Four Tips For Finding Creative Inspirations On A Low Budget

If you’re an artist or a writer, then it’s important to have lots of inspirations (but, be sure that you know how to take inspiration properly). But, of course, being “well-read” when it comes to books, art, games, comics, films etc.. generally tends to be a bit on the expensive side of things.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips on how to find inspirations relatively cheaply. Since I want to write a general guide, I won’t be mentioning specific shops or specific commercial media. But, I’ll link to free media – like in my articles about free cyberpunk inspirations and free pirate-themed inspirations.

1) It’s an attitude: There’s a certain mindset that you have to have when it comes to finding entertaining creative inspirations on a low budget.

For starters, you have to know yourself reasonably well. Having a good understanding of the types of thing that you really like (and which really inspire you) can be incredibly useful for the simple reason that you’ll be able to spot cheap things (that you’ve never heard of) that might fit into this category. This focus on self-knowledge also provides something of a bulwark against things like marketing hype etc… for newer and more expensive things too.

Secondly, you have to be somewhat patient too. We live in a culture where there’s a lot of emphasis on having the “latest” things, just because they’re new. Often, slightly older stuff is just as good or better – plus, it’s cheaper. Yes, getting used to this time gap can take a while, but it is a really good attitude to take. Plus, it also means that you’ll be a lot more selective on the few occasions that you actually buy “new” stuff too.

Thirdly, you have to be a little bit open-minded too. Often, things that are cheap may not be the things you are initially looking for. But thinking more abut price can be a great chance to discover books, films, TV shows, games etc… that you’ve never heard of before. Plus, since they cost less, there’s more incentive to try new things (rather than going for the “safe bet”) too. But, as I mentioned earlier, be sure that you have a very good understanding of your tastes and sensibilities.

2) Public domain stuff: Although copyright limits vary from country to country, it is a general principle of copyright law that once a certain number of years have passed after the death of a writer, artist etc… then the copyright on their works expires. As such, these works can legally be freely distributed on the internet, read, downloaded, borrowed from etc…

Although this time gap is fairly long (eg: in the UK and mainland Europe, it’s 70 years post-mortem. The rules are different in the US though) you’d be surprised at how many interesting copyright-free historical paintings and novels can be found on sites like Project Gutenberg (for novels) and Wikimedia Commons (which also contains lots of more modern images that have been released under various Creative Commons licences too).

3) Second-hand books/DVDs and libraries: This is kind of obvious, but libraries, second-hand books & DVDs etc.. are often your best bet when it comes to being “well-read” on the cheap.

In addition to this, there’s a certain amount of chance and randomness too. Whether you’re searching library shelves or looking at second-hand shops and/or websites that sell second-hand stuff, they will often contain things that you’ve never heard of before. And, since it’s cheaper, you can often afford to take a chance on new things too. So, this can often help you to find new creative inspirations that you’ve even never thought of before. It also means that you have to focus more on quality (and your own tastes) than on what is “popular” at the moment too.

If you don’t mind a little bit of a time gap between the things you read/watch/listen to and current culture, then things like libraries, second-hand shops etc… can often be your best bet when it comes to being “well-read” on the cheap.

Plus, buying second-hand encourages you to be a lot more selective with any “new” full-price purchases that you make too. Then again, one cool thing about Blu-Ray discs appearing is that the price of new DVDs has dropped somewhat within the past few years (eg: they’re mostly about £10 these days. Which is still a little pricey, but better than – say- ten years ago).

4) Games And Gaming: One of the largest costs associated with gaming is the actual hardware itself. Trying to keep up to date with modern gaming is an endless and expensive task. But, as flashy and cool as modern gaming culture and marketing can often seem, you don’t need an ultra-fast system or the latest games to be a gamer or to be inspired by gaming.

Seriously, there’s a lot to be said for ultra low-spec retro/indie computer gaming when it comes to creative inspiration. Not only can you play these games on much cheaper/older computers, but they are often better (or as good) than everything I’ve seen about modern large-budget games. Seriously, fun is timeless!

Older games (from the 1990s and early-mid 2000s) often had to be creative with the limitations of the hardware of the time, which often means that they leave more to the imagination. Likewise, modern low-spec 2D indie games will often also have to be creative within budget limitations too. In addition to this, many older games usually inspired more modern games (and will often have more fan-made stuff on the internet too).

The best way to buy commercial games of this type is via legitimate direct download sites, for the simple reason that the games will often be updated to run on slightly more recent (but still old/ low-spec) hardware. Most of these sites will often have sales every week or at certain times of the year, which can often be worth watching.

In addition to this, if you’re willing to look, you can also find a lot of games on the internet that can legally be downloaded and/or played for free. But, be sure to look for non-commercial games that have been made by hobbyists or for former commercial games that were later officially released as freeware. Conversely, be very, very wary of modern “free to play” games that contain microtransactions.

Some examples of proper (microtransaction-free) freeware games, in various genres, include “The Last Night“, “Hacx 1.2“, “Harmony“, “Beneath A Steel Sky“, “Tyrian 2000“, “Treasure Adventure Game“, “Freedoom“, “Rosemary“, “SuperTux“, “Hurrican“, “SkyRoads” , “Flight Of The Amazon Queen“, “Open Arena” and “DreamWeb“. So, yes, there’s no shortage of proper free games out there.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Joy Of… Cheap Art Supplies

2015 Artwork Cheap Art Supplies Sketch

Even though this is an article about art, I’m going to have to start by talking about music and computer games for a while. Trust me, there’s a valid reason for this and I’m not just rambling about obscure stuff just to sound pretentious. Honest.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, a few weeks ago I rediscovered a couple of acoustic punk bands I first found on Youtube a couple of years ago – I am, of course, talking about “Johnny Hobo And The Freight Trains” and a later version of the same band called “Wingnut Dishwashers Union“. Some of their songs can also be legally downloaded for free on the Internet Archive too.

One of the interesting things about both of these albums is both how low-budget they sound and how this doesn’t matter in the slightest, because the lyrics are so wonderfully-written and cynical. The lead singer/guitarist might sound like a busker, but he’s more punk than most “popular” punk bands are. And I don’t even consider myself to be a punk, even though the first “cool” band I ever discovered was a punk band (The Offspring, if anyone is curious).

And then this made me think about my favourite computer game – I am, of course, talking about “Doom II” and all of the various fan-made levels and mods for it you can find on the internet. This is a game that is over twenty years old and, graphically speaking, it looks very primitive. But it’s still a lot more fun than many games that have been made over the past decade, because it’s so well-designed.

It’s easy to write things like this off as “the exception to the rule”. The rare things which, although they may be low-budget and/or primitive, are still somehow great for a weird reason that no-one can explain. But, I’d argue that they’re great because they’re so basic.

One of the most damaging myths about making art is that it requires a lot of money in order to be great. I’m talking about the idea that a good artist needs lots of expensive art supplies, a purpose-built studio and/or expensive graphics editing software in order to produce great art.

This is, quite simply, nonsense.

Yes, using lots of expensive stuff will help to make any flaws in your art less obvious at first glance and it will probably also make you feel more “professional” too. But it’s no substitute for skill, imagination and/or experience and you shouldn’t let a lack of money and/or expensive equipment put you off from making art.

The fact is that the basic tools for making art are fairly cheap. And they still work.

You can draw a truly stunning picture with a cheap pen in a cheap notebook, you can make a great picture with cheap coloured pencils, you can paint something wonderful with low-grade paints, you can digitally edit a picture with a free open-source image editing program like GIMP etc…

And, ironically, the quality of your work will shine through a lot more easily than it would if you produced something with expensive stuff.

Why?

Well, because there’s nothing to hide behind. No fancy art supplies, no flashy digital effects or anything like that. It’s just you and your work and, if you’re good at it, then you’ll impress people – if you’re not, then you won’t. And, if you can seriously impress people using incredibly cheap materials, then this is a sign that you’re doing well.

Plus, sometimes, it can be fun to test yourself by going “back to basics” and seeing if you can still make great stuff with nothing more than a pen, a pencil and a piece of paper. Yes, it’s a bit more of a challenge than usual, but it’s still strangely satisfying nonetheless.

The interesting thing is that all of the things I’ve said only really apply to things like art and/or music. There’s no real equivalent for writing because, at the end of the day, words look like words – regardless of whether they’ve been typed on a top-of the range modern computer or on something from the mid-2000s.

The text of a bestselling novel and the text of a self-published e-book still look pretty much the same in visual terms. So, in a way, I guess that writing is the most “honest” and “open” form of creativity in the world.

It’s just a shame that other forms of creativity aren’t as inherently egalitarian as writing is, in this respect.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂