One Clever Way To Make Minimalist Art Interesting (With An Example)

Well, I thought that I’d talk about the best way to make interesting minimalist art today. This is mostly because, due to tiredness, the 1920s-50s style “film noir” drawing that will appear here in a little under a week ended up being a lot more minimalist than I’d expected. Here’s a preview of it:

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

Anyway, one of the most important ways to make minimalist art look interesting is to imply things that aren’t directly shown. Whether this is done through things like shadows, facial expressions, outlines, silhouettes, background details etc… the best way to make minimalist art interesting is to hint at lots of stuff that isn’t directly shown in your drawing or painting.

But, how does this work in practice?

First of all, the presence of a large dark room in the foreground is implied by a few silhouettes and outlines (eg: in the bottom left corner and top edge of the window). The room also gains some depth because the smoke disappears behind one of these silhouettes. The drawing’s composition also helps to add scale to the unseen room, via the size and position of the window.

The historical setting of the picture is implied through the “film noir” style outfit the man in the background is wearing, the fact that the picture is in black & white and a few angular lines that are reminiscent of the woodcut print art in the “wordless novels” of the 1920s.

In addition to this, art involving windows usually shows people looking out of windows. So, by placing a bright sunlit scene behind the window, I was able to turn this on it’s head and add an ominous atmosphere to the drawing (almost as if something is lurking inside the room). The unlit neon signs of a casino and a nightclub in the bright background also help to add to the eerie atmosphere too.

Finally, both people in the drawing stare into the room with amused curiosity, implying the presence of something that the viewer can’t see. Yet, their expressions are ambiguous enough that they might actually be looking at each other, implying that they are also a couple.

Learning how to imply more than you actually show takes practice and it isn’t something that you’ll learn overnight. Even so, you’ve probably seen a lot more examples of it than you think. But, some good things to study if you want to learn how to do this sort of thing include stuff like online videos about film theory, old survival horror videogames, graphic novels etc…

But the thing to remember about making interesting minimalist art is that, if possible, every detail in the picture should matter. Every detail should tell the viewer something about what they are seeing. And, even more importantly, what they aren’t seeing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Implication In The Horror Genre – A Ramble

Well, I hadn’t planned to write about the horror genre but, the night before I wrote this article, I had a disturbing nightmare that made me think about this genre.

Although I won’t describe the nightmare in too much detail (since, amongst other things, I hope to have forgotten the exact details of it by the time this article goes out), it was a dream where nothing disgusting, disturbing or repulsive was directly shown to me. Yet, I still woke up in a very freaked out mood.

This, naturally, made me think about the role of implication in the horror genre. It’s a well-known fact that the audience’s imaginations will always conjure up worse horrors than anything that a writer or film-maker can directly show. But, I thought that I’d look at why this happens and why it sometimes doesn’t.

Simply put, implying a horrific event in a horror movie, novel or comic reduces it to the level of an idea.

If that idea, in and of itself, is especially disturbing, grotesque, unusual and/or horrific, then the implication of it will be too. This is why, for example, a horror movie like “The Human Centipede” can generate controversy, shock and notoriety despite containing very little gory detail. Yet, something like a zombie movie barely raises an eyebrow because.. well.. everyone knows what the “idea” behind a zombie movie is.

By reducing something to an idea, it becomes especially disturbing for the simple reason that ideas demand to be interpreted in unique ways. There’s a reason why, for example, copyright law doesn’t protect ideas. If ideas could be copyrighted, most creative works wouldn’t exist. Two people’s imaginations can do radically different things with the same basic idea.

So, by giving the audience an idea, an author or director forces the audience to interpret it in their own way. It forces the audience to actually think about the subject in question. This also means that the horror lingers for much longer because it’s easier to start thinking about something than it is to stop thinking about something.

The author or director is also important for another reason too. In short, the audience expects horror writers and horror directors to be brave and fearless souls who have the courage to imagine a plethora of disturbing events in order to turn them into something that will shock and scare the audience. So, if even the director or the writer start shying away from directly showing something, then it has to be especially disturbing…

Likewise, the most disturbing scenes in horror movies and/or novels are the ones where you find yourself thinking “Oh my god! Someone actually had to think of that!”. If an idea is horrific or disturbing enough to elicit this kind of reaction, then the audience is going to react in this way regardless of the level of visual or descriptive detail.

The “Saw” films are a great cinematic example of this type of horror, where the characters are frequently placed in impossible “catch-22” situations which always result in death or injury for someone. But, as the final episode of season four of the BBC’s “Sherlock” showed, this type of horror doesn’t have to be gruesome to disturb audiences. The basic idea behind both things is the most disturbing part. For every diabolical contraption or impossible dilemma shown in either these films or that episode of “Sherlock”, someone actually had to come up with that idea.

So, yes, implication is especially disturbing in the horror genre because it relies on ideas. If the idea is disturbing, then it will be disturbing regardless of the level of visual or descriptive detail.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Leaving Room To Imagine – A Ramble

2017-artwork-audience-using-imagination-article-sketch

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 🙂

Three Reasons Why Comics And Novels Sometimes Leave Things “Offscreen”

2015 Artwork Offscreen article sketch

One of the great things about both comics and prose fiction is that, in Europe and America at least, there’s no censorship. Unlike films – which usually have to get the approval of a censorship board before they’re released – we thankfully allow our authors and comic writers their full right to freedom of expression.

Yet, at the same time, if you’ve read enough comics and novels – you’ll know that some of them use exactly the same kinds of tricks that film-makers do to get stuff past the censors. In other words, they sometimes leave things “offscreen” and imply that events have happened, without actually showing them.

For example, many TV shows will depict gruesome deaths by just showing blood spattering onto a wall or a window, without actually showing the gruesome death itself. Likewise, the classic literary example of this sort of thing is of a writer “closing the bedroom door” just before two characters spend a passionate night together

Anyway, since censorship isn’t really an issue for writers and comic creators, I thought that I’d look at three of the most obvious reasons why this sort of thing turns up in books and comics:

1) Realism: It’s a fact that, in real life, we’ll thankfully only hear about a lot more horrific or romantic events than we’ll ever actually directly see or experience. Thankfully, real life is a very uneventful thing.

I mean, unless you’re an extremely unlucky person – even if you only watch the news on TV once, then you’ll have heard about more horrific events second-hand than you’ll ever actually experience in your whole life.

Likewise, although you’ll probably have a few romantic encounters in your life, you’ll probably hear far more other people talking about their love lives (or about other people’s love lives).

So, although fictional characters’ lives should obviously be more dramatic than most people’s real lives are – it’s only realistic that they’re probably will hear about more things second-hand than they will actually see or experience.

2) Complexity: Generally speaking, certain things are more difficult to write and/or draw well than other things. Sex and death may well be the two things that fuel all forms of creativity, but both things can be surprisingly difficult to describe or depict in a compelling or realistic way.

So, if a writer knows that they’re laughably bad at writing about one of these things, it’s often better to just imply that it’s happened than it is to write a clumsily-written scene that will make your audience either laugh or cringe.

The same thing is true for art too. It’s a fact that some things are easier to draw than others – scenes involving, say, gruesome violence, require an artist to know how to realistically draw people in a variety of different positions (eg: swinging an axe, firing a gun etc…). Plus, for example, an artist also has to know the right amount of blood to add to the violent scene (and, yes, less is often more when it comes to including blood in comics and artwork).

In other words, if you don’t have the abilities to do the scene in question justice, then it’s often better to just leave most of it “offscreen”.

3) Imagination: Generally speaking, if you don’t show something in a story or a comic, then your audience’s imaginations will have to “fill the gap”. There’s a good chance that your audience’s imaginations will come up with far more graphic images than the ones you were probably thinking of when you were writing your novel or comic.

In other words, sometimes leaving things “offscreen” can be a way to make them more horrific or erotic. After all, if you just hint that – say- two extremely attractive characters spent a passionate night together, then your audience is going to have to imagine what it looked like. Chances are, they’re probably going to embellish it a bit because, well, it’s a fun thing to imagine.

Likewise, if you leave some of the most horrific parts of your horror story to your audience’s imaginations, then they’re probably going to assume that – since it looks like it was too shocking for you to write about- that it’s probably about ten times worse than what you actually imagined. And, since it’s hard not to imagine horrific things after they’ve been vaguely described to you, your audience’s minds are probably going to be filled with far more horrific images than you could ever create yourself.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂