The Joy Of… Genre-Specific Creativity

2017-artwork-joy-of-genre-specific-things-article-sketch

Although this is an article about art, comics and fiction, I’m going to have to start by talking about music. This is mostly because, a day or two before I wrote this article, I heard a rather interesting song called “Metal Inquisition” by Piledriver that made me think about audiences and genres.

“Metal Inquisition” is a song which heavy metal fans will find absolutely hilarious and non-metal fans will probably find mildly disturbing. It’s a knowingly silly song about a Spanish Inquisition-style group who try to ensure that everyone listens to heavy metal… or else!

And, it’s also the perfect example of a genre-specific thing. It’s a comedic song that is written specifically for heavy metal fans. If you aren’t a metalhead, then you probably won’t get the joke (eg: it’s about heavy metal’s [lack of] mainstream popularity etc..).

There’s certainly something to be said for things that are squarely aimed at fans of a particular genre. For starters, the trouble with making everything suitable for everyone is that, unless it’s done extremely well, it often ends up appealing to no-one.

Unless you are the mythical “normal person” that mainstream cinema, pop music, advertising, gaming etc… exists to serve, then there will be a certain emotional distance between you and the creative work in question. And, well, no-one is that idealised “normal person”. We’re all geeks or nerds in some way or another. We all have preferences and fascinations. We’re all fans of one thing or another. After all, we’re all unique human beings.

Creative works that are squarely aimed at fans of a particular genre acknowledge that uniqueness. They say “some people like this, and that’s cool. Some people don’t, and they should probably find something else“. As such, if you find something that you are a fan of, then it’ll feel more meaningful to you. It’ll feel like something made specifically for you.

This is also useful for creating a sense of community too. After all, if you’re a fan of a slightly obscure genre, then genre-specific things can be a thing which reminds you that “other people like this stuff too!“.

For example, going back to “Metal Inquisition”, the song is such an amazing song for the simple reason that it is a gleeful celebration of heavy metal music (a bit like Saxon’s “Denim And Leather”, Judas Preist’s “Deal With The Devil”, Helloween’s “Heavy Metal (is the law)”, Sabaton’s “Metal Machine” etc… ).

It’s a song that amusingly imagines what the world would be like if heavy metal was the most mainstream genre instead of the least mainstream genre. It’s a song that recreates the feeling of going to your first metal concert and seeing literally hundreds of other people who also like the same music you do. That awestruck sense of actually belonging somewhere.

But, in addition to this, genre-specific things are also awesome for the simple reason that they’re an expression of creative freedom. They show that the person who made them is such a fan of that particular genre that they felt compelled to actually make things for other fans. They show how great stories, films, games, albums etc… can inspire people to create things themselves. After all, you don’t make a genre-specific thing unless you’re a massive fan of things from that genre.

Genre-specific things aren’t “manufactured pop band # 345,237” who were designed by committee in order to maximise sales to the 16-24 demographic. They aren’t “Generic military action videogame #17” churned out annually in order to sell more games consoles. They aren’t “CGI-filled Hollywood Movie # 500,000” with 20% less dialogue to reduce translation costs for international distribution. They aren’t “hip fashion trend #7653” that will empty the wallets of trendy people in London, New York etc… 50% faster than usual.

No, genre-specific things are things made by people for people. They’re the sorts of things that people would make even if they didn’t get paid. They’re things that are made out of love, rather than out of greed. They are things that aren’t “mass-produced”. They’re things that are brave enough to say “if you like this, then that’s great. If you don’t, then find something else!

Genre-specific things are a testament to the power of creativity for the sake of creativity, and to the value of individuality.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Finding The Subtle “Everyday” Influences On Your Art Style – A Ramble

2017-artwork-art-style-hidden-influences

Well, I’ve already written about how your art style can be influenced by all sorts of things that you either don’t notice or have forgotten about. But, discovering one of these influences is always a strange experience. Especially if, like with one that I found shortly before writing this article, it’s been staring you in the face for literally years.

As regular readers of this site know, I often tend to use high-contrast lighting and vivid colours in my art. This has been a subtle element of my art style for quite a while, but it’s something that has become a lot more prominent in the paintings that I’ve made over the past year or so.

Anyway, I had a sudden realisation about one of the many things that might have inspired this when I was preparing a digitally-edited painting that will be posted here in September. Here’s a reduced-size preview of the painting:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 10th September.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 10th September.

Quite a few hours after finishing this painting, I suddenly thought “This would make a really cool T-shirt design“. I then looked over at the collection of old heavy metal T-shirts that were dangling from a rack on my door. Suddenly, I knew one of the reasons why I love high-contrast art.

After all, pretty much every heavy metal T-shirt ever made usually features an album cover design printed on black fabric. Because of the fact that it’s printed on dark fabric, the design usually stands out a lot more if it contains any kind of vivid colours. Thinking about it, these T-shirts probably had much more of an influence on my art style than I would have expected:

"Corrugation" By C. A. Brown

“Corrugation” By C. A. Brown

"Data Transfer" By C. A. Brown

“Data Transfer” By C. A. Brown

"Storage" By C. A. Brown

“Storage” By C. A. Brown

As you can see, all of these digitally-edited paintings look like they’ve been printed on black paper or, from a distance, black fabric. They use a similar high-contrast lighting/colour style to the one used in the vast majority of heavy metal T-shirts. And, yet, this was a subtle influence on my art that I didn’t notice until relatively recently.

The thing to remember about subtle influences on your art style is that they can be anything or anywhere. After all, we are all exposed to countless examples of art every day. Whether it’s the desktop background on your computer, the adverts that you try to ignore every day, the box art/cover art for something you buy etc.. we are all quite literally surrounded by art on a daily basis.

So, it’s likely that some of it has had an influence on your own art. Whilst one easy way to tell whether something artistic has influenced you or not is to work out when you discovered it and whether you consider it to be “cool” or “interesting”. If you like it, and you discovered it a long time ago, then it’s likely that it’s influenced your art style in some way or other.

But, as you probably guessed from my idea, remembering to see artistic things (like heavy metal T-shirts) as “art” when they might not look like traditional paintings or drawings can be something of a challenge. So, yes, this is how artistic influences can ‘hide in plain sight’.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Today’s Art (13th March 2017)

Well, thankfully, I was feeling at least mildly more inspired than I was when I made yesterday’s daily painting (if it can even be called a “painting” – it was a digital abstract picture salvaged from a failed landscape painting).

Even so, today’s digitally-edited painting ended up being smaller than usual (I had to crop it and resize parts of it, since the composition wasn’t quite right in the original painting) and took longer to create than usual.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this painting ended up being very mildly influenced by Iron Maiden, as well as old American horror comics, various 1990s computer games and a whole raft of other cool things.

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

"Skeleton Catacomb" By C. A. Brown

“Skeleton Catacomb” By C. A. Brown

Four Very Basic Tips For Making Heavy Metal Art

2017 Artwork Heavy Metal Art article sketch

Although heavy metal is perhaps the most awesome type of music in the world, it’s always been a genre that I’ve found difficult to use for direct artistic inspiration. Although I might be listening to it when making a lot of my art, relatively little of my art has actually been recognisable as “heavy metal art”.

Likewise, although some of the visual techniques I use all of the time (eg: tenebrism etc..) were probably inspired by heavy metal album covers, I still found it difficult to make art that was explicitly “heavy metal art”.

But, when I was feeling uninspired the day before writing this article, I eventually decided to try to make some heavy metal art. In the process of working out how to do this, I learnt a bit about how to make art in this genre. But, here’s a preview of part of the painting that I made (which will be posted here in early-mid March):

This is a preview of a painting that will appear here in early-mid March.

This is a preview of a painting that will appear here in early-mid March.

So, here are some basic tips for making heavy metal art if you haven’t really made any before, but already have some art experience/practice:

1) Music: This almost goes without saying, but there is only one genre of music that should be playing in the background when you are making heavy metal art. I probably don’t need to expand on this point much.

2) Research: Do a quick image search for heavy metal art online (it’s probably not a good idea to do this if you’re at work etc.. though!) and look at as many pieces of it as you can. Likewise, dust off your CD collection and look at as many album covers as you can.

Once you’ve done this, try to look for common visual themes in all of the heavy metal art that you’ve seen. For example, during my research, I found that the common visual elements were tenebrism, skeletons (glowing eyes are cool, but optional), swords, semi-nude/nude women, semi-nude muscular men, grotesque monsters, gory violence, creepy old buildings etc…

When you’ve found all of the common visual themes, choose the ones that interest you (for the painting earlier in the e-mail, the elements were tenebrism, skeletons and old buildings) and try to find a way to incorporate these generic elements into a new and original painting.

3) Action: If there’s one thing that can be said about heavy metal art, it’s that it includes a lot of action. Something is always happening in a heavy metal painting. So, when doing your research into heavy metal artwork – look at the kinds of things that are happening in each piece of art.

Once you’ve looked at enough examples, try to think of a dramatic scene that looks like something from a horror movie and then use this new imagined scene as a basis for your painting.

Likewise, if you see a common/ frequently-used pose that you like, then find a slightly new variation on it and use it in your artwork. Although I’m not a copyright expert, my brief online research on the subject seems to suggest that poses, in and of themselves, probably cannot be copyrighted (under the same principle that ideas, but not specific expressions of those ideas, cannot be copyrighted).

Still, both to err on the side of caution and to make your art slightly more distictive, it’s best to come up with a very slight variation on any poses that interest you.

For example, the “outstretched hand” pose used in my painting was probably made famous by Iron Maiden, but variations have also been used in art for bands like Children Of Bodom. My own variation features a slightly tilted head, a very slight forward lean, an outstretched left arm and a few other small changes that help to differentiate it from either of these things (as well as the fact that the actual content of the art is totally different to either example).

4) Other inspirations: It almost goes without saying, but your inspirations for heavy metal art should be more than just other heavy metal art. The thing to remember here is that the best heavy metal art is often a heavy metal-style twist on another genre of art. All of the classic metal album cover artists have probably taken inspiration from things like horror movies, comics, old paintings etc… rather than just other heavy metal album covers.

So, make sure that you have other sources of inspiration too. For example, my painting was at least partly inspired by the wonderfully grotesque artwork in old American horror comics from the 1940s/50s. Likewise, the lighting in the painting was inspired by both classic computer games. I could probably go on for a while, but this painting has more inspirations than just other pieces of heavy metal art.

If you have some non-metal influences, then your art will look significantly more original and interesting.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (7th November 2016)

Woo hoo! My occasional webcomic series has been revived for a seventh mini series. You can find links to the previous six mini series (as well as other comics featuring these characters) by clicking here.

This comic is third part of the “club” story arc. The previous two comics in this running joke/ story arc can be seen here and here.

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Revived - Metal Night" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Revived – Metal Night” By C. A. Brown

Musical Subcultures, Belonging And Art – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Subcultures and art

Well, for today, I thought that I’d ramble about the role that musical subcultures can play in being an artist. This was mainly prompted by some interesting news stories that I read earlier this year about the reactions to the plans for an official celebration of punk music in London this year.

A lot of people thought that such a celebration “wasn’t punk”, but my initial reaction to it was more along the lines of “Cool! Punk music is finally getting some recognition. Now, where’s the celebration of heavy metal?

To say that I have a complicated relationship with the punk genre would be an understatement. It was actually the very first “cool” genre of music that I ever discovered when I was a kid in the late 1990s. This was, of course, near the end of the wonderful (but brief) time when American punk music became sort of mainstream. Although this instantly led to me becoming a lifelong fan of The Offspring (and later to discover other great punk bands too), I’ve kind of had a sporadic relationship with the punk genre.

Thanks to discovering the heavy metal genre a couple of years after I first discovered punk, punk music has always been something that I seem to go through phases of listening to and not listening to. It’s still one of my absolute favourite genres, but whenever I’ve met people who are into punk music, I always feel like I’m “not really punk” by comparison. And yet, the punk genre turns up relatively often in my art (albeit mostly in subtle ways, unlike this painting):

Yes, I added myself to the background of this painting, but I'm probably the least punk person in it ("Days Of The Angel" By C. A. Brown)

Yes, I added myself to the background of this painting, but I’m probably the least punk person in it (“Days Of The Angel” By C. A. Brown)

I had the same sort of reaction when I finally discovered gothic rock during my very early twenties. Despite the fact that I’ve been interested in the horror genre, to varying extents, for most of my life. Despite the fact that I almost always wear dark clothing. Despite the fact that I was reading H.P. Lovecraft when I was seventeen. Despite the fact that Billy Martin/ Poppy Z. Brite is my favourite author. I still don’t really call myself a “goth”.

Because I was somewhat of a latecomer to gothic rock, I often still don’t really consider myself to be “really a goth”. This is especially true whenever I’ve met people who are actual goths. And, again, quite a lot of my art tends to be slightly gothic. Even when I’m not planning to make gothic art, my art can still have a slight gothic look to it. Like this:

"La Chanteuse" By C. A. Brown

“La Chanteuse” By C. A. Brown

Ironically though, I’ve never had this problem with heavy metal music. As soon as I bought my first Iron Maiden CD, I was a metalhead. Whenever I’ve met people who are into heavy metal, I’ve never really felt like I’m “not really a metalhead”. Whenever I’ve been to metal concerts, I’ve just felt like part of the audience. Metal seems to be a surprisingly open-ended subculture in many ways.

And, yet, when it comes to making art, heavy metal imagery doesn’t really turn up as often as it “should” in the art that I make. In fact, my art often tends to include more punk and gothic imagery than heavy metal imagery. Even though there’s a good chance that I’ll be listening to heavy metal when I make most of my art, it still doesn’t actually turn up in my paintings and drawings as much as punk/ gothic imagery does.

I guess that, in a way, this is because subcultures are about more than just music. I mean, both the punk and goth genres have a surprisingly rich and accessible visual tradition. Gothic artwork is more about the levels of gloominess in a particular picture and the actual content of the picture (eg: settings, clothing styles etc..) – it doesn’t matter whether a picture is realistic or cartoonish, if it contains certain elements, then it’s gothic art.

And, since it looks really cool, most of my art tends to include gothic elements. Even if this is only the fact that my art tends to contain bold contrasts between light and darkness, this is at least partly a gothic thing. It’s also inspired by other things too, but it can still look fairly gothic too. Like in this painting:

"Behind The Wall" By C. A. Brown

“Behind The Wall” By C. A. Brown

Likewise, thanks to the DIY tradition of punk (something I really probably should know more about), punk art is meant to be slightly stylised and unpolished. It’s the eccentric artwork in a “Tank Girl” comic. It’s a cynical political cartoon. It’s a type of art where you can include hilariously grotesque things (eg: zombies etc..). It can be detailed or undetailed. It has to be at least mildly rebellious. Best of all, when combined with science fiction, it turns into the cyberpunk genre – the coolest sci-fi sub-genre of them all.

It’s an absolute joy to make art in this genre, especially when I don’t think that I am. Like in this very 1990s punk-influenced picture of some zombies that I made a while ago.

"Fake '80s Movies - Zombie Quad Bikers 2" By C. A. Brown

“Fake ’80s Movies – Zombie Quad Bikers 2” By C. A. Brown

Or one of my many 1980s/1990s-style cyberpunk paintings:

"Cityship Bridge" By C. A. Brown

“Cityship Bridge” By C. A. Brown

Heavy metal art, on the other hand, is often highly realistic. It’s a really awesome genre of art, but to make “proper” metal art (that could grace an album cover), you need to be able to paint or draw in an extremely realistic style. I am at least a few years away from being able to do this. Yes, I’ve made heavy metal-themed artwork, but I don’t know if I’d say that any of my art is truly “metal art”.

So, I guess that what I’m trying to say is that there is more to most modern subcultures than just music. When it comes to making art, there are probably a lot of other factors that will influence what kinds of art that you make. Trying to fit yourself into one genre will probably limit the kind of art that you make. So, just make the kinds of art that you think are “cool” and if anything from your favourite musical genres appears in them, then this is a bonus.

At the end of the day, you’re probably going to make the kind of art that you think looks cool. So, just make it and stop worrying about musical subcultures.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (16th July 2016)

Woo hoo! “Damania” is back for a six-episode mini series called “Damania Restricted”. As for the tiny length of this mini series, if it’s good enough for “The X Files”, then it’s good enough for me! If you want to see the previous mini series, then they can be found here , here and here. Stay tuned for the next comic tomorrow 🙂

Originally, this wasn’t going to be an ironic comic, but I limited myself to one language per panel (with the help of online translation sites for the second and third panels), and soon realised that virtually all of the heavy metal bands that I know, who don’t sing in English, sing in northern European languages.

But, even though I can actually think of at least one good metal band from France (called “Heavenly”), they sing in English. And, yes, I know that the last panel contains a continuity error (eg: Derek not understanding French), but rule of funny.

As usual, this comic update is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-NC licence.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Damania Revolver - Universal Language" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Revolver – Universal Language” By C. A. Brown