What is the steampunk art style?
Steampunk is a genre in science-fiction which combines elements of the Victorian Era with the Industrial Revolution of Europe in the 1800s. It really is a fascinating mix of technology and the vintage aesthetic – it’s no wonder it exploded in popularity in the 1980s and has such a huge following today.
Steampunk artwork is essentially the aesthetic representation of the literary steampunk genre.
Maybe you have seen some really interesting Steampunk Art that has sparked your imagination and you would like to make your own? Or maybe you are just interested in the meaning behind steampunk art?
Either way you have come to the right place. Below is some essential information and examples of steampunk in art.
How did steampunk art begin?
The term steampunk was coined by the author K.W. Jeter – a science fiction writer and the author of the Morlock Night. He used the word steampunk as a humorous variant of the Cyberpunk genre.
What is the appeal of steampunk?
Steampunk fashion and steampunk art is all about homemade wearables. You sewed your own leather clothing and everything was custom made. This is quite opposite of the mass production in today’s world.
Steampunk art often contains certain symbols and objects that link back to the Victorian era and the Industrial Revolution. It often subverts the viewers expectations – for example you may have a vintage object, like a top hat, connected to an advanced piece of machinery.
Steampunk art uses found objects that are repurposed to create something new.
Steampunk paintings are frequently done in the genre of fantasy art. There are many sci-fi steampunk paintings that have a fantasy aspect to them, and painting also borrows heavily from the genres of Gothic art and Victorian Art. Steampunk paintings most often include a very old-looking mechanical device or object that will usually be center framed in the painting and will dominate the piece.
The makers of steampunk painting, and steampunk drawings and art, in general, are usually looking to capture a mood that is eerie.
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Below is a list of common symbols and objects found in steampunk art:
Common symbols and objects in steampunk art:
Steampunk goggles are often made of copper, leather, or brass and like early flying goggles, steampunk goggles protect the wearer’s eyes from wind and particles in the air. Goggles are visually connected to the idea of a post-apocalyptic world where smoke, explosions, and gunfire fill the air.
Cogs & Gears
Cogs and Gears feature in a lot of steampunk art because they symbolize the inventions in the Industrial Revolution and the development of machinery.
Cogs and gears often show up in the background of images.
Steampunk pipes are often painted or made in copper of brass and are also linked the developments of the Industrial Revolution.
Steampunk artists often put Top Hats on their figures or portraits. This is a throw back to the Victorian Era and the ‘dandy’.
Often these top hats are embellished with other Steampunk objects like gears or copper cogs.
A single eyeglass was first used around the Victorian Era in England. It helped people to magnify text or images and offered protection from the elements.
Steampunk artists often paint people with a monocle on one eye, and an eye patch on the other, suggesting the loss of an eye through warfare.
As you can see in the artwork above, the monocle appears to be altered to have a technological element.
A literal symbol of time, but also a very popular artifact during the Victorian era, the pocket watch is often seen in steampunk art pieces.
Retro, vintage bicycles of the Victorian Era are another popular symbol to use in Steampunk Art.
Different types of steampunk art:
Steampunk Art Sculptures
Steampunk art is often created through assemblage or the arrangement of found objects. Artists will collect vintage items and place them, or connect them together to create a Steampunk Artwork.
Steampunk Art Drawings
Steampunk drawings are rendered both digitally and on paper. They are regularly done in red, black, or ochre pigment which creates a vintage feel.
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Steampunk Digital art
Steampunk digital art is dreamlike and surreal. Artists combine real objects in unreal situations. You are left with the feeling that all is not as it seems.
A steampunk outfit consists of brass or copper accents, industrial elements like chains, a top hat, a leather flight hat, a bowler helmet, or an arctic flap hat.
Steampunk clothing is usually very steam-punk looking, and incorporates many of the elements listed above as being characteristic of the genre. Wearers of steampunk clothing usually are going to be wearing goggles (old fashioned ones are best) or at least glasses attached to some sort of a harness such as straps. You will usually see some element of a Victorian hat (either a top hat or a bowler), and the clothing itself will tend to be made out of leather, buttons, rivets, buckles and many other things that give the impression that it is made from very old materials.
For steampunk accessories, you will usually see some sort of a utility belt or harness, and this is usually where people will put their goggles. As far as steampunk rings go they are often made from old materials in the form of a rusty cog or bolt for example.
- The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
- Wild Wild West
- 20000 Leagues Under The Sea
- Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow
- The Time Machine
- The Golden Compass
- Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
- The Prestige
- City of Ember
- Van Helsing
- Journey to the Centre of the Earth
- Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
- Around the World in 80 Days
Steampunk art is nostalgic and complex. It’s no wonder it is still hugely popular in 2021. Steampunk art events are still happening throughout the world where extraordinares sew their own outfits and create their own gear to attend the conventions – even during a pandemic!
If you found this article interesting, be sure to read my regularly updated blog for more creative inspiration!