How To Deal With Self-Critical Uninspiration – A Ramble

A while before I originally prepared this article, I’d tried and failed to write two other articles. I felt an overwhelming sense of “it’s not good enough” about creating things, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to write about things like writer’s block and artist’s block. In particular, about self-critical writer’s block/artist’s block.

This can happen when you either feel overwhelmed by the idea of “I should be creating things” or the idea of “everything I create seems to be terrible“. Typically, it tends to happen directly after both highly inspired projects and/or failed attempts at creative projects. But, it can also happen if you aren’t in a particularly great mood or are feeling overwhelmed in some way or another.

So, how do you deal with it?

Well, if you’ve been creating things for a while, then you’ll probably know that there’s a good chance that this is just a passing phase. Something annoying that happens to all creative people every now and then. Usually, the best way to deal with it is just to keep creating things – even if they’re “terrible” – until you start making good stuff again. After all, a “terrible” finished painting or story is always better than a “good” unfinished one.

But, there are lots of sneakier ways to get around it too. One obvious way is simply to look for another inspiration – yes, this depends on time and budget – but, if you can find something that absolutely knocks your socks off (eg: a film in your favourite genre that you haven’t seen before, an awesome indie game that leaves a lot to the imagination, an amazing webcomic that you’ve never heard of before etc.) then not only will this give you something to take inspiration from, but it will also fill you with the feeling of being in awe of a creative work.

If you aren’t careful, this feeling of awe can actually make your uninspiration worse. But, if you’re very careful about how you think about this, then you can turn it into a brilliant source of creative motivation here. The trick is, of course, NOT to think “This film/game/comic is brilliant, I’ll never be able to make something that good!“. Instead, try to think something like “How can I make something different that is as cool as the thing I just saw? I’ve got to try.

The difference is subtle, but one attitude will leave you feeling defeated before you even start and the other one will make you want to try creating something.

Another way to deal with creative self-criticism is simply to see it as part of the process. All of your favourite writers and artists weren’t born talented. They all had to learn, practice and make mistakes. They all went through phases where they felt that they couldn’t produce anything good. The fact that you are experiencing something like this means that you are taking art and/or writing seriously. If you weren’t, not feeling like you can make great things wouldn’t hurt at all.

So, when you find yourself in one of these moods, see it as a challenge. See it as something that all of the people you admire have had to deal with before (which means that you are on the right track). See it as a chance to work out all sorts of sneaky ways to get out of this mood.

And, yes, keeping a regular practice schedule will teach you a lot of these tricks. Whether it’s making “silly” private projects that you never show anyone, whether it’s remaking some of your old stuff, whether it’s making fan art/ writing fan fiction, whether it’s trying to create something in one of your favourite genres, whether it’s descriptive writing/still life painting etc.. there are loads of sneaky ways out of the mood that you’re in at the moment.

So, instead of feeling terrible about “not being able to create good stuff”, try looking for sneaky ways to get around this mood. Even if you don’t succeed at first, the shift in focus from feeling sorry for yourself to trying to figure out strange and unconventional ways around the problem will gradually help you to have a better frame of mind.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Some Thoughts About Indirect Influences – A Ramble

Even though this is an article about making art, making comics and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to start by talking briefly about music and about a celebrity death that happened earlier this year. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

As regular readers of this site know, I write these articles ridiculously far in advance. As such, the morning before I wrote the first draft of this article, I read the news that Chuck Berry had died. Although I’d only heard a few of his songs before, I suddenly realised that all of the heavy metal and punk songs on the playlist that I was listening to at the time probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Chuck Berry either inventing or popularising rock and roll during the 1950s.

This, of course, made me think about the whole subject of indirect influence. Since I’m guessing that many of the metal and punk bands I was listening to probably weren’t directly inspired by Chuck Berry (eg: many of the bands I was listening to were formed during the 1980s and 1990s, when 1950s rock and roll was probably seen as laughably old fashioned). Yet, the bands that inspired those bands were probably either inspired by Chuck Berry or inspired by another musician who was.

So, this made me think about indirect influences and how fascinating they are.

If you create anything, then there’s a good chance that you probably have a few indirect influences that you don’t even know about. After all, something or someone probably inspired you to become an artist and/or a writer. Likewise, the types of stories you like to tell, the types of paintings you make etc.. were probably inspired by an interesting mixture of cool things that you’ve encountered throughout your life.

Every creative person has influences. And this is just as true for the creative works that influenced you. So, there could be a huge number of indirect influences that you might not even know about. But, why should you be interested in this subject?

The first reason is for pure enjoyment. Not only might looking at what influenced the people who influenced you help you to discover new things that are at least vaguely similar to the things you like.

But, even if you don’t like these things, then you’ll be able to see how they turned those things into something that you actually enjoy. At the very least, this will show you the importance of having a good imagination and a wide range of influences. Plus, you’ll also have an even greater appreciation of your favourite movies, novels, comics, games etc.. too if you know what inspired them.

The second reason to search for indirect influences on your creative work is because they can help you to improve your own art, comics and/or fiction. If you look at the same things that influenced your favourite writers and artists, then there’s a good chance that you might end up seeing those old influences in a slightly different way. You might take inspiration from parts of them that your favourite creative people didn’t. So, you might end up creating something that is still reminiscient of your favourite things, but is even more unique.

Finally, the other reason is because it’s absolutely fascinating. Doesn’t the idea that there are people throughout history who have influenced and shaped the things you make right now without you even knowing it fill you with curiosity?

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

Looking At Genres On A Thematic Level – A Ramble

Although this is an article about making art, making comics and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to start by spending a while talking about my experiences with listening to punk music. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

At the time of writing, I still seem to be going through a bit of a “1990s American punk music” phase. As I’ve probably mentioned before, this was the first “cool” genre of music I ever discovered and – although I’m more of a heavy metal fan these days – I still find myself returning to it every now and then.

This time round, I found myself discovering a new band or two, buying a few extra punk albums and listening to bands that I vaguely knew about in slightly more depth. This had some surprisingly mixed results (eg: I learnt that Green Day’s “Warning” is actually a good album [and so is “Insomniac” too], I discovered a band called “No Use For A Name” who I should have discovered years ago etc..). But, this slightly deeper look at one of my favourite genres of music completely changed my opinion of it.

Since the very first punk band I ever discovered (sometime in the late 1990s) was The Offspring, I’d always thought that 90s American punk music was all about fun and rebellion. After gradually discovering a few other bands over the years, I still sort of thought the same sort of things about the genre – but I realised that it could also include things like lyrical complexity, gothic elements, shock value, political rebellion etc…

But, after listening repeatedly to several of Green Day’s classic albums and No Use For A Name’s amazing “Making Friends” album. I realised something about the genre that I’d never really thought about too much before. For all of it’s energy and passion, it’s often a genre about failure and misery. For a genre that I thought was all about cheerful nostalgia, intelligent thought and the kind of rebellious attitude that the world really needs these days, it’s actually surprisingly depressing if you actually read the lyrics.

This, of course, made me take another look at some of my favourite punk songs and albums and – yes- this theme also seems to be present there, albeit in more subtle ways. Although the genre still sounds amazing and fills me with nostalgia, it’s become a bit less of a “feel good” genre than it used to be because I now know more about the genre than I thought I did.

So, why have I spent several paragraphs rambling about the punk genre?

Well, it’s because it’s about the importance of looking at genres on a thematic level. This is something that you can often only do if you research a genre as much as you can. Since, the more things (by different people) you see within the same genre, the easier it is to spot common themes.

This might sound pretentious or overly academic but there are some good practical reasons to look at genres thematically if you’re an artist, writer etc…

If you understand the common themes in a genre, then you’ll find it easier to make things in that genre. You’ll find it easier to come up with ideas for stories, comics, paintings etc… since you can ask yourself “if I made something about [this theme], what would it look like?” This is especially true if it’s a genre that you really love, but don’t know how to make things in it.

In addition to this, if you know what the common themes of a genre are, then it’s also a lot easier to include elements from other genres. After all, if you make something that looks like it belongs to another genre, but contains the themes from one of your favourite genres, then you’ll probably come up with something a lot more original that will still be recognisable as part of your chosen genre.

Likewise, studying the themes in other creative works can show you how to include “difficult” themes in subtle ways. For example, if you watch the music video for “Soulmate” by No Use For A Name, it seems like an “ordinary” song about a failed relationship. But, if you actually listen to the lyrics, it isn’t a song about romantic relationships at all. It’s an incredibly depressing song about a life of paranoia, worry, despair etc.. since the “soulmate” in the title is shown to be those emotions rather than a romantic partner.

Finally, looking at the themes of your favourite genres can help you to think about the types of themes that you want to include in your own creative works. Yes, you’ll probably end up doing this without realising it anyway. But, thinking about it more consciously will probably allow you to make your creative works have more emotional impact, depth, complexity etc…

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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 🙂

Three Creative Advantages Of Not Being Totally Up To Date With Current Culture

Whilst it wouldn’t be completely accurate to say that I’m totally out of date when it comes to modern culture (eg: films, games, books etc..), I’m probably at least slightly out of date with large parts of it. Sometimes, this has been for financial or practical reasons but, over time, it’s also kind of turned into something of a choice too.

But, I’m also something of a creative person. So, you might ask, why aren’t you up to date with current culture and interacting with it? Why aren’t you keeping up with developments in comics, art, film, fiction etc..?

Well, here are some of the advantages of not being totally up to date with current culture if you’re a creative person:

1) Imagination: Simply put, being slightly out of date with current culture is good for your imagination in all sorts of ways. First of all, it means that you have to actively search for inspirations rather than just being inspired by whatever is “in” at the moment. If a topic or a genre interests you, then you have to actually go looking for things in that genre that will inspire you. This generally means that you have to have a better understanding of how your imagination works, how to take inspiration properly, your own creative sensibilities etc..

It also means that, if you are an artist or a writer, there probably won’t be as many tutorials out there for how to make things inspired by the older things that inspire you. As such, you’re going to have to work out how to do it yourself. You’re actually going to have to study the things that inspire you to see how they “work”, rather than just reading a pre-made tutorial. As such, you’ll become better at learning how to do new things – which is an essential skill for any artist, writer etc…

Secondly, hearing about things that you probably won’t watch, read, play etc.. for ages can really fire your imagination too. And, well, using your imagination regularly is great for creativity.

Thirdly, if you take most of your inspiration from slightly older things, then you either have to work out how to bring them “up to date” or how to make something original that seems like it could have come from that time period. Either way, your imagination will get more of a workout than if you just take imagination from more modern things.

2) Originality: Whilst not being totally up to date with current culture might seem like it would make your work less original (because you’re being inspired by things that lots of people have already been inspired by), the opposite is true.

Being out of date with current culture generally means that you’re more likely to have a more interesting mixture of inspirations. The more different inspirations you have, the more original your work will be. If you buy most of your DVDs, books, comics etc.. second-hand or you have a computer which can only play retro games and retro-style indie games, then these limitations will usually push you towards looking at a slightly more diverse range of things.

For example, here’s a digitally-edited painting of mine that was posted here about 1-2 weeks ago:

“The Lost Room” By C. A. Brown

The initial inspiration for this painting was a second-hand DVD of old “Jonathan Creek” episodes from the late 1990s/early 2000s. But, that wasn’t the only inspiration. Other inspirations for it probably include old episodes of “Poirot” from the 1980s/90s, “Blade Runner” , various comics from the 1980s/90s, old heavy metal album covers, this set of modern fan-made levels for a game from 1994 called “Doom II” etc..

Because there’s only a finite amount of old stuff out there (or old things within your price range), being out of date usually means that you have to look for a slightly wider range of inspirations. Which translates to more originality.

3) A different perspective: Not being 100% up to date with current culture can help to give your creative works a more unique perspective and outlook on the world. Because you aren’t being swept along with what everyone tells you that you should watch, read or play then you’re likely to look at things in a slightly different way.

A good example of this is probably the approach that an American TV show called “The West Wing” takes to political drama. During the late 1990s when it began, it was a modern, optimistic show for a more optimistic age. But, if you look at it today, it seems poignantly naive in so many ways. It’s about a million miles away from current politics on either side of the Atlantic. Yet, a modern political novel or comic inspired by this show would be absolutely hilarious. But, it’s an idea you wouldn’t have if you only watched modern political dramas.

Seeing how people viewed the world during the past can have an interesting influence on things that you create in the present. Whether it’s the bizarre mixture of optimism and cynicism that the 1990s had. Whether it’s how science fiction writers and film-makers etc.. in the 1980s viewed the future etc… Being slightly out of date with current culture can allow you to see the present day from a slightly different perspective.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Reasons Why Creativity Gets Glamourised

Pictured: Not a realistic depiction of an artist.

Pictured: Not a realistic depiction of an artist.

Although this is an article about things like art, writing, making comics etc.. I’m going to have to start by talking about something slightly different for a couple of paragraphs. There’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious later.

This was because this article was prompted by watching a videogame review/discussion show on Youtube. This was one of those shows that involved a group of critics having a laugh and talking informally about games – and it was the kind of show that makes videogame criticism seem like a really awesome thing.

But, rationally, I know that a show like that is probably a lot less fun to make than it looks. After all, there are probably hours of grinding prep work that go into every “informal” video (eg: collecting and editing game footage, planning some of the more comedic dialogue etc..). Likewise, there’s probably a lot of hassle with lighting, cameras, make up, video editing, production schedules etc.. too.

Yet, just looking at the show, it seemed really glamourous. It was the kind of show that makes you want to be a “real” videogame critic on Youtube (rather than, say, occasionally writing rambling game reviews on a blog). But, the reason I mention it is because it is the perfect example of creativity being shown as more glamourous than it actually is.

So, why does this happen? Here are a few of the many reasons:

1) Self-esteem: I’m an artist who makes daily paintings (albeit quite a while in advance of when they’re posted here). Although I really like making art, being an artist can be a boring, mundane, annoying and chore-like thing sometimes. Yes, I get uninspired sometimes (and still try to make art nonetheless). No, I don’t have a large, dedicated studio.

And, no, I’m not some kind of wild bohemian who drinks absinthe every day and goes to all of the cool parties.

Yet, this stylised image of a “cool artist” is something that some artists like to spread because, well, it makes us feel cool. It makes the sometimes mundane and ordinary task of making art seem like something a bit more meaningful or special. It also makes other people think that we’re cool. So, yes, unrealistic depictions of “cool” artists exist just to improve the self-esteem of actual artists. Whose lives are usually a lot more boring than either they or the media might make you think.

Likewise, the myth of the “talented artist” is another thing that makes artists look cool. But, the fact is that artists aren’t usually born with “artistic talent”, they learn it through regular practice over a significant period of time – just like any other skill. Even the most “talented” artists probably have at least a few extremely clumsy early works somewhere. Why? Because every artist is inexperienced when they start making art. Yet, people can be put off from becoming artists because of this silly myth about “talent”.

Likewise, artists who always appear to be inspired either don’t show off the things they make when they aren’t inspired, or they’ve learnt how to take inspiration, or they make lots of notes when they are inspired, or they’re experienced enough that even an “uninspired” painting looks good etc.. No artist is inspired 100% of the time! Any artist who claims to always be inspired is probably just trying to make themselves look good.

2) Creative people create things: Generally, most “glamourous” depictions of creativity can be found in other creative works. Films about writers, comics about videogames, novels about musicians etc… That sort of thing.

If you create things regularly, then creativity is an easy subject to write or draw about. Likewise, there’s probably a certain element of “I wish that the thing I do regularly was even cooler” or “I wish I was making films, videogames etc… instead, so I’ll write about it“, which might also explain why stories, comics etc… about creativity tend to glamourise the subject quite a bit.

Because, well, creativity is all about imagination rather than boring realism.

3) Because cool things are created: Generally speaking, the audience often only gets to see the cool-looking end product of the creative process (eg: the novel, the comic, the painting etc..). As such, it can be easy to assume that the rest of the creative process was equally cool or glamourous.

Although making a highly-inspired creative project can be an amazing experience, it’s rarely (if ever) as glamourous or cool as the actual end product is. Usually, it just involves sitting in front of a computer screen and/or a sketchbook for varying periods of time. In other words, it looks really really boring from the outside. All of the seriously cool stuff tends to happen within the writer’s or the artist’s imagination, rather than in the real world.

Likewise, creative people who have created great things whilst living wild and glamourous lives have usually made those things despite all of the “glamourous” distractions, not because of them. Creating cool things means sitting down and putting the effort into actually making those things.

4) Because it should be: Despite all of my earlier cynicism in this article, I can’t think of anything that is more deserving of glamourisation than creativity. After all, many of the world’s advancements in culture, technology etc.. have been the products of creativity (just look at all of the inventions that have been inspired by “Star Trek”).

All of our imaginations and lives are shaped by the numerous creative works we encounter throughout our lives. Creative works can help us to make sense of the world and to find meaning in life. Creative works can make us feel a gigantic range of emotions, like a real-life Penfield Mood Organ, using just images, sounds, words etc..

I can’t think of anything else more deserving of glamourisation.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Can Creative People Have Rare Works These Days? – A Ramble

2017-artwork-rarity-and-the-internet-article-sketch

Although I have a vague feeling that I might have written about this subject ages ago, I thought that I’d revisit it since it’s a really interesting topic. I am, of course,talking about rarity (with regard to art, writing, comics etc…) and the internet. But, I’m going to have to talk about music briefly first. Don’t worry, there’s a point to this…

This article was mostly prompted by a random memory of a few bizarre bootleg CDs that I saw in a market stall about a decade ago. Basically, some random person had cobbled together CDs of “rare” songs by various bands (eg: obscure songs only available on vinyl, bonus tracks from Japan etc..). At the time, this seemed like a really fascinating thing and then I remembered that, these days, there’s no such thing as a “rare” song any more.

After all, if you want to hear a super-obscure song by your favourite band, there’s a good chance that an obsessive fan has posted it on Youtube. Or, more likely, at least three of them have. One of the videos probably has “BEST VERSION” written beside it in all-caps too.

In the age of the internet, there’s literally no such thing as rarity any more when it comes to creative works. I mean, the Mona Lisa is an extremely rare painting (there’s only one of it!) – but you can see it right now just by clicking here. So, rarity is something that only seems to reside within physical objects. The Mona Lisa itself is extremely rare, but the actual image of it is extremely common.

In a lot of ways, this is probably a good thing. After all, it ensures that things that would have faded into obscurity have a new and current audience. It still allows collectors to treasure rare physical objects whilst ensuring that the actual creativity itself is still available to everyone. Even media companies are starting to realise this – which is why you occasionally see things like out-of-print books being republished as e-books, obscure “abandonware” games getting a proper commercial re-release on game sites etc..

But, that said, there’s a certain something about rarity. A certain thrill that comes from seeing something that not that many people have seen. And, as silly as it sounds, it can somehow make otherwise mediocre things seem considerably better. I mean, I’ve found one or two out-of-print novels in charity shops over the years and – well- many of them went out of print for a reason.

Yes, having something slightly rare and obscure is really cool, but the actual thing itself is often slightly mediocre when seen on it’s own merits. Often, the “wow” factor comes from the fact that you’ve got something from one of your favourite writers that you wouldn’t normally have read if it wasn’t for sheer luck. It’s like bonus content of some kind or another.

Even so, the idea of “rare works” seems to be a relic of a bygone age. I mean, if I’d somehow travelled back in time and written this collection of cyberpunk-themed Christmas stories in 1986 rather than 2016, then they might have ended up being published as a chapbook or in some magazine or anthology somewhere instead of being posted on this site for everyone to read. Yes, I love the fact that I can post stories online just like that. But, on the other hand, I kind of miss the romanticised idea of it eventually becoming some kind of hyper-obscure rare work.

The closest thing that any modern creative person has to “rare” works are unpublished works. And, these aren’t really the same thing. They’re usually unfinished, low-quality etc.. things that were never really meant for public consumption.

So – as ironic as it sounds – in the age of the internet, rarity is the only rare thing when it comes to creativity. And this is probably a good thing, even if it means that both creative people and their audiences miss out on the cachet of knowing about something that very few people do.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂