Three More Tips For Making Better Paintings When You’re Extremely Tired

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The night before writing this article, I was extremely tired. I’d been awake for almost 24 hours and, at about 1am, I realised that I needed to make a daily painting.

But, unlike my usual “tired paintings” (that often look like something that I made 6-12 months ago), this digitally-edited painting only looked like something that I’d made 2-3 months ago. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

 The full-size painting will be posted here on the 20th September.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 20th September.

So, how can you make better paintings when you are extremely tired? Here are a few tips:

1) Focus on the scenery: If you look at the preview painting that I showed you, you’ll see that it mostly consists of… well… scenery. Sure, there are a couple of people in it but, they’re standing in the distance and/or are drawn in a slightly undetailed way. The main focus of the painting is on the giant city that they are standing in.

Now, compare it to this preview of a quick “minimalist” painting that I made on the day when my all-nighter began, when I was considerably more awake:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 19th September.

As you can see, the painting that I made when I was awake features a lot more character detail. The person sitting on the chair is shown in detailed close-up, rather than hidden slightly in the distance. But, why didn’t I do this in the “tired” painting and why shouldn’t you?

Simply put, people are more difficult to draw well than angular buildings, natural landscapes etc… are. A lot more complex thought has to go into character designs – including everything from their pose to their clothes, hairstyles, expressions etc… And, if you’re tired, than you need to conserve that mental energy.

So, you can make much more impressive-looking paintings when you’re extremely tired if you mostly focus on painting the scenery. Sure, you can do things like adding a few undetailed people to the background but, for the most part, you’ll make much better “tired” paintings if you focus more on buildings and scenery than on painting people.

2) Have an inspiration right in front of you: First of all, if you’re making a painting when you’re extremely tired, then you should make it in a genre that you really love and, more importantly, a genre of art which you’ve already practiced a lot.

For me, this genre is the cyberpunk genre. This is a genre that almost always inspires me in some way, and it’s a genre that has had a huge influence on my art. Your own “inspirational genre” may be different though.

But, when you’ve found the genre that inspires you a lot – find a DVD, internet video, piece of music etc… from that genre and put it on in the background when you are painting.

No, you shouldn’t directly copy any of it (although taking inspiration is perfectly fine), but having something from your favourite genre directly in front of you can help to get you in the mood for making art. It’s a way to increase what limited motivation you’ll have when you’re extremely tired.

For example, when painting the picture at the beginning of the article, I re-watched two and a half episodes of “Ghost In The Shell: SAC 2nd Gig“. This made me remember the highly-inspired cyberpunk art that I made when I watched this TV series for the first time (which helped me to feel motivated). Likewise, the futuristic cityscapes shown in the TV show helped to put me in more of a “cyberpunk” kind of mood.

Yes, the actual painting itself was more heavily inspired by other things in the cyberpunk genre (Blade Runner” and “Technobabylon” spring to mind for starters…). But, I was able to work up the enthusiasm to make it by watching something else from the same genre. So, yes, having an inspiration directly in front of you can be a useful thing when you’re extremely tired.

3) Use every trick in the book: Finally, if you want to make good-looking art when you’re tired, then you’ll have to be sneaky. You need to use every piece of art-based trickery in your repertoire to give the illusion that your painting is more detailed than it actually is. If you’ve practiced enough, this sort of thing should be second-nature to you.

There are too many tricks to list here but, to give you an example, here’s a reduced-size version of my “tired” painting that highlights all of the detail in the painting:

 All areas featuring artistic detail have been highlighted green.

All areas featuring artistic detail have been highlighted green.

If you compared the number of green pixels to the number of black pixels in this picture, it would probably only be something like 30-40% green and 50-70% black. In other words, through careful use of composition and lighting, I was able to make a better painting when I was extremely tired by only adding detail to less than half of the painting.

Likewise, here’s a close-up detail of one of the background details in the painting, from a version of the painting that doesn’t include any rain. For the sake of clarity, I’ve also digitally removed all of the colours from this close-up:

This is a close-up of a greyscale background detail from a version of the painting that doesn't include any rain. As you can see, most of the buildings are just simple shapes and/or random scribbles.

This is a close-up of a greyscale background detail from a version of the painting that doesn’t include any rain. As you can see, most of the buildings are just simple shapes and/or random scribbles.

Although distant objects in paintings are meant to look less detailed, this looks extremely undetailed (and more like a rough doodle than anything else). Yet, thanks to both the vivid colour scheme that I used and the rain that I digitally added to the background after scanning the painting, it looks a bit more detailed in the final painting:

This is the same area in the final painting. The lighting, colours and digitally-added rain make it look slightly more detailed.

This is the same area in the final painting. The lighting, colours and digitally-added rain make it look slightly more detailed.

So, yes, if you’re making a painting when you’re extremely tired, then be sure to use every sneaky artistic trick that you know.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Ghoulish Tips For Making 1980s-Inspired Horror Artwork

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Although the 1990s were probably cooler, if there’s one thing to be said for the 1980s, it’s that the horror genre looked way cooler back then!

Not only were splatterpunk horror novels and video nasties at the peak of their popularity, but the art associated with these things was much cooler. Seriously, this was a decade where heavy metal albums were more likely to feature hyper-detailed paintings on the cover than mere photographs or anything like that.

The 1980s was probably the last truly pre-CGI / pre-digital art decade and this meant that, if people wanted interesting illustrations for their horror novel covers, low-budget VHS covers, heavy metal album covers etc… they often had to use actual illustrations.

So, how can you make art in this style? Here are a few tips:

1) Use your own style: This might sound a bit counter-intuitive but, if you’ve already developed your own art style, then use it! Yes, it probably won’t look exactly like “authentic” 1980s horror artwork (especially if your style is very cartoonish, like mine) but it will make your art look distinctive and unique.

Not only that, using your own art style adds a certain knowing tone to the artwork. It shows that your painting or drawing is something made by a fan of 1980s-inspired horror artwork for fans of 1980s-inspired horror artwork. It allows you to tip your hat to the things that have inspired you, whilst also acknowledging that your artwork was made in the present day.

For example, this reduced-size preview of one of my upcoming paintings is extremely cartoonish. It features adorable stylised monsters, exaggerated 1980s fashions and only a tiny amount of blood. And yet, hopefully, it still makes you think of the horror genre in the 1980s:

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

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

Plus, as cynical as it sounds, using your own style also allows you to get on with making 1980s-style horror artwork art straight away. One of the distinctive things about horror-themed artwork from the 1980s was that it was incredibly realistic. It sometimes had a similar level of realism and technical quality to many famous historical paintings. In other words, it’s the sort of thing that takes years of formal training and/or decades of practice to make.

So, even just for simple practical reasons, use your own art style.

2) Do your research: If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably got the internet. So, as long as you’re reading this at home (and not at work, at school etc..) and aren’t easily disturbed by grotesque imagery, open up a search engine and do an image search for “1980s horror novel covers” or “1980s horror VHS covers”.

Now look at the hundreds of images and see what they have in common with each other. Once you’ve worked this out, then try to find a way to incorporate these general themes into your own 1980s-style horror artwork.

If you can’t do the research, then common themes include: visual contrast, visual storytelling, gruesome monsters, clever use of lighting, a slight degree of minimalism, understated gory imagery (since, with blood and guts, less is often more) etc….

In fact, now that you have this list, you already know all of the important stuff. But, I’ll spend the rest of the article going into detail about the first two things on the list, because they’re especially important.

3) Visual storytelling: Whether it was a novel cover, a VHS cover or an album cover, horror-themed artwork from the 1980s was attention-grabbing. This was mostly done through the use of visual storytelling.

In other words, things were happening in these pictures. Monsters lurched towards screaming bystanders, creatures lurked ominously, skeletons glared at the reader with hollow eyes, axes were brandished menacingly etc…..

Horror artwork from the 1980s had an immediacy and an impact that modern horror artwork sometimes doesn’t, for the simple reason that it was closer in style to a panel from a comic book or a frame from a horror movie. In other words, it often looked like a single moment from a much larger story. And, if you can add some action to your artwork, then it will instantly look more like something from the 80s.

For example, here’s another reduced-size art preview (that regular readers might recognise). Even though this digitally-edited painting uses my cartoonish style and is clearly set in the present day, it still evokes the horror art of the 1980s through the fact that it includes some visual storytelling – namely, a razorblade-wielding zombie lunging towards a terrified traveller:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 16th September.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 16th September.

4) Visual contrast: Another great thing about old 1980s horror artwork is that it made expert use of visual contrast. In other words, the important parts of the picture “stood out” a lot more because they were contrasted with a dark background.

In fact, many horror novel covers from the 1980s just use a solid black background, in order to make the rest of the artwork look brighter and more vivid by comparison.

If you look closely at the two preview pictures that I included earlier in the article, you’ll see that each painting consists of at least 30-50% black paint. As well as being a good general rule to follow for making cool-looking art, this also makes everything else in the picture stand out a lot more, whilst also giving the paintings a rather gloomy and ominous atmosphere.

So, if you want to give your horror artwork more of an ’80s look, then add some darkness!

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Making Minimalist Art (Or, My Interpretation Of It)

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Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk briefly about minimalist art. Or, rather, I’ll be talking about my own approach to minimalist art. This is mostly because knowing how to make art that includes relatively little detail can be extremely useful when you are either feeling uninspired or if you don’t have too much time.

There are lots of different approaches to making minimalist art, and I’ll only be covering one of them here. But, here are a few tips for how to make minimalist art in the way that I do:

1) Darkness: Shrouding large parts of your painting or drawing in darkness can be a great way to make minimalist art. Not only does the darkness make all of the colours in the painting look bolder by comparison, but it also allows you to do things like play with the lighting in your painting and to use a limited colour palette too (just remember to use pairs of complementary colours when choosing your palette).

One of the advantages of using darkness (with a few small light sources) is that, if you know what you are doing, you can leave a lot to the audience’s imagination. In other words, you can tell a story only using a few small visual details.

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a digitally-edited painting that I’ll be posting here in September:

The full-size painting will appear here on the 15th September.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 15th September.

As you can see, most of the painting is filled with black paint. But, the silhouette of a tail against the red doorway in the background implies the presence of some kind of alien monster. Likewise, the outline of the man is standing upright in an alert way, with the lights in front of him illuminating part of a pistol in his hand. This picture contains a fairly small amount of detail, but it still hints at a story of some kind.

2) Detail choice: Although your painting should look “minimalist” from a distance, one way to make it seem less minimalist (and look less “lazy”) is to add a lot of detail to a few small areas of the painting. These should usually be areas that are close to the foreground.

For example, here’s another art preview. This is a digitally-edited painting that will be posted here later this month and it features no background detail whatsoever and only four objects (three trees and a glowing orb).

The full-size painting will appear here on the 24th August.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 24th August.

As you can probably see, the tree in the foreground has a lot of extra detail. There are striations and realistic shadows on it’s trunk, there are veins on the leaves and even the soil that it sits in has some level of detail. The other trees have considerably less detail than this but, because the detailed tree is the first tree that the audience sees (and the other trees are further away), they’re just going to assume that the other trees have the same level of detail. They don’t.

So, if you want to make a “minimalist” painting that doesn’t seem like something lazy, then add a high level of detail to a few select parts of the picture.

3) Silhouettes:
One way to give the impression of detail, whilst keeping your painting fairly minimalist is to make heavy use of silhouettes.

But, as a general rule, if you are going to include a silhouette, then there should be a light source of some kind behind it. After all, this is how silhouettes work in real life.

One advantage of using silhouettes is that, as long as you get the outline vaguely right, then your audience will automatically imagine all of the details that you haven’t included.

Plus, even a more limited use of silhouettes can also give your artwork an ominously gothic “look” too- like in this almost-minimalist digitally-edited painting of mine that makes heavy use of silhouettes:

"Storage" By C. A. Brown

“Storage” By C. A. Brown

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three More Tips For Making Art That Looks Like It’s From The ’90s

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A while before I started writing this article, I ended up salvaging a failed painting using lots of digital editing. This painting was originally meant to be a 1980s-style cyberpunk painting, but it ended up looking more like something from the 1990s when I was finished with it. Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 30th August.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 30th August.

So, after this, I thought that I’d talk about some more ways to make your art look like it’s from the 1990s (since I’m sure I’ve written about this topic at least once or twice before).

1) Cultural hangovers and old nostalgia: Nostalgia wasn’t invented in this decade. In other words, people were getting nostalgic for past decades (in a stylised way) during the 1990s too. Likewise, there was probably a bit of a cultural hangover from the 1980s too. So, one way to make your art look more 90s is to include things that are vaguely reminiscent of the 1960s-80s in your art, but to give them more of a 1990s-style twist.

In other words, make things from the ’60s and ’70s look slightly darker, use more high-contrast colour combinations and/or include gloomier lighting. Remember, the 1990s was a slightly nihilistic decade where it was fashionable for things to be “dark and edgy”.

As for things from the 1980s, include the occasional 80s-style thing (eg: jackets with shoulder pads, 1980s technology, floral dresses etc..), but try not to include too much of it.

For example, the lighting effect on the characte’s t-shirt in the art preview I showed you was originally meant to just be ambient lighting. However, once I’d finished the painting, I noticed that it looked a bit like a 1960s tie-dye shirt. However, like with the cover of Bad Religion’s “No Control” album, it has more of a 90s-style look purely because it’s contrasted with several dark parts of the image.

2) What was cool: One easy way to make your art look more ’90s is to try to remember what was considered “cool” in the 1990s. Then include it in your painting, depicted in a “cool” way.

For example, computers were still cool in the 1990s. The internet gripped the public imagination in both good and bad ways. For example, computer hackers were often portrayed as either cool rebels or scarily omnipotent figures in movies like “Hackers”, “The Net”, “Ghost In The Shell”, “The Matrix” etc.. rather than the mundane criminals that they are considered to be today.

So, although my painting was originally meant to be a 1980s-style cyberpunk painting (hence the ultra-bulky bulky laptop), the fact that it features a slightly “alternative” character using a laptop also makes the painting look a bit 90s too. After all, whilst someone using a laptop is a mundane thing these days, it was probably a lot more unusual and cool back in the 90s.

So, yes, search for things that were considered “cool” in the 1990s and then add them to your art in a cool way. Another good example of this sort of thing would probably be either skateboards or flip phones (although flip phones are probably more ’00s than ’90s).

3) Movies and TV:
Because it’s still relatively recent, a “realistic” painting set in the 1990s may not always stand out as being “retro”. So, look to the more stylised world of 1990s movies and TV shows for inspiration.

The best things I’ve found are probably American movies and TV shows from the early-mid 1990s, for the simple reason that they look a bit more “old”. Plus, the 90s was a lot weirder and more interesting in American movies than it was here in Britain (then again, other countries always look more interesting in comparison to the ones you’re used to).

So, watch these things. Look at what types of clothes the characters are wearing. Look at their hairstyles. Look at the kind of set design that was popular back then. Look at the kind of lighting, especially in sci-fi and horror movies, that was all the rage back then.

Once you’ve done that, stop watching and then try to create something similar (but different) from memory alone a while later. Working from memory helps to ensure that you don’t accidentally copy something verbatim, since memory is inherently unreliable. If you want more tips on how to take inspiration without copying, then check out this other article.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Making Art When You Are Tired

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I’m not sure if I’ve written about this subject before, but I thought that I’d take a look at how you can make art when you are feeling tired. This is mostly because I ended up pulling an all-nighter a couple of nights before writing this article and, like with previous all-nighters, still somehow managed to keep up my art practice the following day.

So, here are some tips for making art when you are really tired.

1) Fascinations: The last thing you need is to feel uninspired when you are also feeling tired. So, ask yourself what fascinates you right now and then use it as the basis for your drawing or painting. If nothing fascinates you at the moment, then think about things that have fascinated you in the past. Fascination is the key to staying inspired and motivated when you are tired.

For example, during the all-nighter I mentioned earlier, I’d become briefly fascinated by 1930s fashions after re-watching part of an old “Poirot” DVD. So, when it came to making a painting the next morning, my first idea was “it’ll be set in the 1930s”. After all, since this was what interested me at the time, it was an obvious source of inspiration.

Although the final painting ended up going in a much more random direction, if you look at the people on the right-hand side of this reduced-size preview, you can probably see that they look at least slightly old-fashioned:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 16th August.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 16th August.

2) Practice: One of the best ways to make vaguely ok art when you are very tired is to keep a regular practice schedule.

If you practice regularly, then sticking to your practice schedule can end up becoming an almost automatic thing over time. The feeling of “I’ve got to practice” can be a very good way to get motivated to make art when you are tired.

Likewise, if you practice regularly, then this will also improve the art that you make when you are tired. Yes, tired art usually isn’t as good as “normal” art and can sometimes be the equivalent of making art with 6-12 fewer months of practice than you already have. However, the more practice you have and the more that you’ve learnt, the less noticeable this effect will be.

3) Randomness and/or minimalism: This varies from artist to artist, but two ways to actually finish a painting that you start making when you’re tired is to either make the painting as minimalist as possible and/or as random as possible.

The advantage of minimalism is that you only have to focus on adding detail to a small amount of the painting – whilst leaving the rest of the picture shrouded in darkness. As such, there’s less to do and you’ll still end up with a dramatic-looking painting if you can get the lighting right. This approach can also come in handy when you are feeling uninspired too.

The advantage of randomness is that you can just focus on drawing or painting things, without having to worry too much about things like visual storytelling, historical accuracy or consistency.

For example, although the preview painting that I showed you earlier was originally going to be a painting set in the 1930s, I knew that trying to research art deco architecture and create original examples of it would be too much to do when I was extremely tired.

So, I just started adding random pillars, trees and buildings to the background instead (which were probably more inspired by a 1990s TV show called “Twin Peaks” that I’d watched on DVD a few days earlier). Yes, it made the painting look kind of strange, but it also meant that I was able to finish it.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Blend Different Genres Of Art

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I started thinking about blending genres again when I was making a digitally-edited painting that will appear here in mid-late June. Here’s a reduced size preview of it:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 21st June.

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 21st June.

This painting basically grew out of the fact that I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to make an “ordinary” 1980s style painting or a 1980s/90s-style cyberpunk painting. In the end, the painting ended up being a blend of both things. So, I thought that I’d talk about how you can blend genres like this.

1) Use parts of both: The easiest and most obvious way to blend different genres of art is simply to take elements from each and put them into the same painting or drawing. For example, if you’re making a sci-fi western painting, then the easiest way to do this is just to draw some cowboys and then to draw a spaceship or two in the background.

Yes, this approach certainly has it’s limits (eg: it can look weird if it’s done badly) and it’s best done in a slightly subtle way but it’s one of the easiest ways to blend two different genres of art together.

For example, in the art preview I showed you earlier, the man in the foreground is a cyberpunk character (with a trenchcoat, a gadget and cybernetic sunglasses) whereas the woman in the mid-ground is a more 1980s-style character (who is wearing a garish “so bad that it’s good” vintage ’80s outfit). Yet, the background is a much more subtle blend of the two genres.

2) See what they have in common: A more imaginative way to blend two genres of art is to see what visual features the two genres have in common with each other.

For example, both Baroque and Renaissance art use a very realistic style (even if the lighting and the subject matter is slightly different). Likewise, both art nouveau and Japanese Ukiyo-e art use a realistic, but minimalist style. Likewise, heavy metal art and fantasy art often share a focus on both realism and stylisation. Any of these six genres of art could be blended together relatively easily, because they have a lot in common.

Generally, most genres of art will have at least something in common with each other. It just requires a bit of thought and careful study to find what these things are.

For example, the art preview I showed you earlier includes bright colours against a gloomier background. This contrast between light and dark is a hallmark of the 1980s/1990s, but it’s also similar the main lighting technique that cyberpunk art uses. Likewise, both the 1980s and the cyberpunk genre were times when neon signs were popular etc…

Likewise, my decisions about which colour schemes to use in this painting were heavily inspired by the use of colours in a set of non-cyberpunk 1980s sci-fi themed levels for “Doom II” called “Ancient Aliens“, which showed me how multiple complementary colour schemes can be used in the same piece of art.

3) Look for things that have already done it: Generally, if you can think of two genres to blend, then there’s a good chance that someone else has done it first.

Whilst you shouldn’t directly copy any pre-existing works, you can look for general visual features (that aren’t highly-specific enough to be copyrightable) and general techniques, that you can use in new and creative ways. If you’re unsure where the line between plagiarism and legitimate inspiration lies, then read this article for more clarification.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Find Your Own Aesthetic

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Before I begin, I should probably explain the difference between an “art style” and an “aesthetic”.

Your art style is the unique way that you draw and the artistic techniques that you use. Your aesthetic, on the other hand, includes things like the type of lighting you prefer, the type of colour combinations you prefer, any recurring patterns etc…

Or, to put it more simply, your “art style” refers the technical details of your art (eg: how you draw faces, how you draw trees etc..) and your aesthetic refers to the overall “look” of your art as a whole.

For example, here are several paintings of mine that are set in wildly different locations, yet they look similar due to the fact that they have a similar gloomy type of lighting and a similar (relatively) limited colour palette.

"Nail Varnish Still Life" By C. A. Brown

“Nail Varnish Still Life” By C. A. Brown

"La Chanteuse" By C. A. Brown

“La Chanteuse” By C. A. Brown

"Cafe Cyberpunk" By C. A. Brown

“Cafe Cyberpunk” By C. A. Brown

"The Skeletal Hall" By C. A. Brown

“The Skeletal Hall” By C. A. Brown

So, how do you find your own aesthetic? Here are a few of the ways:

1) Your favourite things: Take a look at some stills from your favourite movie, take a look at the covers of your favourite albums, take a look at some screenshots from your favourite games, take a look at your favourite comics etc… and see if you can find what visual features they have in common.

It’s possible that they have absolutely nothing in common, but it’s much more likely that they have at least some vague similarities. After all, you chose all of these things. They all appealed to you in some way or another. So, it’s likely that there might be at least a few visual similarities of some kind or another.

For example, they might all use bold colours against a gloomy background, or they might use pale muted colours. They might all come from the same 10-20 year period. They might all feature a similar type of setting etc…

If you can find the similarities between your favourite things, then this will give you a few important clues about what your own aesthetic looks like.

2) Learn colour theory: One of the things that really helped me to find my own aesthetic was learning how colours interact with each other. And, more importantly, learning how to find groups of colours that complement each other.

If you look at a red/yellow/blue colour wheel, you can find groups of colours that will go together well by either drawing a line across the wheel or drawing an equilateral triangle over it. The colours at the ends of the line, or at the three points of the triangle will go together well (and are referred to as “complementary colours“).

Once you know how to find complementary colour schemes, then see which ones are your favourites. Once you’ve found them, you can either combine them in your art or you can look for variations by slightly altering all of the colours in the same way (eg: changing a yellow/light purple colour scheme into an orange/dark purple colour scheme).

This can help you to form part of your aesthetic. Just remember that there’s no copyright on colour schemes – so, don’t be afraid to borrow or adapt any cool-looking colour schemes that you find in other things.

3) Practice, observation and experimentation: Your own aesthetic won’t just magically appear within the space of five seconds. Even if you follow the first two points on this list, it’ll only give you a general idea of what your aesthetic might look like after more practice and learning. I mean, it took me at least 2-3 years of daily practice to learn more than the very beginnings of my own aesthetic.

Likewise, you should always be on the lookout for things that will help you to refine your aesthetic (eg: they almost fit into your current aesthetic, but don’t quite. Or they look intriguingly different).

For example, a month or two before writing this article, I played and reviewed a set of levels for “Doom II” called “Ancient Aliens“. As soon as I saw this, I knew that it was quite close to my own aesthetic (which is one reason why I loved it) but it was also different enough that I also learnt a few more things about how to handle colours in artwork from playing it.

So, keep practicing and keep looking for things that will help you refine your aesthetic.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂