Two Sneaky Ways To Be An Inspired Artist Again

Well, it’s been a few days since I wrote about making art. So, I thought that I’d talk about how to get into an inspired frame of mind because I seem to be feeling very inspired at the time of writing. This has led to digitally-edited paintings like these:

“Metal Returns” By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunk Ruins” By C. A. Brown

But, during the weeks before this, I found myself grappling with uninspiration a few times. Whether it was the uninspiration that comes from thinking things like “what’s the point of making art? It feels like a chore” or whether it was the type of uninspiration where you just can’t think of what to paint, it was a world apart from the inspired phase I’m going through at the time of writing.

So, I thought that I’d offer a couple of tips for getting into a highly inspired frame of mind. Enjoy 🙂

1) Enjoy something new!: This may sound counter-intuitive, but find a creative work that you really enjoy, then enjoy it. This works especially well if it’s something that is new to you, but it can also work with fairly familiar stuff too. But, why can this make you feel more inspired?

First of all, it reminds you of how awesome creativity can be. If a game, comic, song, novel, film, TV show etc.. can make you feel amazed, then it means that it is possible for creative works to evoke these emotions. And, guess what? You also have the power to make things that make you feel awesome. So, it can be a great motivational tool.

Not only that, seeing things that you enjoy makes you think “I want to make something like that“. This then means that you’ll have an incentive to work out how to take inspiration from the thing you’ve seen and then create something new and original. In other words, seeing something that amazes you not only gives you a starting point for an original piece of art but it also gives you a thrilling challenge too (eg: how can I make something new and original that makes me feel as awesome as I did when I saw that other thing?).

In addition to this, it also makes you think about your favourite things. After all, if you are amazed by something, there has to be a reason for it. This will probably cause associative memories of other things that fill you with enthusiasm, fascination etc.. and help you to feel inspired.

For example, a couple of days before I made the inspired paintings I showed you earlier, I remembered reading Shaun Hutson’s “Erebus” and this made me think of the 1980s, cheesy horror movies, gloomy rural locations, ominous things lurking in the shadows and other wonderfully cheesy and atmospheric things. Needless to say, this also led to a highly inspired painting:

“Rural Gothic” By C. A. Brown

Finally, it makes you relax. Feeling uninspired is stressful, depressing, annoying etc… and if you focus on these emotions, then it’s only going to get worse. So, distracting yourself by spending some time with an awesome creative work can be a good way to get into a more relaxed and cheerful frame of mind. This can help you feel inspired.

2) Try something different:
Another way to make highly inspired art is to think of an artistic technique, art material, art style etc.. that you either haven’t used for a while or are vaguely curious about. This can help you feel inspired again for a couple of different reasons.

The first is that it adds an element of novelty to the “ordinary” process of making art. In other words, it makes making art feel excitingly new again. This is one way to deal with the “making art feels like a chore” type of uninspiration.

For example, both of the two example paintings at the beginning of the article use digital lighting effects. Although I’ve used these effects a few times before, they aren’t something I’ve really used that regularly. So, they were something that seemed worth experimenting with – especially since they require you to think even more carefully about lighting (eg: placement of light sources etc..) when painting. And, since lighting is one of my favourite elements of painting, this revitalised my interest in painting again.

Likewise, the painting that I’ll be posting here tonight also allowed me to experiment again with adding mist effects to my art digitally (using the “airbrush” feature in GIMP, but with the brush size cranked up to over 300-400). Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here later tonight.

So, yes, trying different or new things can be a great way to feel inspired again.

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Anyway, I hope that this 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 🙂

Priming Yourself For Creativity (In Theory And Practice)

Well, for today, I thought that I’d take a quick look at one of the more basic preventative techniques that can be used to reduce the chances of writer’s block or artist’s block happening when you start writing or drawing. I’ll be using art-related examples in this article (since I tend to use this technique a lot more with art), but it can apply to writing too. I’ll also give you an example of how it works in practice too.

The technique itself is fairly simple and it’s basically a good version of the psychological technique of “Priming“. This is a rather sneaky trick used by illusionists, salespeople, advertisers etc.. and it revolves around how seeing, reading or hearing things can subtly influence a person’s subsequent thoughts.

So, before you start painting, think of something relevant to your project and/or something that you find cool. If you’re starting a new creative work then the “something cool” part is essential, since fascination is a major part of this technique.

Once you’ve found your subject matter, go online and do an image search for the subject in question. Don’t spend too long looking at any individual image (and read this article if you’re worried that doing this might lead to accidental plagiarism), but look at what they have in common with each other – in terms of things like colour schemes, perspective etc…. The goal here is to learn general information and to “prime” yourself.

So, look at lots of pictures until you start to feel “in the mood” for making original works of this type. Listen to any relevant music too if this helps. Although this method isn’t exactly foolproof at preventing uninspiration, it can work quite a bit of the time. Plus, it’s also something of a relaxing ritual than can help you to get into the mood for creativity too.

But, how does it work in practice? Well, the day before I wrote this article, I was getting ready to make one of my daily paintings for January. Although I already had a vague idea of what I wanted to paint since I’d been listening to a lot of heavy metal (well, slightly more than usual) the day before, I still needed to really get in the mood for it.

So, I started listening to this really cool music video I’d discovered the day before and I also looked at as many heavy metal album covers as I could.

Looking at these album covers reminded me of the main features of this art genre – namely the kind of gloomy lighting and bold colours I already use in most of my paintings, dramatic visual storytelling, elements from the horror genre (eg: skeletons, monsters etc..) etc…

So, with these general features in mind and an absolutely awesome heavy metal song playing in the background, I started my painting and…

…. It failed. The composition wasn’t quite right, the “scary monster” didn’t look that good and the whole picture just didn’t fill me with enthusiasm. I abandoned it halfway through making it. Here it is:

Yes, this technique doesn’t always work the first time. But…

But, despite this setback, my earlier “priming” meant that I was still in the mood for making heavy metal art. So, I still had the enthusiasm to try again. But, I realised that “monsters” was a complete non-starter. So, I remembered one of the other “cool” elements of this genre – the 1980s! So, I thought that I’d make a painting of a 1980s-style heavy metal guitarist.

Plus, since I was starting to run out of time, I also decided to introduce elements from another “cool” genre when drawing and painting the background. Since I’ve “primed” myself to make cyberpunk art more times than I can remember, it’s easy to get inspired when it comes to this type of art. And, after a while, I’d made a painting that I was quite proud of. Here’s a preview:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 26th January.

So, yes, this technique doesn’t always work the first time, but it can certainly work!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Reasons Why The Noir Genre Is So Interesting ( If You’re An Artist)

2017-artwork-whats-so-interesting-about-the-noir-genre

[Edit: D’oh! I’ve just realised that I posted an almost identical article about this subject in February *facepalm*. Even so, this stuff is worth repeating.]

The night before I wrote this article, I watched the first episode of a dystopian alternate history drama called “SS-GB“. One of the things that I thought whilst watching was “Wow! Some parts of this look a bit like ‘Blade Runner‘. I love the lighting, the costumes etc..” It was then that I remembered that the only thing that these two things have in common is that they were both heavily inspired by the film noir genre.

So, I thought that I’d look at some of the really cool artistic features of this genre and why it’s worth checking out if you’re an artist. There are too many to list here, but here are three of them:

1) Lighting is everything: One of the cool things about the noir genre is it’s heavy emphasis on lighting. The term “film noir” literally translates to “black film” and gloomy darkness is a central feature of the genre. All of this gloom makes the lighting stand out a lot more than usual.

In other words, it’s a genre that allows you to play around with the lighting. You have to think carefully about the light sources in your artwork and place them in such a way that they highlight the important parts of the painting, cast dramatic shadows etc… whilst still ensuring that the painting still contains enough darkness to contrast with the light.

Likewise, if you’re blending the noir genre with the sci-fi genre, then you can also give your artwork a “futuristic” look by using different colours of light (just make sure that they’re complementary colours). Like in this heavily digitally-edited painting of mine from last year which uses red, green and blue lighting:

"City Of Towers" By C. A. Brown

“City Of Towers” By C. A. Brown

Another good thing about film noir lighting is that it’s also the perfect thing to use if you’re making art in a hurry too. Since a good piece of noir art should contain as much (or more) darkness than light, it usually means that you only have to add detail to 30%-70% of the total area of your painting, like in this painting of mine that will be posted here in December:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will appear here on the 5th December.

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will appear here on the 5th December.

As you can see, about 50-60% of this painting consists of nothing more than black paint. So, atmospheric film noir lighting can also be a great way to save time too.

2) Visual Storytelling: Another cool thing about the film noir genre is that, because it started with detective and thriller films (and things like hardboiled detective novels, crime comics etc..), there’s a lot more emphasis on visual storytelling. In order to create an interesting-looking piece of film noir art, you pretty much have to hint at some kind of story in your artwork.

This is probably also one reason why noir-influenced art tends to turn up in comics quite a bit too. It’s a style that is designed for intrigue, mystery and melodrama. After all, virtually every early work in the noir genre had to tell an intriguing story of some kind. So, storytelling is a huge part of the genre.

This emphasis on storytelling also extends to the interesting range of perspectives and compositions used in the genre. For example, one instant way to add a suspenseful “noir” look to your artwork is simply to tilt everything in the picture by 30-45 degrees. Like in this cyberpunk/noir sci-fi painting of mine:

"Midnight Centre" By C. A. Brown

“Midnight Centre” By C. A. Brown

3) Fashion, minimalism and location design: One of the cool thing about the film noir genre is it’s emphasis on fashion and style. Because the genre evolved during a time when fashions were more formal, the genre tends to look a bit “unrealistic” in a visually interesting way.

Plus, since this is contrasted with the minimalist simplicity of many vintage fashions – eg: dark trenchcoats, sleek black dresses, three-piece suits, pencil skirts etc.. it can give noir artwork an almost timeless look too. I mean, it’s one reason why the noir genre can be so easily combined with the sci-fi genre – like in this old sci-fi painting of mine from 2015:

"Data Tower" By C. A. Brown [2015]

“Data Tower” By C. A. Brown [2015]

In addition to this, the location design in the noir genre is quite interesting. In older works in the noir genre, locations just tended to be fairly “realistic” and slightly minimalist.

But, in more modern interpretations of the genre, there tends to be more of an emphasis on locations that are intriguingly cluttered with lots of fascinatingly mysterious objects. This can be a great way to hint at a larger story or to create a location that seems both cosy and creepy at the same time. Like in this painting which will appear here later this month:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will appear here on the 17th November.

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will appear here on the 17th November.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Three Totally Rad Things That Artists Can Learn From 1990s Computer Games

2017-artwork-learning-from-1990s-games

Whilst procrastinating by playing “Doom II” WADs and watching video reviews of modern 1990s-style games on Youtube, I suddenly thought “It’s been a while since I last wrote a 1990s-themed article.” Since I didn’t have any better ideas, I decided to run with it.

So, here are a few of the interesting things that artists can learn from 1990s computer games:

1) High-contrast lighting: Due to the rapid development of game technology in the 1990s, one area that game developers focused on a lot was realistic lighting. Whether it was the gloomy corridors in 1993’s “Doom” or the glowing projectiles and ambient lighting in countless games from the late 1990s/very early 2000s, lighting was a big deal in old computer games.

And, because of this, they can teach us a lot about how to include interesting lighting in our artwork. For example, these games often included gloomier locations purely because it makes the lighting stand out more. The darker your locations are, the more interesting things you can do with the lighting. If you ever want to include cool-looking lighting in your art, this is something that is worth bearing in mind.

Likewise, the lighting in these games often followed relatively simple “rules”, which can be useful when you’re learning how to paint realistic lighting. In other words, either an area around the light would be lit up. Or, in more advanced games, the colour/brightness of anything near the light would be changed.

Studying these kind of things can help you include interesting lighting in your art, like this:

"9:34 PM" By C. A. Brown

“9:34 PM” By C. A. Brown

2) Visual storytelling: One cool thing about gaming in the 1990s was the fact that, in many games, the emphasis was firmly on the actual gameplay. These were games that were designed to be played, not watched.

As such, storytelling was something of a secondary consideration in many games from the 90s. Sometimes, you’d get some text about the game’s story in the manual, or you might get the occasional animated scene or in-game document. But, with the exception of “point and click” and role-playing games, most 1990s games didn’t really care that much about storytelling

And, yet, they often included more storytelling than you might think. It’s just that they were subtle about how they included it. Often, details about the game’s world or story would be shown through background objects, character actions/character design etc…. Rather than telling a story, they’d sometimes just show you a few things that hint at it and let you fill in the details yourself.

When you’re making art, you only have a single static image in which to tell a story. Likewise, your primary concern should be making cool-looking art – but this doesn’t mean that you can’t use the background details, character actions etc… to hint at a larger story – like this:

"Cafe Cyberpunk" By C. A. Brown

“Cafe Cyberpunk” By C. A. Brown

3) Humour: Finally, one thing that sets 1990s games apart from many modern games is the fact that they didn’t usually take themselves entirely seriously. There are too many examples to list here but, in everything from FPS games to “point and click” games, you could often find all sorts of subtle jokes scattered throughout a game.

This is one of the things that makes 1990s games such a joy to play – they know that they’re meant to be entertaining. They aren’t afraid to be slightly silly. And they’re a lot more enjoyable as a result.

So, don’t be afraid to add some subtle humour to some of your art. Yes, it doesn’t have to be laugh-out-loud funny, but adding a bit of visual humour, written humour etc… to some of your artwork can instantly make it more visually interesting (as well as rewarding people who want to take a closer look). Like this:

"Cyberpunkwharf" By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunkwharf” By C. A. Brown

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Nostalgia Itself Can Sometimes Be More Inspirational Than The Things That Provoke It- A Ramble

2017-artwork-nostalgia-itself-article-sketch

Although I’m going to start this article by talking about a time when I revisited a game that I felt nostalgic about, there’s a good reason for this. But, if you’re interested in some ideas about nostalgia and creative inspiration, then it might be worth skipping the next four paragraphs or so.

The afternoon before I originally wrote this article, I was in a vaguely nostalgic mood and decided to take another look at a computer game from 2006 called “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” that I played for the first time in late 2011 (after playing the original “The Longest Journey” game during summer 2011).

Although I didn’t feel like replaying the whole thing, I wanted to quickly relive some of the good memories that I had of this game. So, I loaded up one of my old save files from near the beginning of the game – ready to jump back into the complex immersive fictional world that I remembered so fondly.

But, it didn’t seem right. Dialogue that seemed significant and emotionally powerful just a few years ago just came across as needlessly melodramatic or “depressing for the sake of depressing”. Likewise, the large explorable futuristic version of Casablanca that I remembered from the beginning of the game actually just seemed to be a few linear streets. Previously interesting characters just seemed to be more annoying than anything else. There were also more loading screens than I remembered.

After a few minutes, I stopped playing. This wasn’t the game that I remembered! Sure, it looked vaguely similar. Sure, the characters looked the same. But, it just seemed less enchanting, immersive and dramatic than it was a few years ago.

This, naturally, made me think about the nature of nostalgia.

It took me a while to remember that nostalgia is as much about the difference between the person you were in the past and the person you are now as it is about any specific game, movie, book, TV show, song, comic etc…

Generally, we become nostalgic about things for one of two reasons. Something either seems to sum up a particular time period perfectly (eg: floppy disks, audio cassettes and POGs sum up the 1990s quite well), or it has a strong emotional impact on us when we first encountered it. It was exactly the right thing that we needed to play, watch, hear or read at a particular time in our lives. It was something that either fired our imaginations, helped us to understand ourselves and/or provided something good during a gloomy time.

If nostalgia falls into the latter category, then it is often best to avoid revisiting it. After all, even though it was a small- but essential – thing that helped to make you the person you are today, you are almost certainly at least a slightly different person to the one you were in the past.

So, if you try to revisit something that used to have an emotional resonance with you, then it probably won’t have exactly the same resonance any more. You’ll probably end up looking at it in a more dispassionate and disconnected kind of way. Needless to say, it won’t live up to the vital and important memories that you have of it.

However, if you don’t look at it again, it’ll still be the amazing thing that it once was. You’ll remember it as being much better, much more dramatic, much more significant, much more detailed etc… than it actually is. And, if you’re a creative person, then this is exactly the sort of thing that you need in order to get inspired.

After all, inspiration comes from using your imagination to turn pre-existing things into new things. It comes from seeing something and thinking “I want to make my own version of that!” and/or “I wonder what something like that would be like if I added something else to it?

Since nostalgia tends to do some this for you automatically, you’ll be in a much more advantageous position to start coming up with creative ideas if you take inspiration from the nostalgia itself, rather than the thing that actually made you feel nostalgic.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂