Even More Thoughts About “Obvious” Early Creative Inspirations – A Ramble

Since I seem to be going through more of a nostalgic phase than usual at the moment, I thought that I’d talk about early creative influences again.

This is because it’s always absolutely fascinating when a major influence on your art, fiction etc… has been staring you in the face for literally more than a decade…. but you somehow don’t realise it until ages later.

But, why does this happen? I’ll start by giving a (long-winded) example from my own experiences and then I’ll look at the reasons why these types of inspirations and influences aren’t always immediately noticeable.

I’ve already talked a couple of times about how things like heavy metal album covers, old horror novel covers and various T-shirts have influenced my approach to lighting in most of my art from the past few years.

If you’ve never seen any of my art before, I generally tend to follow the rule of “30-50% of the total surface area of each picture must be covered with black paint“. This results in high-contrast chiaroscuro lighting that looks a bit like this upcoming painting of mine:

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

But, although I know about this already, I had two experiences within the past few weeks that reminded me of just how much of this style of lighting I’d been exposed to throughout my life.

The first was when I went through a phase of watching and/or re-watching lots of films from the 1990s for a series of reviews that appeared here recently – almost all of them included at least a few examples of this style of lighting:

This is a screenshot from “House On Haunted Hill” (1999), a horror movie I first watched when I was a teenager and re-watched recently for a review.

This is a screenshot from “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990), another old favourite that I rewatched and reviewed recently.

The second was when I once again rediscovered a brilliant computer game I first played during my childhood called “Quake“.

This is a game I seem to have discovered (and then almost completely forgotten about) several times during my life. And, of course, this style of gloomy lighting is a central part of what makes the game so distinctive and atmospheric:

This is a screenshot from a set of fan-made levels for “Quake” (1996) called ‘Dimensions Of The Past’ (2016) that I’m playing at the moment.

Following on from this, during another moment of gaming nostalgia the day before I wrote this article, I decided to order a second-hand copy of the full PC version of “Silent Hill 3” (since my PS2 doesn’t work any more, and I’ve had a demo of the PC version for a few years).

This was a game that I first played when I was about sixteen and it holds a lot of nostalgic memories for me. But, when I thought about the game a bit more, I remembered that it too contained this style of gloomy lighting:

This is a screenshot from the demo version of the PC version of “Silent Hill 3” (2003). Again, it contains lots of gloomy high-contrast lighting.

I could go on for a while, but the fact is that I’ve been exposed to this style of lighting so many times in so many things that I consider to be “cool” that it really shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s become part of my art style. Yet, it’s always a bit of a surprise when I realise that another thing I enjoyed when I was younger contains this style of lighting. But, why?

Simply put, although it’s really easy to spot something that looks visually appealing, a narrative voice that you really like etc… It’s a little bit more difficult to work out the precise technical reasons why you really like it.

These reasons are important because, although you don’t need technical definitions for something to unconsciously influence your creative works (eg: when novice writers try to imitate the style of their favourite authors), you do need them if you want to be influenced or inspired in a more conscious and sophisticated way.

The best way to spot influences more easily is through study and comparison. If you gain a better understanding of things like artistic techniques, literary techniques etc… then you’ll be able to work out how the people who made your favourite things were able to make them so cool. Learning a bit about the technical side of art, writing etc.. also means that you’ll be able to spot things that you might not have consciously noticed (or known how to talk about) before.

Likewise, reading lots of reviews and/or watching in-depth reviews of things like games and films on sites like Youtube can also help you to get into the mindset of thinking about things critically. Usually, a good critic will explain the reasons why something does or doesn’t work – and being exposed to lots of these types of reviews will help you to get into this mindset too.

In addition to this, if you compare a lot of your favourite creative works, then you’ll probably start to notice similarities. The similarities might not be immediately obvious, but they will probably be there. As soon as you work out what these things have in common with each other, then your own creative works (which have probably been unconsciously influenced by your favourite things) will also start to make a lot more sense too.

Finally, the important thing to remember is that when we are first exposed to a lot of our most important early creative influences, we’re usually too young to really think about them in technical or critical terms.

In other words, we watch, read or play something that is cool enough to make us think “I want to make things like this“. But, we don’t know exactly what makes these things cool. Yes, we might have a general sense or a vague idea, but we won’t usually have a precise technical definition at the time. So, this is why discovering “obvious” influences years afterwards can be such a surprising thing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Finding “Hidden” Influences On Your Art Style

Although I’ve written about “hidden” influences (eg: things that have influenced your art, that you’ve mostly forgotten about) before, I felt like returning to the subject again after discovering a new one. I am, of course, talking about an old computer game from Apogee called “Math Rescue” that I played during my childhood. It also contains what is probably one of the earliest examples of high-contrast art that I ever saw:

The Apogee logo. Many of the first games I ever played were from this company, who also invented shareware too.

Although the actual game doesn’t really look that much like this, the menu uses this really cool high-contrast style. One of their other games, called “Paganitzu”, uses a version of this style a lot more prominently too.

Of course, my art style when I saw these games for the first time consisted of the kind of blob-like stick figures that most people draw when they’re about six or seven. But, whilst making a digitally-edited painting (in my usual high-contrast style) that will appear here in January, I noticed that it reminded me a bit of this game. And, hey presto! I’d found a hidden influence:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 4th January.

So, how can you find hidden influences on your own art style? Here are a few tips:

1) It can happen by accident: Like in the example I’ve just given, one of the easiest ways to find hidden influences on your art style is simply to wait until one of them appears. Usually, this happens when you make a painting or a drawing and then suddenly think “Hey! This reminds me of…

Sometimes this sort of thing can happen when other people see your art too. This is especially true when you show your art to people who knew you when you were younger and probably remember the things you used to read/watch/play.

Yes, sometimes your art might remind other people of things that you’ve never actually seen/read/played. This is always weird when it happens, but it’s usually because both you and the thing in question share a common inspiration or because you’ve been inspired by something that was inspired by the other thing. Either way, it’s helped you find another influence on your art that you didn’t know about.

2) Nostalgia: Another good way to find hidden influences on your art style is to be nostalgic. Look back on the things that you really enjoyed when you were younger (but only remember vaguely) and, now that you’re older, you’ll probably begin to notice some slight similarities between them and your own art.

This obviously won’t work with everything, but it can be really surprising when it happens. After all, even though you may not have been an artist at the time when you first saw these things, they’ve probably had some influence on your imagination if they impressed you enough that you still vaguely remembered them years or decades later.

The important thing to remember here is to focus on personal nostalgia (eg: things you actually remember from the time) rather than the stylised “nostalgia” that appears in the mainstream media. If you grew up in the 90s, then you probably have a slight advantage here since 90s nostalgia is only just really starting to become mainstream these days (compared to, say, 1960s-80s nostalgia).

3) Take influence/inspiration often: The best way to recognise hidden influences is simply to know how to take influence/inspiration from things. If you try to improve your art by looking at the things that impress you and working out how and why they do this (and applying those lessons to your own art), then you’re going to have a much better understanding of how inspiration and influence works.

Once you know this, then spotting “hidden” influences becomes a lot easier, for the simple reason that you know what sort of things to look for.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Hidden Influences On Your Art Style Can Lurk Anywhere!

2016 Artwork horror novel cover influences sketch

Although this is another article about finding “hidden” influences on your own art style, I’m probably going to be spending most of this article talking about another example of discovering a (really cool) hidden influence on my own art style. Since, well, it seemed cool enough to write about at length.

Anyway, I was trying to find a link to a picture of an old Clive Barker book cover online (for the description for this art post), I happened to stumble across this fascinating site called “Too Much Horror Fiction” which contains a large gallery of old horror novel cover art.

If you’ve never seen classic 1970s-90s splatterpunk cover art before, then it’s really something. Although it’s obviously often fairly gruesome (seriously, how did they get away with displaying some of these covers in shops?), it also contains a really cool artistic trick that I’ll talk about later.

But, for something that instantly evoked so much nostalgia in me, I’m surprised I’d almost forgotten about this amazing genre of art (and fiction). Back in the early-mid 2000s, when I was a teenager, I was an avid fan of splatterpunk horror fiction from the 1970s-90s.

Whenever I went into a charity shop, second-hand bookshop and/or market stall, I’d scour the shelves for any old splatterpunk novels from decades past. Needless to say, I have a lot of nostalgia for this genre and, as I’ll explain later, the cover art has had more of an influence on my art than I’d expected.

Anyway, one of the cool things about old splatterpunk novel covers is that they often focused very heavily on visual contrast. Usually, they’ll have a solid black background with only a few vivid realistic details in the foreground. This contrast between the background and the foreground really makes everything stand out a lot more and it makes these novels recognisable at a glance.

When I was looking for the Clive Barker novel cover on Google Images, I happened to see lots of other horror novel covers too and – instantly – I felt at home amongst the grinning skeletons, the grotesque monsters, the gory artwork and the vivid red and gold book titles. But, apart from a lot of good memories, seeing lots of these book covers collected together also felt familiar to me for another reason.

I suddenly realised that they were actually another “hidden influence” on my art style!

It’s true! Even when I’m not making horror-themed art, then one of my favourite things to do is to contrast a vivid foreground with a dark background – as can be seen in this decidedly non-horrific painting from an art series that I was working on at the time of writing this article:

"Awesome Architecture" By C. A. Brown

“Awesome Architecture” By C. A. Brown

The interesting thing was that I didn’t really start doing this consciously. Although most of my art is fairly gloomy, when I first really started using plain black backgrounds in some of my paintings, it was mostly as a time-saving measure for my daily paintings (since I didn’t have to draw or paint a detailed background).

Still, I thought that it looked really cool even though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I thought this, even when I made paintings like this:

"Purple Skull" By C. A. Brown

“Purple Skull” By C. A. Brown

But, all of it comes from reading lots of cool old horror novels when I was a teenager. This was a massive influence on my art style and I barely knew it until recently.

So, as I’ve said before, it can sometimes be a really eye-opening experience to look at the things that you thought were really cool when you were younger since there’s a very good chance that they’ve had some kind of influence on your art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂