Case Study: Futurism & New Age Digital Artwork

By . Filed in Graphics

The previous generation of our time has witnessed tremendous changes in society. As with previous time in history the society and culture of humanity are often reflected in artwork. For instance, our futuristic lifestyle can be portrayed elegantly with modern day technology.

Futurism is a style used to depict the ideal futuristic Earth society. Artists from around the world have contributed their ideas into the pool, thus the genre of futurism is heavily fractured into separate disciplines. Ranging from painted scenery to abstract and extra-terrestrial, the futurism movement has brought about some fantastic ideas in the late 21st century.

futurism and new age digital artwork
(Image Source: Ed Price)

What many don’t consider is how the abstract arts have grown and affected modern trends. Digital artwork is constantly influenced by these factors and we can see examples in DVD covers, CD artwork, movie posters, and other alternative media. Full detail after jump.

Collective History of Futurism Artwork

The futurism movement began picking up steam in the mid 1980s. The word retro-futurism was originally coined by Llyod Dunn in 1983. The genre is heavily reminiscent of early-age 1960s cafe and diner styles.

The old-fashioned retro themes brought new life to examine our culture. The overarching trends can be expressed with two brief ideas: the future as seen from the past and the past as seen from the future. It seems a bit confusing at first, granted it has grown and matured since originally hitting the scene.

collective history of futurism artwork
(Image Source: Klaur Bürgle)

However as time progressed new ideas were able to emerge. Societal growth has increased along with the trends in media. Common themes of artwork created in the 21st century often include spacemen and aliens. Also crude symbolism such as triangles or beams of rainbows is common amongst the abstract works.

Explanation of the Futuristic Art Style

As retro-futurism was just getting started the common ideas between artists were fantastic. The initial retro-futurism was based on creative ideas about how the future would look. Most artworks were symbolic and not meant to represent reality – thus the paintings were often adopting 1920s technology with a futuristic style of living.

explanation of futuristic art style
(Image Source: Klaur Bürgle)

Examples could include flying cars or robots using a cooking range. Artists also kept major infrastructure, such as buildings and streets to keep the scenes grounded towards our modern world. Cars were sometimes depicted as driving along the road with flying buses above, which could be symbolic of a transition between automobiles and alternative travel.

explanation of futuristic art style 2
(Image Source: Prof. Michael Stoll)

The purpose of retro-futurism artwork was to evoke a state of nostalgia in the viewer’s mind. This ties hand-in-hand with the secondary ideology of looking to create a better world for which to live in. World War II and the Cold War are often sub-themes which can be felt in some dated artwork and paintings. Though much of the latter works focused on optimism and society improvement with outstanding technological innovation.

Retro Old-School Effects

The style of life in western society can compare to no other. During the 1940s and 50s we saw the largest expansion of families and lifestyle changes. Looking back 60 years later it seems the lifestyle was much more vintage than our modern day.

These themes are expressed heavily with bright colors and lighting. Setting the mood for these futuristic societies seems to point towards upbeat spirits among each person. Bright lights are also used in random geometric shapes fitted above retro artwork.

retro old school effects
(Image Source: Peter Nudo)

Adopters of this new style were able to transform the original scenery into abstract projects. These pieces of artwork wouldn’t include any specific place or time. Many times there are scenes which cannot realistically happen or don’t make any sense! Artists haven’t lost touch with the vintage by inclusion of old-school themes such as Leave it to Beaver-style men and women.

retro old school effects 2
(Image Source: Peter Nudo)

Human faces are a wildly common theme to express emotion. Artists pour their hearts into each project and this can be most easily represented with another human being’s facial expression. It’s not uncommon to see two or three people all expressing polarized emotions or even in sync with the same appearance. The direction towards where the face is looking also affects the mood of the whole scene.

Shapes and Mystical Geometry

Geometry is powerful imagery in all forms of art ranging back thousands of years. Digital artwork is no different, as futurists love the use of geometric shapes. Commonly triangles are seen representing the trinity with 3 sides and 3 angles. It seems also that although most triangles are created in 2D they seem to represent 3D pyramid-like objects.

Artists can create this effect by applying light beams from behind the shape and casting shadows across the canvas. In more contemporary art you may see people walking towards triangles. In these cases the artist may include a small door on the front, or possibly a walkway leading in. This effect adds a secondary structure in the viewer’s eyes to recognize not only the shape but some sort of building.

shapes and mystical geometry
(Image Source: Sakke Soini)

Bright colors help to bring shapes out from the background. When we see modern day futurism up to 5 or 6 different swatches may be included together at once to create a rainbow of color. The magnificent barrage of colors and shapes is meant to jump out off the page and entice the average person.

shapes and mystical geometry 2
(Image Source: Benjamin Koh)

Certainly with more bizarre works it’s easy gaining attention. Bright beams of color and light naturally catch our eyes even from great distances. This could be the reason many new musical artists include these themes within their album artwork.

Space and Astronaut Themes

One of the most prevalent themes in retro-futurism is space. As humans living on this earth for thousands of years we have dreamt to explore the cosmos. Once reaching the year 2000AD it was obvious that our society had graduated into a new era.

space and astronaut themes
(Image Source: Tonic Vision)

The symbolism in many pieces includes background designs of stars and galaxies. Notably artists will include detailed galaxy formations along with close-up renders of planets. Star Wars plays a factor in the works of a few artists, as with UFOs and similar flying space crafts.

space and astronaut themes-2
(Image Source: David Fuhrer)

Coupled with the space exploration theme comes a Jetson’s style future. Robots are depicted often performing human tasks. This can include drinking, eating, or exercising. Spacemen and spirit-like beings are commonly seen interacting in the same scene.

space and astronaut themes 3
(Image Source: Ed Price)

Take for example the flyer artwork above. This clearly displays a bright and vibrant star cluster in the background which sets the mood for much of the foreground work. Beams of light are prevalent and stem from a center circle of light. All common themes which draw upon retro-futurism for guidance.

How Society and Retro-Futurism Have Advanced

The journey began from a nostalgic envisioning of our 1950s western society and moving forward into the most abstract of creation. Retro-futurism has changed dramatically in just a couple decades time, and digital illustrators have been changing right along with the trends.

More people are learning how to create digital artwork and it’s expected to see such an increase in abstract trends. Adobe Photoshop is the premiere software suite for creating layered digital art for both web and print. Vector artists have also worked deeply with futuristic trends creating not only clip art but detailed scenery.

how society and retro-futurism advanced
(Image Source: Alex Beltechi)

As the genre now focuses heavily on themes in space the trends in retro-futurism have become fractals of their previous form. Granted the nostalgia and vintage feeling hasn’t been lost and has actually adopted many of the latter generations in American history. An example could include clothing or media from the 1980s with themes such as dancing, disco, and crazy sunglasses.

Trends in Retro Web Design

The vintage art style has elegantly carried over onto the World Wide Web. Digital interfaces of the modern day often include hints of retro effects. These can include checked or spotted backgrounds, emboldened typography, and exquisite vector artwork.

Often you can find fantastic illustrators who are devoted towards the practice and style of retro-futurism. Scenery depicting 1950s cafes and gas stations are just some of the brilliant works included. Bright stripes are still used quite visibly in website layouts, often times included in soft background patterns.

Standard fonts have been replaced with many old-school effects. This can be accomplished with font replacement techniques in CSS or static images. Google Web Fonts is another amazing service which boasts a handful of beautiful type faces.

trendsinretrowebdesign
(Image Source: X-ray Delta One)

Paper and photographs are common themes throughout these designs, too. Notebooks and paper backgrounds may have typewriter-style lettering. This invokes a feeling of World War II technology with information transmission. Similarly this style can be compared to old-fashioned newsprint from the printing presses of the early 1900s.

Gallery of Vintage-Style Layouts

With so many fantastic examples it’s difficult to pick favorites. Retro artwork has greatly enhanced the styles of many popular websites. Layouts and vector artworks are fantastic inspiration for bringing the vintage feeling back into perspective.

Many of collections below include multiple elements of old-school artwork. Links and logo designs are some of the best examples, along with in-page text. Vector artworks play a key role in backgrounds and branding as well. Although it’s much more rare to see digital artists sticking with vintage illustrations in the foreground layers.

Farinella Bakery

farinella bakery

Hipstery

hipstery

Tennessee Vacation

tennessee vacation

Tricycle Terror

tricycle terror

The Antique Piano Shop

the antique piano shop

The Wayward Irregular

the wayward irregular

The Dollar Dreadful

the dollar dreadful

Five Cent Stand

five cent stand

Level 2 Design

level 2 design

Custom Design

custom design

The New York Moon

the new york moon

Eighty Two Design

eighty two design

mediaBOOM

mediaboom

singularity concepts

singularity concepts

Zen Garden CSS

zen garden css

Taywell Ice Creams

taywell ice creams

Michela Chiucini

michela chiucini

Jeff Sarmiento

jeff sarmiento

Lord Likely

lord likely

Web-o-matic

web o matic

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Conclusion

New age digital artwork has come a long way from our ancestors. With the personal computer becoming commonplace it’s not unusual for kids and young adults to pick up these skills and begin creating their own artwork.

The genre has imposed a great deal of abstract imagery and forges ahead with futuristic trends. The styles are even now working their way into web design via vector characters and layout patterns. Icons are also seeing a change with so many open source project available for free download.

What are your thoughts on the changing trends of retro-futurism? Do you see any of these examples in modern day websites? If you have similar examples of great artwork please share with us in the comments below.

Author:

Jake is a user experience designer for both web and mobile platforms. Having over 4 years of freelance projects under his belt, he frequently writes articles on topics of modern design trends and social media. You can check out some of his work on Dribbble or follow his tweets @jakerocheleau.

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