Time Travel And Art Mediums- A Ramble

This article is a little bit different to my usual articles, since it’s more of a short account of an eerie experience I had whilst editing the final page of this year’s Halloween comic.

Still, it seemed like it was worth writing about (since I imagine that some of you may be able to have similar experiences, and because I felt like preserving an account of the experience ).

About two-thirds of the way through making the line art for the final page of this year’s Halloween comic, my drawing pen ran out of ink. So, I looked through my stash of drawing pens and picked out a new one. However, I soon realised that this was a fine-tipped one (rather than the medium ones I normally use). At the time, I thought that this was kind of cool, since the thinner nib allowed me to cram more stuff into one of the more detailed panels.

However, when I was digitally editing the line art for the page, I suddenly saw the line art I’d made with the fine-tipped pen and, in that instant, the comic page suddenly seemed like it could have come from my early experiments with comics during 2010. Back then I tended to use fountain pens and fine-tipped pens regularly.

Even though quite a few years had passed, it suddenly felt like I was back in 2010 again.

It felt like I’d come full circle. It felt like I’d suddenly picked up a comic I had left unfinished in 2010 and had kept making it, like no time had passed whatsoever. The past few years felt like they just hadn’t happened. It didn’t so much feel like I’d travelled back in time, but more like I just hadn’t travelled forward since 2010.

My mind was suddenly flooded with ultra-vivid memories of both that year and the “atmosphere” of that year (this is the only way I can describe it). This was an experience that is difficult to really put into words. But it totally caught me by surprise.

And it all came from using a pen with a slightly thinner nib to the one that I usually use.

It’s amazing how something as simple as this can evoke memories. But, if you’ve been making art for a while, then it’s very likely that you’ve experimented with several different art supplies and/or art mediums over time. So, there’s a very good chance that the art supplies you used to use are more connected with your memories than you might think.

Ok, this might just be me. But, it’s certainly something that can take you by surprise.

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Sorry for the ultra-short article, but I hope it was interesting 🙂

How To Use Memories Of Inspired Times To Get Inspired Again

2016 Artwork Memories of inspiration article sketch

Although this is an article about finding artistic inspiration (and creative inspiration in general), I’m going to have to start by talking about my own artistic uninspiration and how I was able to find some level of inspiration again. As usual, there’s a reason why I’m mentioning this stuff. But, if you aren’t interested in reading that part of this article, then just skip the next four paragraphs or so.

In the days before writing this article, I’d been feeling artistically uninspired. Most of the paintings that I was preparing for mid-January were uninspired, minimalist things. My mood and attitude when making them was a world apart from the mood that I am in when making larger creative projects.

Whilst trying to think of an idea for today’s article, I ended up procrastinating and playing some fan-made levels for a computer game called “Blood” that I’d been playing a lot recently. It was then that I remembered that “Blood” was one of several inspirations behind an interactive story I wrote last Halloween.

Although the project was quite a challenge at the time, it was one of those inspired projects that “almost made itself”. Suddenly, I started looking back on this project with rose-tinted spectacles and began to wish that I could make it again. Then my mind turned to some of the art that I was making around that time, and how it seemed a lot more “inspired” and “meaningful” than any of the art I’d prepared for mid-January.

Back then, I was making art series more regularly. These were often themed around things that had inspired me. I made a series of paintings including things I considered “awesome”. I made at least one series of cyberpunk-themed paintings. I made one or two series of horror-themed paintings.

I was inspired by things in these genres and I found a way to use that inspiration to make original art that felt “relevant” to me.

Remembering more inspired times can be a very useful tool in becoming inspired again for at least two reasons.

The first reason is that remembering a number of more inspired times can help you to work out what those times had in common. Generally speaking, although the reasons why you may have been inspired during several different times will be slightly different, there will often be similarities.

For example, many of my own “inspired” times were when I was either highly inspired by something (eg: a genre, a particular creative work) and wanted to create things that were influenced by it or evocative of it in some subtle way.

Likewise, whenever I’ve made comics projects about special occasions that I like, I’ve been more inspired. I mean, this year’s Halloween comic was one of those projects that “made itself”. I could go on, but there are a number of common factors between the times that I have felt more inspired.

Of course, your own reasons for why a particular time in your life was “more inspirational” than the present day will differ, but you can work out those reasons by studying the times when you felt more inspired.

The second reason is you can take a more direct route by trying to create something similar to the things that you created during these “inspired” times. For example, a while before writing this article, I thought about making another “awesome stuff” art series, since I remembered how fun the first series was to make.

This is a bit of a tricky thing to get right though. If you are going to re-tread old ground, then you need to do it using at least vaguely new ideas. You need to look at the core idea of what made your original project so great and then try to do something subtly different with that idea. Or, at the very least, you should try to continue what you’ve already made (eg: make your new project more of a sequel than a remake).

If you look at your memories of being inspired with these two things (analysis and re-working) in mind, then you’ll also hopefully also avoid the pitfall of feeling melancholy about the present day or feeling that the past was a better time where you made better things. If you start thinking things like that, you’ll just end up feeling more uninspired.

So, remember to analyse why you were inspired and remember to find interesting ways to create similar (but different) things to the things you made when you were inspired.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Stories, Audience Participation And Associative Memories – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Audiences and memories article sketch

Even though this is (sort of) an article about writing and/or making comics (as well as storytelling in general), I’m going to have to start by talking about my reactions to watching a TV show. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

Although I’ll probably post a full review here tomorrow, I watched the first episode of the two-part Swedish TV adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s “The Girl Who Played With Fire” on DVD shortly before writing this article.

Having read the books in early-mid 2010, my memories of them were slightly vague and inconsistent (eg: I could only remember some key plot points and small details) but the TV/film adaptation seemed to be reasonably accurate. But, that wasn’t the most interesting effect that watching the first episode had on me.

Subtly at first, I started to feel like I had travelled back in time to 2010. Although I certainly hadn’t forgotten this fascinating time, re-visiting a series of stories (albeit in TV show form) that I hadn’t looked at in about six years seemed to make the memories a lot more vivid, immediate and detailed – which was kind of a cool experience.

Not only that, I also suddenly started remembering a lot of other subtle things from the time – such as the layout of my imagination back then, my outlook on the world etc….

It was as if looking at an adaptation of an old story had given me a brief glimpse of the person I was when I last read that story.

And, well, this made me think about one element of storytelling (whether in fiction, comics, TV shows, films etc…) that is often overlooked. Namely, the idea of stories being linked to a particular time.

Normally, when I’ve thought or written about this subject, I’ve focused on the creative side of things. I’ve rambled about how I can’t continue many of my older comics or stories for the simple reason that I’ve changed and grown as a person since the time that I originally wrote them. Even when I re-started my old occasional “Damania” webcomic series in 2015 after a one-year hiatus, I had to “re-boot” it for the simple reason that I wasn’t quite the same person I was in 2011-13.

But, the one thing that often gets overlooked when talking about stories, time and memory is the non-creative side of things. In other words, the audience.

Although stories and comics are often seen as non-interactive forms of communication, I’d argue that there’s a lot more interactivity than many people think. The reader matters almost as much as the writer does.

When you read a story or a comic, it follows you around until you finish it. It becomes part of that particular period of your life. It becomes the background music to a chapter of your life. Parts of the story or comic may even linger in your imagination for a long time after you’ve finished the final page. It may even influence or inspire the things that you write or draw.

Because novels and, to a lesser extent, comics rely on the reader to “fill in the gaps” with their own imaginations, reading a story is – essentially- a creative experience. Although the reader has been given a detailed set of instructions, they still have to re-create the story in their own imaginations when reading it. As such, it takes on a uniquely personal quality that can remain in memory in a different way to – say- remembering an old song.

In addition to this, I’d also argue that the audience is as relevant to how “good” a story is as the writer is. What do I mean by this? Well, it has to do with how well the audience members and the writer get along when they meet on the page. If you think of reading a story (or a comic) as meeting someone in a pub, then you’re probably going to really get along with that person a lot better if you have similar interests, a similar sense of humour, a similar outlook on the world. Even if you don’t, you might still get along with them well if their worldview or interests happen to fit into what you currently consider to be “cool” or “interesting”.

If you meet someone who seems interesting to you or who you get along with well, then you’re probably going to remember them a lot more than you would if you met someone who was less interesting. Even if you end up becoming a different person to the one you were during the meeting, you’ll probably still remember the older version of yourself when you remember the meeting. This is why stories can evoke memories in a surprisingly vivid and unique way.

Plus, although I can only speak from my own experience here, I’ve also found that a sizeable majority of my favourite stories, comics, films etc… were only really “accessible” to me at particular points of my life. If I’d discovered them a few years earlier or later, they wouldn’t really be my favourite things.

To use a cinematic example, the first time I watched “Blade Runner” was when I was fourteen. I’d bought a second-hand VHS of the film and, from the cool-looking cover art, I imagined that it would be a thrilling sci-fi action movie like “Total Recall”. Of course, it wasn’t. At the time, I found it incredibly tedious to watch.

It wasn’t until three years (and many other films, novels, experiences etc..) later that I was finally able to appreciate this film for what it actually is. It’s since become my favourite film and, later, one of my largest artistic influences. But, because I wasn’t the kind of person who got along with the film when I was fourteen, all of the great parts of it were pretty much invisible to me back then.

So, yes, when it comes to stories and storytelling, the audience matters as much as the writer does. Like listening to the storytellers of old, reading a story is more like a meeting between the storyteller and the listener than anything else.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Getting Inspired By Remembering Seeing Cool Things From A Distance- A Ramble

2016 Artwork Cool things from a distance article sketch

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk briefly about one interesting way to get inspired. I am, of course, talking about remembering (and researching) cool things that you perhaps only saw briefly, only knew a small amount about and/or have almost forgotten about.

Chances are, the things that will give you this type of inspiration will be things that fascinated you when you were younger. When we’re younger, there are usually all sorts of barriers between us and the cool things that fascinate us. Things cost too much, we don’t know where to look for things, we’re in the wrong social clique, we’re too young to buy certain things etc…

We’ll catch glimpses of fascinatingly cool things but, for one reason or another, won’t get to experience them fully. Since we only see these things from the outside, and have little information to work with, our imaginations often have to “fill in the gaps”.

So, when we revisit these things years later and look at them in more detail, they can be a surprisingly potent source of inspiration. Since we’re already “used” to daydreaming and thinking about them, they can be the perfect thing to prompt further daydreams and inspiration.

One personal example of this sort of thing is probably 1980s/90s American punk music (especially from California). When I was a kid in the late 1990s (and before I discovered heavy metal), this was the coolest genre of music in the world to me.

But, apart from a few CD singles by The Offspring, I didn’t own that much music in this genre. Whenever I visited my cousins, I’d always spend at least an hour listening to their collection of punk CDs.

It was this amazing genre of music, and I only had a limited knowledge of it at the time. I saw it from a distance. Of course, in the years since, I’ve listened to a lot more of it, I’ve discovered a few more bands and I have at least a few more punk CDs than I used to.

Yet, to me, 1990s California punk music will always be this cool genre of music that I can use to get into a “cool” mood. To get nostalgic about the 1990s. To daydream about a time, a historical place and an old version of a subculture that I’ll never fully experience. All of this stuff is, of course, a great source of inspiration for me.

Another personal example is probably gruesome horror movies from the 1980s. When I was a teenager, I was a massive horror fan but – thanks to this country’s stupid film censorship rules – actually seeing decent horror movies was a relatively rare occurrence.

Sure, I saw a few gruesome horror movies when I was a teenager (and was often disappointed that they were less gruesome than the second-hand splatterpunk horror novels I read regularly were). But, for every cool horror movie that I actually saw, I’d notice about ten more even cooler-looking horror movies in the shops that I didn’t look old enough to buy. The irony was that, once I’d was old enough to actually buy all of these movies, I’d moved away from the horror genre slightly.

So, one way that I can feel inspired is by looking at the horror genre again. Reading about old horror movies, watching trailers for them and occasionally even watching the odd horror movie. The horror genre used to really fire my imagination when I was a teenager (since I didn’t see as many horror movies as I should have) and I can kind of rekindle that feeling when I want to get inspired.

Of course, the things that inspire you will be different from these two things. But, if you need inspiration, then it can be worth looking at the things that you could only look at “from the outside” when you were younger.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Art And Memories

2016 Artwork Art And Memories article sketch

One of the great things about making art is that you can record your memories in a way that photographs, videos or written accounts just can’t do. I was reminded of this quite a while back when I had the sudden instinct to make a painting of the room I lived in during one of the best years of my life. This was the painting that I made:

"And I Fell Into Yesterday" By C. A. Brown

“And I Fell Into Yesterday” By C. A. Brown

Although I probably got the perspective and lighting slightly wrong and, although this painting required quite a lot of digital editing after I scanned it, it was a much better representation of my memories than any photograph could ever be (for technical reasons I’ll explain later).

It’s also a better representation of my memory than some of my earlier attempts at painting or drawing this room have been – like this old painting from 2014.

"A Corner Of Paradise" By C. A. Brown

“A Corner Of Paradise” By C. A. Brown

Even though my painting from 2014 is more accurate and realistic in some ways, it wasn’t really as expressive as my more recent painting was. Because I had a much more limited understanding of things like colour theory (eg: which colours go well together etc..) and realistic lighting back then, the best way that I could represent this room was in a coldly “realistic” way.

Whereas, with my newer painting of the room, I was able to give the room an inviting sense of warmth by bathing it in warm amber light from the streetlights outside – which is contrasted perfectly with the bright cold blue light of the computer screen in one corner. By making most of the painting fairly dark, I was also able to make the lighting in the painting stand out a lot more too.

Not only that, since I used a slightly “unrealistic” perspective (eg: to see the actual room from this perspective, you’d probably have to actually be inside one of the walls and/or inside the ceiling), I was able to show more of the room than I would have otherwise been able to do.

In addition to that, the fact that the painting is from the perspective of someone hovering over the room gives the impression of a remembered or imagined scene in a way that a more “realistic” perspective probably wouldn’t.

When you are making art based on your memories, you can do all of these things and much more.

Since you (and only you) are in total control of what ends up on the paper, canvas and/or computer screen in front of you, you have total freedom to record your memory in whichever way you feel is best. You are in control of things like the perspective, the colour scheme, the lighting and even which details you do and don’t include.

This means that you can create an “unrealistic” painting or drawing that really captures the essence of your memory in a way that even the most artistically shot photograph or video could never do. It also means that you can represent the visual parts of your memory in a way that even the most well-crafted written description could never do.

Turning your memories into art has all of the advantages of using both photography and written accounts, but with none of the disadvantages.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Writing Different Versions Of The Same Events

2015 Artwork Different Versions Of The Same Events Article sketch

Even though this is an article about storytelling, writing and comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about music history again for a while. There’s a good reason for this and I’m not just rambling about music for the sake of it.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I’m still slightly fascinated by Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower“. Anyway, a while back, I read this fascinating article about how Jimi Hendrix ended up recording his excellent cover of this song. One of the really interesting things about this article was that there were something like three totally different accounts of when Jimi Hendrix first heard Bob Dylan’s original version of the song.

Of course, this is probably because of the strange way that memory, especially long-term memory, works. Although it can possibly be attributed to the old saying that “if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t really there“, it made me think about the idea of different versions of the same events.

This might just be me, but I absolutely love it when stories, comics, TV shows etc… show different versions of the same events. Usually, what will happen is that two characters will remember the same thing in wildly different ways.

Neither of these versions of the same events will be totally accurate, but they’ll usually tell us a lot about the characters in question. This can be done in a number of ways – the classic way to do this is for the character who is doing the remembering to emphasise or exaggerate any negative qualities that they think that the other characters have (this is usually done for comedic effect, but it can also be done seriously).

The other way is to show your audience how the narrator’s worldview influences how they remember things, what they notice, what they don’t notice etc… Since your audience is basically being given a look inside of the character’s mind, you can show them a lot about your character in all sorts of subtle ways.

A good “serious” example of this can be found in a comic called “Death: The Time Of Your Life” by Neil Gaiman where one of the characters called Hazel spends at least a page remembering this absolutely beautiful date that she had with her partner (Foxglove) earlier in their relationship.

However, Hazel later mentions that when she asked Foxglove about it, she had no memory of that particular day. From this, Neil Gaiman subtly shows that Hazel is a romantic at heart and that perhaps she cares more about Foxglove than Foxglove cares about her.

In addition to this, showing different versions of the same events can be an extremely dramatic thing since it makes the audience question the reliabililty of reality itself. After all, we only ever get to see this world from just one perspective. We all live our lives from a fairly limited first-person perspective.

So, the idea that different people might be experiencing different versions of reality is an absolutely fascinating one. If you want to get philosophical about it, then there are some brilliant articles by Steve Pavlina (like this one) about this subject (although I certainly don’t agree with his views about everything, his old ideas about subjective reality are absolutely fascinating).

Likewise, showing different versions of the same events can also be a sneaky way of discussing the whole concept of parallel universes in a story or comic which isn’t in the sci-fi genre.

Finally, another good reason for showing different versions of the same events in your story or comic is that it forces your audience to actually think about your story.

After all, unless you explicitly say that one version is true and the others are false, your audience will have no way of knowing which one was true. They won’t know whether the truth lies between the different versions or whether none of them are true. So, they’re going to have to work it out for themselves.

Plus, since everyone will probably come to different conclusions, your readers are probably going to want to discuss and debate your story or comic with other readers. So, including different versions of the same events in your story can be a good way to keep your fans interested in your story or comic for quite a while after they’ve read it.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Rites Of Passage In Fiction

2015 Artwork Rites Of Passage Article sketch

Although this is an article about, as the title says, rites of passage in fiction – I’m going to have to start by talking about American TV shows and movies for a while. There’s a good reason for this, which I hope will become apparent later.

The night before I wrote this article, I was watching an episode of an American TV show called “Supernatural“. Since I seem to be watching this show at an incredibly fast rate (whenever I find reasonably-priced second-hand DVDs of it), I’m already a little over halfway through season four at the time of writing. Anyway, in episode twelve, the two main characters return to their old high school in order to investigate a series of mysterious ghostly events.

Although I noticed the “Heathers” reference at the beginning of the episode about ten minutes before one of the main characters mentioned it, the episode made me wonder “Why are there so many American movies and TV shows set in high schools?

Seriously, as a setting in dramas, comedies, horror movies etc… high schools turn up a lot in the American media. As well as “Heathers”, other classic comedic examples include movies like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Breakfast Club”. Then there are horror movies like “The Faculty”, “Ginger Snaps”, “Scream” etc… It isn’t a super-common setting for films (when compared to the number of American films set in California or New York), but it’s certainly more common than you would expect.

I mean, you don’t really see the same kind of thing in the UK. With the obvious exception of “Harry Potter”, there are probably a few TV shows and movies set in secondary schools – but they’re mostly aimed at people who are still legally compelled to attend these dystopian microcosms (which teach you words like “dystopian” and “microcosm”).

And, let’s face it, back when you actually had to attend one of these drab part-time prisons, the last thing you wanted to do was watch TV shows about it when you got home.

At first, I thought that this was because our secondary schools were just too boring to be interesting fictional settings.

Unlike the slightly anarchic, rebellious, resolutely secular and free-thinking world of American high school movies, our secondary schools are like little versions of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” – even down to the dreary uniforms and the mandatory assemblies (but we didn’t even get to shout at pictures of Emmanuel Goldstein for two minutes during assembly).

As you can probably guess, I wasn’t really a massive fan of secondary school when I was a teenager. Sixth form was awesome though.

Then I wondered if the prevalence of American high school movies was because most American movies and TV shows are made by writers and directors who were trying to vicariously re-live their lost youth. I wondered if the tradition of American high school movies was some kind of bizarre collective act of nostalgia.

And then I found the answer. American high school movies are very ritualistic things – they have a very defined set of traditions, they have very defined groups of people (jocks, nerds, preps, stoners etc… ) and all of the high schools in American movies look the same. I suddenly realised that American high school dramas are actually about high school as an almost ritualistic rite of passage.

They fill the role that, say, conscription or national service used to fill for British and American men in the 1950s and 60s. They’re a formalised rite of passage that everyone has to go through. And, well, this made me think about rites of passage in fiction.

This is actually a much older genre than you might think – I mean, the Germans even coined a word for it (Bildungsroman“, if anyone was curious) back in the 19th century. Even then, that word was also used to describe stories from the 18th century.

So, why is this genre so appealing? Well, first of all, it’s kind of a timeless and universal thing – since everyone goes through at least one rite of passage of some kind throughout their life. Whether it’s five years at a British secondary school, some kind of conscription (and yes, some European countries still have this), an apprenticeship of some kind etc…

But, on the other hand, rites of passage stories are often very specific and very personal things. I mean, everyone has different rites of passage depending on both who they are and where they are.

For example, straight and/or non-transgender people don’t have the daunting rite of passage of “coming out” that many LGBT people do. They don’t have the soul-eroding rite of passage of being “in the closet“. And they don’t have any of the many other rites of passage that you may experience if you’re LGBT, depending on which letters of the acronym happen to represent you.

So, if rites of passage are very specific things, then why does the genre have such a widespread appeal? Surely everyone would only be interested in stories that are about rites of passage that are similar to their own. Well, no.

One of the great things about reading stories about rites of passage is that they let us play with our own history, they allow us to think “What if everything was different? What if, in some parallel universe, I grew up as a different person in a different place and in a different time?

In short, rites of passage stories make us wonder why we happened to be this particular person, in this particular place and in this particular time of history. In this way, they are a much more spiritual and philosophical genre than many people might think.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂