Today’s Art (10th April 2018)

Due to feeling even more uninspired/unenthusiastic, this picture ended up being a (very) heavily digitally-edited drawing. Literally, when I was preparing this picture, I eventually just scribbled an abstract sci-fi landscape on paper and then, after I scanned it, tried to turn it into something better with lots and lots of random “trial and error” digital editing.

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

“Sunday Afternoon Scribble” By C. A. Brown

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Two Reasons Why Making Studies Of Old Paintings Can Be A Good Idea (When You’re Uninspired)

Well, as a way of gradually getting out of the uninspired phase I seem to be going through at the time of writing, I decided to make some studies of old out-of copyright paintings. This is something that I do every now and then, and it’s certainly worth trying for a variety of reasons.

And, yes, I’ve probably said all or most of this stuff before. But, it’s worth repeating!

1) It still gives your imagination some exercise: Although the idea of copying an old painting might seem like an “unimaginative” way to make art when you’re uninspired, it still involves a fair amount of imagination and creativity.

But, thanks to the fact that you have something to copy, there’s no pressure to come up with entirely new ideas. So, you can give your imagination a bit of exercise without stressing out about the fact that you can’t think of any totally new ideas.

Even so, you actually have to find an interesting painting that is no longer in copyright. Although sites like Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons contain plenty of public domain paintings, you still actually have to look for them (and check their copyright status) yourself.

Still, looking at lots of art isn’t exactly a waste of time – since it will help to remind you how awesome art can be (which can help you feel more inspired). Not only that, you might even end up discovering a few interesting artists that you’ve never heard of before.

And, no, not all out-of-copyright paintings are boring. In fact, if you’re willing to search, you can find some really cool ones. For example, the painting I used in my study was this rather gothic-looking late 19th/early 20th century painting called “Lady With Cigarette” by Oskar Zwintscher (1870-1916):

“Lady With Cigarette” by Oskar Zwintscher (Via Wikipedia)

Not only does this painting contain some brilliantly gloomy lighting and an ominously ornate background, but it also has something of a timeless quality to it too. Needless to say, I was eager to make my own version of it.

But, like any cover version of something else, I realised that I’d have to put my own spin on it. Initially, I thought about going in a minimalist direction and just painting the lady’s face and hands (and using a solid black background for the rest of the picture). But, this seemed a little bit too lazy.

So, I eventually just decided to make the painting in the same way that I would if I was making an original painting. In other words, I used my usual cartoonish style, slightly limited palette, mixture of traditional and digital tools, high-contrast approach to lighting etc…

I also simplified a few things and changed the picture from a portrait painting to a square painting (with film-style letterboxing bars too). In addition to this, I also took inspiration from a mixture of other things that have inspired me in the past (eg: heavy metal album covers, old computer games etc..). So, my imagination still got a bit of exercise, but without the pressure of having to think of a totally new idea for a painting.

Here’s a small preview of my finished study of Zwintscher’s painting. The full-size version of it will be posted here next month:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full painting will appear here on the 4th May.

So, yes, making a study of an old painting doesn’t have to be a boring exercise in copying something verbatim. In fact, using your imagination a little bit (in a low-pressure situation like this) can help to remind you of how much fun it is to be creative. Best of all, since you’re already copying a pre-existing thing, inspiration is much less of an issue too.

2) It reminds you of what making good art feels like: Although there’s certainly something to be said for just pressing on and making crappy paintings until you feel inspired again, this approach doesn’t always work. Especially when you’re producing original art that looks a bit like this…

This is a reduced-size preview, the full painting will appear here on the 3rd May.

Whilst, during more inspired times, your original art looks more like this…

“Architecture” By C. A. Brown

If you’ve been experiencing severe uninspiration (and are producing very low-quality art very slowly as a result), then seeing yet another low-quality painting can end up sapping your self-confidence rather than making you think “Yes! I made some art! Even though I wasn’t inspired, I made some art!

So, making a study of a good (out-of-copyright!) painting by someone else can be an easy way to experience the feeling of making good art. And, yes, it is a feeling. It’s a focused feeling of purpose, of pride in your work and of complete and utter immersion in the process of making art. It feels like the literal opposite of feeling uninspired.

Feeling that “making good art” feeling once again can remind you of why you became an artist in the first place. It can distract you from the emotions that being uninspired provokes in you. It can make you feel proud of producing a piece of art that you gladly want to show off to other people. It can remind you of how unique your own way of making art is (if you compare your study to the original) and how it’s worth continuing to develop your own art style.

In other words, it’s a way to feel like you’re more inspired. And, when you’re feeling inspired, then you are much more likely to get inspired again.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Don’t Let Uninspiration Win! – A Ramble

Well, it’s time for another thrillingly melodramatic account of staring total and utter uninspiration in the face and still making a finished piece of art.

I know that I’ve told stories like this more times than I can remember, but they’re worth telling for the simple reason that feeling uninspired is something that all artists face from time to time – and it isn’t the end of the world. In fact, it’s often something that can be defeated with the right mixture of inventivness and/or determination.

This is the kind of determination that comes from wasting investing large portions of one’s life in playing fiendishly difficult computer games from the 1990s and early-mid 2000s. The kind of determination where, even when the feeling of “Oooh! A challenge!” has faded slightly, you keep going because… dammit… all games can be completed! Yes, this is one of those stories.

Anyway, let me set the scene. It was a long, sweaty summer night last year and I had to make something for one of this year’s daily art posts (yes, if you’re posting art online regularly, make your art as far in advance as you can – it takes at least some of the pressure off of you. It isn’t “cheating”. It’s common sense!).

I’d had a large meal and a bottle of vaguely hipsterish “craft” beer earlier (seriously, the description on the back of the bottle read like a piece of found poetry), and I was feeling somewhat lethargic as a result. Something not helped by the hot weather or the fact that I was fairly tired and had spent far too long writing and editing this review of an episode of “Doctor Who”.

Still, I needed to make some art! A sensible attempt to make some art earlier in the day had failed miserably when my idea for a cool 1990s-influenced cyberpunk picture ended up looking more like something from the 1970s:

Yeah, this didn’t end up being the badass 90s-inflenced picture I’d originally anticipated. So, it ended up being abandoned.

But, it was late and I had to make some art! So, I put a DVD on in the background and started sketching. After two episodes of “American Dad” and one episode from a “Futurama” DVD, I’d eventually come up with the beginnings of what looked like it could be a “film noir” painting. Except, to my horror, I suddenly realised that it looked so terrible that I had no choice but to abandon it.

*shudders* Seriously, it looks like former prime minister David Cameron posing for a professional photograph!

No, this would not do! I’d have to take emergency measures! So, I drew a few angular lines in my sketchbook, with the plan that I would scan them and cunningly disguise them as “art” using image editing software. No-one would be any the wiser! But, alas, this devious plan didn’t turn out well….

For a while, I actually thought about just saying “f*** it” and using this in my daily art post, but…

After a lot of editing, my computer suddenly crashed. Bands of glitched-out pixels streaked the screen, as if in protest at the monstrosity that I had wrought. Taking this as a sign that I needed to take a break and do something new, I restarted my computer and got a refreshing glass of ice water whilst I tried to think of what to do next.

Then it struck me. I’d make a picture using nothing but digital tools – I’d done it for a large part of this highly-uninspired comic update and I could do it again!

So, I created a blank image file, filled the background with solid black and opened it in my ancient late 1990s image editing program. The plan was to cunningly use silhouettes and the program’s “noise” effect to create a piece of quick, cool-looking cyberpunk art that would be inspired by both “Blade Runner” and this Doom II level.

Taking up my mouse (because, by this point, I really couldn’t be bothered to dust off my graphics tablet) and telling myself that victory was close at hand, I began my task. Things were going well. The picture looked cool and I also soon realised that, by messing around with the brightness levels, I could add a fog-shrouded city to the background too. But, then… Disaster struck!

My computer crashed again! I hadn’t saved my work!

By now, I was tired, sweaty, in a state of mild fury and … determined. Punching the reset button, I told myself that I would rebuild!

And I did! Within fifteen minutes, I’d re-created the picture. Yes, the lines looked less precise than those in the original “lost” version of the picture, but it still looked a bit similar. Best of all, this time I’d remembered to save my work! And, wow, it actually looked like art! Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size picture will be posted here on the 2nd May.

Yes, this tale was a little melodramatic and it is hardly typical of an uninspired day. But, it is proof that “not feeling inspired” isn’t the end of the world! It is possible to make art even when it seems like a near-impossible task.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Finding The Right Type Of “Easy” Art To Make When Making Art Feels Difficult

One of the annoying things that can something happen if you practice making art regularly is that you’ll have times where making art seems like an extreme hassle. This can be due to things like feeling uninspired, being in a rush or being tired. It can also be caused by other factors such as the weather or the mood that you happen to be in.

But, rather than just repeating my usual list of techniques for dealing with this type of problem, I thought that I’d go into much more detail about one of them. I am, of course, talking about making “easy” paintings.

Every artist has their own definition of what an “easy” piece of art is and this will often depend on what is causing you to feel unenthusiastic about making art. So, the real trick is knowing which types of “easy” art work well in different situations.

For example, the night before I wrote this article – I was tired, in a slightly bad mood, in a bit of a rush and the hot weather had rendered me somewhat lethargic. But, I still wanted to keep up with my daily art practice. So, I decided to make a painting that involved relatively little artistic detail. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 3rd April.

Although I was able to disguise this somewhat with my choices of lighting, colours, subject matter etc.. the fact remains that I chose a painting that required little time and little effort. It was a painting where I only had to bother adding detail to about a quarter to a third of the total area of the picture.

However, when I was feeling both uninspired and very slightly short on time a few nights earlier, I did something a bit different. Since I had the energy for a more detailed painting, but didn’t have the time or inspiration to come up with an original idea, I decided to paint a study of an out-of-copyright painting called “The Day Dream” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size painting will be posted here in early April.

I had the energy and enthusiasm to add more detail to this picture, but I didn’t have to worry about coming up with a totally new idea. So, this painting was fairly “easy” to make in this context since copying an out-of-copyright painting meant that I completely bypassed the problem of not having the time or inspiration to come up with a new idea.

I did something a little bit different the day before I made this painting. The problem that night was that I just didn’t have the time to develop an idea for a painting. I had about an hour to make the painting, but I felt enthusiastic about making art and wanted to make some vaguely good-looking art. So, what did I do ? I made a still life painting of some of the random stuff on the desk in front of me. Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 31st March.

Since I’ve practiced still life painting before, it was fairly straightforward. I could just quickly copy the scene directly in front of me, which allowed me to focus on things like lighting and realistic artistic detail whilst also allowing me to draw and paint a lot more quickly (since I didn’t have to waste time working out what to draw or choosing a colour palette).

On another occasion, the problem was entirely due to hot weather (and, yes, I write these articles and make daily paintings quite far in advance of publication). In this case, I was feeling inspired and I had a little bit more time. However, about halfway through the line art stage of making a painting, I was starting to feel drained and overwhelmed by the heat. But, I needed to finish this painting! So, instead of the detailed background I’d originally planned to add, I quickly added a fairly basic wall to the background instead (and covered about two-thirds of it with shadows). Here’s a reduced-size preview:

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

Yes, none of these paintings are as good as the kind of thing that I’d make during a more inspired, awake, relaxed etc.. day. But, they are finished paintings. They are paintings that actually got made, despite obstacles and problems. And this is all due to choosing the right type of “easy” art to make, depending on the problem I was faced with.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Things To Do When You Can’t Think Of An Idea For A Painting (That Feels “Meaningful” Or “Relevant” Enough To Bother With)

I’m sure that I’ve probably written about this type of artistic uninspiration before, but I experienced one of the worst types of artist’s block the day before I wrote this article. This is the type of uninspiration where you can still make art, but it just doesn’t feel “meaningful” or “relevant” enough to bother with.

To give you an example, whilst trying to make a painting, I actually started a fairly good painting only to abandon it halfway through because “it’s just completely random. I don’t feel like I’m making art. I feel like I’m just doing a random practice exercise rather than expressing myself.

And, yes, I later ended up using this line art as the basis for a last-minute piece of digital art in January (after I’d prepared the first draft of this article).

So what do you do when you end up in this state of mind? How can you actually finish a piece of art? Here are a few tips:

1) Distract yourself with an inspiration: The thing that finally allowed me to finish a painting during that uninspired day was a combination of luck and distraction.

Sometimes, it can help to turn off the perfectionist parts of your brain slightly by watching a DVD or something like that whilst you’re making art. Having a non-interactive distraction in the background can be a good way to quell that nagging voice in your mind that says “I want to make MEANINGFUL ART! Whatever I make MUST be a MASTERPIECE!!

Another advantage to this approach is that whatever you distract yourself with may well end up inspiring you too. Since you’re being inspired by something that you’re looking at, this can also be a good way to circumvent the annoying part of your mind that insists that the art you make must be “relevant” to you in some way. Just be sure that you know the difference between taking inspiration and plagiarism!

To give you an example, after the failed attempt at making a painting that I showed you earlier (and another previous failed attempt), I ended up reaching for a DVD boxset of an old American detective show from the 1980s called “Murder, She Wrote” that I’d bought second-hand a few weeks earlier out of curiosity. To my delight, during a series of preview clips at the beginning of one episode, I was confronted with an uncharacteristically cool-looking scene:

This is a screenshot from “Murder, She Wrote” (Season 1, Episode 4). The episode is supposedly a condemnation of “immoral” horror films during the 1980s, but the segments from said film are – of course- the coolest parts of the episode LOL!

Not only did this remind me of how cool neon looks (eg: something “meaningful” to me), it also reminded me of this cool music video by Creeper [Mildly NSFW] which I’d seen shortly after I’d discovered that Metal Hammer magazine had been restarted (after shutting down for a while in late 2016/ early 2017). Needless to say, I wanted to make a cool-looking gothic painting that included neon lighting. It felt meaningful and relevant.

Yes, the final painting was somewhat crappy. But, I’d actually beaten artist’s block and finished a painting! Here’s a preview of the painting I made:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 28th March.

2) Memories And/Or Still Life: Another way to get over that annoying perfectionist mood where you can’t make art unless it feels “relevant” or “meaningful” to you, is simply to try to make some kind of autobiographical art that is based on your own memories or to make a still life painting of some kind.

Since these things are based on the real world, it can satisfy the part of your mind that will only allow you to make “relevant” art. However, this technique doesn’t always work for the simple reason that trying to find interesting memories to use as source material can be difficult when you’re thinking “Oh god, I can’t think of what to paint!!” or trying to look for interesting things around you to paint when you’ve already done this quite a few times before.

Still, it’s something to try. During a milder moment of uninspiration a couple of days earlier, I was able to use this technique successfully in order to finish a painting. Yes, like with the previous example, the painting wasn’t one of my best works – but it was a finished painting, that was based on my memory a car journey I’d taken a couple of days beforehand. Here’s a preview:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 25th March.

3) Politics and fan art: This one is pretty self-explanatory really. Either make some fan art based on some of your favourite TV shows, movies, games etc… or make some art that expresses one of your political opinions.

This is an “easy” way to satisfy the part of your mind that demands that the art that you make must feel “relevant” to you in some way. After all, if you’re the kind of person who makes art even semi-regularly, then you’re probably also going to be a fan of various things (after all, you need inspiration to be an artist) and you’re going to have opinions of some kind or another (eg: people don’t re-create the world in art if they think that the world is perfect).

So, put some punk music on in the background and just let rip! To give you an example, a few weeks before writing this article, I was able to make a digitally-edited drawing surprisingly quickly when I suddenly realised that one of the things that I really don’t like about modern Britain is that fact that it’s so bloody angry. Whether it’s people on the political right or people on the political left or even just mainstream popular entertainment, it’s just miserably furious these days. Here’s a preview of the drawing:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 7th March.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Short Story: “A Playlist For Suburbia” By C. A. Brown

The only way to make suburbia interesting is with the right kind of music. For Steve, this was usually American punk music. When the furious guitars kicked in and the singer started whining sarcastically or blurting out elaborate descriptions, it somehow made suburbia ok. It magically turned boring Daily Mail middle England into something out of the kind of rebellious Hollywood comedies that he was always wanted to watch when he was younger.

Even the dreariest of playing fields and most forgettably ordinary rows of houses could be transformed into something from an edgy late-1990s comedy horror movie when he listened to the beginning of Bad Religion’s “Suffer” on his MP3 player. But, only the beginning. Somehow, the crashing, stabbing waves of angry guitars and the singer’s first frantic question made even the most leisurely of strolls feel like a dramatic tracking shot from some film he’d always wanted to watch when he was a teenager. For the ten seconds that it lasted, the world seemed more interesting than ever before.

Then, of course, there was Green Day’s “Tight Wad Hill”. Steve had never bothered to learn the lyrics to it, but it didn’t matter. Whenever he saw the old houses from the ’80s that were covered with faded white plastic and looked like something from a low-budget horror movie, he listened to this song. It had something to do with the singer’s slightly sarcastic, slightly slurred voice. Something to do with the cynical bitterness that drips from every word of the song. It made him feel like he was living in the beautifully run-down world of some corner of rural America, some horror novel town where strange things happen on an alarmingly regular basis.

And, for the brightest of cold summer Saturdays, there was always The Offspring. On those hellish days where everyone wears pastel clothes, where the air is polluted with the noise of twenty garden parties filled with crackly radios, the indecipherable shouting of noisy kids and the buzzing of lawnmowers, Steve listened to The Offspring. Not their edgier early stuff or even their mature modern stuff, but the really commercial stuff they put out in the late 1990s when, for a little while, they were mainstream.

The instant the first lines of “Pretty Fly” bounced through his headphones, he remembered when that song was playing on the crackly radios, he remembered when he was an annoyingly noisy kid and he remembered when pretending that the noises of distant lawnmowers were actually horror movie chainsaws felt like a really cool and edgy thing to do.

But, for grey weekdays, there was no choice other than No Use For A Name’s “Making Friends” album. If you actually listen to the lyrics, you’ll realise that they’re considerably less cheerful than the accompanying music. But, for a Monday when Steve had to trudge through the same suburban streets again, it gave him the gift of schadenfreude. At least, he thought, I’m living somewhere different to the nightmare world in the lyrics.

And then, for Sunday mornings, there was NOFX. When he went to the corner shop for snacks – and the rustling of Daily Mails and faint grumbles of queuing shoppers got too much, he’d listen to NOFX songs from the early-mid 2000s. They were the only punk band who were mercilessly sarcastic enough to make him smile. To make him feel just the slightest thrill of rebellion even when the topical satire in each song had long since passed it’s sell-by-date.

Then there was Blink 182’s “All The Small Things”. This was one of those songs Steve put on whenever a nearby car started broadcasting pop music through their open windows at top volume. “All The Small Things” was a whiny song, a commercial song and a generic love song of the worst kind. But, compared to the stuff on the radio these days, it was practically a work of art. Steve smiled. This was, of course, the only way to appreciate this song.

But, when Steve got home, he turned his MP3 player off and opened his laptop. A second later, the soothing tones of “One Foul Step From The Abyss” by Cradle Of Filth sailed gracefully through the air. He sat back and smiled. Punk music might be useful for getting through suburbia. But, he thought, to really relax, you need something else.

How To Deal With Writer’s Block And Artist’s Block Like A Pro – A Ramble

Although this is an article about dealing with writer’s block and artist’s block, I’m going to have to start by talking about several seemingly irrelevant topics like Hollywood, aviation, medicine and computers. As usual, there’s a good reason for this that I hope becomes obvious later.

I can’t remember exactly where I read this (it might have been on “TV Tropes”), but apparently Hollywood films deliberately make any depictions of air travel-based problems look worse than they actually are.

Apparently, rather than lots of scary alarms and general panic inside the cockpit if something goes wrong, real air crews just calmly read through a checklist and follow all sorts of pre-arranged procedures. A similar approach is apparently used in some hospitals to reduce the chances of mistakes during complex procedures.

This “checklist” approach reminded me of the evening before I wrote the first draft of this article, when – without any warning – my vintage computer malfunctioned. Whilst writing an e-mail, the music playing in the background suddenly stopped and the screen was covered with some kind of strange glitchy pattern. A few years ago, this would have probably sent me into an absolute panic.

But, instead, I calmly found myself going through a checklist in my mind. “Windows key?” No. “Ctrl, Alt , Del?“. No. “Reset button?“. No. “Turn it on and off again?“. Yes, but it’s loading slowly. “Get the Linux Live CD ready?“. No need, it’s loading properly. Crisis over. “Google the problem?” Something to do with the graphics card, but it’s never done it before, so it was probably a one-off. Problem over. I didn’t even need to turn my computer on and off at the mains, restore any data from a backup, open the case or talk to someone who knows more about computers or anything like that.

You’d be surprised at how having some kind of pre-made checklist can make problems seem a lot less scary or challenging.

The same thing is true for more leisurely things too. For example, if I’m playing a fairly challenging level of an old computer game, I’ll think of it like something from a game of chess. When someone plays chess, they think thorough every possible move before selecting the one that seems best. After all, most of the time, there’s still a way to win.

So, what does any of this have to do with writing, making art or making comics?

Simple. Feeling uninspired is no different to any of these problems. If you have a mental “checklist” of techniques you can use and you’re experienced enough to know that feeling uninspired is almost always a temporary problem, then it won’t become the terrifying problem that it can often be for less experienced writers, artists etc..

Although the exact details of your checklist will probably be somewhat unique, they can include things like returning to your favourite genres, making fan art/fan fiction, making something a bit more simplistic, looking for an inspiration, plundering your memories for creative inspiration, making still life paintings, writing character studies, deliberately making something crappy because it’s better than making nothing etc…

But, having a mental “checklist” of techniques and the knowledge that the problem you face is only temporary can get rid of most or all of the fear and confusion that often appears when you feel uninspired.

And, yes, if you write a blog about writing, making art etc… then “write blog articles about getting around uninspiration” is usually fairly near the top of the checklist when you can’t think of what to write about. Hence this article 🙂

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Sorry for the short article, but I hope that it was useful 🙂