Today’s Art (24th July 2019)

Well, today’s digitally-edited painting was originally going to be a stylised 1980s-themed painting, although I ended up adding some cyberpunk, 1990s and early-mid 2000s elements to it whilst I was making it.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Retro Balcony” By C. A. Brown

Three Thoughts About Writing Fiction Set In The Mid-2000s

Well, I ended up thinking about the subject of mid-2000s style fiction after I began re-reading a horror novel from 2005 called “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” by Natasha Rhodes (although, due to a heatwave at the time of writing, it might take me longer to read/review this novel than usual). It could be because of the fact that I first read this novel in 2005/6, but it seemed so wonderfully mid-2000s in a lot of ways.

This then made me think of a horror novel from 2006 that I re-read a while ago called “Dying Words” by Shaun Hutson, which seems to be the perfect distillation of mid-2000s Britain. And, since the mid-2000s is just slightly too recent to really be a part of popular nostalgia at the moment, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to write stories set in the mid-2000s. And for the purposes of this article, I’ll define the mid-2000s as 2004-6 or so.

1) Culture and context: Culturally, the mid-2000s was a different age. Despite all of the lingering post-9/11 fear and angst, culture was a bit more optimistic and interesting than the present day. In part, this was probably because the 2008 financial crash hadn’t happened yet. So, here are a few of the cultural differences between the mid-2000s and the present day.

As for films, horror movies were a lot more popular 🙂 At the time, the psychological horror/jump scare trend of the early-mid 2000s was still going strong (with, for example, a Hollywood remake of “The Grudge” in 2004) but, with the release of the first “Saw” film in 2004, the early beginnings of the grittier and more brutal horror movie trends of the mid-late 2000s were also emerging too. Superhero movies also existed at the time, but were thankfully more of an occasional infrequent novelty rather than a major genre 🙂

Pop and rock music (especially indie rock) were popular genres of music too. Heavy metal music from the time usually tended to be a bit more shoutier and/or angst-filled than it was in previous decades though. There were also some lingering remnants of the awesome pop-punk trend of the mid-1990s/early-mid 2000s in the charts too 🙂 The Emo subculture was also a popular thing too. In terms of fashions, boho chic was one of the most popular trends.

Videogames were a popular thing, but were also still something of a niche hobby too. First-person shooter games were still primarily single-player games (and were all the better for it!) and genres like the 3D platformer genre and the survival horror genre were still reasonably popular too 🙂 Whilst online multiplayer obviously existed back then, there tended to be more of a focus on good, honest local multiplayer for console games. However, the modern renaissance in indie games hadn’t happened yet, so most games were popular “AAA” games made by larger studios.

Politically, this was the age of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Both were mercilessly satirised at the time and for good reason. Still, even though the mid-2000s was a relative utopia compared to the present day, we didn’t know any worse back then. As such, pessimism, angst and gloom about politics were a major thing back then. Whether it was angst about the erosion of civil liberties, worries about terrorism, worries about Blair acting in an authoritarian fashion, worries about the Iraq/Afghanistan wars etc… It was a fairly angst-filled time.

But it was, in Britain at least, a much more hedonistic age too 🙂 For example, this was an age when there were still tabloid moral panics about “binge drinking” (because people still actually went out drinking/clubbing at the weekend 🙂 ).

2) The technology: The thing to remember about the mid-2000s is that, in technological terms, it was mostly a more sensible version of the present day. In other words, whilst things like mobile phones, some types of social media etc.. still existed, they were a little bit more sensible.

In other words, smartphones didn’t really exist. Mobile phones existed (and were very popular), but they were actual phones with numerical keypads. They were primarily used for phone calls and simple text messages. Some phones had low-resolution cameras, limited internet connectivity and colour screens, but that was about it (and adding anything more usually tended to result in commercial failure, see the Nokia N-Gage for an example). They had much longer battery life than modern phones and they couldn’t really access social media in the way they do today 🙂

Social media, of course, being something you accessed via a desktop computer (running Windows 98 or XP 🙂 ). Even then, it was at least slightly different to what it is today. Back then, social media tended to focus slightly more on things like public forums (where people would discuss a topic, instead of themselves), instant messenger programs and – of course- traditional blogs, where people could write at length in an articulate fashion 🙂

Yet, unfortunately, the beginnings of modern-style social media were also starting to emerge too. Myspace was, of course, around at the time. An obscure video-sharing site called Youtube appeared in 2005. In 2006, Twitter began (as a service that allowed you to send SMS text messages to the internet with your phone) and Facebook opened itself to the public too. Yet, in 2004-6, social media was still something of an obscure hobby that had not grown to the ridiculous level of prominence that it has today.

As for portable date storage, re-writable CDs were a popular way of backing up large amounts of data. Whilst USB memory sticks existed during the mid-2000s, they were much smaller (eg: tens or hundreds of megabytes) and people still used floppy disks occasionally. Computers still often had floppy drives installed as standard too 🙂

Likewise, whilst some mobile phones had low-resolution cameras, most people used good, honest stand-alone digital cameras to take photos. However, cheap disposable film-based cameras were still reasonably popular for things like holidays etc…

Plus, the mid-2000s was one of the last time periods where physical media was king 🙂 In other words, when you bought a film, you bought it on DVD (or maybe VHS, if you could find it). Traditional paperback and hardback books were the only way to read fiction 🙂 Music was still primarily sold on CDs too 🙂

Likewise, although things like Steam did exist back then, if you bought a computer or video game, you almost certainly bought a physical disc from a physical shop (as such, things like DLC, loot boxes etc.. weren’t common and most games were actually released in a finished state too 🙂 )

3) The stories aren’t that different: You’ll have probably noticed that I’ve spent most of this article talking about background and contextual stuff, rather than about writing. There’s a good reason for this. The mid-2000s weren’t that long ago.

In other words, stories that would work in the modern day can often also work reasonably well when set during the mid-2000s. Most of what makes a story set during this time period different from a more modern story are the background details and the atmosphere (eg: angst-filled/pessimistic, yet also more innocent and optimistic) more than anything else.

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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 🙂

Nostalgia Is A Different Source Of Artistic Inspiration For Everyone – A Ramble

A while before writing this article, I found that I was going through more of a nostalgic phase than usual. However, rather than looking for “new” things from the 1990s and early-mid 2000s that I’d never seen before in order to learn more about these familiar, but still tantalisingly mysterious, parts of history – I found that I was much more interested in revisiting “old” things and old memories.

Whether it was old things like Ocean FM, late night channel 4 broadcasts, “South Park”, various audio cassettes, certain old computer games, Youtube videos of the Windows 98 “Maze” screensaver, shouty early-mid 2000s metal songs etc… these were all things that I’d experienced before in some way or another. They were a mildly more “personal” type of nostalgia.

To use a slightly more vague example, when I went out to water a plant in the early evening before preparing this article, the air had a cool yet warm crispness to it and a slight floral/dried grass smell which suddenly made me think of random things from my childhood. It made me think of old kitchens, metal tins, green shoeboxes, a vaguely American-style church in Havant that I saw during the late 1990s, a pair of hideous old curtains, the very first time I ever tried to pull an all-nighter and a whole bunch of things that are personally nostalgic, but not “nostalgia”.

And this made me think about nostalgia and artistic inspiration. Because, most of the time when I try to make “nostalgic” art, it is often based on a highly stylised (and Americanised) version of the time periods that I’m trying to evoke. It’s often more based on the internet pop culture “version” of the decades in question than my actual memories of 1990s and early-mid 2000s Britain – like this:

“From The 1990s” By C. A. Brown

“Future 2004” By C. A. Brown

Of course, this is an easier way to make “nostalgic” stuff for the simple reason that the research material is more easily available. Likewise, it often relies on a commonly-known set of visual symbols (eg: for the 1990s, this would include things like floral prints, floppy disks, sweatshirts worn like belts, backwards baseball caps, audio cassettes, POGs, Tamagotchis, game cartridges, VHS tapes etc..). But, the downside to doing this is that these types of nostalgic art can lack individuality and personality.

Yes, the exact mixture of “nostalgic” pop culture and technology that is alluded to in this type of nostalgic art will vary heavily from person to person. And, to a large extent, this can be a good way of adding some individuality to your nostalgic art. After all, the really cool stuff that instantly makes you think of the 1990s or the early-mid 2000s will be at least slightly different to the things that evoke the same feeling in other people.

But, making art based on actual memories and/or feelings of nostalgia is significantly more difficult. This is mostly because memories can fade or blur over time, which means that trying to make “accurate” art based on them can be next to impossible. Yes, you can make art that sort of vaguely looks a little bit like them, but the exact details will probably be wrong. Like this:

This is based on my vague memories of ferry journeys during the mid-1990s and of how modern and “cool” the duty free shops looked back then. Again, it looks nothing like what actual duty free shops at the time probably looked like.
(“Duty Free 1996” By C. A. Brown)

The exact feeling of nostalgia is also one of those things that is near-impossible to put into words, let alone into pictures. It’s one of those highly complex emotions which can simultaneously exist in several versions and which also varies from person to person too. It is something that cannot be described or depicted fully and will always get “lost in translation” whenever this is attempted.

For example, one of my “nostalgic” moods is heavily based on the mood that childhood memories of visiting my cousins, listening to novelty “South Park” songs and/or looking at Windows 3.1 evokes in me. It’s a wonderfully warm, cosy and reassuring, but understated, mood. It is also a strangely “American” mood (even though I’ve never been to America). It’s a mood that I also experienced slightly when I played this set of modern “Doom II” levels. But, no doubt, this entire paragraph probably won’t tell you a thing about what this mood actually feels like.

So, yes, the less specific and personal nostalgia happens to be, the easier it is to use for artistic inspiration. But, even so, your own version of “pop culture” nostalgia will still be somewhat unique for the simple reason that the exact mixture of commonly-known inspirations you use will probably be slightly different to everyone else’s.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (12th February 2018)

Well, I was feeling slightly more inspired when I made today’s digitally-edited painting. Originally, this painting was going to be set in the late 1990s/early 2000s but, due to time reasons and a sudden moment of uninspiration, I ended up using a generic cyberpunk background instead of trying to think of an idea for a more realistic background.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Conglomeration” By C. A. Brown

Three Vague Tips For Making Early-Mid ’00s Style Artwork

Well, since I seem to be in a nostalgic mood, I thought that I’d look at how to make art that is reminiscent of a time period which people haven’t really quite started getting nostalgic about yet. I am, of course, talking about the early-mid ’00s. Although this time period certainly wasn’t the best one ever, it’s starting to grow on me a bit after I re-listened to some music from back then recently.

So, how can you make early-mid ’00s style artwork? Although this article won’t really give you any specific pointers about technique, it will show you the types of things that you should look at or think about before you try to make some early-mid ’00s style art.

1) Do your research: Knowing a bit about the time period you’re basing your art on is always a good idea. But, chances are, you probably remember the early-mid ’00s anyway.

Even so, it can be hard to crystallise it into a single stylised image for the simple reason that pop culture hasn’t quite decided what the defining features of the early-mid ’00s are yet (since, at the moment, cultural nostalgia as a whole has finally started reaching the 1990s 🙂 ).

But, if I had to define a “nostalgic” version of the culture of the early-mid ’00s (in Britain, at least) , then it would probably include things like:

– Disposable cameras being the best and cheapest way to take holiday photos etc…
– Punk music sounding “heavier” than it did in the 90s, and heavy metal music sounding gloomier and/or more filled with angst.
– VHS tapes and audio cassettes just about still being available in shops. DVDs were still excitingly new and shops still stocked CD singles 🙂
– That annoying “Crazy Frog” thing that seemed to be everywhere in 2004/5. He didn’t even look like a frog!
– Japanese-style horror movies (with lots of jump scares etc..) being the most popular type of horror movie in cinemas. The very beginnings of the resurgence of more extreme horror movies was starting too (eg: the release of “Saw” in 2004)
– Hollywood produced very few superhero movies, and popular culture wasn’t saturated with superhero-related stuff 🙂
– Emo hairstyles, moral panics about “chavs”/”hoodies”, and the appearance of “Boho” fashion.
– Brilliant satire about Tony Blair and George W. Bush
– Mobile phones (with monochrome screens and games like “Snake”) were virtually indestructible and only had to be charged weekly. Smartphones didn’t exist 🙂
– Geek culture was still slightly obscure, “nerdy” and “uncool”.
– It was a time when it was still just about cool to be “edgy”,”controversial”, “rebellious” etc…
– It was a time when “social media” meant things like internet forums, blogs, MSN Messenger etc… Plus, Twitter didn’t exist and Facebook barely existed 🙂

I’m sure you can think of some things of your own. But, if you can’t, then the things on this list might be worth researching online.

2) Digital art, webcomics and manga art: If there were three major artistic trends in the early-mid ’00s, they were probably the increasing popularity of digital art, the beginnings of a lot of popular webcomics (since webcomics were still a fairly new medium then) and the increasing popularity of manga art styles.

Thanks to the wider availablity of the internet and the founding of blogging sites and art sites like DeviantART, artists had far more opportunities to share their art. This meant that a lot of art and comics on the internet were a lot more “unpolished” or “low budget” (compared to print publications) because the people making them were still learning. Likewise, digital art tools began to become even more available to ordinary people during the early-mid ’00s too.

Plus, although anime and manga have existed for decades – they only really seemed to get seriously popular in the west during the early-mid ’00s. This art style is still the most popular one on the internet and this trend can possibly be traced back to this period in history (although I can’t be certain about this).

3) Wider context: If there’s one thing to be said in general about the early-mid ’00s, it’s that it was a time when the post-cold war idealism of the 1990s died. Mostly because of 9/11 and everything that happened afterwards.

Yes, it wasn’t as dystopian as the age of austerity, Brexit, Trump, ISIS, mass surveillance etc.. that would come later, but it felt more dystopian for the simple reason that everyone wasn’t so desensitised to it back then. This naturally had an effect on culture as a whole.

It was a fairly major culture shift in a lot of ways. Creative works in the early-mid ’00s were more likely to be more “serious” or more “topical”. A good example of this is probably the thriller genre. Back in the 1990s, the plots of novels and films in this genre tended to be loveably silly – the villians were often from made-up countries, their evil plots were cartoonishly absurd and there was a more jovial atmosphere. But, in the early-mid ’00s, virtually everything in the thriller genre tended to be a lot “grittier” and more “realistic”. Perhaps as a response to news stories about Guantanamo Bay etc.. depictions of torture in the thriller genre also suddenly became a lot more common too.

So, if you’re making art about the early-mid ’00s, then give it a slightly more gritty, paranoid or pessimistic tone. Yes, the early-mid ’00s wasn’t an age of unremitting bleakness and misery. But, the emotional tone of things set in the early-mid ’00s is a lot more “modern” than things set in the late 1990s.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂