What Can Novel Cover Art Teach Us About Making Art?

Well, it’s been a little while since I wrote about making art. So, today’s article will be an art-based article with a slight twist. I’ll be looking at what the cover art of novels can teach us about making art.

But, before I begin, I should probably illustrate the difference between good and bad cover art. In short, good cover art includes visual storytelling and is designed to grab the audience’s attention in some way or another, whilst telling them what to expect.

To give you a comparison, here are the covers of two modern books by the same authors and the same publisher. One is better than the other. Take a look for yourself:

This is a comparison of two UK paperback covers by the same publisher and the same authors. Apologies about the label remnants on one cover though.

Out of these two covers, the one on the left is more well-designed. This is because it includes intriguing visual storytelling (a helicopter flying away from an exploding building) and it also includes an orange/blue colour scheme that is reminiscent of posters for modern Hollywood action movies. The slightly tilted perspective also implies movement and action, as if the viewer has been knocked down by the force of the explosion. This cover unambiguously tells potential readers “this novel is like an action movie!“.

On the other hand, although the cover on the right includes some beautiful high-contrast lighting and a gorgeous black/gold colour scheme – it isn’t very well-designed. Why? It doesn’t really include much visual storytelling. It could be a historical novel. It could be a horror novel. It could be a political thriller. It could be a lot of things, but there’s nothing in the artwork that unambiguously tells the reader what to expect. Only the mention of “adventure” in the small text at the top and bottom of the cover clues the audience into the fact that it is an action/thriller novel.

So, cover art can teach us a lot about the importance of visual storytelling in art. It can teach us about how the most interesting pieces of art are ones where something is happening and/or which look like they could be a single frame taken from the middle of a film or a cartoon or something like that.

This doesn’t mean that your art has to include lots of explosions or fighting or whatever, but it should hint at some kind of story. And, if you think that this is a modern thing, it really isn’t. Historical paintings will often include lots of visual storytelling.

For example, here’s a painting by one of my favourite 18th Century painters, Joseph Wright of Derby:

“The Orrery” (c. 1766) By Joseph Wright of Derby [Via Wikimedia Commons]

Although this painting doesn’t include any bombastic action, it contains a lot of visual storytelling. In the background, a man eagerly makes notes whilst an older man glares at him sternly. Beside him, two children stare at the brightly-lit orrery with awe-struck fascination. To the right of them, a man leans wearily on the table, deep in thought. Beside him, another man tries to say something to the older man in the background etc… There are a lot of things happening in this painting.

In addition to this, cover art can also teach us the importance of colour and lighting choices when creating mood too. During my early-mid teenage years, I used to love reading old second-hand 1970s-90s splatterpunk horror novels. Although the internet was around then, smartphones thankfully weren’t. So, if I hadn’t heard of the author before, how did I know when I’d stumbled across an interesting horror novel in a charity shop? Simple, the cover art told me:

This is a comparison between two paperback covers of novels by Clive Barker and Shaun Hutson, two great horror authors of the 1980s.

Old horror novel covers were instantly recognisable because of the colour and lighting choices. They would often feature gloomy Tenebrist lighting and they would often only include a few bold colours that stood out dramatically against the dark backgrounds. In other words, the colour and design choices literally screamHorror novel!” to any potential reader.

Good cover art in many genres will often use colours and lighting expertly to create a mood and to signal to the reader what to expect. For example, gloomy lighting and bold colours work really well on the cover of a horror novel. However, when used on a thriller novel (like the thriller novel cover I showed you earlier) or on a light-hearted romance novel, it will just bewilder and confuse potential readers. So, cover art can also teach us the importance of colour and lighting choices in art.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Improve Your Webcomic By Thinking Of Each Webcomic Update As A Whole – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk very briefly about making webcomics again since I’m kind of busy making a webcomic mini series for late February at the time of writing. In particular, I’ll be talking about a couple of the basic ways that you can improve your webcomic by thinking of each webcomic update as a whole.

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of one of my comic updates from the mini series I’m making at the moment. Yes, I also previewed part of this one yesterday – although I’ll need to show you a (shrunken) version of the full update to illustrate what I’m talking about here.

The full-size comic update will be posted here on the 22nd February.

One of the first things that can help your comic updates to look better is to pay attention to the colour scheme of the whole update. Try to make sure that the predominant colour or colours in each panel goes well with the rest of the comic (reading about complementary colours might help you here), but that there is also some variety between the colours used in each panel.

For example, here’s another version of the preview with the approximate main colours in each panel highlighted. As you can see, it mostly uses both an orange/blue colour scheme and a black/purple one (with an orange/purple scheme in one panel and – although it isn’t included in the chart – a slight yellow/purple one in the first and last panel).

This is the whole comic with the (approximate) main colours in each panel highlighted.

Although the mixing of these colour schemes isn’t entirely perfect, it helps to add some visual variety to the comic, whilst also avoiding any of the panels clashing with each other too much.

Taking a step back and thinking about your comic update as a whole can also help you to save time with the art too. If you look again at the preview that I’ve shown you, only three of the panels have detailed backgrounds. In case you can’t see it, here’s a chart:

This is a chart showing the level of background detail in each panel.

Because the detailed panels are spread out between both horizontal “rows” of the comic, this allows me to make a more manageable number of detailed backgrounds whilst still giving the impression that the whole comic is more detailed than it actually is.

After all, the reader never has to go more than one or two panels without seeing a detailed background. So, the comic seems more detailed than it actually is – especially when read quickly. Doing something like this also helps to avoid the visual boredom that can come from seeing lots of undetailed backgrounds next to each other.

Those were just a couple of the ways how looking at your comic update as a whole can improve your comic. You can make your comic updates more instantly visually appealing through the choice and placement of colours, and you can save time by varying the level of background detail in sneaky ways. But, these things only work if you consider each comic update as a whole.

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

The “30-50% Black Paint” Rule (And How To Use It)

Although I’ve briefly mentioned the “30-50% black paint rule” before, I thought that I’d talk about it in slightly more detail today.

This is because it’s a rule that can really help you to make paintings and comics that look a lot more vivid (although other things, such as digitally altering the brightness, contrast and/or colour saturation levels can also help too). Following this rule can also give your paintings or comics a really cool 1980s or 1990s-style look too.

The rule itself is pretty much exactly what the name suggests. At least 30-50% of the total surface area of your painting or comic should consist of solid black paint. It’s that simple.

This rule works best with bolder colours, since brightness and colour in most works of art is a relative thing. In other words, colours look brighter or darker in comparison to the other colours in the picture (eg: if you’re painting a sunrise or a sunset, the only white area in the picture should be the centre of the sun). So, by using a reasonable amount of black paint, every other colour in the picture will look even bolder by comparison.

Yes, following this rule takes a bit of practice to get right – and knowing how to paint realistic shadows and lighting can really help too. But, of course, there are a lot of fairly sneaky ways that you can include it in your art (and get the desired effect) without it being too obvious to the untrained eye.

The first way to do this is simply to add film-style “letterboxing” bars to the top and bottom of your paintings (if you’re making square paintings). Not only does this “frame” the picture slightly, but it also means that 10-20% of the painting’s surface area is already filled with black paint. It looks a bit like this:

Note the film-like “letterboxing” bars at the top and bottom of this digitally edited painting (“Backstreets [without rain]” By C. A Brown)

If you’re making comics, then a simple way of doing something similar is to just use black “gutters” between each panel. This has a similar effect as the letterboxing bars, whilst also giving your comic a “1990s gothic comic” or “manga comic” kind of look too. Like this:

“Damania Resized – Nostalgia Cycle” By C. A. Brown

Interestingly, the “30-50% black paint” rule can also be used for “bright” paintings and comic updates that are set during the day too. This is a little bit more challenging, but you can do this by including characters who wear dark clothing, by including silhouetted objects in the foreground, by including a lot of shadows etc…

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a comedy horror painting that will be posted here in January. Although the painting is set in a bright seaside resort of some kind, the Grim Reaper’s robes (and the two “letterboxing” bars, the shadows etc..) help to ensure that there is enough visual contrast in the painting.

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will appear here on the 7th January.

Yes, this rule might not be right for every artist and it might not work for literally every type of art out there. But, if you want to give your paintings a bold and vivid look, or if you want to give your art a slightly “retro” look, then it’s certainly worth following 🙂


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Reasons Why Artists Use Limited Palettes


If you’re new to making art or if you’re an artist, then seeing art that uses a more limited colour palette can be slightly confusing. After all, why would an artist stick to using 2-6 colours, or a very small number of paints or markers when they can have pretty much any colour they want at their disposal these days?

Well, as strange as it might look at first, there are very good reasons why artists sometimes use a more limited palette. Here are four of them:

1) Complementary colours: Complementary colours are pairs or groups of colours that go really well together. A famous example of this is how a lot of film posters tend to use blue and orange together a lot.

Each complementary colour pair contains a “warm” colour (like orange) and a “cool” colour (like blue) and they are usually found by getting a Red/Yellow/Blue colour wheel and drawing a straight line across it. The colours at each end of the line are a complementary colour pair. If you want to find a slightly larger group of complementary colours, then draw an equilateral triangle over the colour wheel and look at the three colours at the points of the triangle.

Complementary colour pairs look striking, dramatic and visually harmonious. So, using 1-3 complementary colour pairs in your artwork can be a quick way to make it look more dramatic or to create a particular mood. This is one reason why art can sometimes include a fairly small number of colours.

Likewise, you can do all sorts of clever things when you understand how complementary colours work. For example, you can give your gothic, cyberpunk or horror artwork a slightly “unsettling”, “creepy” or “dystopian” look by using a blue and red colour scheme. Like this:

"Dance Of The Orbs" By C. A. Brown [2016]

“Dance Of The Orbs” By C. A. Brown [2016]

But, why does it work? It works because blue/red is fairly similar to the blue/orange complementary colour pair, but just different enough to look strange, then it tends to create a slightly unsettling atmosphere when used in gloomier works art.

2) Old-school art: In the olden days, if you wanted to print a comic, then you only had three or four ink colours, which were added as separate layers (but could also be printed over each other to make a couple of other colours). Likewise, more traditional art printing styles tended to limit the number of colours that could be printed.

But, you might say, modern printing doesn’t have these limitations! This is true, but quite a few artists have been inspired by things that were printed in the past or by things that were inspired by things that were printed in the past.

So, an artist choosing to use a more limited palette might just be a sign that they’ve been influenced by something that had to use a smaller palette for practical reasons.

3) For the challenge: Put simply, making cool-looking artwork with a limited number of paints, pencils or markers can be a fun challenge. It can teach you a lot about things like colour mixing, lighting, shading and how to use colours.

It’s also like a more visually-interesting version of making monochrome black and white drawings. Like with limited palette artwork, these types of drawings can look simple but, until you’ve had some practice, they can often be much more challenging to get right than colour artwork can be:

"Aberystwyth - Haunted Hill" By C. A. Brown [2015]

“Aberystwyth – Haunted Hill” By C. A. Brown [2015]

If you don’t believe me about any of this, then go over to Youtube and type in “three marker challenge” and you’ll be greeted with numerous videos of artists trying to make interesting works of art using three randomly-selected marker pens. And, like any other type of challenge – it’s both a fun test of skill and an educational experience.

4) For time reasons:
Once you get used to using a more limited palette, then it can be a real time-saver. Having a more limited number of paints, pencils, markers etc.. at your disposal means that you can’t spend ages selecting a colour. It also just feels more efficient too.

Plus, when you get good at it, you can create relatively complex-looking artwork that only uses a small-medium number of colours in a shorter amount of time. For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a digitally-edited painting that will be posted here in December:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 15th December.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 15th December.

I was in a bit of a rush when I added colour to this painting’s line art, so I used just five watercolour pencils (dark blue, yellow, red, purple and black) before adding the violinist’s skin tone digitally. Yet, thanks to some colour mixing and knowledge about complementary colour schemes, I was able to include a prominent red/green colour scheme (with smaller orange/blue and orange/purple) in this painting without thinking about it too much.

So, yes, limiting the number of paints, pencils etc.. you use can help to speed up making art, if you know what you are doing.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Ways To Make The Lighting In Your Artwork Look More Interesting


As regular readers of this site probably know, one of the things that I’ve been focusing on over the past couple of years is improving the lighting in my digitally-edited paintings. Or, more specifically, learning how to use one particularly cool style of lighting.

This is the kind of lighting that looks like something from a metal concert, the kind of lighting that looks like something from a film noir movie, the kind of lighting that looks like something from an “edgy”mid-late 1990s computer game, the kind of lighting that looks like something from the cyberpunk genre or the kind of lighting that you might see in an old sci-fi horror movie from the 80s or 90s.

In other words, lighting that really stands out. So, how do you create this kind of lighting?

1) It’s all about contrast: One of the principles I learnt when I was teaching myself the basics of how to make black & white monochrome art in 2014/2015 is that a good monochrome picture should consist of 30-50% black ink or black paint. If there isn’t enough, then the entire picture just looks “flat” and the lighter and/or shaded areas of the picture don’t stand out much.

Likewise, in 2016, I learnt that the easiest way to paint bright lights was to leave the centre of the light blank and to go around it with a gradually-darkening layer of whatever colour the light happens to be. Since the area around the centre of the light is slightly darker, it makes the centre of the light look brighter by comparison – like this:

 As you can see, the centre of this monitor is white, whilst the green light from the monitor grows darker as it moves away from the centre of the screen.

As you can see, the centre of this monitor is white, whilst the green light from the monitor grows darker as it moves away from the centre of the screen.

So, why have I mentioned all of this? Well, it’s all to do with contrast. Lighting stands out best when it is constrasted with dark surroundings. After all, a neon sign might look really cool at night – but it would probably look faded and boring if you happened to turn it on during the day.

So, if you use dark or gloomy locations in your art, then the lighting is automatically going to stand out a lot more – like in this old painting of mine from last year that I’ve shown off numerous times before:

"La Chanteuse" By C. A. Brown [2016]

“La Chanteuse” By C. A. Brown [2016]

2) Think logically and physically: I still have a lot to learn when it comes to painting truly realistic lighting. But, by knowing a few very basic principles, I’ve still been able to create dramatic-looking lighting nonetheless. Why? Because I’ve learnt how to think about lighting logically- and so can you.

This is all fairly basic stuff, but it’s important to remember that the lighting in your artwork has to come from somewhere. In other words, your painting should include at least a few obvious light sources (eg: neon signs, computer screens, spotlights, fairy lights etc..) and that these light sources should provide all or most of the light in your picture, just like in real life.

Likewise, you need to learn the basic principles of how light and shadow behave. This is really simple – just start by thinking of the setting of your painting as an actual three-dimensional thing (playing old 3D computer games can help you learn how to think about 2D images in 3D).

Once you’ve done this, then mentally draw straight lines radiating out from each light source – anything that these lines hit should be the same colour as your light (and anything on the opposite side of the things the lines have hit should be in shadow, unless it is being affected by another light).

If the light is brighter, the lines should be longer – if the light is dimmer, they should be shorter. Sound confusing? Here’s a detail from one of my digitally-edited paintings that will appear here in mid-July:

The full painting will appear here on the 16th July.

The full painting will appear here on the 16th July.

Now, here’s a modified version of the picture which shows how I worked out which areas each light source in the foreground of the painting would affect (even though, aside from some very basic shading techniques, I still don’t know how to paint things like faces being affected by light in a realistic way). Each major light source has brighter lines of the same colour radiating away from it and hitting anything nearby:

I've removed the background, lowered the saturation of the rest of the painting and added brighter light trails to the major light sources in the foreground. It isn't perfect, but I hope that this example gives you at least a vague idea of what I'm talking about.

I’ve removed the background, lowered the saturation of the rest of the painting and added brighter light trails to the major light sources in the foreground. It isn’t perfect, but I hope that this example gives you at least a vague idea of what I’m talking about.

The trick is, of course, working out where to put the lights and how many of them to include. Whilst this is something that can only truly be learnt from practice and experimentation, a good way to start is to limit yourself to 1-2 light sources per painting until you get the hang of it.

3) Light colour: You might have noticed that many of the light sources in the example I just showed you are different colours, this is because one of the cool things you can do with lighting is to use it to add a bold colour scheme to your painting.

The easiest way to do this is to use a complementary colour scheme (or two of them ) when deciding what colour the light sources in your painting should be.

To find a complementary colour scheme, just look at a red/yellow/blue colour wheel. Colours that are directly opposite each other on the wheel will complement each other. Likewise, if you draw an equilateral triangle over the wheel, then the three colours at each point of the triangle will compliment each other too.

Of course, you can use slightly different colour schemes than this if you want to create a particular effect (eg: red and blue is perfect for things in the horror/sci-fi horror genre). But, if the lighting in your painting follows at least one complementary colour scheme, then it will instantly add some extra atmosphere to the painting.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Letting A Colour Palette Evolve – A Ramble


As regular readers of this blog probably know, I’ve been experimenting with slightly limited palettes for at least the past year or two.

For quite a while, I used to challenge myself to only (or mostly) use 2-4 watercolour pencils per digitally-edited painting in order to get used to using complimentary colour combinations, to learn more about colour mixing and because I really liked the effect that it created. Many of my slightly older paintings looked a bit like this:

"Do You Think It Saurus?" By C. A. Brown

“Do You Think It Saurus?” By C. A. Brown

"La Chanteuse" By C. A. Brown

“La Chanteuse” By C. A. Brown

As an educational experience, you really can’t beat it. However, I eventually got slightly bored of this and gradually returned to just using slightly more realistic colours more often. But, I soon remembered one of the main advantages of using a limited palette – it’s quicker and more practical. And, after finding a set of “Doom II” levels that taught me a lot about colour palettes, I now take a slightly different approach to colour palettes.

I still use a limited palette, but it tends to be slightly larger. For example, the palette for quite a bit of the art that I’ll be posting here in July consists of red, yellow, blue, light green, purple and black watercolour pencils. Sometimes, I’ll also use a grey pencil for shading and/or a peach pencil (since, depending on the amount of pressure you use, it can be used to create a variety of skin tones) too.

I’ve found that that limiting my palette to about 6-8 watercolour pencils means that I can use a greater range of colours and colour schemes, whilst still giving my art a slightly distinctive look and having the kind of quick practicality that comes from only using a small number of pencils.

After all, you can lay six or seven pencils down on the desk in front of you, rather than having to scrabble through several tins of watercolour pencils in order to find a new colour.

Expanding my colour palette slightly also makes it easier to use orange/purple colour combinations (again, something these “Doom II” levels introduced me to) too. This is mostly because dark purple is one of the hardest colours to mix in the traditional fashion – if there’s slightly too much blue or red, or if the pencils are the wrong shades of these colours, then it often ends up looking more like black or brown than purple. The same is true when it comes to trying to mix light green using yellow and blue (it often just looks too faded or “muddy” when mixed traditionally).

But, despite the fact that I use a larger palette than I used to, my past experiences with smaller colour palettes still have a large effect on the “look” of my art. Although I’ve learnt how to use three-colour colour schemes (eg: blue/orange/purple) and how to include multiple complimentary colour schemes in a single painting, I’ll sometimes try to include a “dominant” colour scheme in my paintings because of the fact that it looks visually striking.

Here’s a reduced-size preview of a painting that will appear here in July:

The full-size painting will appear here on the 6th July.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 6th July.

The main colour scheme in this painting is a blue/orange one (albeit one that includes two shades of blue). It’s probably the first thing that you noticed when you saw this painting. However, thanks to everything I’ve learnt about colour palettes, I was also able to give the painting a little bit more depth by including a small green/purple/pink colour scheme too.

This colour scheme also compliments each part of the other colour scheme too, which helps to make the painting’s colours look even more harmonious.

The thing to remember about colour palettes is that they aren’t static things. If you find a colour palette that you like, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ever alter it or add to it. In fact, if you make art regularly, then your colour palette will probably evolve over time for the simple reasons that you’ll occasionally want to try new things and because you’ll find it easier to notice other interesting colour palettes too.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Cyberpunk Colour Schemes – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Cyberpunk colour schemes

Well, for today, I thought that I’d ramble briefly about the colour combinations that work best in cyberpunk art.

Although everyone doesn’t share this opinion, at the time of writing, I personally thought that either a red/blue colour scheme or perhaps an orange/blue one works best when combined with low levels of lighting. Kind of like this:

"Engine Square" By C. A. Brown

“Engine Square” By C. A. Brown

"City Centre" By C. A. Brown

“City Centre” By C. A. Brown

However, when I was looking online earlier this year, I found this absolutely awesome gallery of cyberpunk pixel art on DeviantART by an artist called “Valenberg”. Although his art uses 1980s/1990s-style pixel graphics, it looks distinctly modern and I think that a large part of this is due to the colour choices that he makes.

Most of the slightly older art in his gallery uses a light pink/ light blue colour scheme (with occasional yellow and/or purple areas), against a dark background. The interesting thing is that this doesn’t sound like it would work well with cyberpunk art, but it does. If you don’t believe me, then take a look at this awesome animation.

Thinking about it, the reason why this colour scheme works so well is because it’s a “softer” version of the rather harsh red/blue colour scheme that I like to use in some of my own cyberpunk art. This softness lends the colour scheme a slightly more “realistic” quality, for the simple reason that although harsh colour schemes can look really cool in paintings, they’d probably be considered an “eyesore” if they appeared in reality.

So, if a colour scheme like this were to exist in a real futuristic city, then it’d probably be toned down slightly into a softer pastel blue/ pastel pink colour scheme. This is somewhat less visually striking, but it still contains a slight amount of the “edginess” that comes from a red/blue colour scheme.

Since a lot of colour schemes can work well with the cyberpunk genre, I thought that I’d look at the elements of what makes a good cyberpunk colour scheme.

The first element is visual contrast. Cyberpunk art is, by definition, dark, gloomy and lit by either neon lights or computer screens. As such, your art needs to use a dark background, so that the bright artificial lighting will stand out against it as prominently as possible.

In addition to this, the best cyberpunk art often tends to use a fairly limited colour scheme, rather than a “realistic” one.

Usually, this colour scheme will consist of a slight variation on a pair of complementary colours.

Sometimes, it might also consist of three complementary colours (found by drawing an equilateral triangle over a colour wheel and looking at the colours on each point of the triangle).

For example, one of my cyberpunk paintings from quite a few months ago used a complementary red/green colour scheme:

"On The Streets Of Cyberspace" By C. A. Brown

“On The Streets Of Cyberspace” By C. A. Brown

One interesting colour choice for cyberpunk art might even be to use a red/green/blue colour scheme, for the simple reason that these are the three colours that are used in most computer and TV monitors. I’ve only really tried this once, but the results were certainly interesting:

"Cyberpunk Diner" By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunk Diner” By C. A. Brown

Even so, I’d argue that variants on the classic red/blue colour scheme are sometimes best when it comes to making ominously futuristic cyberpunk art. These two colours are close enough to being complementary to go well together, but they also clash just enough to lend any painting a slightly ominous atmosphere.

Still, I guess that the only real way to find an interesting colour scheme for your cyberpunk art is through experimentation and/or trial-and-error.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂