Remember, It’s Ok To Fail At Making Art Sometimes

Although this is a motivational article, I’m going to have to start by talking about a failed painting of mine. But, don’t worry, there’s lots of uplifting motivational stuff in the rest of the article. And, yes, I’ve almost certainly said all of this stuff before, but it’s worth repeating every now and then.

Anyway, the day before I wrote this article, I made the first daily painting that I’ll be posting here in January. Due to being uninspired and being in a slight rush, it looked more like something from 2015/16 than anything I’d make these days. In other words, it was a painting that I considered to be a “failure”. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 1st January.

But, why have I mentioned this? Well, it’s to show you that it’s ok to fail at making art sometimes. It happens to every artist. Every artist has uninspired days, rushed days or any other type of day that results in low-quality artwork. If you see an artist who never seems to fail, then all this means is that they aren’t showing you the failed paintings that they’ve made.

If you fail at making a piece of art, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad artist or that you aren’t a “real” artist or anything like that. In fact, if you keep making art despite the occasional failure or uninspired day, then this probably means that you are a better and more real artist than someone who gives up on art after failing at it. Remember, all artists (even the really good ones) fail every now and then.

What failure means is that you tried. It means that, despite not feeling inspired or knowing exactly how to do something, you still tried. It means that you still have the motivation to make art. It means that making art still matters to you. It means that you want to make better art. In other words, it means that you are an artist. If you weren’t an artist, you probably wouldn’t even bother to try making a piece of art if failure seemed possible.

Failure is also, of course, a great learning tool. If you decide to try something new and you fail at it, then you can see where and how you went wrong. If you need to rebuild your confidence by making a few pieces of art that you can make before you return to the thing you failed at, then this is fine. The important thing is to keep trying and to keep experimenting, since you’ll get it right eventually.

Failure also exists to make the inspired times seem even more inspired and to make the good paintings seem even more satisfying to make by comparison. In other words, you can’t have good paintings without the occasional failed one. So, it’s ok to fail every now and then.

Likewise, if you keep making art despite the occasional failure, then even your failures will get better. When it comes to something as subjective as art, failure is a very relative term. For example, the “failed” painting that I showed you earlier in this article looks terrible by my current standards. But, if I’d made it in 2012-14, then I’d have been extremely impressed by it. I’d probably even consider it one of my “best works”.

So, if you keep going despite the occasional failure, then you’ll get to the point where even your current failures look better than the “good” artwork that you made a few years ago.

Yes, making a failed painting or drawing can be incredibly annoying or dispiriting when it happens. But, it’s ok to fail sometimes. It means that you’re an artist.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Today’s Art (19th October 2017)

First of all, apologies if you’ve seen this digitally-edited painting before. I used it in one of my articles from earlier this year as an example of a failed painting. But, I ended up adding it to the daily painting line up because I was eager to get started on this year’s Halloween comic (which will start tomorrow, and has to start on the 20th in order to finish on Halloween. Hence the need for filler material for today, such as this painting)

So, that’s why today’s painting is a recycled piece of old failed art. But, stay tuned for some cool-looking comic cover art tomorrow 🙂

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

"Abstraction Corridor (again!)" By C. A. Brown

“Abstraction Corridor (again!)” By C. A. Brown

Learning From A Failed Project – The 1990s Stories

2017-artwork-learning-from-failures-1990s-stories

When you write or make art, then you’re going to make mistakes and fail sometimes. It happens to everyone. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Not only does it mean that you’ve tried something a bit different, it also means that you’ll be able to learn from your failures too.

So, in that spirit, I thought that I’d give an example of learning from a failed project. If you aren’t interested in reading about the many ways I failed at a writing project, then just skip to the final paragraph for some general conclusions.

Earlier this year, I posted a series of short stories set in the 1990s here. In contrast to the previous two short story collections that I’d written (which can be found in the “2016” section of this page), this one only lasted a mere five stories before it ran out of steam.

The first sign that it was something of a mistake came from the fact that it took me a few days to work up the enthusiasm to start the project after I’d had my initial idea for it. Usually, when I have an idea for a project that is going to go well, it’s the sort of thing that I have to start working on right now. But, this was different. It was a cool idea and I wanted to make it, but it didn’t really have the impetus that these kinds of projects usually have.

At the time, I didn’t think to refine the idea until it provoked these hyper-enthusiastic feelings in me. Instead, I mistook my mild enthusiasm for technical problems. After all, I was writing historical fiction – a genre that I haven’t really written in before. So, I thought that I’d have to spend some time working out how to write these stories. For some writers, this sort of thing leads to good stories. But, for me, too much slowness tends to drain the life from a project.

Another problem was the fact that I’d tried to write relatively ordinary stories about ordinary life. This is a genre that I usually consider to be “extremely boring”. But, I’d thought that the historical nostalgia elements would help to keep it interesting. They didn’t. Yes, ordinary life was slightly different in the 1990s, but it was still fairly.. ordinary.

This, of course, made coming up with interesting story ideas surprisingly difficult. One of the main advantages of genres like science fiction and horror, and stories that are set in stylised versions of the real world, is that you can use your imagination to come up with all sorts of strange things to add to the story. You can create entirely fictitious settings that are more imaginative than realistic. You can add futuristic technology, unrealistic events etc… and see how your characters will react to them.

I’d always known that there was a reason why I preferred to write in “unrealistic” genres and this failed project reminded me about this. It gave me an actual physical example of what happens when I try to write the kinds of stories that don’t often interest me as a reader.

The other problem was probably the research. As fascinated as I am with the 1990s, I quickly realised that most of what I knew about the decade came from second-hand sources. After all, I was only a young child in the 1990s. So, whilst struggling to come up with story ideas, I ended up focusing more on things that are related to the media than anything else.

After all, since my preferred writing style tends to be fast and regular, I pushed myself to write one story per day. This didn’t leave a huge amount of time for research. So, I ended up setting many of my stories in fairly generic locations, with only a few subtle details that implied that they were set during the 1990s. So, again, this reminded me of how much easier it is to write stories that are set in entirely fictional locations.

Likewise, it reminded me of the difference between writing and other forms of creativity. Whenever I’d made art or comics that were set in the 1990s (like this one), I’d always gone for a stylised version of early-mid 1990s America, because it looks cool. Of course, fiction is a non-visual medium that relies a lot more on descriptions.

So, I actually ended up relying on my childhood memories of mid-late 1990s Britain (and things from that time and place that I’d watched or read) quite a bit. This led to the project having a totally different style and tone to what I had expected. Most of the stories were set in 1996-9, which didn’t really seem as fascinatingly “historical” as I’d originally expected. If I’d paid more attention to the differences between visual art and the written word, I could have come up with a better idea for this project.

The common thread in all of this is that you tend to produce your best work when you know yourself well and know where your strengths lie. But, on the other hand, you’ll only learn about this if you fail a few times. So, don’t be afraid to fail!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Knowing When To Abandon A Comic- A Ramble

2016 Artwork When To Abandon A Comic

Well, I’d planned to start next year with a seven-page narrative sci-fi/comedy comic. However, by the time I’d drawn the line art for the cover and had begun to add paint, I realised that the project was doomed to failure. So, I abandoned it. However, I thought that I’d look at this failed idea to see if it can teach us anything about when to start a comic and when not to.

The comic was going to be titled “Future 2017” and it was going to be a “Blade Runner”/”The Terminator” parody comic featuring the characters from my long-running occasional “Damania” webcomic series (which can be found in the “2016” segment of this page). This is something that I’d been wanting to make for a while and the beginning of next year seemed to be the perfect time for it.

First of all, I planned the comic out. This is a good precaution to take to see if a comic is worth making. The art in your plans doesn’t have to be very sophisticated, but it should give you a general sense of what will happen in each panel and what the dialogue is. Most of all, it gives you a “trial run” of making the comic in a fraction of the time it would take you to actually make the comic.

 This is my plan for page two - it's been edited slightly for legibility, but although the art didn't have to look great, it was the crappy dialogue and crappy characterisation that was starting to worry me....

This is my plan for page two – it’s been edited slightly for legibility, but although the art didn’t have to look great, it was the crappy dialogue and crappy characterisation that was starting to worry me….

Unlike my Halloween comic, this plan didn’t flow very well. Sure, I could come up with some clever jokes (eg: a laser gun that rewards the user with coupons when fired a certain number of times) and some half-decent parodies of scenes from “Blade Runner” etc… But it all felt slightly forced and convoluted. Some of the jokes in other parts of the comic were also in slightly poor taste, which is often (but not always) a sign that you may be running out of inspiration or good ideas.

Worst of all, the characters started acting wildly out of character during the plans, purely for the sake of the jokes and references I was trying to shoehorn into the plan. I really didn’t get the sense of spontaneity that I got when I planned my Halloween comic. Look out for this sense of spontaneity – if your comic feels like it’s “almost writing itself”, this is usually a good sign. If it doesn’t, then be a bit more cautious.

Paying attention to how you feel when you are planning your comic is incredibly important. If planning your comic feels like a chore or a burden, then this is a sign that you should either change the idea or scrap it entirely.

In addition to this, I was also wrestling with the feeling that I “should” make this comic because I’ve wanted to for quite a while. This is something that is worth being aware of – just because an idea seems cool doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t approach it with caution.

Pay attention to your feelings – there’s a huge difference between “I have to make this comic RIGHT NOW!” and “I guess I should make this comic. It’s a cool idea, it probably shouldn’t go to waste, I guess“. After all, my idea for that abysmal “Let’s Play” comic that I made earlier this year seemed like a cool idea at first, but quickly went downhill. So, just because your idea is cool, it doesn’t always mean that your comic will be. Pay attention to how you feel about the idea.

Then there was the cover itself. Despite my reluctant feelings, I thought that I’d try to see if making the cover would revive my enthusiasm for this idea. Even from the beginning, I found myself putting the minimum amount of detail possible into the cover. Making it felt a bit like a chore, like something I had to get out of the way.

However, with my Halloween comic, I gleefully added as much detail as I could to the cover – not caring how long it took me to make it. Here’s are the covers of both for comparison:

 This cover is unfinished but, as you can see - the level of detail is fairly minimal when compared to the cover below.

This cover is unfinished but, as you can see – the level of detail is fairly minimal when compared to the cover below.

"Zombies Again! - Cover" By C. A. Brown

“Zombies Again! – Cover” By C. A. Brown

Once again, the message here is to pay attention to how you feel when you are making your comic. Luckily, I managed to do this a while after I started adding paint to the line art. However, I guess that all of this can only really be learnt through hard experience.

The warning signs for when a comic idea is doomed to failure (and best abandoned quickly) are probably different for each artist. You’ll probably have to make at least a few failed comics before you really know what to look out for. But, knowing when to start a comic and when not to is probably one of the most important skills that a comic-maker can learn.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Behind The Scenes! The Paintings That Didn’t Make It!

2016 Artwork Never seen before paintings May 2016

Well, there was originally going to be a “proper” article posted here today. In fact, there were going to be two. However, I ended up ditching the first article (about political cartoons) because I felt that it was “too cynical”… only to replace it with an even more cynical article about how videogames were better in the 1990s.

So, as a last minute replacement (since I’m not in a cynical mood at the moment). I thought that I’d show off a few of the paintings that – for whatever reason – didn’t make it into any of the daily art posts that I’ve got lined up for the next few months. Some of these are “new” paintings and some are unused alternative versions of existing paintings.

"Purple Sky Pyramids" By C. A. Brown [This digitally-edited painting was made in about twenty minutes as one of two emergency filler paintings I made so that I could start a comic on a particular day. After I'd made it, I realised that I only needed to make one filler painting, so this one got dropped.]

“Purple Sky Pyramids” By C. A. Brown [This digitally-edited painting was made in about twenty minutes as one of two emergency filler paintings I made so that I could start a comic on a particular day. After I’d made it, I realised that I only needed to make one filler painting, so this one got dropped.]

"Upon The Quad (Edited Version)" By C. A. Brown [When I was making a painting that will be posted here later this month, I wasn't sure about the colour scheme, so I made this surreal digitally-edited alternate version. Compared to this version, the more "realistic" version looked better - so I went with that version instead.]

“Upon The Quad (Edited Version)” By C. A. Brown [When I was making a painting that will be posted here later this month, I wasn’t sure about the colour scheme, so I made this surreal digitally-edited alternate version. Compared to this version, the more “realistic” version looked better – so I went with that version instead.]

"Vintage Bebop" By C. A. Brown [This was the original version of the 'Virtual Bebop' Painting I posted a couple of days ago. Since this painting looked a bit too minimalist, I ended up digitally adding a 1980s-style sci-fi background to the final version, which was called 'Virtual Bebop']

“Vintage Bebop” By C. A. Brown [This was the original version of the ‘Virtual Bebop’ Painting I posted a couple of days ago. Since this painting looked a bit too minimalist, I ended up digitally adding a 1980s-style sci-fi background to the final version, which was called ‘Virtual Bebop’]

"Resort Coast" By C. A. Brown [This was a digitally-edited landscape painting I'd originally made for an art post later this year. However, it looked kind of "boring" and, when I thought of a better idea for a painting for that day, I ended up replacing it].

“Resort Coast” By C. A. Brown [This was a digitally-edited landscape painting I’d originally made for an art post later this year. However, it looked kind of “boring” and, when I thought of a better idea for a painting for that day, I ended up replacing it].

"Alien Pyramids" By C. A. Brown [This was an extremely rushed digitally-edited painting that I made on Christmas Day 2015. In the end, I waited a while and replaced it with something that I put more time and effort into]

“Alien Pyramids” By C. A. Brown [This was an extremely rushed digitally-edited painting that I made on Christmas Day 2015. In the end, I waited a while and replaced it with something that I put more time and effort into]

"Where The Ice May Fall (80s Version)" By C. A. Brown [This is an alternative version of a digitally-edited painting that I posted here a couple of days ago. In the end, I went for the version with an all-blue colour scheme, but - at the time-  I was curious what it would look like with an orange/blue colour scheme]

“Where The Ice May Fall (80s Version)” By C. A. Brown [This is an alternative version of a digitally-edited painting that I posted here a couple of days ago. In the end, I went for the version with an all-blue colour scheme, but – at the time- I was curious what it would look like with an orange/blue colour scheme]

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂 I’ll post a proper article here tomorrow 🙂

Failure Happens, Keep Going – A Ramble

2016 Artwork failure happens article sketch

A couple of days ago, I talked about being inspired – so, I thought that I’d talk about the opposite today.

I know that I’ve talked about the subject of failure before, but I was reminded of it when I read this fascinating article by Matthew Syed on BBC News. In the article, he talks about how trial and error is an important part of creating and/or inventing things.

It’s well worth reading, but I thought that I’d provide an example of how I recently dealt with artistic failure. Afterwards, I’ll talk about one thing that helped me to learn how to handle failure.

As I mentioned recently, I’ve been working on a series of sci-fi/cyberpunk paintings at the time of writing these articles. This was still going fairly well recently, when I produced this painting whilst watching the movie I reviewed yesterday.

"Balcony Moments" By C. A. Brown

“Balcony Moments” By C. A. Brown

However, when it came to producing the next painting in the series, things didn’t go quite as smoothly as I’d hoped. At the time, I was in a slightly crappy mood and this really put a dent in my enthusiasm for making art. I felt less inspired, but I thought that I should press on and keep making art because, well, I really liked this art series.

So, I started to sketch another picture. It started out well and I drew the outline of a really cool-looking futuristic building. Originally, I’d planned to just include buildings in this picture, but this seemed like a rather lazy idea. So, I decided to add a character and possibly some hint of a story too.

This was a mistake – after sketching and then erasing various plans several times, I eventually decided to take the plunge and start my ink drawing before the page became a grey mess of erased pencil lines.

Even though this started out well, the picture quickly ended up looking fairly generic and, after trying to sketch other things in a few other areas of the painting. I eventually gave up in frustration. I’d failed. This is what my failed picture looked like:

This is failure. It happens to all artists every now and then (I haven't adjusted the brightness/contrast levels in this picture, so that you can see some of the many erased pencil lines).

This is failure. It happens to all artists every now and then (I haven’t adjusted the brightness/contrast levels in this picture, so that you can see some of the many erased pencil lines).

But, since I really liked this series, I decided to try again a little bit later and do something slightly different. This time round, the picture went slightly better, but it still wasn’t as good as I’d hoped.

If you look at the original line art for the picture, you can see that at least one of the buildings in the background (eg: the one on the left-hand side of the picture) looks slightly wonky – despite my attempts to disguise the fact that I’d drawn a few lines at the wrong angle:

I'd finished the line art, but the picture still didn't look brilliant.

I’d finished the line art, but the picture still didn’t look brilliant.

All in all, the line art didn’t inspire me. But, I’d actually finished this part of the painting this time and I wasn’t going to let it go to waste.

So, after a bit of thought, I realised that the best way to disguise the clunky background was to shroud as much of it in darkness as possible. My original plan was for the only light source in the painting to be the cube that the woman was holding.

However, when I started adding colour, I quickly realised that whilst only having one light source would disguise some of my mistakes, it would also make the painting a lot less detailed than the paintings in the rest of the series.

So, I added another two light sources to the top right corner of the picture. Here’s what my finished painting looked like:

"Abandoned Sector" By C. A. Brown

“Abandoned Sector” By C. A. Brown

I’d still messed up the lighting in a few areas of this picture and it’s certainly not the best painting in this series, but I’d finally managed to produce something vaguely ok after quite a few failures because I kept going.

I know that I’ve talked about this a couple of times before, but one of the best ways for artists to learn how to deal with failure is to play difficult computer games on a regular basis.

For me, these are old First-Person Shooter games from the 1990s ( at the time of writing, my current one is “Blood II: The Chosen” – which is challenging, but very slightly easier than the original “Blood” was), but any “enjoyable-but-challenging” type of game will do.

Back in the 1990s, FPS games were often meant to be fiendishly difficult (rather than ludicrously easy, like many FPS games are today). As such, you can end up failing very often.

But, since these games weren’t designed to be unwinnable, you know that you can succeed if you’re willing to try different things and not to give up.

If you play these kinds of challenging games on a regular basis, then they will change your attitude towards failure.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂