Three More Things That (Visual) Artists Can Learn From Heavy Metal Music

Well, as something of a continuation of an article about the heavy metal genre and artistic inspiration that I posted a few days ago, I thought that I’d look at a few more things that (visual) artists can learn from the heavy metal genre.

1) Humour, silliness and theatricality: One of the brilliant things about heavy metal music is that, despite the melodramatic imagery that is often associated with it, it doesn’t always take itself entirely seriously.

There are too many examples of humourous metal songs to list here, but they include songs like “Born To Be Epic” by Equilibrium, “Metal Inquisition” By Piledriver, pretty much anything by Alestorm, “Mr. Torture” by Helloween etc…

Even more “serious” metal often tends to have a slightly tongue-in-cheek element to it that is absolute joy to listen to. These songs are deliberately melodramatic in a way that makes them much less “serious” than they might initially appear to be. Some examples of this kind of song include “Kill For Metal” By Iron Fire, “Iron Maiden” by Iron Maiden, “For Your Vulgar Delectation” by Cradle Of Filth, “Metal Machine” by Sabaton etc..

So, what does any of this have to do with art? Well, including the visual equivalent of this kind of thing in your art can be a great way to give your paintings or drawings a distinctive look.

Including overly melodramatic (but knowingly humourous) horror imagery and/or dark humour in your art can really make it stand out from the crowd.

Although this is something that I should probably do a lot more in my own art, I’ve experimented with it a bit, like in this digitally-edited painting called “Skeleton Service” (which was originally inspired by old horror novel covers):

"Skeleton Service" By C. A. Brown

“Skeleton Service” By C. A. Brown

2) Minimalist storytelling: One of the great things about heavy metal songs is that they sometimes contain a certain amount of storytelling. Whilst this is hardly exclusive to the metal genre, it seems to be a much larger feature of the metal genre compared to many other genres. Within the space of just 100-500 words, a metal song can tell a dramatic story in a similar manner to the epic narrative poems of old.

For example, Judas Priest’s “The Sentinel” tells a story about gladiatorial combat in a post-apocalyptic world using just 189 words. Iron Maiden’s “Number Of The Beast” tells the story of someone witnessing an evil ritual using just 301 words. Turisas’ “To Holmgard And Beyond” tells the story of an epic Viking sea voyage (with multiple fictional characters) in just 279 words etc…

So, again, what does all this writing-based stuff have to do with art?

Well, it’s all to do with the power of minimalist storytelling. When you make art, you often have to tell part of a story within the space of a single image and often without using words.

So, learning the value of compact, minimalist (visual) storytelling can be incredibly useful. And learning how to focus on important details, important events etc.. is something that listening to narrative-based metal songs can help you with.

3) Metal Covers: One of the awesome things about the metal genre, especially within the past couple of decades, is that metal bands will occasionally cover non-metal songs in a metal style. Sometimes, this is just done for laughs, but it can often give these songs more intensity and depth than they originally had.

Examples include Cradle Of Filth’s dramatic covers of both Shakespeares Sister’s “Stay” and The Sisters Of Mercy’s “No Time To Cry”, The Birthday Massacre’s cover of James And The Shondells’ “I Think We’re Alone Now”, Die Apokalyptischen Reiter’s Cover of “Ghost Riders In The Sky”, Nightwish’s epic cover of Gary Moore’s “Over The Hills And Far Away”, Alestorm’s hilarious cover of Taio Cruz’s “Hangover”, Inkubus Sukkubus’ creative cover of Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps And Thieves” etc…

So, yet again, what does any of this have to do with art?

First of all, it isn’t a suggestion that you should directly copy other people’s art. With a very small number of exceptions (eg: private practice, parodies, making studies of out-of-copyright paintings etc..) this is usually considered to be plagiarism. So, stick to just taking inspiration from art that you consider to be cool.

Anyway, the reason why I mentioned metal covers is because they’re often examples of a band showing off their own distinctive “style”. It’s also an example of why it’s so important to develop your own unique art style since, like with metal covers of non-metal songs, whatever you paint or draw will be distinctly “yours”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂 Now, listen to some metal \m/

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Today’s Art (8th October 2017)

Woo hoo! I am very proud to present the fifth comic in “Damania Resized”, a new webcomic mini series (with extra panels!) 🙂 Plus, in case you missed it, here’s the first comic, the second comic, the third comic and the fourth comic.

If you’re interested, you can find links to lots of my other comics here).

And, yes, the “loudness war” is (or, unfortunately, was) a real thing. I heard about it for the first time about a day before I made this comic and I picked a side almost instantly, especially after seeing a video on Youtube called “Iron Maiden – Fighting the loudness war” which was presumably meant to inspire horror about the fact that Iron Maiden’s albums have got “louder” over the years. But, well, it’s Iron Maiden – a band that awesome should be loud 🙂

Seriously, I knew there was a reason why some of my favourite metal albums from my teenage years and early 20s sounded so badass! Hell, after reading about the “loudness wars”, I decided to give Metallica’s “Death Magnetic” another listen (my copy has been gathering dust since 2008) and it sounds even more badass than I remembered, especially “That Was Just Your Life”. Regardless of what pretentious audiophiles might say – low dynamic range, I salute you! \m/

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

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Damania Resized- Fighting The Loudness War” By C. A. Brown

Three Things That (Visual) Artists Can Learn From Heavy Metal Music

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written about the heavy metal genre. But, although I’ve talked about how listening to certain metal bands can improve any poetry you write, I wondered if the heavy metal genre can improve any drawings, paintings etc.. that you make.

So, here are a few things that (visual) artists can learn from heavy metal music.

1) Album art: It almost goes without saying, but heavy metal albums have historically had some of the most detailed, dramatic and/or interesting cover art of any musical genre. This was probably more true in decades past when most metal albums featured painted cover art, but it still holds true to some extent today.

If you don’t believe me, check out some of Derek Riggs’ classic 1980s album covers for Iron Maiden. They’re filled with action-packed visual storytelling, very “realistic” stylised artwork and a surprising amount of background detail (Riggs’ cover art for “Somewhere In Time” is outstanding in this regard).

The artwork on a lot of classic metal albums is designed to reflect the kind of music within the album – whether it’s the horror imagery on the cover of a classic Slayer album or the bold cover art of a 1980s Judas Priest album, heavy metal album covers provide many great examples of how an artist can convert non-visual inspiration into fittingly awesome visual art.

In addition to this, classic heavy metal album covers (and T-shirt art) often feature really interesting lighting too. In keeping with the classic inspirations for the genre (eg: horror movies etc…), heavy metal album art will often feature large amounts of contrast between lighter and darker areas of the painting. Often, the most dramatic parts of an album cover will be emphasised by contrasting them with a dark background. This is especially true when you consider that the album art often ends up being printed on black T-shirts too.

In fact, this is probably one of the things that inspired my “make sure that at least 30%-50% of the surface area of each painting is covered with black paint” rule. This rule is a central part of my art style and it’s one of the things that gives my paintings, in any genre, their distinctive look. Like this:

Even though this is a gothic horror cyberpunk painting, my approach to lighting has been inspired heavily by heavy metal album art. ["Storage" By C. A. Brown]

Even though this is a gothic horror cyberpunk painting, my approach to lighting has been inspired heavily by heavy metal album art.
[“Storage” By C. A. Brown]

2) Taking inspiration (whilst staying original): The heavy metal genre is a genre about taking inspiration, whilst still remaining original. This is something that all visual artists need to learn how to do.

Contrary to the erroneous old-fashioned idea that metal is a “mindless” genre, heavy metal is one of the most intelligent and wide-ranging genres of music you will ever listen to. Whilst most pop songs may only have a limited range of subject matter (eg: love and fame), heavy metal songs have taken inspiration from a gigantic range of subjects.

Whether it’s the first world war (“Paschendale” by Iron Maiden), a Clive Barker novel (“Tortured Soul Asylum” by Cradle Of Filth), the poetry of Walt Whitman (“Song Of Myself” by Nightwish), government surveillance (“Electric Eye” by Judas Priest), keel-hauling by 17th century pirates (“Keelhauled” by Alestorm), the Vikings (eg: anything by Turisas, Amon Amarth or TYR), secret societies (“Square Hammer” by Ghost), pyromania (“Benzin” By Rammstein), slasher movies (“Overkill” by Overkill) etc… Heavy metal music takes inspiration from a gigantic range of things.

In addition to this, metal bands are unafraid to take inspiration from both other metal bands and other musical genres… whilst still producing original music.

Although I’ve written a more detailed article about how to take inspiration properly, listening to heavy metal music can give you numerous examples of how to take inspiration from other things whilst still being original.

3) Doing your own thing: The heavy metal genre has rarely been a “popular” genre. Metal bands don’t give a damn whether they end up in the charts or not. As long as they can express themselves and their fans like it, then they can do all sorts of interesting creative things.

Heavy metal is a genre about creativity and it’s attitude to this is often more “punk” than some punk bands are. Because they don’t have to worry about being “mainstream”, metal bands make the music that they want to make. This is why there are literally hundreds of wildly different sub-genres of heavy metal (eg: for a good contrasting example, listen to “Twilight Of The Gods” by Helloween, then listen to “Desire In Violent Overture” by Cradle Of Filth. They’re both metal songs, but they sound very different), compared to the limited range of sub-genres in most other types of music.

Needless to say, this is an attitude that leads to a lot more self-expression and creativity. And it’s an attitude that is worth taking if you are an artist.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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 🙂