Three Tips For Making Art That Looks Like It Was Made In The ’90s :)

2017 1990s style art article sketch

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about this exact subject before, but I thought that I’d look at how to make 1990s-style art today. Before I begin, I should probably point out that I’ll mostly be talking about how to make art that looks like it was made in the 1990s, rather than art that depicts 1990s pop culture, 1990s fashions, 1990s technology etc…

I’ll also mostly be focusing on drawings and paintings that use “unrealistic” art styles. This is mostly because more ‘realistic’ art styles tend to be somewhat timeless anyway.

1) (Mostly) Use traditional mediums: The 1990s was probably the last decade where more artists used traditional mediums (eg: ink, paint, pen, pencil etc..) than digital mediums.

This isn’t to say that digital art wasn’t a thing in the 1990s (if old “pixel art” computer games are anything to go by, it totally was!), but that the tools used to make it were less sophisticated and less widely available.

So, you can give your art slightly more of a 1990s-style look by using traditional physical art mediums. But, this isn’t to say that you can’t edit this art digitally after you’ve scanned or photographed it, just make sure that the editing tools (in whatever editing program you have) that you use are slightly more basic.

For example, one of the programs I still use to edit most of my paintings is a program called ” Jasc Paint Shop Pro 6″ from 1999.

In fact, I used it for most of the little picture at the top of this article – the line drawing was made with ink, but most of the colours and background were added in “Paint Shop Pro 6” (if you’ve curious about how to create the background pattern – select an area, then click “Image > Noise > Add > 85%, Random”, then select “Image > Effects> Glowing Edges”, then invert the colours if you want, then select “Image > Noise> Despeckle” a couple of times, and then adjust the hue/saturation/lightness levels of the selected area until it looks right).

Anyway, this program includes all of the basic features that you would expect to see in an image editing program (eg: cropping, a basic airbrush, brightness/contrast adjustment, hue/saturation/lightness adjustment, a few basic image effects etc…), but it probably doesn’t include some of the fancier features that it’s more modern equivalents have.

So, if you’re editing your art digitally, then stick to using the more basic features in your editing program. And, if you don’t have an editing program, then there’s a free open-source one called “GIMP” [GNU Image Manipulation Program] that can be legally downloaded here.

2) Contrasts: One of the cool things that makes a lot of art from the early-mid 1990s stand out so much is the fact that there was a lot more emphasis on high-contrast artwork back then. Often, this would involve contrasting bright colours against a dark background. Usually, these colours follow a colour scheme of some kind (so, do some reading about complimentary colours etc.. too).

This kind of high-contrast art can occasionally be seen in old comics, but it’s probably more famous in the kind of abstract patterns that were apparently popular for a while in the 1990s (and the 1980s too). Here’s a quick mock-up that I made in MS Paint to show the kind of patterns I’m talking about:

This is a mock-up of the kind of 1980s/1990s-style  patterns that I'm talking about.

This is a mock-up of the kind of 1980s/1990s-style patterns that I’m talking about.

So, one of the the ways that you can give your art more of a 1990s look is to include a lot of contrast between bold colours and dark areas of your picture, kind of like this old digitally-edited painting/drawing of mine (also edited in “Paint Shop Pro 6”) from 2015:

"1992" By C. A. Brown

“1992” By C. A. Brown

3) Simplicity: Like in the 1980s, western art in the 1990s was often characterised by a certain level of minimalism and simplicity. In a way, it was a little bit like 1890s-1920s art nouveau, but with slightly less realism and much more of a stylised look to it.

One cool thing about 1990s comics, illustrations, advertising etc… is that there was a much greater diversity of art styles out there, although many artists still used a slightly more minimalist style. Although this was often due to the practicalities of making lots of comics or illustrations, it was also done for stylistic reasons too.

So, focus on the general idea of your picture, rather than on trying to include ridiculous amounts of detail. Focus on clean, crisp line art and on making your art look stylish, but simple.

For example, although it ended up turning into a more detailed painting, here’s a detail from the line art from one of my paintings that was posted here last year. If you ignore the scribbled shading in the background, then you can probably tell what I’m talking about:

This isn't as minimalist as it should be but, if you just look at the two characters, you can probably see what I mean about simpler minimalist art.

This isn’t as minimalist as it should be but, if you just look at the two characters, you can probably see what I mean about simpler minimalist art.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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