Alternate Versions Of Recent Paintings – A Good Idea If You’re Uninspired?

Well, although I was still busy writing last year’s Christmas stories at the time of writing this article, I thought that I’d talk very briefly about making art today. This was mostly because I found myself feeling somewhat uninspired.

Basically, I’d made a 1980s-themed drawing that didn’t really turn out as well as I’d hoped – even after extensive editing. So, I thought that I’d try to make another piece of art instead. But, I was a little bit pressed for time and needed to come up with a good-looking painting quickly.

Luckily, I remembered the view from the kitchen window earlier that morning. Thanks to the season and the time of the day, the world outside was shrouded in wonderfully atmospheric dark blue blue light. Needless to say, this seemed like it was worth painting. But, I’d already made a painting of the same view about a month earlier:

“Kitchen Window” By C. A. Brown

So, thinking quickly, I decided that my upcoming painting would be a companion piece to that one. I could use the old painting as a reference, whilst also doing a few things differently in my new painting. Here’s a preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 5th October.

So, is this sort of thing a good strategy when you’re uninspired?

Simply put, anything that works when you’re feeling uninspired is a good thing. Plus, since you’re partially repeating what you’ve done before, then it also means that you can make a good-looking piece of art quickly too. So, as a way to make art when you’re uninspired, it can certainly work!

However, I’d advise either not doing it too often, making extensive changes or waiting as long as possible before making new versions of your existing art. The thing to remember is to set your new version apart from the old version in an immediately noticeable way, and to make sure that there’s still a decent level of variety in the art you produce.

The main advantage to waiting as long as possible is that you’ll have become a better artist (if you practice regularly) during the time gap, so a remake of a painting from say – a year or two ago- can also be a good way to show how much you’ve improved.

Still, if you’re feeling uninspired, then making a new alternative version of one of your more recent paintings can be a good way to actually make some art. Just don’t rely on this technique too often.

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Sorry for such a short, basic and rambling article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

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Three Tips For How To Look For Inspiration

Although I’ve written about how to deal with writer’s block and artist’s block more times than I can remember, I thought that I’d do something very slightly different in this article and talk about how to look for inspiration. Because, yes, sometimes you actively have to look for inspiration – rather than waiting for it to come to you.

So, here are a few tips and/or reminders that will help you search for inspiration.

1) Know how to take inspiration: I’ve written a more detailed article about this subject but, in short, taking inspiration properly means looking at the underlying concept/idea behind something and then doing something at least slightly different with that idea.

Although I’m not a copyright lawyer (and this isn’t legal advice), my reading on the subject seems to show that most types of copyright law are explicitly designed to promote this type of inspiration. In short, copyright laws usually protect the exact way that a particular concept or idea is expressed, but not the underlying idea/concept itself.

For example, both “Babylon 5” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” are science fiction TV shows about everyday life on a space station far from Earth, with a focus on the military-like officers who run the station. This basic concept probably cannot be copyrighted. However, the specific characters, alien designs, set designs etc.. in each show are copyrighted because they are a highly-specific interpretation of this general idea.

Once you know how to take inspiration properly, then the number of inspirations available to you will expand rapidly. Plus, if you’re worried that this means that your art or fiction won’t be completely “original”, then don’t worry. All that these feelings mean is that you need to find more inspirations. Basically, the more different inspirations you have, the more original your creations will be. Plus, it’s important to remember that there’s no such thing as a “100% original” creative work. Everything is inspired by something.

2) Learn to think like a critic: Although there’s the famous saying that a critic is just a failed artist/writer, there’s a lot to be said for thinking like a critic if you’re an artist or a writer. You can learn how to do this by reading and/or watching as many reviews as you can find, in addition to possibly trying to write reviews yourself.

But what does any of this have to do with looking for inspiration? Simply put, a critic’s job is to study and analyse creative works and then write a brief description of how the creative work in question “works”.

A critic has to look at, say, how a director uses lighting to create a particular atmosphere or how a thriller writer uses sentence and chapter length to ramp up the tension. Not only does a critic have to be able to “reverse-engineer” creative works in order to see what techniques have been used, they also have to judge whether these techniques work… and why.

In other words, being a critic forces you to take a more scientific and scholarly approach to films, games, novels etc… Although this might sound like it would take the fun out of these things and turn you into an insufferable snob, this is only a potential problem if you aren’t a creative person.

If you’re a creative person, then thinking like a critic just means that everything you see could potentially teach you a new technique that you’ll probably want to try out. And, well, wanting to try something out is usually a good sign of being inspired.

3) Look everywhere: Simply put, there are no dividing lines when it comes to inspirations. Writers don’t only have to be inspired by other writers. Painters don’t only have to be inspired by other painters etc..

For example, the largest influences on my art include things like: a film called “Blade Runner“, the use of colours in a set of fan-made “Doom II” levels, various heavy metal/punk album covers, the 1990s, Youtube videos of abandoned shopping centres, manga/anime, the film noir genre, old horror novel covers, old “survival horror” videogames etc…. Very few of these things are paintings. Yet, I can use the techniques and ideas I’ve learnt from them to create art that looks like this:

“Scaffolding” By C. A. Brown

“Derelict Sector” By C. A. Brown

“Vehicles” By C. A. Brown

So, the important thing to remember here is that good sources of inspiration can be found anywhere. Inspiration is everywhere. Just remember that you don’t only have to be inspired by things in the genre that you’re working in.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

When To Wait For Inspiration (And When Not To) – A Ramble

Well, since I’m busy making this month’s webcomic mini series (which will be a stand-alone mini series that also follows on from the events of this mini series) at the time of writing, I thought that I’d talk about when to wait for inspiration (and when not to).

But, first, here’s a preview of the first update from the new mini series which will start appearing here tonight:

Stay tuned for the full comic update this evening 🙂

Although I’ve written before about how waiting for inspiration can reduce your creativity, there are circumstances where it can come in handy.

The trick is to either set yourself a deadline and/or have some kind of backup plan for what to make if you don’t feel inspired. Basically, if you know that you are going to make something in the near future regardless of how inspired you feel, then waiting for inspiration can actually be useful.

The trick here is to see waiting for inspiration as a chance to improve something you’re already going to make rather than something that is absolutely necessary in order to create anything. In other words, getting a moment of inspiration before you start your next project should be a bonus rather than a requirement.

But, it is very important to set time limits to stop yourself waiting for months or years, instead of days or weeks. Plus, if you know that you are going to make something before a specific time, then this shifts your focus towards searching for ideas and being attentive for any moments of inspiration rather than the tedium of just waiting and waiting for a good idea to finally appear in your mind.

Likewise, having a backup plan (even a mediocre one) for your next comic, story etc… means that the stakes are slightly lower. It means that, even if inspiration doesn’t arrive, it isn’t the end of the world because you can still make something. This takes a lot of the pressure off of you and this can help to put you in a better frame of mind for having moments of creative inspiration.

To give you an example of all of this in practice, the webcomic mini series I’m making at the moment was something I’d initially dreaded making. I realised that I had to make a comic for this month, but I just didn’t have the enthusiasm or energy for it.

But, I knew that I was going to make one within the next few days (after all, I’d set myself an informal time limit). Then, that afternoon, I happened to see a parody of “Star Trek” on the internet. And, shrugging, I thought “A ‘Star Trek’ parody is as good an idea as any“. So, I started making a rough plan:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This is an extract from the rough plan for a “Star Trek” parody comic I’d planned to make for the next instalment of my long-running occasional webcomic.

So, I started to plan out a six-page parody comic where my characters travel forward in time and get mistaken for the inhabitants of a desert planet by a visiting spaceship. But, the planet turns out to be the barren post-apocalyptic ruins of Earth in the distant future and Derek gets blamed for destroying the planet (after foolishly claiming to be the leader of it).

But, before he can be put on trial, he gets let off because one of the other characters mentions that they’re from the 21st century. The spaceship captain has a geeky obsession with the 21st century. So, the captain shows them his collection of 21st century artefacts but Roz and Rox end up looking at books/films that haven’t been released yet, causing a rift in the space-time continuum that….. Yeah, it wasn’t the best idea ever.

But, it was an idea. It now meant that I didn’t have to worry about not having an idea for a webcomic mini series. Still, since I had a few days, I decided to wait and see if a better idea would turn up. And, the next day, there was a power cut in the early evening. Needless to say, this seemed like a much more amusing source of inspiration for a comic. And, to my surprise, I’d planned and started the mini series the day afterwards.

So, the lesson here is that it’s ok to wait for inspiration if you also have a deadline and/or a backup idea (in case inspiration doesn’t appear). But don’t rely on waiting for inspiration if you don’t have either of these things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂