Short Story: “Deadline” By C. A. Brown

Against the night sky, the falling snow almost looked like the screensaver on Diane’s computer. Even in the gloom, the snow was as white as the breeze block walls of her halls of residence room. She grinned. It almost looked like something from a dystopian sci-fi movie.

It was harshly beautiful. There were no other words for it. The only thing missing was music. As she jabbed the computer mouse, the screensaver disappeared and her half-finished English Lit essay about Edgar Allen Poe stared back at her. She sighed. The department’s deadline was tomorrow. But, how often does it snow like this?

For all she knew, it could happen every winter. Maybe this small town was famous for snow? The university prospectus had included a few beautiful snowy photos. Maybe she should just finish the damn essay and enjoy the snow next year or tomorrow or whenever? But, she found herself minimising the essay and opening Media Player instead.

A second later, the grimly melodic tones of Cradle Of Filth’s “Nymphetamine” echoed through the room. Diane watched the furious flurries of snow for a few minutes, wishing that she’d brought her DVD of “Gremlins” with her to uni. No, she thought, I’ve got to stay focused. She sighed and rifled through the stack of photocopied pages on her desk.

Even though it was two thousand and six for heaven’s sake, the university still insisted on references to physical books in essays. Given how much photocopies cost at the library, she was sure that it was probably a way of extorting money from poor students. Either that or the beardy old lecturers hadn’t heard of the internet.

Finding the right sheaf of stapled photocopies, Diane flicked through it until she found the passage she had highlighted earlier. No doubt that it was slightly longer than the scary copyright warning posters in the library allowed. Still, if they were charging 10p a page, then the posters were probably just for show. But, given that her halls room looked like something from a dystopian space prison, she wouldn’t have been surprised if there was some kafkaesque network of contradictory rules and goals at play.

Taking a deep breath, she focused and fired out another few paragraphs. Then she checked the word count. 1230 words. She shrugged. After she added a concluding paragraph, it would only be a hundred words shy of the limit. It would lose her a few marks, but she’d probably still pass. Anyway, it was snowing.

Diane got up and walked over to the square window. She gasped and staggered back. The view was different. Instead of snow-capped halls blocks, twenty dilapidated refinery towers stared back at her. The snowy ground below was an uneven moonscape of pits and mounds. She blinked and rubbed her eyes. The view didn’t change.

Common sense told her to stay put. To knock on everyone else’s doors and see if they had noticed it too. But, it was 3am. Everyone else on the floor would be out drinking. If only she’d been sensible enough to join them. Still, the deadline probably didn’t matter any more. And, she thought, how often do you get to explore somewhere like this? If she took a few photos, then no-one would question her sanity either.

Finding her jacket and an old Cradle Of Filth hoodie, she grabbed her bag and digital camera before walking out into the hallway. It was as silent as a tomb. She walked over to the kitchen and checked the windows. The refinery towers stared back at her once again. One of them moved. She took a couple of photos.

When she reached the stairwell, she noticed that the carpet was missing. She took a photo of the cracked grey tiles. Common sense urged her to turn back, but she kept walking down the stairs. Finally, she reached the thick wooden door. Diane took a deep breath and flung it open.

The halls blocks stared back at her. The snow was light on the ground. The towers were nowhere to be seen. She checked her camera. The photos were still there. She blinked. A smile crossed her face. Clutching her bag, she strode out into the snow. The university library would be still be open. Something about H.P. Lovecraft seemed like the perfect thing to fill up the remaining hundred words of her essay.

The Power Of Deadlines (For Artists)

No prizes for guessing which TV show I've been watching a lot recently...

No prizes for guessing which TV show I’ve been watching a lot recently…

A couple of months ago, I was watching an art video on Youtube by Mary Doodles, when she mentioned something that reminded me of an important part of my own creative work.

In about the last third of the video, she talked about the power of deadlines and about how setting a deadline can be extremely useful because it both stops you from becoming a perfectionist and it means that you will actually finish your paintings, drawings etc…

Although the Mary Doodles video discusses this subject in far more detail (and it’s certainly worth watching), I thought that I’d talk about how I’ve used deadlines in my own work, in case it’s useful and/or interesting to you.

My very first experience with making art to a deadline for an extended period of time was back in summer 2010 when I made an absolutely terrible (both in terms of plotting and art) daily webcomic for a couple of months.

Oh god, the memories!!!

Oh god, the memories!!!

Luckily, I’d made a fairly large “buffer” of comic pages before I started posting it online, but – for a couple of months at least – I posted a comic strip online almost every day.

This was something I’d wanted to do for a while (and I finally got the motivation to do it when I read a webcomic called Unicorn Jelly) and I chose a daily schedule because almost all of my favourite webcomics posted updates daily.

Fast forward to about two years later and I’ve pretty much lost interest in making art. It’s spring 2012 and I’ve made as much art over the past year as I’d probably make in a couple of weeks this year. Anyway, I was feeling kind of bored one day in April, so I made a small drawing which was about a quarter of an A4 page in size:

"The Important Question" By C. A. Brown [2012]

“The Important Question” By C. A. Brown [2012]

Suddenly, I remembered how much fun it was to make art. So, for some reason that I can’t quite remember, I decided to make one of these small drawings every day and post it on DeviantART. At first, it was fiendishly difficult and I felt like I was out of my depth. In fact, I felt like I’d probably last a couple of weeks before I gave up in frustration. But, I kept at it just out of sheer momentum and habit.

Within a month or two, I was producing several of these small drawings every day – and actually posting them online on the same day that I made them. I’d keep doing this until sometime either last year or the year before, when I finally started making a buffer of drawings in advance (at the time of writing this article, my buffer now contains about three months worth of art – and I still add to it daily).

By summer 2012, I finally took the leap to making A5-size drawings and it was an absolute revelation to me. Since I could easily churn out an A4 page filled with small drawings in a single day, making one or two larger drawings every day didn’t seem like so much of a leap – and this meant that I could do more stuff in my art, because I had more space to work with.

Plus, it was the first time that I started to draw in landscape rather than portrait. ------ ("Magic Coin" By C. A. Brown [25th August 2012] )

Plus, it was the first time that I started to draw in landscape rather than portrait.
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(“Magic Coin” By C. A. Brown [25th August 2012] )

After that, I never really looked back, and most of my daily drawings or paintings have been at least half an A4 page in size. And, although I set myself the minumum requirement of producing one drawing per day, I’d often make more than one and post more than one online every day.

I’m not sure exactly when I went back to just posting one piece of art online every day, but it was probably due to working on both these articles and the other daily features I used to have on this blog (eg: my old “how to draw” guides etc…). Eventually, I felt so overloaded that I went back to making one painting per day and this kind of seems to work best for me.

Anyway, I’d have never got as good at making art as I am now if I wasn’t for using a regular, daily deadline. If I hadn’t incorporated making art into my daily routine, then I’d have never got the sheer repetitive practice that I needed in order to improve.

Yes, my art tends to improve fairly slowly – but it does improve – as you can see by these two paintings that I made about a year apart from each other:

"Chainmail and Chainsaws" By C. A. Brown [21st June 2014]

“Chainmail and Chainsaws” By C. A. Brown [21st June 2014]

"Chainmail and Chainsaws (II)" By C. A. Brown [ June 2015]

“Chainmail and Chainsaws (II)” By C. A. Brown [ June 2015]

The other thing that sticking to a deadline teaches you is perseverance and persistence. Part of sticking to a deadline means that you still have to make art on days when you are feeling “uninspired”.

Even though this means that you might make a rather crappy painting or something slightly unimaginative, it means that you will still actually have to make some art. And, well, this is a quality that is worth practicing and cultivating.

Plus, as Mary Doodles mentioned in her Youtube video, it also means that you will actually finish the art that you make – rather than spending ages tinkering and trying to make one of your pictures look “perfect”.

So, yes, it’s certainly worth setting yourself a deadline.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Five Ways To Make Quick Last-Minute Artwork

2014 Artwork Last minute art article sketch

So, you’re uninspired and you’ve got a deadline looming? It doesn’t matter if you’re an art student, if you post art online to a regular schedule or if you just need to demonstrate your art skills quickly, knowing how to come up with a piece of artwork in a hurry is a skill that is worth learning.

Before I go any further, I should point out that this article is aimed at very slightly experienced artists and not absolute beginners. Not only that, there’s a good chance that any art that you produce this quickly probably won’t be your best work.

Still, if you absolutely have to make some art and you’ve only got 20-30 minutes to do it, then making something is better than making nothing.

In addition to this, I would also recommend that you work in one of the five art mediums that I mention in this article.

If you don’t have time to read it – the five mediums are ink, coloured pencils, digital, watercolour pencils and/or pastels, since these are all formats that require little to no drying time. There’s no point rushing through a work of art only to have to wait hours for it to dry.

Anyway, I’ll stop wasting your time and get on with the list.

1) Landscapes: Let’s face it, people are one of the most difficult things for most artists to draw and/or paint. You have to add expressions, think of clothing designs, work out what hairstyle they’re going to have, get the proportions vaguely right etc.. All of this stuff takes time – time that you might not have.

So, you can speed things up by not including any people in your picture and just sticking to landscapes.

Generally speaking, natural landscapes – especially ones that mostly consist of mountains and seas (rather than trees or buildings)- are some of the easiest types of landscapes to draw and/or paint if you’re in a hurry. After all, all you need to do is to draw a few quick lines and add some colour and… hey presto! A mountain valley:

"Valley" By C. A. Brown

“Valley” By C. A. Brown

2) Go With What You Know (And Love): Although artists should experiment with different things and try new stuff from time to time, this isn’t something that you should do if you have a deadline looming.

If possible, you should make the type of art that you know and love – not only will this take some of the stress out of drawing or painting something quickly, but it is probably also the type of art that you’ve had the most practice with. In other words, there’s at least some chance that your rushed artwork will look at least vaguely good.

Likewise, if you’ve been working on a webcomic in your spare time, then just draw the characters from it with a few modifications. After all, you’ve probably already drawn them numerous times before – so, it should be almost second-nature to you.

3) Old Stuff: If you’ve been making art for a while, then you’ve probably got quite a few old paintings or drawings that you haven’t really shown anyone.

If you can’t pass one of these off as something that you’ve just made (eg: if the quality of your art has improved significantly since you made your old picture), then just draw or paint a new version of it from scratch.

Not only will this save you having to come up with a new idea for a picture in less than an hour, you can also simplify your copy of your original picture too in order to save time (eg: you can change the background, remove the background altogether, use solid colours instead of detailed patterns etc…).

4) Darkness And/ Or Snow: This trick relies on at least a very basic understanding of lighting in art but, if in doubt, make your picture as gloomy as you can.

If you are working digitally, or if you have access to a scanner, then you can add even more gloom to your pictures by adjusting the brightness/contrast levels (eg: lower the brightness and increase the contrast) in virtually any graphics editing program.

Likewise, you can use other digital effects (like inverting the colours) to make something ultra-quickly, like this:

"Lost Planet" By C. A. Brown [I made this in less than 15 minutes, by inverting the colours digitally]

“Lost Planet” By C. A. Brown [I made this in less than 15 minutes, by inverting the colours digitally]

Anyway, not only will having a lot of darkness areas in your picture mean that you’ll only have to add detail to the few brighter areas of your picture (eg: you can use silhouettes and outlines for the rest), it can also be a good way of tricking your audience into thinking that your picture is more detailed than it actually is.

After all, when your audience are presented with only a few parts of a scene, their imaginations tend to “fill in the gaps” and imagine the rest of it.

For example, take a look at this slightly rushed (and heavily darkened digitally) coastal landscape painting I posted on here a few weeks ago. Not how only the left-hand side of the painting actually has any real detail in it:

"Mountain Bridge" By C. A. Brown

“Mountain Bridge” By C. A. Brown

Likewise, you can also take the opposite approach and paint or draw a scene that is almost entirely covered in snow. This way, you only have to paint or draw a few key details (as well as the sky) and you can leave most of the page blank.

But, unless you’ve already had some practice, I wouldn’t recommend this, since even vaguely realistic-looking snow is harder to draw than you might think if you haven’t had any practice.

5) Abstractions, Collages and Surrealism: If you’re seriously short of time, then just make something random. Start doodling, start painting random shapes, sketch out silhouettes against a solid-colour background etc… and, if anyone asks, it’s abstract and/or surreal art.

Seriously, just make something totally random, like this

"Luminous Bridge" By C. A. Brown

“Luminous Bridge” By C. A. Brown

Likewise, if you’ve got magazines, a glue stick and scissors handy – then just make a random collage. It might also be a good idea scribble a few random shapes on it and/or scrawl a few pretentious-sounding words onto it (eg: “angst”, “penumbra”, “existence”, “late capitalism” etc…) to make it look more “artistic” too.

Hell, even defacing a picture in a magazine or newspaper in an imaginative way can work if you’ve only got a few minutes – I mean, just look at Duchamp’s “L.H.O.O.Q” for a famous example of this.

Yes, this probably isn’t a good idea if you want to seriously impress anyone who knows anything about art. But, if you need something that looks “modern”, “experimental” or “edgy” in a hurry and you can come up with a suitably pretentious-sounding explanation of it’s “meaning”, then you might just get away with it…..

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂