – you just draw.

Likewise, older graphics programs contain all of the basic features that can be used for editing art. They aren’t filled with that much needlessly complicated stuff. Plus, because they’re designed for older computers, they tend to load ultra-quickly and apply image effects ultra-quickly when used on very slightly more modern computers. In other words, they don’t get in the way of what you’re trying to do with them.

2) Skills: Another great thing about old/low-tech tools is that they place much more emphasis on skill. Not only can this provide an interesting challenge (like making art with a mouse and MS Paint), but it also increases your creative confidence too. I mean, if you’re used to creating stuff using old/low-tech stuff, then you can create with pretty much anything.

If you use older and/or low-tech tools, you also need to think about ways to use them inventively. In other words, you need to be more willing to experiment and to have more of a knowledge of the underlying principles of your chosen field. After all, your tools won’t do everything for you. This can also put you in a more creative frame of mind too.

In other words, these things remind you that practice, creativity and skills matter more than the tools you use.

3) Egalitarianism: Simply put, there’s something wonderfully egalitarian about slightly older and/or low-tech tools. Usually, these types of tools are cheaper and/or more easily available than their more modern equivalents.

For example, compare a freeware open-source image editing program like “GIMP” to a certain well-known modern “software as a service” commercial image editing program with higher system requirements and a monthly subscription fee. Yes, the latter may be trendier and have more fancy features. But the former can be used by anyone on both older and newer computers that run a wide range of operating systems. One program is more democratic than the other.

There’s a beautiful egalitarianism to older and/or low-tech stuff that you just don’t get with “the latest thing”. And this is really cool 🙂 The tools for creating things shouldn’t be restricted to the wealthy (directly or indirectly) or controlled by a corporation or anything like that. They belong to everyone.

Or, to give another example, ordinary ballpoint pens have been around for a few decades and they are everywhere. You’re probably within a couple of metres of one right now. They are made by many different companies. They are compatible with both cheap and expensive paper. They cost pennies. They are sometimes given away for free. They can last for months or years. They are a great example of what all creative tools should be like.

4) Timelessness: Simply put, making things using older or low-tech tools makes your creative works feel more timeless. Going back to the digitally-edited drawing I showed you earlier, I love the fact that this picture could technically have been made as long ago as 1999. That it could, theoretically, have existed any time within about the past two decades.

By making things with tools that could have been used ten years ago or fifty years ago or whatever, you get to feel like you’re part of a much larger tradition. You get to feel like the things you create could potentially have existed in the past or that they could exist in the distant future. This is a really difficult feeling to describe, but it’s a really cool one to experience.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Another “Alternate Versions” Art Preview :)

Well, since the critic-style article I’d planned to post today didn’t seem as good on reflection as it had done when I’d originally written it, I didn’t really feel like posting it.

Still, since I also didn’t want to post nothing today, I thought that I’d show off some alternate “work in progress” versions of paintings that will appear here next August/September.

And, yes, although the daily art posts appearing here between about mid-late January and mid-June 2019 will mostly consist of photo-based landscapes, there will be a much greater mixture between these and my more usual type of paintings after this 🙂

Anyway, here are some “work in progress” versions of next August/September’s paintings. Enjoy 🙂

“Wine At Midnight [Version without digital lighting effects]” By C. A. Brown

“The Beastly Barn [Version without rain effects or digital gloom effects]” By C. A. Brown

“Botley – Industrial [Version without digital gloom effects]” By C. A. Brown

“Market Street [Version with alternate colour scheme and without digital lighting effects]” By C. A. Brown

“Portsdown Hill – Bushes [Version without digital gloom effects]” By C. A. Brown

The Complete “Work In Progress” Line Art For My “Damania Reconnected” Webcomic Mini Series

Well, since my “Damania Reconnected” webcomic mini series finished recently, I thought that I’d do my usual thing of showing off the “work in progress” line art from when I was making the comic.

Given that this comic had a somewhat rushed production schedule, there were a few art/dialogue changes between the line art and the finished comics. The most notable examples can be found in the final panel of the first comic (which went through a couple of slight art changes and a major dialogue change [mostly because I worried that the Brexit-related satire in the original comic didn’t quite work, so I changed it to a line about driving quickly]) and in the third panel of the final comic (where Harvey’s dialogue is completely different).

You can click on each piece of line art to see a larger version of it. Enjoy 🙂

“Damania Reconnected – Return (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconnected – Hurly Burly (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconnected – Watchman (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconnected – Epic Quest (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconnected – Campfire (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconnected – Let There Be Light (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

When To Wait For Inspiration (And When Not To) – A Ramble

Well, since I’m busy making this month’s webcomic mini series (which will be a stand-alone mini series that also follows on from the events of this mini series) at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk about when to wait for inspiration (and when not to).

But, first, here’s a preview of the first update from the new mini series which will start appearing here tonight:

Stay tuned for the full comic update this evening 🙂

Although I’ve written before about how waiting for inspiration can reduce your creativity, there are circumstances where it can come in handy.

The trick is to either set yourself a deadline and/or have some kind of backup plan for what to make if you don’t feel inspired. Basically, if you know that you are going to make something in the near future regardless of how inspired you feel, then waiting for inspiration can actually be useful.

The trick here is to see waiting for inspiration as a chance to improve something you’re already going to make rather than something that is absolutely necessary in order to create anything. In other words, getting a moment of inspiration before you start your next project should be a bonus rather than a requirement.

But, it is very important to set time limits to stop yourself waiting for months or years, instead of days or weeks. Plus, if you know that you are going to make something before a specific time, then this shifts your focus towards searching for ideas and being attentive for any moments of inspiration rather than the tedium of just waiting and waiting for a good idea to finally appear in your mind.

Likewise, having a backup plan (even a mediocre one) for your next comic, story etc… means that the stakes are slightly lower. It means that, even if inspiration doesn’t arrive, it isn’t the end of the world because you can still make something. This takes a lot of the pressure off of you and this can help to put you in a better frame of mind for having moments of creative inspiration.

To give you an example of all of this in practice, the webcomic mini series I’m making at the moment was something I’d initially dreaded making. I realised that I had to make a comic for this month, but I just didn’t have the enthusiasm or energy for it.

But, I knew that I was going to make one within the next few days (after all, I’d set myself an informal time limit). Then, that afternoon, I happened to see a parody of “Star Trek” on the internet. And, shrugging, I thought “A ‘Star Trek’ parody is as good an idea as any“. So, I started making a rough plan:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This is an extract from the rough plan for a “Star Trek” parody comic I’d planned to make for the next instalment of my long-running occasional webcomic.

So, I started to plan out a six-page parody comic where my characters travel forward in time and get mistaken for the inhabitants of a desert planet by a visiting spaceship. But, the planet turns out to be the barren post-apocalyptic ruins of Earth in the distant future and Derek gets blamed for destroying the planet (after foolishly claiming to be the leader of it).

But, before he can be put on trial, he gets let off because one of the other characters mentions that they’re from the 21st century. The spaceship captain has a geeky obsession with the 21st century. So, the captain shows them his collection of 21st century artefacts but Roz and Rox end up looking at books/films that haven’t been released yet, causing a rift in the space-time continuum that….. Yeah, it wasn’t the best idea ever.

But, it was an idea. It now meant that I didn’t have to worry about not having an idea for a webcomic mini series. Still, since I had a few days, I decided to wait and see if a better idea would turn up. And, the next day, there was a power cut in the early evening. Needless to say, this seemed like a much more amusing source of inspiration for a comic. And, to my surprise, I’d planned and started the mini series the day afterwards.

So, the lesson here is that it’s ok to wait for inspiration if you also have a deadline and/or a backup idea (in case inspiration doesn’t appear). But don’t rely on waiting for inspiration if you don’t have either of these things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Technical Tips For Painting From Memory

Although I wrote about painting from memory recently and have also talked about the basics of how to memorise something you see, I thought that I’d offer a few technical tips today.

This is mostly because I ended up making yet another memory painting when I happened to see a familiar building from a slightly different angle during a walk and then memorised the scene before me (after about 20-40 seconds of constant observation), in order to start painting it about 20-30 minutes later – whilst also relying on older memories of the area too. Here’s a preview:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 8th September.

And here are some technical tips for painting from memory. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to assume that you already know all of the basic artistic skills (eg: perspective, drawing “3D” scenes, painting from life etc…) that are a basic underlying requirement for memorising things in order to paint them later.

1) Focus on key details: In addition to memorising the basic shapes/outlines and colours of what you’ve seen, it can also be useful to memorise a few key details. Often, these will be things that grab your attention quickly (so, you won’t have to search for them). But, try to focus on only memorising the most important details. After all, if you try to memorise too much, then the memory won’t be as clear or long-lasting.

Incorporating 2-3 key details into your painting will give it an instant impression of authenticity, whilst also providing something for you to guess/interpret/extrapolate other details from when you are converting your small collection of memorised shapes, colours and details into a coherent painting.

For example, in the painting I showed you earlier, the two key details (other than the shape of the building) were the fact that there was a tree in front of the building, the small cross/fleur-de-lis on top of the building and the general shape and position of the sign from the neighbouring pub.

So, memorising a very small number of key details (in addition to the usual shapes/colours) can give your memory painting more of an authentic look, even if you either have to guess/extrapolate other details or rely on much older and vaguer memories for the rest of the picture.

2) Sketch as soon as possible!: I know that I’ve mentioned this before but, once you’ve memorised something you’ve seen, you need to get that memory down on paper as quickly as you can before it starts to fade.

This sketch doesn’t have to be large or elaborate. It just needs to include the basic shapes/outlines of everything, any important details and possibly a few written notes about colours or other elements of the picture. Here’s the sketch from the picture I showed you earlier – its really tiny and it took me less than two minutes.

This is the sketch for the picture earlier. I didn’t even bother with an underlying pencil drawing here, I just drew it with my usual drawing pen.

Make your sketch quickly and just focus on drawing out the rudimentary shapes/details that you’ve actually memorised. You can add detail and use artistic licence later when you’re making the final painting.

3) Once you’ve learnt it, that’s it:
Although it can take a bit of practice and trial-and-error to learn how to memorise the things you see, the skill is similar to riding a bicycle. In other words, once you’ve learnt how to do it (through practice and experience), then it won’t be something that you’ll forget. In other words, it’s a skill that is very resistant to disuse.

For example, I’ve made two memory paintings recently. Here’s a preview of the other one (and, yes, I know that the full-size painting was meant to appear here four days ago. But, due to a scheduling mishap, it won’t appear until the 23rd. Sorry about this):

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 3rd September 23rd September.

But, before that, I hadn’t memorised something I’d seen in ages. But, since the techniques for doing it have become almost instinctive (through prior practice over the past 2-3 years), it was something that I was quickly able to do without really thinking about it too much.

So, yes, once you’ve learnt this skill then you don’t really have to worry too much about forgetting how to use it.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂