The Joy Of… New Nostalgia

2017-artwork-the-joy-of-new-nostalgic-things

As regular readers probably know, I write most of these articles quite far in advance of publication. Anyway, the night before I originally wrote this one, I watched the first episode of “Red Dwarf XI” and was absolutely astonished by it. This is a sitcom that has been going since the late 1980s (although I only started watching it on VHS and DVD in the early-mid 2000s)… and they’re still making genuinely funny new episodes of it!

But this is hardly the first “old” thing that I remember discovering when I was a teenager or when I was even younger, that is still going in some way or another. In fact, I’d originally written something approaching a full-length article about my history of being a fan of Red Dwarf, Iron Maiden, The Offspring, Blade Runner, the “Doom” games, Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes etc.. before deleting it because I realised that it probably distracted from the points that I’m going to make in this article.

There’s something amazing about things that are “old” and yet “new” at the same time. These are all things that are kept alive by both their creators and their fans.

For example, there’s a new “Doom” game (which is too modern to run on my computer 😦 ) and there’s going to be a “Blade Runner” sequel. Yet, the old versions of both things were and are still going strong because of fan-made content. Whether it’s the fact that there are still thousands of people making new levels for the old “Doom” games or the fact that “Blade Runner” has inspired so many other things in the sci-fi genre (including a lot of my own sci-fi art, comics etc…) for literally decades after it was released, both things were kept alive by their fans as much as, or more, than by their creators.

But, yet, none of the TV shows, films, bands, games etc… I’ve mentioned in this article really pander to their fans in any huge way. Sure, they’ve kept the best bits of their older incarnations, but they aren’t afraid to try subtly different new things. I mean, an Iron Maiden album from the 1980s and an Offspring album from the 1990s sound both similar and different from anything that these two bands have released in 2012-16.

They aren’t like a lot of much more “popular” things, which often seem to be defined and designed as much by things like marketing data as they are by actual people. They often don’t have planned obsolescence built into them (eg: like superhero movie/comic reboots, games that move to the latest consoles etc..) to ensure that the latest version is the “coolest” thing. The latest version is just another version, often no better or worse than the outstandingly brilliant older versions.

In other words, they actually seem like they were (and are!) things that are created by people, rather than focus groups and marketing departments.

They’re things that have been created by people with a particular sense of humour, a particular set of musical tastes, a particular worldview, a particular attitude towards their creative medium of choice etc… In today’s world, this sort of thing would probably be seen as “uncommercial” . In fact, it was probably seen as uncommercial several decades ago. And yet because of this these things still have the kind of dedicated fans that cash-obssesed marketing departments can only dream of.

They aren’t advertised incessantly and yet they still pick up new fans. I mean, most of the “old” things that I consider to be my favourite bands, games, books, films etc.. certainly weren’t “popular” when I discovered them by serendipity, accident, recommendation or curiosity back when I was a teenager. They were inherently cool, but they weren’t the kinds of things that the “cool kids” were enjoying when I was a teenager.

In fact, many of these things have something better than advertising. They have an imaginative fanbase. They have a fanbase that is so inspired by these things that they will actually make their own things inspired by them.

For example, “Blade Runner” may only be one movie but the number of other films, games, TV shows, songs, comics and artwork (including many of my own paintings and some of my own comics) that have been inspired, influenced by, or make references to this one little film are too numerous to count. And, yet, the film itself isn’t something that is advertised everywhere or directly remade every five years.

Likewise, many of these “new and old” things are things that were created by people who are still learning and experimenting after several decades. They are things that are both very much their own thing and yet are open to new influences and inspirations.

One perfect example of this is probably the band Iron Maiden. They’re a band who have made very few covers of other songs, and yet their own musical style has both changed drastically and remained instantly recognisable over more than three decades. It’s probably been influenced by more things than the band will ever reveal, yet it’s very much it’s own thing. They’ve had three different lead singers and they’ve gone through both “dark and serious” and “light and fantastical” phases, and yet an Iron Maiden album is still very much an Iron Maiden album.

I could probably go on about this for hours, but there’s always something uniquely wonderful about finding something that is both old and new at the same time. Something which is both thrillingly new and reassuringly old when you first discover it and twhich later ends up taking up residence in your mind and shaping large parts of your own imagination.

————

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Advertisements

Four Reasons Why Black & White Art Is Awesome

(Wow, I spent WAY too long making this little drawing...)

(Wow, I spent WAY too long making this little drawing…)

Well, I thought that I’d talk about black and white art again today. For a type of art that I only really got into making semi-regularly last year, it’s become one of my favourite art styles.

For the sake of clarification, I should point out that I’m talking about art that literally only uses black and white and I’m not talking about greyscale art (which also uses grey). I’m talking about the kind of art you can create using nothing more than a black pen and a piece of paper.

Anyway, I thought that I’d give you four reasons (out of many) why black and white art is one of the most awesome types of art in existence. So, let’s get started:

1) It’s Timeless: Because the materials needed to create black and white art are so simple, this gives B&W art a timeless look that many other types of art (with the possible exception of some types of paintings) just don’t have.

Modern high-budget comic books with almost photo-realistic digital artwork will probably look at least slightly dated in a few decades’ time.

Since graphics technology will have moved on by then, these types of comics will probably end up looking like the futuristic equivalent of old four-colour comics from the 1950s.

Now, take a look at this picture. Go on, it’ll only take a second (unless you’re using dial-up, in which case, it may take thirty). Now, can you guess when this picture was originally printed?

Yes, the outfits in it are slightly old-fashioned, but it still looks a lot like the kind of art that you might see in a modern indie comic. So, when was it made? It was printed in 1918. Yes, you heard me correctly – it was made 97 years ago. And it still looks sort of modern.

So, because B&W artwork only requires fairly simple materials to make – it automatically looks at least slightly timeless.

2) It’s A Good Test Of An Artist’s Abilities: Because B&W artwork requires nothing more than black ink and/or black paint to create, there’s very little for an artist to hide behind. You can’t use fancy image editing techniques in a black and white drawing (although you can edit out mistakes fairly easily in MS Paint).

So, the only thing that appears in a black and white picture is pretty much what you drew or painted onto the paper. And, as such, it’s a good test of an artist’s abilities.

Yes, there are a few shading techniques and skills that are pretty much exclusive to black & white drawing. Although you don’t have to learn shading techniques if you make colour artwork, they can improve your colour artwork if you use them.

Likewise, there are things that you have to be aware of when making a B&W drawing that you don’t have to be aware of when you’re making colour artwork (eg: instead of paying close attention to the colour scheme, you have to pay close attention to the balance between black, white and shaded areas) – but, apart from this stuff, B&W drawings are nothing but the barest essentials of a drawing.

And, if you can do this well, then you can probably do most other types of drawing fairly well too.

3) Imagination: Because you can’t astonish your audience with flashy digital effects or expensive art materials in B&W drawings, you need to find other ways to astonish them.

In other words, you’ll have to use your imagination and skills to astonish your audience. You’ll have to do things like creating hyper-detailed art, using interesting shading techniques, thinking of imaginative ideas and/or coming up with fascinating character designs.

And, well, being astonished by someone’s imagination and skills is far more satisfying than being astonished by whatever image editing program that they happen to be using.

4) Spontanaity: This one is pretty self-explanatory, but since you only need a pen and a piece of paper to create B&W art, it’s something that you can create relatively quickly and create pretty much anywhere.

You don’t need electricity, you don’t need a vast array of art supplies and you don’t need lots of expensive software. Just a pen and a piece of paper.

——-

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

It’s Ok Not To Be “Avant-Garde”

This was pretty much my exact reaction when I learnt that Bush was a painter...

This was pretty much my exact reaction when I learnt that Bush was a painter…

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading the BBC News website when I happened to stumble across this article about George W.Bush, of all people.

Although I’m not a fan of George Bush (and it’s likely that all of this art that he’s exhibiting is probably part of a cynical attempt to make him look more “friendly”) – he is a fairly good portrait artist nonetheless.

But, this isn’t an article about George Bush. The reason I’m mentioning this news article is because of a quote from an art critic (Phillip Kennicott) that was included in it. The part of the quote which really stuck in my mind was (emphasis mine): It’s anachronistic to paint, so it suggested a level of patience and reflection that often times Bush wasn’t credited with.”

My first thoughts after reading this were “Painting? Anachronistic? What the hell ?!?!”

Although I only got into watercolour pencil painting about four months ago (and most of my artistic background is in drawing), I quite like seeing myself as a painter. So, initially, I read this comment as a criticism of painters and painting in general. Then, I realised something.

I like being anachronistic. I like being retro. I like feeling like I’m part of a long tradition of painters and in the company of many modern painters (except Mr.Bush, of course).

I like copying old 16th-19th century paintings in my own style. I like art nouveau paintings and etchings. I like old Japanese art.

Painting isn’t anachronistic, it’s timeless. In almost every part of the world and in every era of history, there have been paintings (as well as etchings, prints, sculptures and/or drawings).

If painting was something that could become anachronistic, then it would have faded into the past a long time ago (in the way that wax cylinders and daguerreotypes have). But, given that it’s been a part of humanity for… well.. ever, I’d say that it’s timeless rather than anachronistic.

Yes, painting may be a very old thing – but so are mathematics, the wheel, the chemical composition of water, the planet we’re living on and a whole bunch of other things like that.

Plus, painting isn’t a static thing either – it moves and changes with the times. Compare a Picasso painting to a Rembrandt painting and you’ll see what I mean by this. Although painting itself is a timeless activity, the paintings that artists produce are anything but anachronistic – in one way or another, they all reflect their own time.

Even an old painting copied by a modern painter will reflect modern tastes and sensibilities in some way or another. Like in this copy/parody of a old Franz Hals painting I made a month or so ago:

"Not Willem Coymans" By C. A. Brown

“Not Willem Coymans” By C. A. Brown

So, if you’re a painter- don’t worry if some people see you as “anachronistic”. Yes, the art world may currently be obsessed with conceptual art (for some bizarre reason) and, yes, this type of art may fill a lot of very prestigious art galleries at the moment.

Yes, “avant-garde” conceptual art may get the lion’s share of press coverage and critics’ attention. But this doesn’t mean that timeless art forms like painting or drawing are “old news” or “worthless”. So, don’t let this get you down if you are a painter or a draughtsman. It’s ok to be avant-garde, but it’s also ok not to be avant-garde.

Just make the types of art that you want to make and ignore the critics. If you like to be cutting-edge and modern, then make modern art. But if you’re drawn to the rich history and familiar warmth of more traditional forms of art, then make that instead. Trying to be avant-garde just because you feel that you “have” to be (in order to be recognised as an artist) is a recipie for disaster.

Remember, art critics and art galleries aren’t all there is to art. For every person that loves modern “avant-garde” conceptual art, there are probably at least three people who prefer traditional paintings. Yes, those three people might not have anything to do with the art world and they may not write art columns for newspapers or work in an art gallery – but they will see your paintings as “art” whether or not they actually like your paintings.

If you still don’t believe me that it’s ok not to be “avant-garde” and that it’s possible to be successful in “older” art forms, then just look at this video clip about Jack Vettriano.

As the video clip says, he’s one of the bestselling artists in the UK but his paintings haven’t really appeared in any prestigious galleries. Art critics would probably see his work as “anachronistic”. But he paints what he feels like painting (eg: stylised 1920s-1950s scenes) and he makes a very good living from it.

If he’d tried to be an “avant-garde” conceptual artist, he’d have probably failed miserably. So, remember, you don’t have to be “avant-garde” to be a successful artist – just paint, sculpt, draw etc.. whatever you think is art and don’t give a damn about the critics.

If you still need reassurance that it’s ok to be a contemporary painter or draughtsman rather than an “avant-garde” conceptual artist and you need proof that painting is anything but “anachronistic”, then check out a group of painters called The Stuckists [The gallery on their site is slightly NSFW though]. Their art and art styles are suitably modern, but they still work in traditional art forms like painting.

As I said earlier, painting isn’t a static thing. And it isn’t anachronistic.

——

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂