Two Tips For Knowing What To Paint From Memory

Well, I thought that I’d talk about painting from memory again today. Although I won’t be talking about how to memorise things you see here (you can find tips for how to do that in the second half of this article), I’ll be talking about how to choose what to memorise.

Because, well, you’re probably only going to be able to memorise 1-2 scenes at a time. So, choosing the right one matters.

1) Know yourself: understand your own artistic sensibilities (eg: what your art style is focused on, what interests you visually etc..). This is important because it will help you to spot interesting things that you will enjoy turning into paintings.

For example, my own art style tends to focus a lot on light, colour and shadow. So, during a short car journey the night before I originally prepared this article, I happened to look at the passenger wing mirror and notice that the lights at the back of the car had bathed a nearby wall in red light.

But, whilst everything in the wing mirror was various shades of dark red, everything outside the window was illuminated by a white/blue light that was nearby. The contrast in both lighting and colours seemed like exactly my type of thing.

So, I made a stylised memory painting the next day, based on a quick sketch from memory I’d made shortly after the journey. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 16th August.

So, if you know what qualities you focus on a lot in your art, then this will help you work out what to memorise. Once you know what really interests you visually, you can focus your attention on looking for things that fit into this quality. This will result in more interesting memory paintings. Plus, it also helps with memorisation too because you’ll be memorising things that look dramatic or interesting to you.

2) Follow your intuition: If one particular scene seems more memorable than the others, then paint that one. Even if it doesn’t look as complex or interesting as the other things that you’ve seen, then paint it nonetheless. Why? Because it will not only be the clearest memory, but because it’s probably memorable for a reason.

For example, the car journey I mentioned earlier also included some really beautiful-looking views of streets at night, elaborate Christmas lights and even a brief glimpse of a distant town at night. It really was a wonderful visual feast. Yet, the image that really stuck in my mind was a quick glance at the wing mirror when the car was starting.

Why? Who knows. But, if I had to guess, then I’d say that it was because the composition and colours were the most striking and memorable. Although I saw a lot of other beautiful scenes during the journey, this one was – by far – the most unique. It almost looked like it could be a frame from a film or something like that.

So, if one scene seems more memorable than the others that you’ve seen, then there’s usually a good reason for this. Maybe it’s easier to paint? Maybe it looks more unique? Maybe it allows you to include visual storytelling? Who knows? But, there’s usually a good reason.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (15th September 2018)

Well, although I had planned to make another “film noir” drawing for today’s art post, there were two power cuts. In addition to reminding me of this hilarious SMBC cartoon I’d read a few weeks earlier, I also happened to notice the early evening light shining through the bathroom window. And, when the power was eventually restored properly an hour or so later (after going on and then going off again fifteen minutes later), I decided to paint it from memory.

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

“Bathroom Window (During Power Cut)” By C. A. Brown

Three Technical Tips For Painting From Memory

Although I wrote about painting from memory recently and have also talked about the basics of how to memorise something you see, I thought that I’d offer a few technical tips today.

This is mostly because I ended up making yet another memory painting when I happened to see a familiar building from a slightly different angle during a walk and then memorised the scene before me (after about 20-40 seconds of constant observation), in order to start painting it about 20-30 minutes later – whilst also relying on older memories of the area too. Here’s a preview:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 8th September.

And here are some technical tips for painting from memory. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to assume that you already know all of the basic artistic skills (eg: perspective, drawing “3D” scenes, painting from life etc…) that are a basic underlying requirement for memorising things in order to paint them later.

1) Focus on key details: In addition to memorising the basic shapes/outlines and colours of what you’ve seen, it can also be useful to memorise a few key details. Often, these will be things that grab your attention quickly (so, you won’t have to search for them). But, try to focus on only memorising the most important details. After all, if you try to memorise too much, then the memory won’t be as clear or long-lasting.

Incorporating 2-3 key details into your painting will give it an instant impression of authenticity, whilst also providing something for you to guess/interpret/extrapolate other details from when you are converting your small collection of memorised shapes, colours and details into a coherent painting.

For example, in the painting I showed you earlier, the two key details (other than the shape of the building) were the fact that there was a tree in front of the building, the small cross/fleur-de-lis on top of the building and the general shape and position of the sign from the neighbouring pub.

So, memorising a very small number of key details (in addition to the usual shapes/colours) can give your memory painting more of an authentic look, even if you either have to guess/extrapolate other details or rely on much older and vaguer memories for the rest of the picture.

2) Sketch as soon as possible!: I know that I’ve mentioned this before but, once you’ve memorised something you’ve seen, you need to get that memory down on paper as quickly as you can before it starts to fade.

This sketch doesn’t have to be large or elaborate. It just needs to include the basic shapes/outlines of everything, any important details and possibly a few written notes about colours or other elements of the picture. Here’s the sketch from the picture I showed you earlier – its really tiny and it took me less than two minutes.

This is the sketch for the picture earlier. I didn’t even bother with an underlying pencil drawing here, I just drew it with my usual drawing pen.

Make your sketch quickly and just focus on drawing out the rudimentary shapes/details that you’ve actually memorised. You can add detail and use artistic licence later when you’re making the final painting.

3) Once you’ve learnt it, that’s it:
Although it can take a bit of practice and trial-and-error to learn how to memorise the things you see, the skill is similar to riding a bicycle. In other words, once you’ve learnt how to do it (through practice and experience), then it won’t be something that you’ll forget. In other words, it’s a skill that is very resistant to disuse.

For example, I’ve made two memory paintings recently. Here’s a preview of the other one (and, yes, I know that the full-size painting was meant to appear here four days ago. But, due to a scheduling mishap, it won’t appear until the 23rd. Sorry about this):

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 3rd September 23rd September.

But, before that, I hadn’t memorised something I’d seen in ages. But, since the techniques for doing it have become almost instinctive (through prior practice over the past 2-3 years), it was something that I was quickly able to do without really thinking about it too much.

So, yes, once you’ve learnt this skill then you don’t really have to worry too much about forgetting how to use it.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two More Thoughts About Painting From Memory

Although I’ve already written about how to memorise things you see (in order to paint them later), I made a memory painting (for the first time in a while) the day before I wrote this article. The full-size painting will be posted here tomorrow, but here’s a reduced-size preview:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 3rd September.

Apologies if I repeat myself in this article, but it’s been a while since I last talked about memory painting. So, what did returning to memory paintings after being a little out-of-practice teach me?

1) Sometimes, you can’t control it: The painting I showed you early was based on a memory of a car journey that included the road running across Portsdown Hill. Although I’ve seen this road quite a few times before (which can help with memorisation), I hadn’t really expected to paint the part of it that I did. Seriously, there were a lot more interesting sights on the journey than the one I painted.

Yet, when it came to actually remembering what to paint, this memory seemed to be the clearest one. I think that this was because the car stopped near this area for about 30 seconds or so, which gave me a chance to take a really detailed look at the road in question (I also found myself slightly fascinated by some of the gigantic houses nearby too). Not only that, the basic shape of the roads and the grass verge were also fairly easy to memorise too.

So, what was the point of this?

Simply put, go for the clearest memory when painting from memory. Even though it might not be the most interesting thing you saw, it’s the thing that you’ll be able to paint with the highest degree of confidence and accuracy (but, as I’ve mentioned before, memory painting is never 100% accurate, nor should it be. If you want accuracy, take a photo instead).

2) Artistic licence and filling in the gaps: Simply put, when memorising the scene that I painted, the only things I actually focused on memorising were the shape of the road/grass verge and maybe one or two of the houses nearby. This was a simple collection of shapes and details that was easy to remember 20-40 minutes later.

But, of course, I saw a lot more than that. However, since my memories of the rest of the scene were very slightly more vague. I sort of had to make an educated guess about other parts of the picture. For example, I was pretty sure that there were trees and a bridge in the distance. I wasn’t 100% certain, but it seemed vaguely familiar – so, I added it.

So, yes, it’s ok to “fill in the gaps” by guessing when painting from memory. Again, if you want 100% accuracy, then take a photo instead.

Plus, in order to make sure that the picture worked well as a painting, I also used some artistic licence too. This included narrowing one area so that I could add a cityscape (and the Spinnaker Tower) to the far left of the picture. In addition to this, I also added more clouds to the sky too (so that it wasn’t just a featureless blue area).

Likewise, on the right-hand side of the picture, I added another “layer” of the hill (which included an undetailed impression/silhouette of one of the 19th century hill forts) too. Finally, the perspective I used for this picture was slightly different to the one I actually saw (again, so that I could cram more detail into the picture).

All of this detail wasn’t in the scene that I actually saw, but I thought that adding a few more Portsmouth landmarks would improve the painting and make it instantly recognisable as a painting of Portsmouth. So, yes, it’s ok to use artistic licence when painting from memory. Again, memory paintings have to work well as a painting, not just as a recorded memory.

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Five Retro-Futuristic Ways To Turn Your Photos, Memories And/Or Observations Into Cyberpunk Art

2016 Artwork Cyberpunk art based on real life

Although they probably won’t be posted here until sometime next week, I’ve started a series of digitally-edited cyberpunk paintings that are based on real locations. Since I included a reduced-size preview of one of the paintings in another recent article, I thought that I’d give you a reduced-size preview of the next painting in the series.

The actual painting is larger than this one and it'll probably be posted here next Thursday.

The actual painting is larger than this one and it’ll probably be posted here next Thursday.

So, how do you turn your photos, observations and/or memories of real places into cool-looking cyberpunk art?

Before I begin, I should probably point out that this article will already assume that you know the basics of how to paint or draw from photographs, from memory and/or from observation. If you don’t know how to do any of these things, then they’re worth learning (and practicing) since they can come in handy in lots of other types of art too.

Anyway, that said, how can you make your art look like it came from a really cool sci-fi movie from the 1980s?

1) Location, location, location: This almost goes without saying, but cyberpunk art doesn’t really work well with natural landscapes. The cyberpunk genre, by it’s very nature, is focused on dense futuristic cities and interesting-looking interior locations.

So, trying to draw or paint a cyberpunk version of a beautiful forest or an unspoilt beach is probably something of a non-starter.

So, stick to photos, memories or observations of cities, towns and/or rooms.

2) Lighting and weather: One of the first ways to make your drawing or painting look more cyberpunk is to make a few changes to the lighting and the weather. This is a matter of preference, but I’d argue that the cyberpunk genre is at it’s absolute best at night and during rainy weather.

One of the reasons for this is that one of the iconic features of cyberpunk art (and film) is neon lights in the rain. This whole genre of art is focused on bold contrasts between light and darkness. So, even if your photo was taken during the day or you’ve only seen a particular location in the morning, try to imagine what it would look like at night. Then make a “normal” sketch of that particular location.

Before you start painting, add some extra light sources to your sketch. Add neon signs, glowing screens, strip lights, streetlights, headlights etc… These will be the only sources of light in your painting or drawing. If you’re going to add rain too, then plan out reflections on the pavements or roads below your light sources.

The thing to remember here though is that your painting should probably consist of at least 40-50% darkness. Although, again, this is just a matter of preference.

Using this kind of lighting will automatically make your artwork look about three times more cyberpunk than it would do if you set your picture during the day or during bright weather.

3) Colours: One easy way to give your art more of a “retro cyberpunk comic book” look is to limit the number of colours that you use when you’re making it. This is because old comics often used a fairly limited colour palette. If you’re painting, then it can often be a good idea to only use the three primary colours (red, yellow and blue), as well as using either ink or black paint.

Even if you mix a lot of different colours using these paints, then your picture will probably have a much bolder colour scheme as a result. However, it’s usually good to stick to a single complimentary colour scheme as much as possible if you really want to give your art a “comic book” kind of look.

One good colour scheme to use if you want your cyberpunk art to look ominously dystopian is a mostly red and blue colour scheme. If you want your art to look slightly “warmer”, then include a red and lime green colour scheme. If you’re not sure which colour scheme to use, then blue and orange tends to work fairly well with everything.

4) Add more detail: I know that I mentioned this a couple of days ago, but one of the best ways to make your art look more cyberpunk is to add as many details into it as possible. These details can include things like amusing fake advertising posters, robots, dense crowds, glowing screens, angular buildings etc…

If you don’t have time to include lots of detail, then this old article about creating the illusion of detail might be useful.

Ideally, your painting or drawing needs to be the kind of thing where someone can notice something new every time. This is because one of the main features of both cyberpunk literature and film is “information overload”. So, have fun and try to cram as much detail as you can into your cyberpunk artwork.

As an example, here’s a reduced-size preview of yet another painting in my upcoming art series. This painting is probably my most detailed cyberpunk painting so far and it was an absolute joy to make:

Again, this is a smaller version of the actual painting (which will probably be posted next Friday). So, I don't know how much of the detail you'll be able to make out here.

Again, this is a smaller version of the actual painting (which will probably be posted next Friday). So, I don’t know how much of the detail you’ll be able to make out here.

5) Fuel your imagination: Whilst you shouldn’t directly copy anything that you see in films, comics, games etc.. (unless you’re making non-commercial fan art), one of the best ways to learn how to turn “ordinary” locations into cyberpunk ones is to become familiar with the cyberpunk genre. To immerse yourself in both old and modern things from the genre until making cyberpunk art feels like it’s second-nature to you.

Try to watch, read or play as many things from the cyberpunk genre as you can. The more inspirations you have, the more things your imagination will have to work with – and the higher your chances are of coming up with your own unique and distinctive “style” of cyberpunk art. Here are some recommendations to get you started:

In terms of books, I’d recommend reading William Gibson’s “Sprawl trilogy“. In terms of comics, I’d recommend “Transmetropolitan” by Warren Ellis and any of the old “Judge Dredd” comics. In terms of films, I’d recommend “Blade Runner“, “Akira“, “Natural City“, “The Matrix” and “Dredd“.

In terms of TV shows, I’d recommend “Cowboy Bebop” and the first episode of “Charlie Jade“. In terms of computer games, I’d recommend “Gemini Rue“, “Beneath A Steel Sky“, “The Longest Journey“, “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” and, if you can track it down, the 1997 Westwood adaptation of “Blade Runner”.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How To Draw Or Paint Things From Memory (With Examples)

...But I can trick people into thinking that I do- and so can YOU..

…But I can trick people into thinking that I do- and so can YOU..

If you forget to take a sketchbook, a digital camera and/or one of those newfangled smartphones with you when you go out- then you’re probably going to have to draw or paint anything interesting that you see from memory.

Whilst I’ve only done this a few times before, I thought that I’d offer you a few pointers about how to do it.

Before I go any further, I should point out that this article will be divided into two sections. This is because painting or drawing something from your distant memories and intentionally memorising something you see (in order to paint or draw it later) are two completely different things and they require totally different skills.

So, without any further ado, let’s begin.

1) Distant memory: One of the first things to be aware of if you’re drawing or painting something that you remember from several months or years ago is that our memories are inherently unreliable and they fade over time.

So, if you want a completely accurate and highly-detailed picture of something you saw a long time ago, then you’re probably better off looking for pictures of it on the internet rather than drawing or painting it.

When you’re painting from distant memory, the important thing is to make sure that you get across the general impression of whatever you’re trying to paint. Don’t worry about getting every small detail right. In fact, don’t worry about even getting the large details right – just paint something that reminds you of your memory and is as close to it as you can possibly get.

For example, here is a painting of a room I haven’t seen in about 8-10 years. If you saw the actual room, it might look at bit like this – but there are probably numerous differences:

"Memories Of A Studio" By C. A. Brown

“Memories Of A Studio” By C. A. Brown

If you really can’t remember a crucial part of the picture, then just make it up. Whilst some people might criticise your picture as being “inaccurate” – most people won’t have the same memories as you do, so they probably won’t even notice.

Not only that, people expect artists to add a certain amount of their own imagination to their works. As I said earlier, if people want a completely accurate image of something, then they’ll look for a photograph instead.

2) Memorising something you see: If you see a beautiful view, an interesting person or just something unusual and you don’t have any way to record what you see, then you’re going to have to memorise it.

This is a skill that will probably be intuitive to you if you’ve been drawing or painting for a while, but I’ll explain how to do it (with a couple of examples) in case you don’t know already. Just don’t be surprised if people start asking you if you have a photographic memory whenever you use this skill….

The very first thing to do when you see something that you want to memorise is to imagine it as a still image. A good way to do this is to imagine that your eyes are video cameras and you are taking a still frame from the footage that they are recording. Now, all you have to do is to memorise the positions, colours and outlines of the key parts of this still frame.

Don’t worry about memorising every tiny detail, just memorise the most important parts of the picture. To give you an example, take a look at this HDR photo of the Peel Monument in Manchester, taken by Barry Mangham and released under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence:

Photo by Barry Mangham (released under a Creative Commons Attribution- Share - Alike 3.0 licence)

Photo by Barry Mangham (released under a Creative Commons Attribution- Share – Alike 3.0 licence)

So, if you saw this when you were visiting Manchester and you didn’t have a camera or a sketchbook, you should first try to memorise something which looks like this:

The basic outlines of the key parts of the picture.  (Source photo by Barry Mangham CC-BY-SA)

The basic outlines of the key parts of the picture. (Source photo by Barry Mangham CC-BY-SA)

After you’ve firmly memorised the outlines of everything, then try looking carefully at both a few medium-sized details and the approximate colours of the important parts of picture until you’ve memorised something that looks a bit like this:

The outline with a few extra details and the approximate colours of everything. (Source photo by Barry Mangham CC-BY-SA)

The outline with a few extra details and the approximate colours of everything. (Source photo by Barry Mangham CC-BY-SA)

After you’ve memorised this, then try to get a pen and paper as soon as you can so that you can sketch it out (and write down which colours to use) before you forget it. When it comes to painting or drawing the final picture, you can use this sketch as a reference.

However, you will probably have to use your own imagination when it comes to filling out the small details of your picture – but, as I said earlier, people don’t usually expect paintings or drawings to be 100% accurate anyway.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂