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 🙂

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

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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 🙂

Four Reasons Why Artists Don’t Always List Their Inspirations

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If you make art, then literally all of your art has been influenced or inspired by something you’ve seen, read, watched or played. Although there is a clear difference between legitimate inspiration/influence and lazy uncreative plagiarism, there’s literally no such thing as a “100% original” work of art.

This is mostly because being influenced by other things is an integral part of the learning process and because creativity itself works by combining, altering and/or extrapolating from pre-existing things. It is quite literally impossible to make a work of art that isn’t at least mildly inspired by or influenced by something else.

Of course, this is something that many people don’t realise for the simple reason that artists don’t always state their influences (nor should we be compelled to do this). So, I thought that I’d look at some of the many reasons why this happens.

1) There are too many: One reason is that, if you’ve been making art for a while and have developed your own distinctive art style, aesthetic etc… then there’s a good chance that a lot of things have gone into this. Although it’s impossible to create a “100% original” work of art, the more inspirations and influences you have, the more distinctive and/or unique your work will look.

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a digitally-edited painting that I made on a mildly uninspired day after 4-5 years of regular art practice.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 3rd July.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 3rd July.

The influences and inspirations for this one painting include the roaring twenties, the film noir genre, a game called “The Blackwell Epiphany“, the first season of “Boardwalk Empire“, a film called “Blade Runner“, various English and Welsh seaside towns, films shown in letterboxed widescreen, the use of colours in a set of “Doom II” levels called “Ancient Aliens”, a computer game called “Deus Ex“, Derek Riggs’ cover art for various Iron Maiden albums from the 1980s etc… I could go on for a while.

I mean, if you go back far enough, even “South Park” and “Pepper Ann” (two of the earliest influences on my art style from long before I started practicing art regularly) are probably a mild influence on some parts of the drawing style of this painting.

If you’ve been making art for a while, then you’re hopefully going to have a fairly hefty list of inspirations and influences. And, well, trying to remember, think of and list all of them for literally every piece of art you make can sometimes be borderline impossible.

2) Inspirations aren’t everything: One reason why lists of artists’ inspirations are so fascinating is because it’s easy to see them as a “recipe” of sorts. It’s easy to think that if you look at all of the things that have inspired an artist that you like, then you’ll be able to create things just like they have. But, inspirations aren’t cookery ingredients and a painting isn’t a soufflé.

Even if two artists have exactly the same inspirations, their art is probably going to look at least slightly different. Why? Because those two artists are different people with different imaginations.

Since it’s probably my largest inspiration, I’ll use the film “Blade Runner” as an example. One artist might look at this film and see cool-looking lighting, Aztec-influenced architecture, dense futuristic cityscapes filled with angular buildings etc…

However, another artist might look at this film and see elements from the film noir genre like old American buildings, 1940s-inspired fashions, rainy weather etc…

Both artists have had the same inspiration, but their art will probably look vastly different. This is because what the artist does with their inspirations is often more important than the inspirations themselves.

3) Misconceptions about copyright: Although I could write an entire article about copyright reform, there are a lot of popular misconceptions about copyright and originality out there. I’m not a copyright lawyer, but even a bit of basic research on the subject will show you that even heavy inspiration is permitted, even encouraged – provided that no highly specific details (eg: exact character designs etc..) are copied.

In essence, ideas and generic visual elements from anything cannot be copyrighted. For example, the concept of “a trenchcoat-wearing detective in a busy, rainy, neon-lit futuristic city” cannot be copyrighted. Anyone can make art that is based on this idea, because no-one can own an idea. However, the exact details of individual frames from the movie “Blade Runner” can be copyrighted because they are one highly-specific interpretation of that particular idea.

This is why many people can make the claim that copyright encourages creativity – because, if you see something that you like, you have to break it down into it’s general ideas and non-specific general visual elements (eg: lighting, colour schemes, architecture types, fashion types etc..) and then create something new using those basic elements. You can’t just directly copy the exact details of thing that has inspired you.

4) Letting a work stand on it’s own merits: If you are relatively new to making art and you list your influences, then there’s a chance that people may make comparisons between your work and the things made by more experienced artists, filmmakers, comic makers etc… that have inspired you.

Not listing your inspirations can sometimes be a way to ensure that your work is judged on it’s own merits. Yes, some people might work out what inspired you, but they’ll probably only do this after they’ve had a chance to see your work on it’s own.

Yes, anyone who knows anything about how art, imagination etc.. works won’t judge a piece of art based on it’s inspirations. After all, everyone is “standing on the shoulders of giants”. But, it can be easy to worry about this sort of thing if you’re new to making art. However, if you are worrying about it, then it’s probably a sign that you need to find more inspirations (since the more inspirations you have, the less your artwork will remind people of any one thing).

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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 🙂

Some Thoughts About Creative Role Models

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If you’re an artist (or a writer, musician etc..), then you probably have your fair share of creative role models. These are prominent artists, writers etc.. whose works have impressed you so much that you secretly wish that you could be just like them – or, more accurately, make stuff like the things that they make.

We all have our role models and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, having role models is often the motivation that you need in order to practice writing or making art on a regular basis. Wanting to be like the people who inspire you is an essential part of creating things.

However, the important thing to remember here is to have lots of role models. Try to have as many as you can find.

If you just try to be like one person who has really inspired you, then you’ll never produce unique or interesting things. You’ll never become someone who might, one day, end up inspiring someone else. Why? Because you’ll be an inferior copy of your favourite writer or artist.

But, if you try to be as much like a combination of different people as possible then your art or fiction will still end up becoming something slightly unique or different. You’ll be your own unique mixture of the artists, writers etc… who inspired you.

Yes, it’s ok to be heavily influenced or inspired by someone or something – for example, I’d be lying if I said that the gothic cyberpunk art series that I’m working on at the time of writing this article wasn’t initially inspired by “Blade Runner” (my favourite movie). Here’s an example:

"Screen Glow" By C. A. Brown

“Screen Glow” By C. A. Brown

On the other hand, this painting has also been shaped by quite a few other influences of mine too.

The art style that I use has been shaped by the creators of many of my favourite cartoons and comics. The lighting and colour scheme in this picture has also been influenced by album covers, film posters and horror novel covers that have impressed me over the years.

The choice to draw two characters chilling out and laughing was more influenced by the many webcomics and comic books I’ve read than the more sombre character interactions in “Blade Runner”. In other words, although this picture was inspired by “Blade Runner”, it’s not a carbon copy of “Blade Runner”.

If you have a lot of different role models, then even if you try to produce something in the style of just one of them then influences from your other role models will probably creep into what you create. This means that you’ll still end up creating something new, unique and distinctively yours.

Here’s another example of a picture from this series. My original inspiration for this picture was this wonderfully atmospheric scene from the 1997 computer game adaptation of “Blade Runner”. Here’s an example:

"Balcony Moments" By C. A. Brown

“Balcony Moments” By C. A. Brown

Yet, when it came to actually making this painting, it actually ended up being more influenced by a lot of other things.

It was influenced by art deco artwork, it was influenced by 1980s artwork and it was influenced by several sci-fi/ horror computer games from the 1990s that I’ve played. If you compare it to the footage I linked to earlier, you’ll see that it looks extremely different.

So, if you hope to eventually become someone who is even a fraction as cool, unique, distinctive and interesting as the people who have inspired you – then you need to have lots of influences and lots of different role models. After all, the people who inspired you also had lots of different influences too.

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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 🙂

Some Thoughts About Formative Artistic and Literary Influences

2015 Artwork Formative influences replacement sketch

Although this is an article about art and writing, I’m going to have to start by talking about music and computer games. As usual, there’s (sort of) a reason for this.

Back in early-mid September, I was in a fairly nostalgic mood. Or, rather, I was in a more nostalgic mood than I normally am. Iron Maiden’s new album had come out and I was also enthusiastically re-listening to all of their old stuff again too. Seriously, the history of quite a bit of my life can easily be set to a soundtrack consisting almost entirely of songs by either Iron Maiden or The Offspring.

Not only that, I had also started re-playing “Final Doom” using the “Doom Retro” source port (rather than the modern one that I normally use) just so that I could play the game in vaguely the same way I did when I was a teenager – with low-resolution graphics and keyboard-only controls 🙂 So, yes, I was in a nostalgic mood.

Anyway, this nostalgic mood made me think about formative creative influences – since we all have novels, movies, works of art, computer games etc…. that shape what we consider a “great” or “cool” creative work to be. These are things that have had such an impact on our imaginations that they become the things that we strive towards whenever we write or make art.

Whether it’s the gloomy futuristic aesthetic of a movie like “Blade Runner“. Whether it’s the richly gothic aesthetic of “American McGee’s Alice“, whether it’s the fast-paced descriptions and cynical narrative voices used in novels like “Neuromancer” by William Gibson or “Crooked Little Vein” by Warren Ellis, whether it’s the cynical humour in a movie like “Heathers” or whether it’s the awesome cover art for most of Iron Maiden’s albums, we all have things that shape our view of what something “cool” looks like.

Since we’re all unique people, your own personal “mix” of things that define what you strive towards creatively will probably differ slightly from everyone else’s. This is, incidentally, one of the major ways that writer’s develop their own unique narrative “voice” and one of the major ways that artists can find parts of their own unique “style”.

But, you know what the really interesting thing about these “formative influences” is? They have formative influences too.

It can be very easy to think of your favourite novels, artworks, movies, games etc… as being unique and timeless things that were created by geniuses during a part of history that no longer exists. But, without fail, the people who created these things were all striving towards creating stuff that was as good as, or better than, their favourite things.

So, if you think that you will never create something as great as the things that have influenced you, just remember that the people who made those things probably also secretly worried that they weren’t able to create something as great as the things that influenced them.

In other words, we are all “standing on the shoulders of giants”.

Sometimes we get to choose which giants’ shoulders we stand upon and sometimes they choose us. But, because there’s usually more than one of them, we can possibly eventually end up producing something which – whilst it might not be better than any one of our influences – is still something that is very close to our own definition of “greatness”.

And, yes, these can often be the things that other writers and artists in the future will one day end up striving towards.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂