ANSWERED: How Do I Make My Illustrations Look Retro?

"Everything old is new again." For the past few years, retro styled illustrations (and furniture and typography and clothing and and and...) have been trendy, making that adage spot on. But what makes an illustration look retro?? Is it the simplicity? Well, not exactly, because there are plenty of simple line illustrations out there that don't have that sentimental feel. This sentimental feeling I'm talking about had puzzled me for awhile because I couldn't put into words how to recreate that emotion—until now! I spent the past week researching illustrators that have perfected this style and reading articles about the limitations these illustrators had and how they brilliantly worked within them. So let's dive in to some simple bullet points that make retro-inspired art easier to put your finger on!

  • According to www.productivedreams.com: "Limited use of colors is the prominent trait of retro designs. Full color printing was very expensive in the past. This prompted many designers to limit the use of colors in their designs. Two toned coloring was predominantly used by retro designers. Sometimes designers selected a focal color and blended it with few selected colors to create a unique theme.
  By Aurelius Battaglia

By Aurelius Battaglia

  By Cliff Roberts

By Cliff Roberts

  By Bernice Myers

By Bernice Myers


  • Subtle use of textures and noise in the background and certain individual elements in the illustration helps in creating a visually appealing retro design.
    • Distressed textures
    • Halftone textures
    • Dry brush textures
  By Greg Paprocki

By Greg Paprocki

  By Frans de Keuning

By Frans de Keuning


  • Overprinting refers to the process of printing one color on top of another in reprographics. (Thank you Wikipedia). Have you ever noticed that the spots of color often don't line up with what they're supposed to? It's like the paper shifted during printing (which is I'm sure what happened).  See the image below and really pay attention to the witch's hair, the green skin, and the socks! You can easily recreate this in your pieces just by being loose and carefree with your coloring!
  Couldn't find who the illustrator was!

Couldn't find who the illustrator was!


  • Retro style illustrations are very simple. Eyes are usually very small: just filled in circles, open circles with filled in pupils or arches up or down to show happiness, snootiness or sleeping. Chins, mouths and noses are the facial aspects that are exaggerated.
  By Cliff Roberts

By Cliff Roberts

  By Fiep Westendorp

By Fiep Westendorp


  • Common elements that add playfulness to retro style illustrations are:
    • Asterisk stars
    • North star type stars
    • Dots 
    • Hollow ovals
    • Arrows
    • What I like to call "Boomerang" shapes (See in Derek Yaniger's image)
  By Derek Yaniger

By Derek Yaniger

  By Cynthia Amrine

By Cynthia Amrine

  By Lalalimola

By Lalalimola

  • Some things outlined loosely, some not outlined at all. (See that the petals in the flowers are not outlined at all while everything else is in a shaky, inconsistent line in the following image).
  • Very flat, 2D

  By Cliff Roberts

By Cliff Roberts

  • Fingers that look like there are no bones in them.

  • Hair is treated as a solid shape or showing every strand.
  By Abner Graboff

By Abner Graboff


  • Limbs are exaggerated with pointy or very curved corners.
  By Derek Yaniger

By Derek Yaniger

  By Jan Balet

By Jan Balet

That about does it for tips I found to master the retro style of illustration! I hope that this was helpful and that it only makes your love and appreciation for all different styles of art grow! 

xoxo
-Kelsey

Daily Halloween Drop Caps — #halphaween

Nothing like a Throwback Thursday! As a few of you know, I love Halloween a lot... maybe too much. And to celebrate that glorious holiday and make the feeling last as long as possible, I create a Halloween inspired doodle every day for the month of October. I've been doing that for 3 years now! I gotta say that this year's theme was my favorite. My personality was really jam-packed into everyone of these illustrations and I just had a blast making these. The theme this year was a daily drop cap with vintage inspired illustrations to go along with them—I called it Halphaween. It was so fun to see which ones were people's favorites. It definitely surprised me. The top favorite was the letter M for Mummy! Second place went to N for Nightmare and third place went to R for Raven. The least favorite was C for Cat. (And I thought the internet was made for cats, shrug!). 
On Sundays, I took a break from the drop caps and created signs that I liked to imagine you would see back when things were simpler and you had to walk for miles around your neighborhood to get the right amount of candy! None of this trunk or treat mumbo jumbo. These took a lot more time and I wanted to pack them full of detail which also made laying everything out a fun challenge.
Thanks again to everyone that left feedback and stuck with it for the entire 31 days! You guys make it all worth it! xoxo

Style? FOUND.

Three years ago (what, that's so long ago, I'm so old) I wrote about "Finding Your Style as a Designer." While I don't think I'll ever be 100% committed to one style, I have found one that speaks to me, one that I'm naturally drawn to and one that makes me proud to look at once the piece is all done. This alone is a landmark for me. It has been like living with writer's block since high school art class. But not anymore!

The style consists of loose, thin, black inked outlines, free and haphazard brush strokes and a subtle dry brush texture to bring out the shadows. If this style were to have a message it would be, "Hey, forget about staying in the lines so much."

This style of painting paired with my love of typography and hand-lettering is producing some great results. I'm just over the moon about this recent success! If any of you are like me and have struggled for years trying to find your individual artistic voice, I hope you find some comfort in the fact that I get you. I soooooo get you. All I can suggest is to keep sketching daily. And keep looking at other artists and deciding what speaks to you from their styles and why. 

 

#31daysofhalloween

Halloween is one of my top holidays. I love the colors, the creatures, the stories, the CANDY, the pranks, the chili cook-offs, the memories, I could go on and on. To help spread the Halloween spirit, I decided to create a Halloween doodle every day and post it on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. It was a happy coincidence that #inktober was going on at the same time. I got really great positive feedback and it was just so fun to do this, I hope you enjoy! 


Lovin' Me Some Layers

We're in the midst of autumn, ladies and gents and with that I've been pondering a lot on layers. Yes, I know that was quite possibly the lamest thing you've ever heard me say, but hear me out. Layers are a staple of fall fashion—a plaid collared shirt under a chunky sweater, so just the collar and parts of the sleeves are poking out all under an amazing leather jacket. Or maybe awesome lace looking tights under thick boot socks which are under some awesome boots! LAYERZZZ!! Ok, I digress, but see how important layers are for fashion? They're just as important for graphic design—and not just the Photoshop kind of layers (that's the type of joke my dad would make.... what have I become).  

So what exactly do I mean by layers? Obviously you can't just sandwich a bunch of elements together and call it good. There has to be a happy medium. You can't have too many layers because then it becomes chaos and unpleasing to the eye. Especially if your layers are textured. So keep that in mind. When I say "layers", I mean, different shapes, flourishes, a small amount of textures, etc. all intermingling together, with some well placed overlapping. This is why retro logos are so successful: because they're fun to look at! (See the "Go Retro with your Logo" blog article I wrote ). We as human beings like to be rewarded for looking at something. I believe layers do that. Layers entertain the eyes. Layers are also what set apart the good scrapbookers from the bad ones. Little details that add dimension and charm to a scrapbooking piece or graphic design piece or fashion piece! That is where the reward is for 'dem ol' eyeballs.

If you're ever faced with a new graphic design project, consider what icons, shapes, curly Q's, and whatever else you can work into it during the brainstorming stages to make it a success. 

Here is a logo I've been working on for a local fraternity. They wanted a lot of information packed into one logo so what did I do? I layered. :) With the ribbon across the front for the fraternity's name with a second, smaller ribbon on top of that for "Kappa Psi" , all resting on top of the badge shape. It's fun to work in shadows into the logo too, which I did here. I didn't just pick "Drop Shadow" in Illustrator, I made it have a line texture which looks more legit (in my humble opinion). Using that solution also was a great way to mimic the line texture I used in the mountains to keep the whole logo cohesive. An example of little extras/details I slipped in there was the herb/plant element in the bottom—it also serves as a sort of foundation to ground all the elements. The grinding bowl was a small but powerful way to show (instead of just tell) that this fraternity was a pharmaceutical fraternity. The frat loved it and my next step is adding some color to it! Look for it on my "logos" page in the next week! It's all in the details peeps!

That's all for now! Thanks for reading! 

Macro-Managing

There aren't a lot of things that drive me more insane than being micro-managed. Not only does it prove that my employer doesn't trust me but it also proves that they don't trust themselves. They don't trust themselves to hire trustworthy people. (Do you feel like we just entered Inception too?) A while ago I was working for a company where the higher-ups didn't trust anybody that was below them on the corporate ladder. The first few months I worked there I noticed that my cube neighbor would spy on me. And once a day she'd ask what I was doing. Was she my boss? Not even close. Was she actually below me in the corporate ladder? Why yes indeed. But after a few months, she and I became friends and she confessed to the fact that my boss asked her to spy on me. (WHA???) I had done nothing to deserve so much mistrust - it was just the atmosphere of the whole place. Bless its heart.

I'm currently working for a company that I totally adore. Everyone just does their job and if they decide to get on Facebook or Youtube for a second, no body gets in trouble or is judged. You know why? Because we get our work done. Period. And as much as some employers like to deny it, there are down times. Whoever decided that every job in the U.S. could fill up 40 hours a week was on something. Sometimes you need to take a 3-5 min. break for your mental health and there shouldn't be anything wrong with it if you get your work done! 

Because my bosses trust me, I trust them. I haven't been at this job for very long and I know I've already improved not only in graphic design but in illustrations and photography and art in general. The dialogue is positive, encouraging, and we talk like we're equals. There are some days that I don't even talk to my boss and guess what, I still meet my deadlines. At the workplace I mentioned before, I had to instant message my boss to let them know I was leaving my prison, err, I mean cubicle if it was going to be longer than 5 minutes.

So employers: don't micro-manage. Trust your employees. Give them the benefit of the doubt. If they give you a valid reason that they shouldn't be trusted, then go from there. But I can guarantee that if you assume the best of them from the get-go, there's a much higher chance that you'll get the best work and morale out of them.