Three Sneaky Ways To Show Off In Your Art

Well, it’s been a few days since I last wrote an instructional article (sorry about all of the writer’s block-induced rambles recently). So, I thought that I’d look at a few ways that you can really show off artistically. Although you’ll still need to have at least some level of artistic skill, these tips can make your art look a lot more impressive with relatively little extra effort (although some of these can take more time).

And, yes, I forgot to add still life painting to this list. If you know how to copy from sight, then you can use this skill to make still life paintings that look ten times better than anything painted from imagination (since you can just copy the shadows, lighting etc.. from whatever is in front of you rather than working out where they have to go).

Sorry for not including this in the article, but it seemed worth mentioning, especially when you can use the technique to create paintings like this old one of mine from 2015 (when most of my “ordinary” art looked nowhere near as good):

“Plush Rat And DVDs” By C. A. Brown [2015]

Anyway, that said, here are some other sneaky ways to show off whilst making art:

1) Want to make your art look more detailed? Make cyberpunk art: If you’ve never heard of the cyberpunk genre before, it’s a sub-genre of science fiction that was popular during the 1980s and 1990s (but is enjoying a slight resurgence these days).

Visually, this type of science fiction tends to focus a lot on high-contrast lighting (eg: most things in the cyberpunk genre are set at night, so that light sources like neon signs and computer monitors stand out more) and it also takes a few cues from things like the film noir genre and modern cities in Japan, China and South Korea.

Although there are lots of different ways to make cyberpunk art, one constant is that cyberpunk art is almost always detailed. Whether it’s the angular buildings of a futuristic city skyline, thousands of animated billboards competing for attention or the strangely-dressed crowds of a bustling mega-city – cyberpunk art needs detail because, like with cyberpunk fiction, it often relies on “overloading” the audience with information in order to create the impression of a futuristic world.

Because of this, people expect detail when looking at cyberpunk art. So, you can either use this as an excuse to cram as much detail as possible into a picture, like this:

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

Or, you can make a more undetailed and impressionistic painting which will look more detailed since the audience will expect it to contain detail (and will see detail where there is none). Like in this preview of a slightly rushed digitally-edited painting I made on an uninspired day:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 17th January.

Although there is some detail in the foreground, most of the background just consists of shapes, scribbles and silhouettes. Yet, it looks more detailed than it actually is because it’s in the cyberpunk genre, where detail is expected.

2) Want more interesting compositions? Computer games are your friend!: If you don’t know what “composition” is, it’s a fancy word for where everything in your painting is. It can also sometimes include things like perspective (eg: the “camera angle” in your painting or drawing) too.

One of the best ways to open your mind to more interesting ideas about composition is to play computer games. Not just any computer games, but games where the player can’t control the “camera”. In other words, games that still include significant two-dimensional elements. Old-style 2D “point and click” games, modern hidden object games and 1990s-style survival horror games (with pre-rendered backgrounds) are some of the best genres for this sort of thing.

Because the player can’t move the “camera”, these games have to find other ways to make each location look visually interesting. And they often do this by playing with things like composition and perspective. Here are some examples to show you what I mean:

This is a screenshot from the introductory segment of “Alone In The Dark” (1992) which shows a common composition used in old horror and/or adventure games, where something menacing would be placed in the very close foreground and would “frame” the rest of the picture.

This screenshot from the bonus content in “House Of 1000 Doors – Family Secrets (Collector’s Edition)” (2011-14?) uses a simple one-point perspective, but the artist makes the hallway seem larger and more ominous by using a slightly low camera angle, where the “camera” is near the floor.

Seriously, if you play computer games that used fixed camera angles, then you can pick up all sorts of cool-looking perspective and composition tips that can help your art to look more impressive with less effort.

For example, here’s another reduced-size preview of one of my upcoming digitally-edited paintings. This one uses a variant on the “dramatic stuff in the very close foreground” technique.

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 14th January.

3) Want more precise paintings? Use watercolour pencils!: If you’ve never heard of watercolour pencils before, they’re coloured pencils where the “lead” is made from watercolour paint pigment. When you go over your drawing with a wet paintbrush, the pigment will turn into watercolour paint. This article of mine goes into more detail about how to start using them.

These pencils are made by most major art supply brands and, although they’re often slightly more expensive than coloured pencils, they’re often much cheaper than alcohol-based markers.

Although you’ll need to use these pencils in conjunction with watercolour paper (cheap, thin, flat and slightly absorbant watercolour paper is better for precision) and possibly waterproof ink (if you want to include drawings), these pencils allow you to make very precise-looking paintings when compared to traditional painting.

And, best of all, you only need basic drawing skills for this. So, if you want to give your drawings a bit more of an “artistic” look, or your want more precisions in your paintings, then these are the tools to use!

You can also do a few other painterly things with them, such as colour blending (just go over an area with two different pencils before using the wet paintbrush). But, you can’t really use them for “wet in wet” painting or anything like that. Even so, if you want an extra level of precision in your paintings or want fancier-looking drawings, then it might be worth experimenting with watercolour pencils.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Basic Ways To Get More Out Of Your Image Editing Program

2017-artwork-get-the-most-out-of-your-image-editing-programs

If you’re new to digital image editing, it can be easy to think that whatever editing program you’re using can only do a limited number of things. However, most image editing programs can actually do a lot more than you might initially think.

Since there are many different image editing programs out there, I’ll try to write the “advice” parts of this article in a fairly non-specific way that will apply to most programs.

However, I’ll be using examples from the 2-3 image editing programs that I actually use on a regular or semi-regular basis (eg: MS Paint 5.1, Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 [it’s old, but still very functional!] and, very occasionally, a free open-source program called “GIMP).

1) Combine several effects and/or tools: Although the menus of your image editing program may only contain, say, fifty different effects and/or tools – there’s no rule against using many of these tools/ effects in combination with each other in order to create a huge number of effects that you can’t create with just a single option. In fact, you can use different tools/effects from multiple programs in conjunction with each other if you really want to.

The trick, of course, is working out which effects, tools etc… go well together. But, with a bit of thought and/or random experimentation (be sure to either keep unaltered backups of your images if you’re experimenting), you should be able to create quite a few effects that you wouldn’t be able to do with any one option available to you in your editing program.

For example, by combining the “noise” and “colourise”/”RGB” options that can be found in many image editing programs – you can create a corkboard-like texture fairly easily.

Likewise, you can also use several basic features found in many programs to convert photos into something that resembles videogame-style pixel art (although the tutorial is MS Paint 5.1 -specific, most editing programs allow you to do things like altering the colour depth of an image).

Or, to use a recent example, I’d just finished my usual MS Paint 5.1/ Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 editing on a scanned painting that I plan to post here in July. However, it still didn’t quite look right.

Suddenly, I thought “What if I use the ‘dilate’ effect in Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6 and then lower the highlight/midtone/shadow levels“. Although the picture also required some extra adjustments to the hue/saturation/lightness levels after I’d done this, I ended up creating a really distinctive effect:

Here's a close-up detail from the painting to show you what the effect looks like. It made the painting look like a combination between an impressionist painting and a pixel art picture.

Here’s a close-up detail from the painting to show you what the effect looks like. It made the painting look like a combination between an impressionist painting and a pixel art picture.

2) Look online for undocumented features: Whilst this isn’t true for all image editing programs, some image editing programs contain extra features that aren’t listed in the program’s documentation. The easiest way to find out about these is, obviously, to do an online search for “hidden features in [Your editing program]“. You might be surprised by what you find.

For example, a couple of weeks before I originally wrote this article, I ended up looking up something to do with MS Paint. To my surprise, I also found several articles that list undocumented features in many versions of MS Paint.

To give you one example, you can freely alter the brush/pencil/airbrush size to literally any size by just holding down the left “ctrl” key and pressing the “+” or ” -” keys.

Likewise, if you select an area and then hold down left “crtl” – you can drag the mouse away from that area to create a quick copy of the selected area. If you hold down “shift” instead after selecting an area, then it will leave a trail when you move it. This can be used for creating bizarre abstract art, like this:

This was an abstract picture that I mostly created using the undocumented "trail" feature in MS Paint 5.1

This was an abstract picture that I mostly created using the undocumented “trail” feature in MS Paint 5.1

Of course, MS Paint is just one program. But, it might be worth looking online to see if there are any hidden undocumented features in the program that you use.

3) Shortcuts are your friend: Many image editing programs will contain keyboard shortcuts for their most essential features.

Although this may just seem like a boring, and easily ignored, feature – learning the keyboard shortcuts for features that you use often can save you a lot of time. Likewise, you can also use them in all sorts of clever ways too.

For example, in Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6, I leave the “RGB” settings at + 11% red, -4% green and -18% blue. This means that if I want to add a light skin tone to a selected area of a drawing/painting that I’m editing, I can just quickly hit the “Ctrl + U” shortcut for this feature and then hit “Enter”. If I want to add a slightly darker skin tone to a selected area, I can just repeat the process 1-2 times.

Or, to give you another example, I keep the “highlight/ midtone/shadow” levels at -31% highlight, -31% midtone and -36% shadow. By using the “Ctrl + M” shortcut, I can quickly make an image (or part of an image) look slightly more shadowy.

If you learn the keyboard shortcuts for the more well-used parts of your editing program, then you’ll be able to do things like this and much more.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Things I’ve Learnt From Running A Blog For Four Years

2017 Artwork Blog fourth anniversary article

Wow! This blog is four today 🙂 I’m still amazed that it just started with a random “Hmm… Why don’t I make a blog?” idea all that time ago.

So, like I’ve done in 2014 (part one, part two), in 2015 and in 2016, I thought that I’d share some of the things that I’ve learnt from making a blog for this length of time, in case they’re useful to you too 🙂 Hopefully, I won’t repeat anything that I’ve already mentioned, but it might happen.

1) You’ll find shortcuts (without even planning to): If you make a blog and update it regularly, you’re probably going to start finding shortcuts for some of the more labour-intensive parts of everything. These will probably suddenly appear to you when you least expect them and they will seem ridiculously obvious in retrospect.

For example, when I used to prepare the earlier versions of my “top ten articles” articles that I post at the end of each month, I used to schedule each draft article, preview it, copy the hyperlink and then return it to draft status. Then I’d type out the article’s title and turn it into a hyperlink. I’d do this 10-15 times in every monthly article. Pretty convoluted, right?

Well, after I’d spent a couple of years getting familiar with this site, I noticed that the “new post” page (on the old editor at least, the new one seems a bit too complicated) had an area below the title box that would give you the address of the article when it was published. All I had to do was copy & paste this, and do the same with the article title. Suddenly, my monthly “top ten articles” posts took between a third and half of the time that they used to make.

So, if you keep blogging regularly on the same site, you’ll probably end up either working out lots of time-saving shortcuts (without consciously trying to) and/or spotting all sorts of useful features that you didn’t even know existed.

2) Keep everything in one place (as much as possible): There’s a good reason why the interactive fiction project I made for Halloween 2015 is on a separate site, but the short story collection I wrote for Halloween 2016 is on this site.

If you’ve been blogging for a while, it can be tempting to put your spin-off projects on separate sites rather than on different parts of your main site. The thing to remember here is that it probably took you a couple of years to build up the audience for your main site. The instant you start another site, even if you link to it a few times on your main site, the whole process begins all over again.

So, if you want people to look at your spin-off projects, then keep them all on the same site. People who are reading the other stuff on your main site are more likely to notice them and people who discover them serendipitously might also end up looking at other parts of your main site too.

3) Your old articles will always be more popular (and that’s ok): Whenever I look at the viewership figures from this site, something always surprises me. My really ancient articles from 2013 and 2014 often seem to have more views (and more regular views) than any of my new stuff. If I didn’t understand why this happens, I’d probably feel discouraged.

In short, the older something is, the more time it has to accumulate views. The more time it has for people to discover it via online searches. As such, your older articles are always going to be more popular than your new ones for the simple reason that they’ve had more time to become popular.

But, don’t feel discouraged, this will eventually happen to your new articles too – you’ve just got to give it a bit of time.

4) Keep some last-minute filler material handy: Although you should always try to have a large “buffer” of pre-made articles so that you don’t have to post and publish your articles on the same day (I mean, I wrote this article quite a few months ago – hello from the past 🙂 ), it doesn’t hurt to keep some last-minute filler material on standby too.

Why? Well, if you’re anything like me, one easy source of inspiration when you’re uninspired are your own opinions. This has led to a few opinionated articles that I’ve pulled at the last minute (due to worrying that they’re too political, too introspective etc..) and had to replace with something else, like this.

So, if you keep some filler material on standby, then you can quickly replace any article that you aren’t really satisfied with at the last minute.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂 Here to the next year 🙂

Four Tips For Using Watercolour Pencils (comic)

Wow! It’s been ages since I last made a comic/ infographic-style blog update. So, since I was in a slightly rush (and couldn’t think of an idea for a “proper” article for today) I thought that I’d make one of these updates about a few random and basic things that I’ve learnt from using watercolour pencils. Enjoy 🙂

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] "Four Tips For Using Watercolour Pencils" By C. A. Brown

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] “Four Tips For Using Watercolour Pencils” By C. A. Brown

How To Make Art Every Day – Five Simple Tips

2015 Artwork Art every day sketch

Although I’d originally planned to write exactly the same “to hell with new years’ resolutions!” article that I strongly considered writing this time last year, I suddenly thought about a resolution of my own.

Unlike the pointless masochistic ritual of self-defeating self-denial that many people inflict upon themselves today, I actually made this resolution in April about three years ago. Yes, before it was cool.

What was it? Well, it was simple – “I will produce at least one piece of art every day“. That’s it.

And, surprisingly, I’ve actually stuck to this resolution fairly well since then – and my art has improved significantly as a result. Seriously, I’ve gone from making what looked like childish doodles to making art that could just about vaguely pass for something that you might find in a low-budget indie comic.

So, if you decide to make this resolution yourself (and please wait at least a couple of days, just so you don’t feel like it’s a *ugh* “new years’ resolution” of any kind), I thought that I’d offer you a few basic tips that might come in handy.

If you’ve read my other articles about making art, then there isn’t really anything new here – but I thought that, at the very least, you might like a reminder.

Anyway, let’s begin:

1) Start Small: When I started making art every day back in 2012, my pictures were a lot smaller. In fact, each one was only as large as a quarter of an A4 sheet of paper.

At the time, even making something as small as this seemed like a challenge – but it felt achievable. After all, I only had to fill a quarter of a page with drawings every day.

After a few months, I finally made the leap to making A5-size drawings (and then paintings) every day. Then, earlier this year, I started making A4-size paintings, before finally settling on my preferred size of 18 x 19cm for my drawings and paintings.

Why am I mentioning this? Well, making a piece of artwork every day can seem like an intimidating task at first and, if you expect to make a full-size painting or drawing every day then this is probably going to scare you away fairly quickly. So, start with something smaller and easier and gradually work your way up to larger pictures once you feel more confident.

2) Work fast: Making art takes time and, if you’re new to making art every day, then it can seem like this will be one of those things that will take a huge bite out of your day. So, it’s important to learn how to make art fairly quickly. Ideally, you should spend no more than an hour or an hour and a half on your daily art practice.

There are plenty of ways to do this – in fact, I’ve written a whole article about this subject. But, in short, you should aim to make simpler art that you don’t have to rush, rather than complex art that you end up rushing every day.

Although this might sound limiting at first, it’s a good way of building your artistic confidence and – as time goes on – you’ll find that you’re able to draw or paint simpler things so quickly that you still have time left to add more detail to your pictures.

3) Don’t worry about quality: This might sound counter-intuitive, but if you’re making art every day, then you shouldn’t worry about how good your pictures will be.

Yes, you will produce a lot of terrible art at first – but, the important part of this sentence is “you will produce“. The most important part of making art every day isn’t making good art, it’s actually making art.

You see, if you keep making art every day until it just becomes an “ordinary” part of your daily routine, then your art will start to improve through sheer repetition alone. It will probably happen at a glacial pace that you’ll only notice a few months or a year later when you look back at your earlier art, but it will happen.

However, if you’re a perfectionist and you don’t dare to make art literally every day because you’re worried about the possibility of making bad art, then it won’t.

4) Artist’s block: If you’re making art literally every day, then you’re going to need lots of ideas for new drawings and/or paintings. And it’s only natural that you’re going to run out of ideas from time to time. It happens to us all.

When this happens, you still have to make art. So, it’s good to have a backup plan or two in place – a few “standby” ideas that you can turn to whenever you can’t think of anything new. These can include things like drawing nearby objects, making fan art, copying old paintings, drawing random landscapes or even just making something a bit more random and abstract than usual.

Whatever it is, make sure you have a backup plan for the times you feel uninspired. Because you will feel uninspired occasionally if you make art every day.

5) Post it online: If you’ve got a scanner, digital camera or graphics tablet – one way to make sure that you stick to your commitment to make art every day is to post your daily artwork online, so that everyone can look at it.

You can post it on a blog, on a dedicated art site like DeviantART or even on *ugh* Twitter and Facebook. But, putting your art online makes you feel like you’re actually doing something rather than just scribbling things that no-one will ever look at.

Don’t worry if you feel that your art isn’t “good enough” to post online, I can assure you that it is. In fact, there’s a rule that you must always remember when posting art online that will help you with any anxieties you might feel – “No matter how good or bad at art you feel you are – there will always be better artists than you online… and there will ALWAYS be worse artists too.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Basic Tips For Making Monochrome / Black & White Art

2014 Artwork Monochrome art basic tips sketch

Although I’ve already written about why making art using just two colours (eg: black and white, without any grey) can be such a fun activity, I thought that I’d offer some more practical advice about the subject today.

This is mainly because, since I wrote my last article about this subject, I’ve had a bit more experience with making monochrome drawings – expect to see some examples on here from tomorrow evening onwards. In fact, here’s a preview of part of a picture you can expect to see on here in a couple of days’ time:

"City Rain (Preview)" By C. A. Brown  [The full picture will be posted here on the 18th and I've probably already posted it on DeviantART by now too]

“City Rain (Preview)” By C. A. Brown [The full picture will be posted here on the 18th and I’ve probably already posted it on DeviantART by now too]


I should also point out that this article will be focusing on making traditional art rather than digital art, although some of the tips here might stil be useful if you’re working digitally.

Anyway, because of my recent experiences with this type of art, I feel that I can at least offer a few basic tips that might come in handy. So, let’s get started:

1) Be prepared for a challenge: There’s something of a misconception that, because you’re not using anything other than black and white, monochrome art is an “easier” or “lazier” type of art to make. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

In my experience, monochrome art is often far more challenging and time-consuming to produce than colour or greyscale artwork. Why? Because not only do you have to include more fine detail (or at least the illusion of it), but you also have to pay much more careful attention to things like line width, contrast, hatching etc… (which I’ll explain more about later in this article) too.

Personally, I enjoy the added challenge that comes with making B&W art. But, I thought that I should warn you that it can be a much more difficult artform than you may have expected.

2) Black fill: Generally speaking, if you’re making B&W art, then there are probably going to be large areas of your picture that will need to be completely black (eg: shadows, night skies etc…).

Whilst you can fill these areas in with the pen that you’re using, I wouldn’t recommend doing this for two reasons – the first is that, if you’re using a good-quality non-refillable pen, then it will waste a lot of ink.

The second reason is that it’s very difficult and time-consuming to colour large black areas consistently if you’re just using a pen (since there will probably be gaps etc… unless you are extremely meticulous).

The way that I handle large areas of solid black is to make most of my B&W art on (fairly cheap) watercolour paper and then fill in the black areas using a black watercolour pencil and a wet paintbrush. Professional artists usually do this with India ink and a fine paintbrush, but since I’ve already got watercolour pencils – I use those instead.

Another very useful technique I use to avoid mistakes when using black paint is to draw a solid black 3-5mm border around any areas I plan to fill. Since even the finest paintbrush isn’t as precise or accurate as a pen, making a black border ensures that I don’t accidentally get black paint on any areas of the picture where it shouldn’t be.

3) Hatching and line width: Although you only have two colours to work with, your art doesn’t have to just consist of areas of solid colour. Although you can’t use grey in a B&W drawing, you can at least create the illusion of shaded areas by using a couple of simple techniques such as using lots of small dots, hatching and/or cross hatching.

In case you’ve never heard of “hatching” before, all it means is using lots of thin straight or curved lines going in one direction to create the illusion of shade. Like this:

A series of curved hatched lines - notice how almost all of them are pointing in the same direction.

A series of curved hatched lines – notice how almost all of them are pointing in the same direction.

If you need to make your shading darker, or to differentiate two shaded areas that are next to each other, then you can use a technique called “cross hatching”. All this means is that you use two or more sets of thin lines that are going in opposite directions to each other – like this:

The area on the right of this picture is cross hatched.

The area on the right of this picture is cross hatched.

Finally, another thing that you should use to your advantage is line width. If you need something in your picture to stand out or look closer to the foreground, then make sure that all of the important lines in it (or at least just the outline) are wider than the lines you use in the rest of your picture.

4) Contrast: One of the things that you need to pay constant attention to when you’re making a black & white drawing is contrast. In other words, each separate part of the picture should ideally be at least a slightly different shade or colour to the areas next to it.

This is because, if most of the picture is exactly the same shade or colour, then everything can “blend” into each other and look like a confusing mess. Making sure that each part of the picture is a slightly different shade to the parts next to it can help you to avoid this.

Likewise, you also need to look at your picture as a whole and make sure that there is a good balance of lighter and darker areas in it. This is because, even if you use subtly different shading for every part of your picture – if your entire picture looks too light or too dark, then it can still be confusing and visually unappealing when viewed at a distance.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂