Two Ways To Save Time Whilst Making Art

As regular readers of this site probably know, I’ve had slightly less time to make art over the past few months than I did before (mostly due to all sorts of things, such as doing the reading for the book reviews that appear here, other creative projects etc..). However, I was determined to keep posting daily paintings here, even if this required some fairly major changes.

Or, to put it another way, this is what my paintings look like when I have a bit more time:

“Formation” By C. A. Brown

And this is what they look like when I’ve got slightly less time:

“Tipner Lake – Mist” By C. A. Brown

So, what are the differences and how do they save time?

1) The most time-consuming part of making a painting isn’t what you think: If you’re new to making art, it can be easy to think that the most time-consuming part of making a painting or a drawing is the actual painting or drawing itself. Or perhaps waiting for the paint to dry (unless you’re using oil paint, in which case it possibly is). Surprisingly, this isn’t true.

The most time-consuming part of making a painting is working out what to paint. And, if you’re painting from imagination, then you can sometimes spend just as long thinking of ideas as you do drawing or painting. Yes, this will result in more distinctive, unique and creative paintings that look like this:

“Haunted Mansion” By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunk Ruins” By C. A. Brown

But, it takes time and, if you’ve got less time and still want to make impressive-looking paintings, then this can be one thing to cut without sacrificing technical quality. But, how do you do this?

There are several ways of doing this (eg: still life paintings, making new versions of your older paintings, making studies of out-of-copyright historical paintings, making non-commercial fan art or making art based on photos you’ve taken). Personally, I seem to have gone for the photo-based approach, since there’s more room for artistic licence- like this:

(Click for larger image) As you can see, the source photo and the finished painting are both similar and different.

Even so, this approach does reduce the amount of creativity you can use in your art. Still, as a way of making ok-looking art in half the time, it can work quite well.

2) Digital is your friend: Simply put, if you’re primarily posting your art on the internet (and aren’t selling physical originals), then it is well worth learning how to use an image editing program or two (there are even free open-source ones on the internet, if you don’t have one).

This doesn’t mean that you should make entirely digital art, but you’d be surprised at, with practice, how much quicker it can be to add colours to scans or digital photos of hand-drawn line art digitally than waiting for paints to dry etc.. Although I’ve found that this approach works best for greyscale art, it can be a great way to trim 10-20 minutes off of a picture if you’re in a real hurry.

Here’s an example of this in one of my upcoming pieces of photo-based art (based on a photo I took of Tipner Lake near Portsmouth) which, if I remember rightly, only took me an hour or so to make.

(Click for larger image) This is an example of how I turned some hand-drawn line art into a greyscale digital painting.

Yes, this will look different to using actual paints (and I often just use digital tools for enhancing/improving my traditional paintings). But, if you’re in a rush and you know what you’re doing, then it can certainly shave a few minutes off of the time it takes you to finish a piece of art.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Sneaky Tricks For Making Rushed Webcomic Updates Look Good

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy making this month’s webcomic mini series. But, since I’m busy with other stuff too, I haven’t got quite as much time for it as I had last year (so, it’ll be another four-comic mini series).

But, so far, it seems to be turning out better than the four-comic mini series I posted in January. So, I thought that I’d offer a few sneaky tips for making rushed webcomic updates look good.

And, yes, one of the classic rules of webcomics is that the writing is more important than the art. Still, if you want to improve the art without too much of a time cost, then these tips might come in handy.

1) Digital backgrounds: Although this can look terrible if not done correctly (and I’ll explain one possible way to reduce visual consistency problems a bit later), one way to make a good-looking webcomic update relatively quickly is to use a digital background.

If you’ve got any spare digital photos of scenery etc.. that you’ve taken (and own the copyright to), then this is the time to put them to good use. It’ll allow you to make comic updates that look like this panel from one of my upcoming comics:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 21st February.

Although the specifics of how to do this will vary depending on the image editing program that you are using, it basically just involves drawing the characters (and writing the dialogue) and then copying them onto the background image. Most image editing programs include a “copy” function and, if you mess around with the options a bit, you’ll probably be able to get your art to copy properly.

However, as I hinted at earlier, the contrast between cartoonish art and realistic photography can look a little bit jarring. So, it’s usually a good idea to choose photos that don’t contain people (since your cartoon characters will look even more cartoonish in contrast to them).

Basically, the more “generic” your digital photo looks, the less obvious the contrast between cartoons and photos will be. So, go for natural scenes, generic buildings etc.. And try to avoid using photos that include people, posters etc..

2) Vary the backgrounds: I’ve mentioned this technique before, but it is worth mentioning again. Basically, one of the quickest and easiest types of comic updates to make are “talking head” comics where two characters stand next to each other and talk. However, these can be quite boring to look at. So, how can you make them more visually interesting?

Simply put, vary the backgrounds. One classic technique is to include a detailed background and/or detailed artwork in one panel, whilst keeping the other panels relatively undetailed. This makes the detailed panel the focal point of the comic whilst also meaning that you only have to make one detailed panel (which saves time). It looks a little bit like this:

“Damania Reduced – Book” By C. A. Brown

Notice how the third panel of this comic contains dramatic, detailed art with more realistic shading etc… Whereas the other three panels feature two characters standing in front of a plain purple background. Yet, the three boring panels are slightly less noticeable because the detailed panel is more attention-grabbing.

Another way to disguise talking head comics is to either use “close up” pictures of one of the characters during some of the panels and/or to use a solid black background in panels that contain dramatic dialogue.

For example, the angry dialogue in the third panel of this comic update uses this technique to break up the monotony of the red backgrounds in the first and fourth panels.:

“Damania Reduced – Trance Metal” By C. A. Brown

3) Expressions: This is a little bit of a sneaky one, but one way that you can add some more drama and visual interest to a rushed comic update is simply to focus on your character’s facial expressions.

Showing your characters’ reactions to things might not look like an obvious improvement at first glance, but it can really help to add extra humour and/or drama to your comic, which can distract your readers from the more rushed elements of your art.

Not to mention that if you’re in such a rush that you have to re-use the same art for several panels (this, in itself, is another good technique for making good-looking comics quickly. If you can re-use one good piece of art four times or whatever, then your comic will look better), then using digital tools to change your characters’ expressions in each re-used panel can be a good way to make the recycling very slightly less obvious too.

—————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Tips For Making Webcomics When You’ve Got Less Time

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy preparing this year’s Christmas webcomic mini series (which will start appearing here in about 4-5 days time). But, since I also seem to have got back into reading regularly and writing book reviews (and don’t want to fall out of the habit again), I’ve got slightly less time to make each webcomic update.

As such, I thought that I’d offer a few tips for making webcomic updates when you’ve got less time. Most of these are things that I’ve mentioned before, but they’re probably worth mentioning again.

1) Planning: As counter-intuitive as it might sound, setting some time aside beforehand to plan your next few webcomic updates will actually save you time in the long run.

Your plans don’t have to be ultra-complex. For example, here’s the plan for the first comic in my Christmas mini series. It was scribbled in a different notebook with a cheaper pen, and the art planning is kept to a bare minimum (because planning the dialogue and structure matters a lot more than planning the art):

This is the plan for the first comic update in my Christmas mini series. As you can see, the focus is on planning the dialogue and structure, rather than the art.

But, why does taking a bit of time to plan the next few comics save you time? Simple. When you get round to actually making the comic, you can just make the comic. Because you’ve planned everything out in advance, you won’t get slowed down by writer’s block when you’re actually making the comics.

2) Adjustments: Simply put, there are a lot of ways to save time that won’t affect the quality of your comic too much. For example, you can tweak the production or release schedule slightly (I mean, when I’m preparing comics, I usually prepare two per day. This time, I’m only making one per day).

Likewise, you can alter the length of each comic update slightly to save time (this is why, last year, I went back to making 4-5 panel comic updates after making 6-8 panel updates for a while). Plus, don’t feel too bad about adjusting your release schedule if you have to. As long as you are still following some kind of update schedule (and your audience know what it is), then your audience is likely to excuse any changes you have to make in order to keep making comics.

Or you can take the approach that I do, which is simply to release daily comics for a limited time (usually about 6-8 days per month, although this will probably drop to four days per month for future comics), and then do non-comic stuff (in my case, daily art – which is usually quicker/easier to make than comics are) during the rest of the time. This way, you get the advantage of a daily schedule, but it isn’t something that takes up a part of your day every day.

3) The art: I’ve said this many times before and it’s worth repeating again. The art is the least important part of a webcomic update. If you don’t believe me, then just look at a popular webcomic called “XKCD“, which uses stick figure art. This is a webcomic that is popular because of the writing and humour, rather than the art.

So, if you have to rush or downgrade any part of your webcomic in order to save time, then you should do this with the art. It sounds counter-intuitive, but the writing, characters, humour etc.. in your webcomic matter more than the art does. Not only that, if you’ve been making webcomics for a while, then even a slightly “rushed” or “downgraded” version of your art will still look better than (or as good as) the art in your older comics because you’ve had more practice.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a panel from the first slightly “rushed” comic update for my upcoming Christmas mini series:

The full comic update will be posted here on the 19th December.

And here’s a “good” webcomic update that I made in 2015/16 (from this mini series) . As you can see, the modern “rushed” art compares fairly well to it:

“Damania Redux – Cyberpunk” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, if you have to save time, then rush the art rather than the writing/planning. Likewise, if you’ve been making webcomics for a while, then even your current rushed art will probably look better than your “good” older webcomic art. So, don’t feel too bad about it. The important thing is to actually make comic updates.

————–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Limitations And Nostalgia – A Ramble

Although this is a rambling article about nostalgia in general, I’m going to have to start by talking about musical nostalgia for a couple of paragraphs. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

A while before I wrote this article, I was going through a bit of a musical nostalgia phase and, whilst listening to the first track of Sum 41’s “Half Hour Of Power” album, I suddenly remembered that they were one of the few punk bands that I knew about when I was a teenager. And how they seemed even cooler as a result of this.

A while earlier, I had also found myself listening to “Virus” by Iron Maiden. This is a bonus track that was included on one of the first Iron Maiden albums I ever bought (the “Best Of The Beast” compilation) and it reminded me of when I first discovered the band and how I knew relatively little about them at the time, but was eager to learn.

So, what was the point of this brief trip down memory lane? Well, it’s all to do with how limitations can affect and provoke nostalgia.

One of the interesting things about growing up at a time when the internet was a little bit less common is that information was harder to find. These days, if I see or listen to something interesting, then it’s a simple matter of searching for more info about it online. Likewise, finding information about other things that are like it isn’t too difficult either. Yes, this is really cool – but it means that anything you find probably won’t provoke quite the same type of nostalgia when you remember it in the future.

If you found something really cool 15-20 years ago, then it was a much more significant event. Chances are, you probably even have some kind of convoluted story about how you first found it.

For example, I discovered Iron Maiden (in about 2000/2001) by accident because they were on the soundtrack to “Carmageddon II” – which was a game I only got by accident because it happened to be included in a multipack with the PC port of “Resident Evil 2”.

Finding something cool 15-20 years ago was also a much more significant event for the simple reason that it was a bit more difficult to tell whether there were other things like it out there. As such, finding something really brilliant was like finding a rare treasure. Instead of eagerly researching it on the internet, you tended to savour it whilst also hoping that you might possibly chance upon something similar in the future.

Finding something cool 15-20 years ago also relied on chance, luck and serendipity a lot more than it does now. It involved noticing things in magazines, hearing recommendations from people, happening to watch things on TV, happening to hear something good on the radio or finding random things in shops. As such, discovering cool things tended to feel like more of a matter of luck or fate than it does now.

Then, of course, there’s all of the nostalgia that you didn’t actively seek out. In the days before the internet was truly mainstream, mass culture used to be much more prominent. I mean, if you asked me to name ten songs by current pop bands, I’d probably look at you like you’d asked me to translate this article into hieroglyphics.

But, during my childhood in the mid-late 1990s, I could probably reel off twenty song names without even thinking about it. Why? Because it was the main type of music (aside from the occasional pop-punk or rap song) that I was exposed to back then. The only real variation was the fact that the local radio station I listened to regularly at the time also used to play 1980s pop music too. So, a lot of my musical nostalgia is from genres that I don’t really listen to much these days.

Of course, limitations also provoke nostalgia in other ways too. Whether it is the graphics in older computer/video games (that force the player to use their imagination more and which place more emphasis on the actual gameplay, story etc..) or the fact that special effects in movies looked cooler in the past because there was no modern photo-realistic CGI to compare them to, the limitations involved in creating things in the past often tends to evoke a lot of nostalgia.

So, yes, a lot of what makes nostalgia “special” can often be due to the limitations of the past.

———————-

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Why Does Current Art Often Look Slightly “Old”? – A Ramble

Well, at the time of writing, I’m busy preparing a series of gothic paintings set in Aberystwyth. One of the interesting things about this art series is that each painting seems to be set in a slightly different time period.

There are some set in the mid-late ’00s, there’s one set in the early 2010s, there are some set in the 1980s/1990s and there are even a couple of paintings set in a cyberpunk-style future. Here’s a preview:

This is a reduced-size preview of a cyberpunk-style painting of a corridor behind the Hugh Owen building on the town’s university campus. The full-size painting will be posted here on the 11th June.

This naturally made me think about art and time. This is mostly because, although artists often don’t explicitly state when their paintings are set, they’ve usually got a fairly good idea. And, with the exception of obvious historical pieces and sci-fi/fantasy art, you might be wondering why current artists wouldn’t set all of their art in an accurate version of the present day.

There are a lot of reasons for this. The first one is that art isn’t meant to be accurate or realistic. If you want an accurate realistic picture of the modern world, take a photograph. Art is about the blending of imagination and reality. It’s about seeing the world filtered through someone’s imagination. So, many artists might use artistic licence (such as adding slightly old or unrealistic elements to their art) in order to create a more distinctive and interesting picture.

For example, in this other painting of Aberystwyth from earlier this month, I deliberately used a rather unrealistic 1980s-style colour scheme, mostly to reflect the old music I was listening to during the time period (eg: the late 2000s) that this painting is set in. Which brings me on to…

The second reason why artists don’t always set their work in a realistic version of the present day is because art allows us to re-visit interesting memories and to depict the world based on rose-tinted versions of parts of history that we get nostalgic about and/or are interested in. It allows us to paint or draw a more stylised version of the world that seems better, more reassuring and/or more visually interesting than a more “realistic” one would be.

For example, here’s a painting from life (a first-person scene showing me drawing a small sculpture of a tortoise) that I made last year. Although it is technically set in 2017, I’ve deliberately added some slightly 1980s/1990s-style lighting and colour combinations to it in order to make it look more dramatic and visually-appealing than a starkly “realistic” depiction of the scene in question would be.

“Drawing A Tortoise Still Life” By C. A. Brown

The third reason why artists don’t always set their art in an “accurate” version of the present day is because of artistic inspirations and influences. Generally, the things that have inspired or influenced an artist are probably going to be slightly older things.

They’re probably going to be things that, say, an artist first discovered when they were younger and then studied in more depth when they got a bit older. Even if an artist is somehow only inspired by “modern” things, then those modern things are probably going to be inspired or influenced by older things in some way or another. So, artistic influences usually come from the past in some way or another.

Finally, it’s an interesting artistic challenge. There’s something enjoyably challenging about making something in the present day that looks like it could have come from the past. In order to do this well, you need to have done a fair amount of research and have a good understanding of what made the recent past (and art from back then) look the way it did. For example, here’s a digitally-edited painting of mine that was inspired by the old early 1990s computer games I played during my childhood:

“Marina” By C. A. Brown

Although this painting includes some elements of early 20th century Art Nouveau and 19th century Japanese Ukiyo-e art, I also tried to replicate the more garish and limited colour palettes used in some old computer games. I used bold high-contrast lighting (which gives anything an instant 1980s/90s-style look) and I also tried to make sure that the fashion designs and hairstyles in the picture looked like something from the early 1990s. Likewise, I made sure that the background design was as random and eccentric as the location designs in old computer games often were.

So, yes, making current art that looks like it could have come from the recent past usually involves a fair amount of research and thought, so it can be an interesting artistic challenge.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Is Gaming A Waste Of Time (If You’re A Creative Person)?

Well, I still seem to be in a bit more of a computer/video games mood than usual at the moment, so I thought that I’d talk again about yet another way that this topic relates to things like making art, writing fiction, making comics etc..

This article was mostly inspired by this Youtube video which includes a quote from the author G.R.R Martin where he talks about how he lost a lot of writing time during the 1980s due to playing videogames. It was also vaguely inspired by hearing someone refer to games as “time bandits” a few days earlier.

On the surface, playing games may well appear to be “a waste of time”. After all, they usually involve sitting in front of a screen for a few minutes to a few hours, with no tangible real-life result from doing this. I mean, if you make some art, or build a model, or play a musical instrument etc.. then you’ll usually end up with something that other people can enjoy too. So, from this coldly utilitarian perspective, I can see why some might think that playing games is a “waste of time”.

But, by that logic, so is reading novels, watching movies, listening to music, going to the theatre, looking at other works of art, reading comics etc… too. And, yet, there probably isn’t a writer or artist out there who wasn’t inspired to start writing and/or making art because of something that they’ve seen or read. Likewise, there isn’t a single artist or writer out there whose creative works weren’t influenced or inspired by something else that they’ve seen or read.

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a painting of mine that will be appearing here later this month:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 19th May.

This digitally-edited painting was initially inspired by listening to various songs by the heavy metal band Cradle Of Filth. The settings in this painting were inspired by various gothic horror settings in movies, TV shows and computer games. Likewise, the ominous red/blue colour scheme was also inspired by similar colour schemes that I’ve seen in movies, games, comics etc… before.

At the very least, games are just another source of inspiration for creative people. A type of source material that, if it’s good enough, can be broken down into it’s most basic elements, re-interpreted and mixed with many other things in order to create new and original things for other people to enjoy.

But, games are much more than this. Another great thing that games can do is to help you deal with artist’s block, writer’s block etc.. too. I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the best ways to get into a more inspired frame of mind is to just play a challenging game that you’ve played a lot and/or are good at.

Since you’ll be playing this familiar game “on autopilot”, this gives you room to think and daydream. Your expertise at the game will also help to distract you from the feelings of frustration and/or inadequacy that can block your creativity too. Seriously, it’s a far more productive method for dealing with creative blocks than just staring at a blank page or screen and thinking something like “WHAT can I DO??!? WHY don’t I have any good ideas?!!?“.

This is a screenshot from “Reelism Gold” (2015), a thrillingly challenging, wonderfully nostalgic and hilariously eccentric fan-made modification for “Doom II” (1994). This is one of my go-to games when I’m feeling uninspired.

In addition to this, games aren’t a waste of time for creative people because playing even vaguely good games for a while will probably make you want to make games of your own. But, since making games is a complicated, expensive etc.. process, then you’ll probably end up channelling these new creative urges into things that you can make easily. In other words, art, fiction, comics etc.. So, playing games can (indirectly) make you feel more creative too.

Likewise, games can also be a good litmus test for how good your latest creative project is. If your project is something that you constantly find yourself procrastinating from making by playing games, then this is probably a sign that you need to change something about your project and/or start a new project (so that it is more compelling to make and, by extension, more compelling for your audience to read, look at etc..).

Conversely, if you feel more enthusiastic about making a painting, making a comic or writing a story than you do about playing games, then this is usually a good sign.

So, yes, if you’re a creative person, then playing games isn’t a waste of time. Games can inspire you, they can bypass creative blocks, they can make you feel more creative and they can also help you to see how well your current project is going.

———–

Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Reasons Why Some Creative Works Become Better With Time

Well, for today, I thought that I’d look at why some older creative works can seemingly become better with time. This was something that I noticed when I happened to re-listen to Iron Maiden’s “The Final Frontier” album from 2010 a while before writing this article. When this album was originally released, I really liked a few songs from it but didn’t quite consider it to be one of Iron Maiden’s better albums.

But, a few years later, it seems like a considerably better album than I’d originally thought that it was. So, I thought that I’d look at a few possible reasons why some creative works can seemingly become better with the passage of time.

1) Hype and expectations: Carrying on with the example I used earlier, Iron Maiden albums are one of the few things that I tend to buy when they’re still “new”. When a new Iron Maiden album is released, it’s an incredibly exciting time. There’s a lot of expectations and pre-release information (and the occasional music video) on the internet. The same sort of thing is probably true for anything made by your favourite musicians, writers, game developers etc..

One of the advantages of revisiting things that have stopped being new (or looking for older creative works) is that they aren’t surrounded by lots of hype and expectations. In other words, it’s easier to look at these things on their own merits. If something is good, but different, then this is easier to see when your mind isn’t clouded by hype and anticipation.

It’s also easier to see these things as one stage in a band’s, novelist’s or game franchise’s creative development when you can also see later things that have been made by the same people. Being able to put a creative work in context can sometimes make it seem even better as a result (either because you can see hints of older works or newer works in it).

2) Nostalgia and historical curiosity: This is a fairly obvious one, but looking at older creative works can be a great way to “travel back in time” to better parts of our lives or to interesting parts of the past. This alone can make some creative works seem a lot better than they probably were at the time.

For me, a good example of this is an American TV show from the 1990s called “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman“. I saw at least two episodes of this on the BBC when I was a child. But, I considered it to be somewhat cheesy. It wasn’t a bad program, but it didn’t really impress me as much as other TV shows of the time did.

Yet, during a “1990s nostalgia” phase late last year and earlier this year, I ended up getting most of the show on DVD. This time round, it seemed to sum up everything wonderful about the 1990s. The fashions! The set design! The production values! The optimistic attitudes! The guest stars! The humour! The gloriously silly storylines! I could go on. But, the show seems to work a lot better as a “retro” historical artefact than it did when it was actually “modern”.

So, yes, when something goes from being current to being “a way to step back into the past” or even “a way to escape from the present day for a while”, it will generally seem better as a result.

3) You’re older: Following on from my last point, if you revisit a creative work several years after you first encountered it, then you aren’t the same person you were then. You’ve got more experience, you’re more intelligent and your tastes might be very slightly different.

As such, you’re more likely to see things that your younger self dismissed as “boring” or “crap” in a slightly different way. You’re more likely to pick up nuances or themes in a creative work that your younger self might have missed. You’re more likely to be able to empathise more with some characters than you were before. You’re more likely to enjoy things like slower-paced storytelling, philosophical depth or narrative complexity.

Of course, this sort of thing can cut both ways. Things that seemed really cool when you were younger can seem trite, superficial and/or embarassing when you’re slightly older. But, even so, it will allow you to enjoy some creative works significantly more than you did when you were younger.

4) Modern culture: This one is a bit cynical, but one reason why creative works that seemed “mediocre” when they were new can seem “amazing” when they’re a bit older can be because current culture has got worse.

When this sort of thing happens then anything from a time that you consider to be a “golden age” gets an almost instant upgrade. After all, it’s better than the modern stuff by comparison. A good example of this can probably be seen with many computer and video games.

Even slightly “mediocre” games from the past can seem better when compared to everything I’ve seen and read about their modern counterparts. For example, even the crappiest 1990s first-person shooter game will still include things like non-linear level design, imaginative weapon designs, a focus on single-player gameplay etc.. But, from everything I’ve heard about FPS games from this decade, many of them seem to be linear, militaristic, simplified, multiplayer-focused things that focus more on fancy graphics than enjoyable gameplay.

So, yes, if one of your favourite genres of entertainment has gone downhill in recent years, then even mediocre things from the past can start to look like masterpieces.

—————–

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂