Friday, 9 November 2018

Seeking inspiration and muses by retreading old paths

When it comes to why I paint or draw, it all boils down to an irresistible urge to recreate in art what I've read in books, seen in shows, or even experienced while gaming on my PC. Now this isn't a particularly unique trait by any means. As kids most of us were ever-ready to put graphite on paper, in words or pictures, so as to weave real world experience onto a two dimensional platform. But the older we get, the more we tend to lose such simple joys in life. Even for those of us who've kept the flames of creativity alive, we'll invariably face periods when we don't want to do it anymore.        

A blank canvas seeking muse and inspiration

Faced with just such a hobby malaise that is entering its tenth week, I decided to seek inspiration and muses by retreading old paths that gave me such joy in my younger days. My journey begins with the computer games of old when a severe lack of graphical and processing power meant a lot was left to the imagination. Back then I was a lucky owner of a Sinclair ZX Spectrum+, my very first personal computer, which required a cathode ray tube TV as its display monitor. And in what would be a quaint feature in this modern era of computing, the ZX Spectrum stored software in cassette tapes.    

Sinclair ZX Spectrum+ had memory amounting to just 48 KB of RAM

In my early teens I was already a geeky grognard who had an obsessive fascination with military strategy and all things World War II. My childhood fixation with arguably humanity's worst period of suffering was fueled partly by my grandma's grim tales of the Japanese occupation of Malaya in the 1940s, partly by an excellent documentary series (e.g. The World at War), and partly by a then ubiquitous presence of WW2-related TV shows (e.g. Combat!) and comics (e.g. Commando). So it was no real surprise I took to ZX Spectrum strategy games such as Arnhem and Battle of the Bulge.

Arnhem: The Market Garden Operation by CCS for the ZX Spectrum
Battle of the Bulge also by CCS for the ZX Spectrum

With only 48 KB of memory on board, the ZX Spectrum served up minimalistic graphics (see above) while sounds weren't much better as MIDI audio wasn't even an option in those days. Yet despite it all, imagination took hold in my mind's eye. So it wasn't just some stick-men or plain squares being moved around in a virtual battlefield. It was fully-fleshed out scenes reimagined using an amalgam of historical wartime footage as well as written accounts. Eventually this would foster an interest with military AFV model kits and a wish to recreate war in a more tangible, scaled form.  

Chaos: The Battle of Wizards by Games Workshop for the ZX Spectrum

In a similar vein, my initial exposure to Games Workshop lore (before Warhammer 40,000 existed) came in the form of a turn-based tactical game comprising stick-like figures i.e. Chaos: Battle of the Wizards on the ZX Spectrum. Designed and written by Julian Gollop, this game too required an active imagination. So foolishly or otherwise, I've sought to overcome my current indifference to the hobby by finding spiritual successors to the above games and letting them fire the unused creative synaptic pathways back up again. While this may be viewed as grasping at straws, I'm willing to give anything a try at this stage. And this segues nicely into what I'm doing with my free time now. 

Gary Grigsby's War in the East: The German-Soviet War 1941-1945, developed by 2by3 Games
The Operational Art of War IV, developed by TrickeySoft
Panzer Corps, developed by Flashback Games

After a series of Steam sale purchases, I've amassed a collection of modern day equivalents of the ZX Spectrum games I used to play. These are Gary Grigsby's War in the East: The German-Soviet War 1941-1945 (as well as Gary Grigsby's War in the West - not shown here), The Operational Art of War IV, Panzer Corps, Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon (essentially Panzer Corps with Orks and Space Marines) and Chaos Reborn (a direct remake of Chaos: Battle of the Wizards by the original designer). These games form the core of what I'm playing in my free time now.

Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon, developed by Flashback Games
Chaos Reborn, developed by Snapshot Games with involvement from original designer Julian Gollop

In fact, I was having such a blast playing these type of games again that I couldn't resist adding an old school role playing game (RPG) to my Steam collection. Back in the day, classic first person RPGs such as Might and Magic didn't have the 360° freedom of movement that is the norm for modern day series such as Fallout, The Witcher, Skyrim etc. Your in-game movement was pretty much restricted to the four cardinal points of a compass. That brings us to the 2014 release Legend of Grimrock which itself is based on a 1987 classic called Dungeon Master. Loving that one too, so far.

Might and Magic Book One: The Secret of the Inner Sanctum by New World Computing
Legend of Grimrock by Almost Human

Together with PC gaming, both books and movies form a triumvirate of leisure activities that have helped fire my imagination in the past. Sadly it has been a while since I've read a book purely for pleasure. Despite finding The Forgotten Soldier: War on the Russian Front an excellent read, I had never finished it. But I guess now is as good a time as any for me to reacquaint myself with the true story by Guy Sajer. Perhaps I should also get started on a few others, especially those that revolve around the Eastern Front. It'll make playing Gary Grigsby's War in the East a tad more interesting.    

Some books on the Eastern Front (from left): The Forgotten Soldier, Babarossa and Kursk 1943

And as nostalgia sunk its claws further into me, I found myself checking off the last of my pastime triumvirate by rewatching Audrey Hepburn's most iconic role i.e. that of socialite Holly Golightly in the classic movie Breakfast at Tiffany's. It's from movies that I garner most inspiration for portrait drawing, and I've always wanted to try my skills at drawing the late Ms. Hepburn's portrait. I may yet do so but I'm also wary of trying to do too much when I haven't even regained my mojo.

Breakfast at Tiffany's stars Audrey Hepburn as New York socialite Holly Golightly
Moon river wider than a mile, I'm crossing you in style someday ...
Finding a good picture of Audrey Hepburn to base my portrait drawing on has been surprisingly difficult to find

Nothing like a good bit of nostalgia to drop kick my hobby malaise into oblivion. So is it working? Too soon to say methinks. But enough of the future. Next week I will know soon enough. For now, for me, it's enough to live for the moment and enjoy the present. Que será, será.


  1. Well, it's certainly a change! If you are enjoying it, then it's time well spent!!

    1. Truer words cannot be said. You're so right Suber.

  2. I agree with Suber. Just have fun , life's too short !

    1. Yep, way too short for my liking. Oh to be immortal ... and rich ... and powerful ... now where is my genie lamp?

  3. Warhammer 40,000: Armageddon is one I must of missed it looks pretty decent. I must admit I like playing Blitzkrieg from time to time on my laptop.

    1. With Games Workshop's licensing strategy there are W40K games popping up like crazy on Steam nearly every other month. Heard of Blitzkrieg and nearly got it in the recent Steam sale but for some reason I got Men of War 2 instead. Oh well, there's always the next sale. :)


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