One Constructive Way To Deal With Artistic Jealousy – A Ramble

Although I’ve written about the subject of artistic jealousy before, I found myself in a situation where my usual techniques for dealing with it (eg: remembering that there is always someone better and someone worse at art then you, taking inspiration from better artists etc…) didn’t quite work. So, I shall begin with the woeful tale of how this all began, before I descibe how I was able to return to normal.

Basically, I happened to watch a documentary on TV about a better and more sucessful artist and then, shortly afterwards, I happened to see some amazing photo-based digital paintings online. And, somehow, all of this filled me with pointless artistic jealousy.

Needless to say, my artistic confidence was running low. My unique cartoonish art style seemed primitive and childish in comparison to the art in the documentary that I’d seen on TV. My imagination, of which I am so proud, felt second-rate in comparison to the better artist I’d found who was much more at ease with making art directly based on other things (likewise, the fact that a series of studies of out-of-copyright historical paintings I’ve prepared for some of next month’s art posts look better than my original art also made me feel that my imagination was inferior too).

Eventually, a while later, I prepared my next digitally-edited painting for one of next month’s daily art posts. On an ordinary day, I’d have considered it to be a good painting. But, on that night, I felt like it was a mediocre, second-rate painting that was only less worse than I’d originally feared it would have been. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 11th May.

Still, the next day, I’d got over all of these emotions. But, how did I do it?

I distracted myself from them, whilst also reminding myself why I’m an artist.

In my situation, this involved listening to Cradle Of Filth’s “From The Cradle To Enslave” EP. Not only is the music on this CD brilliantly intense and cathartic, but it is also a mixture of original and less original work. The first two tracks are new original songs from the band, the middle two tracks are covers of songs from other bands and the final two tracks (on the UK edition at least) are remixes/re-recordings of the band’s older stuff.

This reminded me of the fact that whilst making non-original stuff can be a good way to make things when you aren’t inspired, to show off your unique style and to pay tribute to things you think are cool – it’s also ok to focus on original stuff too. In fact, the two original tracks on the EP are – by far- the best two tracks. These songs open the EP with a passion and energy that the other songs lack slightly. So, it also reminded me that original stuff can be better.

At the same time, I also made a point of watching the notorious uncensored music video for “From The Cradle To Enslave” on Youtube too. This is a music video that shows a lot of creativity and skill. It is a music video that only Cradle Of Filth could have made. It is such a brilliant expression of everything that the band are – such as the gloomy gothic locations, the dark humour, the low budget horror movie-style scenes, the decadent debauchery etc… And it reminded me what art is truly about. It’s about self-expression and making things that both you and other people think are cool.

Ok, you probably aren’t a Cradle Of Filth fan. But, your own equivalent to this can be very useful if you are racked by strong feelings of artistic jealousy. Find an original creative work that you really like and remind yourself that it is so interesting because the people who made it did their own thing. That they took inspiration from the people they admired and produced great things that are also unique.

Or, if that doesn’t work, just distract yourself with the creative work in question until the feelings of artistic inadequacy/jealousy begin to subside. This can work too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Making Impulsive Creative Projects – A Ramble

2017 Artwork Impulsive Projects article

Last summer, I had a moment when I just had to make a political cartoon. I hadn’t really planned it beforehand (the only planning involved how to turn the cynical mental images that had suddenly appeared in my mind into a coherent comic) or even wanted to make it, I just had to make it.

It was, of course, in response to the “it would be hilariously funny if it wasn’t real” news that Boris Johnson had been appointed (UK) foreign secretary….

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "BORIS Is The New FOREIGN SECRETARY!?!?! WTF?" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “BORIS Is The New FOREIGN SECRETARY!?!?! WTF?” By C. A. Brown

This, of course, brings me on to the subject of impulsive creative projects. These are projects that suddenly emerge from strong emotions, feelings or reactions. They’re unplanned and they’re often some of the best things that you’ll ever make.

It doesn’t matter how uninspired you were beforehand, as soon as something compels you to make one of these projects, you’ll have more inspiration than you could want. Ok, they’re usually created in response to bad things (eg: using dark humour to cope with terrible political news) but they often feel amazing to make regardless, in a similar way to a highly inspired project.

Not only that, impulsive projects serve as a sudden test of your writing and/or artistic abilities too. Quite a few years ago, whenever something prompted me to make a sudden cartoon, it often wasn’t fit for publication. The politics was often too heavy-handed or the emotional content was too blatant.

It’s only after spending over a year making comics semi-regularly again that I’ve reached the stage when I feel like any impulsive projects I make are actually good enough for publication.

This, interestingly, brings me on to one of the most confusing elements of impulsive projects. Although you primarily make the project for yourself, it often has to be something that is good enough to share. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with making private projects for emotional catharsis, one of the most powerful things about making impulsive cartoons is the powerful feeling of sharing your views with the world.

The thing to remember here of course is that, regardless of which emotions motivate you, you need to add some humour, theatricality, artistic skill and/or serious commentary. After all, other people have to look at it too.

This is especially true for impulsive projects that have been motivated by anger. For example, during John Whittingdale’s (thankfully brief) tenure as culture secretary last year, I was absolutely incensed by the fact that he planned to weaken the BBC (in order to strengthen commercial channels, bastions of quality programming that they are…), so I made this angry cartoon:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Editorial Cartoon - Our 'Culture' Secretary!" By C. A. Brown [1st May 2016]

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Editorial Cartoon – Our ‘Culture’ Secretary!” By C. A. Brown [1st May 2016]

Thankfully, I had enough artistic experience to present this opinion in a slightly toned down way. I knew enough about colour theory to add a menacing blue/red colour scheme to the painting. I was able to use visual metaphors in the background to make a point about the two different types of TV stations. Not only that, I was able to make him look a bit like a pantomime villain through subtle facial expressions.

A few years ago, when my knowledge of all of these things was less sophisticated, I’d have probably just drawn something ridiculously crass or extremely unsophisticated, before wisely deciding not to post it online. So, yes, being able to make even vaguely acceptable impulsive projects is a tough test of your creative skills.

But, all of this aside, impulsive projects are one of the best types of creative projects because they feel like pure self-expression. Rather than just speaking about your feelings or writing an online comment about them, spontaneously turning your strong feelings into an actual thing seems like a much more cathartic and powerful form of self-expression.

Just remember that, if you’re going to publish it, it should be something that other people will actually want to look at.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Deal With Being Scared Or Disturbed By Your Own Horror Story

2016 Artwork Freaked Out By Your Own Horror Fiction sketch

Back when I used to write a lot more fiction than I have in recent years, the horror genre was one of my favourite genres to work in. I’m sure that I’ve probably mentioned this before, but one of the signs that your horror story is going well is when you actually feel genuinely frightened or disturbed whilst you’re writing.

After all, if you’re coming up with a variety of terrifying scenes, dark plot twists or inventively macabre descriptions then it can be very easy to feel freaked out at yourself after a while.

This usually happens because you’re either frightened by the events of the story or – more commonly – because you’re freaked out that you actually came up with all of this stuff.

In order to explain some of the things in this article, I’m going to have to use descriptions of some of my own unpublished horror fiction. I’ll try to keep these descriptions as undetailed as possible, but I should probably warn your that this article may contain DISTURBING DESCRIPTIONS. Consider yourself warned.

Anyway, how do you deal with the times when you get freaked out by your own horror fiction? Here are a few tips:

1) Remember that it’s just a story: When writing is at it’s best, it’s an incredibly immersive experience. It’s the kind of experience where the images that flash through your imagination appear on the page almost as soon as you think them. It’s an almost magical experience, which can make you feel like you’re actually a part of your story.

This is why you get freaked out when you write something truly horrific. It isn’t because you’re some kind of evil sociopath – quite the opposite in fact. It’s because you’ve empathised with your characters to such a degree that you feel like a terrible person for inflicting horrific events on them.

So, although it sounds obvious, you might sometimes have to find a way to emotionally distance yourself from your characters and remind yourself that it’s just a story.

Sometimes this can involve thinking about parts of your story in a more abstract way (eg: thinking about your main character as “the main character” rather than using their name) or it can involve things like imagining what a review of your story – written in a very formal way- might look like.

2) Take a break: If you don’t have a deadline, then one of the best ways to get over being disturbed by one of your horror stories is just to take a break from it for a while and to distract yourself by watching or listening to something a bit more uplifting. In fact, you might even have to ignore your story for a while.

When you’re writing horror fiction, there’s a certain mood that can often go along with it. I wouldn’t exactly describe it as an “bad” mood, because it’s quite enjoyable when you’re actually writing. For a while at least….

It’s the kind of mood where you impishly want to shock your audience, it’s the kind of mood where your mind gleefully tries to be as morbidly inventive as possible when it comes to thinking of new horrors to put down on the page. But, after a while, being in this mood will probably leave you feeling slightly freaked out at yourself.

So, if you take a break, then you give yourself time for this mood to dissipate. Yes, you’ll still be freaked out at yourself for a while. But, after a while, you’ll probably start to think about other things than your story.

If your story still interests you, then you can return to it a bit later and take things a bit more slowly. But, if it’s just too freaky to write, then -for the sake of your own sanity – it’s usually best to just abandon it. I had to do this with at least two short horror stories that I tried to write in late 2009/ early 2010.

For example, one of them was a story called “Pulch” which began with a graphic description of the narrator being slowly dissolved by a giant flesh-eating plant. It was a brilliantly macabre idea when I came up with it, but after writing a few hundred words, I was totally freaked out at myself. I tried to take a break from the story, but although the idea behind it seemed like the kind of inventively macabre thing that I’d want to read in a horror novel, I felt too grossed out at myself to actually write any more. So, I abandoned the story.

3) Tone it down: This is perhaps the worst way to deal with a situation like this, but one advantage of toning down a horrific part of your story (or re-writing it completely) is that it actually allows you to keep writing straight away.

If you’re working to a deadline (whether self-imposed or externally-imposed), then pre-emptively or retroactively toning down part of your story so that you don’t feel as freaked out at yourself as you were when you originally came up with the idea can be a great way to keep writing. Just be sure not to tone it down too much.

So, if you have to tone your story down for the sake of your own sanity – try leaving a few things to your audience’s imaginations instead of actually showing them. To give you an example from my own unpublished work, back in early-mid 2009, I decided to unofficially take the “3 Day Novel” challenge, just to see if I could do it.

The novella I wrote (titled “Indigo”) was this surreal horror/detective story that mostly took place in a strange dream-world of some kind. The story starts when the narrator, a private detective, has a new client called Amanda who is suffering from a bizarre series of recurring nightmares. Anyway, after a long (and thoroughly grotesque) description of one of these nightmares, she points out that she only woke up after receiving a fairly nasty injury.

You can probably guess what the obvious plot twist here will be. In case you didn’t, it’s that her injuries from the dream also appeared in the waking world too. This, of course, leads to the events of the rest of the story.

But, after writing the nightmare scene (which is probably one of the more grotesque things I’ve ever written) I was starting to feel more than a little bit freaked out at myself. But, since I’d set myself a rather tight deadline, I couldn’t exactly stop writing.

So, in the end, the scene where this plot twist is revealed doesn’t actually contain any graphic descriptions of injuries. If I remember rightly, it just involves the narrator mentioning that Amanda rolled up her sleeve and that the narrator was shocked by what she saw. Thanks to the descriptions in the nightmare scene, the audience can still guess what the narrator saw, but I spared myself from having to write another gruesome description – with minimal damage to the story as a whole.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Is Fear A Good Or Bad Thing In Creative Terms?

2015 Artwork Fear and creativity

Whilst this is an article about writing and art, rather than a depressing and introspective diary-style article – I should probably begin by saying that I can often be a very nervous person.

But, instead of rambling about myself, I thought that I’d talk about how nervousness can affect creativity in both positive and negative ways – in case it’s useful and/or interesting to you.

You see, nervousness is one hell of a double-edged sword when it comes to creativity. Some of my best creative works have been driven by it and some of my other best creative works have either never been made or never seen the light of day because of it. So, yes, it isn’t all bad – but it isn’t all good either.

Still, I’ll start by talking about the positive sides of being a nervous writer and/or artist first.

One of the first reasons why being nervous quite often is great for writing fiction is because it gives you a lot of inspiration. For example, both the horror and thriller genres are almost entirely based around fears and anxieties. Good horror stories are about people’s worst fears coming true and good thriller stories are about people’s worst fears almost coming true.

So, if you have a lot of first-hand experience of worry, paranoia, nervousness etc… then this will give you something of an edge when it comes to writing in certain genres of fiction.

Not to mention that finding a way to turn your many fears into something that other people can actually enjoy can be quite uplifting in it’s own strange way. At the very least, it’ll make you feel like all of the random and meaningless fear you’ve felt wasn’t for nothing.

Likewise, if you’re an artist, then immersing yourself in making art can be a great way to distract yourself from the fears and worries that you might be feeling.

When it’s at it’s best, making art is an almost meditative and magical experience that takes you out of the terrifying dystopic world that you’re living in for an hour or two at the least. It can be an indispensable way to banish the terror for a little while.

And, unlike other ways of doing this, you’ll actually have something cool to show for it at the end.

Again, like with writing fiction, being nervous and making art can be a way to show yourself that your nervousness isn’t a completely useless part of who you are. It’s a way of making something wonderful from the terrifying darkness, if only to prove to the world and yourself that you’re more than just a nervous wreck.

Finally, nervousness can be an absolutely great thing with it comes to making sure that you practice your art and/or writing regularly.

In fact, the main reason why I still stick to my daily posting schedule on here almost religiously is because I’m terrified that not making something every day for more than a couple of days will make me lose interest in creativity altogether (since this happened to me for pretty much all of 2011) and because I’m worried about letting my audience down.

Likewise, I’m usually so paranoid about things like technology malfunctions (after losing quite a lot of data to one in 2010) that I’ll make sure that I have at least a month’s worth of articles automatically scheduled to be posted here and have another month’s worth languishing in my “drafts” folder. This, incidentally, is why most of my articles here tend to feature the words “a few weeks ago” rather than “today” or whatever.

In fact, my account on this site actually got temporarily frozen for a couple of days last year because I had scheduled more articles than the site could cope with. Yes, I was actually more productive than this site could handle – and it was all down to fear and worry.

So, yes, nervousness and worries can be an extremely powerful driving force when it comes to motivating yourself to create lots of stuff 🙂

But it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Although being almost perpetually nervous can have some great effects on your creativity – it can also have some pretty terrible ones too.

Surprisingly, I’ve only really noticed these effects since I started posting my work online a few years ago. In short, I’m terrified about how people are going to react to the things I make, so I often tend to self-censor a lot more than I did when I was just writing and making art in private. So, I’ve lost count of the number of great things I either haven’t made or have made and then hidden.

To use a film censorship-based metaphor, almost all of the stuff I post online is “12 rated” at the most, whereas the kind of stuff that I really thrive when I’m creating is a lot more “18 rated”.

Likewise, I tend to stay in the shadows a lot when it comes to presenting my creative work because the idea of being “famous” scares me. I’m not one of those artists who “gets out there” and tries to promote their work as much as possible.

And before anyone cheerily tells me that I should just “get out of my comfort zone“, I’ve lived outside of it for as long as I can remember. It isn’t the rewarding land of joy and riches that some arrogant… motivational speakers say that it is.

Plus, one of the many annoying side-effects of being a fairly nervous person is that I’m reluctant to start longer creative projects, because I’m worried that something terrible might happen and all of my work might be wasted.

And, of course, this wouldn’t be a major issue if it wasn’t for the fact that the publishing industry, the media etc… is only really interested in longer projects. I mean, when was the last time you heard about a writer having a best-selling short story collection? When was the last time you heard of an artist getting their really small paintings exhibited in a major gallery?

Of course, I shouldn’t feel bad or awkward about this because I’m also scared of being genuinely famous. But, I still do for some strange reason.

You see, fear is a paradoxical and tricky thing that can be both wonderful and terrible at the same time.

It can be your best friend or it can be your worst enemy. But, more often than not, it’s both at the same time.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

The Story May Be Different, But The Emotions Are The Same

2013 Artwork Emotions Catharsis Sketch

[Sorry that this is such a short and badly-written article. The article which was going to be today’s article ended up being a bit too cynical and I eventually ended up deleting it. This article is kind of a fairly quick replacement.]

Although I think I’ve mentioned this whole subject already in my article about emotions and creativty, something happened a while ago which made me think about this topic again.

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching a TV show that I really love on DVD and then, in a sudden flash of inspiration, I realised exactly why I loved this show so much.

Although the story of this show was extremely fantastical, the themes and emotions in it weren’t. I was more than familiar with at least a couple of them.

In fact, I realised that I cared about the characters in this show in a way which I very rarely do with characters in TV shows. After all, they were characters who I could sort of relate to on an emotional level and in (fairly fantastical and unrealistic) situations, some of which I could also relate to on an emotional level.

This is nothing new, in fact there’s even a word for it. That word is, of course, “catharsis” – which refers to expelling or exploring emotions through art, fiction and/or drama. But the thing which really caught me by surprise was, again, the fact that all of these emotions were “hidden in plain sight” in a rather unrealistic TV show.

Anyway, this made me think about emotions and storytelling again and about how you can use this technique to your advantage if you want to explore or expel your own emotions. After all, most of the best art and fiction is made with a lot of emotion behind it. But, at the same time, being too outwardly realistic with how you portray these emotions in the things you create might be kind of intimidating or off-putting – both to you and to your readers.

This doesn’t mean that you should shy away from exploring emotions which you really feel that you need to express, but it means that it might be a good idea to disguise them slightly. To make a story or draw a picture which is very different from anything you’ve experienced, but which still contains all of the same emotions.

One of the other advantages of concealing the emotional story you want to tell under the cloak of fantasy or science fiction is that, if your audience can’t relate to the emotions in your story, then they can still enjoy the surface of your story – the magic, the strange worlds, the robots, the spaceships etc…

So, what I’m trying to say is that, if you’re telling a story based on your own emotions, make sure that it’s a story rather than an autobiography. It may sound strange, but it’s a lot easier to be honest about your emotions in fiction than it is in non-fiction.

Not only that, your story may well help people to understand themselves (or at least help people to feel better) in a way which a more factual or “realistic” story might not.

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Again, sorry that this article was so short and so rushed, but I hope it was useful 🙂

How To Be Creative During The Apocalypse

2013 Artwork Apocalypse Sketch

Ok, I’m not talking about a literal apocalypse here. Obviously, if hell runs out of room and the restless dead begin to rise from their graves or if a stray meteorite is on a direct collision course with earth – you’re probably better off hiding in a shopping centre or finding the nearest spacecraft than writing or drawing anything.

However, there are some times when a particular part of your life feels apocalyptic in one way or another.

These kinds of times might make you feel more creative, but they can be just as likely to give you a serious case of writer’s block. Sometimes this can be a good thing if you don’t have any energy or time to spare for creativity.

But, if you’re the kind of person where creativity is an essential part of who you are (eg: pretty much every person who has dedicated their life to being a writer, poet and/or artist) then here are a few ways to be creative when you feel that you’re either facing or going through an apocalypse.

These are probably fairly obvious and I can only think of three of them at the moment, but I hope that they are useful nonetheless 🙂

1) Pour your emotions into your work: One of the central driving forces behind creativity are emotions. Whilst I’ve written before about evoking emotions in yourself before creating something, if you’re facing an apocalypse then you need to do the opposite. You need to take your emotions and dump them into your creative work. In other words, create something which is extremely cathartic. Don’t hold back. Let it all out.

In fact, there’s even some research which shows that this is actually good for you on a physical level too.

If you’re in the middle of a creative project, then add something cathartic to your current project. However, if it radically changes the tone of your project (eg: having something extremely depressing in the middle of a comedy story) then it’s probably best to create something else cathartic until you feel creative enough to return to your current project again. But, if your story has room for strong emotions in it – then go for it!

One word of warning about this is that it is usually a good idea to express your feelings in a slightly indirect way rather than literally pouring out whatever is going through your mind onto the page. In other words, create something which expresses the same emotions as you are feeling, but which (on the surface) has nothing to do with you. This is good for you, since your story will basically read like a private diary entry otherwise. It is also good for your readers, since they probably want to read an interesting story or look at an interesting piece of art rather than what is basically a diary entry.

2) Take a short break: Sometimes you can just be too overwhelmed with emotions to be creative. If this is the case, then it can be worth taking a break and doing something which makes you feel better. This isn’t a waste of time if the alternative is just staring at a blank page or screen and feeling even more terrible because you can’t create anything.

Just work out how long you’re going to take a break for in advance and then do something (within reason) which makes you feel good. For example, if you’re feeling seriously angry and frustrated about something, then I can personally think of no better way to get rid of some of these emotions than putting on some suitably loud and angry music (heavy metal, punk and/or rap music are usually best) and spending twenty minutes playing a visceral and intense game of “Brutal Doom“.

Seriously, far from being a menace to society, violent computer and video games are an excellent (and safe) form of stress relief.

Whatever you do, taking a short break can help you feel refreshed and more creative again.

3) Creative triage: If you’re feeling too overwhelmed by your situation and emotions to create your usual amount of art/fiction/poetry etc… then at least creating something can feel better than creating nothing. Don’t be afraid to prioritise your projects, focus on the ones you find most important and produce less than usual. The important thing is to find a level of creativity which you feel comfortable with and which makes you feel better – if you’re already feeling overwhelmed, then stressing yourself out with lots of projects and work can be counter-productive and make you feel even more blocked.

So, scale down for a few days until you feel more better and more creative again. Likewise, another way to do this is to focus on quality rather than quantity or vice versa. Whatever, just find a way to take the pressure off of you so you can feel more comfortable with creating things. After all, if you’re feeling apocalyptic, then it can sometimes even be an achievement to create a small amount of creative work, let alone the amount that you usually produce. Go easy on yourself. Remember, creativity is supposed to be fun.