Three Low-Budget Tips For Passing The Time During The Lockdown

Well, although I often try to avoid topical stuff on this blog, I thought that I’d write an extra article about passing the time during the current Coronavirus lockdown here in the UK. After all, as someone who wasn’t exactly the most extroverted person in the world before all of this happened, I’ve gained at least a little bit of knowledge about how to spend meaningful time alone on a reasonably low budget.

So, let’s get started:

1) The Internet: If you’re reading this, then you probably have an internet connection. This is good. There are an absolute ton of interesting free things on the internet that are well worth taking a look at if you want a substantial and meaningful way to pass the next few days, weeks or months. Here’s a small selection:

Let’s start with webcomics. In particular, the one webcomic I’d recommend taking a look at these days is probably Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality“. In addition to featuring lots of cool-looking ultra-detailed artwork, a subtle punk sensibility and a level of emotional and intellectual depth that wouldn’t be out of place in a high-brow novel, pretty much every comic update is also a small graphic novel in it’s own right (the perfect length for the current time). This is the kind of enriching and utterly fascinating webcomic that you can lose yourself in for hours and not feel like you’ve wasted a single second.

As for reading matter – although I prefer physical books, I’d recommend taking a look at the free selection of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” short stories and novellas on Project Gutenburg. It isn’t a complete selection (since one short story collection is still copyrighted in the US), but almost everything there can be read in any order that you want to – but be sure to read “The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes” before you read “The Return Of Sherlock Holmes” though.

Yes, the Sherlock Holmes stories are fairly old – but the writing style is surprisingly readable when you get used to it, even the novellas are often short enough not to get boring, most of the stories have aged surprisingly well (although one or two short stories unfortunately haven’t) and they usually have really gripping mystery plots too.

Another pair of out-of-copyright books that are well worth reading are John Kendrick Bangs’ “A House-Boat On The Styx” and its sequel “The Pursuit Of The House-Boat“. Yes, the writing style is a bit old and some moments may seem mildly dated – but, these things aside, these two comedy novellas about famous historical figures hanging out in the afterlife and having silly adventures still hold up reasonably well when read today.

Oh, and, of course – I can’t not mention Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Masque Of The Red Death“. If ever there was a 19th century horror story more suited to the current situation….

If reading isn’t your thing, then there is an absolute mountain of interesting Youtube channels that can provide many hours of interesting binge-watching too.

If you want something relaxing, I’d recommend this general interest/film-making channel by Austin McConnell, the landscape painting videos on the official Bob Ross Youtube channel or possibly a channel of long-form relaxation footage filmed by people walking around pre-pandemic cities on channels like Nomadic Ambience.

If you want to learn about how videogames are designed, then I’d recommend taking a look at channels like Extra Credits or Game Maker’s Toolkit. If you’re in the mood for the macabre and aren’t squeamish, then I’d recommend taking a look at Ryan Hollinger’s extended reviews/critiques of various horror movies. If you want an art channel with a slightly quirky and gothic sense of humour, then I’d recommend Mary Doodles. If you want high-brow mini-documentaries about art, film-making etc.. then take a look at Nerdwriter1. I could go on for a while, but there are a lot of very interesting binge-watchable Youtube channels out there.

If you want free games that will run on almost any computer and don’t try to sting you for micro-transactions or anything like that, then take a look at my old reviews of the following freeware games: “Freedoom“, “Beneath A Steel Sky“, “Treasure Adventure Game“, “SkyRoads“, “Tyrian 2000” and “Hacx 1.2“. Plus, I should probably give a shout-out to OpenArena and SuperTux too.

2) Your imagination: Hour upon hour of solitude is the perfect blank canvas for daydreams. Yes, you probably already know how to daydream – but, if you haven’t had any practice with doing it for sustained periods of time, then doing so might sound “weird” or “difficult”.

One of the best ways to train your imagination for extended daydreaming is to read a few novels – these will provide you with a focused and sustained “daydream” that will get you used to the idea of it. Just choose a novel that you think you will enjoy and, if reading a whole novel sounds difficult, then start with short stories.

Whilst going out to a physical bookshop or library is out of the question at the moment, there are – as I mentioned earlier – lots of older out-of-copyright novels that can legally be downloaded for free on sites like Project Gutenberg, there are still websites that sell second-hand physical books cheaply and, of course, you may possibly have a “to read” pile that you’ve been meaning to take a look at for a while. This is the perfect time!

If books aren’t your thing, then films and television can sort of provide a substitute. Sort of. At the very least, these things give you images and ideas that you can use as source material for any daydreams you might want to have after you have finished watching them.

And, no, daydreaming isn’t a “waste of time”. A long and interesting daydream can turn a “boring” moment into something much more interesting, it can lift your mood (provided it isn’t a worry-based daydream. And, yes, worrying is basically just daydreaming – but in the horror genre. So, you might already be more well-practiced at daydreaming than you think) and it can also provide you with all sorts of creative ideas and moments of inspiration. Which brings me on to….

3) Create stuff: Yes, it’s a massive cliche – but this really is the time to start practicing a creative skill.

Yes, you probably won’t be very good at it at first – but, if you do it for the sake of fun or to pass the time, then this won’t matter. It’s a way of having fun and also having something to show for it at the end. Not to mention that setting a regular practice schedule can provide you with a highlight for each day and will also mean that you will gradually get better at whatever you are doing. And, best of all, you don’t need a massive budget for any of this sort of thing too.

Quite a lot of creative skills can be practiced with equipment that you probably have lying around right now. Drawings can be made with ordinary pencils or ballpoint pens. Digital art can be made with completely free open-source programs like the GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP).

All you need to start writing fiction is either a pen and paper or a basic word processing program (either the one that came with your computer and/or a free open-source one). Smartphone cameras or that old digital camera you might have lying around can be used for photography/film. I could go on for a while, but you almost certainly have something near you right now that you can use in a creative way.

And, yes, thinking about what to do with it can be a challenge. All creative people feel uninspired from time to time – it is perfectly normal. But, try to make something – even if it isn’t very good or very imaginative, you’d be surprised at how satisfying making things can feel. Even if you never show it to anyone else, then it is worth at least doing it for the fun of doing so. At the very least, you’ll have a funny story to tell people when all of this is over.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Tips For Finding Creative Inspirations On A Low Budget

If you’re an artist or a writer, then it’s important to have lots of inspirations (but, be sure that you know how to take inspiration properly). But, of course, being “well-read” when it comes to books, art, games, comics, films etc.. generally tends to be a bit on the expensive side of things.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips on how to find inspirations relatively cheaply. Since I want to write a general guide, I won’t be mentioning specific shops or specific commercial media. But, I’ll link to free media – like in my articles about free cyberpunk inspirations and free pirate-themed inspirations.

1) It’s an attitude: There’s a certain mindset that you have to have when it comes to finding entertaining creative inspirations on a low budget.

For starters, you have to know yourself reasonably well. Having a good understanding of the types of thing that you really like (and which really inspire you) can be incredibly useful for the simple reason that you’ll be able to spot cheap things (that you’ve never heard of) that might fit into this category. This focus on self-knowledge also provides something of a bulwark against things like marketing hype etc… for newer and more expensive things too.

Secondly, you have to be somewhat patient too. We live in a culture where there’s a lot of emphasis on having the “latest” things, just because they’re new. Often, slightly older stuff is just as good or better – plus, it’s cheaper. Yes, getting used to this time gap can take a while, but it is a really good attitude to take. Plus, it also means that you’ll be a lot more selective on the few occasions that you actually buy “new” stuff too.

Thirdly, you have to be a little bit open-minded too. Often, things that are cheap may not be the things you are initially looking for. But thinking more abut price can be a great chance to discover books, films, TV shows, games etc… that you’ve never heard of before. Plus, since they cost less, there’s more incentive to try new things (rather than going for the “safe bet”) too. But, as I mentioned earlier, be sure that you have a very good understanding of your tastes and sensibilities.

2) Public domain stuff: Although copyright limits vary from country to country, it is a general principle of copyright law that once a certain number of years have passed after the death of a writer, artist etc… then the copyright on their works expires. As such, these works can legally be freely distributed on the internet, read, downloaded, borrowed from etc…

Although this time gap is fairly long (eg: in the UK and mainland Europe, it’s 70 years post-mortem. The rules are different in the US though) you’d be surprised at how many interesting copyright-free historical paintings and novels can be found on sites like Project Gutenberg (for novels) and Wikimedia Commons (which also contains lots of more modern images that have been released under various Creative Commons licences too).

3) Second-hand books/DVDs and libraries: This is kind of obvious, but libraries, second-hand books & DVDs etc.. are often your best bet when it comes to being “well-read” on the cheap.

In addition to this, there’s a certain amount of chance and randomness too. Whether you’re searching library shelves or looking at second-hand shops and/or websites that sell second-hand stuff, they will often contain things that you’ve never heard of before. And, since it’s cheaper, you can often afford to take a chance on new things too. So, this can often help you to find new creative inspirations that you’ve even never thought of before. It also means that you have to focus more on quality (and your own tastes) than on what is “popular” at the moment too.

If you don’t mind a little bit of a time gap between the things you read/watch/listen to and current culture, then things like libraries, second-hand shops etc… can often be your best bet when it comes to being “well-read” on the cheap.

Plus, buying second-hand encourages you to be a lot more selective with any “new” full-price purchases that you make too. Then again, one cool thing about Blu-Ray discs appearing is that the price of new DVDs has dropped somewhat within the past few years (eg: they’re mostly about £10 these days. Which is still a little pricey, but better than – say- ten years ago).

4) Games And Gaming: One of the largest costs associated with gaming is the actual hardware itself. Trying to keep up to date with modern gaming is an endless and expensive task. But, as flashy and cool as modern gaming culture and marketing can often seem, you don’t need an ultra-fast system or the latest games to be a gamer or to be inspired by gaming.

Seriously, there’s a lot to be said for ultra low-spec retro/indie computer gaming when it comes to creative inspiration. Not only can you play these games on much cheaper/older computers, but they are often better (or as good) than everything I’ve seen about modern large-budget games. Seriously, fun is timeless!

Older games (from the 1990s and early-mid 2000s) often had to be creative with the limitations of the hardware of the time, which often means that they leave more to the imagination. Likewise, modern low-spec 2D indie games will often also have to be creative within budget limitations too. In addition to this, many older games usually inspired more modern games (and will often have more fan-made stuff on the internet too).

The best way to buy commercial games of this type is via legitimate direct download sites, for the simple reason that the games will often be updated to run on slightly more recent (but still old/ low-spec) hardware. Most of these sites will often have sales every week or at certain times of the year, which can often be worth watching.

In addition to this, if you’re willing to look, you can also find a lot of games on the internet that can legally be downloaded and/or played for free. But, be sure to look for non-commercial games that have been made by hobbyists or for former commercial games that were later officially released as freeware. Conversely, be very, very wary of modern “free to play” games that contain microtransactions.

Some examples of proper (microtransaction-free) freeware games, in various genres, include “The Last Night“, “Hacx 1.2“, “Harmony“, “Beneath A Steel Sky“, “Tyrian 2000“, “Treasure Adventure Game“, “Freedoom“, “Rosemary“, “SuperTux“, “Hurrican“, “SkyRoads” , “Flight Of The Amazon Queen“, “Open Arena” and “DreamWeb“. So, yes, there’s no shortage of proper free games out there.

———-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

You Don’t Need A Huge Budget To Make Art

2017-artwork-low-budget-art-article-sketch

Well, thanks to playing some low-budget computer games recently, I thought that I’d talk about low-budget things today. More specifically, I’ll be talking about low-budget art.

Despite the fact that expensive image editing programs, expensive marker pens, expensive paints etc… often appear in a lot of art-related content on the internet, you don’t actually need any of them to make art. You certainly don’t need a dedicated art studio to call yourself an “artist” either.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, being an artist is all about the skills you have learnt through practice. It isn’t about the tools you use. If you don’t know what you’re doing, then you can have the most expensive art supplies and editing software in the world, and your art won’t look any better than it already does.

If you do know what you’re doing (through practice, mistakes, studying other pictures, looking for tutorials etc.. ), you can make art using nothing more than a simple, cheap ballpoint pen (and possibly a HB pencil). You can also make digital art or edit traditional art (provided you have a scanner or digital camera) using free programs.

To show you what I mean, I’ll start with a basic drawing of three spheres:

This took me about three minutes to draw, using an old ballpoint pen I found on my desk. It may not look like much, but keep reading...

This took me about three minutes to draw, using an old ballpoint pen I found on my desk. It may not look like much, but keep reading…

Now, here is what I can do with a scan of the ballpoint pen sketch if I use a free open-source image editing program called “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program):

This is the ballpoint pen sketch, after extensive editing in GIMP.

This is the ballpoint pen sketch, after extensive editing in GIMP.

This picture cost me very little, if anything, to make (my scanner and computer are both fairly old, GIMP is a free [approximately 100mb] download etc..) and yet, it’s still art. It isn’t too different to something you might see in a comic or webcomic. You could probably make a similar picture using more expensive materials and much more expensive software, but it’d still look fairly similar.

But, ballpoint pens aren’t my usual medium of choice and GIMP isn’t my usual image editing program. Yet, I was still able to create something relatively ok using a ballpoint pen for the simple reason that I’ve practiced a lot with other drawing-based mediums (eg: watercolour pencils, waterproof ink rollerball pens, 4H pencils etc..).

Likewise, I’ve mostly used other “basic” image editing programs on a daily basis for the past four or five years. So, with relatively little experience of using “GIMP” (compared to the other programs I use), I was still able to work out how to do what I wanted to do with the picture. Yes, some of the tools might work slightly differently – but “GIMP” still contains all of the basic features (and a couple of new ones) that my regular programs use.

Plus, thanks to reading about complementary colours and experimenting with them quite a bit over the past couple of years, I was able to come up with a good colour combination for the digitally-edited picture. It looks vaguely “realistic”, but it’s actually just a variant on the classic blue/orange complementary colour pair.

As I said, being an artist is all about practice. It’s all about knowledge. It’s also all about being willing to make mistakes – for example, the edited picture I showed you earlier wasn’t my first attempt at editing that particular image in “GIMP”! I messed up spectacularly the first time round:

Yes, this is what happened when I tried to edit this picture for the first time in "GIMP". Experimenting and making mistakes is all part of becoming a better artist.

Yes, this is what happened when I tried to edit this picture for the first time in “GIMP”. Experimenting and making mistakes is all part of becoming a better artist.

Being an artist is about a lot of things, but it isn’t about having fancy art supplies for the sake of having fancy art supplies. It isn’t about, say, splurging lots of money on certain expensive brands of marker pens just because your favourite artists on Youtube use them.

If you see a great piece of art that has been made with “expensive” art supplies, then it isn’t the art supplies that make that piece of art great. It’s the artist. If you want to make something as good as that, then you need to focus on learning and practicing.

In other words, making art is a bit like Judo. This is a martial art where physical strength doesn’t matter that much, when compared to good technique. Someone who is good at Judo can still throw an opponent who is more muscular than them onto the mat. It’s all about knowledge and technique. Not strength.

Something similar is true for art. It isn’t about how expensive or extensive your collection of art supplies is, it’s about what you know about using them. It’s about technique, not money.
————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

One Cool Thing That Webcomics Have In Common With Prose Fiction (But Can Do Better) – A Ramble

2017 Artwork Unlimited Budget webcomics

I can’t remember exactly where I read it, but there’s a brilliant quote from the author Matthew Reilly, where he talks about the “unlimited budget” that writers have when it comes to creating special effects and using interesting locations in their fiction. Since he writes fairly Hollywood-like thriller fiction, he takes full advantage of this fact. But, this isn’t an article about writing prose fiction, it’s an article about making webcomics.

One of the coolest things about making webcomics is that they’re both a visual medium (like television and film) and yet, they have almost all of the advantages that prose fiction does (eg: they don’t require a huge team, the writer can easily control the passage of time in the story etc..).

This was something that I noticed when starting another webcomic mini series that will appear here in mid-late March. In particular, this scene made me think about Matthew Reilly’s “unlimited budget” comments.

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st March.

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st March.

The thing is, if I was to film a live-action version of this comic, I’d have had to have actually find a museum that was willing to let me film there, commission a scale model and/ or learn how to use CGI. Either way, it would be expensive and time-consuming.

However, since this was a webcomic, the most challenging part was looking up a few pictures of galleons online so that I could work out how to draw one. It took me all of ten minutes and cost me absolutely nothing. And, unlike a written description in a story, my comic actually contains a cool-looking galleon!

This is one of the reasons why webcomics are such an amazing medium, since they’re basically an expression of pure imagination. After all, when you imagine things, you probably tend to think about them using both words and images. You don’t have to translate images into words and you don’t have to worry about the of practicalities re-creating anything in real life. You just imagine.

Yes, it takes a bit of practice to be able to make art that even vaguely resembles the images in your imagination. But, once you’ve learnt the basics (eg: how to work out how to draw things you didn’t know how to draw before), then webcomics are one of the best ways to directly transfer the contents of your imagination onto the page (or the screen).

In addition to this, one advantage that webcomics have over mediums like film and literature is the fact that you are in total control of how everything is presented. If you want to give your webcomic a more “realistic” look (if you’ve had enough practice) then you can. However, if you want to use a more unrealistic art style in order to compliment the kinds of stories and/or jokes that you are telling, then you can also do this too.

Plus, if you post your comics online (hence why I’ve been talking about “webcomics”, rather than just “comics”) you also have a lot more control over the size and format of the comics that you make (eg: some of the most creative examples of this can be found in an excellent webcomic called “Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree).

The worldwide distribution costs of your webcomic can be anything from nothing to very little. Again, this is another reason why webcomics can do more than any other medium – with only a fraction of the budget and/or no budget.

You can also do things like adding animations to your comics too (I haven’t done this with any of my more recent comics but, with the right skills and a few basic programs, it’s certainly possible to turn a comic update into an animated gif).

Because of all of this additional flexibility, webcomics are able to do all sorts of things that would require a significant budget in various other mediums.

——–

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

It’s Best To Promise Less And Deliver More

2014 Artwork Promise Less Deliver More

Do you remember the last time that you read a bestselling novel by a famous author, played a “triple A” computer game and/or watched a widely-advertised mega-budget Hollywood movie that you really absolutely loved? Yes, I’m sure that it’s probably happened to you at least once or twice.

Now, here’s a more interesting question. Do you remember the last time you looked at something old, low-budget, independently-produced, cheap and/or generally unknown and were absolutely astonished by how good it was?

Chances are that you’ll probably remember the latter more than you remember the former.

Why? Well, it all comes down to expectations really. Generally with popular and/or large-budget things, people’s expectations are pretty high – they expect these things to be slickly-produced and spectacular. So, at best, these things can either meet people’s expectations or they can fall short of them.

It’s surprisingly difficult for a widely-hyped, high-budget, famous thing to surpass people’s expectations enough to become a modern classic.

Yes, it can happen, but it’s fairly rare when you compare the number things that are seen as “modern classics” to the number of bestselling novels, Hollywood movies and high-budget games that have been produced over, say, the last couple of decades.

On the other hand- low-budget, old and/or independently-produced things have a massive advantage here. Because they’re usually cheaper and they have a lot less publicity, then people are going to have much lower expectations when they look at them.

This, of course, means that it’s much easier to surpass people’s expectations and give them something that will really surprise them.

Yes, at best, this will usually make something a “cult classic” rather than a “modern classic”. But, well, it’s a lot better than total obscurity.

So, why is this useful?

Well, if you’re reading this, then there’s a good chance that you aren’t a famous author, artist, director or programmer. In fact, you probably don’t have millions of pounds or dollars to spend on your next creative project. And, let’s face it, it can be easy to feel dejected under these circumstances.

But, don’t feel hopeless. Remember, you have a huge advantage over your high-budget competition – people have low expectations about anything that you will produce.

What this means is that if you are good at what you do, or even if you’re good at just giving people something entertaining and/or pleasantly different to the things that they’re used to – then they will remember you.

Your work will be a rare gem amongst what most people see as a dreary sea of mediocrity. And, as such, people will probably like it a lot more than the latest Hollywood blockbuster, mega-budget game or famous bestselling novel because the gap between their expectations and the quality of your work will be larger.

Not only that, they’ll also feel like they’ve actually discovered something special – either by accident or through careful searching – rather than just being told what they “should” be reading, watching or playing by looking at advertising. As such, not only will they enjoy your work but they’ll also feel a sense of achievement when they find it.

So, don’t feel bad if you don’t have a large budget or much in the way of fame. In fact, it’s an advantage…

———-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂