Unravelling The Mysteries Of Art – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Unravelling the mystique of making art

One of the most interesting things about being a self-taught artist is that you gradually get to understand a lot of the “weirder” parts of making art, albeit at a slower pace than people who learn how to make art in the traditional way probably do.

Although I’ve been making small doodles and cartoons for pretty much all of my life, I only really got serious about becoming an artist in 2012 when I decided to make at least one piece of art every day.

I started out making drawings (using ink and coloured pencils) before moving on to using ink and watercolour pencils in early 2014. Here’s a picture that compares what my art looked like in 2010 and what it looks like these days:

"A Character From 2010" By C. A. Brown

“A Character From 2010” By C. A. Brown

Even though I’ve learnt a lot of interesting technical stuff in that time and my art has improved as a result, the experience has also – to some extent at least – demystified art for me. Yes, there’s still a lot about art that I don’t understand but I’m constantly amazed at how much weird stuff I now understand that I didn’t before.

For example, I’ve never taken a life drawing class. In fact, back when I was in Sixth Form, I was always kind of puzzled when some of my friends who were on art courses mentioned that they’d had to do a life drawing class. I couldn’t think of anything more strange and awkward than having to sit in front of a nude model for an hour and draw them.

A while before I wrote this article, I happened to read a (slightly NSFW) online article written by a life drawing model. The thing was, when I was reading this article, I didn’t really find the idea of life drawing as strange as I did when I was sixteen. In fact, if anything, my initial reaction to the article was more along the lines of brash over-confidence than anything else.

Since I’ve become vaguely competent at making still life paintings/drawings, copying old paintings and making drawings/paintings from photographs, I knew exactly which types of observation skills I’d have to use if I ever went to a life drawing class.

But, as any artist will tell you, drawing or painting people from life is significantly more challenging than making still life paintings or making art based on photos. On the rare occasions that I’ve tried drawing portraits from life (where everyone thankfully kept their clothes on), it proved to be a lot more difficult than I expected.

Not only that, any artist will tell you that it’s easier to draw clothed people even vaguely realistically than it is to draw nude people. Seriously, nudes are a lot more complicated to draw or paint well than you might think. In fact, the only way I can draw or paint even slightly realistic nudes is to copy old paintings.

So, thanks to all of this experience, I now know that life drawing classes are designed to challenge artists, rather than being some kind of bizarre arcane ritual that involves nudity.

There are other strange things about art that I’ve only really begun to understand recently too. For example, for quite a long time I was always puzzled about why some artists tend to use unrealistic colours in their artwork. It always seemed like one of those strange “modern” things that was more about pretentiousness than about anything else.

Of course, over the past year, I’ve learnt a lot more about colour theory (eg: which colours go well with each other and how to work this out). Not only that, as an interesting challenge, I also spent about a week or so practicing painting using a limited palette (eg: I only used three or four watercolour pencils) and produced a lot of art that looked a bit like this:

"Horror Hour" By C. A. Brown

“Horror Hour” By C. A. Brown

"To Perdition" By C. A. Brown

“To Perdition” By C. A. Brown

From this, I’ve learnt that artists sometimes use unrealistic colours for several reasons. The first is that a good colour scheme can make a piece of art stand out from the crowd. A good colour scheme can also add extra atmosphere to your painting or drawing too.

Not only that, making a painting using only a couple of colours is a brilliant test of both an artist’s skill and their knowledge of how to use colours.

Another thing that I’ve learnt is that even “non-weird” things can be surprisingly weird. For example, as regular readers of this site know, a lot of the paintings that I made in the days before writing this article, but posted here in early February (since I seem to be much further ahead with these articles than I am with my daily art posts) were my attempts at learning how to paint realistic fog.

Even after I’d tried to improve my original paintings with digital effects, some of these attempts have still been better than others. Here are the four “fog” paintings that I’ve made at the time of writing this article:

"Through A Window In A Dream" By C. A. Brown

“Through A Window In A Dream” By C. A. Brown

"Realm Of Fog" By C. A. Brown

“Realm Of Fog” By C. A. Brown

"Misty New Orleans" By C. A. Brown

“Misty New Orleans” By C. A. Brown

"Station Corner" By C. A. Brown

“Station Corner” By C. A. Brown

You’d think that fog would be easy to draw and paint, but it isn’t. I understand how fog works (from looking at lots of photos of it) better than I used to, but it’s still more of a challenge to put that knowledge to use on paper than you might think.

Sometimes, I’ll do it really well, and sometimes I’ll fail miserably. At the time of writing this article, painting realistic fog is still more of a game of chance than anything else.

On the other hand, making art regularly has also helped me to see through at least some of the bullshit that surrounds art. For example, I’ve become a lot more cynical about conceptual art over the past few years as a direct result of practicing painting and drawing regularly.

When you put a lot of time and effort into making paintings and drawings regularly, seeing someone earn thousands (or even millions) from just arranging a few pre-made objects in a vaguely unusual way seems a little bit unfair to put it mildly. Not only that, making conceptual art doesn’t really seem to involve anything near the level of skill and practice than making paintings or drawings does.

In conclusion, being able to see art from both the outside and from the inside is an absolutely fascinating experience. Within the past three or four years, things that once seemed amusingly strange or bizarre have gradually become a lot more “normal” to me. I guess that the only true way to understand the stranger parts of art is to actually make art yourself.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (31st August 2015)

As you may have noticed, today’s painting is slightly more bizarre (and creepy) than usual, this is because it’s based on part of a dream I had the night before I painted it.

It’d take too long to write down an account of the entire dream here – but it was certainly a strange one. All of the parts of it (including the one depicted here) that I expected to be creepy turned out to be not that frightening.

For example, the ominous void in the background (which I was led to by a group of masked villagers) was located in a building with “Don’t Enter The Void” scrawled on the door in blood [or red paint, it was hard to tell]. But, when I entered the void it actually just led to a rather posh corridor with some beautiful trees in it.

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

"Don't Enter The Void (A Dream)" By C. A. Brown

“Don’t Enter The Void (A Dream)” By C. A. Brown

Weird Stuff In Stories, Comics etc… Is Best When It Is Subtle

2015 Artwork Subtle Weirdness article sketch

Although this is an article about writing stories and/or comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about TV shows and other random stuff first. Trust me, there’s a reason for this and I’m not just doing it for the sake of it.

However, I should warn you that this article will contain SPOILERS for seasons 1-3 of “Fringe“.

Anyway, thanks to a Christmas present I got a couple of months ago, I had the chance to re-watch a really cool American TV show called “Fringe”. It’s kind of like a modern version of “The X-Files”, where FBI agents (and scientists) solve various paranormal and/or science fiction-based mysteries.

Anyway, one of the really cool things about the show is that from the ending of the first season onwards, a lot of the story revolves around the relationship between our universe and a parallel universe.

As someone who is absolutely fascinated by the whole concept of parallel universes, I absolutely love this part of the show. But this article isn’t a review of “Fringe” or an article about parallel universes. So, why am I talking about it?

Well, it’s because the scenes set within the parallel universe in “Fringe” can help us learn some interesting things about how to portray weird things in stories, comics etc…

Basically, the parallel universe in the show is pretty similar to our own – but with some differences. Some of these differences are extremely large and very noticeable (eg: the Twin Towers are still standing in New York, people sometimes travel by airship, everyone uses slightly more advanced technology etc….).

But the most interesting and dramatic differences between the two universes in “Fringe” are actually the far more subtle ones (eg: Martin Luther King Jr. is on American banknotes, Eric Stolz starred in “Back To The Future” instead of Michael J. Fox etc…). They’re the kind of things that are only on screen for a couple of seconds at most and they are the things that really give you the sense that you’re watching a show set somewhere that isn’t ordinary.

Because we are surrounded by thousands of subtle things every day, we’re so used to the subtle details of the world and our lives being the same that we don’t even really think about them most of the time – unless there’s something different or “wrong” with them.

This is hardly a new idea – I mean, Sigmund Freud actually wrote an entire essay about this subject back in 1919!

So, suddenly noticing something subtle that we’ve never really paid attention to before is a far more memorable way to get people’s attention than just suddenly showing them something obviously weird.

In addition to this, it’s also a good idea to mostly show the weird aspects of your story or comic through subtle details because it’s more realistic.

Many of us have had at least some slightly weird experiences before – eg: when we think that we notice something out of the corner of our eye, when something is actually slightly different to what we remember, when someone remembers something differently to how we do, when we experience small synchronicities etc….

Generally, when weird stuff happens in real life, it’s usually fairly subtle. It’s usually the kind of thing that we can either ignore or go “hmm… that’s strange” and then pretty much forget about. But, when it happens in fiction (where larger weird things can conceivably happen), it makes us feel intrigued – it makes us wonder “why?“. It makes us wonder what else might be different.

Yes, it might not stand out as much as something larger and more obvious, but it’s the kind of thing that’s much more likely to be either memorable, cool, funny and/or creepy than any of the more obvious “weird” parts of your story or comic will be.

Of course, there’s also something of a balancing act here. If you make the weird details of your story too subtle, then people won’t notice them – so, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that most of the weird details in your story are fairly subtle, but to also add one or two larger and more obvious ones too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Weird Experiences And Inspiration

2015  Artwork weird experiences article sketch

A few weeks ago, I accidentally clicked on a link in an online article that took me to one of the most addictive websites on the internet. I am, of course, talking about a site called “Cracked” [Mildly NSFW]. I’d seen this site before and, despite knowing how addictive it was, it still took me about two hours before I finally managed to finish reading stuff on it.

Anyway, so that I didn’t feel like I’d completely wasted those two hours, I thought that I’d see if the site can teach us anything about writing.

You see, one of the many reasons why the site is so addictive is because many of the articles on it are about strange experiences people have had.

Yes, there are a lot of other reasons why it’s such compelling reading (eg: the list-like article titles, the site’s wonderfully twisted sense of humour etc…) but one of the major draws of the site is that you get to read about the more unusual parts of other people’s lives.

For example, some of the more macabre articles I read had titles like “6 Horrifying Things I Learnt As A Paramedic” and “5 Horrific Things You Learn Preserving Brains For A Living“. But, as well as this, the site also focuses on the stranger elements of more mundane experiences too – like in an article titled “The 5 Unexpected Downsides Of Working At A Movie Theater“.

But how is any of this useful to us as writers?

Normally, I’m extremely sceptical about the whole concept of “writing from experience” for the simple reason that your imagination will often produce far more interesting stories than your memories will. However, using your weird experiences for inspiration is the one exception to this rule.

If you add some of your own weird experiences or bizarre “insider knowledge” about something to your story – either directly or indirectly – then it will make it a lot more fascinating to read.

And, I know what you are thinking – “I’ve lived a rather ordinary life. There’s nothing interesting enough in there to write about.

I can almost guarantee that this is wrong.

The fact is that we’ve all either got slightly eccentric interests, have had at least one slightly unusual experience and/or have a unique perspective on a supposedly “common” part of life.

You see, because we’re all different people with different lives, the whole question of what is and isn’t “strange” is a matter of opinion more than anything else. One person’s “strange” is another person’s “normal” and vice versa.

You might have to do a bit of introspection and thinking, but I can pretty much guarantee that there’s something in your life that other people would find “weird” or “interesting” if you found a compelling way to write about it.

But, of course, we live in a world that places way too much emphasis on being “normal”. So, although it may be easy for you to find the “weird” parts of your own life, the idea of writing about them might seem more than a little bit intimidating.

If you start to worry about this, then just remember that you’re writing fiction. No-one expects it to be true, so you can find all sorts of sneaky ways to hide autobiographical stuff in your stories. If anyone asks you about it, then just tell them that you did a lot of research before writing your story – which, in a way, you actually did.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

“Jadzia Strange (remake)” – Pages 6 & 7

Well, here are pages six and seven of “The Adventures Of Jadzia Strange“.

Interestingly, page seven is the first truly new page which I’ve drawn since my original unfinished comic from 2010 only went up to page six.

As usual, these two pages are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Jadzia Strange (remake) - Page 6" By C. A. Brown

“Jadzia Strange (remake) – Page 6” By C. A. Brown

"Jadzia Strange (remake) - Page 7" By C. A. Brown

“Jadzia Strange (remake) – Page 7” By C. A. Brown

“Jadzia Strange (remake)” – Pages 4 & 5

Well, here are pages four and five of “The Adventures of Jadzia Strange” (a remake of an unfinished comic I made in 2010). I am seriously proud of the art on these two pages, although page four ended up looking a lot more …. Lovecraftian than it did in the original comic.


As usual, these two pages are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Jadzia Strange (remake) - Page 4" By C. A. Brown

“Jadzia Strange (remake) – Page 4” By C. A. Brown

"Jadzia Strange (remake) - Page 5" By C . A. Brown

“Jadzia Strange (remake) – Page 5” By C . A. Brown

(The blurred text on page four was originally a H.P. Lovecraft quote (a backwards version of one of the incantations for summoning Cthulhu, I think) but, although “The Call Of Cthulhu” is out of copyright in Europe, whether it’s public domain or not in America is apparently a lot more ambiguous/heavily disputed. And, since this page is viewable internationally and I’m releasing this comic under a Creative Commons licence, I decided to (ugh! I hate that word!)..censor it just to be on the safe side. Sorry about this.)