Two Quick Tips For When Your Artistic Enthusiasm Runs Low

Although I’ve probably talked about this topic more times than I can remember, I thought that I’d take another look at the subject of artistic enthusiasm. This is mostly because I’ve had a somewhat variable level of artistic enthusiasm over the past month or so (due to being busy with various things, feeling uninspired occasionally etc..).

So, I thought that I’d give a couple of quick tips about what to do with your artistic enthusiasm is running low.

1) Find an inspiration: This can be a little bit of a challenge to get right, but finding a topic that really fascinates and inspires you can be one way to regain some of your enthusiasm for making art. If you’re unsure about how to take inspiration properly, then check out this article.

For example, I got over a brief period of unenthusiasm-based artist’s block earlier this month when I happened to find some fascinating Youtube footage of abandoned and semi-abandoned shopping centres in America.

Thanks to the combination of opulent 1980s/90s-style architecture, the eerie nature of the videos and the retro nostalgia, this was a subject that I found fascinating enough that I wanted to explore it in my art. This, of course, led to a highly-inspired art series that included digitally-edited paintings like these:

“The Forgotten Food Court” By C. A. Brown

“In The Ruins” By C. A. Brown

So, randomly trawling the internet for topics that seem interesting in some way can be one way to rekindle your artistic enthusiasm. The trick is, of course, to find a subject that fascinates you, but which you don’t know a gigantic amount about – since the feeling of curiosity that this evokes can propel you into wanting to explore a topic via making art about it.

2) Do something easier: This one is a little bit of a double-edged sword, but finding some way to make your art easier to make can either help to rekindle your enthusiasm (by making your art feel more spontaneous to make) or it can help you to keep producing art until you feel enthusiastic again. The thing is not to get too used to making art the easy way, since this can make getting back into making “proper” art a bit more challenging.

For example, due to being busy with various other things, I didn’t have as much time or enthusiasm left for some of this month’s art and/or comics. So, one way that I’ve found to make the experience easier is simply to switch to making monochrome art (hopefully just for 8-10 days). It looks a bit like this:

“The Gloomy Study” By C. A. Brown


Although it can take a bit of practice to learn how to make monochrome art, once you’ve learnt it – then it’s easier to make than “ordinary” colour artwork. So, it’s one of many ways to make art a bit more easily when my enthusiasm is running low.

Of course, every artist finds some types of art easier to make than others. So, there’s no “one size fits all” advice when it comes to finding an easier type of art to make when you’re feeling less enthusiastic. But, if you’ve tried a few different types of art and you know where your strengths lie, then temporarily making an “easier” type of art can be a way to rekindle your enthusiasm and/or buy time until you feel enthusiastic again.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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One Benefit Of Creative Limitations

Well, I thought that I’d talk about one interesting benefit of creative limitations. Whether these are self-imposed limitations, external limitations or a mixture of the two – one interesting thing about creative limitations is that they can help you to become more efficient at creating things.

At first, a limitation can be a puzzle-like challenge but, after a while, you’ll solve the puzzle and you will probably become more efficient at writing, creating art etc… as a result.

For example, here’s a preview of one of my upcoming digitally-edited paintings:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 17th August.

For at least a year before I made this painting, I’ve been using a pre-defined limited palette of watercolour pencils (eg: yellow, red, blue, light green, purple and grey/black pencils) for the non-digital component of my paintings.

Although it took me a little while to get used to this palette, I’d already had a bit of a headstart since I’d experimented with monochrome art occasionally since late 2014 or so.

Monochrome art is a bit of a challenge, since it forces you to look at the picture as a whole and to not only get a good balance of dark, light and shaded areas – but also to make sure that no two dark, light or shaded areas are next to each other (so that everything stands out more).

“Aberystwyth – Haunted Hill” By C. A. Brown [2015]

“Berlin Noir” By C. A. Brown [2014]

Once you’ve learnt these principles through practice, failure and observing how things like manga etc.. use monochrome art – then using a limited palette is a lot easier. But, one of the interesting things about making monochrome art for a while and then switching back to colour art is that suddenly the process of choosing colours seems complicated and/or time-consuming.

Once you’ve got used to it, having a limited range of colours (even just black & white) available means that you devote all of the time and energy you’d usually spend choosing colours to working out where to place those colours. In other words, you’ll have more time and energy available to work out how to use colour in an interesting and visually-appealing way. So, your creative process is more efficient as a result.

Likewise, the painting I showed you at the beginning of the article had something of a time limit too. One of the things about making daily art is that you obviously can’t spend weeks or months on a single picture. In fact, you might only have a couple of hours at most. But, having this time limit can force you to be creative in all sorts of subtle ways.

For example, to save time, I have a standard size for most of my paintings (18x 18cm, with 1.5cm black “letterboxing” bars at the top and bottom). This is a size that I developed through several years of trial and error, since it is the best balance between making a painting that is large enough to be detailed – but small enough to make quickly. Plus, not having to worry about choosing a size or format for my paintings means that I can devote more time to actually drawing and painting.

The 1.5cm black “letterboxing” bars at the top and bottom of each painting were originally a stylistic thing (since it makes my paintings look like a frame from a film) but I also realised that they saved time too(since I only had to fill a 15×18 cm area with art).

Plus, the black “letterboxing” bars also helped to add more visual contrast to my art too – by making any colours in the art seem bolder by comparison. Again, this limitation has made my art more efficient because…

…It also helps me to follow my “ at least 30-50% of the total surface area of each painting must be covered with black paint” rule too.

Again, following this rule was a little bit of a challenge at first. But, once I got used to it, it allowed me to create visually striking pictures relatively easily and to still make art when I was rushed/uninspired (by increasing the amount of darkness). Plus, if I want a challenge, I can try to apply the rule to paintings of non-gloomy locations too:

“Death Takes A Holiday” By C. A. Brown

In addition to all of this, the painting near the beginning of this article is part of a series of paintings set in abandoned shopping centres. Although finding inspiring ideas for art series can be a bit of a challenge, I’ve often found that the limitation of a themed series actually makes me feel more inspired.

Why? Because I already know what type of painting I have to make, which makes me feel more confident. The only challenge is working out how to do something new and different with a pre-chosen theme. But, since I know what the theme is, then I can devote more time thinking about how to do interesting things with it.

A good example of this was the “gothic Aberystywyth” art series I posted here in June. Although I only posted one painting per day, I was often actually making two of them every day. Since I usually have a rule about only making one painting per day, then the fact that I was feeling inspired enough to break this rule really surprised me. And it all happened because I limited what I could paint:

“Aberystwyth – Halloween ’08” By C. A. Brown

“Aberystwyth – Arts Centre” By C. A. Brown

For example, I made these two paintings on the same day. Both of them were highly-inspired paintings that were really fun to make. Even though I was very tired when I made the second one, I worked around that limitation through clever use of lighting and colours.

I knew how to do this because I’ve used similar techniques before when I’d been feeling uninspired, rushed and/or tired. Like in this digital piece I made when I was feeling uninspired and had also been dealing with computer problems (seriously, the picture below was a quick 15 minute remake of a better picture that I’d lost because of a mild computer crash halfway through making it):

“Shrouded In Static” By C. A. Brown

So, in conclusion, limitations can be either a frustrating challenge or an exciting puzzle at first. But, once you’ve worked out how to get around them, then this will improve your art in general and make it slightly more efficient too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Another Three Thoughts About Making 1990s-Style Art

Well, whilst making the next digitally-edited painting in an upcoming series of paintings set in abandoned and/or semi-abandoned American shopping centres (after being inspired by seeing Youtube footage etc… of these places), one of my upcoming paintings ended up having even more of a 1990s-style look than I’d planned. Here’s a preview:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 14th August.

So, since it’s been a little while since I last wrote about making 1990s-style art, I thought that I’d give a few more tips about how to make this awesome style of art.

1) Timelessness and subtlety: One way to give your art more of a 1990s-style look is to focus more on relatively “timeless” things, and only add a few subtle 1990s-style elements to your art. The thing to remember about the 1990s is that, stylised nostalgia aside, it was a fairly “ordinary” decade in a lot of ways.

For example, the shopping centre in the painting I showed you earlier could have existed in the 1970s-2010s. The generic camera that the woman on the left is holding could be an old film camera from the 1960s, or it could be a modern digital camera. Likewise, most of the fashion designs in this painting could have come from any time between the 1970s and the present day.

The only distinctively “1990s” details in the painting are the fact that the woman on the left is wearing a sweater like a belt, and a few of the stylised shop hoardings in the background. Even then, floppy disks and audio cassettes also existed during the 1980s too.

So, yes, focusing mostly on relatively “timeless” details and only adding a few subtle 1990s-style details can be one way to give your art a more “realistic” 1990s-style look.

2) Getting in the mood: One of the things that can sometimes help with making 1990s-style art is to get in a nostalgic mood beforehand. Reminding yourself of why the 1990s are such a fascinating, optimistic, feel-good and just generally cool decade to get nostalgic about can give your ’90s-style art a bit of extra energy and atmosphere.

Of course, 90s nostalgia is a personal thing – so, what works for you will probably be different to what works for me. But, one of the reasons that the painting that I made ended up going in more of a ’90s style direction than I expected was because I had a very vivid moment of nostalgia after playing one of the old “The Incredible Machine” games and listening to the soundtrack from one of the other games in the series.

This then made me think of both the old and modern versions of “The Crystal Maze“, which then made me think of this episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and then the song “Caribbean Blue” by Enya, which just made me feel even more nostalgic.

In particular, it made me nostalgic for the opulent weirdness of the 1990s. How a lot of popular entertainment and/or educational things at the time used to focus on stylised tropical, futuristic, art deco, Aztec etc.. style locations, often with a slightly innocent sense of wonder. It also made me think about how strange gadgets were a much cooler thing during the 90s. I could go on, but this is one of those qualities that is difficult to put into words.

But, however you do it and whichever “version” of 1990s nostalgia you choose to experience, experiencing a vivid emotional moment of 1990s nostalgia before making some 1990s-style art can really improve your art.

3) Bold colours (and contrast): If there’s one thing to be said for the 1990s, it is that bold primary and secondary colours used to be more popular back then.

This might have been because of a cultural hangover from the 1980s or possibly due to 1960s nostalgia at the time, but using 1-3 complementary pairs of bold primary and secondary colours can be a way to give your art more of a 1990s-style look (for example, the painting near the beginning of the article uses orange/blue, red/green and purple/yellow pairs).

This is especially true when these bold colours are contrasted with gloomier areas of the picture. I’ve mentioned this many times before, but a good rule to follow for 1990s-style lighting is to ensure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of your painting is covered with black paint. This will give the colours in your painting a bolder look, in addition to being similar to the lighting in many films, TV shows etc.. from the 1990s too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Quick Thoughts About What To Do When Making Stuff In Your Favourite Genre Feels Less Exciting

The night before I wrote this article, I was making a painting that will be posted here in a few days’ time. Since I was feeling mildly more inspired than I had been over the past few days, I decided to make a slightly more detailed painting in one of my favourite genres – the cyberpunk genre. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 14th July.

Although the painting turned out ok, it felt a bit like I was just going through the motions. I thought back to how the times when I’d started making cyberpunk art more regularly (in 2016/early-mid 2017) felt a lot more interesting and exciting.

So, what do you do when making stuff in your favourite genre starts to lose it’s “spark”?

1) Move to one of your other favourite genres: This is the obvious one, but if you find that making stuff in one of your favourite genres isn’t evoking the feelings of excitement, fascination and “this is awesome!” that it used to, then move to a genre that does evoke these feelings in you.

Whether it’s just a passing fascination with some random topic, or another genre you really love, you probably have more than one thing that really fascinates you at any one time. So, focus on one of the other ones.

After a while, when you start to feel temporarily bored with that thing – you’ll have probably had enough of a break from the genre that you were getting bored with for it to start to seem interesting again.

2) Change how you think about it: One of the interesting shifts that I’ve noticed in my attitude towards making cyberpunk art is that it has gone from being “let’s make something really cool-looking” to “let’s making something easy, that also looks cool“. Because I’ve had a fair amount of practice with this genre of art, I can pretty much make cyberpunk paintings in my sleep these days.

Still, this isn’t a bad thing. At the very least, it now means that I can still make good-looking art on less inspired or moderately inspired days. In other words, it is a sign of artistic progress. It is a sign that I’m progressing as an artist. It’s another backup for uninspired days. In other words, it isn’t a bad thing.

If you can find some kind of silver lining to your current lack of enthusiasm for your favourite genre, then this can help a lot. Because, even if it just means that it’s time to find a new favourite genre (and experience all of those feelings of excitement again), then this is certainly better than just feeling miserable about the fact that your favourite genre doesn’t excite you as much as it used to.

3) Find more inspirations: Simply put, the times when I’ve felt really thrilled about making cyberpunk art have been when I’ve discovered something “new” in this genre that I haven’t seen or played before and have been absolutely entranced by it.

So, one way to rekindle your enthusiasm for making stuff in one of your favourite genres is simply to find more stuff in this genre. The only problem with this is, of course, that finding “new” stuff becomes progressively more difficult over time since not only will you have already seen or played even more stuff in this genre but you’ll have already learnt a lot about that genre (and the thrill of learning new stuff is an important part of those feelings of fascination).

So, this approach isn’t perfect. But, if you’re experiencing this jaded feeling for the very first time – then, time and budget permitting, it can be a good temporary solution.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why Inspiration Works In “Strange” Ways

A while before I wrote this article, I happened to read this list of “unexpected” inspirations behind various films but, rather than finding it strange or bizarre, my reaction was more along the lines of ‘it’s a bit of an over-simplification, but that’s how inspiration works‘.

The first thing to remember about inspiration is that it shouldn’t involve directly copying other things. After all, inspiration and plagiarism are two different things. So, taking inspiration usually involves taking the underlying elements, themes etc… of something and using them in a totally different way. So, when done well, inspired creative works should look at least slightly different to the things that inspired them.

The second thing to remember is that creative people rarely just have one inspiration. In order to create interesting and original works, you need to have as many different inspirations as possible. The more inspirations you have, the less obvious any one inspiration is and the more chance there is of your inspirations interacting and merging with each other in interesting ways.

The third thing to remember is that inspiration is a highly personal and unique thing. Two artists, writers, directors etc… might be inspired by the same thing, but will take inspiration from different parts of it due to their own preferences, sensibilities and interests. As such, it is very difficult to tell exactly how someone will be inspired by something.

The fourth thing to remember is that creative people are often on the lookout for inspirations. As such, it is possible to discover inspirations in all sorts of unexpected places.

For example, the use of colour in most of my art was inspired by a set of fan-made “Doom II” levels, of all things. The process of finding new inspirations is part research, part vigilance and part luck/serendipity. So, this is why creative people can sometimes have “strange” or “random” inspirations.

The fifth thing to remember is that inspiration and fandom generally go hand in hand. Most of the time, people are only inspired by things that they really like in some way or another. And, since creative people are… well… people, they don’t fit into neat boxes and categories. In other words, they often have a wide range of interests and fascinations. As such, “strange” inspirations are often just inspirations based on something that you might not expect the artist, writer etc.. in question to be interested in.

The sixth thing to remember is that inspirations can often be an offshoot from daydreams. For example, at least two of the inspirations on the list I linked to at the beginning of the article came about because a director saw or experienced something and then started daydreaming about applying the “mechanics” of it to some other situation or circumstance. As such, inspiration can often be a way to connect two seemingly unrelated things in the way that only daydreams can.

The seventh thing to remember is that inspiration can be a very subtle thing. Sometimes, someone might not be inspired by any of the obvious visual or narrative features of something, but by the “atmosphere” or “mood” that this thing evokes in them. This means that an inspiration may not be immediately obvious at first glance, since it is based on something that can’t be “seen” directly.

The eighth thing to remember is that what a creative person does with an inspiration is often more important than the inspiration itself. In other words, inspirations can be used in unusual or unexpected ways and still be really effective. This, of course, can sometimes make it difficult to spot what has inspired someone.

The ninth thing to remember is the whole subject of common inspirations. It’s possible for two things to either be inspired by the same thing or for someone to be inspired by something that is inspired by something else. As such, an artist’s or writer’s inspirations might not be what you might think.

For example, if one artist takes inspiration from the lighting used in 1980s horror novel covers, another artist takes inspiration from “film noir” movies and another artist takes inspiration from the lighting used in Caravaggio paintings, then the lighting in all four pictures will look similar because all of these inspirations use some type of chiaroscuro lighting.

The final thing to remember is that inspiration isn’t an exact science. Like dreaming or daydreaming, it can often follow it’s own unique logic. As such, trying to apply logical rules to it won’t work all of the time.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What To Do When Unenthusiasm Strikes In The Middle Of A Painting

Well, for today, I thought that I’d take yet another look at the topic of artistic uninspiration. In particular, I’ll be looking at when you suddenly feel a total and utter lack of artistic enthusiasm during the middle of a drawing or a painting. Mostly because this happened to me the evening before I prepared this article.

At the time, the drawing/ painting I’d started making was going well. I’d planned to make a digitally-edited painting of a 1990s-style video rental shop and, at first, the line art was going well. But, parts of the picture started to be a bit less well-drawn than I’d hoped, my planned background just seemed far too complex (and there seemed to be no way to remove, reduce or simplify it).

Thanks to the hot weather, the fact that I was tired and the fact that the painting looked like it would guzzle up a lot of time, I suddenly realised that I had no enthusiasm for it whatsoever. Or, more accurately, I realised that there was no possible way that I was actually going to finish this painting. Sure, I made a few vague attempts at adding more detail, but the painting just felt like a total waste of time – even though it would have looked really cool.

This painting could have turned out well, but it was failing quickly and my levels of enthusiasm were running low.

So, I abandoned the painting and decided to do something that I felt that I could finish. In fact, I realised that the quickest and easiest type of art I could make would be a piece of digital art (since I could make it less detailed and because there was no additional drying time or editing time).

The interesting thing was, as soon as I switched to making something that I thought I could actually finish, I suddenly felt a lot more creative and enthusiastic again. In fact, I even tried out a few techniques I hadn’t really used before – here’s a preview of the finished piece:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full picture will be posted here on the 7th July.

So, the lesson here is that if you feel completely and utterly unenthusiastic when you are in the middle of making a painting, try to work out what is causing you to feel unenthusiastic.

Sometimes, this can be external factors (like the weather, your mood etc..) but, more often, it has to do with the painting that you are trying to make. Often, it is because the piece of art you are making isn’t filling you with enthusiasm. Sometimes, this can be because the idea behind it doesn’t interest you as much as you thought, but sometimes it can be because your planned idea is too complex, over-ambitious etc.. when compared to your current levels of enthusiasm.

Abandoning failing paintings halfway through making them is something that gets easier with practice, but it can still be a little difficult if you’ve already invested time and effort into said failed painting. But, if you’re genuinely filled with the heavy, miserable, futile feeling of “I’m not going to finish this!“, then it’s the only thing to do. But, make sure that you immediately start a much easier piece of art (that you feel you can finish) as soon as you do this.

Not only does starting an “easy” piece of art mean that you’ll stop those feelings of failure from festering and becoming worse (because you’re still making art. Not only that, but art that is easy to make look good), but it also means that you’ll feel more motivated because your new piece of art feels a lot easier and more successful in comparison to the painting that you just tried to make.

So, dropping what you’re doing and switching to something easier as soon as you realise that your current painting isn’t going to get finished is one of the best ways to deal with sudden moments of artistic unenthusiasm.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How To Avoid Your “Inspired By..” Creative Works Turning Into Rip-Offs

The night before I wrote this article, I had a rather interesting experience that made me think about the difference between inspiration and rip-offs again. This was mostly because I happened to watch two episodes from season three of “Sliders” called ‘The Dream Masters’ and ‘Desert Storm’.

Both of these episodes have been inspired by different movies. ‘The Dream Masters’ is a genuinely creepy horror-themed episode that has clearly been inspired by the “Nightmare On Elm Street” films and ‘Desert Storm’ has clearly been inspired by the “Mad Max” films.

This is a screenshot from the episode “The Dream Masters” from season three (1996/7) of “Sliders”. As you can see, it takes some inspiration from ‘Nightmare On Elm Street’.

This is a screenshot from the episode “Desert Storm” from season three (1996/7) of “Sliders”. As you can see, it takes some inspiration from ‘Mad Max’ (and this is even referenced once in the episode’s dialogue too).

However, both episodes are also at least mildly good examples of how to take inspiration well. Although both episodes take fairly heavy visual and stylistic inspiration from their respective films, they also add a lot of original stuff too.

For example, the horror in “The Dream Masters” doesn’t just come from the nightmare scenes but from the fact that a small group of people with magical powers wield an enormous amount of power over the world (a horror further increased when one of these people takes a rather stalker-like interest in one of the main characters). Likewise, “Desert Storm” also includes quite a lot of New Age-themed stuff too.

Yes, the horror in “The Dream Masters” doesn’t come from one monster but from a secret society of evil magicians who wield absolute power. Likewise, note the use of scary red/blue lighting to signify that they’re the villains.

Likewise, the story in “Desert Storm” also includes a lot of New Age-y stuff, like magical crystals and psychic visions.

But, although these two episodes still tell original stories, they still almost fall into the trap of being “oh my god, this is just like…” rather than “hmm… this seems to be inspired by..“. In other words, their inspirations are a bit too obvious, even though they still avoid straying into the realm of plagiarism.

But, how do you avoid this in the things that you create?

The simple answer is to have lots of inspirations. The more inspirations you have, the less obvious each individual inspiration will be and the more “original” your work will be.

For example, for Halloween 2015, I wrote an interactive online novella called “Acolyte!” which can be read/played for free here:

Although the original inspiration was the old “Fighting Fantasy“/”Choose Your Own Adventure” books I read when I was a child (Steve Jackson’s “House Of Hell” especially), my interactive novel is distinctively different from these for several reasons.

For starters, it includes a lot more humour and it positions the main character as a more morally-ambiguous figure (rather than a heroic one). Although it includes illustrations, like in the books that inspired it, these illustrations have a more cartoonish style. Like in this poster I made for it:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]. This was a promotional poster I made for “Acolyte!” in 2015 which shows off some of the story’s illustrations.

In addition to this, it also included a few other influences such as the classic computer game “Blood“, the horror fiction of H.P.Lovecraft, classic Monty Python, a “Doom II” mod called “Reelism Gold“, classic British sci-fi/fantasy comic fiction (eg: Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams etc..), a slight satire on occultism (eg: “ancient orders” that were started in the 20th century), “The Devil Rides Out” by Dennis Wheatley, and the hilariously melodramatic 1960s film adaptation of it.

Thanks to the wider mixture of inspirations, the interactive novella manages to be it’s own thing rather than a rip-off of any one particular thing. So, the more inspirations you have, the lower the risk of producing a plagiaristic “rip-off” (eg: almost a direct copy) of something else will be.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂