Two Tips For Binge Creativity (eg: Binge Writing, Comic Binges etc..)

Well, to my surprise, I ended up finishing making the six-comic webcomic mini series I’m currently posting here in about half of the time I’d initially expected to spend on it. This was mostly because I prepared it during two marathon sessions spread across about three days. So, for today, I thought that I’d talk about binge-creativity.

Binge creativity is something that I’ve dabbled with occasionally ever since I discovered something called the “3 Day Novel” contest in 2009 and decided to unofficially try making one as a challenge (and ended up writing a 21,500 [?] word novella in about four days). Although I generally prefer the steady pace of “little and often” when it comes to creating things, there is something exhilarating about binging very occasionally.

So, although it isn’t something you should do regularly, I thought that I’d offer a couple of tips:

1) Plan for it: Whether it’s setting aside the right amount of time, structuring your project in a way that makes it easier to binge or just finding an idea that enthuses you enough to make you want to have a marathon writing or drawing session, you need to plan.

The most obvious reason for this is that the last thing you need when binge-writing or binge-making comics is to get writer’s block. So, knowing where your story is going before you start is incredibly useful. Even if you have a better idea whilst actually making the project (and decide to do that instead), having a backup plan is a useful way to prevent writer’s block.

Time is the most important consideration when binge-creating. Ideally, you should have several large unbroken blocks of time (eg: a free weekend or, if you’re nocturnal, several nights). But, failing this, you need to structure your project in a way that can be fitted into lots of smaller blocks of time.

In other words, you need to include things like short chapters and short comic updates that give you the sense of accomplishing them when you finish, but also mean that there are lots of points where you can temporarily leave the project without the feeling of leaving any one part of it unfinished.

Likewise, it’s also important to remember that you shouldn’t judge your rate of productivity based on your first “session”. When you start a marathon project, you’ll be filled with excitement, energy and enthusiasm. So, you’re going to make more stuff better and more quickly during your first “session” than you will during subsequent sessions. So, plan for this!

This slight drop-off in energy or enthusiasm is also something you should plan for too. For example, in my webcomic project, I structured the story so that the first couple of pages would have more background detail than the later parts of the comic. Since this works in context, it meant that I could still produce reasonably good-looking comics throughout the project.

Likewise, project length is a very important consideration too. The thing to remember here is that a finished project is always better than an unfinished one. So, err on the side of shortness when planning how long your project will be. If you have extra time and/or enthusiasm whilst actually making it, you can always make the project longer.

2) Efficiency: Simply put, you need to be as efficient as possible when binge-creating. So, knowing yourself and knowing the tools you use are absolutely essential.

It is important to know yourself because you need to know what type of conditions are best for your creativity. For example, I tend to be at my best when I’m in absolute solitude – but with some kind of non-interactive distraction in the background, such as music or a DVD. Likewise, with writing-based things, taking short breaks to read things online too can help stop me feeling burnt out creatively. But, of course, different things work for different people. So, know yourself.

Likewise, know the tools that you will be using. For example, when making art and comics, I usually use a mixture of traditional and digital tools. This came in handy when binge-making my current webcomic mini series since, because I know how to use various features on the image editing programs I use, I was able to add things like starry skies, realistic skin tones etc… to my comics within the space of seconds. Likewise, I was able to correct mistakes and re-edit the dialogue relatively quickly too.

With the traditional elements of my comics, I use a mixture of waterproof ink rollerball pens, a small palette of 5-7 watercolour pencils, a waterbrush (eg: a brush with a water reservoir in the handle) and thin, cheap watercolour paper. This a set-up that, from experience, I’ve found to be the best and most efficient. But, of course, your own preferred set-up could be different.

Plus, finding the most efficient tools for you might not always be immediately obvious. For example, although I’ve experimented with a graphics tablet and with left-handed mouse set-ups in the past, I actually find that the most efficient tool for image editing (but not for drawing or painting) is to use an optical computer mouse right-handed. This is mostly because I’ve had a lot of experience with gaming, general computer use etc.. with a mouse, mostly on computers that are set up for right-handed users. So, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, using a mouse right-handed just feels more intuitive whilst editing.

To give some writing-based examples – if you’re typing your story, then decide whether you want to use a spell-checker whilst writing (since they can be a distraction). Likewise, choose a font size that feels right when writing (you can always change it later). If you’re writing by hand, then choose a type of pen (ballpoint, rollerball or fountain) and paper (eg: spiral-bound notebooks, hardback notebooks, loose sheets etc..) that you’re comfortable with.

So, knowing a bit about the tools you use and, more importantly, knowing yourself can make your projects a lot more efficient.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Art Changes The Way You See The World – A Ramble

Although I’ve talked about this topic at least twice before, I felt like returning to it again because it is always interesting. I am, of course talking about the way that creative works change the way you see the world – whether you make them or are part of the audience.

I was reminded of this subject when, a couple of hours before I started preparing this article, there were two power cuts. After noticing that I couldn’t turn the downstairs hall light on, the upstairs hall light started flickering ominously. My first thought was “Oh my god, this is like something from a horror movie. Cool!“. Which, in retrospect, was probably better than feeling scared.

Then, when I went upstairs, I happened to notice that the bathroom was bathed in the early evening light. Thanks to my years of daily art practice, I was able to memorise the way that the light looked – so that I could turn it into a stylised painting later. Here’s a preview of said painting:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here tomorrow.

Whilst I was somewhat puzzled by the power cut, the wails of car and building alarms in the distance suddenly made me think of this absolutely hilarious “SMBC” comic. Remembering this comic lightened my mood considerably and meant that I felt amused, rather than annoyed or frightened, by the power cut.

Finally, after the first power cut had finished, I powered up my computer and the first thing I did was to look online for a music video for Billy Joel’s “Miami 2017“. Why? Because it was a song that I’ve associated with power cuts since I found myself in the middle of one when I was in Aberystwyth about 7-8 years ago. This also brought back lots of wonderful memories and helped me feel nostalgic, rather than angry or annoyed, about the power cut.

This is far from the only time that creative works have lightened the mood. When, last year, the afternoon sky turned an ominous shade of muddy orange due to a combination of a distant storm and sand from the Sahara (or something like that), I was quite surprised to read in online news stories about it that people were joking that it was a sign of the apocalypse. My thoughts at the time hadn’t been “it’s the apocalypse! The end-times are upon us!“, but “Cool! Everywhere looks like part of the intro movie to ‘Silent Hill 3‘. This is awesome!

So, what was the point of mentioning all of this?

Well, it’s yet another example of how important creativity and creative works are. Whilst “the arts” or “culture” are often commonly seen as frivolous or pretentious, they have an incredibly important everyday role in our lives – since they can be one of the things that shapes how we see and think about the world.

And, before anyone says anything, this isn’t a call for censorship. Whilst creative works can shape the way we see the world, they aren’t all-powerful things. In other words, they can slightly influence the way we see the world to an extent, but they can’t control us. We obviously still have brains, personalities etc…

Not to mention that most of the ways that creative works influence how we see the world are positive. They make us look at “ordinary” landscapes in interesting ways, they can provide an emotional boost to us, they can add humour to our lives and they can provoke interesting daydreams.

Plus, of course, if you’re a creative person yourself, then every creative work that you see will probably influence what you create to some extent or another – even if it’s just a “I’m not making something like that!” negative influence.

Not to mention that making art regularly also means that you tend to notice things like realistic colours, the exact outlines of everything, the beauty of everything, background details in TV shows etc… This is kind of hard to describe, but it’s a little bit like gaining an extra sense or something like that.

So yes, creative works are important, valuable things because they can shape the way that we see the world.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Reasons Why Things From The 1990s Can Seem More Creative

Whether it’s games, films, (non-superhero) comics or TV shows, it can be easy to think that the 1990s was a more creative decade than this one. As a fan of the 1990s, I often tend to think this way. At a glance, the 1990s just seems more creative. But, I thought that I’d take a deeper look at this today.

Since, in boringly practical terms, the reality is somewhat more nuanced. These days, mainstream films are often less creative because TV now fills the role that films once used to. Likewise, modern indie games often contain the creativity that used to be an integral part of large-budget mainstream games.

So, on the whole, the 1990s was probably no more or less creative than the present day is. But, I thought that I’d look at a few possible reasons why the 1990s seems more creative than the present day.

1) The internet: I’ve talked about this before, but the internet was a lot less mainstream during the 1990s than it is now. Whilst this certainly had negative effects on creativity, such as making traditional publishers, large film studios etc.. the sole gatekeepers of which creative works were available to the public- it also had several positive effects too.

The first is that the lack of online video, online game shops, e-books etc… meant that the mainstream had to serve a wider role. What this meant is that things like mid-budget films and mid-list authors would often enjoy more popularity. There was more of an incentive for larger publishers, TV stations and film studios to cater to a wider audience, since they were pretty much the only game in town. Again, this was also a barrier to creativity – but it did lead to a better range of stuff being published formally during the 1990s.

The second was the lack of social media. Although critics obviously existed during the 1990s and are necessary (so that audience members can make informed decisions, uninfluenced by advertising), the lack of a way to instantly respond to a creative work often meant that public criticism was a lot more considered, professional and based on the quality of a work.

The third was that it meant that detailed data was a lot harder to obtain. This meant that studios, publishers etc… were forced to take more risks since they didn’t know literally everything about the audience. This probably meant that marketing departments, accountants etc… had very slightly less influence over major creative works. And this resulted in more creativity.

2) Another time: When we look at things from the 1990s today, we probably don’t see them in quite the same way that people from the 1990s did. This can be because they give us a glimpse at a world that is both similar to and different to our own. This can be because they evoke lots of wonderful nostalgia. This can be because we are comparing them to stuff from the present day.

In short, we’re seeing things from the 1990s through the lens of the present day. But, during the 1990s, these things were just ordinary films, games, books etc.. and were probably viewed in the same way that we think of modern games, books etc.. today.

For example, the innocent optimism that makes many creative works from the 1990s so wonderfully reassuring, inspirational and enjoyable wouldn’t have been a big deal at the time. After all, the reeason why things from the 1990s can often seem a lot more optimistic and light-hearted than modern stuff is because they were made during the brief time between the end of the cold war and before things like 9/11 happened.

In other words, people had a reason to be optimistic about the future – so, it seemed perfectly normal back then. But, when compared to the modern world, it seems a lot more noteworthy.

3) People knew less: In short, the sum total of humanity’s knowledge was less during the 1990s than it is today. As such, there was more reason to “explore” and try new things, because they hadn’t really been done before.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in computer and video games. Large-budget games from the 1990s are often considered to be much more innovative and creative than their modern counterparts. Because they almost certainly are! The main reason for this is that gaming was much more of a “new” medium during the 1990s. It hadn’t been carefully studied and many of the tropes of the medium were only really beginning to emerge.

As such, game developers had to try new stuff – if only to see whether it worked or not. They had to experiment with different genres, gameplay mechanics and graphical techniques. Because, if they didn’t, then who would?

4) We remember the good stuff: This is the obvious one, but it is worth mentioning nonetheless. The best and most creative things from any period of history tend to be remembered more than less creative things do. This gives the impression that the past was more creative than the present.

Again, games spring to mind here. Although some people decry the fact that first-person shooter games are pretty much ubiquitous these days, it is important to remember that 2D platform games filled this role during the 1990s.

Although 2D platformers are something of a niche genre these days, they were everywhere during the early-mid 1990s. They were the generic “standard” genre of action game back then. When early FPS games like “Wolfenstein 3D”, “Doom”, “Rise Of The Triad”, “Duke Nukem 3D”, “Quake” etc.. emerged, they were a breath of fresh air compared to the glut of 2D platform games at the time. As such, they are (rightly) remembered as classics.

So, yes, people tend to remember the best and most creative things a lot more easily than everything else.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Here’s Yet Another Thing Computer And Video Games Can Teach Artists And Writers

Well, I thought that I’d look at the topic of gaming and creativity yet again, mostly because of a mundane experience I had when looking online for a desk chair for the backup computer I recently installed.

I was comparing all of the chairs on a website and sorting them by price, when I suddenly thought “This reminds me a little of an upgrade screen in an early-mid 2000s action game.

If you’ve never played these games before, then they often tend to feature bonuses etc.. that can be collected in-game and then used to “buy” upgrades and items for your character. There’s a degree of skill in choosing what to buy with the resources you have. The upgrade screens look a bit like this:

This is a screenshot from “Alien Shooter” (2003), showing the game’s upgrade screen.

This is a screenshot from “X-COM: Enforcer” (2001), showing the game’s upgrade screen.

So, what does any of this have to do with creativity? Well, it’s all to do with how creative works can make mundane experiences (eg: shopping etc..) seem much cooler and more dramatic.

This provides lasting value to the audience, by both making everyday moments seem cooler and by immersing them in the game/story/comic/painting etc.. more by linking it to common, everday things.

Because games are interactive, they often tend to contain the best examples of this sort of thing. For example, if you’ve ever had to find a way to re-arrange your stuff in order to make more space, then “Tetris” can spring to mind.

This is a screenshot from “Techlogica TechTris” (2006) – a “Tetris”-style game.

This is a game that revolves around quickly fitting tessellating shapes into a limited space. And, thinking about re-arranging things as “a live-action version of Tetris” can be a way to inject some fun and/or humour into what is basically an arduous and tedious task.

But, other things than games can also evoke this feeling too. For example, if you’re looking at or editing a picture on your computer and you zoom in on it, then you might possibly think about the ESPER machine from a classic 1980s sci-fi film called “Blade Runner”.

If you’ve never seen this film before, the ESPER machine is a photo-enhancement machine that plays a brief, but important, role in the film. It’s this hulking, whirring analogue thing that still somehow looks really futuristic. And, yet it does the same thing as a basic photo viewer or image editing program does these days.

This is a screenshot of the ESPER machine from “Blade Runner” (1982). In the 1980s, this was a cool piece of sci-fi tech. These days, even the most basic computer programs will do more than it can.

In conclusion, finding ways to make mundane tasks seem cool, interesting or exciting can be one of the easiest ways to ensure that your creative work lingers in your audience’s imaginations – since experiencing everyday things can remind your audience of the things that you’ve made.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What Can Computer Keyboards Teach Us About Creativity? – A Ramble

Well, one of the interesting side effects of transferring my computer’s hard drive into a different vintage computer (since the motherboard on the other one was dying) is that the other machine only accepts USB keyboards. So, I had to dust off an old keyboard of mine that I hadn’t used since about 2010 or so.

One of the things that really surprised me is that different keyboards can feel very different to use. It wasn’t something that I’d really thought about before, but the keys on my USB keyboard felt somewhat spongy when pressed, the “shift” key has to be pressed fairly hard and the “backspace” key is absolutely tiny when compared to the even older PS/2 keyboard I’d previously been using.

Yet, this USB keyboard was the keyboard that I’d learnt to really type quickly on. When I used it regularly between 2006-10, it felt perfectly normal to use. Yet, returning to it a few years later, it felt completely different to the keyboard I’d been using previously. Ok, I got used to it again fairly quickly, but it made me think about tools and creativity.

In short, it reminded me how branding doesn’t matter quite as much as you might think. As long as you are skilled at using one particular type of art or writing materials, then it’s usually fairly easy to get used to other variants of them.

For example, the main reason that I’m able to adapt to the quirks of this USB keyboard fairly quickly is because it is a QWERTY keyboard. I’ve had a lot of practice with this keyboard layout, so even using a different brand of QWERTY keyboard that is a slightly different size and whose keys “feel” slightly different when pressed isn’t that difficult.

Yet, if I was faced with a Dvorak keyboard, I probably wouldn’t be able to type anywhere near as quickly. All of the instinctive motions that I use when typing would be completely wrong. So, even a cheap or old QWERTY keyboard would be more useful to me than the fanciest and most expensive Dvorak keyboards out there.

So, what was the point of this? What can it teach us?

Well, simply put, branding doesn’t matter as much as you might think when it comes to art or writing supplies. As long as you are familiar with a general type of art or writing tool (eg: QWERTY keyboards, watercolour pencils, rollerball pens etc…), then adapting to different brands of it can be much faster than you might think.

At the end of the day, skills (gained through practice) matter more than the exact quirks or branding of any one product do.

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

Fan Art And Self-Expression – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d talk about how fan art can be a valid form of self-experession today. This was because of an experience I had with making fan art shortly before I originally prepared the first draft of this article (several months ago). But, I should also point out that this article contains some SPOILERS for “Blade Runner” and the original “Ghost In The Shell” film too.

Although it is all resolved now, I’d been having something of a stressful evening on the day that I originally prepared this article. In short, what I’d thought was an annoying long-running problem with my computer (which kept slowly getting worse) turned out, upon closer inspection, to be a much more serious problem. The capacitors on the motherboard had begun to degrade.

Even though I’d been preparing a backup computer, the idea of my main computer slowly dying was deeply disturbing. This was a computer that has been by my side for over a decade. It was the best birthday present I’ve ever had. Even after all this time, using it still felt futuristic when compared to the Windows 98 machine I’d previously used. It had been there during some of the best and some of the worst times of my life. It was what this blog was started on and what my art was scanned and edited on too. It has, to me at least, become more than just a mere machine. It was more like a cherished treasure or a beloved pet.

Still, the computer worked intermittently. So, I wasn’t going to desert it. Even though I was setting up a second backup system (eg: another classic mid-2000s computer 🙂), I thought that I would stick with my main computer for as long as I could. Or at least until I could find a way to put the hard drive into another computer or something [EDIT: This is exactly what happened the next day. It’s now inside a computer from 2004 with a faster processor, but less RAM and VRAM, than my old machine from 2006]

Although the original “Ghost In The Shell” movie would probably be a better parallel, a scene from “Blade Runner” slipped into my mind during all of this. It was the scene near the end of the film where, with Gaff’s words about limited lifespans echoing in the background, Deckard and Rachel get into a lift and decide to spend the rest of their days together. The scene suddenly took on a new poignance to me.

So, that evening, I decided to draw it. Here’s a preview of the finished drawing:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size picture will be posted here on the 30th August.

Although it was intially just a quick and easy way to distract myself from all of the stress about the computer, the drawing ended up being a lot more expressive and creative than I had expected.

Firstly, this was because I decided to make a monochrome drawing rather than an “accurate” full-colour painting. Initially, this was both for time reasons and to minimise the amount of editing time after I scanned the painting (in case my computer failed whilst editing). But, it lent the picture a hauntingly stark quality that seemed to reflect the mood I was in very well. Not only that, not having to worry about colours meant that I could focus more on detail and shading, which seriously improved the picture.

Secondly, the scene in the picture doesn’t technically appear in the film (or at least the DVD of the 1992 Director’s Cut that I used as a reference). Yes, Deckard and Rachel get into the lift – but, despite what I had thought, there isn’t actually a shot of them standing next to each other.

So, of course, I had to pause the DVD at various different moments during the scene and come up with a composite picture that isn’t actually in the film. Originally, this was just out of necessity (since I had a clear idea of what my drawing would look like). But, it’s also an example of how fan art can actually include creativity.

So, in conclusion, fan art can also include self-expression and creativty too. Yes, original art gives you more creative freedom – but you can still be fairly creative with fan art too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

When Nostalgia Isn’t Defined – A Ramble

Although this is a rambling article about nostalgia, creativity and gaps in popular culture, I’m going to have to spend the next 3-4 paragraphs talking about music. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A day or two before I wrote this article, I was clearing part of my room when I happened to find a CD that I’d forgotten that I even had. It was a free music CD that had been attached to the March 2006 issue of “Metal Hammer” magazine.

Although I was initially pleasantly surprised to discover that it contained “Cyanide” by Deathstars (a song that really reminds me a lot of 2008/9), I listened to a few of the other tracks out of curiosity and, although I didn’t know or remember any of them, one of them stood out in particular.

It was a song called “The Last Sunrise” by Aiden and it was the absolute epitome of mid-2000s heavy metal. With a mixture of clean vocals, emo-style vocals (that almost have a whiny early 2000s-style pop-punk quality to them) and shouty vocals, it couldn’t have come from any other era in history.

Even the intense, but sharp, guitar parts of the song sound very much like something from this part of history. Likewise, the emotional angst-filled lyrics are also very mid-2000s. I suddenly found myself feeling incredibly nostalgic about the mid-2000s (of all times) just by listening to a song I didn’t remember.

But, as you can probably tell from the convoluted description in the previous paragraph, the vocabulary for describing and defining mid-2000s nostalgia doesn’t really exist yet.

I mean, if I was to talk about – say- 1990s Hollywood movies, then I could talk at length about the chiaroscuro lighting that was popular back then. Or I could talk about how being made between the end of the cold war and before 9/11 gave these films an optimistic emotional tone that can’t be replicated today.

I could probably talk about how the fact that the internet was less widely-used back then affected the stories films told. I could probably talk about how the larger number of mid-budget films back then was beneficial to popular culture (and how smaller-scale stories can often be more dramatic than larger-scale ones). I could probably go on for a while.

But, when talking about something as simple as a song from 2006, I’m forced to use convoluted descriptions that may or may not make sense. Yes, I know what sets heavy metal music from the mid-2000s apart from heavy metal from other parts of history. But, finding a way to express that knowledge is somewhat more challenging because popular nostalgia hasn’t really caught up to this time period yet (eg: there’s usually at least a 20 year gap when it comes to nostalgia becoming popular).

So, what is the best thing to do if you’re a creative person who wants to express a type of nostalgia that hasn’t really been explored in popular culture?

Well, the first thing to do is to try to work out which qualities make something from a non-nostalgic period of the past so distinctive. Use your memories, do some online research, look at examples of things from that time etc.. and try to work out what they have in common. Or, failing that, find some creative works from the time period in question and take inspiration from them.

Even if you can’t concisely express what makes things from a particular time period unique, gaining a greater knowledge of it (through research and thought) will help you to find less direct ways to express this particular quality (eg: the way you describe locations, your characters’ personalities etc..).

If you’re an artist, then you have an advantage here, since you can try to replicate the “look” of a particular period of history, even if you can’t quite find the words to articulate what makes it do distinctive. For example, here are two paintings of mine that are based on a stylised version of the early-mid 2000s:

“Future 2004” By C. A. Brown

“Like 2005” By C. A. Brown

Finding ways to turn nostalgia that isn’t widely shared into art, fiction etc.. can be a bit of a challenge. And, you probably aren’t going to get it right the first time. Still, it’s certainly worth trying nonetheless.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂