Three Random Tips For Informal Creative Research

Well, I thought that I’d talk about research and creativity today since I seem to be going through a bit of a phase where I’m watching and/or rewatching as many films from the 1990s as possible (hence the ridiculously large number of film reviews on here recently). Although I’m mostly just doing this for the fun of it, it is also a way to gain an even better understanding of the 1990s – which could be useful for any of my future creative projects.

So, here are three random tips for good informal creative research:

1) Set yourself rules: When I started this informal research project, I set myself a few vague rules. These mostly included things like focusing slightly more on the mid-late 1990s than the early 1990s (since I actually remember the mid-late 1990s), not buying second-hand DVDs that cost more than a certain amount (so that I could buy more films) and avoiding films with a running time of more than about 100 minutes or so (since I’m more likely to actually watch a film if it is shorter).

In addition to this, I mostly tried to look for films that I’d either heard of or watched when I was younger. I’m also trying to stick to my usual rule about not posting film/game reviews on here more than once every two days (for a whole host of reasons). I also try to watch no more than one film every day or two (mostly for time reasons, and to avoid running out of films too quickly). I also set myself the rule of “when the research project stops being fun, seems less fun than another type of research or starts costing too much, then take a break from it“.

Setting yourself lots of rules might seem like a restrictive thing, but it can actually help your creative research in all sorts of ways. It can keep your research more focused, it can stop “fascinating” research turning into an all-consuming obsession and it can also make your research more effective too. As fascinating as totally uncontrolled research into something really interesting might seem, it can quickly end up gobbling up your time, energy and/or money if you aren’t careful. The thing to remember here is that your research is supposed to support your imagination and creative projects, not overwhelm them.

Of course, you’re going to have to come up with your own set of rules. So, try to think of rules that will not only improve your project but are also the kind of rules that you will actually follow too. So, make sure that there’s a useful practical reason for each rule. These rules don’t have to be set in stone, but they also shouldn’t be too vague either.

2) The emotional component: Simply put, the best types of informal creative research have some kind of emotional component to them. In my case, this seems to include both personal nostalgia and cultural nostalgia. It includes a feeling of curiosity about a decade that is both recognisably “modern” and yet also very different to the present day. In addition to this, it also includes things like a desire to learn more about how to make my creative works look, read and/or “feel” more like they came from the 1990s.

Having some type of emotional component to your informal creative research is absolutely essential since it provides both a feeling of motivation as well as source material for your imagination to work with too (in other words, things to get inspired by). Whilst academic research requires the researcher to be an objective observer, you can get a bit more personal and emotional if you’re doing informal research in order to improve your imagination and/or creative works.

At the end of the day, the main point of informal creative research is to both improve your imagination and to create better things (by gaining a greater understanding of the things you’re researching, that you can later use in your own works). You aren’t going to get any kind of academic qualifications or immediate reward for it. So, make sure that it is something that feels both emotionally and creatively rewarding to you.

3) Look for similarities: The best way to keep your informal research both useful and focused is to look for similarities, both when gathering research materials and when studying them.

If you’re fascinated by something, then try to work out what specific category of it you are most interested in (eg: “films that are mostly from the mid-late 1990s”) and then devote most of your efforts to that one category. This will help to keep your research manageable and focused.

Likewise, when actually looking at research materials, one of the best ways to learn from them is to see what they all have in common with each other. This can include things like narrative style, emotional tone, lighting techniques etc… If you can work out what the things you’re researching have in common with each other, then you can use these common generic elements in your own creative works.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Basic Ways To Use Reference Images When Making Art

If you don’t know what a reference image is, it is any image that an artist uses as a guide when making a different and original piece of art. It can be a photo in a magazine, something on the TV, the results of an online image search etc…

But, before I go any further, I should point out that reference images are NOT something that artists should copy directly! Generally speaking, most reference images are copyrighted. So, unless you own the copyright to the reference image, direct copying isn’t a good idea.

However, although they shouldn’t be copied directly, reference images can still be incredibly useful to artists. But, I should obviously point out that I’m not a copyright lawyer, so any of my comments about copyright shouldn’t be considered legal advice. So, do your own research!

1) Building up a “3D model”: If you are painting a real place or a type of animal or something like that, then it is important to remember that there’s often no rule against drawing or painting such things (Again, I’m not a lawyer, so do your research here – rules do vary from place to place.).

For example, in most jurisdisictions, actual real places can’t be copyrighted (although there are or were some silly exceptions, like – until relatively recently- the Atomium in Belgium or – potentially- the Eiffel tower at night).

However, each individual photograph, piece of footage etc.. of the thing in question is probably covered by copyright. You can’t directly copy, say, a random modern photo of London that you found on the internet. However, you can look at lots of different photos of that same part of London and use the information you’ve gained from them to build up a “3D model” of the location in your mind.

Then, when you aren’t looking at any reference images (to lessen the risk of inadvertant copying), you can then use the “3D model” as a basis for a new and original piece of art that looks different to any of the photos you’ve seen. You can use artistic licence, you can use a perspective that you think looks dramatic etc… The thing to remember here is that whilst individual photos of a place, animal etc… are often copyrighted, the actual things in those photos usually can’t be copyrighted.

For example, a photo of a shark you’ve found online is probably copyrighted. But, this doesn’t mean that no-one else can draw or photograph sharks. It just means that this one specific photo can’t be directly copied.

Of course, this gets a little bit more complicated when it involves – say- photos of a city that include lots of copyrighted art on billboards etc… (and it’s usually a good idea to change these and/or make them generic and indistinct in your art). But, on a basic level, using multiple reference images to build up a mental “3D model” of a location is a really good way to use references.

2) Learning general rules: If you want to make a particular style or genre of art, but have no clue how to do it, then try to find as many images of it as you can on the internet. Watch DVDs and Youtube videos that feature this style of art, read comics that include it and play any computer games that include it. Try to look at as many different example of it as time, money etc… permits.

As you are looking at all of these examples, see what they have in common with each other. Look at the colours, look at the style of lighting, look at the art styles, look for common themes and visual features etc…

For example, if you wanted to make some “film noir”-style art, then you might do an online image search for “film noir”.

This will, no doubt, show you lots of greyscale pictures of people in 1930s-50s style clothing, often in gloomily-lit urban locations. There will be clever use of shadows and silhouettes. There will often be a high level of visual storytelling (eg: people brandishing guns, couples kissing etc..) and the perspective will often heighten the drama in some way. There will be cigarettes, typewriters, whisky bottles, pistols, trench coats and trilby hats aplenty. Almost all of the windows will have blinds instead of curtains. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea……

So, if you wanted to make some “film noir”-style art, then you could just make sure that your art includes some or all of the general elements in this list.

Once you’ve worked out a common set of “rules” that most pieces of art in a particular type follow, then it’s just a simple matter of following these rules when you make your next piece of original art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

How Limitations Made Older Creative Works So Different To Modern Ones

Although I’ve briefly mentioned this subject at least once or twice before, I thought that I’d take a deeper look at how limitations made “older” creative works so distinctive, in case it’s useful for anyone wanting to re-create things that look like they were made in the past. This isn’t to say that older creative works are inherently better than all modern ones (a lot of them are, but a few aren’t) but they are certainly different.

In short, older creative works often have a lot more “individuality” due to the limitations that the people making them had. The most notable of these is that research was a lot more complicated, limited and time-consuming in the era before the internet really became mainstream. Yes, this limitation was almost certainly a bad thing in many ways – but it also had some very positive effects too.

Because of this limitation, creative people either had to rely on things like narrowly-focused research, their existing knowledge/experience, extrapolating from what information they could find, their own imaginations and/or things that were already widely-known.

Not having instant access to vast swathes of humanity’s knowledge had a huge effect on the tone, style, individuality and atmosphere of many older creative works. In some cases, this led to works having a slightly more “local” setting, attitude and tone to them. In other cases, this led to creative works almost seeming like a non-fiction book or documentary about some obscure subject or another. In other situations, this led to creative works having more of a “timeless” quality since people were forced to take inspiration from things like their own imaginations, widely-known classics etc…

In addition to this, there were also many more practical and financial limitations on how much creative people could learn about the field that they were working in. These limitations actually had a surprisingly positive impact on a lot of creative works, and helped to promote a certain level of creative diversity too.

A good example of this can be seen in the horror genre. These days, a lot of things in the horror genre (including many of my own works in this genre) are knowingly “ironic” and will often contain all sorts of references to other things in the genre. In a lot of ways, this is a very good thing – the irony helps to prevent the horror from being depressing and the references help audience members to feel more like part of a community. But, at the same time, it makes things in the horror genre a little bit less… distinctive.

To give you an example, two famous splatterpunk authors in 1980s Britain were Shaun Hutson and Clive Barker. Although they had obviously read and watched other works in the horror genre before they decided to add to it themselves, they didn’t have instant access to information about a lot of works in the genre, the international fan culture surrounding the genre, critical commentary/analysis surrounding the genre etc…

And, as such, these two authors have radically different approaches to the same genre – because they had to work it out for themselves. Clive Barker’s approach to splatterpunk fiction is more character-based, more fantastical and more “intellectual”. When something grisly happens in one of his stories, it not only has a noticeable effect on the characters, but it is often described in an almost poetic way – almost as if it had beauty of some kind.

On the other hand, Shaun Hutson’s approach to splatterpunk fiction is more “realistic”, “local” and “gritty”. His stories are often set in bleak rural or urban parts of Britain, his characters are a little bit more minimalist, his narrative style is a bit more “down to earth” and, whenever something grisly happens, it is often described in a much more “practical” or “scientific” way (for example, a notable trope in his stories is characters suffering injuries to their scapula bone).

Yet, if both authors had instant access to comprehensive information what their contemporaries around the world were doing (as opposed to whatever the local bookshop or video shop happened to stock) and to horror fan culture in general, then this would not only have affected the stories that they told, but also the way in which they told those stories. But, because they didn’t have any of this, they pretty much had to come up with their own distinctive “versions” of the splatterpunk genre.

So, yes, even something as simple as a limitation on the research that creative people can do can have a huge effect on what is produced. And, yes, most of what makes older creative works different from newer ones comes from the fact that people had more limitations in the past (eg: censorship, research, tools, technology, communications etc..).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Getting To Know An Obscure Genre (If You Want To Make Stuff In It)

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this before but, for today, I thought that I’d look at how to learn more about fascinating (but slightly obscure) genres of fiction, comics, art, games etc.. This is mostly because, a few years ago, I knew relatively little about the cyberpunk genre. Yes, I’d seen and read a couple of famous things in the genre – but I was eager to learn a lot more about it.

But, whilst I’m not an expert on it now, I know significantly more about the genre than I used to (to the point where it turns up in a lot of my art, and some of my fiction). In fact, it’s probably one of my largest creative inspirations.

But, how can you do this with obscure genres that fascinate you? Here are a few tips:

1) Look at the main genre: Generally speaking, more obscure genres tend to be an offshoot of larger and more well-known genres. If an obscure genre is slightly old (and had a “heyday” in the past), then there’s a good chance that more of it can be found hiding in more modern stuff from the “main” version of the genre in question.

This is mostly because things that are obscure today are often only obscure for the simple reason that they’ve been absorbed into the mainstream version of the genre. Likewise, people can only take inspiration from things that have been made in the past.

To give you an example, “splatterpunk” fiction was a sub-genre of horror fiction that was very popular during the 1970s-90s. At the time, this sub-genre was groundbreaking due to it’s nihilistic attitude and willingness to describe horrific events in high levels of gory detail. This was a far cry from the more subtle horror fiction of past decades that left a lot to the audience’s imaginations. Yet, although some classic splatterpunk authors like Shaun Hutson and Clive Barker still return to the genre occasionally, there aren’t really that many “new” splatterpunk novels out there.

However, if you’ve read a few splatterpunk novels, then the mainstream horror genre might not be as unfamiliar as you think. Leaving aside stories about ghosts and modern vampire romances, one of the major effects of the splatterpunk genre (and one reason it doesn’t really exist any more) was to show horror authors that horror fiction can be gruesome.

These days, no fan of horror fiction bats an eyelid at highly-detailed gruesome descriptions, since such things can be found in “mainstream” horror fiction. Yet, a couple of decades earlier, they would be labelled “splatterpunk”.

In other words, one way to get to know a slightly old and obscure genre better is to look for things that were produced after it. Sometimes, these things will contain some elements of the genre that you are looking for (another good example is the film I reviewed yesterday. This is a modern sci-fi/action/comedy film from 2014, yet the set design is heavily influenced by old cyberpunk films like “Blade Runner” . Likewise, the modern TV series “Humans” has a lot of cyberpunk themes, even if the setting isn’t cyberpunk.).

2) Look at other mediums: Although I’ve only seen relatively few cyberpunk films and read relatively few cyberpunk novels, most of what I’ve learnt about the cyberpunk genre has come from other mediums. In particular, television, comics and computer games.

Often, if an obscure genre made a bit of an impact during it’s heyday, people working in other mediums will probably want to do stuff with it too. So, if you widen your search slightly, then you’ll find lots of extra stuff in this genre in places that you might not have expected.

To give you an example, the film noir genre was most popular in the 1930s-50s. These days, there aren’t many (if any) new classic noir-style films released by major film studios. Yet, the genre has had a fairly large influence on television, prose fiction, comics and computer/video games. So, if you’re looking for film noir these days, you probably won’t find it at the cinema.

3) Look for commonalities: Of course, if you want to learn more about an obscure genre, you’ve probably already done your fair share of internet research. You’ve probably, time and budget allowing, tried to track down as many things in this genre as you can. But, how do you learn from what you’ve found?

Simple, you look for what these things have in common. You study them carefully for general elements (eg: themes, visual elements, character types etc..) that appear often.

For example, one common visual element in many things in the cyberpunk genre is high-contrast lighting (using artificial light sources). This is where most of the lighting in a given location comes from things like computer monitors, neon lights etc.. and the rest of the background is kept slightly gloomy in order to allow the light to stand out more. This style of lighting can be found in numerous cyberpunk things – here are a few examples:

This is a screenshot from “Blade Runner” (1982).

This is a screenshot from the opening credits of “Ergo Proxy” (2006). However, not all of what I’ve seen of the series looks like this.

This is a screenshot from “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” (1999).

This is a screenshot from “Technobabylon” (2015).

As you can see, the lighting in all of these things comes from artificial light and the rest of the background is kept gloomy to make the lighting stand out more. This is one of the visual “rules” of the cyberpunk genre, and you can learn stuff like this by looking carefully at things in your favourite obscure genre and making comparisons.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Do You Need To Be Tech-Savvy To Write Cyberpunk Fiction?

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As regular readers of this site probably know, these recent articles about writing cyberpunk fiction were originally written when I was busy writing a series of cyberpunk stories that I posted online last year. So, for today, I thought that I’d look briefly at one of the main questions about writing cyberpunk fiction.

Do you have to be tech-savvy in order to write cyberpunk fiction?

The answer, simply put, is “not as much as you might think”. Whilst having some experience with using computers, using the internet and/or playing computer games will help you write cyberpunk fiction, you don’t exactly need to be the kind of person who actually knows how to use a programming language or anything like that. In other words, knowing a few things about computers is recommended, but being a literal expert isn’t necessary.

I mean, I’m the kind of person who feels like some kind of elite super-geek when I do something as basic as replacing a DVD drive or burning and running a Linux Live DVD. But, if you were to ask me to write a computer program that contained much more than “ 10 PRINT “Hello World”/ 20 GOTO 10“, I wouldn’t have a clue about it (however, I was able to use one of the few other things I know about programming languages in the formatting for this story). So, a bit of knowledge can be useful, but you don’t have to be an expert.

Think about it this way – the first major cyberpunk novel (but not the first piece of cyberpunk fiction) was William Gibson’s “Neuromancer“, which was published in 1984. It’s a massively influential novel, but it was written at a time when computers and the internet were considerably more primitive than they are today. The bulk of “Neuromancer” is just pure imagination – very well thought out and very well-written imagination, but imagination nonetheless.

Yes, it helps to know or have met a few people who are more tech-savvy than you, since you can pick up a lot of interesting ideas and terms that you can add to your cyberpunk stories but, you don’t have to be ultra tech-savvy yourself.

Likewise, if you don’t know anyone who is an expert with computers, then even a bit of basic research will give you the grounding you need to write cyberpunk fiction. So, look at the “tech” pages of reputable news sites. Watch technology-based TV shows like the BBC’s “Click” program (which is broadcast both within the UK and internationally). Likewise, be sure to watch Youtube videos about computer game design etc…. too.

But, more importantly than researching basic technology, research the cyberpunk genre itself. Knowing how to tell stories that make technology seem like magic is something you mostly learn from reading, watching or playing things that tell those kinds of stories. In other words, you can tell a convincingly good cyberpunk story if you get the “storytelling” parts right and just make up all of the technology.

Yes, knowing a bit about technolgy will help you to give your cyberpunk fiction a slightly more “realistic” flavour. It might even help you to come up with story ideas or story concepts, but it matters less than being a fan of the genre and/or studying the storytelling techniques used in cyberpunk novels/games/comics/films etc…

In other words, being savvy about storytelling matters more than being tech-savvy.

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Three Reasons Why It’s Important To Be “Well Read” (In Written Or Visual Media) If You Are An Artist, Writer etc…

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Back when I used to see myself as mostly being a writer, I read a lot more fiction than I do now.

I’d buy more books than I could ever read from charity shops/second-hand bookshops and I’d usually have a horror novel, a detective novel, a thriller novel or a sci-fi novel on the go at any given time.

But, when I started to focus a lot more on making art and (occasionally) comics, I found that I did pretty much the same thing… but with visual media instead.

Instead of reading novels regularly, I often have a second-hand DVD of a TV series on the go at any given time. I also watch Youtube more, play even more computer games and binge-read any interesting webcomics I find.

For quite a while, I worried that all of this meant that I was becoming less “sophisticated”. But, then, I realised that I was merely trying to be “well-read” in visual media. It was pretty much exactly the same thing as I used to do when I wrote fiction a lot more often. Just with pictures instead of words.

But, why is being “well-read” (whether in visual media or written media), so important?

1) It gives you more understanding: One of the cool things about being “well read” in your chosen medium is that it enables you to see things like inspirations and allusions a lot more clearly. If you have a good background knowledge, then you can work out what inspired your favourite writers, artists, comic-makers, game developers etc…

For example, although it might be a while until I review it, I started playing an indie computer game called “Technobabylon” a couple of days before I wrote this article. When I first heard of this game, the cyberpunk screenshots on the shop website intrigued me and I thought “This looks a bit like “Blade Runner“. When it goes on special offer, I’m getting a copy!

Of course, in the time between first hearing about the game and eventually buying it, I had seen and played a few other things in the cyberpunk genre.

So, when I started playing it, I thought more complex things like: “Although the visual style of the game has some influence from “Blade Runner”, it’s a lot more like the “Ghost In The Shell” anime films/TV series (which were, in turn, inspired by “Blade Runner”).”

Here’s a comparison to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from "Technobabylon" (2015). Although the background is reminiscent of "Blade Runner", it has a much stronger influence from the "Ghost In The Shell" anime franchise.

This is a screenshot from “Technobabylon” (2015). Although the background is reminiscent of “Blade Runner”, it has a much stronger influence from the “Ghost In The Shell” anime franchise.

This is a screenshot from "Ghost In The Shell: S.A.C 2nd Gig" (2004/5). As you can see, the cityscape looks a lot more like the one in the screenshot above than...

This is a screenshot from “Ghost In The Shell: S.A.C 2nd Gig” (2004/5). As you can see, the cityscape looks a lot more like the one in the screenshot above than…

-... This screenshot from "Blade Runner" (1982, remastered in 2007), which also contains a dense cityscape, albeit a lot less 'clean', 'bright' and ''neat' than in the other two things that it inspired.

-… This screenshot from “Blade Runner” (1982, remastered in 2007), which also contains a dense cityscape, albeit a lot less ‘clean’, ‘bright’ and ”neat’ than in the other two things that it inspired.

Even if you don’t ever plan to write reviews, then being “well-read” can help you to see how inspiration works. It can give the things that inspire you a lot more depth.

It can also show you what is popular within a particular genre and, more importantly, why it is popular (which is something you’ll probably only truly learn when you see popular tropes etc.. being used in different ways by different people).

2) It teaches you a lot : Although you can learn a lot about the theory of writing or the theory of making art from things like reading tutorials, taking lessons etc… One of the best learning tools for art or writing (apart from regular practice, of course!) is actually seeing examples of it done well.

If you read a well-written novel in your favourite genre or see a few cool-looking images, then you’re probably going to wonder how they manage to be so great. This might prompt you to work out what elements (eg: narrative style, description style, colour combinations, artistic techniques etc..) make these things so interesting. And, once you’ve worked this out, you can then use those elements in new ways in your own creative works.

Likewise, getting a good sense of what does and doesn’t “work” in stories, paintings, comics etc… is something that you’ll only really pick up after you’ve seen numerous examples of the things in question. The same is true for a lot of more subtle skills, like working out how many panels to include in a webcomic update, how to arrange them etc…

3) It keeps your work original: First of all, there’s no such thing as a “100% original” story, comic, painting etc… Whether it is conscious or not, every creative work is inspired by something else. If you’re unsure about the difference between reasonable inspiration and actual copying, then check out this article.

But, although there’s no such thing as “true” originality, originality still exists. However, the only way to produce work that people consider to be “original” is to have as many influences as you can. The more things you are inspired by, the less your creative works will look like or read like any one thing.

This also applies to things like finding your own narrative style or art style. It’s ok to copy other styles when you’re learning but, the more styles that you copy at the same, the more different your style will look like. It will look or sound more original for the simple reason that it’s a mixture of different things, rather than just one thing.

For example, here’s one of my cyberpunk paintings:

"Antique Shop" By C. A. Brown

“Antique Shop” By C. A. Brown

First of all, if you read the early part of this article, you can probably guess two of the largest influences on the content of this picture. But, the focus on 1990s technology was also inspired by an episode of “Cowboy Bebop” (where the characters have to find a Betamax VCR) as well as my general fascination with the 1990s.

The actual drawing style that I used has had many inspirations over the years, including “Pepper Ann“, “Pokemon“, “South Park“, various old comics from the 1950s-90s, Frank Kozik’s booklet art for The Offspring’s “Americana” album etc… This is a style that has been evolving for most of my life (although I put much more effort into it within the past five years), so it has a lot of influences.

The composition of the painting (eg: placing large inanimate objects in the close foreground, like the shop window in my painting) was inspired by the compositions used in old 1990s “Point and click” computer games. The colour scheme I used in this painting was mostly inspired by a really cool set of fan-made “Doom II” levels called “Ancient Aliens“.

The high-contrast lighting and high-contrast colours in this painting were inspired by things like heavy metal T-shirts, Derek Riggs’ album art for Iron Maiden, numerous 1990s computer games, “Blade Runner” (again!), “Ghost In The Shell” (again!), the cover art for old splatterpunk horror novels, old VHS cover art I’ve seen on the internet etc…

So, yes, if you want to keep your work original, then try to read, watch, play etc… as many things as you can. The more things that inspire you, the more original your work will be.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Doing Research Before Making Art – A “Making Of” Essay (With An Art Preview)

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Although it goes against the ridiculous popular idea that “art is made completely spontaneously and is 100% imagination“, research can often be a surprisingly important thing for artists.

Not only can research make you feel more inspired and/or confident about what to paint next, but it can also give your artwork a certain extra level of realism and/or detail too.

So, for today, I thought that I’d describe the research process for one of my upcoming paintings, in case it’s interesting and/or useful. Usually, I don’t research my paintings quite this much (mostly due to making paintings in a few genres/ setting types that I’ve already researched and/or due to time limitations), but it makes a good example.

First of all, here’s a reduced-size preview of the digitally-edited cyberpunk painting that I’ll be posting here in early-mid July:

The full-size painting will appear here on the 10th July.

The full-size painting will appear here on the 10th July.

Although I’d been making quite a bit of cyberpunk art before I made this painting, I first had the idea for the painting after accidentally finding this online article that contains a rather futuristic-looking photo– I was astonished to read that it was actually a real photo taken in Beijing during a heavy smog in 2013.

Needless to say, I suddenly felt inspired and knew what my next painting would be about. But, of course, I couldn’t just paint a copy of the photo in the article – not only would that be lazy (and illegal) plagiarism, but the subtle variations in colour would be difficult to re-create with my own high-contrast art style, and the materials (both traditional and digital) that I use. So, I’d have to make a totally new painting that was more suited to my art style.

Although I’d instantly decided to give my painting a cyberpunk look (so, it would have to be set at night in order to get the atmosphere right, and to make the lighting stand out), I also realised that I’d have to research how to paint smog.

So, I started by doing a few image searches about smog. Although most of the photos were taken during the day, looking at lots of them also provided me with some general information that I could later add to my painting to make it look more realistic.

After this, I wanted to research what smog looked like at night. Although I went through a phase of trying to learn how to paint fog in early 2016 (with varying degrees of success), I’d forgotten some of what I’d learnt. So, I decided to look at the few photos taken at night that had shown up in my initial image search.

From what I could tell from looking at several photos taken at night – the light tends to be a lot more diffused than it is during the day and the sky often tends to be a dark orange/brown colour, rather than pure black.

In addition to this, whilst looking at the search results, I found a picture of some “Pea Soup” smog from 1950s London. Realising that many photos from this time period were in black and white, and that there were likely to be more photos taken at night – I did an image search for smog in 1950s London. One of the advantages of looking at black and white images is that they allow you to see variations in lighting, detail etc.. more clearly.

These photos confirmed my theory that one easy way to paint a smog-covered city was to make the foreground look very detailed, whilst making the background look extremely blurry.

Although I had originally planned to include a gradual, gradiated haze in the final painting – I actually ended up relying on this simpler technique for both practical and time reasons. I further simplified this by using various digital effects to give the background a much blurrier look than it had in the original painting:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This is a cropped, but otherwise unprocessed, scan of the original painting.

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] This is a cropped, but otherwise unprocessed, scan of the original painting.

As you can see, the original version of my painting included the dark orange/brown sky that I had mentioned earlier. However, this ended up being significantly darkened during the editing process because I realised that it didn’t create much contrast between the background and the lighting in the foreground. After all, if you want to make something appear brighter in a painting, the easiest way to do this is to make everything surrounding it look darker.

As for the buildings in the foreground, I remembered some of my usual cyberpunk inspirations (eg: “Blade Runner“, “Deus Ex” etc..) whilst coming up with ideas for futuristic city architecture. Although this probably reduced the “authenticity” of the futuristic Chinese streets in the painting slightly, it seemed to work well on an artistic level.

Finally, I added text to the image. Although some pre-internet era European and American artists might have gotten away with just including random impressionistic scribbles when rendering large text that uses different alphabets, that sort of thing tends to be frowned upon these days (this is also why I digitally recoloured the loosely-sketched picture on the front of the map, lest it’s lines be mistaken for fake Chinese text).

Not to mention that, since everything posted online has a global audience, it’s much more likely to be read by people who speak Chinese. Since I don’t speak Chinese, I decided to keep the amount of text in the painting to an absolute minimum (the only words rendered in Chinese are “Luxury” and “Map”) and to use an online translation to make it at least vaguely accurate.

Since I was only including individual words, rather than full sentences, the chances of badly-translated grammar appearing were at least somewhat lower.

 I found the text by using an online translation. If you're going to include other languages in your art, it's usually a good idea to do this at an absolute minumum. You can possibly also just make out where I've had to cover up and re-draw part of the first character too.

I found the text by using an online translation. If you’re going to include other languages in your art, it’s usually a good idea to do this at an absolute minumum. You can possibly also just make out where I’ve had to cover up and re-draw part of the first character too.

So, yes, this is all of the research that went into making this one painting. As I said before, I don’t usually research my paintings this heavily, but it seemed like a good example to use.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂