The Library Of The Imagination – A Ramble

A while before I wrote this article, I happened to read this online article which speaks in defence of binge-watching TV shows. But, one thing that the article didn’t mention was the value that binge-watching, binge-reading, binge-playing etc… all sorts of entertainment media has if you are a creative person.

Simply put, it results in less writer’s block/artist’s block and it also allows you to make better creative works too.

Ok, doing nothing but watching/reading/playing lots of stuff won’t instantly turn you into a good artist or writer. You actually have to practice your craft too (regularly, no less!). Likewise, you also need to learn a few other skills like how to take inspiration properly (eg: how to be inspired by something, without directly copying it). But, in combination with these things, spending a lot of time immersed in creative works can have all sorts of brilliant benefits.

Why? The best way to think about this is to think of your imagination is as a chaotic, disorganised library. The more things that you put into it, then the more chance there will be that – when you browse it – you’ll find an interesting mixture of things. Not only will this result in more unique creative works, but it will also mean that there are more things for you to be inspired by. Which means less writer’s block/artist’s block.

For example, here’s a preview of a digitally-edited painting of mine that will be posted here late this month:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 28th November.

The initial inspiration for this painting was the memories of watching old 1990s episodes of “Twin Peaks” evoked by watching the modern version of the series. This made me want to make a “cosy” painting, set in a wooden building during the 1980s/90s, with some surreal elements.

But, in addition to this, I also wanted to include gloomy tenebristic lighting (like in a Caravaggio painting, or an old heavy metal album/horror novel cover). I also wanted to give this gloomy lighting a slightly more futuristic cyberpunk-like look (inspired by films like “Blade Runner”), whilst also adding a few gothic elements (inspired by classic horror games like “Resident Evil”, “Silent Hill 3”, “Clive Barker’s Undying”, “Alone In The Dark”, “Realms Of The Haunting” etc..). And, of course, my use of colours was also partially inspired by these fan-made “Doom II” levels too.

The number of different inspirations for this painting is probably at least ten or more.

But, the bulk of these inspirations are things that I’ve discovered over the past few years. Back when I started making daily art in 2012, I obviously had less practice (and my art didn’t look as good as a result) but I also had fewer inspirations too. Not only that, I didn’t really know how to take inspiration properly too. As such, my imagination felt somewhat more limited then than it does today. Likewise, when I felt uninspired, it was much more of a panic than it is now.

So, spending time watching/reading/playing things that interest you, in combination with regular art and/or writing practice can work wonders for your imagination. It’s like adding more books to a reference library, adding more colours to a palette, planting more seeds in a garden or adding more music to a playlist. It gives you more things that you can take inspiration from in new and creative ways.

So, yes, binge-watching a TV show or binge-playing a game isn’t a “waste of time” if you’re a creative person. Well, except when it gets in the way of your art and/or writing practice, of course.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

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Three Tips For Enjoying “Boring” Films, TV Shows, Games etc..

One of the interesting things that I’ve noticed over the past decade or two is that I’ve gradually become more interested in creative works that I would have considered “boring” when I was younger.

Whether it’s the deliberately slow pacing of modern films/TV shows like “Blade Runner 2049” and the 2017 “Twin Peaks” TV series (which I got on DVD as a Christmas present last year), whether it’s slower-paced games in the “point and click” genre etc… I’ve found that things I’d once have considered “boring” are much more interesting than they might initially seem.

But, how can you learn to enjoy creative works like this? Here are a few tips.

1) Work out why it is “boring”: Simply put, good “boring” creative works are slow-paced or uneventful for a good reason.

This is either because it gives the audience time to think about what is happening or because it gives the audience time to appreciate things like the atmosphere, visual elements, the characters etc..

A “boring” slow pace could also be there for the sake of emotional contrast, suspense or something like that. Kind of like how music sounds more dramatic because it also contains silence as well as noise.

Likewise, boredom can be used to add a sense of realism to a creative work. After all, everyday life is a boring, humdrum thing most of the time.

Artists, writers, directors, game developers etc… will sometimes include some of this boredom in order to show that their story is a more realistic (and immersive) one. Once you see it this way, then “boring” scenes can be a lot more understandable.

But, whatever the reason, there is probably a good reason for why a creative work is “boring”. If you can remember this, then you’ll enjoy these things more.

2) Read more: Although I don’t read nearly as much as I used to [Edit: No prizes for guessing what I rediscovered a week or so after preparing this article. Expect regular book reviews to start later this month], one of the things that changed my attitude towards “boring” creative works was reading a lot when I was a teenager.

But, why does reading matter? Simply put, reading gently gets you used to stories being told at a slightly slower pace.

Even the most fast-paced thriller novel still needs to take the time to introduce the characters and the premise. It’ll tell a more complex story than the average movie. It’ll be something that will demand that you spend 4-6 hours reading it. And, you’ll probably enjoy it. So, reading more (even in more fast-paced genres) is a great way to get used to slower-paced films, games etc…

3) Remember, it’s about the journey: One important thing to remember about “boring” creative works is that the most important part often isn’t the story, but everything else. I’m talking about things like the atmosphere, the narrative voice, the visual style, the underlying ideas etc…

In other words, these things are more about the journey than the destination.

A good cinematic example is probably the first “Blade Runner” film. The basic story of this film is just a simple detective thriller story. But that isn’t what makes it a brilliant film.

It’s a brilliant film because of the fact that it takes place in an intriguingly mysterious futuristic world which also looks stunningly beautiful too. It’s a brilliant film because of the fact that you notice something new about it every time you see it. It’s a brilliant film because of all of the thematic/philosophical/moral complexity hiding behind the simple story. I could go on for hours, but it’s a brilliant film because of everything other than the basic story.

In short, if you find a creative work to be “boring”, then try focusing on something other than the story. The story the creative work is telling might not be the main reason why it was made.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Want More Originality? Try Some Emotional Variation – A Ramble

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

Shortly before writing this article, I found myself listening to a song called “Land Of The Free” by Gamma Ray for the hundredth time and I realised something about my own musical tastes – I prefer optimistic heavy metal music. And, yes, contrary to popular belief, optimistic heavy metal actually exists. And it feels great to listen to!

Not only does it encompass pretty much everything within the Power Metal sub-genre, but optimism also can be found in individual songs by bands in many other sub-genres of metal. I mean, there are even optimistic death metal songs out there (like this one [WARNING: The video contains FLICKERING LIGHTS] ).

Yet, when you think of heavy metal, “optimism” isn’t usually the first word that springs to mind. And, yet, this is what makes these songs so intriguing and appealing. They do something slightly different with a familiar genre, leveraging the strengths of the genre in order to achieve a slightly different emotional effect. They take the intense emotional catharsis that the genre is famous for and imbue it with a sense of joy, fun and/or hope that is often missing from more traditional heavy metal. And it is really something to listen to!

It also prompts all sorts of other interesting creative flourishes too. For example, the theme of optimism means that these songs have something in common with songs from other genres – which is why, for example, a metal band like Alestorm can make an awesome cover version of a (not entirely radio-friendly) rap song called “Hangover” by Taio Cruz. Many of Alestorm’s songs are about drinking, partying and having fun. Taio Cruz’s song is about this too. So, the cover is absolutely perfect.

Likewise, it can also lead to some unexpected thematic matter too. For example, although I’m not a Christian, I was quite surprised to realise that the “epic fantasy” story told in a heavy metal song called “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” by Helloween is, thematically at least, surprisingly Christian. It’s this story about someone who goes on an epic quest to defeat Satan by destroying things related to seveal negative qualities (eg: hate, fear, senselessness, greed and ignorance).

So, why have I spent several paragraphs talking about heavy metal music?

Well, simply put, one of the easiest ways to make something “orignal” within a familiar genre (aside from taking influence from things outside of the genre) is simply to look at the general emotional tone of the genre and then try to create something that evokes a slightly different emotional tone.

For example, one of the things that I’ve noticed whenever I’ve made cyberpunk art is that I’ll sometimes try to make it bright and cheerful, rather than gloomy and dystopian. Although this was initially because I absolutely love this genre and want to celebrate it, it does result in a slightly different “style” of cyberpunk to many things in the genre.

“Market Seven” By C. A. Brown

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

Adding a different emotional tone to a familiar genre not only makes your creative works more original, but it also allows you to explore themes that you might not be able to if you stuck to a more traditional version of the genre. I mean, part of the creative process behind some of my “optimistic” cyberpunk paintings was just curiosity about what everyday life in a 1980s-style cyberpunk future would actually look like. And, well, it’s probably not all doom and gloom.

So, yes, adding a different emotional tone to a familiar genre can be a really interesting thing to do.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Brutalist Architecture And Creative Inspiration – A Ramble

Although I’ve written about Brutalist architecture before, I was reminded of it again after seeing this fascinating gallery of photos.

If you’ve never heard of Brutalist architecture before and don’t have time to look at the gallery, then it’s an absolutely awesome style of architecture from the 1950s-70s which consists of large, imposing, angular concrete buildings.

Even though some philistines loathe it with a passion (to the point of actively trying to get it demolished, like with the much-missed Tricorn Centre in Portsmouth), there’s nothing quite like this wonderfully unique architectural style for firing the imagination and making the world a bit more of an interesting place.

But, what’s so interesting and inspirational about Brutalist architecture? Simply put, it looks like a piece of futuristic sci-fi in real life. When the Tricorn Centre still existed during my early-mid teenage years, it was like a little piece of the dystopian sci-fi novels I was so fascinated by at the time. It was like a real-life piece of J.G. Ballard’s “High Rise” or Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” that I could actually look at in real life.

Photo via Wikipedia, by Foofy (original image from this site). CC-BY 2.5

Not to mention that, even though the Tricorn was disused long before I really noticed it, it still spawned it’s own mythology. It was nearly impossible to go to school anywhere near Portsmouth during the early 2000s without hearing at least one secondhand tale of someone’s friend of a friend who had supposedly sneaked into the centre’s abandoned Laser Quest arena.

When I went to university in Aberystwyth, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the university campus has a large Brutalist area – consisting of a central courtyard that is surrounded by the Hugh Owen building, the Arts Centre and the Student Union. All of these buildings are giant, imposing, angular concrete things which look like they could have come from “Blade Runner” or something like that. Seriously, this whole location is an absolute joy to paint.

“Aberystwyth – Campus Corridor” By C. A. Brown

“Aberystwyth – Taxi Ride” By C. A. Brown

In fact, talking of “Blade Runner”, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw “Blade Runner 2049” at the cinema last year. During about two parts of the film, there are some wonderful exterior shots of a snow-covered Brutalist building. It fits into the world of the film absolutely perfectly, with little to no exterior changes.

So, why are Brutalist buildings so wonderfully inspirational? Simply put, they’re unique. No two are exactly identical. They look very different from the vast majority of other buildings surrounding them. Not only that, they somehow manage to look both intriguingly old and fascinatingly futuristic at the same time. They’re creative buildings.

Their bare, dystopian future- like exterior design is also inherently mysterious too. If you see a Brutalist building, then you’ll probably wonder what it looks like inside or what it was built for. This sense of mystery is one of the reasons why these buildings can really fire the imagination.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting πŸ™‚

Creativity And Learning Random Factoids – A Ramble

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about how learning random amusing factoids can be good for your creativity. I was reminded of this topic when I happened to discover that the background music for the American national anthem was taken from none other than the official song of an Ancient Greece-inspired 18th century drinking society.

But, what does learning random factoids have to do with creativity?

First of all, even if you don’t remember all of the hundreds of random factoids that you’ve found over the years, they can still spur your creativity.

This is because the reason why most of these factoids are interesting is because they either show that things are different to what we would expect (eg: like how archaeologists in Sweden during the 1950s found a small Buddha statue in a Viking-era site ) or they show that familiar things have more of a strange history than we might think (eg: the standard keyboard layout on most computers was originally designed to stop typewriter keys jamming.). In other words, they are irreverent things that make us think about everything slightly differently.

So, coming up with interesting pieces of backstory or interesting fictional background details is a lot more easier if you have the vague memory of hundreds of amusing factoids for the simple reason that they put you in the right frame of mind to come up with intriguing details for your story or comic.

Plus, random factoids can be used to make stories more memorable or interesting too. For example, although it’s an incredibly boring book that I had to read when I was in sixth form, one of the few surprising things about John Fowles’ “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” was the staggering statistic that something like 1 in 50 houses in Victorian London were brothels. Then again, thanks to it’s stuffy and uptight reputation, Victorian Britain is fertile ground for surprising factoids.

For example, drug use was surprisingly common back then. If you don’t believe me then read Thomas de Quincey’s “Confessions Of An English Opium-Eater”, read about Laudanum, read the first chapter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sign Of Four” and/or read about how Queen Victoria apparently took “tincture of hemp” for monthly cramps etc.. Most surprisingly of all, it was all perfectly legal back then too.

Of course, if random factoids contain an element of mystery or horror then they can also be the starting point for stories or comics in their own right.

Finally, knowing lots of random factoids will also improve any dialogue that you write since, as long as they are relevant to the story and/or your characters, you can liven up the dialogue in your comic or story by including some of the amusing factoids that you know.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚

Two Very Basic Ways To Create A New Sub-Genre

Well, although this is a short article about creativity in general, I’m going to have to start by talking about music briefly. This is mostly because I seem to be listening to slightly more heavy metal than usual at the time of writing.

Anyway, one of the defining features of the heavy metal genre is how many different sub-genres of heavy metal there are.

There’s symphonic metal, classic metal, power metal, thrash metal, speed metal, black metal, death metal, pirate metal, folk metal, trance metal etc…

Yet, all of these sub-genres are still very recognisable as heavy metal. So, although I’ve probably mentioned all of this stuff before, here are two very basic tips for how to make your own sub-genre (of art, fiction, music etc…).

1) Have a wide range of influences: Generally speaking, many new sub-genres are created when someone takes inspiration from something outside of their chosen genre.

For example, the Symphonic Metal sub-genre probably began when someone thought “what this opera really needs is some electric guitars“. Likewise, the Folk Metal sub-genre probably also began when someone thought the same thing about folk music.

Likewise, the Zomcom genre of films probably began with a brilliantly hilarious film called “Shaun Of The Dead”, which is a mixture of a romantic comedy and a zombie movie. If the creator of this film had only taken inspiration from one genre, the film wouldn’t be the distinctive, genre-defining classic that it is.

So, having a slightly wider range of influences will make it much easier for you to find new things to blend with your favourite genre. And, this is how you make a new sub-genre.

2) Know your tastes: Another way that new sub-genres can be created is when a person realises exactly what they really love about their favourite genre and then decides to turn it “up to eleven”.

A good example of this would probably be Splatterpunk fiction – this is a sub-genre of horror fiction that was popular during the 1980s/90s and it probably just stemmed from several horror writers thinking “why can’t horror novels include more blood and guts? Horror movies can include this stuff, why can’t we? Best of all, we don’t have to deal with film censors either….“.

So, if you’re a massive fan of a particular genre, then look carefully at which elements of the genre you really love, and then emphasise them more. I mean, you’re probably going to do this anyway (it’s a part of taking inspiration) – but if you do it prominently and distinctively enough, then you can end up creating a new sub-genre.

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Sorry for another short article, but I hope that it was useful πŸ™‚

Finding The Right Artform For You – A Ramble

[Note: This article was originally prepared quite a few months ago, when I was going through a phase where I was less interested in writing (and was a little out of practice). As such, it doesn’t quite reflect my current views about writing or my writing process.]

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Although this is an article about how to find the right artform (eg: art, writing, music, photography etc..) for you, I’m going to have to spend quite a while talking about my own experiences with making art and writing fiction. But, if you’re only interested in the instructional part of the article, then just skip to the final two paragraphs.

A while before writing this article, I ended up randomly reading parts of a series of articles from The Guardian where various authors talk about their writing routines. In addition to lots of wonderfully cosy descriptions of writing rooms, I suddenly noticed that many of them talked about writing in the same way that I’d probably talk about daydreaming or making art.

This then made me wonder “why don’t I feel this when writing fiction?” After all, I’d spent at least the first two decades of my life thinking of myself as a writer. I’ve even studied creative writing formally. I still dabble with writing short stories on special occasions. But, whenever I’ve written fiction, there’s often been a certain distance. A certain formality to the process.

Yes, having a highly inspired moment or having one those times where you write for the sake of writing (throwing quality to the wind, because no-one else is going to read it) can feel immersive and exhilarating. But, often, the process of writing fiction seems a little bit.. formal.

Yet, with art (which I’ve had no proper formal training in), it’s often the complete opposite. Now that I’ve had a bit of experience and built up my confidence, it often feels like I’m daydreaming on paper when I paint or draw. Like I don’t have to bother with the formality of translating the vague mixture of images, feelings, inspirations and moods I experience into words and then trying to cram them into something resembling a coherent story.

With art, you literally just have to create an interesting moment. You just have to come up with one interesting frame, rather than an entire feature film. It’s incredibly liberating and spontaneous if you’ve spent quite a bit of your life trying to write short stories etc…

Even on uninspired days, when making art feels like an arduous chore, it still feels more intuitive than writing fiction does. Yes, the passion and the feeling of meaning might not be there, but I seem to have picked up more tricks and techniques for dealing with this in 5-6 years of making art regularly than I did during the (much longer) time that I primarily thought of myself as a writer.

Even editing art feels a lot more enjoyable than editing fiction does. Even when I’m using a mouse in my non-dominant hand (because it somehow feels more intuitive than dusting off the graphics tablet) to edit scanned copies of my art, the editing process feels vivid and alive. I can see the progress happening in front of me. Even if the editing process doesn’t result in a perfect picture, it doesn’t matter as much because it still usually looks better than the physical painting that I scanned several minutes earlier.

With fiction, editing often feels a lot more tedious and abstract. It’s something I usually try to keep to a minimum because it can often feel like an endless process of re-arranging things and constantly worrying about whether it is “good enough”, like in that old Greek myth about pushing a boulder up a hill.

I could go on, but the general theme of all of this is that there’s a vivid emotional difference between the two things. One feels very different to the other.

So, the best way to find the artform that is right for you is just to experiment with a few of them and see which one really feels “natural” for you. See which one really fills you with enthusiasm and/or feels the most natural and intuitive. If you haven’t had any experience in any artform, then do a bit of practice with each one until you start to notice which one fills you with enthusiasm and makes you want to do it even more.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful πŸ™‚