Style And Substance In Visual Mediums- A Ramble

Although this is an article about all visual storytelling mediums (eg: comics, films, games etc…), I’m probably going to spend quite a bit of this article talking about computer games. This is mostly because I recently saw a brilliant game-based example of why substance matters more than style.

Although I’ll probably review both of them properly at some point in the future, I ended up getting both the second and fourth “Saints Row” games during a sale several days before I originally prepared this article (last November). And, with two lengthy open-world games to choose from, I had to work out which one I was going to play first. So, I decided to test both of them out before making a decision.

I’d heard so many horror stories about how badly-optimised the PC port of “Saints Row 2” (2008) was that I set the graphics and resolution to pretty much the absolute minimum just as a precaution. The game ran smoothly enough, but looked like something in between a Playstation 1 and Playstation 2 game. Even then, the mouse had all sorts of weird glitches (which, amongst other things, led to me re-mapping the left mouse button to the “Q” key, so that that the game’s combat was actually playable). Not to mention that the game’s user interface also has it’s fair share of unintuitive annoyances on the PC port too.

In comparison – even on my computer’s Intel HD 2500 integrated graphics, “Saints Row IV” (2013) ran smoothly and looked amazing. The lighting was lush and vivid, everything looked detailed and the game just had style. The controls and UI were also just intuitive, with none of the annoyances of “Saints Row 2”. Here’s a visual comparison of both games:

As you can see, “Saints Row IV” has much better lighting and a lot more visual detail.

Yet, as you can probably guess, the game that I chose to play first was… “Saints Row 2”.

Why? Because the beginning of it was slightly more fun. In technical terms, the game had a much better difficulty curve, a less spectacular (but more suspenseful and gameplay-focused) opening segment, a completely different setting to “Saints Row: The Third“, a better selection of in-game music and a story that focuses more on compelling small-scale drama than on large-scale spectacle.

In other words, the first hour of “Saints Row 2” had slightly more substance than the beginning of “Saints Row IV” did. The underlying core of the game was compelling, challenging and novel enough for me to overlook the horrendous graphics, rough interface and mouse-related glitches. I was having so much fun with the actual game itself that these things didn’t matter. Yes, I’m very much behind when it comes to modern gaming (eg: two years ago, I was still using a single-core Windows XP computer with ancient integrated graphics as my main gaming machine) so I already know that graphics aren’t everything, but it still surprised me.

Of course, this made me think about style and substance in visual mediums.

If you have to choose between the two, always go for substance over style. A well-written comic with rough-looking art or a compelling, intelligent film with terrible special effects will almost always be more interesting and memorable than a generic comic with photo-realistic art or a film with a multi-million dollar CGI budget.

Yes, if something has style, then it will grab your interest more. It’ll make you think “this looks really cool”… for a few minutes. But, the thing to remember is that you will be spending quite a bit of time with it. As such, the novelty value of cool visuals will wear off after a while. If there isn’t some underlying substance to keep you interested, then – at best – you will feel mildly bored and, at worst, will end up feeling cheated.

Yes, if you’re an artist or have an interest in art, then you can get a lot out of enjoying something on a purely visual level. But, even the best-looking works of visual storytelling can sometimes seem a little bit hollow if they aren’t backed up by things like good characters, a compelling plot, interesting ideas, innovation etc…

Of course, the ideal thing to aim for is both style and substance – watch the movie “Blade Runner” and read Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” for excellent examples of this – but you should see style as an optional extra that is there to enhance the main substance of something. To give a cookery-based example, style is a bit like smoked paprika or BBQ sauce – it makes food taste even better, but you wouldn’t want to eat a meal that consisted of just these two things.

In the coldest and most cynical terms, one of the main reasons why comic publishers, game companies and film studios place so much emphasis on “graphics” is because they are attention-grabbing. They make you take notice and think “This looks cool! I want more of it!“. This is a quick way of selling you stuff. Of boasting to you that “Our stuff looks better than anyone else’s“.

Again, this isn’t to say that style is a bad thing. It really isn’t. But it is very much secondary to substance.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

When Your Art Style Gets In The Way – A Ramble

The night before I prepared this article, I had a sudden moment of artistic inspiration. This was mostly because I’d been watching eerily fascinating Youtube videos about derelict and semi-abandoned shopping centres in America. And, well, I wanted to make an original painting set in this type of location.

However, as you can see from this preview, the final painting really doesn’t look that much like an actual realistic shopping centre:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 12th August.

The main reasons for this were because of my art style. Simply put, my approach to both colours and lighting is about as far as you can get from the bright lighting and blandly muted colour palettes found in the average shopping centre. So, my art style isn’t directly suited to making art based on these types of locations but I don’t really want to use a radically different style because, well, I really like my art style (plus, I’ve spent several years developing it).

So, what can you do when you find yourself in a situation like this?

Simply put, work around it. If you’ve developed your own art style, then it is probably best suited to a particular “type” of art. This will probably be based on the things that have inspired your art style and the type of art that you make most of the time.

For example, the gloomily gothic high-contrast lighting that I use is best suited to melodramatic gothic art, 1990s-style art, heavy metal-themed art and cyberpunk art. The relatively limited colour palette I use is best suited to things like cyberpunk art, 1990s-style art and webcomics.

My slightly cartoonish drawing style is best suited to webcomics and to art with a high level of visual storytelling. My style is also best suited to “close up” pictures, since it is designed for making smaller works of art (that have more emphasis on the foreground than the background).

Once you’ve worked out what “type” of art your art style is best suited to, see if you can change your initial idea for a painting so that it fits into this type. This could involve changing the composition, changing the perspective, making a painting of something else similar, adding or removing visual storytelling, using artistic licence etc…

For example, if I made another painting of a semi-abandoned shopping centre, then I’d probably be better off adding a cartoon character or two, including gloomier lighting and focusing on a relatively small segment of the shopping centre (rather than a large landscape). I’d also be better off emphasising any creepy, futuristic-looking or 1990s-style elements of the location more prominently too.

So, a painting set in this type of location that is at least a mildly better “fit” with my art style would probably look a bit like this:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 13th August.

Yes, it took me a while to work out the composition of this painting and, yes, there should probably be more foreground detail. But, by focusing more on including visual storytelling, a slightly more gothic atmosphere and 1990s-style elements, I was able to create a much better-looking painting set in this type of location.

So, knowing the limits of your art style and working around them can be a great way to make art that seems like it might not be a good fit for your art style.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Four Basic Tips For Finding A Distinctive Comedy Style For Your Webcomic

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making next month’s webcomic mini series. Anyway, one of the things that I sometimes worry about before starting a collection of comic updates is that I don’t have my own distinctive style of humour. Then again, everyone probably does this.

Still, if you’ve seen a lot of other things in the comedy genre, it can be easy to think that everyone else has their own unique “style” of humour and you don’t. Again, this isn’t true. But, here are a few ways that you can rediscover your own unique style of humour.

1) Your favourite comedy: This is a fairly obvious one, but look at all of your favourite things in the comedy genre. All of the things that really make you crease up with laughter. Your own style of humour is a mixture of all of the types of humour found in these things.

If you’re not sure about the humour type of your favourite things in the comedy genre, just read or watch as much of them as possible. You’ll soon start to notice patterns, styles of jokes etc… Yes, most good things in the comedy genre will contain a mixture of different types of humour, but there will often be one or two that stand out more than the others.

These types of humour might include things like character-based humour, “shock value” humour, political/social satire, parodies, cynicism, slapstick humour, clever wordplay, subverted expectations, amusing narration, old things in modern settings etc…

The trick here, of course, isn’t to directly copy any one thing – but to try to find the types of jokes that you want to tell. Once you’ve found a few types of humour that you really like, then come up with your own jokes that use this style and include them in your webcomic. The thing to remember is that distinctive comedy styles come from a unique mixture of pre-existing types of humour.

2) Don’t be afraid to experiment: One of the reasons why I sometimes worry that I don’t have my own “style” of humour is that I tend to experiment with different types of humour from time to time. For example, this comic update of mine combines cynical humour with more philosophical elements:

“Damania Reflection – Mind, Body & Spirit” By C. A. Brown

Whereas, this comic update of mine is more like something from a gaming webcomic:

“Damania Regression – Community” By C. A. Brown

I could go on for a while, but part of finding your own “style” of humour is experimenting with lots of different types of humour. And this usually involves taking inspiration from lots of different things along the way. So, if your humour changes every month or two, then it just means that you’re adding more stuff to your repertoire. It means that you are improving or refining your own unique style of humour. It’s a good thing!

3) Look back: If you’ve been making webcomics for a while and you’re still worrying that you don’t have a unique type of humour, then just look back at some or all of the comics that you’ve made in the past.

When you look at comic updates that you haven’t seen in a while, you’ll probably have a slightly more distanced perspective. And there’s a good chance that you’ll start to notice at least some hints of your own distinctive style of humour lurking in there too. And, since you made these comic updates in the past, it means that you already have a unique style of humour. You just needed a reminder.

4) Your perspective: I’m usually sceptical about people who tell you to “write from experience”, since they’re often the kind of annoyingly extroverted people who seem to think that everyone else should be just like them. No, a much better piece of advice is to “write from your own perspective”.

I don’t mean that you should make your webcomic autobiographical, but that you should take a look at the way that you think about the world.

Take a look at the topics and ideas that interest you. Take a look at anything you’ve seen or read recently that had some kind of emotional or intellectual impact on you. Take a look at your dreams and daydreams.

Once you’ve thought about these things, try to find a way to make them (or things like them) funny. This will instantly give your comedy a certain level of personality and uniqueness.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Does Your Fiction Writing Style Change If You Haven’t Practiced For Quite A while? – A Ramble

2017 Artwork Does Your Writing Style Change article sketch

Last Halloween, I got back into writing fiction after spending a while (probably less than a year) where I didn’t really write prose fiction. Before that, I’ve had other times where I didn’t write fiction for 1-2 years.

So, I thought that I’d look at the question of whether your writing style changes if you don’t write fiction for a while.

In short, it both does and doesn’t. When I wrote my Halloween stories, I noticed that they contained a mixture of writing styles rather than just one consistent “style”.

Several of them contained elements from various older versions of my writing styles – for example, this story sounds a lot like something I would have written in 2009-10 and this one sounds like a slightly improved version of something I would have written in 2005-7.

As well as this, some stories also sometimes contained elements from the slightly formal style that I use when I write these daily articles. This was especially interesting, since I found that I could write some stories a lot quicker if I made them sound a bit like a non-fiction article (like I did in this story and this one).

Not only that, my regular non-fiction writing and art/comic making practice also meant that I had all sorts of techniques for dealing with writer’s block/ uninspired moments that I didn’t have when I used to see myself primarily as a fiction writer.

So, some skills can transfer from other creative things that you may have been doing instead of writing fiction. This may or may not affect your writing style.

In the end, whether your writing style will or won’t change if you haven’t written any fiction for a while all comes down to experience and practice. If you’ve been doing other writing-related things in the meantime, then this will probably have some effect on your writing style.

Likewise, if you’ve read anything that uses a writing style that you really like, then parts of that style are probably going to seep into your own writing style when you get back into writing again.

However, if you’re out of practice, then your natural instinct will probably be to “pick up where you left off”. In other words, it’s very likely that you won’t completely lose or forget your old writing style. Because of all of your past experience with writing, you’re probably going to unconsciously end up using a similar style to the styles that you used to use.

Plus, if you haven’t practiced for a while, then your style is probably going to have all of the same flaws that it used to have. In my case, this is an annoying tendency to use rather “functional” narration if I’m writing fast. Likewise, I sometimes tend to over-use certain descriptions and sentence structures. So, you’ll probably end up keeping most of the flaws from your original style if you’re out of practice.

In addition to all of this, you have to take the fact that you haven’t practiced into account too. If you practice a skill regularly, then it soon becomes fast, fluent and intuitive. It becomes something that is almost second nature.

This feeling can go away a bit if you haven’t practiced for a while. As such, don’t expect the very first thing you write after you haven’t written for a while to be as flowing, eloquent or polished as the things you used to write.

Getting back to that level of skill and that distinctive style may take a little bit of practice, although it’ll probably take considerably less time that you would have to spend if you had no prior experience.

Still, this is probably different for everyone. I’ve been talking a lot about my own experiences and trying to find general lessons in them. But, I guess that the only real way to see if your style has changed or not is to try writing something.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Making Art That Looks Like It Was Made In The ’90s :)

2017 1990s style art article sketch

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this exact subject before, but I thought that I’d look at how to make 1990s-style art today. Before I begin, I should probably point out that I’ll mostly be talking about how to make art that looks like it was made in the 1990s, rather than art that depicts 1990s pop culture, 1990s fashions, 1990s technology etc…

I’ll also mostly be focusing on drawings and paintings that use “unrealistic” art styles. This is mostly because more ‘realistic’ art styles tend to be somewhat timeless anyway.

1) (Mostly) Use traditional mediums: The 1990s was probably the last decade where more artists used traditional mediums (eg: ink, paint, pen, pencil etc..) than digital mediums.

This isn’t to say that digital art wasn’t a thing in the 1990s (if old “pixel art” computer games are anything to go by, it totally was!), but that the tools used to make it were less sophisticated and less widely available.

So, you can give your art slightly more of a 1990s-style look by using traditional physical art mediums. But, this isn’t to say that you can’t edit this art digitally after you’ve scanned or photographed it, just make sure that the editing tools (in whatever editing program you have) that you use are slightly more basic.

For example, one of the programs I still use to edit most of my paintings is a program called ” Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6″ from 1999.

In fact, I used it for most of the little picture at the top of this article – the line drawing was made with ink, but most of the colours and background were added in “Paint Shop Pro 6” (if you’ve curious about how to create the background pattern – select an area, then click “Image > Noise > Add > 85%, Random”, then select “Image > Effects> Glowing Edges”, then invert the colours if you want, then select “Image > Noise> Despeckle” a couple of times, and then adjust the hue/saturation/lightness levels of the selected area until it looks right).

Anyway, this program includes all of the basic features that you would expect to see in an image editing program (eg: cropping, a basic airbrush, brightness/contrast adjustment, hue/saturation/lightness adjustment, a few basic image effects etc…), but it probably doesn’t include some of the fancier features that it’s more modern equivalents have.

So, if you’re editing your art digitally, then stick to using the more basic features in your editing program. And, if you don’t have an editing program, then there’s a free open-source one called “GIMP” [GNU Image Manipulation Program] that can be legally downloaded here.

2) Contrasts: One of the cool things that makes a lot of art from the early-mid 1990s stand out so much is the fact that there was a lot more emphasis on high-contrast artwork back then. Often, this would involve contrasting bright colours against a dark background. Usually, these colours follow a colour scheme of some kind (so, do some reading about complimentary colours etc.. too).

This kind of high-contrast art can occasionally be seen in old comics, but it’s probably more famous in the kind of abstract patterns that were apparently popular for a while in the 1990s (and the 1980s too). Here’s a quick mock-up that I made in MS Paint to show the kind of patterns I’m talking about:

This is a mock-up of the kind of 1980s/1990s-style  patterns that I'm talking about.

This is a mock-up of the kind of 1980s/1990s-style patterns that I’m talking about.

So, one of the the ways that you can give your art more of a 1990s look is to include a lot of contrast between bold colours and dark areas of your picture, kind of like this old digitally-edited painting/drawing of mine (also edited in “Paint Shop Pro 6”) from 2015:

"1992" By C. A. Brown

“1992” By C. A. Brown

3) Simplicity: Like in the 1980s, western art in the 1990s was often characterised by a certain level of minimalism and simplicity. In a way, it was a little bit like 1890s-1920s art nouveau, but with slightly less realism and much more of a stylised look to it.

One cool thing about 1990s comics, illustrations, advertising etc… is that there was a much greater diversity of art styles out there, although many artists still used a slightly more minimalist style. Although this was often due to the practicalities of making lots of comics or illustrations, it was also done for stylistic reasons too.

So, focus on the general idea of your picture, rather than on trying to include ridiculous amounts of detail. Focus on clean, crisp line art and on making your art look stylish, but simple.

For example, although it ended up turning into a more detailed painting, here’s a detail from the line art from one of my paintings that was posted here last year. If you ignore the scribbled shading in the background, then you can probably tell what I’m talking about:

This isn't as minimalist as it should be but, if you just look at the two characters, you can probably see what I mean about simpler minimalist art.

This isn’t as minimalist as it should be but, if you just look at the two characters, you can probably see what I mean about simpler minimalist art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Reasons Why The Noir Genre Is So Interesting For Artists

2017 Artwork Noir Art article sketch

Well, although I’ve talked about pulp art before, I thought that I’d look at something subtly different today. I am, of course, talking about the noir genre. Although the two genres are very similar, I’d argue that the noir genre is slightly different since it generally refers to a particular style or type of art, rather than a type of art that is set in a very specific time and place (eg: 1920s-50s America).

The noir genre has probably had a large influence on my own art – either indirectly (eg: being inspired by things that are, in turn, inspired by the noir genre) or, more recently, more directly. It’s one of the most inspirational genres that I’ve found.

So, why is the noir genre such a cool and inspirational genre for artists? Here are a few of the reasons.

1) It goes with everything: In artistic terms, the noir genre is a combination of an aesthetic and an attitude. Because of this, it can be combined with all sorts of things that you wouldn’t traditionally associate with the genre. The classic example of this is, of course, the film “Blade Runner” which seamlessly incorporates futuristic science fiction elements into a genre that is traditionally associated with the 1940s/50s.

But, because most of the things that make the noir genre what it is (eg: gloomy lighting, emotions, drama, a slightly gothic atmosphere etc…) aren’t time-specific, you can apply a timelessly cool film noir-like style to pieces of art that are set in virtually any time period or in any genre.

For example, here’s a slightly noir-influenced panel from a webcomic of mine set in Victorian England that will appear here in full in early-mid March:

Although it is perhaps slightly on the colourful side, the art in this comic panel was slightly inspired by the film noir genre.

Although it is perhaps slightly on the colourful side, the art in this comic panel was slightly inspired by the film noir genre.

2) You get to play with lighting: As the name suggests (“film noir” is French for “black film”), noir art tends to be on the gloomier side of things. Because of this, it means that you can do all sorts of cool and dramatic things with the lighting in noir art, for the simple reason that it stands out more against the gloom.

As such you can do a lot of cool things with the lighting in film noir-inspired art than you can’t do in other genres. Yes, the carefully-placed lighting in the noir genre is hardly new (I mean, Tenebrist artists were doing this kind of thing in the 17th century), but the contrast between light and darkness in noir art has an extremely distinctive and fascinating look to it.

Not only that, you also have to choose your light sources carefully – meaning that they have to be a part of the “story” within the painting or drawing.

For example, you could use the flare of a match as a character lights a cigarette, you could use the glow of a computer screen in a dark room, you could use the angry glow of a sunset, you could use the dramatic muzzle flash of a gun, you could use a dramatic-looking neon sign in the background etc.. In noir art, even the light sources are often part of the drama.

For example, in this old noir-influenced horror painting of mine from last year, the main light source in the painting is a mysterious red glow that is just tantalisingly out of frame. Only a muted dull orange/brown wall-mounted light provides any other lighting to the picture.

"Late Return" By C. A. Brown

“Late Return” By C. A. Brown

Because all of the light sources in noir art are often artificial lighting, this also means that you can create a bold and vivid colour scheme in your art by choosing the types of lighting carefully.

For example, in this digitally-edited and noir-influenced sci-fi painting of mine that was posted here a week or two ago, the main light sources are two red strip lights and a small red television screen. These red lights are contrasted with the blue areas of the picture in order to create an ominous atmosphere:

"Midnight Centre" By C. A. Brown

“Midnight Centre” By C. A. Brown

3) The fashions: Although the noir genre can be applied to pretty much any time or place, one interesting facet of it is the fashions that work well in this genre.

Generally, slightly old, minimalist (in style, not amount of clothing!) and/or understated fashions tend to work best. Although the fashions in the historical film noir genre look wonderfully vintage these days, they were of course, totally ordinary and unremarkable at the time.

The best way to describe fashion design in the noir genre is probably “slightly formal fashions in informal situations”. This contrast between the two things sums up one of the things that makes the noir genre so instantly fascinating. Likewise, the fashions in film noir art are often both pretentious and unpretentious at the same time. It really gives the genre a truly unique look and it is one of the things that makes it so fun to use in art.

To give you an example from my own art, although this digitally-edited painting (set in the 1990s) is only mildly influenced by the noir genre, you can hopefully see what I mean about the contrast between formal fashions and slightly informal situations.

"1990s Office Awesomeness" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Office Awesomeness” By C. A. Brown

4) Instant drama: Finally, because of some of the things that I’ve mentioned, art in the noir genre just instantly looks dramatic. Plus, since it is a genre that takes it’s inspiration from film, there is also an emphasis on action and visual storytelling in this genre.

A good piece of noir art will look like it could almost be a single frame from a much larger film. This gives noir art an intriguingly mysterious, yet instantly thrilling appearance that helps to grab the audience’s attention in a way that most other types of art can only dream of.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

What Advantages Do Manga Art Styles Have?

2016 Artwork Advantages Of Drawing Manga sketch

Let me start by saying that, although my own art style has been influenced by manga and anime to some extent, I can’t really draw “genuine” manga very well (as the picture above demonstrates).

Still, by taking inspiration from this art style, I’ve been able to use some – but not all- of the advantages that come from it. I know that I’ve (sort of) talked about this subject before, but it seemed like it was worth mentioning again.

Whilst I would personally recommend discovering and creating your own unique art style, there are quite a few advantages that come with learning at least a few manga art techniques. So, what are they? Here are a few of them:

1) Quick comics: Like all comic-based art styles, manga art is designed to be drawn relatively quickly (albeit, in some cases, by a team of artists).

Unlike in lushly-animated mega-budget anime movies, the art style that you will often find in manga comics is designed to be made relatively easily and quickly. After all, most manga comics are meant to be published in monthly or weekly instalments.

This means that they use all sorts of clever techniques to speed up the comic-making process. Although western comics use some of these techniques too, manga takes a slightly different approach to them.

For example, one of these is that manga comics are almost always drawn in black and white, whereas mainstream western comics are often in colour. Although learning black and white ink drawing takes a bit of practice, once you’ve got the hang of it then you can create impressive-looking comics in about half the time it would take you to make colour comics.

For example, when I got back into making comics occasionally in 2015, I switched to using B&W artwork and this really helped me to keep up the momentum of my comics. It also had the effect, in at least one of my comics, of unintentionally giving the comic a slightly more manga-like sense of humour too.

In addition to this, the manga style also contains great examples of a lot of other general techniques that can be used for making comics quickly, such as using relatively simplified backgrounds in many panels and only using hyper-detailed backgrounds in a few panels.

2) Easy expressions (and other quick techniques): Learning how to draw realistic facial expressions can be kind of a tricky thing and, although it’s something that I know a lot more about than I used to, it’s something that I still haven’t quite mastered.

Still, manga art styles contain a few easy shortcuts that allow you to learn how to draw a series of emotional expressions fairly easily. The earliest ones that I learnt from watching “Pokemon” when I was a kid were that you can show happiness by just making your characters’ eyes look like the top half of a circle.

Likewise, you can show your character’s frustration by placing a small symbol on one corner of their forehead and you can show exhaustion/embarrassment by drawing a large sweat drop on the corner of their forehead. Here’s a diagram:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE]

You can also learn a lot of other quick, but cool, drawing techniques from manga art too.

For example, if you want to draw shiny dark hair quickly then, instead of drawing every individual strand of hair, just draw a squiggly horizontal white (or shaded) line across one or two parts of the hair (usually on the side of the hair that is facing the same direction as the light source in your picture) and just fill in the rest of the hair with solid black ink or black paint, like this:

 Here's an example from a digitally-edited version of a picture that I made last year

Here’s an example from a digitally-edited version of a picture that I made last year

3) It teaches you everything else: One of the cool things about manga art is that, although some parts of it are fairly stylised, it’s also a very realistic art style in many other ways. If you look at almost any manga comic or anime movie/TV show, you’ll see that, apart from the characters’ faces, almost everything else is drawn fairly realistically.

Although it contains a lot of things that I still haven’t quite mastered (eg: realistic proportions, realistic actions etc..), if you want to learn how to draw realistic art then you can’t go wrong with learning manga. Seriously, manga comics contain realistic perspective, realistic backgrounds, realistic hands etc….

Likewise, if your background is in another art style, then switching over to manga art isn’t really that difficult since, when it comes to basic technical stuff, it (mostly) shares a common knowledge base with many other art styles (eg: this is how I was able to create the little drawing at the beginning of this article, even though I don’t normally draw manga).

4) Tutorials: Because manga is such a popular art style, there’s no shortage of free online manga drawing tutorials out there on places like Youtube, DeviantART etc… Not only that, there have also been countless “how to draw manga” books published over the years too.

So, thanks to this, it’s one of the easiest (and cheapest) art styles to learn how to use. Yes, it’s popularity comes at the cost of individuality (when compared to, say, creating your own style) but if you just want to learn how to make comic art relatively quickly or you want a first stepping stone on the path to creating your own style, then manga is one of the easiest things to learn thanks to the abundance of tutorials out there.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Artist, Writer… Know Thyself!

2016 Artwork Artist writer know thyself

Although this is an article about learning more about yourself, I’m going to have to start by talking about myself for a few paragraphs. There’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious later.

Anyway, when it comes to both art and writing, one of the things that I have learnt about myself is that I tend to work best when my art and/or writing includes a high level of either visual and/or emotional intensity.

When I make art, I tend to feel at my best when my art contains bold contrasts between light and darkness. I tend to work best when my art has an underlying gloom, which allows the central parts of the picture to stand out even more by comparison.

After I scan my art, I usually digitally decrease the brightness levels and increase the contrast levels, to give my paintings a “vivid” look. Likewise, I also enjoy producing striking black & white drawings, which require a heavy amount of contrast between lighter and darker areas in order to really stand out.

When it comes to writing, I’ve found that I tend to do my best work when my fiction is related to “emotional” genres like the comedy genre or the horror genre. These are genres that are designed to provoke an intense emotional reaction in the reader.

Interestingly, these genres share a lot of features with each other – from the impish feeling of inventiveness that is needed to come up with good story ideas, to the fact that all of these genres rely on anticipation or suspense (eg: they all use similar types of pacing), to the heavy focus on clever and dramatic descriptions.

Most of my writings that have “pretty much written themselves” have been in at least one of these emotionally-intense genres – for example, my interactive story from last October, includes both comedy and horror.

By learning all of this, I’m able to produce better and more distinctive work by playing to my strengths. But, how did I learn all of this and, more importantly, how can you learn more about yourself as a writer and an artist? There are several ways to do this.

The simplest and most obvious way to learn these kinds of things is just through experience and a lot of practice. If you write a lot or make art regularly, then you’ll eventually learn what works for you and what doesn’t. For example, thanks to lots of practice with making comics, I now know that I tend to produce my best comics if I spend no more than a week on a comics project and if I use black & white artwork for narrative comics and colour artwork for “newspaper comic”-style webcomics.

Likewise, from countless failed attempts at writing novels when I was teenager, I’ve learnt that I tend to do my best writing when I’m writing either short stories and/or novella-length fiction. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn through simple experience and failure.

Another way to work out more about yourself is just to follow your feelings and your instincts. If you’re fascinated by a particular type of fiction or art, then try to make some of it yourself and see how it feels. If the experience doesn’t feel as great as you expected, then either move on to something else or try adding something from another genre that you like. However, if the experience feels more like fun than work, then you’ve learnt something about yourself.

Finally, if you really don’t know that much about yourself creatively, then just take a look at your favourite things. You’d be surprised at how much you can learn about your artistic and/or literary sensibilities just from looking at the things that you really love. Although most artists and writers don’t really understand all of their influences until after they’ve been influenced, you’d be surprised at how much you can learn about yourself from just looking at the things that have the most impact on you.

For example, the largest influences on my high-contrast art style include cool things that I loved when I was a teenager (and still do) such as the movie “Blade Runner” (with it’s gloomy settings and neon-lit streets) to Derek Riggs’ excellent cover artwork for many of Iron Maiden’s albums. These were things that I loved long before I really considered myself to be an artist and it’s only within the past couple of years that I’ve realised just how much of an influence they’ve had on my art.

Likewise, the influences on my writing include things like the ultra-gruesome second-hand 1970s-90s splatterpunk novels that I eagerly read when I was a teenager, to the William Gibson cyberpunk novels (which use a very intense and fast-paced narrative style) that I enjoyed during my late teens and early twenties.

These are just a few of the ways that you can learn more about yourself as a writer and an artist, but if you want to produce things that both you and other people think are cool, then you’re going to have to learn where your strengths lie.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Random Thoughts About “Style Vs Substance”

2015 Artwork Style vs substance article sketch

A few weeks ago, I read a really interesting article about comics by Yo Zushi on the New Statesman’s website. The whole article is worth reading, but the part that really caught my attention was probably the first two paragraphs.

These paragraphs are about the whole subject of “style vs substance” and, although they’re probably too long to quote in full – the basic point of these two paragraphs is that, in many types of creative works, style matters as much (if not more) than substance does.

I don’t know why, but I’d never really thought too much about the whole “style vs substance” thing in my own creative work until I read this article. But, looking over my own art, it usually tends to be a lot more about expressing a thought, a particular atmosphere, a moment in a story or just something random (that looks cool) rather than anything deeply symbolic or meaningful.

Likewise, when I wrote a lot of fiction, most of my emphasis was on telling a funny, dramatic,futuristic, erotic, scary and/or cool story than on trying to make some deep point about the human condition or anything like that. Yes, sometimes ideas and emotions that were prominent in my mind at the time would find their way into my fiction in some kind of oblique or symbolic way, but they were rarely the main point of the story.

So, counter to what I expected, I really do value style over substance in my own work.

In many ways, I’d argue that art lends itself towards this kind of thing because you’re usually just creating a single visual image. You can fill that image with deep symbolism and meaning but, unless it looks interesting, most people won’t be bothered with it.

Likewise, “style over substance” works of art can become a lot more popular than more “meaningful” works of art for the simple reason that other artists will look at it and think “that looks cool. I’ve got to find a way to sneak it into my own work“. Interesting pieces of “style over substance” art can effectively end up spawning lots of other works of art.

Ironically, trying to add substance to a work of art that doesn’t have it can completely ruin that work of art. A good example of this would be some of Damien Hirst’s conceptual works (and conceptual art in general) – these artworks consist of things like a shark preserved in a tank of formaldehyde and stuff like that.

If Damien Hirst had just said “I made it because I thought that it would be funny” or “I made it because it looked weird“, then I could respect this. But, most of these random works of conceptual art have incredibly pretentious-sounding titles like “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living“.

Trying to add a deeper meaning to something that doesn’t really have one (after all, it’s just a dead shark) shows how many people tend to insist that art must have some kind of greater “substance” to it. But, more often than not, art is just art. It looks cool, it evokes emotions and/or it sparks the imagination. If there’s a deeper meaning to it, then this is a bonus – but it shouldn’t be a requirement.

When it comes to fiction, this subject becomes a lot more complicated. After all, stories have to tell.. well.. a story. And, well, most stories tend to have some kind of meaning to them for the simple reason that they both show a series of events and how the characters in that story are affected by these events. This, in and of itself, shows us something about humanity and the human condition.

But, at the same time, I’d argue that a good story tends to see deeper meanings etc.. as a secondary thing. A good story might contain a deeper meaning or some kind of “substance”, but this is often hidden in the background because the emphasis is on telling an enjoyable story that people will actually want to read.

I mean, it’s very telling that literary novels (which have a lot of “substance”) often have a fairly low readership compared to more interesting genres like sci-fi novels, thrillers, romances, fantasy novels etc..

So, in conclusion, style probably does matter a lot more than substance.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

How To Stop Writing Like Hunter S. Thompson

2015 Artwork writing like Hunter S. Thompson sketch

If you write fiction, non-fiction and/or journalism, then there’s a good chance that you’ve run into this problem at least once.

It typically happens during adolescence, but it can happen at any time during your writing career. I am, of course, talking about trying to write like Hunter S. Thompson.

This condition can be picked up from reading any of Thompson’s written works. However, there have been at least a few notable cases reported where contagion occurred from merely watching footage of Thompson himself or even from second-hand portrayals of him by trained actors.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that cases of Thompsonitis peaked during the 1998 theatrical release of “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas“, with the ‘wave speech‘ scene in particular being a strong vector for contagion.

Common symptoms of the condition can include an insatiable desire to use a typewriter rather than a computer, a fondness for loud Hawaiian shirts, a feeling that writing like Hunter S. Thompson is “cool” and a sudden (but hopefully unrealised) desire to take hallucinogenic drugs in the mistaken belief that they will “improve” your writing.

Generally, you will end up with a lot of sub-par writing that is a pale imitation of Hunter S. Thompson’s genius. In the history of this condition, no afflicted writer has ever written anything that surpassed Thompson’s own writing.

Why? Because you aren’t Hunter. S. Thompson! No matter how much you might want to be.

So, what is the cure to this terrible condition?

First of all, the condition will usually fade over time. Although cases of Thompsonitis have been known to last for years, they mostly only last for weeks or months. This usually happens because a writer either gets bored of writing in Thompson’s style, realises that they aren’t very good at it and/or finds another writing style to imitate.

So, if you are currently suffering from Thompsonitis, don’t worry – it will pass.

But, saying this, coming down with a case of Thompsonitis isn’t an entirely bad thing, provided that you learn from the experience. In other words, rather than just trying to copy Hunter S. Thompson’s writing style – you need to take a deeper look at it and see why it is so interesting to read.

In other words, ask yourself “what are the basic qualities of Hunter S. Thompson’s writing? What makes a Hunter S. Thompson book a Hunter S. Thompson book?”.

The basic qualities that make Thompson’s writing style so unique and brilliant include things like an unremittingly cynical disdain for authority, a careful blending of fact and wild imagination, a highly informal (but carefully crafted) tone, a penchant for exaggeration, a fascination with the fringes of society and the willingness to have outspoken political opinions.

These are just a few of the basic qualities that make Thompson’s writing so unique and memorable. And, these qualities are good things – and it’s perfectly ok to imitate them if you really like them. Just find a way to incorporate these qualities into your own personal writing style, rather than trying to copy all of Thompson’s style.

In other words, take the good parts of his style and make them your own. Turn them into something that feels relevant to you.

If you do this – you will end up with something unique, interesting and relevant that people will actually be interested in. Rather than something which will make seasoned writers, creative writing tutors, newspaper editors etc… roll their eyes in frustration at.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂