Three Creative Advantages Of Not Being Totally Up To Date With Current Culture

Whilst it wouldn’t be completely accurate to say that I’m totally out of date when it comes to modern culture (eg: films, games, books etc..), I’m probably at least slightly out of date with large parts of it. Sometimes, this has been for financial or practical reasons but, over time, it’s also kind of turned into something of a choice too.

But, I’m also something of a creative person. So, you might ask, why aren’t you up to date with current culture and interacting with it? Why aren’t you keeping up with developments in comics, art, film, fiction etc..?

Well, here are some of the advantages of not being totally up to date with current culture if you’re a creative person:

1) Imagination: Simply put, being slightly out of date with current culture is good for your imagination in all sorts of ways. First of all, it means that you have to actively search for inspirations rather than just being inspired by whatever is “in” at the moment. If a topic or a genre interests you, then you have to actually go looking for things in that genre that will inspire you. This generally means that you have to have a better understanding of how your imagination works, how to take inspiration properly, your own creative sensibilities etc..

It also means that, if you are an artist or a writer, there probably won’t be as many tutorials out there for how to make things inspired by the older things that inspire you. As such, you’re going to have to work out how to do it yourself. You’re actually going to have to study the things that inspire you to see how they “work”, rather than just reading a pre-made tutorial. As such, you’ll become better at learning how to do new things – which is an essential skill for any artist, writer etc…

Secondly, hearing about things that you probably won’t watch, read, play etc.. for ages can really fire your imagination too. And, well, using your imagination regularly is great for creativity.

Thirdly, if you take most of your inspiration from slightly older things, then you either have to work out how to bring them “up to date” or how to make something original that seems like it could have come from that time period. Either way, your imagination will get more of a workout than if you just take imagination from more modern things.

2) Originality: Whilst not being totally up to date with current culture might seem like it would make your work less original (because you’re being inspired by things that lots of people have already been inspired by), the opposite is true.

Being out of date with current culture generally means that you’re more likely to have a more interesting mixture of inspirations. The more different inspirations you have, the more original your work will be. If you buy most of your DVDs, books, comics etc.. second-hand or you have a computer which can only play retro games and retro-style indie games, then these limitations will usually push you towards looking at a slightly more diverse range of things.

For example, here’s a digitally-edited painting of mine that was posted here about 1-2 weeks ago:

“The Lost Room” By C. A. Brown

The initial inspiration for this painting was a second-hand DVD of old “Jonathan Creek” episodes from the late 1990s/early 2000s. But, that wasn’t the only inspiration. Other inspirations for it probably include old episodes of “Poirot” from the 1980s/90s, “Blade Runner” , various comics from the 1980s/90s, old heavy metal album covers, this set of modern fan-made levels for a game from 1994 called “Doom II” etc..

Because there’s only a finite amount of old stuff out there (or old things within your price range), being out of date usually means that you have to look for a slightly wider range of inspirations. Which translates to more originality.

3) A different perspective: Not being 100% up to date with current culture can help to give your creative works a more unique perspective and outlook on the world. Because you aren’t being swept along with what everyone tells you that you should watch, read or play then you’re likely to look at things in a slightly different way.

A good example of this is probably the approach that an American TV show called “The West Wing” takes to political drama. During the late 1990s when it began, it was a modern, optimistic show for a more optimistic age. But, if you look at it today, it seems poignantly naive in so many ways. It’s about a million miles away from current politics on either side of the Atlantic. Yet, a modern political novel or comic inspired by this show would be absolutely hilarious. But, it’s an idea you wouldn’t have if you only watched modern political dramas.

Seeing how people viewed the world during the past can have an interesting influence on things that you create in the present. Whether it’s the bizarre mixture of optimism and cynicism that the 1990s had. Whether it’s how science fiction writers and film-makers etc.. in the 1980s viewed the future etc… Being slightly out of date with current culture can allow you to see the present day from a slightly different perspective.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Three Ways To Keep Your Imagination Strong

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If you are an artist or a writer, then your imagination is one of the most important things that you own.

Whilst you obviously still need to put the effort into practicing the skills needed for making good art or writing good fiction, you also need a strong imagination to get the most out of those skills. Having a strong imagination means that you’ll feel inspired more often, you can come up with better creative ideas and that you’ll enjoy creating things even more.

But, how can you strengthen your imagination? Here are three (of many) ways to do this:

1) Be influenced regularly: People who are new to making art and writing fiction can sometimes have the false impression that imagination should work on it’s own. That to allow anything to influence or inspire you somehow “dilutes” your imagination. This is something that I used to think a long time ago, and it is absolute nonsense! Your imagination won’t get stronger if you starve it and/or don’t let it do it’s job properly.

Although you need to know how to take inspiration properly, regularly looking at other creative works is one of the best ways to strengthen your own imagination. Not only does it show you what sorts of things are possible, but it also gives your imagination the building blocks that it needs to build new things.

It’s a bit like how learning new words can help you to express ideas that you couldn’t express before. Seeing (and thinking about) how other people have done things, seeing how different people have come up with different interpretations of the same types of stories etc… gives you a lot more ideas about how to do things your own way.

Not only that, the more influences and inspirations that you have, the more “original” your work will be. If you’re only inspired by one thing, then the things you make will probably be a second-rate imitation of that thing. However, if you’re inspired by lots of different things, then your work will be a unique mixture of many different influences.

2) Daydream: Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you probably daydream a lot anyway. Daydreaming is an essential part of creativity (and of everyday life too). But, if you really want to keep your imagination well-fed, then you need to daydream in a very specific way every now and then.

In other words, you need to find things that provoke new, complex and interesting daydreams. Generally speaking, novels, films, games, comics, pictures etc… that give you a glimpse of an interesting fictional world are probably the best things to choose.

Because these things only show you a few parts of a fascinating “world”, your imagination has to create the rest of it for you. It then has to work out what it’s like to live in that world, what sorts of things happen there etc… But, unless you’re making fan art or writing fan fiction, then you need to take this one step further.

Daydreaming about other people’s fictional worlds helps to teach your imagination how to come up with it’s own fictional worlds. It’s good practice for coming up with more original ideas. After all, once you’ve built a few “universes” from hints and glimpses that you’ve seen in films, novels etc… then building one or your own (even if it’s just for the background of a painting) won’t seem quite as daunting.

3) Ask questions: When you see something that inspires you and really fires up your imagination, then ask yourself why. Ask yourself why this one thing has inspired you so much.

If you’re not sure why, then look at the emotions it provokes in you. Look at the types of characters, settings etc… that it contains. If it’s a work of visual art, then try to work out what colour combinations it uses, what types of lighting it uses, what type of costume designs are used, what artistic techniques are used etc…

Although ‘dissecting’ the things that really get your imagination going might seem like it’s taking the “magic” out of them, this isn’t true. Knowing how and why these things are good for your imagination can help you to improve your imagination even more. But, how?

Now that you’ve worked out why something really invigorates your imagination, then try to look for other things that also contain those qualities. Eventually, try to make something that contains these qualities.

This might take a bit of research, but you’ll probably feel excited about doing the research (because, who doesn’t want to find more cool things?). But more importantly – whilst doing the research, you’ll probably begin to imagine what other things that contain these qualities look like. Needless to say, this feeling of anticipation (and all of the daydreams it provokes) are very good for your imagination.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Leaving Room To Imagine – A Ramble

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Although this is an article about creativity in general, I’m probably going to have to start by talking about computer games for a while. This is mainly because, as regular readers of this site know, I mostly play old games and/or low-budget indie games these days.

Anyway, one of the interesting things about old and low-budget games is the fact that they often don’t include “realistic” graphics. Likewise, really old-school/low-budget games sometimes don’t even include voice acting – choosing instead to use text for the dialogue. Here are some examples of the types of games I’m talking about:

This is a screenshot from "The Last Door: Season 2" (2016).

This is a screenshot from “The Last Door: Season 2” (2016). Note the use of text-based dialogue and the impressionistic graphics.

This is a screenshot from "Zombie Shooter" (2007)

This is a screenshot from “Zombie Shooter” (2007). Note the “unrealistic” graphics.

This is a screenshot from "Eradicator" (1996). Surprisingly, it is the only game of these three that actually includes voice-acting.

This is a screenshot from “Eradicator” (1996). Surprisingly, it is the only game of these three that actually includes voice-acting.

Yet, surprisingly, these games are often a lot more engrossing than more “realistic” games would be. For the most part, this is because these games don’t try to look ultra-realistic. In fact, they often leave a lot of visual details purposely or accidentally vague.

This, of course, means that not only does the player focus more on the events of the game than on the graphics, but it means that the player also has to actually use their imagination to work out what the locations are supposed to look like. These games give the player enough visual details to give them an idea of what the setting is meant to be, but it is left up to them to fill in the fine details with their own imaginations.

Likewise, the lack of voice-acting in some of these games means that it is left to the player to work out what the characters’ voices sound like. Like with reading a novel or a comic, the audience’s imaginations are probably going to come up with better voice acting than most voice-actors could probably do. After all, your own imagination is better at coming up with things that are well-suited to you than anyone else is.

In fact, comics are probably another good example of this sort of thing.

The artwork in many comics is deliberately unrealistic (for both time reasons and creative reasons). They don’t include voice-acting either. Likewise, they only show still “frames” from a movie-like series of events. And, yet, a good comic can often be more immersive and interesting than a film for the simple reason that the audience is left to imagine things like the fine details of the world, the sound of the characters’ voices etc… And, well, imagination is usually better than expensive special effects or A-list actors.

The best way to see how important leaving room for the audience to imagine things is to start by watching a film adaptation of a novel you haven’t read. Then read the original novel. I can almost guarantee that you’ll probably imagine the characters, voices, locations and events of the novel in a pretty similar way to how they looked in the film.

Now try the same thing in reverse. Read a popular novel that you enjoy, then watch the film adaptation of it (that you’ve never seen before). Chances are, the film will look at least slightly different to what you imagined when you were reading the novel. In fact, there are actually a few film adaptations that I absolutely refuse to watch, lest they ruin my imagined ideas about what the characters and/or settings of several novels look like.

So, what was the point of all of this? Well, the point is that – if you are creating something – then you need to leave room for your audience to use their imaginations. You need to give them the space to come up with their own custom interpretation of the story you are telling.

In other words, you don’t have to make the art in your comics hyper-detailed, you shouldn’t worry if your fiction never gets adapted into a film etc… The more room that your audience has to imagine things, the better.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Getting Artistically Inspired Using Places You’ve Never Visited – A Ramble

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Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about how you can use places that you’ve never actually visited as a potent source of artistic inspiration. This is probably because, the day before I wrote this article, I found myself inspired by 1990s Los Angeles/California once again.

Although the next webcomic mini series to be posted here (which will start appearing here tomorrow night) will be set there, I also made a sci-fi painting inspired by 1990s Los Angeles that will be posted here in mid-late June. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

 The full-size painting will appear here on the 22nd June.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 22nd June.

And, yet, I’ve never been to America. Although I’m not really a fan of travelling these days, when I used to travel more, I never actually travelled outside of Europe. Likewise, although I was around during the 1990s and can remember a fair amount of it, I was only a young child at the time.

Plus, I’m not a fan of hot weather or large, crowded cities in real life – so, the idea of ever actually visiting a city like Los Angeles doesn’t appeal to me. Especially considering that I can probably count the number of times that I’ve visited central London (which is apparently tiny, spacious, affordable and quaint when compared to Los Angeles) on the fingers of both hands, and I still consider that to be too many times LOL!

But, I still consider 1990s Los Angeles (and 1990s California) to be highly inspirational. Why?

Well, it probably has to do with the fact that I’ve never actually been there. It probably has to do with the fact that I’ve only ever seen imaginatively stylised depictions of 1990s Los Angeles. In fact, most of the “cool” things from when I was a kid either came from or were set in 1990s California and/or Los Angeles (eg: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, “Duke Nukem II”/”Duke Nukem 3D”, A punk band called “The Offspring” etc..).

Likewise, although it didn’t become my favourite film until I was seventeen (despite seeing it for the first time when I was fourteen), the futuristic version of 1980s Los Angeles in Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” is probably one of my largest artistic inspirations too.

A good portion of the earliest, largest and/or most nostalgic parts of my imagination belong in 1980s/1990s Los Angeles and/or California. Because I’ve never actually been there (and don’t have a time machine), a lot of this place is still an absolute mystery to me. As such, there are a lot of gaps which my imagination has to fill whenever I make anything that is set there.

If you’ve only seen a few stylised glimpses of somewhere else, then this is fertile ground for your imagination. You can take those few glimpses and use them as the basis to build something new, interesting and imaginative. The mystery will make you wonder what the rest of the place you’re thinking about looks like, and it’ll be up to you to work it out.

Yes, some people might moan about “inaccurate” or “unrealistic” depictions of real places (rather than seeing them as imaginative creative works and/or great sources of unintentional comedy), but the whole point of imagination is that it allows us to build new versions of existing things and/or to use existing things as the basis for interesting fictional things. It allows us to escape from the boring confines of our own lives.

Imagination works by taking pre-existing things and turning them into something new and interesting. And, the more “mysterious” those things are, the more room your imagination has to work it’s magic. This is why the things that you make that are set in places that you’ve never been to often end up being more fantastical and imaginative than the things set in places that you have actually been to.

Plus, of course, it’s always amusing to see when this happens in reverse and Britain (or, more commonly, just London) is depicted in things made abroad.

Amusingly, it’s often a version of London that seems to take an American attitude towards guns (eg: in a realistic version of ’24: Live Another Day’, Jack Bauer would probably quickly get arrested for even owning a pistol, let alone carrying it in public) or it’s a version of London that sometimes looks a lot like rural or urban America/Canada ( the first and second seasons of “Nikita” have a couple of great examples of this – even if they get the ridiculous number of CCTV cameras in London absolutely right).

It’s hilarious, it’s silly, but it’s a testament to the power of imagination. It’s a testament to the fact that many different versions of real places can exist in people’s imaginations. It’s an interesting example of two cultures mixing. It’s creativity!

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

One Cool Thing That Webcomics Have In Common With Prose Fiction (But Can Do Better) – A Ramble

2017 Artwork Unlimited Budget webcomics

I can’t remember exactly where I read it, but there’s a brilliant quote from the author Matthew Reilly, where he talks about the “unlimited budget” that writers have when it comes to creating special effects and using interesting locations in their fiction. Since he writes fairly Hollywood-like thriller fiction, he takes full advantage of this fact. But, this isn’t an article about writing prose fiction, it’s an article about making webcomics.

One of the coolest things about making webcomics is that they’re both a visual medium (like television and film) and yet, they have almost all of the advantages that prose fiction does (eg: they don’t require a huge team, the writer can easily control the passage of time in the story etc..).

This was something that I noticed when starting another webcomic mini series that will appear here in mid-late March. In particular, this scene made me think about Matthew Reilly’s “unlimited budget” comments.

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st March.

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st March.

The thing is, if I was to film a live-action version of this comic, I’d have had to have actually find a museum that was willing to let me film there, commission a scale model and/ or learn how to use CGI. Either way, it would be expensive and time-consuming.

However, since this was a webcomic, the most challenging part was looking up a few pictures of galleons online so that I could work out how to draw one. It took me all of ten minutes and cost me absolutely nothing. And, unlike a written description in a story, my comic actually contains a cool-looking galleon!

This is one of the reasons why webcomics are such an amazing medium, since they’re basically an expression of pure imagination. After all, when you imagine things, you probably tend to think about them using both words and images. You don’t have to translate images into words and you don’t have to worry about the of practicalities re-creating anything in real life. You just imagine.

Yes, it takes a bit of practice to be able to make art that even vaguely resembles the images in your imagination. But, once you’ve learnt the basics (eg: how to work out how to draw things you didn’t know how to draw before), then webcomics are one of the best ways to directly transfer the contents of your imagination onto the page (or the screen).

In addition to this, one advantage that webcomics have over mediums like film and literature is the fact that you are in total control of how everything is presented. If you want to give your webcomic a more “realistic” look (if you’ve had enough practice) then you can. However, if you want to use a more unrealistic art style in order to compliment the kinds of stories and/or jokes that you are telling, then you can also do this too.

Plus, if you post your comics online (hence why I’ve been talking about “webcomics”, rather than just “comics”) you also have a lot more control over the size and format of the comics that you make (eg: some of the most creative examples of this can be found in an excellent webcomic called “Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree).

The worldwide distribution costs of your webcomic can be anything from nothing to very little. Again, this is another reason why webcomics can do more than any other medium – with only a fraction of the budget and/or no budget.

You can also do things like adding animations to your comics too (I haven’t done this with any of my more recent comics but, with the right skills and a few basic programs, it’s certainly possible to turn a comic update into an animated gif).

Because of all of this additional flexibility, webcomics are able to do all sorts of things that would require a significant budget in various other mediums.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Art Is Like Augmented Reality – A Ramble

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Although this is a very short (and rambling) article about art, I’m going to have to start by talking about technology and gaming for a little while. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Last summer, augmented reality seemed to be all over the news thanks to a Pokemon-themed game that was released for *ugh* smartphones. Leaving aside the obvious point about how Pokemon games are best experienced on an original Game Boy between the years of 1997-2000, I thought that I’d talk about augmented reality since it has some surprising similarities to the creative processes involved in making art.

The first thing to point out is that augmented reality is hardly a new technology. I mean, I remember seeing a demonstration of an earlier version of it in a French amusement park (called “Futuroscope) that I visited during a holiday about nine years ago. But, thanks to the smartphone infestation that the modern world is currently suffering from, augmented reality is a lot more widespread and well-known than it used to be.

And, yet, the basic idea behind it is older than the telephone. In fact, it might even be older than the printing press.

At it’s core, augmented reality is just a new way of superimposing imagined images onto real locations. This is something that artists have been doing in one way or another for as long as art has existed. In fact, being able to do this is one of the many cool things about being an artist.

In fact, there’s even a term for it – “artistic licence“. This is where you alter a realistic location in order to make it more visually interesting. This can be as simple as giving a well-known building more prominence in a painting (than it has in real life) or changing the weather slightly. Or it can involve extensive changes to the composition, layout, colour scheme, background etc… It can be very subtle or it can be very obvious.

Augmented reality is just a modern (and limited) technological version of the way that artists have played with reality for years. In fact, it’s just a logical extension of the way that all of our imaginations shape the way that we think about the world.

To give you a personal example of what I’m talking about, I’m a massive fan of the movie “Blade Runner“. Whenever I see a cityscape at night, I can’t help but mentally add a few futuristic buildings, oil towers, flying cars etc… to it in a way that is slightly inspired by the film’s dramatic opening shots.

Naturally, I’ve made at least one digitally-edited painting inspired by this experience (based on my memories seeing Portsmouth from the top of Portsdown Hill at night).

"Portsdown Hill Cyberpunk" By C. A. Brown

“Portsdown Hill Cyberpunk” By C. A. Brown

This sort of thing can even happen sometimes when I see something interesting at night, like this digitally-edited painting I made of some roadworks in Havant quite a while ago:

"Havant Roadworks, In Imagination And Memory" By C. A. Brown

“Havant Roadworks, In Imagination And Memory” By C. A. Brown

I’m sure that there’s probably something in the world which prompts a similar type of imaginative reaction in you. Your imagination shapes how you see and think about the world in more ways than you might think.

In fact, I’d argue that this is perhaps one of the reasons why augmented reality is such a popular thing now that the technology exists (albeit in annoying smarphone form) for it to be used widely. It’s a mirror of the things that artists etc.. have been doing for centuries beforehand.

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Sorry about the short article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂

Three Strange Tips For Improving Your Backgrounds If You Paint Or Draw From Imagination

2017 Artwork Improving backgrounds article sketch

Painting or drawing interesting backgrounds is fairly easy if you’re drawing from life or painting from photographs. After all, all you have to do is to copy what is right in front of you. However, if you’re painting or drawing from imagination, then coming up with interesting background locations for your artworks can be significantly more challenging.

So, I thought that I’d offer you a few unusual tips that might help you to think of more interesting background designs.

1) Play a lot of 3D computer games: This may sound counter-intuitive, but playing a lot of 3D computer games (particularly those that don’t use hyper-realistic modern graphics) can give you a greater understanding of how three-dimensional spaces “work” in a way that you won’t get by looking at rooms, buildings etc.. in real life.

Or, more accurately, it will change how you think about the three-dimensional locations in your own art.

After all, although the locations in a computer game might be three-dimensional, you are seeing them on a two-dimensional computer screen. Since your drawing or painting will also involve turning an imagined 3D location into a 2D image, repeatedly seeing a fully interactive version of this process can help you to think about your location design in a slightly different way.

Likewise, exploring a 3D area in a computer game (with the full knowledge that it’s been artificially-constructed, and that you can spend as long as you like looking at it) will mean that you’ll start to get a sense of a location as a whole. This is kind of hard to describe, but thinking of your imagined locations in a holistic way (as if you have a 3D model of them in your mind) can seriously improve the design of the backgrounds in your art.

2) Layering and verticality: Before I go any further, I’m going to show you a reduced-size preview of a painting that I’ll be posting here in full later this month, see if you can spot one of the ways that I added more visual appeal and visual interest to this picture.

The full size version of this picture will be posted later this month. But, see if you can spot how I made this picture more interesting.

The full size version of this picture will be posted later this month. But, see if you can spot how I made this picture more interesting.

In case you didn’t spot it, the picture contains two vertical levels. There’s a balcony/ staircase on the far right of the picture and a street in the middle part of the bottom of the picture. Here’s a highlighted version of the preview to show you what I mean.

 The upper level (on the far-right of the picture) is highlighted blue and the lower level (at the bottom of the picture) is highlighted green

The upper level (on the far-right of the picture) is highlighted blue and the lower level (at the bottom of the picture) is highlighted green

One of the simplest ways to cram more interesting visual detail into your art is simply to include more than one vertical “level” in it. Include balconies, windows that overlook streets, shelves filled with interesting objects etc…..

Obviously, this works best in large, expansive outdoor areas – but it’s certainly something worth thinking about if you want your backgrounds to look more interesting.

3) NPCs: If you aren’t familiar with computer gaming jargon, “NPC” stands for “Non-Player Character”. In other words, it’s a geeky-sounding term for the people in the background. If you’re making art fairly quickly or are focusing entirely on the foreground, then it can often be easy to just draw a few generic, undetailed people in the background.

However, if you have a bit more time and if you think a bit more carefully, then you can add a lot of visual storytelling, humour, visual interest etc… to your background by showing the background characters doing all sorts of intriguing things.

Here are two examples, which will include close-ups of the relevant background details.

Here’s the first example:

This is a reduced-size preview of another painting of mine. I'll include a close-up of one of the people in the background.

This is a reduced-size preview of another painting of mine. I’ll include a close-up of one of the people in the background.

This is a close-up of the mid-background. As you can see, there's a "point and click" game protagonist in the foreground (trying to combine a pirate hat and a feather, presumably for some obscure puzzle) and someone walking a dog in the distant background. A pirate's skull sits menacingly at the bottom of the picture.

This is a close-up of the mid-background. As you can see, there’s a “point and click” game protagonist in the foreground (trying to combine a pirate hat and a feather, presumably for some obscure puzzle) and someone walking a dog in the distant background. A pirate’s skull sits menacingly at the bottom of the picture.

And here’s the second example:

Here's yet another small art preview. Now, let's take a look at the mid-background...

Here’s yet another small art preview. Now, let’s take a look at the mid-background…

Two "film noir" detectives in trenchcoats stand over a dead body. One of them is smirking, as if he's just made a tasteless joke. The other detective glares at him sternly.

Two “film noir” detectives in trenchcoats stand over a dead body. One of them is smirking, as if he’s just made a tasteless joke. The other detective glares at him sternly.

So, if you do something a bit strange or interesting with the characters in the background, then you can instantly make the background of your drawing or painting significantly more interesting.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂