Three Quick Ways To Make “Retro” 1980s/90s-Style Art (If You’ve Never Made Retro Art Before)

Well, the day before I wrote this article, I needed to make some art in a hurry. I was also in the mood for making 1980s/90s-themed “retro” art too. Of course, having done some research into these decades (since they turn up a lot in the things I create), I didn’t feel too overwhelmed. But, I ended up wondering how anyone can make art set in these time periods if they haven’t done this kind of prior research.

So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to make “retro” 80s/90s-style art if you haven’t really made this type of art before and need to make some in a hurry. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that you already know a few basic art skills.

1) Still life painting: This is what I used to make a “retro” style painting quickly the day before writing this article. Basically, I found an old audio cassette from the 1990s/ early 2000s that was lying around my room and used it as the basis for a more stylised still life painting. Here’s a preview of the painting in question:

This is a reduced-size preview, the full-size painting will be posted here on the 8th April.

Yes, this technique relies on having random old stuff lying around. But, it can be a quick way to make a “retro” painting without too much planning or research time.

If you don’t have something from the 1980s/90s nearby, then two ways to quickly and cheaply solve this problem are either to go to your nearest town and take a look through the charity shops there (they’ve probably got lots of cheap old stuff, especially in smaller towns etc…) or to do an image search for something retro and then, using multiple reference images as a guide, come up with a new and original painting of the thing in question that doesn’t look identical to any one reference image.

Plus, like in the painting I showed you earlier, you can also give your still life painting even more of a “retro” look by doing interesting stuff with the colours and lighting. Generally, it can often be a good idea to contrast bold colours with gloomier lighting. Likewise, if you limit your colour palette somewhat too (eg: using something like a complementary colour pair) then this can also give your artwork slightly more of an 80s/90s-style look too.

2) Fan art: Another easy way to make “retro” art quickly, without lots of extra research and planning, is simply to draw on the “research” that you’ve already done. Yes, you know more than you think! Even if you only have vague memories or no memories of the 1980s and/or 1990s, then you’ve probably watched, read and/or played a lot of older things when you were growing up.

I mean, although I have no memory of the later parts of the 1980s and only relatively vague memories of the 1990s, my teenage years during the ’00s were filled with old DVDs, videos, books, CDs etc… of stuff from the 80s and/or 90s. Likewise, old stuff tended to get repeated on TV quite a bit too. The same sort of thing is probably true if you were born more recently.

So, you know more about the past than you think. So, if you need to make “retro” art quickly, then just make some (non-commercial) fan art based on the things from these time periods that you really love. For example, here’s a preview of a fan art painting that will be posted here tomorrow evening that is based on both “Gremlins 2” and “Lois & Clark“:

This is a reduced-size preview. The full-size painting will be posted here tomorrow evening.

3) Materials: This one is a little bit more subtle, but one way to give your art a little bit more of a “retro” look is simply to change the materials that you use. The thing to remember here is that whilst digital art was a thing during the 1990s (eg: one of the image editing programs I use is from 1999!), the 1980s and the 1990s were the last decades where traditional art materials were king.

So, if you use more traditional physical materials, this will instantly give your art a very slightly “older” look. If, like me, you want to use traditional materials in conjunction with digital image editing, then try to stick to using the more basic features of your editing program. I’m talking about things like cropping, brightness/contrast adjustments, hue/saturation adjustments, RGB noise effects etc…

Yes, this won’t make your art look too “retro” but, if you’re someone who usually makes digital art, then the switch to more traditional materials and more basic image editing techniques will at least make your art look slightly “older” than usual.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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