Three Tips For Finding Artistic Knowledge (That Can’t Be Found Online)

During a rather long series of thoughts I had the day before I wrote this article, one intriguing phrase appeared in my mind quite often – “knowledge that cannot be found on the internet“. The phrase sounded mysterious enough to fascinate me – but, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it probably applies to most artists in some way or another.

After all, aside from more basic things, there isn’t usually a tutorial online for the exact specific thing that you want to draw or paint. Usually, if you want to learn how to do something new, the internet can only often help in the most indirect of ways. So how do you learn how to do something artistic if there isn’t a specific online guide for it?

Here are a few tips:

1) Learn the basics (then extrapolate): One of the best ways to work out how to do something on your own is to have a basic knowledge of the theory of art and to have some basic art skills. No, this doesn’t mean that you have to have gone to art school (I haven’t) or even have a particularly advanced level of artistic skill. But, the more theory you know and the more skills you have, the easier it will be to work out how to do things that aren’t explained in online guides.

Why? Because you’ll be able to see which “rules” the thing you want to make follows. For example, if you see a really cool-looking piece of art and you want to make something in a similar style, but can’t find any guides online, then knowing some basic theory and having some basic skills can help in a number of ways, including….

Knowledge of different art mediums will allow you to guess which tools the artist used. And to find the closest available thing to it that you have.

Knowledge of colour theory will allow you to work out that colour palette that the artist used, and why it “works” so well. Likewise, it’ll allow you to see the relationship between the colours in the picture too (eg: does the artist use one or more complementary colour pairs? etc..).

Knowing how to copy from sight alone will allow you to make private studies and reconstructions of the artwork in question, which might give you an insight into some of the techniques the artist used, and why they used them. You can then use those techniques in new and different ways for your own original art.

Knowledge about how lighting is often relative (eg: something can be dark, but still appear bright when placed next to something even darker) can help you to work out how the artist gave their picture a particular “look” (eg: vivid, muted etc..) and how to use similar techniques in your own original art.

I could go on for a while, but the more theory you know and the more skills that you have, the easier it is to work out how to do things that aren’t explicitly spelled out for you in an online guide.

2) Observation (and study): If there isn’t a specific online guide for how to draw something, then start by looking at as many pictures of it as you can (in books, online etc..).

However, unless you own the copyright to the images, then you shouldn’t directly copy any of the images that you see.

Instead, your goal is to see as many different pictures of the thing in question from as many different angles and perspectives as possible. To break the object in question down into it’s most basic shapes and outlines. To see what visual features all of the pictures have in common and to build up a “3D model” of the thing in question inside your mind.

The more different pictures of the same thing that you see, the easier it will be for you to work out the basic principles of how to draw or paint it. Then you can use the “3D model” as the basis for a new and original piece of art.

3) Trial and error: If you really want to learn how to draw or paint something that isn’t explained in any online guide, then sometimes the best way to do it is simply through good old fashioned trial and error. Even if the results aren’t perfect, then at least you’ll be closer to achieving what you want than if you didn’t try.

Genrally, if an impressive piece of art or an interesting style of art exists, then that means that it (and more importantly, art in a similar style/traditon as it) can be made. After all, someone has already made it. So, there has to be a solution to the puzzle of how to make it.

It’s kind of like how, in old first-person shooter computer games from the early-mid 1990s, the player would often end up “stuck” in challenging situations. Yet, because these games were often designed to be fair, there was almost always some way or another, some tactic or stratagem that the player could use to progress, even if it took a lot of thought and a lot of failed attempts. If you play enough of these games (modern fan-made levels for “Doom II” are probably a good place to start), then they can really improve your attitude towards trial and error in other areas, such as making art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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The Joy Of… Slightly Old Creative Works

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about slightly old creative works and why they’re so awesome. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to limit myself to novels published between 1950-2000, music from 1980-2000, games from 1990-2005, comics from 1980-2001 and films/TV shows from 1980-2005. Sorry for the ultra-specific definitions, but the term “slightly old” is fairly ambiguous.

So, why am I talking about these creative works? Well, it’s mostly because a large percentage of the creative works that I’ve ever read, played, watched or listened to fit into this category. For quite a while, this was mostly for financial reasons and/or practical reasons. But, these days, it’s as much of a choice as anything else.

But, why are slightly old creative works so awesome? Simply put, they often tend to have more of a “personality” to them. In part, this is because they depict a historical version of the world that no longer exists but also in part because culture seemed to contain a lot more variation in the past. Hollywood took more risks (and used less CGI), large game studios innovated more, comics aimed at mature audiences were still a “new” thing, mid-list authors could still succeed etc…

Likewise, older creative works can contain a lot more personality for the simple reason that many of them came from a time before the internet was mainstream. From a time before mainstream culture was more universal and research material was just a click away. What this means is that authors, film-makers, game developers etc… had to rely on whatever they had for inspiration. Their creative works tended to be more of a reflection of their personal interests, their own worldviews, their social circle etc..

Another cool side effect of creative works from before the internet was a mainstream thing was that there was a larger separation between creative people and their critics. No, I’m not talking about things like reviews (which are a good thing from a consumer standpoint). I’m talking about the modern phenomenon of a few people on Twitter or Tumblr or wherever stirring up gigantic worldwide controversies or genuinely calling for censorship, because they personally disagree with or dislike a creative work.

In the past, these “critics” were restricted to writing to their local paper or grumbling to their friends in person. One side-effect of this is that slightly old creative works often tend to contain slightly more nuanced, moderate, ambiguous, unusual and/or complicated opinions and worldviews. In these polarised and ideologically-rigid times, this can be surprisingly refreshing.

Another reason why slightly old creative works are so interesting is because they don’t tend to have that much publicity these days. Since the media always promotes the latest thing, a gigantic number of interesting older creative works can get overlooked slightly. So, when you discover something good online or in a second-hand shop, it really feels like serendipity. It really feels like luck, because you found it on your own.

Then, of course, there’s the issue of cost. One really great things about older creative works is that, since they tend to be released on physical media, you can usually find second-hand copies of things cheaply. But, even if you buy retro games via digital download, then they still often tend to be cheaper than new ones. So, unlike the latest new thing, older creative works tend to be a bit more sensibly-priced – which means you can enjoy more of them for less.

Then, especially with films, TV shows and games, there are the technological limitations. Because directors and game developers couldn’t dazzle audiences with lots of flashy graphics and/or CGI effects, they had to find other ways to make their works interesting. In other words, things like enjoyable gameplay, good storytelling, good characterisation etc…

Finally, slightly older creative works aren’t some kind of dusty, faded relics. They are designed to be enjoyed and you’d be surprised at how much fun can still be had with these creative works that have faded from the public imagination slightly.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Four Reasons Why We Enjoy Things That Are “So Bad That They’re Good”

I’m sure that I’ve written about this subject before, but I ended up thinking about things that are “so bad that they’re good” recently.

This was mostly because I ended up playing part of a computer game from 2003 called “Deus Ex: Invisible War”. Although it’ll be a while until I post a full review of it here, it’s a perfect example of something that is “so bad that it’s good”.

If you’ve never heard of this game before, it was the sequel to a game from 2000 called “Deus Ex” (which is widely regarded as a masterpiece). The sequel, on the other hand, isn’t a masterpiece. I could spend quite a while listing it’s many faults but, strangest of all, I actually find them to be slightly endearing. So, I thought that I’d look at a few reasons why things that are “so bad that they’re good” are so enjoyable.

1) Forewarning and curiosity: One of the reasons why things that are “so bad that they’re good” are so enjoyable is because the audience is often forewarned of this fact by either reading reviews or just by looking at the packaging/promotional material for something. For example, if you see a DVD in a bargain bin with a slightly cheesy title and some slightly shoddy cover art, then you know that it probably isn’t Oscar material.

However, hearing that something is hilariously terrible will probably make you curious about how or why it gained that reputation. As such, it means that you are likely to start watching, playing etc… the thing in question with an attitude of amused curiosity. This attitude generally results in a much more enjoyable experience than if you just approach it in the way that you would approach an “ordinary” game, film etc…

However, if the audience isn’t forewarned, then these things lead to nothing but disappointment and frustration. So, forewarning is a key part of why things that are “so bad that they’re good” can be enjoyable.

2) Adorability: Simply put, things that are “so bad that they’re good” are adorable. This is because they are often examples of someone really trying to make something good using whatever limited skills or resources they have.

For example, one of the reasons why “Deus Ex: Invisible War” is such an endearingly terrible game is because, unlike the original “Deus Ex”, it was originally designed to also run on the original Xbox console. Since this console wasn’t even close to computers of the time in terms of processing power, memory etc.. there were a lot more limitations. As an example, here’s how the first two “Deus Ex” games depict nightclubs:

This screenshot from “Deus Ex (2000)” shows part of a sprawling nightclub with a large dancefloor and several large balconies.

This screenshot from “Deus Ex: Invisible War” (2003) shows the whole dancefloor of a nightclub. Yes, this little room is the entire dancefloor!

Yet, the people behind the game still tried to make a good “Deus Ex” game with these limited resources. Yes, they failed. But, the fact that they actually tried is extremely adorable.

Things that are “so bad that they’re good” are enjoyable for the simple reason that they show us someone trying to make something great. They show us that the people who made these things were enthusiastic. They are examples of hope and ambition.

3) “I can do better!”: I can’t remember where I read this, but I vaguely remember reading something about the horror author Shaun Hutson – where he apparently pointed out that one of the things that got him into writing horror fiction was reading a badly-written horror novel and thinking “I can do better than this!“.

If you are a creative person (or want to be one), then seeing things that are “so bad that they’re good” can make you feel better about yourself by comparison. It can also make you feel less disappointed about your own failures, for the simple reason that other people fail too. It can also motivate you to actually create something just to see if you can make something better.

4) Cheapness and counterculture: Finally, another reason why things that are “so bad that they’re good” are so enjoyable is because they are often both cheap and (most of the time) non-mainstream. Since things that fall into this category are often either made on a low budget, are sold at a reduced price to recoup any expenses and/or are quickly dumped in second-hand shops by unsatisfied customers, they often tend to be slightly on the cheaper side of things.

So, we tend to feel like we’re getting more value for money when we find something that is “so bad that it’s good”. It also reassures us of the quality of any more expensive things that we’ve bought too.

Likewise, there’s a certain perverse thrill to looking at films, games etc.. that are widely considered to be terrible and unpopular. There’s a slight sense of sticking two fingers up at popular culture telling us what we “should” watch, read, play etc.. So, this can also explain why these kinds of things can be so enjoyable.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

The Joy Of… Genre Fluidity

As regular readers of this site know, I tend to write these articles quite far in advance. As such, last April, I found myself thinking about genre fluidity after looking at some of the media surrounding the heavy metal genre. “Metal Hammer” magazine had been revived a few months earlier and I’d also been binge-watching a Youtube channel filled with quite a few heavy metal- themed lists too.

Although it had been a while since I’d really looked at all of the media surrounding the heavy metal genre, one of the changes I was glad to see was that generic, shouty mid-late 2000s metalcore was less of a popular thing than it used to be. But, one of the things that really surprised me was that there was even more genre fluidity in the metal genre than I remember.

For example, two modern bands recommended in the two issues of “Metal Hammer” that I read weren’t the sort of thing that you’d traditionally expect to see in a metal magazine.

One of the bands, “Creeper”, is a band who are kind of like an AFI-style gothic punk band, mixed with mid-2000s indie music. Another song I found on Youtube after a recommendation from the magazine (“Cult Drugs” by Blood Command) sounds a little bit like the kind of synthesiser-heavy nightclub music (eg: Crystal Castles, Alphabeat etc..) that was popular in the late 2000s.

Likewise, I was pleasantly surprised to see that this list of “hard rock and metal protest anthems[NSFW] on the metal-themed Youtube channel I mentioned earlier consisted of about one-third punk bands. I’d always thought that metal and punk were supposed to be very different genres and, yet, seeing the two of them together was really cool. It was like my two favourite musical genres rolled into one.

All of this, naturally, made me think about the whole subject of genre fluidity and how awesome it is.

As I’ve mentioned numerous times, one of the best ways to create something truly original is to have a wide range of different inspirations. The more inspirations you have, the more original your creative works will be.

The thing to remember about genres is that they’re artificial things. They were invented to make it easier for people to find the types of stories, films, games etc.. that they like. They’re a descriptive thing, rather than a prescriptive thing. They evolve from creative trends, rather than being a set of rules that people have to follow.

A good example of this process in action is the development of the First-person shooter genre of computer games over the past 25-30 years. Whilst 1993’s “Doom” certainly wasn’t the first FPS game ever made, it was the first one to really gain any level of popularity. As such, it inspired other game developers to make games that were similar to “Doom”. These games were originally called “Doom-clones” by the popular gaming press.

It was only when the genre became even more popular that the more generic term “First-person shooter” was eventually coined. This is kind of like how old “film noir” films apparently weren’t originally called “film noir” at the time they were made, but were referred to as “melodramas” etc.. at the time, with the descriptive “film noir” genre label being applied slightly later.

So, regardless of what some traditionalists might say, genres aren’t set in stone. They’re a byproduct of creative people being inspired by other creative people. They’re something that bookshops, record stores, game shops etc.. use to make things easier for their customers. They certainly aren’t meant to restrict creativity in any way.
In fact, most new genres appear because someone “breaks the rules” and mixes or modifies elements from pre-existing genres.

So, yes, genre fluidity is awesome πŸ™‚

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Four Reasons Why Some Creative Works Become Better With Time

Well, for today, I thought that I’d look at why some older creative works can seemingly become better with time. This was something that I noticed when I happened to re-listen to Iron Maiden’s “The Final Frontier” album from 2010 a while before writing this article. When this album was originally released, I really liked a few songs from it but didn’t quite consider it to be one of Iron Maiden’s better albums.

But, a few years later, it seems like a considerably better album than I’d originally thought that it was. So, I thought that I’d look at a few possible reasons why some creative works can seemingly become better with the passage of time.

1) Hype and expectations: Carrying on with the example I used earlier, Iron Maiden albums are one of the few things that I tend to buy when they’re still “new”. When a new Iron Maiden album is released, it’s an incredibly exciting time. There’s a lot of expectations and pre-release information (and the occasional music video) on the internet. The same sort of thing is probably true for anything made by your favourite musicians, writers, game developers etc..

One of the advantages of revisiting things that have stopped being new (or looking for older creative works) is that they aren’t surrounded by lots of hype and expectations. In other words, it’s easier to look at these things on their own merits. If something is good, but different, then this is easier to see when your mind isn’t clouded by hype and anticipation.

It’s also easier to see these things as one stage in a band’s, novelist’s or game franchise’s creative development when you can also see later things that have been made by the same people. Being able to put a creative work in context can sometimes make it seem even better as a result (either because you can see hints of older works or newer works in it).

2) Nostalgia and historical curiosity: This is a fairly obvious one, but looking at older creative works can be a great way to “travel back in time” to better parts of our lives or to interesting parts of the past. This alone can make some creative works seem a lot better than they probably were at the time.

For me, a good example of this is an American TV show from the 1990s called “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman“. I saw at least two episodes of this on the BBC when I was a child. But, I considered it to be somewhat cheesy. It wasn’t a bad program, but it didn’t really impress me as much as other TV shows of the time did.

Yet, during a “1990s nostalgia” phase late last year and earlier this year, I ended up getting most of the show on DVD. This time round, it seemed to sum up everything wonderful about the 1990s. The fashions! The set design! The production values! The optimistic attitudes! The guest stars! The humour! The gloriously silly storylines! I could go on. But, the show seems to work a lot better as a “retro” historical artefact than it did when it was actually “modern”.

So, yes, when something goes from being current to being “a way to step back into the past” or even “a way to escape from the present day for a while”, it will generally seem better as a result.

3) You’re older: Following on from my last point, if you revisit a creative work several years after you first encountered it, then you aren’t the same person you were then. You’ve got more experience, you’re more intelligent and your tastes might be very slightly different.

As such, you’re more likely to see things that your younger self dismissed as “boring” or “crap” in a slightly different way. You’re more likely to pick up nuances or themes in a creative work that your younger self might have missed. You’re more likely to be able to empathise more with some characters than you were before. You’re more likely to enjoy things like slower-paced storytelling, philosophical depth or narrative complexity.

Of course, this sort of thing can cut both ways. Things that seemed really cool when you were younger can seem trite, superficial and/or embarassing when you’re slightly older. But, even so, it will allow you to enjoy some creative works significantly more than you did when you were younger.

4) Modern culture: This one is a bit cynical, but one reason why creative works that seemed “mediocre” when they were new can seem “amazing” when they’re a bit older can be because current culture has got worse.

When this sort of thing happens then anything from a time that you consider to be a “golden age” gets an almost instant upgrade. After all, it’s better than the modern stuff by comparison. A good example of this can probably be seen with many computer and video games.

Even slightly “mediocre” games from the past can seem better when compared to everything I’ve seen and read about their modern counterparts. For example, even the crappiest 1990s first-person shooter game will still include things like non-linear level design, imaginative weapon designs, a focus on single-player gameplay etc.. But, from everything I’ve heard about FPS games from this decade, many of them seem to be linear, militaristic, simplified, multiplayer-focused things that focus more on fancy graphics than enjoyable gameplay.

So, yes, if one of your favourite genres of entertainment has gone downhill in recent years, then even mediocre things from the past can start to look like masterpieces.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

COMING SOON! “Noir Christmas” Short Stories And Christmas Comics :)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to announce two festive things that will be appearing here in the near future:

– “Noir Christmas” Short Stories: From the 14th-23rd December, there will be daily short stories posted here in the evenings πŸ™‚

Unlike last year’s Cyberpunk Christmas stories, this year’s collection was meant to have more of a “film noir” theme. However, they’re more like cynical modern comedic detective stories about a nameless grumpy old private detective. This collection will also have something of a story arc too.

Here’s an extract from the first story: “But, this year was different. My only client this week had been Mrs Johansen, and she only wandered into my office because she’d mistaken it for the local optician. And with the measly fiver I’d earned for my deductive services in the matter, the coffers were looking a little bare.

– “Christmas Comics”: Like with last year’s “A Cynical Christmas 2016” collection, there will be a special festive mini series of my long-running occasional webcomic between the 19th-24th December, with a single-panel comic on Christmas Day.

Here’s a preview from this year’s “Cynical Christmas” mini series:

This mini series will run from the 19th-24th December. Plus, there will be a single-panel comic on Christmas Day too πŸ™‚

Merry Christmas everyone πŸ™‚

Today’s Art (18th November 2017)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting was kind of random. I’d originally planned to make another gothic painting (since yesterday’s one went really well) but I was more in the mood for 1980s/90s style art and cyberpunk art. So, the final painting ended up being a strange mixture of these genres.

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

"Scaffolding" By C. A. Brown

“Scaffolding” By C. A. Brown