Three Tips For Making Art Set In Late 1980s/ Early-Mid 1990s America

Although I’ve never actually been to America, I’m absolutely fascinated by late 1980s and early-mid 1990s America (I’m going to define this time period as 1987-1996, even though 1988-1995 would probably be a better definition). From everything that I’ve seen and read about it, it seems like a really fascinating period of history in cultural terms.

Naturally, it’s also a setting that I’ve used in several paintings and one comic. But, it took me a while to work out how to make art that is set in this time and place. Although I’ve already shown off the line art for this painting, here’s a reduced size preview of a painting that I made that is set in this location/time:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 29th December.

So, I thought that I’d share a few tips for how to make art set in late 1980s/ early-mid 1990s America:

1) Research materials: One of the best ways to get a sense of what this time period was like is to watch and listen to as many things from back then as possible. Whilst you obviously shouldn’t directly copy anything from them, they can be incredibly useful if you know how to take inspiration properly.

Unfortunately, every TV show, film, album etc.. from that time period is still copyrighted. But, due to their age, second-hand copies of things from this time period can usually be found fairly cheaply. But, if you don’t have a large budget or you just want a quick general sense of the aesthetic of the time, then do a few image searches about the time period (but, of course, remember not to directly copy any of the images you see in your art). Likewise, check out this uncannily modern-looking HD footage of New York in 1993.

In terms of films and TV shows, I’d recommend checking out any of the following: “Twin Peaks” (Seasons 1&2), “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman” (Seasons 1&2 ), “The X-Files” (Seasons 1-3), “The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air” (Seasons 1-6), “The Simpsons” (Seasons 1-7), “Drop Dead Fred”, “Gremlins 2: The New Batch”, “Heathers”, “Trancers”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Tremors” and “Robocop 1-3”.

In terms of albums, I’d recommend any of the following: “Stranger Than Fiction” by Bad Religion (punk), “Smash” by The Offspring (punk), “Metallica” by Metallica (thrash metal), “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A (rap), “Days Of Open Hand” by Suzanne Vega (acoustic), and literally anything by Nirvana (grunge).

2) Fashions: From my (relatively limited) research, American fashion in this time period was kind of like a slightly stranger and/or mildly more formal version of modern fashion.

Generally, it tends to include things like trench coats/ biker jackets, plaid shirts, floral dresses, boxy sunglasses, sweaters worn like belts, white T-shirts paired with jeans, sleeveless dresses layered over T-shirts, longer sweaters with belts, pencil skirts, garish tracksuits etc…

Likewise, American goth fashions of the time tended to be a lot more understated (eg: black T-shirts, leather trench coats etc..) when compared to 1980s Britain (eg: large hairdos, fishnets etc..). American punk fashions of the early-mid 1990s were also fairly understated (eg: T-shirts, jeans etc..) when compared to traditional British punk fashion (eg: mohawks, safety pins etc..). Heavy metal fashion, on the other hand, is pretty much timeless.

This was also the age of grunge fashion, 1980s middle America and the whole “no logo” trend. So, there tended to be a preference for clothes without obvious branding back then. But, saying that, I’ve learnt most of what I know about the history of American fashion in this time period from looking at films and TV shows (where for advertising/copyright reasons, obvious branding was often avoided if it wasn’t part of a product placement deal).

3) Location design: Although many places in late 1980s/early-mid 1990s America probably looked fairly “ordinary”, locations in media from the time often tended to look interesting in all sorts of cool ways.

For example, offices tended to have much more of an art deco kind of look to them (eg: lots of marble, minimalist office furniture, abstract art etc..). Likewise, cosy wooden buildings tended to be a lot more popular too. Likewise, city streets often tended to have more of a “film noir” kind of look to them too.

Another way to make a location in a painting or a comic from this time period look more “historical” is simply to include technology from the time. Technology back then tended to be a lot bulkier than it is now – so, include things like CRT televisions/computer monitors, boomboxes, floppy disks, audio cassettes etc…


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂


Four Ways To De-Mystify Making Art (If You’re An Absolute Beginner)


If you’re thinking about learning how to draw and/or paint, then it can be easy to feel intimidated or confused. From what I can remember of my more inexperienced days, even many “how to draw” books often seemed confusing or intimidatingly complicated in one way or another.

So, I thought that I’d look at a few ways that you can “de-mystify” making art.

1) You don’t need “talent”: If you’re totally new to making art, it can be easy to look at pictures by other artists and think that they were born “talented” and that you have no hope of ever being even a fraction as good as they are. This is nonsense!

Every artist, even the “talented” ones, has been where you are right now. Every artist was confused. Every artist produced clumsy-looking early artwork. Every artist tried new things and failed a few times before getting it right. Every artist thought that they’d never be as good as another artist.

When you see a great picture by a “talented” artist, you probably aren’t seeing the literal thousands of practice drawings etc… it took for them to get to the point where they could make amazing-looking art. In other words, literally every artist starts out as a beginner. So, don’t feel bad about it.

2) Just do it (even if it doesn’t look good): The only way that you’re going to gain artistic confidence and get better at making art is to practice regularly. Even if you’re totally inexperienced, start out with something manageable (eg: one small and simple drawing every day or every week or something like that) and just keep going.

The thing to remember here is that, it doesn’t matter how good or bad your practice artwork is as long as you actually make it. Yes, even if you make a terrible-looking piece of art (or a few of them), then you’ve still “won” because you’ve kept up with your practice schedule. Why is this important? Well….

Even if you don’t study any artistic theory, regular practice is still a good place to start for the simple reason that it gets you used to the idea of making art. In other words, it turns making art from “something fascinating that other people do” into something “ordinary” that you do. This will help to build your artistic confidence. It’ll mean that when you eventually look at some drawing guides/painting guides, you’ll be approaching them on slightly more equal terms and will be less likely to feel confused or intimidated by them.

Plus, if you keep making art regularly, then you’re going to have a wonderful moment (maybe several months or even over a year later) when you suddenly notice that a “terrible” picture you made today actually looks better than a “good” picture that you made shortly after you first began practicing regularly. This is a sign that you’re improving.

Likewise, getting into the mindset of making art regularly (regardless of quality) will help you out when you feel “uninspired” too. Even if you produce a terrible-looking picture (or even a copy of one of your earlier pictures) when you aren’t feeling inspired, then you’ll have still made something. Doing this enough times will help to make you feel less afraid of being uninspired and it will mean that uninspiration will have less of an effect on you.

3) Use cheap materials: If you’re new to making art, it can be easy to think that you need lots of fancy art supplies. You don’t. In fact, it’s often best to go for art supplies that are cheap and easy to use. Personally, I’d recommend starting with simple pen and pencil drawing (or pen and coloured pencil or something like that). Even if you move on to other art mediums later, then it’s a good way to learn some of the basics.

The advantage to using cheap, simple materials is that there’s no excuse for procrastination (eg:”I need to set up a studio before I can start practicing” etc..). Likewise, it helps you to see making art as more of an “ordinary” thing (which may make it seem slightly boring sometimes, but it’ll also make you feel more confident). Plus, you don’t have to worry too much about wasting your art supplies if you’re making art regularly, which means that you might be more willing to experiment with different techniques.

4) How to use drawing guides: Books and online guides about making art can be incredibly useful, if you know what you’re doing (and have built up some confidence from regular practice). The thing to remember with any kind of drawing guide is that it’s just that, a guide. It isn’t an edict, an order or a law, it’s just a series of suggestions.

So practice the things that actually make sense to you. If something doesn’t make sense to you, then either come back when it does or keep practicing other things until you find a better guide that teaches you how to do the thing that you want to learn how to do.

Likewise, the example pictures given in a guide book are there for you to copy (privately and for educational purposes, of course). In fact, the only way that they will teach you anything is if you try to copy them (by sight) yourself.

Yes, you can’t call the copies your own work or post them online, but – if you happen to learn a new technique (eg: a sudden “aha!” moment, where you suddenly realise how the artist did something) whilst copying – then you can use this technique in new ways in your own original artwork.

Likewise, just because a guide shows you how to draw something in a particular style, it doesn’t mean that you have to use that style in your own art. Instead, look for any parts of the style that appeal to you (eg: the way that the artist draws eyes, the way that they use shading etc..) and then add those techniques to your own original art. If you do this with enough different types of art, then you’ll have the beginnings of your own unique art style. This is how most artists develop their own style.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Ways To Make Art That You Consider To Be Cool


Although I might possibly have written about this topic before, I thought that I’d look at how to make art that you consider to be “cool”. Even though this may seem like an absolute no-brainer, making cool pieces of original art and coming up with an art style that you consider to be cool can be a bit more challenging than it might sound.

I mean, although I’ve been practicing art regularly for about about 4-5 years, it was only within the past year or two that I finally settled on a version of my own art style that I consider to be really cool. To show you what I mean, here are a few of my paintings in different genres:

"Connection" By C. A. Brown

“Connection” By C. A. Brown

"Fan Art - Ghost Dance - Celebrate 1986 (III)" By C. A. Brown

“Fan Art – Ghost Dance – Celebrate 1986 (III)” By C. A. Brown

"Skeleton Catacomb" By C. A. Brown

“Skeleton Catacomb” By C. A. Brown

So, how can you make the kind of art that makes you think “Wow! That looks really cool!

1) Commonality: Chances are, there are probably lots of different things that you consider to be cool (eg: movies, games, comics etc..). If you want to make art that is as cool as all of these things, then you need to take a careful look at your inspirations and see what they all have in common with each other. Once you’ve found this, then you can use it to create cool original artwork.

To give you an example, some of the things that I consider to be cool are the cyberpunk genre, heavy metal album covers, film noir, gothic comics, the classic “Doom” games, sci-fi horror movies, vintage 1950s horror comics, 1980s horror novel covers etc..

One of the visual features that all of these things have in common is their attitude towards lighting. Often, they’ll be set at night or in gloomier locations in order to make the lighting stand out a lot more, or they’ll use bold colours contrasted against a dark backdrop. From this, I was able to refine my frequently-mentioned rule of “30-50% of each painting should be consist of black paint” which helped to make my artwork look cooler.

So, look at the things that you consider cool and see if they share any common “rules” with each other. Once you’ve found those rules, then apply them to your own art.

2) Inspirations: Often, if you really want to make “cool” art but don’t know how, then this means that you don’t have enough inspirations yet. Even if you don’t have a large budget for comics, games, DVDs etc… then you can still find lots of visual inspirations right now by doing a general image search for the types of things that you consider to be cool.

For example, if you absolutely adore the retro-futuristic look of a classic movie like “Blade Runner“, then don’t just do an image search for “Blade Runner”. Instead, use a slightly wider search term like “sci-fi film noir”, “1980s cyberpunk” etc…

One of the benefits of doing a more general image search is that, because you’ll be confronted with literally hundreds of totally different “cool” images, you won’t be disproportionately influenced by any one image. Just remember the difference between inspiration and plagiarism though.

Generally, the more inspirations you have, the more distinctive, original and cool your artwork will look. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true.

If you only have a couple of inspirations, then your artwork is probably just going to be a thinly-disguised copy of those things. But, if you have lots of inspirations, then your artwork probably won’t be a copy of any one thing. It’s kind of like the difference between repeating sentences from a phrasebook and learning a language.

3) Practice and study: This almost goes without saying, but you actually need to practice if you want to make cool art. Likewise, whenever you see something cool, you need to take a close look at it and work out how and why it looks cool.

Look at the techniques that the artist used (and experiment with them), look at the colour combinations that are common (and experiment with them) etc… I’m sure that you get the idea.

Going from making art that you think is “ok” to making art that you think is cool isn’t something that happens instantly. It takes practice, study and experimentation. Yes, this sounds boring – but it also means that you’ll get to look at lots of cool stuff and to regularly make art that will slowly become cooler and cooler as time progresses. So, enjoy it 🙂


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Things To Remember When Watching Time-Lapse Art Videos (If You’re Learning)


One of the cool things about the internet is that there are literally thousands of videos of artists making art on there. Usually, these are time-lapse videos which show an artist making a one to (however many) hour drawing or painting within the space of about five minutes. They’re absolutely fascinating to watch.

Although I’ve never made of these time-lapse videos myself (the closest thing has been a few basic drawing guide animations, like this one, that I made in 2014), I’ve been practicing making art daily for the past few years. So, I’d like to think that I have a bit of background knowledge.

But, if you’re trying to learn how to make art, then here are a few things that you need to remember when watching these videos.

1) They don’t usually show preparation: Most of the art videos that I’ve seen on sites like Youtube have focused on the actual act of drawing with ink and/or painting. After all, if you’re making a five-minute time-lapse video, then it makes sense to only focus on the most impressive-looking part of the whole process.

What you probably aren’t going to see is the process of making a pencil sketch (and/or basic preparatory sketches). It’s a basic thing, but it is something that every artist should do before they start using paint or ink. In fact, thanks to the lighting in some Youtube videos, the artist’s underlying pencil sketch can be rendered almost invisible. But, if any artist is creating an intricate, detailed or complex ink drawing and/or painting, then there’s almost certainly a sketch involved somewhere.

Likewise, the videos don’t often show other parts of the process – such as thinking of what you’re actually going to paint and/or draw. Looking at reference images to work out how to draw something you’ve never drawn before etc…

Basically, time lapse videos often only show one part of the whole process. So, don’t think that you can make good art without doing any preparation first.

2) They don’t show practice: It can be easy to feel intimidated if you watch sped-up footage of an expert artist creating a masterpiece in about five minutes. What you don’t see is the many years of practice, experimentation with different materials etc…. that they’ve done before they made that video. And, yes, I mean many.

For example, I’ve been practicing making art daily for about 4-5 years and I still consider myself to be intermediate at best. But, this isn’t meant to discourage you. In those 4-5 years, I’ve gone from making fairly basic art that looks like this:

"Attic Lab" By C. A. Brown [10th June 2012]

“Attic Lab” By C. A. Brown
[10th June 2012]

To making art that looks more like this:

"Data Transfer" By C. A. Brown

“Data Transfer” By C. A. Brown

So, yes, although the artists you see in online videos might make painting or drawing look easy, they rarely show the sheer amount of practice and experimentation that has gone into getting that good at making art. Those amazing art videos you can find on the internet will show you what you can look forward to after several years of practice. So, don’t feel intimidated or discouraged.

3) Look for techniques: Although you can learn a lot from copying other works of art, doing this won’t teach you much if you just copy them without thinking about the techniques that the artist has used (and finding ways to use those techniques in new and original works of art).

Learning techniques from lots of different artists and working out how to use those techniques in your own original artwork is how you build up your own unique art style.

For example, my own art style includes things like techniques I remembered from cartoons I watched when I was much younger, a few things I’ve learnt from anime/manga, something I learnt from the lyrics booklet of a punk album, things I’ve learnt from instruction books, a colour scheme that I picked up from this set of “Doom II” levels etc…

So, when watching a time-lapse video on the internet, pay close attention to the techniques that the artist is using. Do they have a particular way of painting light and shadows? Do they often use particular colour combinations? Do they draw people in a particular way? etc.. Ask yourself questions like this and, when you’ve found the answers, try to work out how they do this.

Once you’ve worked out how to use the techniques that you’ve seen, then practice making new and original artwork with them.

4) Ignore any branding: When you’re watching an art video, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you “must” have one brand of markers, one brand of paints etc.. if you want to make art that looks good.

Instead, focus on the general type of art supplies that the artist uses. Do they use watercolour paints, alcohol-based markers, India ink, oil pastels, rollerball pens, digital tools etc..? Once you’ve found the general type, then buy an inexpensive no-brand version of it and experiment.

As a side note, if you’re interested in using digital tools, then the digital equivalents to inexpensive art supplies are probably free, non-commercial, open-source graphics programs like GIMP [GNU Image Manipulation Program] (these have the same basic features that a lot of commercial programs do, and are probably good to practice with).

If you go straight for the fancy, expensive branded art supplies that you’ve seen on the internet then not only will you feel nervous about using them (since they cost so much and can’t be wasted), but you’re also setting yourself up for disappointment too. On their own, expensive art supplies can only make a piece of art look mildly better at most – the real reason why a painting or drawing looks so good is because of the skill of the artist. Skill that can only be gained through lots of practice and experimentation.

So, find out what general type of art supplies are featured in the video. Buy some cheap, no-brand versions of them that you won’t think twice about using – and then practice! Then practice some more! If you do this, you’re more likely to end up eventually making the kind of cool art that you’ve seen online than you are if you go straight for the expensive stuff (with the delusion that it will instantly make you better at making art).


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Random Techniques That Will Make Your Art Look Cooler


Whilst there is no substitute for regular art practice, there are a number of simple artistic techniques that I wish that I’d learnt a lot earlier than I did. I’ve probably mentioned this stuff before, but it’s probably worth repeating nontheless.

So, here are some techniques that will make your art look cooler.

1) Cylindrical surfaces and neon lights: Interestingly, the same technique that can allow you to make cylindrical objects look 3D can also be used to create realistic-looking neon lights and/or strip lights.

The technique is, of couse, simply to make the areas around the edges of a long, thin area darker than the middle. If you want to make something look cylindrical, then make the middle part a lighter shade of the same colours you’ve used for the edges. If you want to make something look luminescent, then either leave the middle part blank or make it significantly lighter than the edges.

Here’s a quick MS Paint diagram to show you what I mean:



Here is an example of the technique in action (albeit with some extra lighting added to the surrounding areas too):

As you can see, the middle part of both flourescent light tubes are either left blank or are a significantly lighter shade of the colour around the edges of the tube.

As you can see, the middle part of both flourescent light tubes are either left blank or are a significantly lighter shade of the colour around the edges of the tube.

2) High-contrast art: I’ve mentioned this before, but one way to make your art look significantly more vivid and dramatic is to ensure that at least 30-50% of the total area of the painting or drawing is covered with black paint or black ink. This makes all of the colours in your artwork look bolder and more vivid by comparison, as well as giving your artwork a gloomy 1980s/90s style “look” too.

Whilst this effect can be improved through digital editing techniques (such as altering the brightness/contrast levels in an image), one sneaky way to use this effect without being too obvious about it is to add black “letterboxing” bars to the top and bottom of your painting. This also has the effect of making it look like a frame from a film too.

Here’s an example of the technique in action. In addition to my usual digital editing, I’ve also added a sepia filter to the original painting to make the contrast between the light and dark areas of the painting stand out more:

This is a sepia-tinted version of one of my paintings. As you can see, the painting is about 50-70% sepia and 30-50% black.

This is a sepia-tinted version of one of my paintings. As you can see, the painting is about 50-70% sepia and 30-50% black.

3) Wall tiles: One of the easiest ways to give a painting or a drawing a cool retro-futuristic look is to use tiled walls. Yes, these can be a little bit time consuming to draw, but there are a couple of simple tile designs that will give your picture more of an atmospheric look.

Here’s a simple diagram that I made in MS Paint that will show you how to draw two of my favourite wall tile designs:




Sorry for the short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Three More Tips For Making Better Paintings When You’re Extremely Tired


The night before writing this article, I was extremely tired. I’d been awake for almost 24 hours and, at about 1am, I realised that I needed to make a daily painting.

But, unlike my usual “tired paintings” (that often look like something that I made 6-12 months ago), this digitally-edited painting only looked like something that I’d made 2-3 months ago. Here’s a reduced-size preview of it:

 The full-size painting will be posted here on the 20th September.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 20th September.

So, how can you make better paintings when you are extremely tired? Here are a few tips:

1) Focus on the scenery: If you look at the preview painting that I showed you, you’ll see that it mostly consists of… well… scenery. Sure, there are a couple of people in it but, they’re standing in the distance and/or are drawn in a slightly undetailed way. The main focus of the painting is on the giant city that they are standing in.

Now, compare it to this preview of a quick “minimalist” painting that I made on the day when my all-nighter began, when I was considerably more awake:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 19th September.

As you can see, the painting that I made when I was awake features a lot more character detail. The person sitting on the chair is shown in detailed close-up, rather than hidden slightly in the distance. But, why didn’t I do this in the “tired” painting and why shouldn’t you?

Simply put, people are more difficult to draw well than angular buildings, natural landscapes etc… are. A lot more complex thought has to go into character designs – including everything from their pose to their clothes, hairstyles, expressions etc… And, if you’re tired, than you need to conserve that mental energy.

So, you can make much more impressive-looking paintings when you’re extremely tired if you mostly focus on painting the scenery. Sure, you can do things like adding a few undetailed people to the background but, for the most part, you’ll make much better “tired” paintings if you focus more on buildings and scenery than on painting people.

2) Have an inspiration right in front of you: First of all, if you’re making a painting when you’re extremely tired, then you should make it in a genre that you really love and, more importantly, a genre of art which you’ve already practiced a lot.

For me, this genre is the cyberpunk genre. This is a genre that almost always inspires me in some way, and it’s a genre that has had a huge influence on my art. Your own “inspirational genre” may be different though.

But, when you’ve found the genre that inspires you a lot – find a DVD, internet video, piece of music etc… from that genre and put it on in the background when you are painting.

No, you shouldn’t directly copy any of it (although taking inspiration is perfectly fine), but having something from your favourite genre directly in front of you can help to get you in the mood for making art. It’s a way to increase what limited motivation you’ll have when you’re extremely tired.

For example, when painting the picture at the beginning of the article, I re-watched two and a half episodes of “Ghost In The Shell: SAC 2nd Gig“. This made me remember the highly-inspired cyberpunk art that I made when I watched this TV series for the first time (which helped me to feel motivated). Likewise, the futuristic cityscapes shown in the TV show helped to put me in more of a “cyberpunk” kind of mood.

Yes, the actual painting itself was more heavily inspired by other things in the cyberpunk genre (Blade Runner” and “Technobabylon” spring to mind for starters…). But, I was able to work up the enthusiasm to make it by watching something else from the same genre. So, yes, having an inspiration directly in front of you can be a useful thing when you’re extremely tired.

3) Use every trick in the book: Finally, if you want to make good-looking art when you’re tired, then you’ll have to be sneaky. You need to use every piece of art-based trickery in your repertoire to give the illusion that your painting is more detailed than it actually is. If you’ve practiced enough, this sort of thing should be second-nature to you.

There are too many tricks to list here but, to give you an example, here’s a reduced-size version of my “tired” painting that highlights all of the detail in the painting:

 All areas featuring artistic detail have been highlighted green.

All areas featuring artistic detail have been highlighted green.

If you compared the number of green pixels to the number of black pixels in this picture, it would probably only be something like 30-40% green and 50-70% black. In other words, through careful use of composition and lighting, I was able to make a better painting when I was extremely tired by only adding detail to less than half of the painting.

Likewise, here’s a close-up detail of one of the background details in the painting, from a version of the painting that doesn’t include any rain. For the sake of clarity, I’ve also digitally removed all of the colours from this close-up:

This is a close-up of a greyscale background detail from a version of the painting that doesn't include any rain. As you can see, most of the buildings are just simple shapes and/or random scribbles.

This is a close-up of a greyscale background detail from a version of the painting that doesn’t include any rain. As you can see, most of the buildings are just simple shapes and/or random scribbles.

Although distant objects in paintings are meant to look less detailed, this looks extremely undetailed (and more like a rough doodle than anything else). Yet, thanks to both the vivid colour scheme that I used and the rain that I digitally added to the background after scanning the painting, it looks a bit more detailed in the final painting:

This is the same area in the final painting. The lighting, colours and digitally-added rain make it look slightly more detailed.

This is the same area in the final painting. The lighting, colours and digitally-added rain make it look slightly more detailed.

So, yes, if you’re making a painting when you’re extremely tired, then be sure to use every sneaky artistic trick that you know.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Four Ghoulish Tips For Making 1980s-Inspired Horror Artwork


Although the 1990s were probably cooler, if there’s one thing to be said for the 1980s, it’s that the horror genre looked way cooler back then!

Not only were splatterpunk horror novels and video nasties at the peak of their popularity, but the art associated with these things was much cooler. Seriously, this was a decade where heavy metal albums were more likely to feature hyper-detailed paintings on the cover than mere photographs or anything like that.

The 1980s was probably the last truly pre-CGI / pre-digital art decade and this meant that, if people wanted interesting illustrations for their horror novel covers, low-budget VHS covers, heavy metal album covers etc… they often had to use actual illustrations.

So, how can you make art in this style? Here are a few tips:

1) Use your own style: This might sound a bit counter-intuitive but, if you’ve already developed your own art style, then use it! Yes, it probably won’t look exactly like “authentic” 1980s horror artwork (especially if your style is very cartoonish, like mine) but it will make your art look distinctive and unique.

Not only that, using your own art style adds a certain knowing tone to the artwork. It shows that your painting or drawing is something made by a fan of 1980s-inspired horror artwork for fans of 1980s-inspired horror artwork. It allows you to tip your hat to the things that have inspired you, whilst also acknowledging that your artwork was made in the present day.

For example, this reduced-size preview of one of my upcoming paintings is extremely cartoonish. It features adorable stylised monsters, exaggerated 1980s fashions and only a tiny amount of blood. And yet, hopefully, it still makes you think of the horror genre in the 1980s:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 17th September.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 17th September.

Plus, as cynical as it sounds, using your own style also allows you to get on with making 1980s-style horror artwork art straight away. One of the distinctive things about horror-themed artwork from the 1980s was that it was incredibly realistic. It sometimes had a similar level of realism and technical quality to many famous historical paintings. In other words, it’s the sort of thing that takes years of formal training and/or decades of practice to make.

So, even just for simple practical reasons, use your own art style.

2) Do your research: If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably got the internet. So, as long as you’re reading this at home (and not at work, at school etc..) and aren’t easily disturbed by grotesque imagery, open up a search engine and do an image search for “1980s horror novel covers” or “1980s horror VHS covers”.

Now look at the hundreds of images and see what they have in common with each other. Once you’ve worked this out, then try to find a way to incorporate these general themes into your own 1980s-style horror artwork.

If you can’t do the research, then common themes include: visual contrast, visual storytelling, gruesome monsters, clever use of lighting, a slight degree of minimalism, understated gory imagery (since, with blood and guts, less is often more) etc….

In fact, now that you have this list, you already know all of the important stuff. But, I’ll spend the rest of the article going into detail about the first two things on the list, because they’re especially important.

3) Visual storytelling: Whether it was a novel cover, a VHS cover or an album cover, horror-themed artwork from the 1980s was attention-grabbing. This was mostly done through the use of visual storytelling.

In other words, things were happening in these pictures. Monsters lurched towards screaming bystanders, creatures lurked ominously, skeletons glared at the reader with hollow eyes, axes were brandished menacingly etc…..

Horror artwork from the 1980s had an immediacy and an impact that modern horror artwork sometimes doesn’t, for the simple reason that it was closer in style to a panel from a comic book or a frame from a horror movie. In other words, it often looked like a single moment from a much larger story. And, if you can add some action to your artwork, then it will instantly look more like something from the 80s.

For example, here’s another reduced-size art preview (that regular readers might recognise). Even though this digitally-edited painting uses my cartoonish style and is clearly set in the present day, it still evokes the horror art of the 1980s through the fact that it includes some visual storytelling – namely, a razorblade-wielding zombie lunging towards a terrified traveller:

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 16th September.

The full-size painting will be posted here on the 16th September.

4) Visual contrast: Another great thing about old 1980s horror artwork is that it made expert use of visual contrast. In other words, the important parts of the picture “stood out” a lot more because they were contrasted with a dark background.

In fact, many horror novel covers from the 1980s just use a solid black background, in order to make the rest of the artwork look brighter and more vivid by comparison.

If you look closely at the two preview pictures that I included earlier in the article, you’ll see that each painting consists of at least 30-50% black paint. As well as being a good general rule to follow for making cool-looking art, this also makes everything else in the picture stand out a lot more, whilst also giving the paintings a rather gloomy and ominous atmosphere.

So, if you want to give your horror artwork more of an ’80s look, then add some darkness!


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂