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 🙂

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The Importance Of Having Multiple Inspirations – A Ramble

Well, although I’ve talked before about how having multiple sources of inspiration will actually make your art, comics, fiction etc… more original, I thought that I’d give an example of this in action today.

But, before I start, I should probably point out that there’s a difference between taking inspiration and copying – this article will tell you more about it.

Anyway, here’s a reduced-size preview of a digitally-edited painting that will appear here in early February:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 7th February.

Although I messed up a few parts of this painting (like the lighting), it was one of the most inspired paintings that I’d made within a few days. It’s also a good example of how multiple inspirations can help you to make your art more original.

The initial inspiration for this painting was listening to “This Time Imperfect” by AFI. This is a gothic/emo punk song that is hidden on one of their albums and it’s the kind of epic thing that demands to be listened to multiple times. Needless to say, listening to this song put me in the mood for making gothic art.

The next inspiration was, as you may have guessed, Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” webcomic. After re-reading more of this comic, I wanted to make some detailed art, set in a city, that featured something slightly strange (hence the bizarre statue in the centre of the painting).

As for the background, there were at least three inspirations. The first was the music video for a song called “Black Rain” by Creeper, which features lots of old buildings and cool purple lighting.

In addition to this, I also took a little bit of inspiration from the gloomy, dark fantasy atmosphere of both a classic gothic horror computer game called “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” and a vampire-themed puzzle game called “Blood & Ruby“. Continuing the theme of computer games, my approach to using colour in this painting (and many of my paintings over the past year) was inspired by the use of multiple complementary colour pairs in this set of “Doom II” levels.

Yet, the final painting is diferent from each of these inspirations.

Even though many of my inspirations were in the same genre, having multiple inspirations meant that I could make something that reminded me of lots of cool stuff whilst also being different enough from each inspiration to be an original piece of art.

Multiple inspirations are important for so many reasons. But, most importantly, having several inspirations will mean that the narrative style and/or the “look” of whatever you create will be a lot more distinctive for the simple reason that it won’t be a thinly-disguised copy of any one thing. It’ll be a mixture of generic elements from different things that have been filtered through your own imagination and interpreted in your own way. This one of the main ways that you can either develop or refine your own art style and/or writing style.

The easiest way to find multiple inspirations is simply to look for them. If you like something, then look for other things that are like it. Look for the things that inspired it. Then, look for something else that you really like too. And so on… Eventually, over time, you’ll build up a “library” of inspirations.

But, remember, the more inspirations you have, the more original your creative works will be.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Some Thoughts About Indirect Influences – A Ramble

Even though this is an article about making art, making comics and/or writing fiction, I’m going to have to start by talking briefly about music and about a celebrity death that happened earlier this year. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

As regular readers of this site know, I write these articles ridiculously far in advance. As such, the morning before I wrote the first draft of this article, I read the news that Chuck Berry had died. Although I’d only heard a few of his songs before, I suddenly realised that all of the heavy metal and punk songs on the playlist that I was listening to at the time probably wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Chuck Berry either inventing or popularising rock and roll during the 1950s.

This, of course, made me think about the whole subject of indirect influence. Since I’m guessing that many of the metal and punk bands I was listening to probably weren’t directly inspired by Chuck Berry (eg: many of the bands I was listening to were formed during the 1980s and 1990s, when 1950s rock and roll was probably seen as laughably old fashioned). Yet, the bands that inspired those bands were probably either inspired by Chuck Berry or inspired by another musician who was.

So, this made me think about indirect influences and how fascinating they are.

If you create anything, then there’s a good chance that you probably have a few indirect influences that you don’t even know about. After all, something or someone probably inspired you to become an artist and/or a writer. Likewise, the types of stories you like to tell, the types of paintings you make etc.. were probably inspired by an interesting mixture of cool things that you’ve encountered throughout your life.

Every creative person has influences. And this is just as true for the creative works that influenced you. So, there could be a huge number of indirect influences that you might not even know about. But, why should you be interested in this subject?

The first reason is for pure enjoyment. Not only might looking at what influenced the people who influenced you help you to discover new things that are at least vaguely similar to the things you like.

But, even if you don’t like these things, then you’ll be able to see how they turned those things into something that you actually enjoy. At the very least, this will show you the importance of having a good imagination and a wide range of influences. Plus, you’ll also have an even greater appreciation of your favourite movies, novels, comics, games etc.. too if you know what inspired them.

The second reason to search for indirect influences on your creative work is because they can help you to improve your own art, comics and/or fiction. If you look at the same things that influenced your favourite writers and artists, then there’s a good chance that you might end up seeing those old influences in a slightly different way. You might take inspiration from parts of them that your favourite creative people didn’t. So, you might end up creating something that is still reminiscient of your favourite things, but is even more unique.

Finally, the other reason is because it’s absolutely fascinating. Doesn’t the idea that there are people throughout history who have influenced and shaped the things you make right now without you even knowing it fill you with curiosity?

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

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 🙂

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 🙂