Three Cheap Ways To Make Trendy Types Of Art

Well, I thought that I’d write a proper instructional article since it’s been a few days since I last wrote one. So, for today, I’ll be looking at a few interesting artistic trends and telling you how you can re-create them in your own art without spending a ridiculous amount of money.

1) Vivid “retro-style” palettes: I’m not sure what the technical name for this trend is, but this style of colour palette been a feature of my art style for over a year. It looks a bit like this:

“Stage Lighting” By C. A. Brown

“Bus Stop” By C. A. Brown

Initially, it was something that I learnt from a really set of “Doom II” levels called “Ancient Aliens“. However, when preparing an article a couple of days ago, I realised that another game I’d played a couple of years earlier called “The Gift” also contains a couple of examples of it too. Then, when I saw the first “Guardians Of The Galaxy” movie a few months ago, I was delighted to see it there too.

Although influenced by the 1970s-90s, this style of palette seems to have become something of a slight trend in the 2010s and it’s really easy to re-create.

For starters, try to make sure that bright green, orange, purple, blue, yellow and/or red appear in your art. Then, (and here’s the clever bit) make sure that at least 30-50% of the total surface area of your picture is covered in black ink, paint, pastel etc… These dark areas make the rainbow colours stand out by contrast and gives them that retro-style vividness too.

If you’re editing scans/photos of your traditional art using image editing software, you can also enhance this effect by decreasing the brightness levels slightly, increasing the contrast levels heavily and increasing the colour saturation heavily.

In most editing programs, this can be done by looking for two options called something like “brightness/contrast” and “hue/saturation/lightness” in the program’s menus.

2) Marker pen-style art (for less!): If you look at art videos on Youtube, one art medium that you’ll see a lot are alcohol-based markers. However, even small sets of no-brand alcohol-based markers can have eyebrow-raising prices if you’re on a budget.

So, what’s a good, and slightly cheaper, substitute?

Well, you can use an older art medium in a very slightly unusual way. This technique won’t make art that looks exactly like marker pen art, but it’ll look very vaguely similar – if slightly less bold. Without any digital post-processing, it looks a bit like this:

I’ve used this example before, but this is an unprocessed (except for cropping) scan of the picture. It’s closer to the original painting, but slightly more faded due to the limitations of the scanner.

Get some cheap watercolour paper (the more absorbent the better!), a wet paintbrush and some watercolour pencils (which, unless you buy fancy brands, cost far less per pencil than a set of markers costs per pen). Then apply a decent amount of pressure when using the watercolour pencils. Really saturate the paper with pigment. This will make your art look like a bold pencil drawing.

Then, lightly moisten your paintbrush (the less water the better!) and very gently go over your art with the brush, being sure to clean the brush between going over differently-coloured areas. The less pressure, the better. The goal here is to add just enough water to convert the pigment into paint, but not enough to turn it into more traditional “watery” watercolour paint.

The cheaper and more absorbent your watercolour paper is, the better this effect will look! Absorbent paper stops the paints from sliding around/ running into each other too much, although it does carry the risk of the paper becoming over-saturated with water if you aren’t very careful about the amount of water you use (again, less is more!).

If you want to make your art look even more like a marker pen drawing, then either buy a cheap waterproof ink rollerball pen (they’re about £2-4 each) and make a line drawing on the page before you begin painting. Or, if this is outside your budget, just wait until your painting dries and then go over the dry picture with a non-waterproof ink pen.

If you’re editing scans/photos of your art digitally, then just use the “brightness, contrast & saturation” trick I mentioned earlier to give your watercolour pencil art even more of a “marker pen” style look. Like this:

This is a digitally-edited version of the picture I showed you earlier – with digital alterations to the brightness, contrast and colour saturation levels.

3) Digital-style art (without graphics tablets or expensive programs): Digital art is more popular than ever these days. However, if you watch any Youtube videos about it, you’ll often see artists using an array of fancy high-end graphics tablets and expensive professional programs. But, you can make digital-style art with a pen, a piece of paper, some basic electronic equipment and a free open-source program.

As long as you have a computer (even a low-end one) and either a digital camera (even a phone camera) or, even better, a cheap scanner – then you can make some really cool digital-style art at a low cost. This is a technique that I initially heard about in this “making of” page for my favourite webcomic (“Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree) – but you don’t need the commercial image editing program that Rowntree uses.

Anyway, start by making an ordinary line drawing with pens and paper (being sure not to leave any gaps between areas that are going to be different colours). Once you’ve done this, you can then add the colours digitally.

You don’t need an expensive image editing program to do this! You can even legally download a totally free, open-source program called “GIMP” (GNU Image Manipulation Program) -which has versions for Windows, Linux and Mac. This program has many of the basic features that commercial editing programs do and is reasonably user-friendly too.

Anyway, how do you turn a photo/scan of some line art into something that looks like digital art?

Firstly, open your line art in whatever program you use, find your program’s “cropping tool”, “snipping tool”, “crop tool” etc.. (the icon for this feature usually looks like two diagonally-overlapping “L” shapes. But, in GIMP 2.6, the icon for it looks like a scalpel/craft knife) and cut away any unneeded background things, like the scanner bed or anything in the background of your photo.

Then look for the “brightness/contrast” option in your editing program and lower the brightness levels and increase the contrast levels until your art looks suitably bold. Like this piece of line art:

This is a piece of line art that has been cropped. After this, I’ve made it look bolder by decreasing the brightness levels and increasing the contrast levels. I think that most programs have an option called “Threshold” that does something similar to this too, but I haven’t really tried this.

Then look for an area selection tool in your program. The icon for this tool will often look like a magic wand of some kind. It allows you to select any self-contained segment of a picture. Here’s an example of the tool (called the “Fuzzy Select Tool”) in GIMP 2.6:

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Most image editing programs have a tool like this. It’s incredibly useful!

After you’ve selected an area, you can use a number of your editing program’s features to add colour. For example, in GIMP 2.6, the easiest way to do this is to just use the “bucket fill” tool (after selecting a colour by double-clicking on the “foreground colour” square at the bottom of the toolbox menu).

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Adding colours digitally in GIMP 2.6. This is super-simple, since you can just use the “bucket fill” tool to add colour to the areas you’ve selected with the magic wand. You can also choose the colour by clicking on the squares in the menu to the left of the picture.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂


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