Sunday, 18 November 2018

Six Most Useful Art Tutorials on Youtube

Hey everyone! So...almost a year's gone by and not a peep from yours truly. Some of that has been due to adjusting to my new job as a fully qualified GP, and some of it has been just due to having a rethink about what I want this blog to be about. While I am still very much writing, I won't have any major projects finishing anytime soon, so rather than let this place gather dust I'm going to focus more on my other creative outlet, art. It's in my name after all!

Thus, to kick things off, I'm going to share with you the six most useful Youtube art channels I follow.

So I'm a self taught hobby artist, and have been drawing since my early teens, if not earlier. However, once I gave up Art as a subject at age 14 (had to study those sciences you know for my future career!), I had no real source of guidance to progress.

Fortunately, this was just when the internet was becoming a Big Thing (TM), and I had a plethora of deviantart tutorials to peruse and improve. Now with YouTube tutorials about anything from changing a tire to baking a cake, there's never been a better resource for drawing from a variety of established artists. Whether you draw traditionally with paper and pencil or sketch digitally with the latest graphics tablet, there's a wealth of knowledge out there to help you along. While webpage tutorials are still very much a thing, the extra dimension of seeing drawings done in real-time makes YouTube a brilliant means of learning.

So in no particular order, here are six of the most useful art tutorials I've used/ continue to use on YouTube!

1. Alponso Dunn

Alphonso is an ink artist and instructor, and he has many tutorials showing the variety and versatility of the humble ink pen in drawing. He also has useful anatomy and gesture tutorials, and some mixed media pieces using watercolours as well. Perfect for traditional artists wanting to learn techniques, and for anyone wanting to practice the basics.

I particularly like his 'Master the Mannequin' tutorial as it really helps get certain gestures down without having to use an exact reference every time. I find he explains things quite clearly too and is generally easy to follow. Strongly recommended you check him out, even if pen and ink isn't your thing.

He also has some books available on amazon for pen and ink drawing.

2. Mark Crilley

I've been following Mark for at least five years and he is an extremely talented artist and illustrator. He works in several styles, from realism to anime/ manga, and his tutorials cover pretty much everything from drawing hair and body parts to perspective and animals. He also does art challenges which just shows how honed he is at his craft!

I also enjoy his topic videos, where he'll put out a question to the community about an art-related topic, such as 'How important is originality?' or 'Do you need a defined style?'. He also comes across with a very warm personality, like a favourite uncle, and he can go completely off tangent sometimes in his ramblings, which is rather endearing.

I first came across him when looking for help transitioning from an anime style to more realistic, and found his 'Realistic Manga Face' tutorial. I've since referred to several of his other tutorials.

He also has several books out, including some how to draw books and graphic novels.

3. Sycra

I actually came across Sycra from tumblr, as his videos were referenced in an art tutorial masterpost. The one I first saw was his coil method for perspective drawing, but what I found more fascinating is his 'Drawing Methods' series of videos. Here he outlines varies ways artists begin to draw, and the pros and cons of each, and which method you really need to be using depending on how far you want to take your drawing skills.

Personally I think I rely on the copy method too much, so realising this is very useful to know what I need to do to become less reliant on reference images.

He is predominantly a digital artist but his methods apply to traditional media as well. I have yet to dig into his other tutorials but I will be sure to, as he's got a wealth of helpful videos on his channel.

4. Rapidfireart

I found Darlene's channel via Pinterest, through her 'How to Draw Faces' tutorial. I really like how she makes proportioning the face seem so easy with simple measurements, and it's a method I still use. She also has simple tutorials for drawing facial features such as the eyes, lips and nose.

She hasn't got quite as much content as some of the former channels, but she has a lot more on her website. Still, what she has is very valuable, so please check her out!

5. Proko

This is Stan Prokopenko's channel, an established artist and art teacher. He uses both digital and traditional media and the skills he confers transfer nicely between the two. He also offers drawing courses and has lots of helpful resources on his own website. I like his anatomy videos the most, but like Mark Crilley he also dips into topic videos as well. He also has caricature tutorials and help for gesture drawing.

I've found 'How to Draw the Head from any angle', 'How to Draw the Nose', 'Shading Light and Form Basics' and 'How to Draw the Lips' the most useful. His videos are also quite entertaining, and he does critiques, as well as videos with more general tips for artists. He's covered pretty much most things you'll need, and whether you're just getting into drawing or have been doing it for a while and want to improve, he's got the perfect content.

6. Istebrak

A little different to the above channels, Istebrak is an art teacher and her videos are predominantly critique videos. She is a digital artist. While she does have tutorials on facial features, form studies, some colouring techniques and drawing landscapes, her critique hour (posted usually twice weekly) is where you'll get the most benefit.

It may seem strange that I'm advising you to watch her critique other artists' work, but even just watching her feedback is invaluable as it helps you to see the flaws in your own work. She won't sugar-coat or pamper either- she'll tell you exactly what is wrong and what's needed to fix it, even if this means going right back to basics. She is mostly coming from the angle of an artist wanting to be a professional concept artist and how to render things in digital art media, however, so bear that in mind.

She also has a community on Google+ and Facebook, where she often posts challenges and you can get feedback from the rest of the community. She also offers a software called Portrait Studio which lets you render reference images with realistic lighting. I have not tried it myself but I have seen it in action in many of her videos, and it looks like a very useful tool, especially if you want to break into the professional arena.

Truthfully, Istebrak's channel has probably pushed the most improvement out of me (though I haven't directly submitted to her community, mostly because I feel I'm not up to the basic standard she expects, and given that I'm simple hobbyist, I can take my time!), so do check out her channel. She absolutely knows her stuff, and while her tough-love approach can be a bit intimidating, you'd do well to listen.

And so those were the six most useful Youtube art tutorial channels that I've been following of the last few years! I hope you also find them helpful. If you've got any more suggestions, I'd love to know!

Thursday, 18 January 2018

The Slow Wax and Wane of Inspiration

So, as you might have noticed, there's not been much activity on my blog lately, and not all of that is because of work/ life commitments. See, while I've been trying my active best to keep writing and drawing, something's...been missing lately. And since I've thought about the whys and wherefores, I came to a rather interesting conclusion (for me, anyway). Note that this is just my personal opinion, but it seems worth sharing.

During my medical school years, I took a year out in between studies to take a masters degree in Medical Humanities. Part of this included topics usually confined to English Literature degrees, but one of them was Gender Studies. Now, before you all raise the SJW roasting pitchforks, no, this isn't a feminist radicalisation module, it just looks at literary works and applies a feminist lens to them as a form of critique. This really opened my eyes to media trends across the ages, the very limited roles of females represented and how it's really only been relatively recently that this has started to change.

That module provided me with a useful grip on analysis, not just in media but even in trends in my own profession of medicine, and it is truly amazing how widespread old, constricting traditions are (I'm still asked when patients see me if I'm a nurse, for example). But, sticking to media, it's also really limited the things I want to watch/ play/ read about, which has had a knock-on effect on my own creativity.

I've been a fan of many things, including various anime, games and books. These have not only provided great entertainment, but also fed my own creativity, inspiring my own stories and artwork. But as I've grown older, with this new lens to view the media I enjoy, I notice that more recent things just doesn't grab me like the older ones do. I haven't watched a film in cinema for years now, because every film just comes across as the same tired and boring story filled with character archetypes (bar a few exceptions here and there).

The majority of anime has simply degraded into pure fanservice, and it becomes so distracting and off-putting it breaks my suspension of disbelief in the story and characters. They also don't seem to want to move off the 'teenage boy chosen one' trope, which has really lost its appeal since rarely is it ever done in an interesting way. Many new Japanese RPGs, which used to be a staple love for me, have sadly followed the same path, and they don't really try to break out of their tropes and have thus become rather stale.

Now there are exceptions in all those genres, as there would always be, but when they are so outnumbered by the others, they become very hard to find, and the effort to find something then doesn't seem worth the dearth that it uncovers. But this then starts a vicious cycle, in that, for me at least, creativity stagnates when it's not being fed by new or engaging ideas. Thus the time I want to use to write or draw also becomes less fruitful, as nothing truly inspires like it used to.

And it's odd in a way, because, looking back, the things I did enjoy had their fair share of these flaws too, and yet they never seemed as overt. Could well be the nostalgia goggles talking, but I never remembered having fanservice shoved in my face constantly in Final Fantasy 8, or it being so distracting as to break me out of the story of Sorcerous Stabber Orphen, and I was overjoyed with Final Fantasy 12's take on a story that didn't have you playing as the Chosen One.

And I'm not saying such things have to be stripped out entirely- I just wish they didn't consume the majority of media right now, that there was more variety and less reliance on doing the same things over and over and over. It does seem to very slowly be trickling through, and one game in particular I hope is a sign of better things to come.

That game is Horizon Zero Dawn, for the PS4. I'd heard lots of positive reviews for the game when it came out and was eager to play. And, for all the criticisms that 'it did nothing new', its story was absolutely incredible, and far, far above most competitors on offer. It's not perfect, of course, but it's such a welcome breath of fresh air. I was deeply impressed with its robust and water-tight plot, its immense scope, a likeable female protagonist who wasn't overly sexualised for the sake of it, a diverse and interesting cast of side characters that all added to the world, yet the best thing was its sense of mystery. Uncovering one answers added extra questions, and the game manages to keep this up right til the very end. It really had me gripped in a way that no game has for a long time, and had me playing continuously until I reached the end.

So, perhaps my tastes have just become super-picky now, and I need to ease back. Or perhaps I just need to look harder, get better at finding media to my taste. But either way, it's been a useful reflection, as now I can try and tackle my issue of not imagining as freely as I once did, and hopefully return to feeling refreshed and inspired like I once did.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Rising from the dead!

Hi all! I have neglected this poor blog as of late, but I've been busy.

I have had a little break from writing my main novel series, and have instead been writing fanfiction and focusing on my art.

So, if you wanted to catch up:

I've made a character sheet for my Dragon Age protagonists.

I've also updated my fanfic page with my new stories!

And you can check my deviantart account for my drawings.

I hope to return to the Chronicles of Azaria soon, hopefully before the end of the year, so stay tuned!

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Am I missing something? (Part 1)

So, as you may have gathered from previous posts, I love good stories. However, that then begs the question; what, to me, makes a good story? In previous posts I've touched upon well written characters, so this time I want to compare stories with similar themes and/or premises. The catch here is I'm going to pick one story I liked, and one I disliked, and try to explore the reasons why one worked for me and the other didn't, despite their similarities.

Once again I'm going to look at different media, including books, video games, and film. First I'll focus on books (Part 1 and 2), then video games (Part 3 and 4), and finally film (Part 5).

To outline what's to come:

Part 1: Lord of the Rings vs. The Books of Pellinor

Part 2: Percy Jackson vs. Harry Potter

Part 3: Tomb Radier vs. Uncharted

Part 4: Bayonetta vs. Devil May Cry

Part 5: Wall-E vs. The Lorax

Disclaimer: These are just my personal opinions, and I'm sure the flaws in my arguments will be pointed out and thrown in my face, however just because *I* think something is not very good, that doesn't mean others have to agree. If you like something I don't, wonderful! Variety is the spice of life, after all.



A controversial one to start with, especially as the latter was actually inspired by the former! But this is a question that always intrigued me. As a writer of fantasy myself, why have I never gotten along with the founding father of the genre? It's not like I'm anti-Tolkein either; I enjoyed the Hobbit (just don't speak about the film(s) in my presence). But these books I just couldn't get into, and for various reasons...


This is something that I have a very strong opinion about. Yes, Tolkein lived through World War 2 which left a huge impact on him (and art in general), but his generalized denigration of the human race has persisted so deep that I've become completely sick of it. Sci-fi is very guilty of this as well. From elves of the deep woods to far-flung aliens in the darkest reaches of space, of course they must be better than us mere humans! And not only from a technological standpoint (which I could deal with), but from a moral standpoint.

As a doctor I've seen the nasty things people are capable of, but I've also seen the wonders people can achieve as well. We can be very resourceful and skilled when backed into corners. Hence, I didn't like how 'men' are portrayed as weak, inferior to the other races, and needing 'guidance'. Perhaps it's just my belief that we have more control over our own situation that we sometimes believe, and the tension between having an internal or external locus of control (which is something Tolkein explores; I just don't agree with his eventual outcome).

On the other hand, Croggon's take on the subject is a lot more morally grey. People are capable of good and bad things, and both are not mutually exclusive, either. Even the 'good' characters make questionable choices, and good people can be pushed into doing terrible things (her third book, The Crow, is a particularly dark example of this).

However, she doesn't need to split her world into races to show this, and rather shows problems with diversity within a race (Saliman's black skin, for example, and Maerad's gender). Croggon's portrayal is much more sympathetic, and for me, hits closer to home. It's much more horrifying to see a normal person brainwashed into doing something unspeakable, rather than just 'because they were evil'.


I will admit this is a slightly cheap shot, as it's probably more an effect of what came after LOTR as so many tried to 'copy' the master style. I'm sure if I'd read LOTR when it came out I'd not have this particular qualm against it.


The medieval fantasy setting has become something of a rut. Forget the progress of technology, let's have random magic and leave it at that! Who needs working pluming, or proper irrigation, or complex architecture (though Sauron got his money's worth with that tower...)

It's something barely ever commented upon, and for me, it makes the setting stagnant. It gives the impression that a) society exists in a vacuum and is never pressured to adapt to surroundings and b) there is never any impetus for change. I appreciate the story is not supposed to be a treatise on how the characters worked to increase agriculture yields, and the spread of Sauron's army would've put a damper on progress, but it would be nice to see hints of it. Heck, even watching the enemy army develop more powerful technologies would've been good, as war is actually quite a stimulus for technological advancement.

Croggon's books are not that much different in this aspect, but because she's worked in an interesting magic system, it's possible to see magic and technology working in harmony. She takes time to show how normal people live, so we get an idea of how Bards (the magic-capable people in her world) use their powers to make day to day life easier, and further their own technology. Again, while I wouldn't say these books do tonnes better than LOTR, it just seems to bother me less here.


So a lot of older media (and let's face it, a lot of newer media too) tend to over-represent males and under-represent females. The main quest with Frodo has all-male Hobbits, a male wizard, a male warrior, a male dwarf, a male elf, etc etc...and while there are female characters, they're not really crucial to the main plot, and are quite outnumbered by their male counterparts. Even when there are dire city sieges, with little to no hope of any victory, none of the women are given any opportunity to fight.

This is usually met with the 'but that's what it was like in those days, women didn't do anything!' excuse, which, as historical research has proven many times, is not true. Women did plenty; they just weren't recognised for it and so were written out. Again, part of this is a result of LOTR being a product of its time, and it's not that the women who do appear have terrible roles. It's just a bit more of them would've been nice. Women played a very large and active role in both World Wars, so it's not like Tolkein was lost for examples.

Croggon of course goes the whole hog and makes the protagonist a girl (but then if you know the author at all, this shouldn't be a surprise). But she doesn't stop there; there's a whole host of female characters who appear both as allies and enemies. This allows for a much better representation of the female spectrum, because (as most of modern YA will attest) having just one female character means you have to shove conflicting traits. She can't be docile, she's an action heroine, but she can't be too masculine so needs feminine appearances, etc etc. And it's not like there's a sparsity of men in exchange; Cadvan plays just as an important role as Maerad, and so does (spoiler: her brother Hem as well).


So, it seems I prefer the Books of Pellinor because...they're written with a more modern mindset, I guess? It also doesn't rely on the traditional fantasy races (elves, dwarves, orcs etc, which I just don't like outright no matter how they're written) and uses actual ethnicities instead. And while I can appreciate the enormous impact Tolkein's works had (and still have) on the genre, it's just not for me. Born in the wrong era, I think!

Stay tuned for the next part, where I pit the Percy Jackson series against Harry Potter!

Sunday, 10 January 2016

Top Media That Influenced Me (Part Two)

Everyone takes inspiration from something, and I'm no exception. It can be interesting to 
delve back and see what media have left a lasting impact on me, and so that's exactly what I've done. So, prepare yourself for a blast from the past as I explore the media that have left the biggest impression on me and continue to inspire. This is  Part Two- for Part One click here.

Eternal Darkness

This was the first game I played on the Nintendo Gamecube, and it really opened my eyes to what great storytelling should be about. The game is a time-sprawling horror epic, spanning all of human history, where ancient evil strives to resurrect itself through a corrupted Roman soldier. You experience the story through the eyes of Alexandra Roivas, living in the present time as she reads the Tome of Eternal Darkness, a fiendish book which has recorded 'true history'.

At the time I played this game I was starting to venture into my own original writing, but I was getting quite stuck in terms of scope and premise. I'd read quite a few YA novels and been disappointed in that the stakes and plot never seemed that big. This game however tore through all of that. I loved the whole 'hidden unwritten history' angle, the various historical settings and the brilliant (if not particularly diverse) cast. I'd never been much of a fan for H.P. Lovecraft or horror, but the depth of story and intrigue really gripped me and it's definitely my biggest source of inspiration to date.

Final Fantasy XII

I played this game quite a while after its initial release. I knew pretty much nothing about it, but I had played previous Final Fantasy games (VIII and IX) and enjoyed them, so I thought I'd give it a go. Like most Final Fantasy plots, it's complex and winding, but it touches on a lot of interesting themes. You follow the story through the eyes of Vaan, who is not actually the protagonist but is a bystander who gets dragged along for the ride when he joins the rebellion to free his home town from Empire rule.

Having a story framed like this, while it did cause some upset to a lot of players, I thought was really intriguing. It felt more engrossing in a way; I as a player was being taken along this epic journey as a viewer rather than a protagonist, so I could pay more attention to what was going on. I enjoyed the themes about fate versus free will, the weight of difficult choices and how small actions can have a bigger impact. Again, I also liked the worldbuilding which was comfortably past stagnant sword 'n sorcery but not right into uber advanced sci-fi. This aspect has again had an influence on my Azaria series in terms of how I envision the technology and landscape, and its deeper theme of being in control of your own destiny has filtered through to my (currently on hold) first novel, The Zodiac Hunters.

Madoka Magica

This is a lot more recent an influence than the others, in that I only watched it last year, but it certainly left an impact. Don't let the pretty colours fool you! It's a dark, more tragic take on the traditional magical girl genre, following a girl named Madoka and her friends. They are offered a single wish from a strange being called Kyubey so they can gain powers to defeat evil Witches, but the implications are more far-reaching than they could ever know.

So I'm a big fan of subversions/ deconstruction in media- that is, when a typical story trope or stereotype is twisted around- and while Madoka isn't a true subversion it's still fascinating. It explores and takes a very jaded view of the ideals behind gaining magical/ super powers and how they are used. I enjoyed the characters' perspectives too, and as morbid as it sounds, watching them unravel was really engrossing! Most of the main characters slowly find their idealism crumbling around them, and end up losing faith in that which they most strongly believed in. It inspired some thoughts as to my own characters and how sometimes it can be more interesting to watch negative character development.

Avatar: The Last Airbender and Legend of Korra

While these are two separate shows, they're of the same continuity so I've lumped them together, as each of them taught me several things. Avatar: The Last Airbender follows the journey of Aang, the last airbender, who must restore peace to the world and take on his role as Avatar, the one who brings the nations together in balance. Legend of Korra follows on from that, as Korra is the Avatar to follow Aang, but her character, personality and journey is very, very different!

Avatar was another piece of media I didn't watch when it was released, although I'd heard lots of positive things about it. Eventually I got around to watching it, and didn't regret it. I can find pretty much zero fault with this series, at least in terms of story-telling. Everything, from the pacing, the setting, the characters and their development and the balance of comedy with serious moments just fits so well. Granted I never really liked Aang's design (blue arrows, really?), but the series showed me how with careful planning everything can just fall into place.

Oddly enough, Korra isn't quite as 'perfect' particularly in terms of pacing (thanks to behind the scenes problems and issues regarding whether the series would continue after the first season), and yet I find this series a lot more interesting. The creators took more risks, not all of which worked, but the darker themes, improved character designs (Korra is much more impressive than Aang ever could be!) and shorter plot arcs were more fascinating to watch. While it does have pacing issues and underdeveloped characters (my biggest gripe is with Asami who was sorely under-used), it still comes off strong and certainly has more to offer than the original series.

So, while Avatar showed me the importance of good pacing and how smaller stories can tie in with an overall main arc, Korra showed me the importance of strong, flawed characters and how this contributes to much more fascinating character development.

Tales of Symphonia

This was the first I ever played, and it really blew out the water everything I'd come to expect from Japanese RPGs. This game followed the adventures of a boy named Lloyd, whose best friend Colette, the 'Chosen One', is about to embark on an important journey to restore prosperity to their world, as the life-force of the planet is being drained and abused. Little does he know that he's about to get involved in matters much worse, where he'll discover the truth about the laws that really govern his world.

Until this point in terms of RPGs I'd only played Final Fantasy, which tended to be more traditional in its presentation. So when I played this game, which totally deconstructed my most loathed plot archetype (the 'Chosen One'), introduced the concept of fantasy racism, and had many more twists and turns than could be considered reasonable even for a JRPG, it ticked all the boxes for me. The story and setting were amazing, the characters intriguing, and the gameplay wasn't half bad either. This was the first game where I really sympathised with the villain, as his motives were solid, even if his execution of said motives was questionable. It showed me the importance of humanising an antagonist, to make them more real and to provide a better foil to the protagonist. I still think this game's story is just perfect in almost every aspect, and it's given me a yardstick to measure my own plots against! 

So there you have it. Perhaps surprisingly as a writer I haven't taken a lot of inspiration from books, but it just goes to show that good storytelling can be found in any media.

What other media have inspired you? I'd love to know!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Top Media That Influenced Me (Part One)

Everyone takes inspiration from something, and I'm no exception. It can be interesting to 
delve back and see what media have left a lasting impact on me, and so that's exactly what I've done. So, prepare yourself for a blast from the past as I explore the media that have left the biggest impression on me and continue to inspire.

Sonic the Hedgehog

The very first piece of media that I ever became a fan of, and that's going back some years! In case you've been living under a rock for the last 20 years, Sonic is a speedy blue hedgehog, who along with his (now quite extensive) cast of companions goes against the evil Dr. Eggman who wants to take over the world with his ingenious robotic creations.

Our family bought a SEGA Mega Drive (Genesis) for Christmas of 1993, and Sonic 1 was packaged with it. Of course, only being 7 years old, I was pretty terrible at it and often cried that I'd never get past the second level, but persistance and practice paid off. I went on to get the other Sonic games and they became a staple. I also enjoyed the cartoons, and those were what led me to joining my first fandom when we got the internet a few years later.

Soon after, I entered the wonderful crazy world of fan fiction, igniting a newfound love for writing. Stuffing every story with fan characters, finding weak reasons to change personalities, but not quite stooping to the level of Mary Sue, I still have them and I get a good laugh reading through the silly plots. 'Trying too hard' is putting it mildly!

I'm not really a part of the Sonic fandom now (I found other things more interesting as time want on), but I still enjoy (most) of the newer games and I'm always interested in what new antics the blue hedgehog gets up to these days.


This was the first anime I ever watched, way back when I was an impressionable teenager. I watched the dub on Fox Kids, and it became the second fandom I ever joined online. Basically, the Earth is under attack from an unknown mysterious alien race, who have super powerful mecha generals leading the assault. However, one of them, only known as Blade, goes renegade and fights on behalf of the Earth. He joins a group called the Space Knights, and the anime follows their role in the war and uncovering Blade's mysterious past.

Looking back, I do wonder what captivated me about the series, since it's a sci-fi mecha anime, which I wouldn't usually touch with a ten-foot barge pole. I guess the characters stuck with me. Blade is your typical broody stoic male lead with tragic backstory, and the Space Knights have their own little quirks (names after the '/' are the Japanese names, back when anime dubs took a lot of liberties with the source material): Ringo/ Noel the cocky pilot, Tina/ Milly the computer wiz, Mac/ Honda the Scottish mechanic and his partner Maggie/ Levin [yes he/she underwent a gender change] the crack engineer, Star/ Aki the aptly named navigator, and their fearless Commander Jamison /Freeman.

I have to say it's really lost its appeal over the years and it has dated fairly badly (those damned stereotypical gender roles and all that), but at the time it sparked off more fanfiction and also fanart. While it seems embarrassing now, I can't deny the role it had in shaping my writing!

Shinzo/ Mushrambo

A quaint little anime I watched on TV, not longer after Teknoman in fact. It was the next 
fandom I jumped into. The show follows the journey of a girl named Yakumo, who is put into suspended animation by her father during a war with humans and their own genetically engineered creatures called Enterrans. She awakens 500 years into the future, and accompanied by the hot-headed Enterran Mushra, the more subdued Saago and the money-minded cat Kutall, makes her journey to Shinzo, where she can hopefully restore peace between humans and Enterrans.

I enjoyed this show, with its unique character designs and fun characters. I even borrowed the name of one of its antagonists for my Chronicles of Azaria series (granted it is a cool name). It also inspired more fanfiction and fanart (big surprise?), and was perhaps the last fandom I was fairly active in.

Sorceror Stabber Orphen

This was the first 'authentic' anime I saw (i.e. I bought the original on DVD and watched it that way, rather than as a mangled dub on TV). I was first introduced to it via image searches on the internet, and I was obsessed with this bandana-wearing, leather-clad sorceror who seemed to have a bit of a fetish for this incredibly detailed demonic sword. The story follows Orphen, a sorceror on the run as he tracks down the dangerous dragon Bloody August. He gains some companions along the way and we learn about his involvement with the dragon and his true goal.

So it was Orphen's design that grabbed me most. My initial designs of my first original character borrowed quite heavily from him, in fact. The anime itself I enjoyed immensely; the worldbuilding and setting was great, the story was intriguing and the characters were fun. Orphen was yet another broody hero (but not so stoic and with a more dry sense of humour), Majic his bumbling apprentice, and Cleo the fiesty noblewoman/ occasional swordsman. The show also balanced its comedic moments with the more serious ones, giving it a strong overall tone.

I haven't watched it in a while but I will definitely make time to do so, as it still holds its intrigue and I still like the aesthetic appeal. While it didn't inspire me to join its fandom, it did get my brain ticking over how I wanted my own original ideas to be presented, so it's definitely had a huge impact.

Romeo x Juliet

I came to be introduced to this quite a bit later than the above three. Similar to Orphen, I was drawn to the beautiful art-style when I was looking for new anime to watch. I was never much a fan of Shakespeare's original play, but the thought of a fantasy style setting with Juliet playing the lead made me sit up. And I was not disappointed!

The story is basically a retelling of the classic, but as said, it's with Juliet as the protagonist and Romeo as HER love interest. She has had to hide from her true heritage due to the brutal murder of her entire family when she was a child. When Juliet comes of age, however, the truth is revealed, and loyalists to her family push her to lead them against the vicious Prince Montague who staged the slaughter of the Capulets all those years ago to seize power.

The presentation of this anime is simple breath-taking, and it lent a lot for the worldbuilding of my Chronicles of Azaria series. I also liked the characters a lot, who were given much more personality and flaws, and it was refreshing to see a love story with a female lead who actually had an important role in the main plot. It helped me realise the importance of having strong characters, which make their relationships with each other more real.

Find out about the other media that influenced me in Part 2...

Sunday, 1 November 2015

New fanfic!

I haven't been around much lately (those pesky medical exams etc), but I have been quietly writing in the background. So please allow to present a new addition to my fanfic page, where I delve into the world of Dragon Age: Origins.


Elissa Cousland knows the difficulty of the choices she’s made during her journey, but what happens when she can’t face her mistakes? Takes place during the Arl of Redcliffe/ Urn of Sacred Ashes quests.

Click here to check it out!


The chill air of the Frostback Mountains was a welcome change after so long shut in Orzammar, and I took a breath to savour it. Not that it could cleanse the guilt that haunted me. I tried to focus on the snow-capped horizon, but my thoughts wouldn’t still. Once again I’d been thrown into a conflict not of my making, forced to pick sides I scarcely understood. And once again I was left with lingering doubts as to whether I’d made the right choice.

My eyes narrowed. Choice. How I’d come to loathe that word. It was ironic; I’d longed for choice when Duncan had dragged me from Highever, desperate to go back for Father and Mother. I’d longed for the choice to fight Howe, instead of being forced to become a Grey Warden. And there were times I still longed to choose to walk away from it all.

Yet now I’d gone from one extreme to the other. For with both the Circle and the Dwarves, I’d had to pick one path and forego another. Templars or mages; the castes or casteless; Harrowmont or Bhelan. Too busy bickering amongst themselves, I’d had to bring order to their chaos. To remind them that as they screamed and yelled and stamped their feet, the Blight swept the lands, ready to engulf Ferelden in darkness. And I was getting sick of…

“Hello, Ferelden to Elissa, is anyone home?”

I blinked, snapping my head up. Alastair was waiting before the mountain path, along with the others. He raised a concerned brow.

“Sorry.” I discarded my train of thought. “What is it?”

“We don’t mean to be too much trouble,” Morrigan drawled, folding her arms, “but we would like to know your intent, Warden. You have yet to declare our next destination.”

My face flushed. Guess I’d been too deep in thought to notice.

“Well, we can either try and track the Dalish elves, or go to Redcliffe,” I said, regaining composure. “Any preferences?”

“Redcliffe is nearer,” Alastair piped up, “and easier to find than the Dalish camp. We could be combing the Brecilian Forest for weeks otherwise.”

“I too would prefer a more comfortable exercise,” Zevran added, resting his hands behind his head.

“How unsurprising you’d wish for the simpler route,” Morrigan scoffed. “I recommend we seek the elves. T’would be a more fruitful venture. For one, we would gain eyes to check the Blight’s progress.”

“But if Arl Eamon is as ill as the rumours say, should we not go to confirm this?” Leliana asked. “If we are too late…”

“Then it will be futile to try and gain the approval of the Redcliffe army,” Morrigan retorted. “No doubt Loghain’s influence has taken hold there, and if the Arl cannot counter it, what chance do we have? His men will more than likely attack us on sight. But if we had the backing of another army, they would have to think twice before crossing us.”

“Who cares,” bellowed Oghren, taking a swig from his flask. “So long as there’s ale around I’m game for anything!”

“Indeed,” Wynne said quietly. Sten frowned, but remained silent. “The choice is up to you, Elissa.”

I clenched my teeth. Of course, it was always down to me.

“We’ll go to Redcliffe,” I said at last. Morrigan’s eyes flashed, but I ignored her. “The Dalish aren’t exactly on friendly terms with us, either. I’ll take my chances with the Arl’s soldiers.”

“Good. Seems some of us still have sense,” Alastair puffed out his chest. Morrigan rolled her eyes.

“Then let’s make a start while it’s still light,” Wynne said.

Alastair strode ahead, shooting Morrigan a triumphant glare. Morrigan gripped her staff tighter, her lip curled. I shook my head. Yet another tightrope I had to walk delicately. It was a wonder they hadn’t torn each other’s throats out. But despite Morrigan’s constant disdain, she had never betrayed my orders, so I could afford to ruffle her feathers now and then.

Besides, I had good reason to choose Redcliffe. Eamon’s knights, as far as Alastair had told me, were loyal and steadfast, and would not simply cow to Loghain’s rumour mongering. Nonetheless, many would be searching for the Sacred Ashes, so I had no idea how many remained around the village. I could only pray they would be willing to listen to a Warden.

“Something on your mind?”

I glanced to my left. Leliana was walking alongside me.

“You’ve been very quiet since we escaped the Deep Roads,” she said.

“You know I’m not one for many words,” I answered. Leliana smiled.

“Ah, but even for you this is a stretch,” she teased. “Besides, you always hold that furrowed look whenever you are troubled.” The heat returned to my cheeks. She always watched me so closely. “Has something upset you?”

I sighed. “It’s nothing I can change.”

“Maybe so, but dwelling on such things will not do you much good,” Leliana said. Her tone darkened. “I should know.”

“Look, it’s nothing, really,” I said. “I…I just get frustrated sometimes, that’s all.”

“With those two?” Leliana nodded towards Alastair and Morrigan, who continued to sling insults. “You wouldn’t be alone there.”

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

“So what do you mean?”

I hesitated. Part of me wanted to reveal the truth, yet my wariness held me in check. It felt wrong to share my doubts so openly. But Leliana always had a patient ear, and I’d come to appreciate her counsel. Perhaps it would do no harm.

“I was never meant for this,” I said softly, in case the others overheard. “I was the younger Cousland, and a woman. Never meant to take over the family name, or the responsibility of Highever. I was never supposed to…to become a leader, to have others look to me for guidance. I just…” I shook my head. “I don’t know if what I’m doing is right.”

Leliana’s gaze softened.

“It is only natural to feel that way, especially given the burden placed on you,” she said at last. “But everything you’ve done so far has worked out. You restored the Circle and defeated the abominations, you destroyed the Anvil so it would take no more innocent lives, and appointed a ruler to the Dwarves. Where there was unrest, you brought stability, and you did not abuse your power to achieve such.” She touched my shoulder. “You’re a good person, Elissa, and it shows in the decisions you take.”

I nodded slowly.

“It’s one of the many reasons I admire you,” Leliana went on. “You are not afraid to stand for your convictions. I have seen many falter at much less.”

“You give me too much credit,” I replied.

“Of course,” Leliana smirked. “After all, you chose to bring me along, didn’t you?”

“I have yet to see how that proves me a wise decision-maker…hey!”
I barely finished my sentence before having to quickly side-step. The bard was still on target, and her elbow grazed my side. My foot slipped in the ice, and we almost thumped into a nearby tree.

“What in the Maker’s name are you two doing back there?” Wynne snapped. She shook her head. “I would expect this kind of behaviour from Alastair or Zevran, but not you, Warden.”

I cleared my throat, straightening my sword sheathes. She reminded me so much of Mother when she took that tone.

“My apologies, Wynne,” I said. “You are right, we should not tarry. Redcliffe won’t come to us any sooner.”

Wynne nodded, turning back to the road. Leliana giggled softly.

“I will repay you later, dear Sister,” I said, unable to stop my grin. “Do not think the Maker will save you.”

“I will accept any punishment, Warden,” Leliana conceded. “Anything is worth seeing your smile returned.”

The burning returned to my cheeks, and it had nothing to do with the cold.