On Romanticising Your “Early Days” As A Writer Or An Artist

2014 Artwork Romanticising Old Stuff Article Sketch

Even though this is a pep talk about both the benefits and perils of romanticising your “early days” as an artist and/or writer, I’m going to have to start by talking about my own “early days” for a while.

There’s a reason for this (as well as an uplifting message at the very end of this article too) and I’m not just writing about it for the sake of self-pity or anything like that.

A while back, I was looking through my DeviantART gallery for one of my old pictures, when I started to notice some of the art that I’d made back in 2012 just after I’d decided that I’d produce at least one picture per day.

At first, I laughed because it was hilariously terrible compared to my modern stuff and it made me wonder why I’d stuck at it for so long and seen myself as an “artist”, when I was producing things like this on a regular basis:

"Aristocracy" By C. A. Brown [24th July 2012]

“Aristocracy” By C. A. Brown [24th July 2012]

Then I remembered the feeling of carefree joy that I had when I made art every day back then, when it was still a “new” thing to me. I remembered the optimism and joy I felt when I produced each picture and how I’d often eagerly produce 2-5 small drawings every day. And then I felt kind of sad since, although I still really enjoy making art – it doesn’t quite hold the fascination that it did back then.

The same is true, to a lesser extent, with the art that I produced early this year – when watercolour pencils were still a new art medium to me and I was still fascinated by the idea of being a “painter”.

Back then, I was keen to copy old paintings, to paint from life and to see watercolour painting as something “special” rather than “ordinary”. Some of you might remember this, but it was the time when I produced stuff like this:

"From The Chair By The Door" By C. A. Brown

“From The Chair By The Door” By C. A. Brown

It really was a truly magical time in some ways.

But, when I’m not feeling confident about my current art, it’s easy to look back at the art I produced during those early months and think things like “Wow! I’ve really got worse since then!“. Of course, I also tend to ignore all of the fairly mediocre and/or crappy paintings that I also made back then – like this one:

"Random Mountains" By C. A. Brown

“Random Mountains” By C. A. Brown

And don’t even get me started on my writing – I tend to think that I peaked as a fiction writer back in 2008 -10 and that it’s been downhill ever since. Although, saying that, I used to write fiction far more regularly back then than I do now. So, there might actually be some truth to this.

So, why are any of these melancholic introspective ramblings relevant to you?

Well, if you’re writing fiction regularly or taking yourself seriously as an artist and practicing regularly, then it can be easy to get nostalgic about your early days. And this isn’t a bad thing, after all – it can help you to feel better about yourself as a writer and/or artist, if you have your own “personal mythology” and can categorise your work based on when it was produced.

I don’t know why, but it can make you feel like a historian or an expert on your own work. It can help you to feel closer to the more well-known artists or writer that you aspire to be like, by having a history and a list of works like they do. It can help you to rehearse the interesting stories about your “early days” that you will tell interviewers when you eventually become “well-known” or whatever.

In emotional terms, romanticising your “early days” isn’t a bad thing. However, it isn’t always an entirely good thing either. This is because you can sometimes end up looking down on all of your current work, because it doesn’t live up to the rose-tinted “perfection” of your old stuff. But, I’ll let you in on a secret.

In a couple of years time, you’ll probably start getting nostalgic about what is now your current work. I mean, back in 2012, I used to worry that my art wasn’t as great as the art that I produced on an irregular basis back in 2010 and 2011. So, why is this relevant?

Well, in case you haven’t guessed already, this means that you will end up getting nostalgic about the things that you are making right now. In a few months or years, you’ll look back to now and think “Wow! Those were my glory days!.” And so on and so on….

So, if you ever worry that your art or writing doesn’t have the quality or “energy” that it used to, just remember that – in the future – you’ll think exactly the same thing about this moment in time. It’s just like something from this classic Iron Maiden song.

In other words, you’re in the middle of your “glory days” right now! Enjoy it 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Remember, Art Is All Around You.

2014 Artwork Art is All Around You Sketch

One day a few weeks ago, I woke up and realised that it was one of those grumpy, cynical and generic days when I felt a lot older than I actually am. I thought that, on that day, I’d maybe churn out one useless and mediocre painting if I really tried hard and wore myself out.

I tried to remind myself that this happens to all creative people from time to time and that periods of uninspiration and unenthusiasm come with the territory. But I still felt like something of a failure and, not only that, a failure who was probably going to have a crappy day.

And, then as I was leaving my bedroom, I spotted an old name plaque that I’d walked past hundreds of times before and never really paid much attention to. It was one of those things that someone is given when they’re a kid and keep for years later out of a combination of forgetfulness and sentimental value.

This particular one featured several vaguely “realistic” cartoon animals dressed in silly clothing and my very first thought upon seeing it was something along the lines of: “What a bizarre and freaky piece of kitsch! As if my day couldn’t get any worse! I’m surrounded by crap!

It wasn’t until a couple of seconds later that another far more uplifting thought went through my mind: “Hold on a minute! An ARTIST draw and painted that name plaque and some company somewhere thought that it was good enough to mass-produce copies of it.”

Although I still felt like I was living in a freaky version of a kitschy old Cyndi Lauper video from the 80s, I suddenly didn’t feel so bad about being an artist.

You see, if you’re an artist who isn’t exactly well-known and well-renowned, then it can sometimes be easy to feel that art is something of a “pointless” activity. That it’s nothing more than a pretentious-sounding solitary hobby that doesn’t really have any value in the world.

It’s easy to feel that the real heyday of art happened centuries ago and that art is one of those forgotten things that is only really kept going by a few dedicated enthusiasts, cartoonists and a tiny number of “celebrities”.

Well, you couldn’t be more wrong. Art is all around you.

It’s on some of the greetings cards that you got for your birthday, it’s on the websites that you look at, it’s on some of the junk mail that comes through the letterbox, it’s on some the album covers in your old CD collection, it’s on some of your T-shirts and tops, it’s in the editorial cartoon on the news website you read regularly, it’s on the title card of the video game review you’ve just watched on Youtube.

It’s on the covers of at least half of the books that you’ve read, it’s on some of the food packaging in your kitchen and it’s in some of the annoying banner ads that you mentally tune out whenever you look at a website. If you’ve got a smartphone, then it’s almost certainly in some the games on there that you play in your spare time.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea…

The fact is, although “art” is something that some people see as the preserve of pretentious “celebrity” artists, long-dead painters in museums and the kind of posh people who like to talk about “the arts” in recieved pronunciation (although, ironically, my accent probably sounds a little bit like received pronounciation LOL!), the world would grind to a startling halt if it wasn’t for artists.

Ok, I’m exaggerating here – but the world would look very strange if it didn’t contain any art.

Many artists aren’t well-known people who have their work shown in galleries, many artists are people who hide their work in plain sight all around us. Most artists exist anonymously in the shadows – putting out unnnamed work that makes the world a little bit more of a beautiful, amusing, cool and/or kitschy place.

Yes, this might not be the pep talk about being “the next big thing” that you were hoping for. But, at the very least, I hope that it has reminded you that there is still a place for artists in the world. And that the world needs artists too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Five Cool Little Things About Being An Artist

2014 Artwork cool things artist sketch

Well, since I can’t think of any good advice to give today, I thought that I’d come up with a list of cool little “everyday” things about being an artist – either to give you some ideas or to help you feel inspired if you’ve been listening to people who tell you that being an artist isn’t a worthwhile path through life.

1)You can make your e-mails more interesting: If you produce art fairly regularly and you’ve got a digital camera or a scanner, then you can make your daily e-mails a lot more memorable and/or interesting by including some of your art when it’s appropriate to do so.

This works best if the e-mail program and/or website that you use allows you to insert images directly into the e-mail, since people are probably slightly less likely to look at your stuff if they have to click on an attachment in order to do so.

Plus, if you attach your work to an e-mail and forget to mention it, then they might not even notice that there’s an attachment. So, if you can insert images into your e-mails directly (and the file size isn’t too large) – then do this.

2) You can impress people when you’re bored: Generally speaking, quite a few people instinctively doodle on notebooks, post-it notes, newspapers, leaflets etc… when they have to pay attention to something, since doodling improves both our attention and our memories of things.

But, if you’ve been making art for a while and you’ve done enough practice that drawing feels almost instinctive to you, then your doodles are going to be a lot more impressive than the random shapes and squiggles that most people tend to draw when they’re doodling.

What this means is that if someone looks over your shoulder or if someone notices that you’re doodling, then they’re less likely to be annoyed by it. Hell, they might even be impressed by it.

3) Personalised Gifts: If you can make art reasonably well, you can make gifts for people. Not only will this mean that you won’t have to rush around to buy last-minute birthday or Christmas presents and/or cards for people, it also means that the people you’re giving art to will have a completely unique and/or personalised gift too.

A piece of art is the kind of gift that is very memorable and can be displayed and enjoyed for years.

Not only that, if you’re the kind of starving artist that most of us probably are, it’s also a fairly inexpensive way of making high-quality gifts for people too. The only real expenses are your time, any art supplies that you use and possibly a frame of some kind.

4) Free website graphics: If you’re not an artist, then finding graphics for your website can be expensive and/or time-consuming.

You can either just use random things you find online (and risk copyright problems), you can spend hours searching for the right Creative Commons-licenced picture, you can commission some graphics from an artist or you can splash out and buy royalty-free stock images.

Of course, if you can actually create art yourself (and you have some way to get it onto your computer), then you really don’t have to worry about any of this…..

5) You see things slightly differently: I’d never really thought about this too much until I read an absolutely excellent book last year called “Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain” by Betty Edwards, but artists have a different way of looking at the world – we tend to notice things like shapes, composition, lighting etc.. a lot more than most people do.

What this generally means is that, if you ever see a beautiful view, an interesting building or anything like that, your first thought will probably be “how do I paint this?” and you’ll automatically start drawing on your artistic knowledge and analysing what you’re seeing in a way that most people don’t do. I don’t know why, but this is really cool and it reminds me a lot of the “deduction” scenes in the BBC’s “Sherlock” series.

Yes, no-one else will know that you’re thinking in this way. But it can be a very good way of impressing yourself though.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Webcomics Don’t Have To Be Fancy

2014 Artwork Fancy Webcomics Sketch

I’m probably not the first person to say any of this and I’ve probably said all of this stuff myself before but, if you’re new to making webcomics, it can be very easy to feel discouraged by looking at famous long-running webcomics.

Chances are, if you’re starting out with your first webcomic, then you won’t have the experience and/or resources to make a webcomic like the famous ones that have inspired you. And that’s ok. It’s perfectly normal. No, really, it is.

The first thing to remember about comics in general is that the quality of art or the quality of the writing doesn’t always matter as much as you might think. At least one of these two things has to be good enough for other people to be interested in it, but – especially if you’re starting out – both don’t always have to be outstandingly spectacular.

In other words, you can get away with terrible art if the writing/dialogue in your comic is really good. And, you can get away with terrible writing/stilted dialogue if people like your art. This is one of the universal truths of comics and it’s one reason why they’re so awesome.

If you don’t believe me, then take a look at a webcomic called “XKCD“. The art in it is, by technical standards at least, not always that great – in fact, all of the characters are simple stick figures that anyone can draw. But it’s such a famous and well-loved webcomic because the humour and the writing in it is both incredibly intelligent and incredibly funny.

Likewise, if you don’t believe me about the writing thing, then take a look at a professionally-produced comic book which is written in a language that you don’t understand. If you find yourself still reading it, despite the fact that you don’t know what anyone is saying, then this is pretty good proof that good art can matter more than writing can.

So, if you’re a much better writer than an artist – then focus on your writing. If you’re a much better artist than a writer – then focus on your art. You can always either team up with or hire a writer and/or artist a while later if you want to. If you can’t do this, then both your writing and drawing skills will probably improve as your comic goes along anyway through sheer practice alone.

If you don’t believe me on the second point, then take a look at the latest page of your favourite long-running webcomic (you know, something like “Penny Arcade”, “Questionable Content”, “Least I Could Do” or “CTRL-ALT-DEL”).

After you’ve done this, then take a look at the very first page of this webcomic and notice the huge difference in the quality of the art and the writing. Every webcomic improves at least slightly if it’s been going for a while – hell, even TV Tropes has a page about this.

In addition to this, it’s also important to remember that your audience will have lower standards when it comes to webcomics. This is a good thing.

Most people understand that many webcomics are produced by amateurs and that, if someone needs to stick to a regular update schedule (eg: posting a new comic 1-7 times a week), then the art is going to be simpler than it will be in a professionally-produced comic book that someone has spent months working on. As such, your audience is likely to be a lot more forgiving about any quality issues you have with your early webcomics.

In fact, making sure that you stick to your update schedule is probably a more important thing than making sure that your art and/or writing is spectacularly good. If you find the idea of a regular update schedule to be kind of daunting, then this article about an easy way to build up a “buffer” of comics might be useful to you.

So, as I said earlier, don’t let the famous webcomics on the internet put you off starting a webcomic of your own. Remember, everyone has to start somewhere.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Remember – You Are Building Daydreams

2014 Artwork Imaginative Wealth Sketch

Yes, this is another motivational talk for the times when you feel like writing, drawing, painting etc… are pointless activities that don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things and are not worth bothering with today.

Come on, we’ve all felt like that at one time or another – even if we come up with a dramatic-sounding name for it like “artist’s block” or “writer’s block”.

Sometime last month, I read an absolutely fascinating news article about a scientific study in America which showed that a significant percentage of people (supposedly a quarter of women and two-thirds of men) would rather give themselves electric shocks than be alone with nothing but their own thoughts and daydreams.

Personally, I’m completely puzzled by this. I just can’t understand it.

It might just be my limited perspective on the world, but I can’t imagine living without lots of daydreaming – whether it’s wildly optimistic daydreaming in order to stay happy during dark times, whether it’s fantastical and dramatic daydreaming to keep life interesting.

Whether it’s the almost involuntary “worst case scenario” daydreams which can bedevil me on a regular basis sometimes, whether it’s delightfully vivid and wonderful sexual fantasies or whether it’s awe-inspiring philosophical daydreams about the nature of reality – daydreams are a central part of my life and my being.

Chances are, if you’re a creative person, the same will be true for you too. You’ll be rich with daydreams. You’ll have more of them than you even know what to do with.

Go on, admit it, it’s true. If daydreams were money, you’d be a multi- billionaire.

You’d be the kind of bloated fat cat that you probably glare at with vicious jealousy when no-one is looking.

But, unlike money, daydreams can’t be hoarded easily. In fact, they’re one of the few forms of wealth which pretty much must be shared. If you are rich with daydreams, then you have to help those who are poorer – if you don’t, then you will find yourself feeling slightly “empty” or “frustrated” in a way that is difficult to describe.

And this, my friend, is why we write or create art.

But, of course, we can’t just give other people our daydreams directly. I mean, different daydreams work for different people – so we can’t just put our personal daydreams onto the page and expect “imagination-poor” people to enjoy them and benefit from them.

For example, if you wrote about being a beautiful woman who lives alone in a quirky house in the middle of nowhere with DVD boxsets of every TV show from the 1990s, with a dedicated art studio, with a fully-functioning holodeck, with a high-end gaming PC (pre-loaded with a thousand vintage FPS, platform and adventure games) and with a gigantic walk-in wardrobe filled with a wide variety of gothic outfits and eccentric vintage 1980s clothes – then not that many people would think that it would be worth reading.

Yes, it might be the kind of heavenly story that I’d gladly lose myself in for days. But most people would just find it weird.

Why? Because it’s one of my “wildly optimistic” daydreams that has been tailor-made by me specifically for me. If you aren’t transgender, if you don’t thrive in solitude, if you don’t have my eccentric fashion sense and if you aren’t obsessed with the 1990s, then this daydream probably won’t do much for you.

So, if we can’t just put our personal daydreams down on the page, how can we carry out our almost-sacred duty of sharing our imaginative wealth with those less fortunate? Simple, we give them the tools to build their own daydreams.

We make paintings of interesting scenes that make people think “I wonder what happens next?“. We tell stories set in imagined worlds that people can’t stop thinking about once they’ve finished reading your story. We make comics about interesting characters that people wish existed in real life.

In short, we make things that make other people daydream. We, even for just a few hours, lift other people out of imaginative poverty and enrich their inner lives.

We are imaginative philanthropists and we have one of the most important jobs in the world.

Do you still feel that it’s pointless to write or make art?

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Wow! This might just be my best article yet. Anyway, I hope that it was inspirational 🙂

In Order To Make Great Art, You Have To ….

2014 Artwork Great art replacement sketch

I’ve hinted at this fact before in a few of my other articles but, since I can’t think of a good idea for a new article at the moment, I thought that I’d take a closer look at one thing that you have to do in order to make great art.

Yes, some accomplished artists might be able to bypass this step in their later work, but they’ve almost inevitably done it at some point in their artistic career.

So, what is this one thing? It’s really simple “In order to make great art, you have to make bad art“.

Yes, you heard me correctly. You have to make terrible art, crappy art, worthless art, dispiritingly disappointing art, art that annoys you, abysmal art and failed art. And you have to make a lot of it. This is all a normal part of the creative process.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but it is the best way to make sure that you keep making art. Allowing yourself to make bad art occasionally stops you from being a perfectionist and perfectionism can really put the brakes on the creative process if you aren’t careful.

Allowing for the possibility that you’ll make bad art means that, if you make something terrible, then you’ll want to try again in the hope of producing something better next time rather than giving up in despair.

Or, to put it another way, making bad art is the cost of making great art. It’s the price that an artist has to pay in order to be good – not only because every failed painting or drawing was still an opportunity to practice but because it’s impossible for an artist to be great literally all of the time.

At this point, you might be saying “Well, my favourite artist – the one who inspired me to become an artist– only produces great stuff!”

Wrong! The thing to remember with great artists is that they can be very selective about which works they do and, more importantly, don’t show to the public.

I personally don’t really take this approach (probably because I’m not a great artist yet), but it’s very easy to give the impression that you only produce good stuff by only showing off your good stuff.

For example, I produced about thirty-one small paintings last month. Here are a few of them (all these paintings are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence):

"Vintage Voyage" By C. A. Brown

“Vintage Voyage” By C. A. Brown

"Amidst The Wrecks" By C. A. Brown

“Amidst The Wrecks” By C. A. Brown

"Amber Clearing" By C. A. Brown

“Amber Clearing” By C. A. Brown

"Doc Holliday" By C. A. Brown

“Doc Holliday” By C. A. Brown

"The Glowing World" By C. A. Brown

“The Glowing World” By C. A. Brown

Now, from this small sample, you might come to the conclusion that I’m an artist who always produces reasonably good stuff and that the other paintings that I haven’t shown were just as brilliant as the ones I have.

Wrong! I produced some quite frankly terrible paintings last month – like this one:

"Brighton - Sunset Station" By C. A. Brown

“Brighton – Sunset Station” By C. A. Brown

I guess one of the many reasons that I post my terrible paintings as well as my good ones on here is to show you that every artist produces terrible art every now and again.

It’s a normal part of the creative process, it isn’t really something that you can skip or bypass and, as I said earlier, it’s part of the price we all have to pay if we want to make great (or even just good) art occasionally.

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Sorry for such a short article, but I hope that it was interesting 🙂

Three Things To Do When You Can’t Produce Good Art

2014 Artwork Can't produce Good Art Sketch

If you create things on a regular basis, then you’ve probably experienced something like this before. You know, one of those horrible periods of time where whatever you create always ends up being… well… kind of crap.

These are times when you produce stuff like this badly-drawn cartoon/comic that was so terrible that I didn’t actually post it here on the 4th July, as I’d originally planned to do so:

"Time Travel" By C. A. Brown

“Time Travel” By C. A. Brown

Sometimes these times can just be annoying, but if they go on for more than a day or two, then they can start to shake your confidence in your own artistic abilities.

Since I went through one of these “crappy” phases with my art both late last month and early this month (and I went through one with my articles a couple of days ago), I thought that I’d list three tried-and-tested tricks which helped me out back then – in case they’re useful for you too 🙂

So, let’s get started:

1) Keep going: This might sound counter-intuitive, but I’ve often found that – if you keep going on producing crappy stuff on a regular basis, then you’ll suddenly start producing better stuff again. Don’t ask me how this works, but it does.

Yes, there will probably be a part of your mind which will say things like “Well, you used to be an artist. But, with terrible paintings like those – you can’t call yourself an artist any more!” and it’s very easy to feel discouraged. But, keep going. It will resolve itself.

And remember, if you’re producing art on a regular basis – regardless of how terrible it is – you’re still an artist. Likewise, if you write (whether fiction or non-fiction) on a regular basis, then you are still a writer regardless of how good the stuff you’re writing is.

Likewise, if you’ve been through a crappy phase before, then you’ll probably know that it doesn’t last forever. But, if it’s the first time that this has happened to you, then don’t let it frighten you. It will pass. Just keep going.

2) Go for the easy stuff: During my most recent crappy phase, I was actually able to paint something vaguely good.

The only problem was that it wasn’t really something I could fully call my own work. It was fan art – and, since I was playing a lot of “Duke Nukem 3D” at the time, it was Duke Nukem fan art:

"Fan Art - Always Bet On Duke" Art By C. A. Brown. 'Duke Nukem' character design and 'Always bet on Duke' slogan by 3D Realms ( Since this is fan art, this painting is NOT released under a Creative Commons licence of any kind, unlike most of my art)

“Fan Art – Always Bet On Duke” Art By C. A. Brown. ‘Duke Nukem’ character design and ‘Always bet on Duke’ slogan by 3D Realms ( Since this is fan art, this painting is NOT released under a Creative Commons licence of any kind, unlike most of my art)

Since my main problem was coming up with good original ideas for paintings, taking my imagination pretty much out of the equation and painting a character that someone else had designed helped me to actually paint something good.

Yes, the original painting that I made a while afterwards wasn’t really anything special – but, painting that piece of fan art beforehand helped to remind me that I could produce good art and it reassured me that I was indeed an artist.

3) Do something small: Despite the fact that, during the uninspired period earlier this month, making a painting often felt like squeezing blood out of a stone or doing the hoovering – I wasn’t completely unartistic.

As well as making the fan art I mentioned earlier, my sketchbook still had it’s fair share of random spontaneous doodles in it. Like this one:

It's a flower of some kind... I'm not sure why I drew it.

It’s a flower of some kind… I’m not sure why I drew it.

One of the things which can make a crappy phase even worse is when you expect literally every piece of art you create to be ground-breaking earth-shattering ART (in all-caps and bold letters). You’ll end up comparing every painting, digital painting and/or coloured pencil drawing you make with some kind of imagined definition of what “art” should be is in your mind.

So, do something small which most people (including yourself) probably wouldn’t consider to be “proper” ART. In my case, these were just simple doodles in my sketchbook which I drew with a rollerball pen – but they can be any small act of creativity which isn’t surrounded by huge expectations or high standards.

Yes, these might not help you out with the rest of your art immediately. But, on the plus side, they subtly remind you that you are indeed an artist and – most importantly – they allow you to actually create something without judging yourself harshly. Yes, it might not be ART , but it’s still art. And you’ve made it.

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Sorry that this article was so short, but I hope it was useful 🙂