The Joy Of… New Nostalgia

2017-artwork-the-joy-of-new-nostalgic-things

As regular readers probably know, I write most of these articles quite far in advance of publication. Anyway, the night before I originally wrote this one, I watched the first episode of “Red Dwarf XI” and was absolutely astonished by it. This is a sitcom that has been going since the late 1980s (although I only started watching it on VHS and DVD in the early-mid 2000s)… and they’re still making genuinely funny new episodes of it!

But this is hardly the first “old” thing that I remember discovering when I was a teenager or when I was even younger, that is still going in some way or another. In fact, I’d originally written something approaching a full-length article about my history of being a fan of Red Dwarf, Iron Maiden, The Offspring, Blade Runner, the “Doom” games, Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes etc.. before deleting it because I realised that it probably distracted from the points that I’m going to make in this article.

There’s something amazing about things that are “old” and yet “new” at the same time. These are all things that are kept alive by both their creators and their fans.

For example, there’s a new “Doom” game (which is too modern to run on my computer 😦 ) and there’s going to be a “Blade Runner” sequel. Yet, the old versions of both things were and are still going strong because of fan-made content. Whether it’s the fact that there are still thousands of people making new levels for the old “Doom” games or the fact that “Blade Runner” has inspired so many other things in the sci-fi genre (including a lot of my own sci-fi art, comics etc…) for literally decades after it was released, both things were kept alive by their fans as much as, or more, than by their creators.

But, yet, none of the TV shows, films, bands, games etc… I’ve mentioned in this article really pander to their fans in any huge way. Sure, they’ve kept the best bits of their older incarnations, but they aren’t afraid to try subtly different new things. I mean, an Iron Maiden album from the 1980s and an Offspring album from the 1990s sound both similar and different from anything that these two bands have released in 2012-16.

They aren’t like a lot of much more “popular” things, which often seem to be defined and designed as much by things like marketing data as they are by actual people. They often don’t have planned obsolescence built into them (eg: like superhero movie/comic reboots, games that move to the latest consoles etc..) to ensure that the latest version is the “coolest” thing. The latest version is just another version, often no better or worse than the outstandingly brilliant older versions.

In other words, they actually seem like they were (and are!) things that are created by people, rather than focus groups and marketing departments.

They’re things that have been created by people with a particular sense of humour, a particular set of musical tastes, a particular worldview, a particular attitude towards their creative medium of choice etc… In today’s world, this sort of thing would probably be seen as “uncommercial” . In fact, it was probably seen as uncommercial several decades ago. And yet because of this these things still have the kind of dedicated fans that cash-obssesed marketing departments can only dream of.

They aren’t advertised incessantly and yet they still pick up new fans. I mean, most of the “old” things that I consider to be my favourite bands, games, books, films etc.. certainly weren’t “popular” when I discovered them by serendipity, accident, recommendation or curiosity back when I was a teenager. They were inherently cool, but they weren’t the kinds of things that the “cool kids” were enjoying when I was a teenager.

In fact, many of these things have something better than advertising. They have an imaginative fanbase. They have a fanbase that is so inspired by these things that they will actually make their own things inspired by them.

For example, “Blade Runner” may only be one movie but the number of other films, games, TV shows, songs, comics and artwork (including many of my own paintings and some of my own comics) that have been inspired, influenced by, or make references to this one little film are too numerous to count. And, yet, the film itself isn’t something that is advertised everywhere or directly remade every five years.

Likewise, many of these “new and old” things are things that were created by people who are still learning and experimenting after several decades. They are things that are both very much their own thing and yet are open to new influences and inspirations.

One perfect example of this is probably the band Iron Maiden. They’re a band who have made very few covers of other songs, and yet their own musical style has both changed drastically and remained instantly recognisable over more than three decades. It’s probably been influenced by more things than the band will ever reveal, yet it’s very much it’s own thing. They’ve had three different lead singers and they’ve gone through both “dark and serious” and “light and fantastical” phases, and yet an Iron Maiden album is still very much an Iron Maiden album.

I could probably go on about this for hours, but there’s always something uniquely wonderful about finding something that is both old and new at the same time. Something which is both thrillingly new and reassuringly old when you first discover it and twhich later ends up taking up residence in your mind and shaping large parts of your own imagination.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Art, In Theory And In Practice – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Art in theory and practice article sketch

A while back, I suddenly realised that I didn’t know a huge amount about how to paint realistic fog and I tried to learn how to do it.

So, for today, I thought that I’d talk about the learning process in case it’s useful to you if you’re trying to work out how to draw or paint something new. At the very least, it might help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I made.

This whole thing started when I had a dream one night, where I saw an abandoned fog-covered version of the school that I went to when I was a teenager. Since it looked a bit like something from the old “Silent Hill” games, I wanted to make a painting of it. But, also suddenly realised that I didn’t know how to paint fog.

So, I did what I usually do when I don’t know how to draw or paint something – I looked closely at lots of reference images on Google Images.

From the many pictures of foggy roads and forests that I saw, I was able to work out that fog makes distant things appear to be lighter than things in the foreground. Not only that, it also makes distant things look like nothing more than undetailed blurry silhouettes. The fog itself was also usually a pale grey/ dark white colour too.

So, with this new knowledge, I made a painting based on my dream. However, the only way that I was able to get the fog to look even vaguely realistic was to digitally adjust the highlight/midtone/shadow levels in the image in a certain way after I’d scanned the painting. Not only that, since I’m more used to ink drawing than more traditional painting, I actually drew ink outlines of some of the silhouettes in the distance (which made them look too sharp). Anyway, here’s the painting:

"Through A Window In A Dream" By C. A. Brown

“Through A Window In A Dream” By C. A. Brown

Still, I was interested in learning more about how to paint fog traditionally.

So, realising that I shouldn’t outline the silhouettes in the distance, I decided to make a more traditional painting where I only used a pencil sketch as a guideline. This painting turned out fairly well, although I underestimated how dark a particular brand of black watercolour pencil would look when I used it for light shading.

"Realm Of Fog" By C. A. Brown

“Realm Of Fog” By C. A. Brown

After this, I was interested in learning how to paint fog-covered streets (mainly since I wanted to make a painting that was set in New Orleans). But, instead of looking at more reference pictures, I just decided to apply the same principles that I’d learnt from painting forests and open areas.

However, when I finished the painting, I (wrongly) thought that the foreground looked too detailed and I initially considered the painting to be something of a failure:

"Misty New Orleans" By C. A. Brown

“Misty New Orleans” By C. A. Brown

However, when I later looked at reference images of foggy city streets, I realised that I’d pretty much got it right. Unknown to me, fog behaves slightly differently in narrow streets – and it only really makes things in the far distance look hazy and blurry. So, from this, I learnt that if you’re going to use references then you need to be slightly more specific.

After this, I wanted to learn how to paint fog at night. So, I looked at more references and learnt that, at night, fog is pretty much the same colour as any nearby lighting is and that fog is also only really noticeable in the general area around lights too.

For example, if a street is let by streetlights, then the fog will appear to be orange and it will only be noticeable close to the ground and in the area surrounding the streetlight.

So, I tried (and failed) to paint this in two paintings:

"Station Corner" By C. A. Brown

“Station Corner” By C. A. Brown

"On The Last Train" By C. A. Brown

“On The Last Train” By C. A. Brown

In theory, this seemed like an easy thing to paint. But, as I realised in these two paintings, it was also very similar to the technique that I usually use for painting lights at night too. So, these paintings either didn’t look foggy enough or the fog appeared to be very localised and/or badly painted.

In the end, I decided that this was probably somewhat above my current skill level and I decided to try to make another “ordinary” fog painting. Despite a lot of digital editing to this painting, I made a few critical mistakes (mostly due to incorrect colour mixing on the tents in the mid-distance and/or brightness levels):

"Festival Fog" By C. A. Brown

“Festival Fog” By C. A. Brown

After this disappointing failure, I decided to take a break from painting fog. But, although I didn’t really learn as much from this experience as I’d hoped, I now at least have a basic understanding of the theory behind painting realistic fog – even though putting it into practice can be something of a game of chance.

What this means is that if one of my future paintings requires me to add fog, then I’ll be a lot less unprepared than I might otherwise have been. So, I guess that this experience hasn’t been a total waste of time.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂