Three Things To Do When Your Art Starts Looking Mediocre

2017-artwork-mediocre-art-phase-article

If you make art regularly, then you’ve probably gone through a mediocre art phase at least once. This is a time when your art isn’t exactly terrible, but it isn’t exactly at it’s best either. Whether it’s because you were feeling uninspired, or were mostly focusing on other projects or just didn’t have quite enough time, it can happen.

In fact, it can sometimes happen annoyingly often. I mean, some of this month’s paintings and quite a few of next month’s paintings and comics (as well as some paintings that will appear in early October), were made during these phases.

So, what should you do if you find yourself in the middle of one of these mediocre art phases?

1) It isn’t as bad as you think: Chances are, if you’re able to recognise that you’re going through a mediocre art phase, then you’ve probably got a bit of artistic experience. You probably practice regularly enough to notice both subtle and large changes in the quality of your art over time. You’ve also produced good art, which allows you to notice that your current art is mediocre by comparison.

Well, one of the great things about practice and experience is that it can help you out during the difficult times. If you practice regularly, then there’s a good chance that the “uninspired” or “mediocre” paintings that you seem to be making at the moment are probably better than the “good” paintings that you made a 1-2 years (or more) ago.

So, if a painting is “mediocre” by your current standards, then it’s probably jaw-droppingly excellent by your old standards. In other words, it’s a sign that you are still improving and that you should keep practicing.

2) Get some inspirations: If you have a solid idea of what you want to paint before you start painting, then this can improve your mediocre art. The more specific the idea, the better.

For example, during the mediocre phase I was going through when writing this article, I made a relatively decent painting during a fairly rushed day purely because I had the idea of “cyberpunk hackers using typewriters” before I made the painting. Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 2nd October.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 2nd October.

But, where do you find these ideas?

Before I go any further, I should probably link to this article of mine that explains the difference between inspiration and plagiarism. That said, don’t be afraid to do a bit of artistic research (eg: image searches, films, games etc..) before you start making your painting if you don’t have any ideas. As long as you only extract the general themes/general ideas/general techniques etc.. from those things and use them as the basis for your own ideas (instead of copying specific details), then it’s ok.

For example, both this short story of mine and my “Cyberpunk Typists” painting were – amongst other things – partially inspired by an episode of “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman” (one of the few superhero-related things I actually like, due to 1990s nostalgia) where the city’s computer systems are damaged and the newspaper that Lois and Clark work at has to return to using typewriters and linotype machines. I was curious what a “low-tech modernity” storyline would look like when transposed into the cyberpunk genre. Hence the painting and the short story.

3) Keep going: This one is pretty self-explanatory, and it’s something that I’ve said in many other articles. If you’re going through an uninspired phase or a mediocre phase, keep making art. Even if it’s crappy art, keep making it. Even if it feels like a chore, keep making it.

If you keep up the rhythm of regular practice (to the point where not making art every day or every week or whatever feels somehow… wrong) , then you’ll be able to get back to making good art a lot more quickly after the mediocre phase.

Likewise, if you have a brief moment of inspiration or a bit of extra time during your mediocre phase, then you might just even be able to make a good painting or two. Sometimes, this will help you get out of the mediocre phase (by increasing your confidence). But, sometimes it’ll just break up the mediocre phase slightly and remind you of what you’ll be able to make when the phase passes.

For example, here’s a reduced-size preview of a good painting that I made during a mediocre phase that affected the art I made in late September/ early October. If I hadn’t kept up my practice during the “mediocre” times (eg: if I’d waited until I felt totally inspired again), I probably wouldn’t have made this good painting.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 25th September.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 25th September.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Three Ways To Make Better “Uninspired” Art

2017-artwork-better-uninspired-art

If you practice making art regularly, then you are going to have off days. You are going to have days where you either can’t think of a good idea for a painting/drawing or days when the enthusiasm for making art just isn’t there. It happens to all of us and it’s perfectly normal.

Still, the true test of any aspiring artist is whether they can still practice making art when they are feeling uninspired. And, yes, it is possible to do this! In fact, sticking to a rigid practice schedule pretty much makes you learn how to do this.

At the time of writing this article, I found myself making a run of mildly uninspired digitally-edited paintings over several days (which will be posted here in early July). However, the thing that surprised me is that – even though I seemed to be lacking my usual enthusiasm for making art – I was still able to produce vaguely ok-looking, but mediocre, paintings. Here’s a reduced-size preview of one of them:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 4th July.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 4th July.

As you can see, the perspective is slightly off, some of the people are badly-drawn and there’s less detail than there should be. Not to mention that it’s also kind of vaguely similar to at least one better painting that I’ll be posting here in June. Yet, I was feeling slightly uninspired and I still made a painting which doesn’t look entirely terrible.

So, to use a popular phrase, how can you “fail better” at making art when you’re feeling uninspired? Here are three ways:

1) Know yourself and play to your strengths: If you have a particular art technique, colour palette, lighting technique etc… that you really like to use, then this is the time to use it!

Since it’s something you enjoy, there’s a good chance that you’ve practiced it a lot and it’s the kind of thing that you can almost do in your sleep. In other words, even a mediocre and uninspired example of it will probably look mildly impressive to non-artists.

For example, one of the things that I absolutely love is high-contrast lighting. I love how lighting stands out in dark locations. Since painting even vaguely realistic lighting requires a fair amount of practice (to the point where the thought processes involved are almost automatic), it’s something I’ve done a lot when I’ve felt inspired. So, when I’m uninspired, using this technique is almost second-nature and, as a result, it instantly gives even my mediocre and uninspired art a more distinctive “look”.

Likewise, if there’s a particular genre of art that you really enjoy making – then make something in it, no matter how dull or similar to your previous paintings it is – when you are uninspired.

Since this is a genre that you’ve probably practiced a lot, you’ll probably find it easier to come up with ideas for paintings in this one genre – even if they’re a bit mediocre. So, make something in this genre – it’ll look better than an uninspired painting in any other genre!

For example, the cyberpunk genre is one of the genres that I really love. It’s one of the genres that I tend to make art in when I’m feeling really inspired. As such, I’ve got a fair amount of practice at making cyberpunk art. So, when I’m uninspired, it’s one of the genres that I’ll instantly reach for because I can use all of that prior experience to come up with a better, but mediocre, idea for a painting.

2) Keep up your practice!: One of the good things about regular art practice is that you’ll improve without even knowing it. If you want to “fail better” when you are uninspired, then this is something that is worth bearing in mind. Every painting that you make, even the failed ones (especially the failed ones!) will make you very slightly better at making art. You won’t notice it at the time, but it all adds up eventually.

Although knowing this won’t directly improve your uninspired art, reminding yourself of it will help you to keep up your enthusiasm for making art. To do this, look at a “good” drawing or painting that you made a long time ago. Look at something that made you feel really proud when you made it, then compare it to your current “uninspired” art. Believe it or not, your current “uninspired” art will probably look better than your old “good” art does!

To give you an example, here’s a digitally-edited drawing that I made in late 2012 after about a year and a half of regular art practice. I was really proud of it at the time:

"Lot 89 (II)" By C. A. Brown  [ OCTOBER 2012 ]

“Lot 89 (II)” By C. A. Brown [ OCTOBER 2012 ]

Now, here’s another copy of the “uninspired” art preview that I showed you earlier.

And this is something a bit more modern...

And this is something a bit more modern…

Even though the perspective isn’t perfect, it still looks better than the perspective in the “good” drawing from 2012. Likewise, the lighting is significantly better, there are realistic reflections, I’ve used more sophisticated digital editing techniques etc…

So, if you keep practicing, then even a “bad” painting that you make will look better than the “good” art that you used to make in the past.

3) See it as a challenge: Your attitude matters a lot when you are feeling uninspired. Back when I saw myself as a writer (rather than an artist), I used to react badly to writer’s block – I’d spend ages staring miserably at an empty page in frustration. This is the last thing that you want to do when you are uninspired!

These days, having an uninspired day might still involve me staring at a blank piece of watercolour paper for a few minutes, but I’ll usually end up trying something fairly quickly. I’ll challenge myself to make something, no matter how good or bad it is. Or, I’ll start randomly sketching some shapes in pencil and challenge myself to turn them into a painting – for example, the “uninspired” painting that I showed you earlier started out with a random doodle that looked a bit like this:

This is a reconstruction (made in MS Paint) of the aimless doodle that ended up turning into a painting.

This is a reconstruction (made in MS Paint) of the aimless doodle that ended up turning into a painting.

If you think of being uninspired as a challenge (rather than bad luck or something annoying), then it can really help you to think more creatively.

After all, a challenge is an opportunity to test and/or prove your skills as an artist. It’s more exciting than “bad luck” and it will help to spur you into action, rather than leaving you staring at an empty page. All of these things will result in better “uninspired” art.

A good way to form an attitude like this is to find a computer game that you really enjoy, and then to play it on the hardest difficulty setting. Yes, you’ll fail a lot, but you’ll already know that the game is winnable (after all, you’ve probably already “won” on the lower difficulty settings) and you’ll want to see if – or, rather, how– you can still win.

It can take a while to get into this mindset, but it will usually improve any uninspired artwork that you make.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (18th April 2017)

Well, there was originally another painting that I was going to post today but, since it wasn’t very good and since I almost forgot my annual art tradition yesterday, here’s the painting that I was going to post yesterday before I suddenly realised that it was the 5th Anniversary of my decision to make art daily. At the very least, it’s better than the painting I was supposed to post today.

As usual, this digitally-edited painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

"Cold Road" By C. A. Brown

“Cold Road” By C. A. Brown

One Sneaky Trick For Getting Artistically Inspired Again (Plus An Art Preview :) )

2017 Artwork Turn Uninspiration Into Inspiration

As I mentioned in yesterday’s article, I had been going through an uninspired phase. But, the day after the events described in that article, I found a cunning way to make a much more inspired digitally-edited painting.

So, I thought that I’d share this sneaky technique with you. But, first, here’s a reduced-size preview of the inspired painting I made:

The full-size painting will be posted here in mid-March.

The full-size painting will be posted here in mid-March.

Since I’d already been feeling uninspired for one day, I was determined that the next day’s painting would be better. So, I started out by using one of my tried-and-tested techniques for producing good art when I’m really uninspired. In other words, I originally planned to make a “low-imagination” type of art.

In this case, it was going to be a piece of “Silent Hill” fan art. Since the characters and settings have already been created by someone else, fan art requires less imagination to make than original art does (since you only need to find a new interpretation of something that already exists).

Other types of “low-imagination” art can include things like natural landscapes (since they don’t involve drawing people, and include relatively little visual storytelling) and still life painting (since you just have to paint what is in front of you). Although this obviously varies from artist to artist.

Once I found a “low-imagination” type of art, I started to make a preliminary sketch. And, this is where the clever part happens!

Whilst making the sketch, I asked myself “is there any way I can turn this into an original painting instead?“. Since I already had the basic parts of the painting sketched out and because I knew that, if I couldn’t think of a good idea, I could still make my previous fan art idea – there was no pressure whatsoever.

Within minutes, I’d thought of a better, and significantly more original, idea of what I could do with my original rough sketch.

Uninspiration (or artist’s block) can sometimes be caused by putting too much pressure on yourself. If you sternly tell yourself that you should make a good painting (rather than just focusing on making a painting, and hoping that it will be good) your high expectations might cause your imagination to freeze up.

So, starting out by planning a “low-imagination” type of art takes some of the pressure off of your imagination. Since you know that you will produce a decent-looking (if unimaginitive) painting even if you can’t think of another idea, then there’s no fear of failure. Not that failure is a bad thing, as tomorrow’s article will explain…

Not only that, if you plot out the basics of your “low-imagination” painting or drawing in pencil, then you’ll also take some of the pressure off of your imagination by turning the task ahead of you from being “creating a totally new painting from nothing” to “extensively modifying a pre-existing plan“.

Generally speaking, modifying things (even very heavily) takes a lot less imagination than creating totally new things does.

So, start with a pencil sketch of something that you could “paint or draw in your sleep” and then see if you can convert it into something more imaginative and original.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂