Alternate Versions Of Recent Paintings – A Good Idea If You’re Uninspired?

Well, although I was still busy writing last year’s Christmas stories at the time of writing this article, I thought that I’d talk very briefly about making art today. This was mostly because I found myself feeling somewhat uninspired.

Basically, I’d made a 1980s-themed drawing that didn’t really turn out as well as I’d hoped – even after extensive editing. So, I thought that I’d try to make another piece of art instead. But, I was a little bit pressed for time and needed to come up with a good-looking painting quickly.

Luckily, I remembered the view from the kitchen window earlier that morning. Thanks to the season and the time of the day, the world outside was shrouded in wonderfully atmospheric dark blue blue light. Needless to say, this seemed like it was worth painting. But, I’d already made a painting of the same view about a month earlier:

“Kitchen Window” By C. A. Brown

So, thinking quickly, I decided that my upcoming painting would be a companion piece to that one. I could use the old painting as a reference, whilst also doing a few things differently in my new painting. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 5th October.

So, is this sort of thing a good strategy when you’re uninspired?

Simply put, anything that works when you’re feeling uninspired is a good thing. Plus, since you’re partially repeating what you’ve done before, then it also means that you can make a good-looking piece of art quickly too. So, as a way to make art when you’re uninspired, it can certainly work!

However, I’d advise either not doing it too often, making extensive changes or waiting as long as possible before making new versions of your existing art. The thing to remember is to set your new version apart from the old version in an immediately noticeable way, and to make sure that there’s still a decent level of variety in the art you produce.

The main advantage to waiting as long as possible is that you’ll have become a better artist (if you practice regularly) during the time gap, so a remake of a painting from say – a year or two ago- can also be a good way to show how much you’ve improved.

Still, if you’re feeling uninspired, then making a new alternative version of one of your more recent paintings can be a good way to actually make some art. Just don’t rely on this technique too often.

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Sorry for such a short, basic and rambling article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Three Tips For How To Look For Inspiration

Although I’ve written about how to deal with writer’s block and artist’s block more times than I can remember, I thought that I’d do something very slightly different in this article and talk about how to look for inspiration. Because, yes, sometimes you actively have to look for inspiration – rather than waiting for it to come to you.

So, here are a few tips and/or reminders that will help you search for inspiration.

1) Know how to take inspiration: I’ve written a more detailed article about this subject but, in short, taking inspiration properly means looking at the underlying concept/idea behind something and then doing something at least slightly different with that idea.

Although I’m not a copyright lawyer (and this isn’t legal advice), my reading on the subject seems to show that most types of copyright law are explicitly designed to promote this type of inspiration. In short, copyright laws usually protect the exact way that a particular concept or idea is expressed, but not the underlying idea/concept itself.

For example, both “Babylon 5” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” are science fiction TV shows about everyday life on a space station far from Earth, with a focus on the military-like officers who run the station. This basic concept probably cannot be copyrighted. However, the specific characters, alien designs, set designs etc.. in each show are copyrighted because they are a highly-specific interpretation of this general idea.

Once you know how to take inspiration properly, then the number of inspirations available to you will expand rapidly. Plus, if you’re worried that this means that your art or fiction won’t be completely “original”, then don’t worry. All that these feelings mean is that you need to find more inspirations. Basically, the more different inspirations you have, the more original your creations will be. Plus, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a “100% original” creative work. Everything is inspired by something.

2) Learn to think like a critic: Although there’s the famous saying that a critic is just a failed artist/writer, there’s a lot to be said for thinking like a critic if you’re an artist or a writer. You can learn how to do this by reading and/or watching as many reviews as you can find, in addition to possibly trying to write reviews yourself.

But what does any of this have to do with looking for inspiration? Simply put, a critic’s job is to study and analyse creative works and then write a brief description of how the creative work in question “works”.

A critic has to look at, say, how a director uses lighting to create a particular atmosphere or how a thriller writer uses sentence and chapter length to ramp up the tension. Not only does a critic have to be able to “reverse-engineer” creative works in order to see what techniques have been used, they also have to judge whether these techniques work… and why.

In other words, being a critic forces you to take a more scientific and scholarly approach to films, games, novels etc… Although this might sound like it would take the fun out of these things and turn you into an insufferable snob, this is only a potential problem if you aren’t a creative person.

If you’re a creative person, then thinking like a critic just means that everything you see could potentially teach you a new technique that you’ll probably want to try out. And, well, wanting to try something out is usually a good sign of being inspired.

3) Look everywhere: Simply put, there are no dividing lines when it comes to inspirations. Writers don’t only have to be inspired by other writers. Painters don’t only have to be inspired by other painters etc..

For example, the largest influences on my art include things like: a film called “Blade Runner“, the use of colours in a set of fan-made “Doom II” levels, various heavy metal/punk album covers, the 1990s, Youtube videos of abandoned shopping centres, manga/anime, the film noir genre, old horror novel covers, old “survival horror” videogames etc…. Very few of these things are paintings. Yet, I can use the techniques and ideas I’ve learnt from them to create art that looks like this:

“Scaffolding” By C. A. Brown

“Derelict Sector” By C. A. Brown

“Vehicles” By C. A. Brown

So, the important thing to remember here is that good sources of inspiration can be found anywhere. Inspiration is everywhere. Just remember that you don’t only have to be inspired by things in the genre that you’re working in.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Reasons Why Making Studies Of Old Paintings Can Be A Good Idea (When You’re Uninspired)

Well, as a way of gradually getting out of the uninspired phase I seem to be going through at the time of writing, I decided to make some studies of old out-of copyright paintings. This is something that I do every now and then, and it’s certainly worth trying for a variety of reasons.

And, yes, I’ve probably said all or most of this stuff before. But, it’s worth repeating!

1) It still gives your imagination some exercise: Although the idea of copying an old painting might seem like an “unimaginative” way to make art when you’re uninspired, it still involves a fair amount of imagination and creativity.

But, thanks to the fact that you have something to copy, there’s no pressure to come up with entirely new ideas. So, you can give your imagination a bit of exercise without stressing out about the fact that you can’t think of any totally new ideas.

Even so, you actually have to find an interesting painting that is no longer in copyright. Although sites like Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons contain plenty of public domain paintings, you still actually have to look for them (and check their copyright status) yourself.

Still, looking at lots of art isn’t exactly a waste of time – since it will help to remind you how awesome art can be (which can help you feel more inspired). Not only that, you might even end up discovering a few interesting artists that you’ve never heard of before.

And, no, not all out-of-copyright paintings are boring. In fact, if you’re willing to search, you can find some really cool ones. For example, the painting I used in my study was this rather gothic-looking late 19th/early 20th century painting called “Lady With Cigarette” by Oskar Zwintscher (1870-1916):

“Lady With Cigarette” by Oskar Zwintscher (Via Wikipedia)

Not only does this painting contain some brilliantly gloomy lighting and an ominously ornate background, but it also has something of a timeless quality to it too. Needless to say, I was eager to make my own version of it.

But, like any cover version of something else, I realised that I’d have to put my own spin on it. Initially, I thought about going in a minimalist direction and just painting the lady’s face and hands (and using a solid black background for the rest of the picture). But, this seemed a little bit too lazy.

So, I eventually just decided to make the painting in the same way that I would if I was making an original painting. In other words, I used my usual cartoonish style, slightly limited palette, mixture of traditional and digital tools, high-contrast approach to lighting etc…

I also simplified a few things and changed the picture from a portrait painting to a square painting (with film-style letterboxing bars too). In addition to this, I also took inspiration from a mixture of other things that have inspired me in the past (eg: heavy metal album covers, old computer games etc..). So, my imagination still got a bit of exercise, but without the pressure of having to think of a totally new idea for a painting.

Here’s a small preview of my finished study of Zwintscher’s painting. The full-size version of it will be posted here next month:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full painting will appear here on the 4th May.

So, yes, making a study of an old painting doesn’t have to be a boring exercise in copying something verbatim. In fact, using your imagination a little bit (in a low-pressure situation like this) can help to remind you of how much fun it is to be creative. Best of all, since you’re already copying a pre-existing thing, inspiration is much less of an issue too.

2) It reminds you of what making good art feels like: Although there’s certainly something to be said for just pressing on and making crappy paintings until you feel inspired again, this approach doesn’t always work. Especially when you’re producing original art that looks a bit like this…

This is a reduced-size preview, the full painting will appear here on the 3rd May.

Whilst, during more inspired times, your original art looks more like this…

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

If you’ve been experiencing severe uninspiration (and are producing very low-quality art very slowly as a result), then seeing yet another low-quality painting can end up sapping your self-confidence rather than making you think “Yes! I made some art! Even though I wasn’t inspired, I made some art!

So, making a study of a good (out-of-copyright!) painting by someone else can be an easy way to experience the feeling of making good art. And, yes, it is a feeling. It’s a focused feeling of purpose, of pride in your work and of complete and utter immersion in the process of making art. It feels like the literal opposite of feeling uninspired.

Feeling that “making good art” feeling once again can remind you of why you became an artist in the first place. It can distract you from the emotions that being uninspired provokes in you. It can make you feel proud of producing a piece of art that you gladly want to show off to other people. It can remind you of how unique your own way of making art is (if you compare your study to the original) and how it’s worth continuing to develop your own art style.

In other words, it’s a way to feel like you’re more inspired. And, when you’re feeling inspired, then you are much more likely to get inspired again.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Don’t Let Uninspiration Win! – A Ramble

Well, it’s time for another thrillingly melodramatic account of staring total and utter uninspiration in the face and still making a finished piece of art.

I know that I’ve told stories like this more times than I can remember, but they’re worth telling for the simple reason that feeling uninspired is something that all artists face from time to time – and it isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it’s often something that can be defeated with the right mixture of inventivness and/or determination.

This is the kind of determination that comes from wasting investing large portions of one’s life in playing fiendishly difficult computer games from the 1990s and early-mid 2000s. The kind of determination where, even when the feeling of “Oooh! A challenge!” has faded slightly, you keep going because… dammit… all games can be completed! Yes, this is one of those stories.

Anyway, let me set the scene. It was a long, sweaty summer night last year and I had to make something for one of this year’s daily art posts (yes, if you’re posting art online regularly, make your art as far in advance as you can – it takes at least some of the pressure off of you. It isn’t “cheating”. It’s common sense!).

I’d had a large meal and a bottle of vaguely hipsterish “craft” beer earlier (seriously, the description on the back of the bottle read like a piece of found poetry), and I was feeling somewhat lethargic as a result. Something not helped by the hot weather or the fact that I was fairly tired and had spent far too long writing and editing this review of an episode of “Doctor Who”.

Still, I needed to make some art! A sensible attempt to make some art earlier in the day had failed miserably when my idea for a cool 1990s-influenced cyberpunk picture ended up looking more like something from the 1970s:

Yeah, this didn’t end up being the badass 90s-inflenced picture I’d originally anticipated. So, it ended up being abandoned.

But, it was late and I had to make some art! So, I put a DVD on in the background and started sketching. After two episodes of “American Dad” and one episode from a “Futurama” DVD, I’d eventually come up with the beginnings of what looked like it could be a “film noir” painting. Except, to my horror, I suddenly realised that it looked so terrible that I had no choice but to abandon it.

*shudders* Seriously, it looks like former prime minister David Cameron posing for a professional photograph!

No, this would not do! I’d have to take emergency measures! So, I drew a few angular lines in my sketchbook, with the plan that I would scan them and cunningly disguise them as “art” using image editing software. No-one would be any the wiser! But, alas, this devious plan didn’t turn out well….

For a while, I actually thought about just saying “f*** it” and using this in my daily art post, but…

After a lot of editing, my computer suddenly crashed. Bands of glitched-out pixels streaked the screen, as if in protest at the monstrosity that I had wrought. Taking this as a sign that I needed to take a break and do something new, I restarted my computer and got a refreshing glass of ice water whilst I tried to think of what to do next.

Then it struck me. I’d make a picture using nothing but digital tools – I’d done it for a large part of this highly-uninspired comic update and I could do it again!

So, I created a blank image file, filled the background with solid black and opened it in my ancient late 1990s image editing program. The plan was to cunningly use silhouettes and the program’s “noise” effect to create a piece of quick, cool-looking cyberpunk art that would be inspired by both “Blade Runner” and this Doom II level.

Taking up my mouse (because, by this point, I really couldn’t be bothered to dust off my graphics tablet) and telling myself that victory was close at hand, I began my task. Things were going well. The picture looked cool and I also soon realised that, by messing around with the brightness levels, I could add a fog-shrouded city to the background too. But, then… Disaster struck!

My computer crashed again! I hadn’t saved my work!

By now, I was tired, sweaty, in a state of mild fury and … determined. Punching the reset button, I told myself that I would rebuild!

And I did! Within fifteen minutes, I’d re-created the picture. Yes, the lines looked less precise than those in the original “lost” version of the picture, but it still looked a bit similar. Best of all, this time I’d remembered to save my work! And, wow, it actually looked like art! Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size picture will be posted here on the 2nd May.

Yes, this tale was a little melodramatic and it is hardly typical of an uninspired day. But, it is proof that “not feeling inspired” isn’t the end of the world! It is possible to make art even when it seems like a near-impossible task.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

The One Skill That Writing, Art etc.. Courses Don’t Always Teach Directly – A Ramble

Although this is an article about perhaps the most important skill that any artist or writer should have, I’m going to have to start by talking about old technology for a while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that will become apparent later in the article.

A while before I wrote this article, I watched this wonderfully nostalgic Youtube video about indestructible old mobile phones.

Although I could easily get side-tracked and talk about how – in 2004/5- I once saw someone quite literally hurl a 3310 into a wall (it bounced off and the only damage was a slight crack to the screen covering). Or I could talk about how – back when I still liked mobile phones- I once owned what was once the most popular phone in the world (the 1100), and how it survived getting lost once and being used for over five years. But, that would be a distraction.

No, the reason, I mentioned old phones from the early-mid ’00s is because they had a reputation for durability, simplicity, reliablity and practicality. They were, like a lot of old technology, built to work and built to last.

I mean, a DVD doesn’t stop working when the internet slows down. Windows XP crashes extremely rarely compared to Windows 98 (and what I’ve seen of Windows 7 computers too!). My Playstation 2 seems to have died from disuse (the last time it worked was in 2011, but I bought it in early 2002!). My Game Boy Advance and original Game Boy still work though. My old MP3 players use easily-replacable batteries. The computer I wrote this article on is a low-end machine – even by the standards of 2006 (which was when I got it). Old technology isn’t fancy, but it was made to work and made to last!

This is something that has shaped my own philosophy towards technology… and creativity too.

Back before I used to practice art daily, I used to consider myself to be more of a writer (in fact, I actually studed creative writing). But, one skill that never seemed to be explicitly taught was how to deal with uninspired times. When I had weekly writing assignments, I used to spend hours or days frantically racking my brain for story ideas and, although I always eventually found one, my imagination didn’t always seem like the most reliable thing in the world.

But, now that I make art instead, I know that I’ll always make something – even on my most uninspired days. How did I learn this? Simple, I started practicing art daily and – a bit later – writing these daily articles. This tight schedule changed my attitude towards creativity, even after I’d built up a fairly decent “buffer” of things that I’d made in advance.

Gone are the days when I thought of coming up with creative ideas as nervously “waiting for inspiration” and now I see uninspiration as more of a puzzle to solve – but a puzzle that I know that I will always solve. These days, my overriding attitude is a confident “make something! Something is better than nothing!” or “I’m going to make something, I wonder what it will be?

Best of all, this constant daily practice has given me so many backup strategies to use when I can’t find an idea or the enthusiasm to make something. Whether it’s making still life paintings, looking for something to take inspiration from, remaking my old art, making studies of 19th century paintings, using a focused distration (eg: playing old computer games) that allows me to daydream etc… I’ve gained a vast toolbox of techniques to use whenever my imagination throws up an error message.

For example, the day before I wrote this article – I’d just woken up and realised that I was about to be behind on my art practice schedule. I had maybe an hour or two to make some art. When I started sketching, my imagination quickly failed me. I felt like making art was a chore. But, I still made some art! Yes, I eventually had to quite literally doodle randomly in my sketchbook and then scan it and try to turn it into art using an image editing program. But, I managed it! Here’s a preview:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size picture will be posted here on the 10th April.

No matter how great you are at writing, drawing, painting etc… all of that skill means nothing if you don’t have a reliable way to keep creating. Even if you can only create crappy stuff when you aren’t feeling inspired, the fact that you’re still creating makes you better than a genius who gives up in frustration.

So, yes, the most important skill that any artist or writer can learn is how to make their imagination more reliable. Because, if you’re able to make something any time you want to, they you’re still in a better position than more “skilled” people who can’t do this.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why It’s Important For Artists To Be Part Of The Audience Sometimes – A Ramble

For a few days before writing this article, making art daily has felt more like a tiresome chore than anything else. All artists go through phases like this occasionally, when making art just seems pointless or when you want to make art but the ideas and enthusiasm just aren’t there. It’s perfectly normal for this sort of thing to happen every now and then.

But, what can help with this?

Simple. Be part of the audience for a while. Find something vaguely interesting and then watch, read or play it. Have fun.

There are several benefits to doing this. The first is that you might be able to take inspiration from whatever you are enjoying and the second is that enjoying another creative work will remind you of why you make art.

Seeing something awesome will remind you of what it feels like to be inspired, amused, thrilled etc.. by something that someone has created. It will remind you that, yes, there is a reason why making art matters. It will also remind you of the feelings you experienced whenever you created some of your best pieces of art.

In addition to this, being part of the audience will also give you space to think and daydream freely, as opposed to staring at a blank page/screen/canvas and frantically thinking “Oh god, I need to paint something!! But WHAT??“.

This relaxed trance-like state of thinking and daydreaming is an essential part of being a creative person. Letting your mind wander freely can help you to think of more interesting ideas or, at the very least, it will help you get out of the nervous or frustrated mood that might be causing you to be uninspired or unenthusiastic.

Finally, creative works that leave a lot to the imagination (eg: novels, indie games with pixellated graphics etc...) can be absolutely perfect for this kind of thing. Because your imagination has to “fill in the gaps”, it actually gets a little bit of a workout. Looking at one of these creative works can help your imagination get back into a more productive state, for the simple reason that you’re actually using it and having fun at the same time.

To give you an example, the day before I wrote this article, I bought an interesting-looking indie computer game called “Hotline Miami”. Although I don’t know when or if I’ll review it properly, one of the interesting things about this game is that it uses 1980s/90s-style pixel art graphics and a rather basic top-down perspective.

The game’s cartoonishly bizarre and psychedelic graphics are the sort of thing that instantly shows you how artistic decisions can affect the emotional tone of a creative work. Likewise, the surreal morally-ambiguous story of the game leaves a lot to the player’s imagination and the frantic, strategic, ultra-violent, repetitive action segments of the game can help to bring about the trance-like relaxed state that I mentioned earlier.

Although I didn’t make any art directly after playing it for the first time, I was able to use it to get inspired to make some 1980s-style art that will probably appear here within the next few weeks.

So, yes, being part of the audience for something else can be surprisingly useful if you are feeling uninspired or unenthusiastic about making art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Finding The Right Type Of “Easy” Art To Make When Making Art Feels Difficult

One of the annoying things that can something happen if you practice making art regularly is that you’ll have times where making art seems like an extreme hassle. This can be due to things like feeling uninspired, being in a rush or being tired. It can also be caused by other factors such as the weather or the mood that you happen to be in.

But, rather than just repeating my usual list of techniques for dealing with this type of problem, I thought that I’d go into much more detail about one of them. I am, of course, talking about making “easy” paintings.

Every artist has their own definition of what an “easy” piece of art is and this will often depend on what is causing you to feel unenthusiastic about making art. So, the real trick is knowing which types of “easy” art work well in different situations.

For example, the night before I wrote this article – I was tired, in a slightly bad mood, in a bit of a rush and the hot weather had rendered me somewhat lethargic. But, I still wanted to keep up with my daily art practice. So, I decided to make a painting that involved relatively little artistic detail. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 3rd April.

Although I was able to disguise this somewhat with my choices of lighting, colours, subject matter etc.. the fact remains that I chose a painting that required little time and little effort. It was a painting where I only had to bother adding detail to about a quarter to a third of the total area of the picture.

However, when I was feeling both uninspired and very slightly short on time a few nights earlier, I did something a bit different. Since I had the energy for a more detailed painting, but didn’t have the time or inspiration to come up with an original idea, I decided to paint a study of an out-of-copyright painting called “The Day Dream” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size painting will be posted here in early April.

I had the energy and enthusiasm to add more detail to this picture, but I didn’t have to worry about coming up with a totally new idea. So, this painting was fairly “easy” to make in this context since copying an out-of-copyright painting meant that I completely bypassed the problem of not having the time or inspiration to come up with a new idea.

I did something a little bit different the day before I made this painting. The problem that night was that I just didn’t have the time to develop an idea for a painting. I had about an hour to make the painting, but I felt enthusiastic about making art and wanted to make some vaguely good-looking art. So, what did I do ? I made a still life painting of some of the random stuff on the desk in front of me. Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 31st March.

Since I’ve practiced still life painting before, it was fairly straightforward. I could just quickly copy the scene directly in front of me, which allowed me to focus on things like lighting and realistic artistic detail whilst also allowing me to draw and paint a lot more quickly (since I didn’t have to waste time working out what to draw or choosing a colour palette).

On another occasion, the problem was entirely due to hot weather (and, yes, I write these articles and make daily paintings quite far in advance of publication). In this case, I was feeling inspired and I had a little bit more time. However, about halfway through the line art stage of making a painting, I was starting to feel drained and overwhelmed by the heat. But, I needed to finish this painting! So, instead of the detailed background I’d originally planned to add, I quickly added a fairly basic wall to the background instead (and covered about two-thirds of it with shadows). Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 2nd April.

Yes, none of these paintings are as good as the kind of thing that I’d make during a more inspired, awake, relaxed etc.. day. But, they are finished paintings. They are paintings that actually got made, despite obstacles and problems. And this is all due to choosing the right type of “easy” art to make, depending on the problem I was faced with.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂