Three Quick Reasons Why Cyberpunk Art Is Easier To Make Than You Think

Cyberpunk art is a genre of art that has a reputation for complexity. If you do an internet search for cyberpunk art, you’ll probably see lots of hyper-realistic and hyper-detailed pieces of art that might make you think that you can’t make art in this genre. Well, you can.

As long as you know a few basic art skills, then you can make cyberpunk art. Yes, it might not look like the hyper-realistic art you’ve seen online, but it will still be cyberpunk – like this:

“Backstreets” By C. A. Brown

“Coast Road” By C. A. Brown

So, here are a few things that will reassure you that cyberpunk art is easier to make than you think. I’ve probably mentioned some of these before, but they are worth repeating.

1) Look at computer games, low-budget movies and anime: One way to reassure yourself that cyberpunk art doesn’t have to be hyper-realistic is to look at old science fiction computer games, modern low budget cyberpunk computer games, low budget cyberpunk-influenced movies and pretty much any cyberpunk anime.

Because these things have limited graphics technology and/or money, they have come up with interesting-looking but less “realistic” versions of the cyberpunk genre. They use stylised drawings, more primitive computer graphics or more “basic” set designs. Here are some examples:

This is a screenshot from the most cyberpunk scene in “Trancers” (1984). As you can see, the film-makers created a convincing cyberpunk location by adding a few neon lights, a couple of machines, some modified cars and some fog to an old diner. It isn’t a very large or elaborate set when compared to a film like “Blade Runner”, but it still looks cyberpunk.

This is a screenshot from “Cowboy Bebop” (1998) – Due to the challenges of traditional animation, this classic anime TV show uses less “realistic” artwork but is still wonderfully cyberpunk.

This is a screenshot from “Technobablyon” (2015) – a low budget computer game that still manages to create a compelling cyberpunk world, despite not using the kind of almost photo-realistic graphics that high-budget games from 2015 used.

So, yes, realism isn’t an essential part of cyberpunk art.

2) Lighting: A lot of what makes cyberpunk art “cyberpunk” is the lighting and colours. As long as you know the basics of painting realistic lighting and know a bit about complementary colours, then you can make cyberpunk art.

One of the easiest ways to make any piece of art look cyberpunk is simply to set it in a gloomy area and to make sure that all of the light sources in your painting or drawing are artificial (eg: neon lights, computer monitors, shop windows etc..). You can also make your art look extra cyberpunk by ensure that all of the light sources in your art fit into 1-3 complementary colour pairs:

This is a digitally-edited painting of mine that uses artificial light sources and gloomy lighting to create a cyberpunk atmosphere (“Old Video” By C. A. Brown)

Some good general rules to remember here are that, to get a good cyberpunk “look”, at least 30% of the total surface area of your painting must be covered with black paint (so that the lighting and colours stand out more).

In addition to this, if you don’t know how to paint neon lights or glowing screens – then just make the edges of the area in question darker than the centre. Like this:

As you can see the centre of the computer screen and the centre of each neon light tube is brighter than the edges (Detail from “Disused Sector” by C. A. Brown)

3) Detail: Last but not least, although cyberpunk art doesn’t have to be “realistic”, it is usually a good idea to make it look as detailed as possible. This is mostly because the cyberpunk genre relies on the idea of “information overload”. So, the more background detail you can cram in, the better.

This is probably one of the most detailed, but not the most realistic, paintings I’ve ever made. It’s also a cyberpunk painting too. (“Architecture” By C. A. Brown)

Although it is certainly possible to make undetailed cyberpunk art (and I do this far too often when I’m in a hurry), if you want your artwork to look really cyberpunk – then just cram in as many intriguing, strange and/or futuristic background details as you can.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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

2017-artwork-new-to-cyberpunk-art

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

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Cyberpunk Colour Schemes – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Cyberpunk colour schemes

Well, for today, I thought that I’d ramble briefly about the colour combinations that work best in cyberpunk art.

Although everyone doesn’t share this opinion, at the time of writing, I personally thought that either a red/blue colour scheme or perhaps an orange/blue one works best when combined with low levels of lighting. Kind of like this:

"Engine Square" By C. A. Brown

“Engine Square” By C. A. Brown

"City Centre" By C. A. Brown

“City Centre” By C. A. Brown

However, when I was looking online earlier this year, I found this absolutely awesome gallery of cyberpunk pixel art on DeviantART by an artist called “Valenberg”. Although his art uses 1980s/1990s-style pixel graphics, it looks distinctly modern and I think that a large part of this is due to the colour choices that he makes.

Most of the slightly older art in his gallery uses a light pink/ light blue colour scheme (with occasional yellow and/or purple areas), against a dark background. The interesting thing is that this doesn’t sound like it would work well with cyberpunk art, but it does. If you don’t believe me, then take a look at this awesome animation.

Thinking about it, the reason why this colour scheme works so well is because it’s a “softer” version of the rather harsh red/blue colour scheme that I like to use in some of my own cyberpunk art. This softness lends the colour scheme a slightly more “realistic” quality, for the simple reason that although harsh colour schemes can look really cool in paintings, they’d probably be considered an “eyesore” if they appeared in reality.

So, if a colour scheme like this were to exist in a real futuristic city, then it’d probably be toned down slightly into a softer pastel blue/ pastel pink colour scheme. This is somewhat less visually striking, but it still contains a slight amount of the “edginess” that comes from a red/blue colour scheme.

Since a lot of colour schemes can work well with the cyberpunk genre, I thought that I’d look at the elements of what makes a good cyberpunk colour scheme.

The first element is visual contrast. Cyberpunk art is, by definition, dark, gloomy and lit by either neon lights or computer screens. As such, your art needs to use a dark background, so that the bright artificial lighting will stand out against it as prominently as possible.

In addition to this, the best cyberpunk art often tends to use a fairly limited colour scheme, rather than a “realistic” one.

Usually, this colour scheme will consist of a slight variation on a pair of complementary colours.

Sometimes, it might also consist of three complementary colours (found by drawing an equilateral triangle over a colour wheel and looking at the colours on each point of the triangle).

For example, one of my cyberpunk paintings from quite a few months ago used a complementary red/green colour scheme:

"On The Streets Of Cyberspace" By C. A. Brown

“On The Streets Of Cyberspace” By C. A. Brown

One interesting colour choice for cyberpunk art might even be to use a red/green/blue colour scheme, for the simple reason that these are the three colours that are used in most computer and TV monitors. I’ve only really tried this once, but the results were certainly interesting:

"Cyberpunk Diner" By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunk Diner” By C. A. Brown

Even so, I’d argue that variants on the classic red/blue colour scheme are sometimes best when it comes to making ominously futuristic cyberpunk art. These two colours are close enough to being complementary to go well together, but they also clash just enough to lend any painting a slightly ominous atmosphere.

Still, I guess that the only real way to find an interesting colour scheme for your cyberpunk art is through experimentation and/or trial-and-error.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Reasons Why Cyberpunk Art Is Really Fun To Make

2016 Artwork Why Cyberpunk Art is so fun to make

Although the paintings won’t be posted here until December, I seem to be going through a bit of a cyberpunk art phase at the moment. This is a genre of art that I seem to revisit every now and then, so I thought that I’d look at some of the reasons why it’s such an amazing genre.

1) Visual storytelling: Because cyberpunk art is focused on busy futuristic cities and/or interactions between people and technology, there’s a lot more room for visual storytelling than there is in many other genres of art. In fact, making a good cyberpunk painting pretty much requires you to hint at some kind of story.

Even if you’re just making a landscape or cityscape painting, the fact that it will probably include a lot of people and a lot of computer screens/ billboards means that you’ll probably have to include at least a hint of a story in order to make it interesting. As an example, here are two cyberpunk paintings I made earlier this year.

"Cyberpunk 2001 (Milton Keynes)" By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunk 2001 (Milton Keynes)” By C. A. Brown

"Strange Case" By C. A. Brown

“Strange Case” By C. A. Brown

As you can see, the first painting is a depiction of an unusual playful moment within the confines of a busy shopping centre, where the couple standing in the fountain are contrasted against the mostly faceless crowds. The second painting is intended to be a scene from a detective story of some kind or another, it’s meant to look like it could be a single frame from a movie.

The cyberpunk genre is also perfectly suited to visual storytelling for the simple reason that it didn’t start out as an artistic genre. Depending on what you believe, it either began life as a genre of prose fiction (eg: in a short story by Bruce Bethke and, later, several novels by William Gibson) or as a cinematic genre (eg: “Blade Runner). Since it was originally designed for storytelling, the cyberpunk genre is at it’s best when it involves a story of some kind.

2) Background jokes: Because many things in the cyberpunk genre are set in a dystopian corporate-controlled future, ominpresent advertising is one of the central features of the genre. This means that you can have a lot of fun hiding silly fake adverts in the background of your cyberpunk art.

Take a look at this cyberpunk painting that I made earlier this year, that was loosely-based on Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth:

"Cyberpunkwharf" By C. A. Brown

“Cyberpunkwharf” By C. A. Brown

If you look closely enough, you’ll see that one of the advertising signs says “Seagulls are your friends. Don’t vapourise the seagulls. Yes, that means you!”. If you’ve ever even briefly visited anywhere on the southern coast of England, then you’ll know how annoying the seagulls can be (I’m not a religious person, but these winged fiends are a compelling argument for the existence of Satan). So, this background joke is an absolutely perfect fit with the setting.

Because cyberpunk art (and cyberpunk fiction) revolves around the idea of “information overload”, you can hide lots of in-jokes in the background details of your art. If you want a spectacular example of this at it’s absolute best, then I’d recommend reading Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” comics.

3) Detail: As I mentioned earlier, the idea of “information overload” is a central part of the cyberpunk genre and this usually translates to lots of visual detail in cyberpunk art. Even fairly minimalist cyberpunk art can often include more detail than minimalist art in other genres does.

For example, here’s a minimalist cyberpunk painting that I made earlier this year. Although the painting doesn’t include much background detail, the foreground still contains a moderate amount of detail:

"Blue Light Lab" By C. A. Brown

“Blue Light Lab” By C. A. Brown

Not only is making cyberpunk art a good way to teach yourself to include more detail in your art, but you’ll also have the satisfaction of having made a painting that will reward close examination and will be the kind of thing where the audience will notice something new if they look at it more than once.

4) It looks really cool: This one is pretty much self-explanatory, I guess. Cyberpunk art just looks really cool.

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

Five Retro-Futuristic Ways To Turn Your Photos, Memories And/Or Observations Into Cyberpunk Art

2016 Artwork Cyberpunk art based on real life

Although they probably won’t be posted here until sometime next week, I’ve started a series of digitally-edited cyberpunk paintings that are based on real locations. Since I included a reduced-size preview of one of the paintings in another recent article, I thought that I’d give you a reduced-size preview of the next painting in the series.

The actual painting is larger than this one and it'll probably be posted here next Thursday.

The actual painting is larger than this one and it’ll probably be posted here next Thursday.

So, how do you turn your photos, observations and/or memories of real places into cool-looking cyberpunk art?

Before I begin, I should probably point out that this article will already assume that you know the basics of how to paint or draw from photographs, from memory and/or from observation. If you don’t know how to do any of these things, then they’re worth learning (and practicing) since they can come in handy in lots of other types of art too.

Anyway, that said, how can you make your art look like it came from a really cool sci-fi movie from the 1980s?

1) Location, location, location: This almost goes without saying, but cyberpunk art doesn’t really work well with natural landscapes. The cyberpunk genre, by it’s very nature, is focused on dense futuristic cities and interesting-looking interior locations.

So, trying to draw or paint a cyberpunk version of a beautiful forest or an unspoilt beach is probably something of a non-starter.

So, stick to photos, memories or observations of cities, towns and/or rooms.

2) Lighting and weather: One of the first ways to make your drawing or painting look more cyberpunk is to make a few changes to the lighting and the weather. This is a matter of preference, but I’d argue that the cyberpunk genre is at it’s absolute best at night and during rainy weather.

One of the reasons for this is that one of the iconic features of cyberpunk art (and film) is neon lights in the rain. This whole genre of art is focused on bold contrasts between light and darkness. So, even if your photo was taken during the day or you’ve only seen a particular location in the morning, try to imagine what it would look like at night. Then make a “normal” sketch of that particular location.

Before you start painting, add some extra light sources to your sketch. Add neon signs, glowing screens, strip lights, streetlights, headlights etc… These will be the only sources of light in your painting or drawing. If you’re going to add rain too, then plan out reflections on the pavements or roads below your light sources.

The thing to remember here though is that your painting should probably consist of at least 40-50% darkness. Although, again, this is just a matter of preference.

Using this kind of lighting will automatically make your artwork look about three times more cyberpunk than it would do if you set your picture during the day or during bright weather.

3) Colours: One easy way to give your art more of a “retro cyberpunk comic book” look is to limit the number of colours that you use when you’re making it. This is because old comics often used a fairly limited colour palette. If you’re painting, then it can often be a good idea to only use the three primary colours (red, yellow and blue), as well as using either ink or black paint.

Even if you mix a lot of different colours using these paints, then your picture will probably have a much bolder colour scheme as a result. However, it’s usually good to stick to a single complimentary colour scheme as much as possible if you really want to give your art a “comic book” kind of look.

One good colour scheme to use if you want your cyberpunk art to look ominously dystopian is a mostly red and blue colour scheme. If you want your art to look slightly “warmer”, then include a red and lime green colour scheme. If you’re not sure which colour scheme to use, then blue and orange tends to work fairly well with everything.

4) Add more detail: I know that I mentioned this a couple of days ago, but one of the best ways to make your art look more cyberpunk is to add as many details into it as possible. These details can include things like amusing fake advertising posters, robots, dense crowds, glowing screens, angular buildings etc…

If you don’t have time to include lots of detail, then this old article about creating the illusion of detail might be useful.

Ideally, your painting or drawing needs to be the kind of thing where someone can notice something new every time. This is because one of the main features of both cyberpunk literature and film is “information overload”. So, have fun and try to cram as much detail as you can into your cyberpunk artwork.

As an example, here’s a reduced-size preview of yet another painting in my upcoming art series. This painting is probably my most detailed cyberpunk painting so far and it was an absolute joy to make:

Again, this is a smaller version of the actual painting (which will probably be posted next Friday). So, I don't know how much of the detail you'll be able to make out here.

Again, this is a smaller version of the actual painting (which will probably be posted next Friday). So, I don’t know how much of the detail you’ll be able to make out here.

5) Fuel your imagination: Whilst you shouldn’t directly copy anything that you see in films, comics, games etc.. (unless you’re making non-commercial fan art), one of the best ways to learn how to turn “ordinary” locations into cyberpunk ones is to become familiar with the cyberpunk genre. To immerse yourself in both old and modern things from the genre until making cyberpunk art feels like it’s second-nature to you.

Try to watch, read or play as many things from the cyberpunk genre as you can. The more inspirations you have, the more things your imagination will have to work with – and the higher your chances are of coming up with your own unique and distinctive “style” of cyberpunk art. Here are some recommendations to get you started:

In terms of books, I’d recommend reading William Gibson’s “Sprawl trilogy“. In terms of comics, I’d recommend “Transmetropolitan” by Warren Ellis and any of the old “Judge Dredd” comics. In terms of films, I’d recommend “Blade Runner“, “Akira“, “Natural City“, “The Matrix” and “Dredd“.

In terms of TV shows, I’d recommend “Cowboy Bebop” and the first episode of “Charlie Jade“. In terms of computer games, I’d recommend “Gemini Rue“, “Beneath A Steel Sky“, “The Longest Journey“, “Dreamfall: The Longest Journey” and, if you can track it down, the 1997 Westwood adaptation of “Blade Runner”.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Sensory Overload In Cyberpunk Art- A Ramble (With An Art Preview)

2016 Artwork Cyberpunk art and detail

Well, a couple of hours after writing yesterday’s article about artistic uninspiration – I was inspired again. Although the higher-quality painting that I made won’t be posted here for another week and a half or so, I thought that I’d talk about it today since it illustrates one of the cool things about one of my favourite genres of art.

The painting is a 1980s-style cyberpunk painting of Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth. I actually ended up making this painting by accident since I’d originally planned to re-make this old painting from 2014, due to feeling “too uninspired” to make a new painting. However, as soon as I started sketching, the painting quickly went in a more interesting direction. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The actual painting is somewhat larger and it will probably be posted here next Wednesday.

The actual painting is somewhat larger and it will probably be posted here next Wednesday.

Anyway, one of the coolest things about cyberpunk art is that it pretty much requires a higher level of detail than usual. This is because one of the main features of the cyberpunk genre is the idea of sensory overload. This is the idea that the future, as imagined in the 1980s, is so crowded and filled with technology and advertising that it’s impossible to understand it all at first glance.

It’s meant to give the impression of a hyper-industrial and slightly unusual future. It’s designed to quickly immerse the audience in this confusing new world of the future. A world where advertising is everywhere. Where everyone regularly uses technology to access more information in a single day than people looked at in a lifetime. Yes, it’s basically the modern internet – but back before it became popular.

In cyberpunk fiction, this effect is usually achieved by throwing lots of futuristic-sounding terminology at the reader, with little to no explanation (and with barely enough time for the reader to work out what each new word means from the context it is used in). When done well, this can make a story sound ten times more futuristic than an “ordinary” sci-fi story. However, like with the ending of William Gibson’s “Neuromancer“, it can often get slightly confusing.

Thankfully, artists don’t really have this problem. One of the cool things about making cyberpunk art is that it is the perfect “excuse” for including lots of detail in your art. Not only does this help to achieve a “sensory overload” effect, but it’s one of the few types of art where adding lots of detail is actually fun.

Why? Well, this is where the “punk” part of the cyberpunk genre comes into play.

With cyberpunk art, you can have a lot of fun with all of the small details. You can include sarcastic parodies of advertising, you can include dystopian-style public information notices, you can include all manner of quirky fashions, you can include ominous glowing screens, you can include all kinds of graffiti etc… In other words, you can include a lot of cynical humour and dark humour, like this:

"Seagulls are your friends. Don't vapourise the seagulls. Yes, that means YOU!"

“Seagulls are your friends. Don’t vapourise the seagulls. Yes, that means YOU!”

Since the cyberpunk genre is meant to be a dystopian vision of the future, it is absolutely perfect for cynical humour. It’s perfect for rebellious “punk” comments about the world.

The best way to learn how to do this well is to actually look at as many examples of it as possible. If you’re near a decent library or if you’ve got a decent comics budget, then I’d recommend taking a look at as many of Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” comics as you can. As well as telling a hilarious story, almost every panel of these comics is saturated with hilarious background details. Like with watching “Blade Runner“, you’ll notice something new every time you look at them.

If you don’t currently have a large comics budget, then many great examples of this type of art (even if it’s often set in a slightly different version of the present day) can be seen online in an absolutely excellent webcomic called “Subnormality” by Winston Rowntree.

But, yes, if you’re making cyberpunk art – then it’s often a good idea to make it as detailed as possible.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂