Today’s Art (5th April 2019)

Well, I wanted to try something different with today’s artwork. This is a digitally-edited drawing (based on this photo of a sunset that I took last April) but, unlike some of the digitally-edited drawings I’ve made, I wanted to make this one look a bit more realistic by sampling the colours directly from the photo (if you look at the bottom right-hand corner of this “Work In Progress” version of the picture, you can see small segments of the photo that were used for colour sampling).

Surprisingly, this turned out better than I’d expected – even if the sky looks slightly different to the photo and the houses ended up being blue instead of grey/magnolia (this happened in the photo for similar reasons to the famous “what colour is the dress?” optical illusion from a few years ago. But, I decided to keep the houses blue in the finished painting since they contrasted well with the sky).

As usual, this drawing is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Westbrook – Sleeping Sun” By C. A. Brown

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How To Find “New” Art Techniques – A Ramble

A few days before I wrote this article, I ended up making a digitally-edited drawing (based on a photo I took last April) that looked significantly more realistic than most of my art does. Here’s a preview of the picture:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size artwork will be posted here on the 5th April.

One of the interesting things about making this picture was that none of the techniques I used to make it were really “new” to me. Yet, they produced a piece of art that was totally different to anything I’d made before.

I already knew how to take interesting-looking photos, I already knew how to draw from photos by sight, I already knew how to directly sample colours using image editing programs, I already knew how to mask off areas by selecting them, I already knew how to use digital airbrush tools etc… Yet, I’d somehow never thought of combining these skills with each other before I made this picture.

Here’s a (slightly simplified) chart to show you what I mean:

(Note: To view full size image, click on it and then select “View Full Size” below the image). This chart doesn’t show every step, but it shows how combining skills you already know can result in new techniques etc..

So, one of the best ways to find “new” art techniques is simply to look at all of the techniques that you already know and to try combining them in different ways.

But, although this is something that can be done consciously and deliberately, the best examples of it just tend to appear when you are reasonably confident with the techniques that you already know. When you instinctively know how and why a particular technique “works”, then finding ways to combine it with other things you know well will seem a lot more natural and intuitive.

For example, I suddenly thought of the mixture of techniques I showed you earlier because I thought it would save time. It didn’t save much time, but it did result in more realistic-looking art. So, yes, these things don’t always happen completely deliberately.

Plus, of course, you can keep adding other techniques to the mix too. For example, here’s a preview of the digitally-edited drawing (based on this photo I took last April) that I made the day after the one I showed you earlier. It uses the same mixture of techniques I’ve already mentioned….

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size artwork will be posted here on the 5th April.

…But, if you look closely at the trees and buildings, you’ll see that there is some very slightly more dramatic lighting. Here’s a close-up to show you what I mean:

Notice how the light seems to be filtering through the trees and buildings in a slightly hazy “lens flare”-like way.

How did I do this? Simple. I just used a technique that I’d used in digitally-edited paintings before (but hadn’t thought to use in the previous picture).

More specifically, once I’d worked out what colour the light was, I used a very large digital airbrush (applied lightly) to create the impression of a lens flare. And this technique was something I originally discovered when trying to find quicker/easier alternatives to using the digital lighting effects in an open source program called “GIMP 2.8. 22” – and I worked it out because I was quite familiar with how the program’s airbrush feature worked.

So, the general lesson here is that if you learn an artistic skill or technique to the point where it almost seems instinctive, then finding new ways to combine it with other techniques will become a lot easier and more intuitive. In other words, skills build more skills.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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

Well, as usual, I thought that I’d show off the “work in progress” line art for my recent “Damania Requirement” webcomic mini series.

Like with the previous mini series, I experimented quite a bit with photo-based backgrounds in this mini series. As such, at least two of the pieces of line art here will look a little bit different (since they just contain character illustrations and dialogue. I’ve also included the background photo/image too).

As usual, you can click on each piece of line art to see a larger version of it. Enjoy 🙂

“Damania Requirement – Own Goal (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Requirement – Graveyard (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Requirement – Game Police (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Requirement – Second Winter (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

Two Basic Things To Do When A Creative Project Fails

Well, I thought that I’d talk about failure today. This is mostly because I finished a failed creative project the day before I wrote the first draft of this article. It was my first attempt at writing a novella in quite some time and, although I completed it (it was about 15,600 words long) it wasn’t exactly the best thing I’ve ever written. I mean, there’s a good reason why I haven’t mentioned it in previous articles.

Yes, it started out well. Yes, I felt inspired at first. Basically, I tried to write something similar to the old second-hand 1970s/1980s horror novels (in particular, the sub-genre of monster-based novels inspired by James Herbert’s “The Rats”) that I used to read when I was younger and rediscovered when I got back into reading regularly a couple of months ago.

Since giant rats, evil scorpions, carnivorous beetles, giant evil crabs and monster slugs were already taken by actual ’70s/’80s horror authors and because I wanted to write a slight parody of the genre, I ended up choosing adorable badgers – albeit ones that have become immortal, and very hungry, thanks to a mutant version of the rabies virus.

Here’s a short extract from one of the more dramatic and well-written parts of the novella: ‘In an instant, Wilson saw everything. The cattle stalls were a disorderly mess of steaming offal and buzzing flies. In the eaves above, Jerry sat on a beam with a pitchfork in his arms and a look of abject terror on his face. A low chittering sound echoed through the air. Wilson spotted movement next to one of the beams. At first, Wilson thought it was a stray dog. But, as his eyes adjusted to the gloom, he noticed that it was a badger. Crimson foam frothed around the creature’s mouth as it stared up at Jerry and clawed at the beam.

However, large portions of the story really aren’t as good as this short extract. If I was reviewing the novella, I’d probably only give it two or three out of five. It was, in short, a failed project.

So, I thought that I’d give you a couple of basic tips for what to do when a creative project fails. And, yes, you’ve probably heard these before – but they’re well-known pieces of advice for a good reason.

1) Do a post-mortem: This one is fairly obvious, but it can be a bit of challenge if you’ve never really done anything like this. In essence, you need to take a step back and look at both what went wrong and why it went wrong. This might sound like a rather depressing thing to do, but it can teach you what to avoid in your next project. In other words, it reduces the chance of making the same or similar mistakes again.

In addition to teaching you general lessons, this also helps you to get to know yourself better. Because one of the best ways of finding out what your strengths and weaknesses are is to actually make something and then see what parts of it do and don’t work. Once you’ve found this out, you can play to your strengths and/or focus on your weaknesses in your next project.

For example, with my failed horror novella, some of the major flaws/lessons I found included:

– There were literally too many characters for a story of this length. Not only that, since I knew that all of the main characters were going to be eaten by badgers, I instinctively skimped on the characterisation since I’d find it too depressing to put too much emotional effort into developing a well-written character who was going to suffer such a tragic fate. So, the lessons here were to include fewer characters in my next project and to ensure that the characters have a good chance of surviving the story.

– A lack of pre-planning (resulting in somewhat uneven plotting) and the fact that I tried to write it relatively quickly (in about 18-19 days) meant that, whilst I was able to stay motivated, the writing would often get somewhat repetitive. I’d often re-use descriptions (eg: when describing the sounds the badgers made etc..) and many of the story’s dialogue segments would also sound incredibly repetitive too. The lesson here was to spend a while longer planning the story and to focus more on quality than quantity.

– The narrative voice throughout the story was incredibly uneven. Some chapters were supposed to be a parody of bad writing (which quickly turned into actual bad writing), some chapters sounded very “modern”, some chapters read like something from a thriller novel, some chapters had a more American-style narrative voice etc… A lot of this stemmed from the fact that I’d used third-person narration, and I’d had more practice with first-person narration in the past.

I could go on for quite a while…. But, working out what failed and why will help you to improve any future projects.

2) Remember that it happens to literally everyone: When a creative project fails, it can be easy to make the foolish mistake of thinking that you are a failure. That you’re not as good as the writers, artists etc… who inspired you to start your project. Well, I’ll let you into a secret. They’ve failed before, just like you have.

In fact, it is impossible to get really good at anything without failing. The only reason that the people who have inspired you seem like talented geniuses is because you haven’t seen their failed practice projects. They’ve failed just like you have. And, after they failed, they learnt from it and then tried to make another project. Eventually, they got better at writing, making art etc… because they refused to give up.

I mean, there’s a reason why – for example – pretty much every piece of writing advice out there will tell you not to publish your first novel (or first three novels or whatever). It usually takes quite a bit of writing practice before someone can produce a publishable novel. It’s not something that most people can get right on the first try. And, that’s ok. After all, you wouldn’t expect to be able to – say- play the guitar perfectly after picking up the instrument for the first time.

In other words, if you’ve tried to create something and failed horribly at it, then you’re doing exactly the same thing that the people you look up to have done in the past. In other words, you’re doing the right thing. At the very least, you’ve actually created something. Most people don’t get to this stage. So, consider your failure to be one of the steps on the road to greatness.

So, yes, failure happens to literally everyone. It is how you think about it and what you do afterwards that really matters.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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

Well, in the traditional fashion, I thought that I’d show off the “work in progress” line art for my recent “Damania Reconstituted” webcomic mini series.

Since I used digital/photographic backgrounds for two of the comics, the line art for these comics will look a little bit odd (eg: a random collection of drawings and dialogue. I’ve also included the original background images too).

Surprisingly, there were relatively few dialogue changes between the line art and finished comics. The only one I can think of is the fact that the line art for this comic was originally going to have both characters exclaim “damn it!” and “bollocks!” upon seeing each other, but I thought it was funnier if they remained silent (with their reactions being shown via facial expressions). Likewise, the third comic includes typed background text that doesn’t appear in the line art too.

Anyway, here’s the line art 🙂 Enjoy 🙂

“Damania Reconstituted – 2017 (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconstituted – Woods (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconstituted – Replay (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

“Damania Reconstituted – Seaside (Line Art)” By C. A. Brown

Two Quick Tips For Adding Symbolism To Realistic Photo-Based Art

Well, although most of my recent photo-based paintings don’t really include that much in the way of hidden depths (since I often don’t have time to include them), I dabbled with adding some to one of my upcoming paintings.

This was mostly because I was going through a bit of an “Ancient Egypt” phase at the time and because, when I made a previous painting of this area, I was reading Robert Sheckley’s “Alien Harvest” at the time. Here’s a chart showing all of the references and the original source photo:

CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE.

So, how can you add some hidden symbolism to your realistic photo-based art? Here are a couple of quick tips.

1) Look for what is already there: Simply put, the best symbolism in realistic art will simply just place emphasis on things that are originally there. In other words, your choice of what to paint matters a lot.

The best way to find the right image is simply to think about the themes/symbolism you want to include and, whilst in the mood for making a painting based on this stuff, look at your photos until something jumps out at you.

For example, I originally hadn’t planned to add any ancient Egypt symbolism to this painting but, when looking through my photos for one to paint (after reading part of an ancient Egypt-themed novel), I noticed that one of them had a pyramid-shaped arch in it… and then I noticed that a tree in the background looked like an ankh.

So, once you’ve noticed something vaguely related to the themes/symbolism you want to include, then just subtly emphasise it slightly in your finished painting. For example, the ankh-shaped tree in the painting is slightly larger/thicker than the tree in the original photo.

2) Know where to use artistic licence: If you have to change something in order to add some symbolism to your painting, then try to make sure that the change looks at least vaguely realistic. In other words, go for “subtly evokes…” rather than “obviously states…”.

The thing to remember is that, as much as you want to add symbolism to your painting, it still has to work well as a realistic painting. In other words, your changes shouldn’t be too obviously noticeable at first glance and/or should just look like “ordinary” artistic licence to someone who isn’t looking for symbolism.

For example, when I decided to add some “ancient Egypt” symbolism to my painting of the pharmacy, I shortened the name on the sign to just “Pharmacy”. In part, this was because I had a smaller space to work with, because I wanted the sign to look striking and because I didn’t want to include branding etc.. in my paintings (since this gives them more of a general/timeless quality).

But, at the same time, I realised that the word “pharmacy” shares four letters with the word “pharaoh”. So, I deliberately made the first four letters of the word slightly more noticeable, whilst also writing the letter “M” in such a way that it looked a little bit like the letter “A” at a glance. So, the sign almost reads “Phara- cy” at first glance. This is the kind of thing I mean when I talk about using artistic licence in subtle ways. The sign still tells the viewer that they’re looking at a pharmacy, but it is also a sneaky ancient Egypt reference too.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂

Three Sneaky Tricks For Making Rushed Webcomic Updates Look Good

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making this month’s webcomic mini series. But, since I’m busy with other stuff too, I haven’t got quite as much time for it as I had last year (so, it’ll be another four-comic mini series).

But, so far, it seems to be turning out better than the four-comic mini series I posted in January. So, I thought that I’d offer a few sneaky tips for making rushed webcomic updates look good.

And, yes, one of the classic rules of webcomics is that the writing is more important than the art. Still, if you want to improve the art without too much of a time cost, then these tips might come in handy.

1) Digital backgrounds: Although this can look terrible if not done correctly (and I’ll explain one possible way to reduce visual consistency problems a bit later), one way to make a good-looking webcomic update relatively quickly is to use a digital background.

If you’ve got any spare digital photos of scenery etc.. that you’ve taken (and own the copyright to), then this is the time to put them to good use. It’ll allow you to make comic updates that look like this panel from one of my upcoming comics:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st February.

Although the specifics of how to do this will vary depending on the image editing program that you are using, it basically just involves drawing the characters (and writing the dialogue) and then copying them onto the background image. Most image editing programs include a “copy” function and, if you mess around with the options a bit, you’ll probably be able to get your art to copy properly.

However, as I hinted at earlier, the contrast between cartoonish art and realistic photography can look a little bit jarring. So, it’s usually a good idea to choose photos that don’t contain people (since your cartoon characters will look even more cartoonish in contrast to them).

Basically, the more “generic” your digital photo looks, the less obvious the contrast between cartoons and photos will be. So, go for natural scenes, generic buildings etc.. And try to avoid using photos that include people, posters etc..

2) Vary the backgrounds: I’ve mentioned this technique before, but it is worth mentioning again. Basically, one of the quickest and easiest types of comic updates to make are “talking head” comics where two characters stand next to each other and talk. However, these can be quite boring to look at. So, how can you make them more visually interesting?

Simply put, vary the backgrounds. One classic technique is to include a detailed background and/or detailed artwork in one panel, whilst keeping the other panels relatively undetailed. This makes the detailed panel the focal point of the comic whilst also meaning that you only have to make one detailed panel (which saves time). It looks a little bit like this:

“Damania Reduced – Book” By C. A. Brown

Notice how the third panel of this comic contains dramatic, detailed art with more realistic shading etc… Whereas the other three panels feature two characters standing in front of a plain purple background. Yet, the three boring panels are slightly less noticeable because the detailed panel is more attention-grabbing.

Another way to disguise talking head comics is to either use “close up” pictures of one of the characters during some of the panels and/or to use a solid black background in panels that contain dramatic dialogue.

For example, the angry dialogue in the third panel of this comic update uses this technique to break up the monotony of the red backgrounds in the first and fourth panels.:

“Damania Reduced – Trance Metal” By C. A. Brown

3) Expressions: This is a little bit of a sneaky one, but one way that you can add some more drama and visual interest to a rushed comic update is simply to focus on your character’s facial expressions.

Showing your characters’ reactions to things might not look like an obvious improvement at first glance, but it can really help to add extra humour and/or drama to your comic, which can distract your readers from the more rushed elements of your art.

Not to mention that if you’re in such a rush that you have to re-use the same art for several panels (this, in itself, is another good technique for making good-looking comics quickly. If you can re-use one good piece of art four times or whatever, then your comic will look better), then using digital tools to change your characters’ expressions in each re-used panel can be a good way to make the recycling very slightly less obvious too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂