Why Making “Tech Demo” Paintings Can Make You Feel Inspired Again – A Ramble

Well, it’s been ages since I last wrote an article about making art. And, after having an unusual moment of artistic inspiration recently, I thought that I’d talk about one way to get inspired and/or motivated again if you’ve fallen into a bit of an artistic funk.

A few days before writing this article, I’d been relaxing by watching random online videos about computers when I saw a demonstration of one of the latest graphics cards (which used real time ray tracing and cost several times as much as my entire computer did) and finally understood why some gamers are so obsessed about graphics. The game footage in the demonstration was almost photo-realistic – especially the reflections. Naturally, this made me fascinated about the topic of realistic reflections.

So, I thought “I’ll try to focus on this in my next painting” and to my susprise, focusing on something as boringly technical as this resulted in a much better and more inspired painting than I’d expected. Seeing the painting as a “tech demo” for my own artistic knowledge gave me a reason to make the painting good (including using some digital painting techniques for the sky that I haven’t used in a while and some cloud shading techniques I’d learnt from making a landscape painting a couple of days earlier). It made the painting matter to me. Here’s a detail from the upcoming painting:

A digital and watercolour image showing a cartoon man standing next to a river, with buildings and lights reflected in it.

The full painting will be posted here on the 19th April.

Likewise, after seeing another almost photo-realistic demonstration of two modern game engines running on powerful systems that can use them to their full potential, I became interested in the topic of realistic lighting. Since I had a little bit more time than I’d expected that evening, I decided to put everything I’ve learnt over the past few years about painting light and shadow, about digital image editing etc… into just one painting. To make a painting with the most realistic lighting that I could. To make another “tech demo” painting.

And, because I had a purpose for painting (rather than it just being a part of my daily practice routine), I found that I felt a lot more inspired. The painting not only ended up being a stylised piece of mid-late 2000s nostalgia, but it also led me to experiment with things like using different contrast levels whilst editing the painting and using softer chiaroscuro lighting rather than the more vivid tenebrist lighting that I usually use. Here’s a reduced-size preview of the painting:

An image of a cartoon woman standing in a closed video shop and holding a DVD boxset. Soft light streams through the windows and the back of the shop is shrouded in darkness.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 22nd April.

So, how can any of this help you feel inspired?

Well, as boring as “tech demo” paintings – where the focus is on technique and/or using everything you’ve already learnt – might sound, they are really useful for feeling inspired and motivated again for at least two reasons.

The first is that it gives you something to focus on and this will automatically give you some instant ideas. For example, if you want to practice or show off everything you’ve learnt about painting reflections, then you’ll need to include a reflective surface (eg: water, a mirror etc..) in your painting. After all, how can you practice painting reflections if there’s nothing reflective? So, you’ve already got part of an idea for your next painting.

Likewise, since the focus is on making one aspect of the painting look good, the rest doesn’t matter as much. For example, in the two paintings I showed you, the backgrounds are actually just generic towns and buildings. They are about the most uninspired and uncreative backgrounds in the world. Yet, I still felt motived and inspired whilst making these paintings because I was focusing a lot more on the reflections and lighting than on interesting backgrounds.

Secondly, it gives your art a purpose and makes you take pride in your work. If you’re feeling uninspired, it can often be because making art either feels like a chore or because it feels meaningless. So, making a painting where the goal is to impress yourself (or possibly other people too) with everything that you’ve learnt about things like lighting, reflections etc… can solve both of these problems. It also pushes you to experiment with new and interesting techniques and ideas (or combinations of stuff you already know) which makes the painting feel more like actual learning and practice rather than just “practice”.

So, if you’re feeling uninspired and you’ve already been practicing art for a while, try making a “tech demo” painting to show off what you already know about one aspect of making art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Thematic Consistency And Regular Art Practice- A Ramble

Well, at the time of writing, I’ve been going through a little bit of an uninspired phase with my art. When looking through some of the daily art practice paintings that I’ll be posting here over the next few days, I suddenly found myself thinking “This is a mess! There’s no thematic consistency! I keep switching between genres!“.

Yes, I still used the same art style and a similar approach to lighting in all of the paintings, but the genre and theme of each painting seemed to vary from day to day. Here’s a preview to show you what I mean.

This is a preview of my next five daily paintings, showing the genre of each painting.

This mood wasn’t helped by the fact that I was listening to Lacuna Coil’s excellent “Comalies” album at the time. This is a gothic metal album that has a brilliantly distinctive and unique sound. Every track on the album not only sounds distinctive, but it also feels like it belongs there too.

I found myself wishing that my art was more like that album, in terms of consistency. But then I realised that the only reason that this album was able to achieve such a consistent sound and atmosphere was because it had been slowly developed over several months or years. In other words, the band weren’t writing a new song every day.

Although it’s absolutely great when you find a fascinating theme and can use it as a source of inspiration for several themed paintings, it doesn’t happen that often when you make art regularly. I mean, the last time it happened to me was a month or two ago when I saw some Youtube videos of abandoned shopping centres and ended up making a series of seven paintings about this subject. Here are three of them:

“And Once A Palace” By C. A. Brown

“The Forgotten Food Court” By C. A. Brown

“The Solitary Zombie” By C. A. Brown

However, these themed art series have a limited shelf-life. There’s only so much you can do with a given theme before it starts to become drearily “ordinary” or it becomes more difficult to come up with interesting ideas based on it. Of course, if you’re making art regularly, this process can become accelerated to the point that you can’t spend more than a week or two on any one given theme.

In other words, variety is the spice of life when it comes to artistic inspiration. This is especially true if you are doing regular art practice. The priority with regular art practice is actually sticking to your practice schedule.

As such, during uninspired times, you’ll often find yourself scrabbling wildly for any source of inspiration. This can involve revisiting your favourite genres, or painting from life, or painting random landscapes, or re-making old art, or just painting whatever you think is cool at that particular moment. In other words, actually making a painting matters more than making a consistent series of paintings.

I guess that this is one of the limitations of regular art practice. But, the benefits far outweigh the problems. Not only does this thematic inconsistency force you to widen your interests slightly (since you can’t focus too much on one genre, lest you begin to lose interest or run out of ideas), but it also means that you have to focus on the things that do make your art uniquely “yours”.

I’m talking about things like developing your own art style, finding your favourite colour palettes etc… If you do these things, then thematic inconsistencies in your art won’t matter as much as you might think. Yes, they might annoy you slightly from time to time, but your audience will probably be more likely to see the stylistic connections between your paintings.

Yes, your regular art won’t have the same consistency as an album that a musician has spent months making. But, as long as you follow your own interests and put the time into refining your own “style” (by getting inspired by lots of different things), then thematic inconsistencies won’t matter as much as you might think.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Things To Remember When Watching Time-Lapse Art Videos (If You’re Learning)

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One of the cool things about the internet is that there are literally thousands of videos of artists making art on there. Usually, these are time-lapse videos which show an artist making a one to (however many) hour drawing or painting within the space of about five minutes. They’re absolutely fascinating to watch.

Although I’ve never made of these time-lapse videos myself (the closest thing has been a few basic drawing guide animations, like this one, that I made in 2014), I’ve been practicing making art daily for the past few years. So, I’d like to think that I have a bit of background knowledge.

But, if you’re trying to learn how to make art, then here are a few things that you need to remember when watching these videos.

1) They don’t usually show preparation: Most of the art videos that I’ve seen on sites like Youtube have focused on the actual act of drawing with ink and/or painting. After all, if you’re making a five-minute time-lapse video, then it makes sense to only focus on the most impressive-looking part of the whole process.

What you probably aren’t going to see is the process of making a pencil sketch (and/or basic preparatory sketches). It’s a basic thing, but it is something that every artist should do before they start using paint or ink. In fact, thanks to the lighting in some Youtube videos, the artist’s underlying pencil sketch can be rendered almost invisible. But, if any artist is creating an intricate, detailed or complex ink drawing and/or painting, then there’s almost certainly a sketch involved somewhere.

Likewise, the videos don’t often show other parts of the process – such as thinking of what you’re actually going to paint and/or draw. Looking at reference images to work out how to draw something you’ve never drawn before etc…

Basically, time lapse videos often only show one part of the whole process. So, don’t think that you can make good art without doing any preparation first.

2) They don’t show practice: It can be easy to feel intimidated if you watch sped-up footage of an expert artist creating a masterpiece in about five minutes. What you don’t see is the many years of practice, experimentation with different materials etc…. that they’ve done before they made that video. And, yes, I mean many.

For example, I’ve been practicing making art daily for about 4-5 years and I still consider myself to be intermediate at best. But, this isn’t meant to discourage you. In those 4-5 years, I’ve gone from making fairly basic art that looks like this:

"Attic Lab" By C. A. Brown [10th June 2012]

“Attic Lab” By C. A. Brown
[10th June 2012]

To making art that looks more like this:

"Data Transfer" By C. A. Brown

“Data Transfer” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, although the artists you see in online videos might make painting or drawing look easy, they rarely show the sheer amount of practice and experimentation that has gone into getting that good at making art. Those amazing art videos you can find on the internet will show you what you can look forward to after several years of practice. So, don’t feel intimidated or discouraged.

3) Look for techniques: Although you can learn a lot from copying other works of art, doing this won’t teach you much if you just copy them without thinking about the techniques that the artist has used (and finding ways to use those techniques in new and original works of art).

Learning techniques from lots of different artists and working out how to use those techniques in your own original artwork is how you build up your own unique art style.

For example, my own art style includes things like techniques I remembered from cartoons I watched when I was much younger, a few things I’ve learnt from anime/manga, something I learnt from the lyrics booklet of a punk album, things I’ve learnt from instruction books, a colour scheme that I picked up from this set of “Doom II” levels etc…

So, when watching a time-lapse video on the internet, pay close attention to the techniques that the artist is using. Do they have a particular way of painting light and shadows? Do they often use particular colour combinations? Do they draw people in a particular way? etc.. Ask yourself questions like this and, when you’ve found the answers, try to work out how they do this.

Once you’ve worked out how to use the techniques that you’ve seen, then practice making new and original artwork with them.

4) Ignore any branding: When you’re watching an art video, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you “must” have one brand of markers, one brand of paints etc.. if you want to make art that looks good.

Instead, focus on the general type of art supplies that the artist uses. Do they use watercolour paints, alcohol-based markers, India ink, oil pastels, rollerball pens, digital tools etc..? Once you’ve found the general type, then buy an inexpensive no-brand version of it and experiment.

As a side note, if you’re interested in using digital tools, then the digital equivalents to inexpensive art supplies are probably free, non-commercial, open-source graphics programs like GIMP [GNU Image Manipulation Program] (these have the same basic features that a lot of commercial programs do, and are probably good to practice with).

If you go straight for the fancy, expensive branded art supplies that you’ve seen on the internet then not only will you feel nervous about using them (since they cost so much and can’t be wasted), but you’re also setting yourself up for disappointment too. On their own, expensive art supplies can only make a piece of art look mildly better at most – the real reason why a painting or drawing looks so good is because of the skill of the artist. Skill that can only be gained through lots of practice and experimentation.

So, find out what general type of art supplies are featured in the video. Buy some cheap, no-brand versions of them that you won’t think twice about using – and then practice! Then practice some more! If you do this, you’re more likely to end up eventually making the kind of cool art that you’ve seen online than you are if you go straight for the expensive stuff (with the delusion that it will instantly make you better at making art).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Determination And Inspiration – A Ramble

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Although this is an article about making art, I’m going to have to start by talking about playing computer games (again). As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later. Likewise, although I’ve talked about all of the art-related stuff in this article before, it’s worth repeating (and not only because I seem to have mild writer’s block at the moment)

Even though I’m not sure when, if or even how much of it I’ll review in the future, I’ve been playing a set of “Doom II” levels called “Very Hard” recently.

As the name suggests, these levels have been designed to be as fiendishly difficult as possible. And, yet, a few hours before I wrote this article, I was able to beat the first level.

Sure, it took me something like 4-7 hours in total (and the many years of “Doom II” practice I’ve had before then). Sure, I probably saved more times in that one level than I’ve done in whole episodes of levels. Sure, I’d often have to re-play the same part of the level up to fifty times just in order to progress a little bit further. And I’d often end up in situations that looked like this:

This is a screenshot from "Very Hard". And, yes, this isn't even the largest group of monsters you'll encounter in this level...

This is a screenshot from “Very Hard”. And, yes, this isn’t even the largest group of monsters you’ll encounter in this level…

Finally, eventually, I finished the level. I literally had to come up with clever ways to use the “rules” of ‘Doom’ to my advantage more times than I can remember. My reaction to actually finishing this level was exactly the kind of elated reaction that you would expect after achieving something that looks impossible.

Pure bliss! Don't be fooled by the "20:14" time. This only covers the time I spent NOT being obliterated by monsters.

Pure bliss! Don’t be fooled by the “20:14” time. This only covers the time I spent NOT being obliterated by monsters.

So, what does any of this have to do with making art?

Well, it’s all to do with determination – something that I not only learnt from playing “Doom II” levels, but also from daily art practice. One of the great things about telling yourself that you will make a piece of art every day is that you actually have to make a piece of art every day. Whilst this might not sound too difficult, it also includes the days when you aren’t feeling inspired.

But, if there’s one thing that daily art practice teaches you, it’s that determination matters more than inspiration. If you make a piece of art every day, regardless of how good it is, you’ll quickly learn all sorts of sneaky ways to get around not feeling inspired.

You’ll learn that, with a bit of practice, still life paintings are a quick and almost inspiration-free way to make a day’s painting. You’ll learn that making new versions of your really old paintings or drawings can be a cool-looking way to get through an uninspired day. You’ll learn which types of art you can pretty much make in your sleep.

You’ll learn that, if something is out of copyright, then you can paint your own modified copy of it. You’ll learn how to take inspiration properly from things that are still in copyright. You’ll learn that even painting something totally random (if you’re feeling mildly uninspired) is better than painting nothing. Like this:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will appear here on the 7th August. As mildly uninspired paintings go, this is probably one of the better ones I've made.

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will appear here on the 7th August. As mildly uninspired paintings go, this is probably one of the better ones I’ve made.

If you have determination, then a lack of inspiration won’t matter as much. Not only that, since you’re still making art when you aren’t feeling inspired, you may well find that inspiration will come a lot more often and a lot more easily.

Strange as it sounds, if being uninspired (or the possibility of totally and utterly failing at making a good painting or drawing) isn’t an huge problem to you, then you won’t feel uninspired anywhere near as often.

Not only that, if you doggedly insist on making a piece of art every day, then your art will improve significantly too. Yes, it might happen gradually. But, you’ll eventually get to the point where even your crappiest and most “uninspired” new painting looks better than your best and most inspired old painting.

So, yes, the kind of determination that you need to complete a “seemingly impossible” computer game level is exactly the kind of determination that you also need when you’re doing your art practice.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why The Old Adage About “It’s Not The Winning That Matters” Applies To Regular Art Practice

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If you grew up in the 1990s, you probably heard the saying “it’s not the winning that matters, it’s the taking part that counts” whenever you did anything vaguely competitive. Although some hyper-competitive people might question the wisdom of this saying, it’s actually a surprisingly good thing to remember when you are doing art practice.

If you are practicing art regularly, then you probably aren’t going to produce masterpieces every day or every week or whenever. You’re going to have days when you feel uninspired, days when you aren’t in a great mood and days when you are tired.

If at all possible, you should still do art practice on these days – even if the end result looks like this digitally-edited painting of mine that will be posted here in late July:

 This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 31st July.

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 31st July.

But, even though this “failed” painting is kind of random – it was more than just a waste of time. Whilst making it, I decided to experiment with a technique called “foreshortening“, which is why the woman’s right arm looks so tiny. This is a perspective trick where, when someone reaches towards the audience, their arms look shorter and wider in order to mimic how this looks in real life.

If I’d actually bothered to look at some reference pictures, I might have done a better job at using the technique. But, although it wasn’t perfect, it looked at least mildly better than I had expected it to. And it looked a hundred times better than if I’d never done any practice that day at all.

The thing to remember about regular art practice is that it’s more about getting used to making art and about learning how to make art even when you aren’t feeling “inspired”. It’s more about being able to fail, to move on from that failure and learn from it. It’s more about trying out any of your ideas that begin with “I wonder if I can draw this…” or “I wonder if I can paint this…“.

Regular art practice is more about learning techniques you can use to make your art look better, even when you aren’t having a good day (eg: the ‘terrible’ picture I showed you earlier is probably still better than any ‘good’ picture I could make 3-5 years ago). Regular art practice is about building up the confidence to be able to make art “whatever the weather”. It’s about building up the confidence to call yourself an “artist”.

It’s also more about learning to avoid perfectionism and to actually finish paintings. Regular art practice is about learning how to make your art more efficiently, in order to get it done within the time you’ve set aside for art practice.

Regular art practice It isn’t about producing masterpieces every day.

Yes, this is something to aim towards and – when you’ve been practicing for a while – your current “mediocre” artwork will probably look amazing when compared to your old artwork. But, if you go into your daily practice expecting to “win” every time – then you’re probably not going to practice very often. You’ll either be too overwhelmed with disappointment or too frozen by perfectionism to actually do the practice you need to do in order to make good art.

In other words, regular art practice is more about the “taking part” than it is about the “winning”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

You Know All That Art Practice Is Paying Off When…

2017 Artwork Fringe Benefits Of Regular Art Practice article

Well, I thought that I’d do something a bit sillier (but with a serious point) for today’s article. Namely, I thought that I’d write a list of cool things that can happen if you stick to practicing making art regularly.

If you’re making art regularly, you might recognise some of the things on this list and – if you don’t – then this might help get you in the mood to practice more often. Of course, it might just sound like smug, self-righteous nonsense. And, if this is the case, then I apologise and promise that tomorrow’s article won’t contain any of this (it’ll probably be a computer game review, since I haven’t written one of these in a while).

So, without any further ado…..

You Know All That Art Practice Is Paying Off When….

– Your “totally uninspired failure of a throwaway painting (that you just KNOW everyone will hate)” that you made just to keep up with your practice schedule looks like the sort of thing that would have literally knocked you off your feet with it’s sheer awesomeness if you’d made it a few years ago.

– The time between feeling “completely uninspired” and actually making a painting is measured in minutes (or possibly hours in extreme cases) rather than days or weeks.

– You can look at a random piece of art in a magazine or on the internet and not only be able to instantly tell whether it was made with digital and/or traditional materials, but also sometimes what materials were used.

– When a time traveller from the ancient year of 2015 asks you what colour the dress is, you can look at it for literally one second and say “light brown and grey/blue/white”, because those are the colours you would instinctively use when painting it.

– The idea of not making art every day/two days/ week etc… feels more “difficult” than the idea of making art on a regular schedule.

– When you see a confusing photo, you are usually quickly able to tell what is happening in it because your image analysis skills have been finely honed by years of studying pictures in order to learn how to draw or paint better (or, more accurately, learning how to draw or paint more things).

– You finally understand the truth that is is impossible for any creative work to be “100% original”. As such, you have slightly more complicated and nuanced thoughts about copyright than you did a few years ago.

– When you want to draw a scene from a first-person shooter game for a comic, it’s really easy to do, since you have an intuitive understanding of one-point perspective. This is despite the fact that, a few years ago, you would have thought of the idea and then spent the next three hours thinking “how the hell do I draw THAT?!

– When you see some seriously cool-looking art in a comic, your first thought is “what can I learn from this?“. Your second thought is “how much can I get away with learning from this?

– When you realise that you can make your own greeting cards.

– You not only have a very clear idea of what your art style looks like when you draw people, but you also know what it looks like when you don’t draw people. You may also possibly know how to spell the word “chiaroscuro” without having to look it up (well, I almost spelled it correctly in the first draft of this article. But the spellchecker soon pointed out my arrogant hubris).

– You’ve used, and abandoned, at least one or two different art mediums- before finding the right one for you.

– You know what you don’t know, and you know exactly how you would learn these things… when you eventually get round to it.

– You can call yourself “an artist” without feeling too embarrassed.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂