Awesome Art Can Lurk In Unlikely Places – A Ramble

Well, although this is an article about art, I’m going to have to start by talking about a TV show for a bit. This is mostly because, after discovering a random “funny moments” clip on Youtube, I ended up watching a DVD of a modern version of “Scooby Doo”. In addition to the humour, this was mostly because this cartoon series is a surprisingly good work of visual art. Here are a couple of examples to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from season one (2010-11) of “Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated” that includes dramatic high-contrast lighting, clever use of silhouettes and a brilliant purple/orange colour scheme.

This is another screenshot from season one, which includes an ominous red/blue colour scheme (with a reassuring hint of orange/yellow), some hints of high-contrast lighting and hints of 1960s-style watercolour artwork too.

This is a cartoon series that includes bold high-contrast lighting, a really interesting 1960s-inspired modern art style, well-chosen colour schemes, some really dramatic compositions and a whole host of other amazing artistic stuff that you wouldn’t traditionally expect to see in a Saturday morning cartoon. And, of course, this made me think about finding awesome artwork in unlikely places.

The most inspirational artwork isn’t usually found hidden away in art galleries. Instead, it is usually “hiding in plain sight” in all sorts of places that you wouldn’t expect.

For example, one of the major elements of my own art style (eg: high-contrast lighting) was mostly inspired by all of the old second-hand 1980s/90s horror novel covers I saw when I was a teenager and the cover art for all of the amazing old heavy metal albums I found back then.

Likewise, as I’ve mentioned at least a couple of times before, many of the best examples of dramatic composition, clever use of perspective, clever lighting etc… that I’ve found have been in the old “survival horror” computer/video games that I played during my youth:

This is a screenshot from the 2000 PC port of “Resident Evil 3” (1999). Notice how the “camera” not only lurks far away from the player’s character in order to create a feeling of both insignificance and of being watched, but also how the game designers use lighting to draw the player’s attention to where they are supposed to go next.

So, what was the point out all of this?

Well, it is that amazing art is all around us if we are willing to look. On any given day, you’ll probably see more pieces of art than you even consciously notice, and many of these are a lot more sophisticated than you might initially think – if you’re actually willing to look at them.

Not only can all of this amazing “hidden” artwork have an influence on our art styles without us even consciously noticing, but it is also the perfect riposte to people who think that art is a “pretentious” or “irrelevant” thing.

The fact is that the world looks the way that it does because of artists. Art is the background to all of our lives in ways that we may not even consciously notice. And, what this often means is that some of the coolest and most dramatic works of art can be quite literally “hiding in plain sight”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Things Artists Can Learn From Old Survival Horror Videogames

Well, it’s been a while since I last wrote an art-based article and, since I’ve returned to making more imaginative art (on a semi-regular basis, at least), I thought that I’d look at a few things that old survival horror videogames can teach artists. Although I’ve almost certainly talked about this topic before, it’s always worth returning to.

If you’ve never heard of survival horror videogames before, they were a genre of horror videogame that was popular during the 1990s and the early-mid 2000s. They were games that used a third-person perspective and had slightly more of an emphasis on exploration, atmosphere, storytelling and/or puzzle-solving than on combat.

Notable examples of the genre include games like “Alone In the Dark“, the first three “Resident Evil” games, the first three “Silent Hill” games and the “Project Zero”/”Fatal Frame” videogame series.

And, if you take artistic inspiration from them, you can make dramatic art that looks a bit like this upcoming digitally-edited painting of mine:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 25th June.

So, what can old survival horror videogames teach us about making art?

1) Perspective and composition: One of the interesting things about survival horror games from the 1990s is that, due to technical limitations, they would often use pre-made 2D backdrops rather than actual 3D locations. What this meant was that the game’s “camera” had to remain in a fixed position in each location (since the background was actually a 2D image). Yet, this technical limitation proved to be one of the best parts of these games. But, why?

Simply put, game designers of the time had to use this limitation to their advantage. In other words, they had to use perspective and composition in interesting and dramatic ways. Here’s an example from “Resident Evil 3” to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from the 2000 PC port of “Resident Evil 3” (1999).

Notice how the “camera” lurks far away from the main character, creating a sense of both impending danger and of being an insignificant part of a large uncaring world. Likewise, notice how some dramatic flames and burning pieces of wood have been placed in the close foreground, adding depth to the image and also “framing” the image slightly. All of these things were conscious creative decisions that give this moment in the game a little bit more atmosphere.

In other words, old survival horror games can teach us that both perspective and composition are integral parts of any painting or drawing. When used creatively, they can add instant visual interest and atmosphere to a piece of art.

2) Altered familiarity: If there’s one thing that made old survival horror games so eerily dramatic, it was that they would often take familiar locations and turn them into something a bit more dark and twisted. This contrast between the familiar and the unfamiliar is designed to evoke something that Sigmund Freud called “The Uncanny” and it not only adds instant atmosphere, but it also allows for a lot more visual creativity too.

In addition to the post-apocalyptic settings of “Resident Evil 3”, one of the best examples of this can be found in another horror sequel called “Silent Hill 3“. This is a game that will often take familiar locations (eg: subways, shopping centres, hospitals etc..) and turn them into something eerily terrifying. Here’s an example:

This is a screenshot from the PC version of “Silent Hill 3” (2003)

In this scene from “Silent Hill 3”, an ordinary location (a subway corridor) is turned into something much creepier through the addition of things that you wouldn’t expect to see in this location. The incongruous piles of old junk not only evoke a feeling of dereliction and decay, but they also present a menacing barrier to the player too. Likewise, some faded/dried blood spatter on the wall also helps to add to this sense of menace too.

So, if there’s another thing that old survival horror games can teach artists, it is to be a bit more creative with “familiar” locations. Whether you’re trying to add a sense of ominous horror to your artwork or whether you just want to add some quirky and comedic stuff to your art, don’t be afraid to be a little bit creative with “familiar” locations.

3) The lighting: You knew I was going to mention this. But, it’s worth mentioning anyway. If there’s one visual feature that really makes old survival horror games stand out from the crowd, it is the lighting.

In order to create a dramatic atmosphere, these games were usually either set at night or in gloomy locations of one kind or another. What this meant is that the designers could use lighting creatively. Not only do the dark backgrounds make the lighting stand out even more but it also means that the lighting can be used to draw the player’s attention to particular areas of the picture. Here’s an example from “Resident Evil 2”:

This is a screenshot from the PC version of “Resident Evil 2” (1998)

Notice how most of the foreground is shrouded in shadows, yet the stairs and the corner of the walkway are brightly lit. Not only does this add some visual interest to the picture, but the player is also quite literally being invited to “go into the light”, since the area you’re supposed to walk to (eg: the end of the walkway) is the most brightly-lit part of the picture.

So, what can we learn from this? Simply put, in addition to making sure that 30-50% of the total surface area of your picture is shrouded in gloom (so that the lighting looks more vivid by contrast), it also reminds us that lighting should be used to direct the audience’s attention towards interesting or important parts of the picture.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What Can Novel Cover Art Teach Us About Making Art?

Well, it’s been a little while since I wrote about making art. So, today’s article will be an art-based article with a slight twist. I’ll be looking at what the cover art of novels can teach us about making art.

But, before I begin, I should probably illustrate the difference between good and bad cover art. In short, good cover art includes visual storytelling and is designed to grab the audience’s attention in some way or another, whilst telling them what to expect.

To give you a comparison, here are the covers of two modern books by the same authors and the same publisher. One is better than the other. Take a look for yourself:

This is a comparison of two UK paperback covers by the same publisher and the same authors. Apologies about the label remnants on one cover though.

Out of these two covers, the one on the left is more well-designed. This is because it includes intriguing visual storytelling (a helicopter flying away from an exploding building) and it also includes an orange/blue colour scheme that is reminiscent of posters for modern Hollywood action movies. The slightly tilted perspective also implies movement and action, as if the viewer has been knocked down by the force of the explosion. This cover unambiguously tells potential readers “this novel is like an action movie!“.

On the other hand, although the cover on the right includes some beautiful high-contrast lighting and a gorgeous black/gold colour scheme – it isn’t very well-designed. Why? It doesn’t really include much visual storytelling. It could be a historical novel. It could be a horror novel. It could be a political thriller. It could be a lot of things, but there’s nothing in the artwork that unambiguously tells the reader what to expect. Only the mention of “adventure” in the small text at the top and bottom of the cover clues the audience into the fact that it is an action/thriller novel.

So, cover art can teach us a lot about the importance of visual storytelling in art. It can teach us about how the most interesting pieces of art are ones where something is happening and/or which look like they could be a single frame taken from the middle of a film or a cartoon or something like that.

This doesn’t mean that your art has to include lots of explosions or fighting or whatever, but it should hint at some kind of story. And, if you think that this is a modern thing, it really isn’t. Historical paintings will often include lots of visual storytelling.

For example, here’s a painting by one of my favourite 18th Century painters, Joseph Wright of Derby:

“The Orrery” (c. 1766) By Joseph Wright of Derby [Via Wikimedia Commons]

Although this painting doesn’t include any bombastic action, it contains a lot of visual storytelling. In the background, a man eagerly makes notes whilst an older man glares at him sternly. Beside him, two children stare at the brightly-lit orrery with awe-struck fascination. To the right of them, a man leans wearily on the table, deep in thought. Beside him, another man tries to say something to the older man in the background etc… There are a lot of things happening in this painting.

In addition to this, cover art can also teach us the importance of colour and lighting choices when creating mood too. During my early-mid teenage years, I used to love reading old second-hand 1970s-90s splatterpunk horror novels. Although the internet was around then, smartphones thankfully weren’t. So, if I hadn’t heard of the author before, how did I know when I’d stumbled across an interesting horror novel in a charity shop? Simple, the cover art told me:

This is a comparison between two paperback covers of novels by Clive Barker and Shaun Hutson, two great horror authors of the 1980s.

Old horror novel covers were instantly recognisable because of the colour and lighting choices. They would often feature gloomy Tenebrist lighting and they would often only include a few bold colours that stood out dramatically against the dark backgrounds. In other words, the colour and design choices literally screamHorror novel!” to any potential reader.

Good cover art in many genres will often use colours and lighting expertly to create a mood and to signal to the reader what to expect. For example, gloomy lighting and bold colours work really well on the cover of a horror novel. However, when used on a thriller novel (like the thriller novel cover I showed you earlier) or on a light-hearted romance novel, it will just bewilder and confuse potential readers. So, cover art can also teach us the importance of colour and lighting choices in art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Examples Of How To Take Inspiration Properly

Well, although I’ve already talked about how to take artistic inspiration before, I thought that I’d look at it from a slightly different angle today. This is mostly because taking inspiration properly usually involves creatively “reverse engineering” things that you’ve seen, albeit in a very specific way.

It means seeing something and then breaking it down into it’s generic non-copyrightable elements (although I’m not a copyright lawyer, it is a general princple that “you cannot copyright an idea” [eg: copyright only covers highly-specific details]). Then, after you’ve done this, finding a way to use those generic elements in a new and original way.

But, if you haven’t done this before, then it can be difficult to know what to do. So, I thought that I’d provide a few examples of the process by looking at three images from various films/ games/TV shows, then commenting on and reviewing the generic features of each image and then creating a quick piece of original “inspired by” digital art that includes those generic features.

But, before I go any further, I should point out that you really should HAVE MULTIPLE INSPIRATIONS! I cannot emphasise this enough! Although I’ll only be (mostly) taking inspiration from one thing in each example, the more inspirations you have (and the more different they are), the more original and interesting your work will be.

Example 1: “Ghost In The Shell” (2017)

This is a screenshot from “Ghost In The Shell” (2017 Remake). Let’s break it down into it’s generic elements.

This scene from “Ghost In The Shell” (2017) contains many features common to the cyberpunk genre, such as high-contrast lighting (eg: where the background is darker, so that the lights stand out more) and a dense urban setting. In addition to this, this scene of the film makes expert use of complementary colours – with a slight emphasis on red, green and blue lighting (echoing the colours used in computer monitors/display screens).

Plus, it also makes very clever use of composition and negative space too – by showing the film’s main character silhouetted in the close foreground. Compared to the riot of lights and colours in front of her, her dark silhouette stands out in a very distinctive way.

So, what are the generic elements here? They are a dense futuristic urban setting, high-contrast lighting, red/green/blue lighting and the clever use of silhouettes and negative space.

So, an original inspired painting that used these elements might look a little bit like this quick piece of digital art.

A piece of digital art that uses red/green/blue lighting, silhouettes & negative space and a dense futuristic urban setting. As you can see, it also looks nothing like the screenshot at the beginning of this example. This is also partly because I’ve also added general elements from both the horror genre and other cyberpunk works too. As I said earlier, more inspirations means more originality.

Example 2: “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut” (1997)

This is a screenshot from a horror game called “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut” (1997). Let’s break it down into it’s generic elements.

This screenshot from “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut” (1997) makes excellent use of composition and perspective in order to create an ominous sense of dread. The camera perches above the player, with a candelabra and a stag’s head in the close foreground to emphasise the height of the room. Likewise, the lighting in this room is fairly gloomy and the room itself looks slightly old and run-down. Again, this is done to create an atmosphere of dread.

So, what are the generic elements here? An overhead perspective, objects in the close foreground, gloomy lighting, an atmosphere of dread and old/disused locations.

So, an original inspired painting that used these elements might look a little bit like this quick piece of digital art (which was also inspired by another part of the game [involving a hole in the floor] and a couple of other games too).

A piece of digital art that uses an overhead perspective, includes objects in the close foreground, has gloomy lighting, involves old/disused locations and contains an atmosphere of dread. As you can see, it looks fairly different from the screenshot in this example. Again, I’ve used multiple inspirations – as well as taking inspiration from another part of “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut”, I’ve also taken inspiration from two other games- “Alone In The Dark” (1992) and “Hotline Miami” (2012).

Example 3: “Murder, She Wrote” (1984):

This is a screenshot from season 1, episode 4 of “Murder, She Wrote” (1984). Let’s break it down into it’s generic elements.

Although this scene isn’t really typical of the show, it provides a stunning visual spectacle. Bright neon lights are contrasted against ominous gloom, with the garish neon lights contrasting irreverently with the sombre seriousness of the graveyard. The character in the foreground looks instantly “1980s”, thanks to the show’s costume and make-up department. And the open gates in the close foreground beckon the audience closer.

So, what are the generic elements here? 1980s-style fashions/hairstyles, neon lighting, the theme of death, an intriguing composition and a slight degree of irreverence.

So, an original inspired painting that used these elements might look a little bit like this quick piece of digital art.

A piece of digital art that includes 1980s fashions/hairstyles, neon lighting, the theme of death and a slight degree of irreverence. As you can see, it looks very different to the screenshot in the example. Like with the other pieces of digital art, I’ve also taken inspiration from other things too – such as gothic art, the music videos for a band called “Creeper”, the cyberpunk genre and other 1980s-style things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂