First of all, if you’ve never heard the word “Lovecraftian” before, it simply refers to things in the horror genre that have been influenced by the fiction of an early-mid 20th century author called H.P.Lovecraft.
Although Lovecraft himself held some fairly terrible opinions, his influence on the horror genre is undoubtable and he pioneered a distinctive style of sci-fi influenced horror fiction that focuses more on things like atmosphere, implied horror, mysterious cosmic events beyond the comprehension of humanity, the limits and misuse of science, unreliable first-person narration etc…
However, since Lovecraft was a writer rather than an artist (although he did make this sketch), knowing how to translate Lovecraftian horror into art can be somewhat confusing for novice artists. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips.
1) Read the original stories: This is pretty obvious, but it’s important to take a look at the original source material in order to get a deeper understanding of what sets Lovecraftian horror apart from other genres of horror. Luckily, this isn’t as much of a time-consuming or costly task as you might think.
First of all, due to the state of the publishing industry at the time Lovecraft was writing, he mostly wrote short stories (in addition to one novella). Although some of his short stories contain an over-arching mythology and/or a few common features, they can be read in any order. As such, you also don’t need to read literally all of them if you don’t want to.
Likewise, all of Lovecraft’s works are out of copyright in both the UK and mainland Europe (since 2008). So, if you live here, you can legally read them all for free on the internet or find inexpensive “classics” reprints of them. However, if you live in America, then things are a bit more complicated.
From what I understand (and I’m not a copyright lawyer), any of Lovecraft’s stories that were published before 1923 are out of copyright in the US – in addition to several post-1923 stories whose copyright was not renewed properly under the system in place at the time.
But as easy as it is to get hold of the works of H.P.Lovecraft, it can take a while to used to his narrative style – which deliberately imitates the more formal, complicated and verbose styles of 19th century fiction. Even so, after you’ve read a few stories, you’ll probably get used to his slightly old-fashioned writing style.
2) Visual style: Generally speaking, most things that take visual influence from H.P.Lovecraft tend to have a few common visual features. These include things like gloomy lighting, old buildings, tentacles, slimy monsters, old books, bleak landscapes, rural and/or coastal locations etc…
Although Lovecraftian horror-themed artwork can include gruesome elements, these should be kept relatively subtle (eg: trickles of blood, bloodstains/ pools of blood etc..) and should focus more on blood than on gore. Still, if you are going to include gore in Lovecraftian horror artwork, then it must also have some other underlying element that makes it disturbing (eg: the gore itself shouldn’t be the main source of horror).
The general emotional tone that you want to go for in “proper” Lovecraftian horror artwork is one of gothic bleakness, infused with a foreboding sense of mystery. As such, your colour palettes should include things like muted browns/reds, cold blues and eerie greens.
Although Lovecraftian horror art has traditionally favoured a more realistic style, there’s certainly something to be said for fun, cartoonish art that uses the main features of this style. Not only is the juxtaposition of cartoonish art with “gloomy” horror inherently amusing, but there’s also a certain knowing geekiness to making Lovecraftian art in this style. Like in this upcoming painting of mine:
3) Add other stuff: One of the best and most creative ways to make Lovecraftian art is simply to blend it with another genre. For example, the picture I showed you earlier also includes elements from the film noir genre too.
Although blends of Lovecraft and film noir are quite common, Lovecraftian horror can be blended with pretty much any type of art. The only real limit is your own imagination and creativity. But, a good way to learn more about this is to see things that include some elements of Lovecraftian horror whilst also fitting into another genre.
For example, the movie “The Thing” includes some Lovecraftian elements (eg: unknown horrors, desolate arctic locations etc..) whilst also including relatively more modern-style science fiction and horror elements.
Likewise, the movie “Alien” is a blend of Lovecraftian-style horror (eg: mysterious alien civilisations, unearthly monsters etc..), futuristic science fiction and traditional gory horror. Then there’s “The Evil Dead” which blends ludicrously gruesome dark comedy and some vague elements from the zombie genre with more traditional style Lovecraftian horror.
In terms of games, the classic computer game “Quake” uses some vaguely Lovecraftian-style settings, monster designs etc… whilst avoiding the slow, implied, psychological horror of Lovecraft’s stories in favour of thrilling, fast-paced gory combat-based gameplay. Another good gaming-based example is “The Last Door” which adds some surrealist and Edgar Allen Poe-style elements (in addition to a few modern-style jump scares) and 1980s/90s-style pixel art to it’s Lovecraft-influenced story.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂