Make Your Filler Comics Fun (To Make) – A Ramble

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making this month’s webcomic mini series. However, due to being busy with lots of other stuff, I had to work out a way to make a series of comics quickly and with relatively little effort. In other words, if I wanted to avoid an annoying webcomic hiatus, I needed to make some filler comics.

After thinking about making a series of studies of historical paintings (but with the characters from my long-running webcomic in them), I eventually settled on the idea of making a somewhat non-canonical series of large digitally-edited monochrome single-panel cartoons featuring my webcomic’s characters.

Once I thought of this idea, I suddenly planned out the first five comics (of a planned six-comic mini series) within the space of about fifteen minutes. Here’s a detail from the first comic update:

The complete comic update will be posted here on the 21st August.

The one thing that surprised me the most was just how much fun this comic update was to make. Initially, I was worried that the much more limited format would result in a disappointing comic update. A piece of obvious filler content that was barely better than posting no comics at all. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Since I didn’t have to worry about lots of complex digital editing (since digital editing is much simpler with monochrome art) and since I could make comics quickly, I suddenly found that I felt some of the spontaneity that I used to feel when I made much more primitive comic updates back in 2012/13. Knowing that I could make a comic update within the space of less than an hour felt liberating – and this had some positive effects on the comic.

For starters, the fact that I’d switched to a single-panel format meant that I had to rely a lot more on character-based humour. Since I couldn’t rely on longer set-ups for each joke, I had to focus more on the characters’ eccentricities when planning the comics. This gave these planned comics a lot more personality than many of my 4-8 panel comics from the past 2-3 years have had.

In addition to this, the single-panel format also meant that I had to focus more on things like visual storytelling and implied storytelling. Although this seemed like it would add extra complexity (and time) to the comics, it actually allowed me to do things like include different types of jokes and to come up with slightly sillier premises for each comic. This silliness also reminded me a lot of the comic’s earlier days too, and the joyous spontaneity and randomness that the comic had back then.

So, what was the point of all of this? Well, the best way to come up with good filler content for your webcomic is to go for whatever feels fun. If you can find a way to make your filler comics fun to make, then this will result in better comics.

Even if your filler content is somewhat “lazy”, then this won’t matter as much as you might think if it is fun to make. This is a bit difficult to describe, but fun can be an infectious quality. If your filler comic has badly-drawn art, but the humour and personality that comes from just relaxing and having fun, then the audience is more likely to overlook any visual downgrades you might apply to the art.

—————-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Advertisements

Two More Quick Tips For Making Monochrome Art

Well, although I’ve talked about making monochrome art before , I thought that I’d return to the topic briefly today.

This is mostly because, due to being busy with various things, some of this month’s upcoming daily art posts (and possibly comics) will contain monochrome art for time reasons (due to being somewhat busy at the time of writing). When you’ve had a bit of practice, switching to monochrome is one of the easiest ways to make reasonably good-looking art quickly. Like this:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size drawing will be posted here on the 20th August.

So, here are a few more tips for making monochrome art:

1) Detail matters more: Simply put, one of the reasons why monochrome art can look really impressive is because the lack of colours draws the audience’s attention to the details of the underlying drawing.

As such, detail matters a lot more. Of course, if you’ve got limited time, then there are lots of sneaky ways to give the impression that your monochrome art is more detailed than it actually is (eg: shrouding large parts of the picture in darkness, using a variety of different simple shading techniques, impressionistic details etc..).

In addition to this, you can also make the detail in your monochrome art stand out more by ensuring that there is a good mixture between blank, shaded and dark areas in your artwork. In other words, try to ensure that each type of area makes up at least 20% of the total surface area of your picture.

Another good rule (which I didn’t entirely follow in the drawing near the beginning of this article) is to try to ensure that no two blank, shaded or dark areas of the picture are next to each other – so that each part of the picture stands out in contrast to the surrounding area.

Here’s an example of this technique in a monochrome drawing of mine from 2014 (based on a photo I took in 2004). Although there are some shaded areas are close to each other, they either use different types of shading and/or are separated with thick black lines:

“Berlin Noir” By C. A. Brown [2014]

But, even so, detail matters a lot more because the audience are going to notice it more.

2) Digital tools: I’m sure I’ve talked about some elements of this, but one reason why monochrome art is such a cool genre if you need to make good art in a hurry is that it’s a lot easier and quicker to use digital tools (after scanning or photographing your art).

One easy way to make digital copies of your monochrome art look suitably crisp (and to make any digital edits alterations stand out less) is to open the scanned or digitally-photographed copy of your monochrome art in pretty much any image editing program (if you don’t have one, then use this free open-source one) and look for the “brightness/contrast” option.

Once you’ve found it, lower the brightness and increase the contrast significantly (experiment until you get the levels right). This will make the black areas of your picture look suitably dark and the white areas look suitably bright. Whilst doing this with colour artwork will often result in some rather strange-looking results, it is a quick and easy way to make your monochrome art look clean and crisp.

Likewise, if your image editing program has a “hue/saturation/lightness” option, then lower the saturation to zero too. This will get rid of any colour artefacts that can turn up when digitising monochrome art, since lowering the saturation level to zero removes all colours from the picture (eg: if you try to do this with a colour image, then it will turn into a greyscale image).

Likewise, for time and consistency reasons, look for any selection tools and/or fill tools in your image editing program. You can use these to quickly fill large areas with black “ink” much more quickly and consistently than you can if you use physical paints or inks.

Seriously, all of the solid black areas in the preview picture near the beginning of this article were filled in digitally. If you don’t believe me, here’s a cropped (but otherwise unprocessed) scan of the actual physical drawing.

Yes, I could have filled these areas with paint or ink manually, but it was quicker and easier to do it digitally. Plus, notice how faded this picture looks – this is because I haven’t adjusted the brightness/contrast levels. Likewise, I messed up the proportions on the globe slightly in the original drawing, but was able to quickly and easily correct them in the final edited picture.

So, yes, when it comes to monochrome art, digital tools are not only useful, but they can also save you time and make any edits or alterations to your art a lot less noticeable (yes, you can make seamless alterations/edits to colour art, but it’s a little bit more complicated).

——–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

So, here are a few more tips for making monochrome art:

One Benefit Of Creative Limitations

Well, I thought that I’d talk about one interesting benefit of creative limitations. Whether these are self-imposed limitations, external limitations or a mixture of the two – one interesting thing about creative limitations is that they can help you to become more efficient at creating things.

At first, a limitation can be a puzzle-like challenge but, after a while, you’ll solve the puzzle and you will probably become more efficient at writing, creating art etc… as a result.

For example, here’s a preview of one of my upcoming digitally-edited paintings:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 17th August.

For at least a year before I made this painting, I’ve been using a pre-defined limited palette of watercolour pencils (eg: yellow, red, blue, light green, purple and grey/black pencils) for the non-digital component of my paintings.

Although it took me a little while to get used to this palette, I’d already had a bit of a headstart since I’d experimented with monochrome art occasionally since late 2014 or so.

Monochrome art is a bit of a challenge, since it forces you to look at the picture as a whole and to not only get a good balance of dark, light and shaded areas – but also to make sure that no two dark, light or shaded areas are next to each other (so that everything stands out more).

“Aberystwyth – Haunted Hill” By C. A. Brown [2015]

“Berlin Noir” By C. A. Brown [2014]

Once you’ve learnt these principles through practice, failure and observing how things like manga etc.. use monochrome art – then using a limited palette is a lot easier. But, one of the interesting things about making monochrome art for a while and then switching back to colour art is that suddenly the process of choosing colours seems complicated and/or time-consuming.

Once you’ve got used to it, having a limited range of colours (even just black & white) available means that you devote all of the time and energy you’d usually spend choosing colours to working out where to place those colours. In other words, you’ll have more time and energy available to work out how to use colour in an interesting and visually-appealing way. So, your creative process is more efficient as a result.

Likewise, the painting I showed you at the beginning of the article had something of a time limit too. One of the things about making daily art is that you obviously can’t spend weeks or months on a single picture. In fact, you might only have a couple of hours at most. But, having this time limit can force you to be creative in all sorts of subtle ways.

For example, to save time, I have a standard size for most of my paintings (18x 18cm, with 1.5cm black “letterboxing” bars at the top and bottom). This is a size that I developed through several years of trial and error, since it is the best balance between making a painting that is large enough to be detailed – but small enough to make quickly. Plus, not having to worry about choosing a size or format for my paintings means that I can devote more time to actually drawing and painting.

The 1.5cm black “letterboxing” bars at the top and bottom of each painting were originally a stylistic thing (since it makes my paintings look like a frame from a film) but I also realised that they saved time too(since I only had to fill a 15×18 cm area with art).

Plus, the black “letterboxing” bars also helped to add more visual contrast to my art too – by making any colours in the art seem bolder by comparison. Again, this limitation has made my art more efficient because…

…It also helps me to follow my “ at least 30-50% of the total surface area of each painting must be covered with black paint” rule too.

Again, following this rule was a little bit of a challenge at first. But, once I got used to it, it allowed me to create visually striking pictures relatively easily and to still make art when I was rushed/uninspired (by increasing the amount of darkness). Plus, if I want a challenge, I can try to apply the rule to paintings of non-gloomy locations too:

“Death Takes A Holiday” By C. A. Brown

In addition to all of this, the painting near the beginning of this article is part of a series of paintings set in abandoned shopping centres. Although finding inspiring ideas for art series can be a bit of a challenge, I’ve often found that the limitation of a themed series actually makes me feel more inspired.

Why? Because I already know what type of painting I have to make, which makes me feel more confident. The only challenge is working out how to do something new and different with a pre-chosen theme. But, since I know what the theme is, then I can devote more time thinking about how to do interesting things with it.

A good example of this was the “gothic Aberystywyth” art series I posted here in June. Although I only posted one painting per day, I was often actually making two of them every day. Since I usually have a rule about only making one painting per day, then the fact that I was feeling inspired enough to break this rule really surprised me. And it all happened because I limited what I could paint:

“Aberystwyth – Halloween ’08” By C. A. Brown

“Aberystwyth – Arts Centre” By C. A. Brown

For example, I made these two paintings on the same day. Both of them were highly-inspired paintings that were really fun to make. Even though I was very tired when I made the second one, I worked around that limitation through clever use of lighting and colours.

I knew how to do this because I’ve used similar techniques before when I’d been feeling uninspired, rushed and/or tired. Like in this digital piece I made when I was feeling uninspired and had also been dealing with computer problems (seriously, the picture below was a quick 15 minute remake of a better picture that I’d lost because of a mild computer crash halfway through making it):

“Shrouded In Static” By C. A. Brown

So, in conclusion, limitations can be either a frustrating challenge or an exciting puzzle at first. But, once you’ve worked out how to get around them, then this will improve your art in general and make it slightly more efficient too.

———-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Another Three Thoughts About Making 1990s-Style Art

Well, whilst making the next digitally-edited painting in an upcoming series of paintings set in abandoned and/or semi-abandoned American shopping centres (after being inspired by seeing Youtube footage etc… of these places), one of my upcoming paintings ended up having even more of a 1990s-style look than I’d planned. Here’s a preview:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 14th August.

So, since it’s been a little while since I last wrote about making 1990s-style art, I thought that I’d give a few more tips about how to make this awesome style of art.

1) Timelessness and subtlety: One way to give your art more of a 1990s-style look is to focus more on relatively “timeless” things, and only add a few subtle 1990s-style elements to your art. The thing to remember about the 1990s is that, stylised nostalgia aside, it was a fairly “ordinary” decade in a lot of ways.

For example, the shopping centre in the painting I showed you earlier could have existed in the 1970s-2010s. The generic camera that the woman on the left is holding could be an old film camera from the 1960s, or it could be a modern digital camera. Likewise, most of the fashion designs in this painting could have come from any time between the 1970s and the present day.

The only distinctively “1990s” details in the painting are the fact that the woman on the left is wearing a sweater like a belt, and a few of the stylised shop hoardings in the background. Even then, floppy disks and audio cassettes also existed during the 1980s too.

So, yes, focusing mostly on relatively “timeless” details and only adding a few subtle 1990s-style details can be one way to give your art a more “realistic” 1990s-style look.

2) Getting in the mood: One of the things that can sometimes help with making 1990s-style art is to get in a nostalgic mood beforehand. Reminding yourself of why the 1990s are such a fascinating, optimistic, feel-good and just generally cool decade to get nostalgic about can give your ’90s-style art a bit of extra energy and atmosphere.

Of course, 90s nostalgia is a personal thing – so, what works for you will probably be different to what works for me. But, one of the reasons that the painting that I made ended up going in more of a ’90s style direction than I expected was because I had a very vivid moment of nostalgia after playing one of the old “The Incredible Machine” games and listening to the soundtrack from one of the other games in the series.

This then made me think of both the old and modern versions of “The Crystal Maze“, which then made me think of this episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and then the song “Caribbean Blue” by Enya, which just made me feel even more nostalgic.

In particular, it made me nostalgic for the opulent weirdness of the 1990s. How a lot of popular entertainment and/or educational things at the time used to focus on stylised tropical, futuristic, art deco, Aztec etc.. style locations, often with a slightly innocent sense of wonder. It also made me think about how strange gadgets were a much cooler thing during the 90s. I could go on, but this is one of those qualities that is difficult to put into words.

But, however you do it and whichever “version” of 1990s nostalgia you choose to experience, experiencing a vivid emotional moment of 1990s nostalgia before making some 1990s-style art can really improve your art.

3) Bold colours (and contrast): If there’s one thing to be said for the 1990s, it is that bold primary and secondary colours used to be more popular back then.

This might have been because of a cultural hangover from the 1980s or possibly due to 1960s nostalgia at the time, but using 1-3 complementary pairs of bold primary and secondary colours can be a way to give your art more of a 1990s-style look (for example, the painting near the beginning of the article uses orange/blue, red/green and purple/yellow pairs).

This is especially true when these bold colours are contrasted with gloomier areas of the picture. I’ve mentioned this many times before, but a good rule to follow for 1990s-style lighting is to ensure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of your painting is covered with black paint. This will give the colours in your painting a bolder look, in addition to being similar to the lighting in many films, TV shows etc.. from the 1990s too.

———-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

When Your Art Style Gets In The Way – A Ramble

The night before I prepared this article, I had a sudden moment of artistic inspiration. This was mostly because I’d been watching eerily fascinating Youtube videos about derelict and semi-abandoned shopping centres in America. And, well, I wanted to make an original painting set in this type of location.

However, as you can see from this preview, the final painting really doesn’t look that much like an actual realistic shopping centre:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 12th August.

The main reasons for this were because of my art style. Simply put, my approach to both colours and lighting is about as far as you can get from the bright lighting and blandly muted colour palettes found in the average shopping centre. So, my art style isn’t directly suited to making art based on these types of locations but I don’t really want to use a radically different style because, well, I really like my art style (plus, I’ve spent several years developing it).

So, what can you do when you find yourself in a situation like this?

Simply put, work around it. If you’ve developed your own art style, then it is probably best suited to a particular “type” of art. This will probably be based on the things that have inspired your art style and the type of art that you make most of the time.

For example, the gloomily gothic high-contrast lighting that I use is best suited to melodramatic gothic art, 1990s-style art, heavy metal-themed art and cyberpunk art. The relatively limited colour palette I use is best suited to things like cyberpunk art, 1990s-style art and webcomics.

My slightly cartoonish drawing style is best suited to webcomics and to art with a high level of visual storytelling. My style is also best suited to “close up” pictures, since it is designed for making smaller works of art (that have more emphasis on the foreground than the background).

Once you’ve worked out what “type” of art your art style is best suited to, see if you can change your initial idea for a painting so that it fits into this type. This could involve changing the composition, changing the perspective, making a painting of something else similar, adding or removing visual storytelling, using artistic licence etc…

For example, if I made another painting of a semi-abandoned shopping centre, then I’d probably be better off adding a cartoon character or two, including gloomier lighting and focusing on a relatively small segment of the shopping centre (rather than a large landscape). I’d also be better off emphasising any creepy, futuristic-looking or 1990s-style elements of the location more prominently too.

So, a painting set in this type of location that is at least a mildly better “fit” with my art style would probably look a bit like this:

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

Yes, it took me a while to work out the composition of this painting and, yes, there should probably be more foreground detail. But, by focusing more on including visual storytelling, a slightly more gothic atmosphere and 1990s-style elements, I was able to create a much better-looking painting set in this type of location.

So, knowing the limits of your art style and working around them can be a great way to make art that seems like it might not be a good fit for your art style.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

When A Short Story Turns Out Badly- A Ramble

Well, once again, I thought that I’d talk about last year’s “retro sci-fi” Halloween short stories. In particular, I’ll be talking about the eighth story and what to do when a short story doesn’t turn out that well.

In short, I had writer’s block before I wrote the eighth story… and I was in a bit of a rush when I wrote the first draft too. As such, it ended up being a somewhat badly-written “film noir”-style detective story (with a 1950s horror comic-style twist) that contained barely any sci-fi elements. In addition to this, the story didn’t really fit in that well with the fictional “world” that I’d been trying to set all of the stories in. It was a failed story.

So, my first thought was to edit it a bit. Basically, I removed some of the more superfluous descriptions (that made the story sound so amateurish).

For example, I changed the opening sentence from “By the time the neptune blue neon sign opposite the window flickered and sputtered into life, I’d decided to call it a day” to just “By the time the neon sign opposite the window flickered and sputtered into life, I’d decided to call it a day“.

By removing some of the extraneous descriptions, I was at least able to make the story sound a little bit more focused. However, this also caused a few continuity problems that I didn’t spot until a while later (eg: I’d removed a description of a character having brown hair, only for the narrator to refer to her as “the brunette” later in the story). So, I had to think about the story in more logical terms and rewrite a few sentences that referred to parts of the story that no longer existed.

Surprisingly, I didn’t embellish or change the dialogue too much whilst editing. Although the dialogue sounded a little bit formal and generic in many parts of the story, it was at least functional.

In short, the most important part of writing dialogue is to convey story information. So, even if it’s a bit generic, then “functional” dialogue can still work. Plus, since it was meant to be a “film noir” story, this minimalist approach to the dialogue hopefully wouldn’t stand out that much.

Luckily, one thing that mitigated all of the story’s problems slightly was the ending. Since I’d added a melodramatic plot twist and some dark comedy to the last few paragraphs, there was at least some “payoff” for any reader who slogged through the rest of the story. So, at least the story didn’t feel like a complete and utter failure. So, a good ending (or, even better, a good beginning too) can be a way to mitigate the problem of a failed story.

In addition to all of this, I also put a bit more effort into the story’s title illustration. Since this was the first thing that the reader would see, I wanted it to look spectacularly dramatic. In part, to distract from the slightly lower quality of the writing and in part to make up for the slightly lower quality of the writing. It was probably the coolest thing about the story, but at least it was something cool:

This is the title graphic for the failed film noir story.

But, most of all, I actually posted the story on here. Although you shouldn’t do this if you’re publishing stories commercially – if you’re writing non-commercial fiction, then actually putting something out there, however crappy, can at least be a way to keep up momentum.

If you’re worried about what your audience might think, then just remember that a finished story – regardless of quality – that actually appears online is still better than posting nothing.

If you are writing a series of stories, or you post short fiction online regularly, then your audience is more likely to forgive a badly-written story. Why? Because it shows that you are still sticking to your writing schedule.

In other words, although your audience might not be that impressed by the story you posted today, they will at least feel reassured that a better story might appear tomorrow, or in a couple of days’ time or whenever. So, posting a bad or mediocre story is better than posting nothing (when your audience expects you to post something).

———–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Joy Of…. B-Movie Fiction

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about both a rather cool genre of fiction and the creative process behind one of the short stories in last year’s Halloween collection. Although the collection started out as a more “serious” collection of vintage sci-fi style horror stories, it also ended up including a silly story about gangsters and pirates… and I had a lot of fun with that story.

Yes, it wasn’t the most elegantly-written story in the world. Yes, it probably wasn’t that scary. Yes, old horror comics from 1950s America probably had more logical storylines. But, well, it was a lot of fun to write.

Everything from the melodramatic scene with the tommygun (and, yes, I actually listened to an audio recording of a tommygun on Youtube to get the “sound effects” vaguely right), to the movie-like flying car segment, to the giant pirate skull and the vaguely comedic dialogue was just a joy to write. Although this short story series had been plagued by writer’s block, this was one of the few stories that just “flowed” really well when I was actually writing it.

It also reminded me of what I like to call “B-movie” fiction. Although this could be confused with genre fiction, I feel that it’s important to make a distinction between the two things. Unless you are the most snooty and pompous of literary critics, there’s no denying that “genre fiction” can include things like serious intelligent stories and expert authors who quite rightly deserve their bestseller status (eg: J.K.Rowling, Lee Child, G.R.R Martin, William Gibson etc..).

“B-Movie” fiction is something slightly different, and it is also absolutely awesome. These are stories that know that they’re “unrealistic” or “silly” and they revel in this fact. Like their cinematic namesake, these are stories that are explicitly designed to entertain, amuse, thrill, shock, provide escapism and/or appeal to fans of a particular genre.

In a way, I’d argue that this type of fiction is one of the best types of fiction out there – mostly because of the way that it places emphasis on the story itself.

First of all, this type of story is often very readable. Since it is designed to entertain, it is written in a way that grips the reader and encourages them to binge-read. This also reminds both readers and other writers of the value of a compelling and readable story. For example, ‘Seven Ancient Wonders’ by Matthew Reilly is – on a purely technical level – a somewhat “badly-written” novel. But, just try putting it down after you’ve read the first hundred pages or so….

You can write the most profound, elegantly-written and “literary” novel in the world but, if it isn’t written in a way that makes the reader want to see what happens next, then the chance of all or most of your audience actually finishing the book probably isn’t that high.

Secondly, many stories in this genre aren’t written by famous authors, but this doesn’t matter – because the premise is the thing that gets potential readers interested. Once again, this reminds both readers and other writers of the value of a compelling story.

For example, I have only read one novel by Toby Venables. I hadn’t heard of him before I found this novel (during an online search for zombie novels) and I haven’t heard of any of his other works. But, the idea of “Vikings vs. zombies” was intriguing enough for me to order a book and read the whole thing.

So, as well as being a reminder of the importance of an interesting premise, it is also proof that fame isn’t everything. At the end of the day, most authors won’t become world-famous. So, seeing examples of fascinating stories by people you’ve never heard of before can be a good way to dispel the “bestseller or nothing” myth. Plus, there’s just something meritocratic about a story being read because of an interesting premise rather than because of how famous or trendy the author is.

Finally, these types of stories celebrate creativity and imagination. By not rigidly sticking to “realistic” or “serious” stories, “B-movie” novels remind readers of how much fun it is to daydream about all sorts of weird and wonderful things.

This feeling of “wouldn’t it be cool if..” is pretty much the core of almost every form of creative inspiration. So, if you are a creative person, then these types of stories are good for your imagination because they help to remind you of what it feels like to be inspired.

————-

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂