One Reason Why Having Your Own Writing Or Art Style Matters

Even though this is a short article about writing and making art, I’m going to have to start by talking about music for a few paragraphs. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Although I haven’t really listened to that much rap music, I recently listened to Tinie Tempah’s “Disc-Overy” album and really enjoyed it (after getting nostalgic about a couple of songs from it I first heard about eight or nine years ago), not to mention that it also showed me something about the value of having a unique “style”.

In addition to Tinie Tempah’s voice/musical style, the humour, rhymes and instrumental elements (eg: 1980s synth music etc..) on the album’s best tracks really stand out 🙂 What this all means is that you can instantly recognise a Tinie Tempah song whenever you hear one, even if you aren’t an expert on the genre or haven’t heard that particular song before.

Or, to give another rap-related example, although I’ve only seen a few modern music videos by Dizzee Rascal – his music videos have often this really cool “1980s/90s movie” style to them. Whether it is the ludicrously gruesome 1980s horror movie parody music video for “Couple Of Stacks” or the macabre hilarity of the 1990s Cockney gangster movie-style music video for “Bop N Keep It Dippin”, these are about a million miles away from a typical mainstream music video and they are absolutely awesome 🙂

So, why have I spent a few paragraphs talking about rap music?

One of the many benefits of having a unique style is that it allows you to appeal to people who aren’t typically fans of the genre that you’re making stuff in. It means that people who don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of your genre can still go “Ah, I recognise this!” when they encounter something that you’ve made.

Having your own unique style also helps to appeal to people who are more interested in other genres because the best way to find your own unique style is to have influences from outside of your chosen genre.

One side-effect of this is that people who like other stuff might also like your stuff because it includes elements of their favourite genres too. In other words, it means that you’ll have something in common with more than just enthusiastic fans of your genre.

For example, the Dizzee Rascal music videos I mentioned earlier have a wonderfully twisted sense of humour that will be recognisable to anyone who loves horror movies, heavy metal music etc.. And, as such, even if you’re more of a fan of other genres of music, the videos are still absolutely awesome because they’re a modern tribute to the “edgy” and “controversial” cinema of the past.

So, yes, finding your own unique writing style, art style etc.. is important because it can expand your audience beyond just fans of your favourite genre.

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

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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 🙂

When To Break Your Own Artistic Rules – A Ramble

If you’ve been making art for a while, there’s a good chance that you’ve probably come up with your own set of “rules” about art. These might be rules about things like colours, composition, lighting, painting/drawing size, subject matter, art materials etc…

These types of rules can be incredibly useful for making your art look distinctive, giving yourself a bit of a challenge, making art more efficiently or even just making art that you really like the look of. Generally, if you’re following a rule without any outside pressure to do so, then that usually means that there’s a good reason for doing so.

So, I thought that I’d talk about the times when you end up breaking your own “rules” about art.

This is mostly because some of my more recent paintings, such as the one that will be appearing here tonight come dangerously close to breaking one of my key rules about lighting (eg: at least 30-50% of the painting’s surface area should be covered with black paint).

This rule is one of the things that gives my paintings their distinctive “1980s/1990s movie” style look, and it usually results in digitally-edited paintings that look like this:

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

“Aberystwyth – Above” By C. A. Brown

But, here’s a reduced-size preview of the painting that will be posted here tonight. If it wasn’t for my other rule about including black “letterboxing” bars at the top and bottom of each painting, it would break my rule about lighting:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here tonight.

But, why did I break this rule? Simply put, it was because the rule was temporarily getting in the way of making good art. Basically, I’ve been going through a bit of an uninspired phase and, when I’ve tried to draw or paint from imagination recently, it has resulted in rather crappy art like this:

“Underwater Base” By C. A. Brown

So, until the uninspiration passes, painting from life or from memory is one easy way to make good-looking art without having to rely on my imagination too much. However, since most of the things I saw and decided to paint were things I saw during the day, this made following the “30-50% black paint” rule a lot more difficult.

In other words, there was a good practical reason for briefly breaking one of my central rules about making art. Breaking the rule allowed me to make better art (during an uninspired phase) and to reassure myself that, yes, I can still make good art.

So, the lesson here is that you should only follow your artistic rules when they improve your art. If breaking one of your rules allows you to make a painting when you’re totally uninspired or even to make a piece of art that you feel really proud of, then break that rule!

Just remember, the whole point of having artistic rules is to improve your art. So, when they get in the way of this, don’t be afraid to ignore them.

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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.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Two Basic Tips For Making Art That Is Distinctly “You”

The afternoon before I wrote this article, I was preparing one of March’s daily art posts. To say that I was feeling uninspired was something of an understatement, but I was determined to keep up with my art schedule nonetheless. So, in the end, I made a digitally-edited painting – here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 12th March.

At the time, it just felt like I’d made a “generic” painting (even after using a mildly different colour scheme to my usual one). But, the more that I thought about it, the more that I realised that even though I probably see this painting as being “generic”, “under-detailed” etc.. it probably looks distinctively like the kind of painting I would make.

There’s the high-contrast lighting (eg: a technique involving covering 30-70% of the total area of the painting with black paint to make the lighting stand out by comparison, used by everyone from Caravaggio to 1980s heavy metal album cover artists), there’s the influence from classic 1980s/90s sci-fi, there are CRT monitors and retro fashions, there’s my usual drawing style, there’s the slightly limited colour palette, there are the usual digital effects etc.. It’s certainly not my best painting, but at least it still looks like one of my paintings.

So, I thought that I’d give you two basic tips about how to do something like this yourself – how to make art that looks and feels like it is distinctively “your” kind of art:

1) Take inspiration!: First of all, it is important to know how to take inspiration properly. So, here’s how to do it:

First of all, work out what the general (non-copyrightable) elements of the thing you’re taking inspiration from are. Although I’m not a copyright lawyer, it is a general principle (in most copyright laws) that copyright only protects highly-specific details rather than ideas, concepts etc.. For example, the concept of “a grey spaceship” can’t be copyrighted, but the exact visual design of the USS Enterprise, Millennium Falcon etc.. can be copyrighted.

Then, once you’ve done this, try working out what visual “rules” your inspiration follows (eg: lighting, colour choices, compositional techniques etc…). Then, once you know what the general elements and visual rules are, taking inspiration means doing something new and different (eg: not an exact copy of all or part of the inspiration) with that information. But, of course, you shouldn’t have just one inspiration.

One common misconception amongst people who are just getting into making art is that their own type of art has to be completely and utterly different from everything that has ever been made before. This is, as you might have guessed, a completely impossible thing. Even if you don’t consciously try to take inspiration from other things, you’re going to do it unconsciously. The thing to remember here is that “originality” comes from having a unique mixture of many different inspirations and not from never taking inspiration.

On the flip side, another problem with people who are just getting into art is that they can spend too much time directly copying things (eg: making fan art). You won’t be able to make art that is distinctly “you” if you do this. You’ll just end up making second-rate copies of other things.

As I mentioned before, there’s a difference between copying and taking inspiration. Taking inspiration requires you to use your imagination and, yes, this is something that will need to be exercised regularly and fed with as many inspirations as you can find if you want to turn it into something interesting and distinctive. Using and improving your imagination is harder than just copying things, but it results in much more unique artwork.

Taking inspiration is key to finding your own distinctive “type” of art. Taking inspiration from lots of different art styles will help you find your own art style. Taking inspiration from things that look cool (eg: working out what “rules” they follow and then using those rules in new ways) will help your own art to look cool. The more cool things you find to take inspiration from, the more you’ll be able to come up with your own “uniquely cool” type of art and, more importantly, the more you’ll be able to apply this style to things in different genres to your inspirations.

Taking inspiration will also help you to work out what colour combinations, lighting styles etc.. you like to use the most. As ironic as it sounds, you can’t make your own unique art without taking inspiration.

2) Practice. Practice. Practice!: You won’t find your own unique “type” of art instantly. You might think that you’ve found it but, a couple of years later, you’ll look back and think “my art used to look like THAT?!?!“.

However experienced you are, you will always have moments like this every year or two. Your own type of art is something that will be constantly changing and refining itself slowly over time. This is a good thing, it means that you are developing as an artist.

To give you an example, here is what my own “type” of art looked like on a good day in 2014 (after 1-2 years of daily art practice):

“Ravens” By C. A. Brown [ MAY 2014]

And here’s a more recent example of my “type” of art (made on a bad day, when I was totally uninspired). As well as looking at least marginally better than the “good” picture from 2014, it also has a very different “look” to it too. Practice works!

“Station 76” By C.A. Brown

But this can only happen if you practice. It can only happen if you keep making art. If you tell yourself that, regardless of how good or bad it looks, you are going to make a piece of art every day/three days/ week/month etc…

Regular practice not only helps you to become more skilled and confident as an artist, it also forces you to regularly come up with new ideas for paintings or drawings. Yes, this is difficult to do at first, but it is important because it forces you to get to know your own imagination. To learn what kinds of art feel best to make, what subject matter you prefer to include in your art, what type of emotional tone you want your art to have etc…

It also forces you to experiment occasionally and learn new things for the simple reason that making the same type of art over and over again can quickly get boring. It makes you focus on different sources of inspiration every now and then, helping you to discern what you do and don’t want to be a part of your own type of art. It’s just incredibly good for your artistic development.

So, practice often and take inspiration regularly and you’ll find your own “type” of art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Should You Use Lots Of Different Art Styles? – A Ramble

A while before I originally prepared this article, I happened to watch the final episode of the BBC’s “The Big Painting Challenge”. One of the interesting things about the episodes was that the tutors often seemed to try to get the artists to paint in different styles. For example, in one part of the show, they deliberately gave a couple of the artists larger brushes than they were used to working with.

And, this made me think about my own art. In particular, how incredibly annoyed I would be if someone tried to get me to make art in a style I wasn’t accustomed to. This might be a slightly old-fashioned view, but part of being an artist is finding, developing and refining your own unique style.

Yes, there’s nothing wrong with being influenced by other styles (in fact, being inspired by several different styles is essential if you want a unique style) , but the idea that an artist should be some kind of robot who can paint or draw in literally any style just seems kind of wrong.

An artist’s style is kind of like their handwriting, it’s a slightly unique and personalised way that an artist conveys information to an audience. It’s something that has developed organically over time in accordance with the artist’s own preferences and sensibilities.

For example, my own style is rather cartoonish (inspired by various western cartoons and some elements from anime/manga art). I tend to work best with drawing-based mediums (eg: I only started painting after I discovered watercolour pencils. Traditional painting would seem ludicrously imprecise to me). I also prefer making smaller works of art relatively quickly. I like to make art using a mixture of traditional and digital tools.

Likewise, I tend to use a slightly limited colour palette these days (inspired by the use of colour in these “Doom II” levels) and, for quite a while, I’ve had a rule that at least 30-50% the total surface area of each of my paintings must be covered with black paint (since it creates a high level of visual contrast that looks really cool). This is a style that I’ve spent several years developing and it’s a style that will probably gradually change slightly as time progresses.

But, even in the days where artists were only expected to make realistic portraits, or realistic paintings about historical and/or religious subjects, artists still managed to have their own unique styles. For example, Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper (1498)” is a world apart from Caravaggio’s “Salome With The Head Of St. John The Baptist (1607)”. Yes, these two “realistic” religious paintings were made a little over a century apart, but they both come from an age where attitudes towards art were more traditional and restrictive. Yet, each artist still had their own unique style.

So, an artist’s style is an important thing. It’s the thing that makes the work of an artist instantly recognisable.

Whilst artists can learn to add things to their own style by practicing with other styles, another thing that annoyed me about the “Big Painting Challenge” TV show was the subtly-expressed idea that there was a “right” type of art style. There isn’t! Some artists thrive when making loose, impressionistic artwork. Some artists thrive on making minimalist art. Some artists thrive on making hyper-detailed art. The idea that there’s a “right” art style just doesn’t reflect reality.

I don’t know, this whole attitude reminds me of how – in the past – many people were trained to write in various formal types of script. Yes, they look very ornate and fancy, but you can’t really tell who wrote anything. It’s as impersonal and anonymous as the computer font that this article is displayed in.

Yes, when I’m not using block capitals for lettering in comics/cartoons, my handwriting looks like a series of tiny, barely legible scribbles (and, yes, I’m left-handed). But, this is the style of writing that tends to work best for me, it’s the type of writing that feels quick and spontaneous. I love how I can cram lots of writing into a relatively small space and how, if I write really quickly, my writing has an extra level of privacy to it since I’m often the only person who can decipher it. It’s a style of handwriting that developed because it was right for me.

The same is true for art styles. Generally, an artist’s style develops the way that it does for a reason. It reflects the artist’s aesthetic sensibilities and their inspirations. It reflects the types of art that made them want to become an artist. It reflects their attitudes towards making art. It’s something that develops alongside the artist. It’s the type of art that an artist thrives at when they are making.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How Important Is The Art Style In Comics? – A Ramble

Before I got into making art regularly, there was something that I’d see in comics occasionally that often used to bewilder and annoy me. This was when the comic would have a guest artist who used a radically different style to the more familiar one that was used in the rest of the series.

Notable examples of this include one of the old “Simpsons” comics from the 1990s/early ’00s (it was one of the “Treehouse Of Horror” comics about the giant statue in the Simpsons’ basement) and in the “The Kindly Ones” graphic novel from Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series.

Plus, there’s Jill Thompson’s “Death: At Death’s Door” which re-tells the events of the fourth “Sandman” graphic novel from the perspective of another character, whilst using a manga art style. Then, there are also some of the other artists (especially Ashley Wood) who have worked on Alan C. Martin & Jamie Hewlett’s “Tank Girl” comics.

Of course, now that I make art regularly, this sort of thing absolutely fascinates me.

But, why? In addition to being a great example of comic artists actually being able to do their own thing rather than being forced to rigidly adhere to some kind of uniform “house style” (like in *ugh* many traditional superhero comics), it also raises questions about how important the art style is in comics.

When I make occasional webcomics, I handle both the writing and the art. I can’t imagine doing this any other way and, yet, thinking about the art and the writing as separate things helps me to understand a lot about my comics.

One of the things that used to annoy me was the fact that I couldn’t seem to make “serious” comics. I’d tried to do this in the past (in 2013 especially) and it always seemed to fall flat. My comics only seem to “work” when they include humour of some kind or another, even if the humour is fairly cynical:

“Damania Resized – Virtually Banned” By C. A. Brown

So, why is this? Well, it probably has to do with the fact that my art style is very much on the cartoonish side of things. Yes, even though gloomy and dramatic lighting is an essential part of my style these days, my art still has a fairly vivid and “cartoonish” look to it. Part of this is because I’m still learning and part of it is because I kind of like art styles that are cartoonish, but not too cartoonish.

But, in comics, this kind of art tends to work best when paired with comedy of some kind or another. It’s an art style that looks “unrealistic” and “silly”, and – as such- it tends to go better with comedy and/or dark comedy. So, yes, not only can the art style have a surprising impact on how the audience thinks about the events of a comic, it can also affect the type of stories that a comic can tell.

A good example of this can be seen in animation. Although I’m not a major anime fan, I absolutely love sci-fi/cyberpunk anime. Yet, virtually every great anime in this genre (like “Cowboy Bebop“, “Ghost In The Shell”/ “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex“, “Akira” and “Paprika) tends to use a slightly more realistic and detailed version of the classic anime/manga art style. The characters don’t usually have gigantic hair or stylised elements like that. The backgrounds are usually highly-detailed drawings and/or paintings, rather than more typical cartoon backgrounds too.

Yet, if someone tried to make a sci-fi/cyberpunk anime using a more “cartoonish” manga art style, it probably wouldn’t work. Unless it was a comedy.

So, yes, the art style is an incredibly important part of a comic. Yes, your art style might limit the types of comics that you make but – if you can make a type of comic that goes really well with your art style – then it will be significantly better as a result.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂