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 🙂

Finding The Right Type Of “Easy” Art To Make When Making Art Feels Difficult

One of the annoying things that can something happen if you practice making art regularly is that you’ll have times where making art seems like an extreme hassle. This can be due to things like feeling uninspired, being in a rush or being tired. It can also be caused by other factors such as the weather or the mood that you happen to be in.

But, rather than just repeating my usual list of techniques for dealing with this type of problem, I thought that I’d go into much more detail about one of them. I am, of course, talking about making “easy” paintings.

Every artist has their own definition of what an “easy” piece of art is and this will often depend on what is causing you to feel unenthusiastic about making art. So, the real trick is knowing which types of “easy” art work well in different situations.

For example, the night before I wrote this article – I was tired, in a slightly bad mood, in a bit of a rush and the hot weather had rendered me somewhat lethargic. But, I still wanted to keep up with my daily art practice. So, I decided to make a painting that involved relatively little artistic detail. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 3rd April.

Although I was able to disguise this somewhat with my choices of lighting, colours, subject matter etc.. the fact remains that I chose a painting that required little time and little effort. It was a painting where I only had to bother adding detail to about a quarter to a third of the total area of the picture.

However, when I was feeling both uninspired and very slightly short on time a few nights earlier, I did something a bit different. Since I had the energy for a more detailed painting, but didn’t have the time or inspiration to come up with an original idea, I decided to paint a study of an out-of-copyright painting called “The Day Dream” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size painting will be posted here in early April.

I had the energy and enthusiasm to add more detail to this picture, but I didn’t have to worry about coming up with a totally new idea. So, this painting was fairly “easy” to make in this context since copying an out-of-copyright painting meant that I completely bypassed the problem of not having the time or inspiration to come up with a new idea.

I did something a little bit different the day before I made this painting. The problem that night was that I just didn’t have the time to develop an idea for a painting. I had about an hour to make the painting, but I felt enthusiastic about making art and wanted to make some vaguely good-looking art. So, what did I do ? I made a still life painting of some of the random stuff on the desk in front of me. Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 31st March.

Since I’ve practiced still life painting before, it was fairly straightforward. I could just quickly copy the scene directly in front of me, which allowed me to focus on things like lighting and realistic artistic detail whilst also allowing me to draw and paint a lot more quickly (since I didn’t have to waste time working out what to draw or choosing a colour palette).

On another occasion, the problem was entirely due to hot weather (and, yes, I write these articles and make daily paintings quite far in advance of publication). In this case, I was feeling inspired and I had a little bit more time. However, about halfway through the line art stage of making a painting, I was starting to feel drained and overwhelmed by the heat. But, I needed to finish this painting! So, instead of the detailed background I’d originally planned to add, I quickly added a fairly basic wall to the background instead (and covered about two-thirds of it with shadows). Here’s a reduced-size preview:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 2nd April.

Yes, none of these paintings are as good as the kind of thing that I’d make during a more inspired, awake, relaxed etc.. day. But, they are finished paintings. They are paintings that actually got made, despite obstacles and problems. And this is all due to choosing the right type of “easy” art to make, depending on the problem I was faced with.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Two Very Basic Tips For Making An E-Book Cover (With Examples)

2015 Artwork Simple ebook cover art article sketch

So, you’ve written something that you want to release as an e-book, but you’re not sure what to do when it comes to making the cover image.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume that you don’t have the time and/or money to hire a professional graphic designer (since you should always do this if you can, because you’ll end up with a much better cover).

I’m also going to assume that you have little to no artistic experience too.

However, you will need some extremely basic graphics editing knowledge. In other words, you will need to know how to do some very basic things in MS Paint – such as changing the background and text colour in a text box and copying other images.

(If you don’t know how to change the background colour of a text box in MS Paint – just create a text box, then right-click on one of the colours in the palette and the background will automatically change. To change the text colour itself, just left-click on one of the colours in the palette.)

Although the two very basic tips I’m going to give you won’t make an outstanding e-book cover, they’ll at least let you make a moderately good one that won’t automatically put people off of looking at your book.

1) Keep It Simple: This sounds obvious but, if in doubt, always err on the side of simplicity when designing your cover.

Not only is it easier to make good-looking simple cover art, but it’ll also look a lot more professional than badly-made, but ambitiously complex, cover art.

The most basic way to make a simple cover image is to just use large white text against a plain black background. Yes, this won’t stand out from the crowd, but it will still look clean and professional. Like this:

White text against a black background. (The font used in this example was one called "Riky Vampdator")

White text against a black background. (The font used in this example was one called “Riky Vampdator”)

Just be careful about which fonts you use in your cover, since some commonly-used fonts require you to pay royalties to the designers if you use them commercially (I’m not a lawyer, so do your own research here).

So, it’s probably a good idea to search the internet for fonts that are free for commercial use.

I found a lot of them fairly quickly when searching online. However, I should warn you that at least a few of them seem to be based on fonts that are used in copyrighted movie posters (and therefore may not actually be truly free for commercial use and/or might land you in legal trouble if you use them for your cover). So, be careful and always do some research about your fonts, so that you don’t make something like this:

Yes, the idea that this font is "free for commercial use" might sound like an offer you can't refuse, but....

Yes, the idea that this font is “free for commercial use” might sound like an offer you can’t refuse, but….

Most importantly, when choosing a free commercial font, be sure to go for a font that is still legible when viewed at a distance.

Although your actual cover image might be fairly large, you’ve got to remember that most people will probably only see a small thumbnail image of it on whatever e-book site you’re using to sell your book. As such, your font should still be readable at a fraction of it’s original size.

2) Public Domain Artwork: If you want to make your cover look a bit more artistic, then one of the best ways to do this without having to splash out on lots of stock images and/or royalty payments is to use artwork that is already in the public domain.

In other words, use old art whose copyright has expired (eg: in most countries, this usually means that the original artist died more than seventy years ago).

There is absolutely loads of this artwork on the internet and a good place to start looking for it would probably be Wikimedia Commons.

Wikimedia Commons is absolutely crammed with old public domain paintings, etchings etc.. that anyone can use in any way (even commercially).

And, with a little bit of editing in a program like MS Paint, you can make a fairly professional-looking book cover with these images – like in this example:

The image in this example  is "Messaline (entre deux figurantes)" By Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec

The image in this example is “Messaline (entre deux figurantes)” By Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec

However, unless you find a fairly obscure old painting, this will make your book cover look slightly generic. But, as a way of finding quick and free cover art, it’s probably one of your best options.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

What Is Your “Lazy” Artform?

2015  Artwork Lazy Artforms article sketch

Although this is an article about learning more about yourself as an artist, I’m going to have to talk about my own creative processes quite a bit. Don’t worry, it’s not quite as pretentious as it sounds and there’s a reason for it.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I started to worry that I was going to break my habit of making at least one piece of art daily.

I don’t know, it was just one of those days where I just didn’t get round to making any art for a whole bunch of stupid reasons. And, near the end of the day, I thought “I need to paint something“.

So, I sat down with my watercolour sketchbook and thought “what can I paint quickly?” and, it took me all of ten seconds to find the answer. And, less than half an hour later, I’d painted a random coastal landscape that I’ll post here tomorrow evening. In the meantime, here’s a preview of part of it:

"A Folly (Preview)" By C. A. Brown

“A Folly (Preview)” By C. A. Brown

The fact that I was able to produce this painting so easily and so quickly made me think about the whole idea of “lazy” artforms. These are types of art than an artist can pretty much produce in their sleep and require very little mental effort to produce.

I also started to wonder whether different artists had different types of “lazy” artforms and, more importantly what exactly makes these artforms so lazy?

I mean, for me, random natural landscapes (especially coasts) are surprisingly easy and relaxing to draw and paint. I just kind of sit back and start sketching and something that resembles a landscape just kind of emerges. There’s about a 70/30 chance that it’s actually going to look good too. It’s easy and it feels almost like I’m just putting myself on “autopilot”.

At least that’s how it feels to me – in truth, it’s probably the product of hundreds of hours of practice and learning over the past couple of years. It isn’t really an innate “talent” that I just “have”, it’s something I learnt.

But, the irony is that most of this landscape drawing practice wasn’t really particularly conscious. Most of the time, I learnt the skills I needed for painting landscapes just from painting and/or drawing countless backgrounds in other pictures.

So, when it comes to making a “lazy” picture, I think something like “I’ll just paint a background, without worrying about all of the complicated stuff in the foreground.

And, because I think about it that way – and because I’ve drawn and painted literally thousands of backgrounds in the past – I don’t even have to put much effort into it.

So, what’s the point of all of this?

Well, I think that the best kinds of “lazy” artforms are the ones that we practice a lot without even noticing it too much. They’re the kinds of things that turn up in so many of our pictures that we don’t really think about them too much – except when we’re feeling uninspired and need to draw or paint something.

And, well, it’s always fun when you actually notice one of these things because it reminds you of how much you’ve learnt and it can also be a great way to reassure yourself when you’re feeling uninspired.

After all, if you’ve briefly lost confidence in your artistic abilities, then making something that looks good effortlessly and quickly is the perfect way to remind yourself that you are an artist. I mean, who else but an artist could do something like that?


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂