Letting Your Imagination Assert Itself – A Ramble

Although I’m sure I’ve written about this subject at least once before, I thought that I’d talk about how your art can sometimes end up looking totally different to the original idea/plan that you had before you started making the drawing or painting. This tends to happen most often when you draw or paint from imagination (rather than from life, from photographs etc..) with relatively little pre-planning.

This is when it feels like something else was involved with the painting or drawing you’ve just made. Like how, on the journey from the initial idea to the final painting, something has changed a few details and made several alterations. It can be a really strange experience sometimes.

So, what actually happens here?

Simply put, many of the creative influences/inspirations that you’ve (knowingly or unknowingly) encountered in the past can end up having an effect on the painting in some unexpected way or another – for the simple reason that they’ve shaped your imagination and/or your aesthetic sensibilities (eg: the set of “rules” you believe that good/interesting art should follow).

This is a good thing. After all, one of the best ways to make more distinctive art is to learn how to take inspiration properly and to look for things that fire your imagination. Likewise, the more influences and inspirations you have, the more stuff your imagination has to work with. So, the more likely you are to surprise yourself in interesting ways.

Since our imaginations aren’t computers, influences and inspirations don’t tend to stay separated in neat little folders. They blur and blend together to produce slightly new things. This is the foundation of pretty much all types of creativity. It is also why the more inspirations you have, the more original your creative works will be. After all, originality comes from having a unique mixture of inspirations (since it is literally impossible for anyone to create anything that isn’t inspired by something else in some way or another. Even humanity’s earliest cave paintings were inspired by things that the artists saw in real life.).

What this means is that virtually every idea you have for a piece of art will be filtered through your existing mixture of inspirations at some stage in the creative process, and this is one of the main reasons why your final painting or drawing can look somewhat different from your original idea.

After all, if you’ve seen and studied a lot of cool and interesting things that have made you think “I want to make something like that“, then your imagination is going to remember this. It will have probably devised a set of “rules” that it learnt from all of these things, so it will probably feel more right to follow those rules than it is to ignore them. This is where the “something else” I mentioned earlier comes from.

So, if you’ve been practicing for a while (and the differences aren’t down to a difference in artistic skill), then it’s usually a good thing when your final artwork ends up looking somewhat different to your original idea. It means that your imagination is working properly. It means that you are beginning to discover your own unique type or style of art.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope that it was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

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The Joy Of… Partial Fandoms

One of the most surprising sources of creative inspiration for writers, artists, comic-makers etc… can often be when you really like a few things that have been made by someone (or a few things in a particular genre), but don’t really consider yourself to really fully be a “fan” of everything that falls into this category.

To give you a musical example, there are four songs by AC/DC that I absolutely love (eg: “Thunderstruck”, “Hell’s Bells”, “Highway To Hell” and “Back In Black”, in that order). But, those few songs aside, I’m not really an AC/DC fan. To give you a literary example, I’m not really a fan of fantasy literature, even though I absolutely love some of the George R. R. Martin, Terry Pratchett and Clive Barker novels that I’ve read in this genre.

So, you might think, what on earth does any of this have to do with creative inspiration? After all, most people like a few things by someone or a few things in a particular genre, without being a fan of literally everything.

It’s important for creative inspiration for the simple reason that having a few of these “partial fandoms” can help you to come up with a unique mixture of inspirations for the things that you create. After all, if you only like one author in a particular genre or a few things made by someone, then this usually prompts you to ask “Why? What makes these things different?“. Once you’ve found the answer, you can use it to improve and expand the things you create.

For example, one reason why I like a few fantasy authors, despite not being a major fan of the fantasy genre as a whole is because they often do things like incorporating elements from the horror and/or comedy genres into the fantasy genre.

So, if I made a piece of fantasy-themed artwork, I’m going to do something a bit similar – like in this reduced-size preview of an upcoming piece of medieval fantasy-style artwork of mine:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 13th March.

Although I was in the mood for making fantasy-themed artwork at the time, I remembered the lessons I’d learnt from the few things I love in the fantasy genre and added some elements from the horror genre. For example, the ominous dark robes that the archer is wearing were mostly inspired by the evil cultists in a horror-themed computer game called “Blood“. Likewise, the menacing fiery lighting was inspired by various scenes from “Game Of Thrones“. Not to mention that my general attitude towards colour and lighting was inspired by some of my more major inspirations like the cyberpunk genre, old heavy metal album covers etc…

Of course, if I was much more of a fan of the fantasy genre, the painting would probably look different. It’d probably be brighter and more detailed. It would probably include a complex background and mythical beings (eg: elves, dragons, goblins etc..), rather than a dark and impressionistic medieval castle in the background. If I’d had a lot more fantasy-based inspirations, the picture would look very different as a result.

Likewise, if I’m going to include fantasy elements in a short story, then I’m probably going to add a lot of comedy too. For example, in this short fantasy-themed cyberpunk story of mine from late 2016, I don’t take the fantasy elements of the story even close to seriously, and I had a lot of fun writing it even though I certainly wouldn’t consider myself to be a “fantasy author”.

So, being a partial fan of something can actually improve your creativity and help you to feel inspired for the simple reason that it reminds you that good creative works come from having a mixture of different inspirations. Likewise, it can also help to expand the range of different things that you feel that you can create.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Old Machinery And Creativity – A Ramble

A while before I wrote the first draft of this article, I wasn’t in a particularly great mood. Surprisingly, one of the things that cheered me up was watching music videos where people used bulky old machines as instruments.

Whether it was someone using a clanking old washing machine for the percussion segment of a cover version of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”, or something a bit more elaborate like Paweล‚ Zadroลผniak’s “Floppotron“, or a mostly mechanical musical machine like Wintergatan’s “Marble Machine“, or even the Floppotron playing a cover of the Marble Machine’s song, there’s something oddly charming and reassuring about noisy old machinery.

Interestingly, this is one thing that classic British sci-fi TV shows often seem to get perfectly right. Whether it’s the amusing malfunctions and labyrinthine architecture of the titular spaceship in “Red Dwarf” or whether it’s the strange machinery of the TARDIS from “Doctor Who”, these vessels are a far cry from the sleek futuristic spaceships that are a lot more common in the sci-fi genre.

To give a more cinematic example, although “Blade Runner” is recognised as a pivotal work in the cyberpunk genre, the technology in it is a million miles away from the more realistically “futuristic” technology in more modern cyberpunk works (or even in cyberpunk novels from the early-mid 1980s). In “Blade Runner”, the technology is bulky, noisy and arcane. When the main character wants to examine a photograph in precise detail, he doesn’t use a microscope or a magnifying glass, he uses THIS:

This a screenshot from “Blade Runner – The Director’s Cut” (1992 [based on a film from 1982]), showing the bulky old “ESPER” machine that is used to zoom in on a photo

So, why does bulky, noisy, obsolete technology appear in so many creative works? Why does it fire the imagination so much?

The first reason is because of it’s age. Because this technology is so old, but still critical to the story – it instantly evokes a feeling of reliability and stability.

In an age where many mobile phones are designed to be replaced every few years (eg: they’re intentionally designed to be difficult to impossible to repair, batteries cannot be easily replaced etc..), in an age where some laptop manufacturers literally solder replaceable components into place (to prevent people upgrading without buying a new computer) and where there’s a constant pressure to have “the absolute latest technology”, there’s something inherently reassuring about an old machine that will just keep going and going.

The second reason is because it enhances the characterisation. Generally, if a piece of technology is old, then the person operating it will have spent a lot of time with it. In other words, the technology almost becomes a character in it’s own right, and the main character’s relationship with the technology can also show the audience more about the character too.

For example, if an old machine in a story has numerous welds, patches, replaced parts etc… then it not only shows that the main character cares about this machine, but that they also either know how to repair it or know someone who knows how to do this. Likewise, if the main character could “upgrade” but chooses not to because the old technology is better or more trustworthy or whatever, this also gives the audience more insight into the character.

The third reason is because it makes the technology look like, well, technology. One trend with modern technology is to make it look sleek, small and unobtrusive. But, this can often lead to a slight feeling of emotional disconnection with the technology itself. It goes from being some kind of wonderfully complex machine that someone has built to being just a “thing”.

Following on from this, the fourth reason is because it reminds us of the days when our relationship with technology was somewhat different, where users had more control and where there was a more ritualistic element to technology use.

It reminds us of the days where watching a film meant getting a physical tape or disc (which you actually own) and inserting it into a machine (rather than just “streaming” it from an online rental service ). It reminds us of the days when, if you wanted to access the internet, you had to go through the reassuring ritual of sitting down in front of a large desktop computer, powering it up and waiting for it to load before focusing your entire attention on web surfing. Sure, some of us (myself included) have never really left those glory days, but a lot of people have.

Finally, old technology can be an important part of creative works because it can be used to surprise the audience. I’m talking about things like sci-fi movies where the main characters’ clanking old spaceship somehow manages to outmanoeuvre or outrun the more “modern” spaceships that the villains are using. I’m talking about old computer and video games that (through all sorts of clever trickery) managed to do things that were considered “impossible” in games at the time (eg: I’ll never forget the time I got a second-hand game for the original Game Boy called “Chessmaster” and when I powered it up, the game literally SAID “Welcome to Chessmaster” in a crackly voice. Here’s a Youtube clip of it that I found).

So, yes, there are a lot of reasons why old technology can be an important part of creative works.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Three Tips For Taking Inspiration From Other (Web)Comics, Whilst Keeping Your Webcomic Original

Well, at the time of writing, I’m still busy making a webcomic mini series for late February.

So, I though that I’d give a few tips about how to apply the proper techniques for taking inspiration to making webcomics, whilst also ensuring that your webcomic is still an original webcomic.

1) Humour styles: One of the best ways to take inspiration from other comics and webcomics is simply to read multiple (seriously, more than one!) other webcomics/comics until you start to get a sense of how the humour in these comics “works”. To get a sense of what the “rules” are for the humour in the webcomics you’ve read. To see what they have in common and what differs from webcomic to webcomic.

Once you’ve got this, try to think of a different situation or a different subject for your humour. Then, using the mixture of “rules” you’ve learnt from the webcomics you’ve read, try to see how you can turn this into something new that is also amusing.

Look at the general humour style in two or more webcomics and then try to find a way to apply the “rules” you have learnt from them to your own webcomic, using new subject matter and new jokes that are actually relevant to your characters.

2) Other inspirations: Even if you are mostly taking inspiration from one other webcomic, you can still make sure that your own comics are actually original by ensuring that you also take lots of inspiration from things that aren’t webcomics.

This will help to ensure that your inspired webcomics are still very much their own thing, even if they may be vaguely reminiscent of another webcomic.

Having other inspirations is also especially important with the art in your webcomic too, since this can help to give your webcomic a more unique and distinctive look, whilst also helping you to develop your own unique art style at the same time.

Of course, if you already have your own art style, then you don’t need to do this (although you should obviously always be on the lookout for techniques etc… you can use to improve your art).

3) Common sources: This is kind of the opposite of the previous two points on the list and it can work just as well, provided that you don’t mix it with anything else on the list.

Basically, look at a couple of webcomics and see what kind of general subject matter they tend to use in a lot of their comics (eg: videogames, politics, everyday life etc..) and then do some research about that particular subject.

Once you’ve done some research, try to come up with new jokes and ideas about the subject in question. This will help you to think of a topic for your next comic update and it will allow you to create comics that are “in the tradition of” your favourite webcomics. However, you should pay extra attention to making sure that the characters, jokes etc.. are different enough from your inspiration.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Three Reasons Why Combining Two Awesome Things Can Sometimes Be Less Awesome

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before (I had a sudden moment of deja vu halfway through writing the article), but I thought that I’d look at one of the more paradoxical things that can happen with creative works.

This is when something either directly combines two incredibly cool things or takes inspiration from two incredibly cool things, but somehow ends up being mildly less awe-inspiringly magnificent than it should logically be.

For example, I’m a massive fan of both Iron Maiden and “Blade Runner“. So, you would think that “Somewhere In Time” would be my favourite Iron Maiden album.

After all, Derek Riggs’ ultra-detailed cover art for the album is inspired by “Blade Runner”, there are a couple of sci-fi themed songs on the album (with the opening track being one of Iron Maiden’s best songs) and, when the band originally toured the album during the mid-late 1980s, they apparently played the “Blade Runner” theme on the PA before each concert.

Yet, it isn’t quite my favourite Iron Maiden album (that title probably goes to either the criminally under-appreciated “Virtual XI” or possibly to “The Book Of Souls). Sure, “Somewhere In Time” would probably appear in my top five or top ten Iron Maiden albums, but it isn’t my absolute favourite.

So, why can combinations of awesome things somehow end up being slightly less awesome than they “should” be?

1) Creativity isn’t maths: This one is fairly self-explanatory really. With something as subjective as both the creator’s imagination and the unique tastes of each audience member, creativity doesn’t exactly follow logical mathematical rules.

Merely adding two cool things together won’t always produce something better than either thing for the simple reason that it depends a lot on how those two things are combined and how the audience expects them to be combined. In other words, everyone has a slightly different idea of what makes something awesome – and they will focus on these elements when either creating things or being a member of the audience.

For example, one of the reasons why I don’t consider “Somewhere in Time” to be my favourite Iron Maiden album is because it really doesn’t focus that much on the philosophical themes or the cyberpunk atmosphere in “Blade Runner”. Then again, the album is Iron Maiden’s interpretation of the science fiction genre, rather than my own interpretation of it. So, it’s going to be different.

Once again, creativity isn’t maths. Merely adding two things together won’t automatically produce something even greater because creative works are made and consumed by humans rather than machines.

2) High expectations: This is also another self-explanatory reason. When you hear that something has combined or taken influence from two of your favourite things, then it’s only natural to expect it to be the best thing in the world. And, even if it’s just as good as one of the two influences, then it’s still going to fall short of the impossibly high expectations that you have about it.

Going back to “Somewhere In Time”, it’s a very good album. In fact, it’s one of those great albums that doesn’t contain a single “bad” song. But, because it presents itself as being Iron Maiden’s version of “Blade Runner”, I kind of expect it to be twice as good as I would ordinarily expect an Iron Maiden album to be. And, given that I already consider this band to be perhaps the best in the world, not even they could surpass themselves to that extent.

So, yes, hearing that something combines two of your favourite things can sometimes create unrealistically high expectations that can lead you to look down on things that, on their own merits, would otherwise be considered great.

3) Crossovers and Canonicity: Although this isn’t a problem with original works that take inspiration from two great things, it can be a problem with “crossovers” between your favourite things. Basically, as cool as crossovers are, they often carry less dramatic weight than each of their component parts do.

The reason for this is simply to do with canonicity. Basically, because a crossover consists of characters from two completely different fictional “universes” meeting each other, there usually has to be some kind of convoluted explanation for it. Likewise, it’s not usually considered to be an “official” part of either story. As such, there can’t really be any significant character or plot developments in many major crossovers.

So, if the characters from two great stories happen to meet during a crossover film, comic, novel, TV episode etc.. then it will often be more like “Hey! These characters have met each other and gone on a fun self-contained adventure!” rather than a more complex story like the one you would find in either individual thing.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting ๐Ÿ™‚

How To Have More Than One Main Inspiration

Although it’s great to find something that constantly serves as a major inspiration for your creative works, it’s usually a good idea to have more than one main inspiration. This is mostly because, as I’ve mentioned many times before, having multiple inspirations is the key to creating original things.

If you only have one inspiration, then anything you create will be a second-rate imitation of that one thing. However, if you have multiple inspirations, then anything you create will be a unique mixture of elements from these things. In other words, it will be noticeably different to any one thing.

So, how do you make sure that you have more than one main inspiration?

Simply put, you do research. And you have fun whilst you do it. A good way to start is to look at your main inspiration and search the internet for information about anything that is similar to it. Once you’ve found lots of things, try to buy as many of them as you can afford to do so and study them carefully.

Seeing how other people have used similar influences will not only help you to find your own approach to the genre in question, but it will also widen your understanding and give you a slightly larger mix of inspirations to draw from.

For example, the largest influence on a lot of my art is the movie “Blade Runner“. Within the past 2-3 years, I’ve been on the lookout for things that are similar – but different- to this film. This has had a large influence on my art. For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a cyberpunk painting that I’ll be posting here next month:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 17th February.

Although the decision to use a gloomy cyberpunk-style lighting scheme came straight from “Blade Runner”, my approach to the location design was probably more influenced by the futuristic Japanese locations in the “Ghost In The Shell” anime franchise. Likewise, my approach to handling colour in this painting (and most of my more recent paintings) was inspired by the colour schemes in this set of science fiction-themed “Doom II” levels. Yet, the final painting doesn’t look exactly like any one of these three things since I used a mixture of inspirations, albeit relatively similar ones.

But, of course, the best types of creativity come from having lots of radically different main inspirations. So, how do you do this? Here are the two most basic ways.

The first is simply to just stay on the lookout for cool stuff. If you read, watch, see or play something that really makes an impression on you, then ask yourself why? Take a close look at the thing in question and try to work out what general elements (eg: qualities that can be described in no more than 2-3 words) appeal to you. Once you’ve found these qualities, then try to find a way to incorporate them into your own art.

The second is to realise that you probably already have more than one main inspiration, even if you don’t realise it. After all, you’ve probably been a fan of more than literally just one thing at various stages in your life. You’re probably a fan of more than one thing right now. However, if you focus on one thing by considering it to be your “main inspiration”, you don’t tend to think about the other things so much -even if they might have an influence on what you create.

So, look carefully at the things that you really like (but don’t consider to be “main influences) and you might start to notice the effect that they’ve had on your creative works. These effects may be more subtle than the things that you consider to be your “main influence” (since you’ve probably taken inspiration unconsciously, rather than consciously), but they will probably exist in some way or another.

Once you’ve found them, then try taking inspiration from these things more consciously (eg: in the same way you do with your “main influence”).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚

Three Basic Things To Do If You Start Running Out Of Inspiration In The Middle Of A Painting

There is nothing more annoying than when a painting starts out really well but, about halfway through making it, you suddenly find that you’re either running out of enthusiasm, or you just don’t know how you’re going to finish the painting.

Typically, this tends to be something like “what should I make the background look like?” or “this painting needs something extra, but I’m not sure what” and it is incredibly annoying when it happens. So, here are a few basic things that you can do in order to actually finish your paintings when this happens:

1) Stock backgrounds: This one takes a bit of preparation, but it can come in handy if your inspiration and/or enthusiasm starts running out halfway through a painting. Basically, all you have to do is to practice drawing or painting one or two types of backgrounds until you get to the point where you can pretty much paint this type of background in your sleep.

Then, if you run out of inspiration halfway through a painting, you can just use this type of well-practiced background. Yes, it might make your painting look a little strange but it’s a quick and easy way to finish a painting that would otherwise be left unfinished.

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

The full-size painting will appear here on the 12th February.

This painting was originally going to be set during the 1990s and it was going really well whilst I was drawing the two characters in the foreground. But, when it came to the background, I just didn’t quite know what to draw or paint. Since I’ve been making a lot of cyberpunk art over the past year, I eventually decided to add a random futuristic cyberpunk background. Yes, it looks a little strange, but it allowed me to actually finish the painting.

2) Take a break: If you’re one of those artists who can work on a single piece of art over multiple “sessions”, then just take a break when you start running out of inspiration. Do something to distract yourself and give yourself time to think – go for a walk, play a computer game, do some daydreaming etc.. until you start to get an idea of what you want the rest of your painting to look like.

But, again, this will only work if you’re an artist who can leave a painting unfinished for a while and then return to it. Some artists, like me, vastly prefer to make the whole painting in just one “session”. So, if this is the case for you, then don’t do this – since there’s a good chance that it will just result in you leaving the painting unfinished.

3) Find an inspiration: First of all, be sure that you know how to take inspiration properly. Once you do, then one way to finish a painting that has run out of steam halfway through is simply to look for inspirations.

Remember, the goal here is NOT to copy anything you see, but to look at the general elements (eg: location type, lighting type, colour scheme etc..) of anything that inspires you, in the hope that this will prompt you to find a new and original way to use those general elements in order to finish your painting.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful ๐Ÿ™‚