Three Tips For Making Original Art

Well, since I’ve spent several days writing about making studies of historical paintings, I thought that I’d do the literal opposite today and talk about making original art (eg: art that isn’t fan art).

Yes, it might not get as many views. Yes, it’s more difficult to make. But, it can be a really great source of self-expression, not to mention that it gives you a greater degree of creative freedom and control over your work.

So, here are some tips for making original art:

1) It’s ok to take inspiration: Although I’ve written before about how to take inspiration properly, one misconception from people who are new to original art is that their art has to be “100% original”. However, there’s no such thing as “100% original”.

Even if you don’t consciously take inspiration from other things, then you’re going to do it subconsciously. If you’re an artist, then something has inspired you to become an artist (rather than a writer, a poet etc..). I could go on for a while, but there’s nothing wrong with being inspired by other things. In fact, it is quite literally impossible to make art without being inspired by other things.

Making original art means just taking inspiration from other things (rather than copying them directly) and, more importantly, finding an interesting mixture of inspirations that allows you to make art that doesn’t look like it is based on just one thing.

2) Start with something easy: Making non-original art requires slightly different skills to making more original art. The former involves modifying and/or re-interpreting a pre-existing thing and the latter involves creating something without doing this.

So, a good way to ease yourself into making original art is to make types of original art that allow you to draw on the skills you’ve already learnt from making less original types of art. In other words, things like still life paintings and paintings that are based on photos that you have taken.

Since you’ll still have to arrange the subjects for your still life painting, take the photos yourself and/or choose from photos you’ve taken in the past, then this still fits the definition of “original art”. But, at the same time, you’ll have something already there to base your art on. So, it’s kind of something in between the skills needed for making fan art and the skills needed for making original art.

3) Don’t be afraid to look stupid: When I started practicing art daily in 2012, I made a decision to mostly make original art. But, of course, my imagination was a lot less evolved than it is now. Yet, I was still able to produce a piece of art every day. How did I do this?

Well, for the first couple of years at least, my art would often look a lot more… random… than it does now. Like this:

“In The Ice- Cave” By C. A. Brown [25th September 2012]

“A Lucky Moment” By C. A. Brown [August 2013]

The backgrounds would often be kind of generic, the character designs would occasionally be a bit strange, my compositions were often very unimaginative, the events of the pictures would also be fairly random too. Yet, without pushing myself to come up with new ideas for art on a daily basis, I’d never have got to know my imagination as well as I do now.

“Death Takes A Holiday” By C. A. Brown

“By Arcade Light” By C. A. Brown

What I’m trying to say here is that you won’t become an expert (or even vaguely competent) at making original art overnight. Like any skill, it has to be learnt through practice. So, don’t be afraid to make mistakes. And don’t be afraid to look stupid whilst you’re learning.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Why Bother With “Original” Art? This is why! – A Ramble/Rant

Before I get to the opinionated parts of this article, I should explain why I put the word “original” in scare quotes. There’s no such thing as a “100% original” work of art. Every artist is influenced and inspired by other things (even if it’s just painting from life). It’s an essential part of making art and being an artist.

But, for the purposes of this article, I’ll be talking about what most people consider to be original. Namely works of art that aren’t obviously copies of other things (and which take inspiration the old-fashioned way). In other words, anything that isn’t fan art.

For example, this painting that I made before writing this article is clearly inspired by things like the 1970s-90s, the colour scheme of this set of “Doom II” levels, cyberpunk movies like “Blade Runner” and “Ghost In The Shell (1995)” etc.. Yet, it isn’t directly based on anything in the way that a fan art painting would be:

This is a reduced size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 16th January.

And, no, there’s nothing inherently wrong with fan art. I make it on rare occasions, because it’s fun to make occasionally (emphasis on “occasionally”!). But, in this article, I’ll be talking about artists who seem to make nothing but fan art.

A while before I started writing this post, I was procrastinating and watching art videos on Youtube whilst thinking of an idea for the painting shown earlier in this article. Although the art videos that I watched were really interesting, one thing stood out to me. There was barely any original art in the videos on one channel whatsoever! Seriously, it was pretty much all fan art!

Yes, on a practical level, I can understand why some artists do this. More people like to see art based on their favourite TV shows/films/videogames. It’s a lot easier to paint or draw realistically if you have lots of ready-made references (that you don’t have to turn into something too new and original). And, yes, it allows you to start painting right away without having to go through the difficult process of thinking about what to paint or using your imagination.

But, for a while, I felt like a total and utter fool! Here I was, having “uninspired” days (where I crank out crappy original paintings, because regular practice is important –even when you aren’t “inspired”!) and putting time and effort into working out how to come up with good original ideas.

For a while, I thought that I was some kind of hilariously stupid traditionalist who limits themselves because of old-fashioned ideas about “originality”. After all, some of the popular artists on Youtube are making fan art all of the time. They obviously don’t have to bother with difficult things like “creativity” and “inspiration”.

But then, I realised that the joke is on them.

Making nothing but fan art is the artistic equivalent of a band only playing cover songs or hiring an outside songwriter for all of their songs. Yes, they might have recognisable hits and lots of fame. They might even develop their own musical style. They’ll probably end up in the charts. They’ll probably put out albums more regularly. But, compare them to a band like Iron Maiden.

Iron Maiden is a long-running heavy metal band who are virtually never played on the radio or shown on TV. They’re barely ever in the charts. They take inspiration the old fashioned way. They write their own lyrics. They’ve put a lot of time and effort into coming up with their own unique sound, which has evolved over time.

Yes, they’ve covered other bands, but it happens extremely rarely (and the covers usually end up being obscure B-sides ). And…. they’re about a billion times better than bands who end up in the charts regularly. They have literal hordes of fans in pretty much every country on the planet and you’d be hard-pressed to find another metal band who hasn’t been inspired by Iron Maiden in some way. Iron Maiden’s music will echo loudly through the ages, whilst many pop bands will be lost in the mists of time.

Yes, making nothing but fan art might make art “easier”, but the only person you’re cheating is yourself. You’re missing out on the chance to learn how to come up with art that is distinctively “yours”. You’re missing out on the chance to develop things like themes and motifs in your art.

You’re missing out on the feeling of accomplishment that comes from putting something from your own imagination onto a piece of paper or canvas. You’re missing out on learning how to persevere through uninspired times. You’re missing out on developing and refining your art by taking inspiration from a wide range of sources.

You’re at the mercy of current culture and whatever happens to be “popular” at the moment. You’re also at the mercy of the imaginative people who make the things your fan art is based on.

Yes, thinking of original ideas can be difficult and time-consuming sometimes. But, at least you aren’t limiting your artistic development.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Things To Think About If You Worry That Your Art, Comics, Fiction Etc.. Aren’t “Original” Enough

2017 Originality and inspiration article sketch

First of all, this isn’t an article about plagiarism or fan art/fan fiction. If your story, comic etc.. is a direct copy of something else and/or directly based on another published work (and isn’t a parody of it), then this is not the article for you.

It is an article for people who want to make their own imaginative things that are sometimes heavily inspired by other things, and are worried that their work isn’t “original” or “imaginative” enough. This is an article for people who worry that their own imagination isn’t developed enough because they tend to be inspired by other things.

Likewise, I am not a copyright scholar, so none of this should be seen as formal legal advice of any kind.

Plus, I won’t be talking about the distinction between inspiration and plagiarism much (because I’ve sort of mentioned it before). For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that whatever you’ve made has been inspired in a legitimate way (eg: based on generic elements, themes etc… from something else, rather than copying highly-specific exact details).

So, what should you do if you worry that your art, comics, stories etc.. aren’t “original” enough? Here are a few tips:

1) Look closely at your inspirations: If you are worried that your imaginative creative works “aren’t imaginative enough”, then take a close look at the things that inspired you. I can almost guarantee that these things were also heavily inspired by other things too. It’s a universal truth that even “highly original” works are usually heavily inspired by other things, they just contain an unusual mixture or combination of influences.

For example, one of the largest influences on a comedic cyberpunk webcomic mini series that I’ll be posting here in early-mid February is the movie “Blade Runner” (to the point that it even includes a parody of one scene from the film – but, more on that later…)

“Blade Runner” is a groundbreaking film that has had a huge influence on the science fiction genre in general. However, groundbreaking as it was, it isn’t even close to “original” in the strictest sense of the word.

It’s heavily inspired by old film noir movies, it’s inspired by 1980s Japan/South Korea, it’s vaguely similar to old “Judge Dredd” comics from the 1970s/1980s in some general ways, some of it’s most unique interior locations are just slightly altered versions of real buildings, it’s explicitly based on a novel by Philip K. Dick etc… Strictly speaking, it isn’t “original” in the slightest, but it was able to become an “original” film by combining a range of influences in a unique and imaginative way.

If you look at anything that inspires you, you’ll probably find something similar to this. Imagination, “originality” and creative inspiration come from finding things that inspire us and then finding new and distinctive ways to use general elements (eg: elements that aren’t highly-specific enough to be copyrighted) from these things in our own work. It’s an inherent part of the creative process.

So, finding what inspired the things that inspired the things that you’ve made might help to assuage some of your worries about “originality”.

2) Comedy and parody: First of all, if you’re making something in the comedy genre, then you shouldn’t worry too much about “originality”. Although I am not an expert on the legal aspects of this, you have very little to worry about if your work is a general parody of something (or even a direct parody, featuring exact characters, settings etc.. from the thing you are parodying).

Many countries, either through law or tradition, make large allowances for parodies of of other things. The precise definition of a “parody” might vary from place to place, but the importance of allowing people to make parodies is widely recognised.

Even vaguely decent parodies can often contain more originality than you might think – for the simple reason that they will often parody multiple things at the same time. In order to do this, they will often come up with an entirely new cast of characters, a new setting, a new story etc.. even if these things are heavily inspired by something else.

For example, even though my upcoming cyberpunk webcomic features a parody of a dramatic scene from “Blade Runner” – the characters and backstory are somewhat different, even if the scene itself is clearly a comedic version of a scene from that film (with a very slightly different twist on the themes from “Blade Runner”).

So, yes, even parodies are often more “original” than you might think.

3) Find more influences: The more inspirations something has, the more “original” it will look. If you’re worrying that your story, comic etc.. isn’t “original” enough, then this might be a sign that you need to find more influences and more things that inspire you.

For example, I’d been wanting to make a sci-fi comic in the cyberpunk genre for a long time. After discarding the idea of making a “serious” comic (since I seem to be better at comedy than serious storytelling these days), I still couldn’t work out how to make a comedic cyberpunk comic until I started looking at more things in the cyberpunk genre (eg: computer games like “Deus Ex” and “System Shock” – both of which, ironically, were heavily inspired by the works of William Gibson amongst other people).

In the end, my upcoming cyberpunk comedy webcomic series included a range of pre-existing sci-fi influences like “Blade Runner”, “Neuromancer“, “Star Trek”, “Sliders“, “Back To The Future” and “Transmetropolitan“, but also a couple of additional cyberpunk influences like the games I mentioned. Without those additional influences, and the additional knowledge about the genre that came with them, I wouldn’t have been able to make this comic series without seriously worrying about the story being a “rip-off” of the few cyberpunk things I’d seen beforehand.

So, worries that your work isn’t “original” usually just means that you need to find more things to get inspired by.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂