[Media Meandry] Plot Your Ideas

We tend to think of the arts as disparate industries because their results are different. When I write essays, I use words. When I draw, I use colorful pixels on a screen. The same could be said for any industry – programming, music, or even mathematics – but once you can think about what you want to have happen in your media of choice, it’s a matter of spending the time plotting the way to get there.

This was one of my ENDLESS WAR contest entries. I’m writing about my thoughts having drawn these over the next few days as I get energy and time because it’s useful to consider these thoughts now before I continue with newer projects. When I complete things, the act of publishing them is almost secondary to the process of having created them. I enjoy creating almost more than sharing. It’s not that I fear the respect of others, nor do I want people to feel good for the effort I spend in working on things that they will be part of – this picture is about my team of six battling another team of three in a Smash Brothers-style environment – it’s just for me, maybe I like toiling away at my craft more than I enjoy opening myself up for criticism?

I think I had posted this rough draft to give my team an idea of what I was looking to accomplish and asked them for reference pictures on how they wanted to be represented. The way I draw, where I use Microsoft Paint with its 20-color palette and just paint, it doesn’t really matter what I’m drawing as long as I’m able to fit it into the world. The nice thing about ENDLESS WAR’s world is that as long as you play, you fit into the world, even if you only play a little bit. You can play by contributing to its culture, as one player mainly read tarot cards, and another player mainly posted ANIMAL FACTS, so it’s not all about gang violence. That’s what I like most about it. I’m not really an overly competitive person. I can fight for a top spot and I can compete, but, dude, sometimes I just wanna chill with my friends, right?

What better way to honor my friends than by drawing them? I like showing these drafts because if you look at the end product without any words or thoughts between them, you might just think, wow, that’s crazy. Sure, it is, but it’s easy enough to see how I constructed this picture. I try to do the same, when I can, when I write essays or fiction. I’ve always enjoyed behind the scenes materials just about as much, if not more, than the work itself – unless I don’t like the work – because those can teach me. I might see how a picture is drawn and that might help me plan out my next essay. When you don’t think of media and creativity in strictly linear forms, it’s easier to intertwine and draw inspiration from disparate genres.

One rule I’ve learned for pictures is to not rely on black lines. If the character has them as part of their design, then sure, but if I can imply their shapes without a line, then it looks so much better. The trick, then, isn’t starting off with the shape, but drawing the shittiest doodle you can to see how it fits, move it around until it starts to match your mind’s idea of what you’re imagining, then keep going. The only wrong way to go is to press on with a subpar idea that you’re not passionate about. For me, I love this community because through the worst of times I’ve had over the past few months, people have randomly said things or done things for me that have helped me feel better. Why shouldn’t I help people feel good about themselves by seeing cool art?

Art and writing are the same in that once you have research and have thought about what you want to do, it’s significantly easier. There is still the time to grind away at it, so it’s not “easy.” I find both fun in that they are escapist and enjoyable. As you’re seeing here, I’m starting to rearrange the characters based on how they’re starting to take shape. They continue to evolve, so I would say this might be different than writing where I tend to imagine everything then start writing, because writing is an inherently linear media, whereas art is a sort of non-linear media. Things start to balance themselves out as you look a picture up close or full-screen. I do like to sit back with pictures when I’m unsure and look for flaws. I don’t do that much with my writing because I tend not to look back at what I’ve written unless my mind tells me that something was particularly outrageous, and typically, what I had written before actually wasn’t all that bad.

What I would say is that I might generally have four “main” drafts to my pictures. [1] The first is the black-and-white lineart where I plot out what I’m going to do. [2] The second starts to apply color. [3] The third clarifies the forms more. [4] The fourth finishes things off with textures. That might be overly simplistic, but I would say it’s important to demystify art in order to encourage others to try to do more art. I keep my art to the default 20-color palette because it’s a way to humble my art. I could go all out. Paint has 10 empty palettes readily accessible and every color in the spectrum is available, but I almost like how keeping these restrictions means that I have to get creative with how characters might appear.

Creative limitations are something that I, personally, find is lacking in modern videogames and disinterests me about most media. I usually like writing under a strict word limit in order to make sure that I avoid superfluous words. For essays like this, I write until I fill in all the sections, which is a different experience. When I look at these in-progress shots, I’m happy I decided to start keeping these shots in addition to screenshots. The screenshots I take feel more intimate because I might have other things on the screen. These might and were things I would share with others to ask for advice. Most would just say “cool!” or variants. I understand why now. To get in and really understand where to start critiquing what might be needed to get from the picture above to the picture below would take a significant amount of time for any artist, so it’s easier just so ay “cool!”

I understand now, and I like that. It means that if there’s anything overly offensive, they might catch it, but only because we both might catch it at the same time. Solo work might be isolating or terrifying, but once you accept that you are your best friend and that it’s OK to screw up, things go much better. After all, you’re drawing fan art of other people’s characters for fun. The player of the character on the far left had noted that her character’s eye was purple. Something like that is easy enough to fix. Those are the sorts of things that I would never know, unless pointed out, so those are good editorial things to correct.

Otherwise, when I catch typos or mistakes in the art of others, it tends to be more of a “huh” moment, then I move on. So let’s move on back to the picture, where one thing about having a limited palette is that it frees you up for creativity. In-game, you can purchase coleslaw to bust ghosts – my team – and so I drew coleslaw based on memory and some random picture online. I had taken a screenshot of my screen when I drew the first bowl of coleslaw being thrown at my character, otherwise, it’s all impressionistic depictions of what a 6-on-3 battle like this might look like… because ENDLESS WAR is a text-based Discord MUD, after all.

It was at around this point that I had wanted to show how gameplay looks like for us as ghosts, since the concepts are fairly new, and rather esoteric, even with a Wiki guide and other players helping out. The way I draw and write [less in casual essays like this and more in my fiction] are similar in that there is plenty of information to unpack if you dig in, but at a glance, there should be enough interesting bits to keep your attention. You can see little bits like Endless War, the statue, in the background, to the slimy streets of downtown, to two little details that I thought would be important to add. One player uses the pronouns she/they, as she had transitioned in the recent past, so since I was introducing a few obscure players to the world, I thought, why not include everyone’s pronouns? If I can do what I can to help normalize and equalize everyone, where you can still fight and kill your fellow players, but do so respectfully, why not?

With a graphics-heavy picture like this, I made a second picture to edit the screenshots to keep things organized. If I had only kept copies on the one picture, sure, it might have worked, but as you can see between this picture and the final draft below, I moved the !haunt meme line up to fit in the haunt whispering effect, which I felt was an important way of showing the cause-and-effect of what we do as ghosts and what the Killers and Rowdys see as players. The idea, too, would be to show this picture to someone who has never even heard of ENDLESS WAR and maybe get an idea of what it’s all about. Sure, it’s a lie in that you can’t actually play a game like this, visually, but we all imagine things like this when we pick our avatars and we do these sorts of actions.

When I write fiction, I might, similarly, keep notes on what I’m going to write so it’s easier for me to write it when I do get to that section. This picture above with the orange background might be like a little scrap-page of notes where I might write about certain plot beats or character actions. We don’t always get everything right on the first draft. I just don’t have the time in my day to go back and edit thousand-word essays for quality when there’s more life I want to experience along with other things, so for me, it’s the same as having a scrap-page of screenshots that I might cut, edit, and move around until I can figure out how they fit into the picture. By the time I was about finished with this picture, I was feeling really sick, but the drawing process was a nice relief for me.

I’m happy I was able to get this picture done for the contest. Everyone featured really enjoyed their appearances, which, I know because I enjoy seeing the random fanart people have done for me. I’m a bit of an archivist in that regard because I am always really pleased with how people take my character and render him. There’s just something charming about how my little smiley avatar I drew for a professional thing has turned into his own little thing. Sure, I guess that means he’s not really professional, and my association with such a brand could have some friction in some groups, but I don’t mind that so much. I know that Rowdy Fuckers Cop Killers is a joke name. The gang violence is not as series as it might seem. Some of us draw each others characters, most of us like each other’s companies, and that’s what’s important to me. Winning the contest was almost secondary to cultural contribution.

Quotes: None.
Sources: My personal experiences.
Inspirations: Writing about my drawing experiences.
Related: Other Media Meandry essays.
Pictures: I don’t have the drawing time stamps.
Written On: 2020 July 25 [6pm to 7pm; no joke]
Last Edited: 2020 July 25 [First draft; final draft for the Internet.]


My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.