Three Ways To Find Ideas For Nostalgic Art

2016 Artwork Types of nostalgic art

Nostalgia can be a very powerful source of creative inspiration if you’re an artist. Although the past is forever gone and will never return, making artwork based on either realistic or stylised versions of the past can be a good way to explore it once again. It’s not exactly time travel, but at least you’ll get a cool-looking painting or drawing to keep and to show off afterwards.

So, I thought that I’d give you a few tips about how to make nostalgic art. Although I’ll be focusing on 1990s and 2000s nostalgia, these points can be applied to any other type of nostalgia.

1) Memories, old photos and items: These are the most obvious ways to come up with ideas nostalgic art. Either use your own memories for inspiration or you can make paintings that are directly based on either your old photos or on items that you own from the time period in question. Although these sound like similar ways to get inspired, they will produce two radically different types of artwork.

Memory is a notoriously unreliable thing, so your memory artwork probably won’t be “100 % accurate”. However, you can use this to your advantage – by making your paintings or drawings a lot more stylised and expressive than you would be able to do if you were using a photo or a physical object. In addition to this, it’s important to remember that art isn’t photography – so no-one will expect your art to be “100% accurate”.

To give you an example, here’s a painting of mine that is based on my memories of punk nights in a bar called “The Angel” [NSFW] in the late 2000s. I’ve probably got a few of the background details wrong, but this painting is a much more expressive record of my memories than a simple photo would be.

"Days Of The Angel" By C. A. Brown

“Days Of The Angel” By C. A. Brown

If you’re drawing or painting from your old photos or from a physical object, then your artwork will probably look a lot more detailed and “realistic”. Even so, you should probably still use some artistic licence in order to make your picture look a bit more interesting.

For example, in this painting of some cute plastic frogs I’ve owned since the late 1990s and an old DVD, I decided to blur the DVD cover (both in order to avoid distracting the audience from the foreground, and for copyright reasons) and I also added a solid black background so that the bright orange frogs would stand out against it.

"1990s Frogs And More DVDs" By C. A. Brown

“1990s Frogs And More DVDs” By C. A. Brown

2) Fan art: One simple way to create interesting nostalgic art is to make fan art based on TV shows, movies, videogames etc.. from the time period in question. One advantage of this is that it is relatively easy to find reference material (either from looking at the original thing, or doing an image search online). In addition to this, it is also more likely to be something that other people will remember too.

Even if it isn’t something that is widely known, then it’ll probably be something that someone will remember – like this fan art/parody (the show’s logo contains a lot of dangerously exposed wiring, it seemed like too obvious of a thing not to make a joke about) picture that I made a year or two ago of an old TV show from the 1990s called “Bugs“:

"Fan Art - Bugs - Cool Show, Deadly Logo" By C. A. Brown

“Fan Art – Bugs – Cool Show, Deadly Logo” By C. A. Brown

However, although fan art is usually tolerated by most large media companies (and, in the EU and US, the right to make parodies is protected by law), you will be somewhat limited in what you can do with your fan art. In other words, you can’t sell your fan art or claim that it’s entirely your own work.

Not only that, fan art can often lack the personal quality that nostalgic art based on memories etc… can have.

3) Stylised composites: This is one of my favourite ways of making nostalgic art, although it certainly has it’s downsides. Basically, you make a new painting or drawing that is heavily inspired (but not a direct copy of) by a number of things from a particular period in history. Personally, the 1990s is my favourite decade when it comes to this type of art.

Although you’ll end up with something new, exciting and crammed with nostalgia, this type of artwork usually requires a lot of prior research. Whilst this could just include image searches for fashions from a particular decade, or research into technology, film etc… you’ll have to look at a lot of things and then create a composite of original things that are inspired by (but not a direct copy of) a mixture of all of these things.

If you’re making artwork that revolves around an unrealistic genre of fiction, then look at examples of films, games etc.. from that time period for inspiration. However, unlike fan art, you should only use generic, uncopyrightable elements from these things (for example, 1980s/1990s sci-fi would include a lot of neon lighting, rainy weather, leather trenchcoats, mega cities etc…..)

In addition to this, you’ve also got to remember not to cram too many nostalgic things into just one painting. Yes, this can work in some stylised paintings, but if you’re trying to make a “realistic” painting, then less is often more. Still, there’s something to be said for pastiche-style paintings, like this one I made quite a few months ago:

"All Kinds Of Awesome" By C. A. Brown

“All Kinds Of Awesome” By C. A. Brown


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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