Getting Artistically Inspired Using Places You’ve Never Visited – A Ramble

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Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about how you can use places that you’ve never actually visited as a potent source of artistic inspiration. This is probably because, the day before I wrote this article, I found myself inspired by 1990s Los Angeles/California once again.

Although the next webcomic mini series to be posted here (which will start appearing here tomorrow night) will be set there, I also made a sci-fi painting inspired by 1990s Los Angeles that will be posted here in mid-late June. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

 The full-size painting will appear here on the 22nd June.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 22nd June.

And, yet, I’ve never been to America. Although I’m not really a fan of travelling these days, when I used to travel more, I never actually travelled outside of Europe. Likewise, although I was around during the 1990s and can remember a fair amount of it, I was only a young child at the time.

Plus, I’m not a fan of hot weather or large, crowded cities in real life – so, the idea of ever actually visiting a city like Los Angeles doesn’t appeal to me. Especially considering that I can probably count the number of times that I’ve visited central London (which is apparently tiny, spacious, affordable and quaint when compared to Los Angeles) on the fingers of both hands, and I still consider that to be too many times LOL!

But, I still consider 1990s Los Angeles (and 1990s California) to be highly inspirational. Why?

Well, it probably has to do with the fact that I’ve never actually been there. It probably has to do with the fact that I’ve only ever seen imaginatively stylised depictions of 1990s Los Angeles. In fact, most of the “cool” things from when I was a kid either came from or were set in 1990s California and/or Los Angeles (eg: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”, “Duke Nukem II”/”Duke Nukem 3D”, A punk band called “The Offspring” etc..).

Likewise, although it didn’t become my favourite film until I was seventeen (despite seeing it for the first time when I was fourteen), the futuristic version of 1980s Los Angeles in Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” is probably one of my largest artistic inspirations too.

A good portion of the earliest, largest and/or most nostalgic parts of my imagination belong in 1980s/1990s Los Angeles and/or California. Because I’ve never actually been there (and don’t have a time machine), a lot of this place is still an absolute mystery to me. As such, there are a lot of gaps which my imagination has to fill whenever I make anything that is set there.

If you’ve only seen a few stylised glimpses of somewhere else, then this is fertile ground for your imagination. You can take those few glimpses and use them as the basis to build something new, interesting and imaginative. The mystery will make you wonder what the rest of the place you’re thinking about looks like, and it’ll be up to you to work it out.

Yes, some people might moan about “inaccurate” or “unrealistic” depictions of real places (rather than seeing them as imaginative creative works and/or great sources of unintentional comedy), but the whole point of imagination is that it allows us to build new versions of existing things and/or to use existing things as the basis for interesting fictional things. It allows us to escape from the boring confines of our own lives.

Imagination works by taking pre-existing things and turning them into something new and interesting. And, the more “mysterious” those things are, the more room your imagination has to work it’s magic. This is why the things that you make that are set in places that you’ve never been to often end up being more fantastical and imaginative than the things set in places that you have actually been to.

Plus, of course, it’s always amusing to see when this happens in reverse and Britain (or, more commonly, just London) is depicted in things made abroad.

Amusingly, it’s often a version of London that seems to take an American attitude towards guns (eg: in a realistic version of ’24: Live Another Day’, Jack Bauer would probably quickly get arrested for even owning a pistol, let alone carrying it in public) or it’s a version of London that sometimes looks a lot like rural or urban America/Canada ( the first and second seasons of “Nikita” have a couple of great examples of this – even if they get the ridiculous number of CCTV cameras in London absolutely right).

It’s hilarious, it’s silly, but it’s a testament to the power of imagination. It’s a testament to the fact that many different versions of real places can exist in people’s imaginations. It’s an interesting example of two cultures mixing. It’s creativity!

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Small Artistic Details, Uniqueness And Places – A Ramble

2015 Artwork Small Artistic Details article sketch

Once again, although this is an article about making art (and possibly comics too), I’m going to have to start by talking about videogames and plastic bowls for a while. Yes, plastic bowls. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious later.

Anyway, a few months ago, I ended up watching a series of “Let’s Play” videos for a really interesting sci-fi/horror Playstation Four game called “Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture”. As cynical as I am about modern games, this one actually looks sort of interesting because it’s set in rural Shropshire in the 1980s.

This is the kind of setting that you’d find in classic 1970s-90s splatterpunk novels (by writers like Shaun Hutson and James Herbert), rather than in modern videogames with astonishingly realistic graphics.

That said, the most recent Playstation console that I own is a Playstation Two and – even if the game was ever ported to the PC – the graphics look like they’d be far too realistic to run on my computer. So, why am I mentioning this game?

Well, during one of the “let’s play” videos, the commentator made a really interesting observation. She pointed out that the kitchen sink in one of the houses in the game doesn’t have a large plastic bowl in it.

This is an unrealistic detail that I hadn’t really noticed, but using large plastic bowls in our kitchen sinks is apparently something that we only do in Britain. And, now that I think about it, I really don’t understand why we put plastic bowls in our sinks (I mean, sinks are made out of stainless steel, so it isn’t like the bowl has to protect it from rust). It’s just some kind of strange tradition, I guess. I mean, it’d actually feel kind of weird to use a kitchen sink that didn’t have a plastic bowl in it.

So, again, why am I mentioning this?

Well, I’m mentioning it because it illustrates how small details can either enhance the sense of place in a piece of art or how small details can become part of your own unique art style.

Whilst it’s probably fairly obvious how realistic small details can reallly make a painting or a drawing (or even a videogame) of somewhere really come alive, I thought that I’d spend the rest of this article talking briefly about how small details are also a part of your personal art style too.

To use a phrase coined by Shoo Rayner (I can’t remember which video he came up with this phrase in though), all artists have their own mental “library” of what things look like. When we draw or paint something from our imaginations, we use this mental library.

However, since this mental library is based on things that we’ve seen in real life, in movies, on TV, on the internet etc… then it’s going to be slightly different for everyone.

For everyday items, you’re probably going to base them on things that you’ve seen in real life – so, to everyone everywhere else, your ideas of what, say, a kitchen sink, or a plug socket or anything like that will look like will seem distinctive and unusual.

So, even if you don’t pay too much attention to the small details in your art (or your comic), then it’s still going to look fairly distinctive nonetheless.

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Sorry for the short (and fairly rambling) article, but I hope that this was interesting 🙂