Three Basic Tips For Making Cyberpunk Art (If You’ve Never Made It Before)


As regular readers of this site will probably know, cyberpunk art is my current favourite genre of art. But, if you’re interested in making cyberpunk art and have never made any of it before (but have some artistic experience), it can seem a bit confusing or challenging.

So, I thought that I’d give you a few tips about how to make cyberpunk art, which might be useful in combination with research into the genre. This article will, of course, only show you a few basic elements of my personal approach to making cyberpunk art – so, it’s worth looking at cyberpunk art from other artists in order to see other ways that it can be done.

1) Set it at night: If you look at most things in the cyberpunk genre, you’ll see that they take place at night (or during grey, gloomy weather). This is mostly because the cyberpunk genre often tends to take influence from the film noir genre, not to mention that gloomy locations help to reflect the “dystopian sci-fi” elements of the genre too.

But, more than that, it also means that the lighting in your painting will stand out a lot more than usual (in contrast to the gloomy backgrounds). So, even if you only know the basics of painting realistic lighting, then you’ll have a lot more opportunities to create a very atmospheric painting through the careful use of lighting (eg: you can do things like using a colour scheme for the lighting etc..).

Good light sources in cyberpunk art include things like computer screens, glowing LEDs, neon lights etc… Choose your light sources carefully, don’t include too many of them and place them well for maximum effect.

To give you an example, here’s a slightly rushed digitally-edited cyberpunk painting that I posted here a few days ago. The two main light sources in this painting are a red strip light and a green strip light (which is slightly out of frame). Most of the painting is fairly gloomy, but these light sources help to both highlight the important details and to give the painting a more distinctive colour scheme:

"Cyberpunk Typists" By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunk Typists” By C. A. Brown

2) Colour scheme: In combination with a fair amount of black paint, many of the best pieces of cyberpunk art often use a slightly limited colour scheme made from either 1-3 pairs of complementary colours, or a variation on a non-complementary blue/red colour scheme. Blue and red look slightly visually jarring when placed together, so they lend cyberpunk art a slightly “edgy” and “dystopian” look.

In modern cyberpunk art, this harsh red/blue colour scheme is often softened slightly by changing it to a light blue/pink colour scheme (which occasionally includes purple and/or yellow too). Many great examples of this type of colour scheme can be seen in the online gallery of a pixel artist called Valenberg.

But, the way to find the right colour scheme for you is to look at as many cyberpunk things (and non-cyberpunk things) as you can and to experiment. For example, although I’ve used other colour schemes in the past, my current favourite colour scheme for cyberpunk art is red/yellow/blue/green/purple (although I’ll often mix red and yellow to make orange, and mostly use purple for shadows/shading). This is a colour scheme I learnt from a set of “Doom II” levels of all places!

Here’s another example of one of my digitally-edited paintings that uses a version of this colour scheme:

"Strange Case (II)" By C. A. Brown

“Strange Case (II)” By C. A. Brown

3) Distant backgrounds: Distant backgrounds in cyberpunk art are ridiculously easy to draw. Since most things in the cyberpunk genre take place within gigantic mega-cities, all you have to do is to add a futuristic-looking cityscape to the distant background. Don’t worry, this is much easier than it might sound.

Basically, as long as you can draw 3D shapes and can draw objects in front or behind each other, then you can draw a basic cyberpunk cityscape. Just make the angular buildings slightly unusual shapes and add a few minimal details (eg: lines, rectangular windows etc..) and, since it’s in the distant background, it’ll probably look “realistic” enough.

If you’re feeling adventurous, add in the occasional large billboard or neon light too (this diagram will show you how to draw them). As long a cyberpunk background looks complex from a distance, you can get away with doodling and scribbling.

Likewise, if you add shadows or rain to the background (either traditionally or digitally), it can help to disguise the lack of genuine background detail too. Likewise, if you’ve got image editing software, then you can add a few pairs of headlights to the night sky (using an airbrush tool) to give your picture a more “futuristic” look with relatively little effort.

For example, here’s another digitally-edited cyberpunk painting of mine. Although there isn’t really much of a distant background in this one, you can see that the buildings consist of a simple pyramid and a few rectangles:

"Level Five" By C. A. Brown

“Level Five” By C. A. Brown


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

5 comments on “Three Basic Tips For Making Cyberpunk Art (If You’ve Never Made It Before)

  1. A very interesting genre. Thanks for introducing this. I feel it has an oriental cartoon feel to it but definitely get the noir feelings. I love the addition of the rain. What program do you use?

    • pekoeblaze says:

      Thanks 🙂 The blending of the film noir and cyberpunk genres can mostly be attributed to a very influential cyberpunk film called “Blade Runner” from 1982. But, yeah, anime has also had a huge influence on the cyberpunk genre too (eg: classic anime cyberpunk films like “Akira” and the original “Ghost In The Shell”).

      As for the rain, I used MS Paint 5.1, but the effect can be achieved in pretty much any image editing program (that contains a line tool, airbrush tool etc..). Here’s a guide to the technique that I used for this effect.

      • Thank you for the link to the guide. I remember seeing blade runner when it first came out. It was a favourite of mine!

      • pekoeblaze says:

        No probs 🙂 Cool 🙂 It’s my favourite film too – I saw it for the first time on VHS in about 2002/3, although it didn’t really become my favourite film until I rewatched it in 2005. Since then, I’ve probably watched it at least 3-4 more times. Seriously, it’s one of the very few films that can be watched repeatedly and still have more to offer the audience (visually, philosophically etc..) each time.

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