Steampunk might seem like an art form created in the mind of Mr. Jekyll and Dr. Hyde, but it’s actually more widespread than one would think. Although it might seem peculiar to some, steampunk art has been spreading like wildfire over galleries, art-cafes, and of course, the Internet.
The steampunk movement was one of the biggest booms of the last century. However, it is now more than a movement or a passing trend. Steampunk art has earned its rightful place in the great halls of the world’s artistry.
What started as a literary genre has spread its influence over all art forms — painting, graphic design, clothes, and jewelry design, statuary work, and metal design — steampunk art covers it all.
Given that steampunk itself is a form of a clash since it’s derived from the feelings of futuristic nostalgia, steampunk art showcases the same harmonious rift. Everything is antithetical yet balanced.
What Inspires Steampunk Art?
Like all other artists, steampunk devotees get inspired by life and art. Does life imitate art or art imitates life is an eternal question. When it comes to steampunk art, the answer is as elusive as ever. However, most artists draw their inspiration from the Victorian era. The late 19th and early 20th century was an extraordinary time of innovation and progress.
Steampunk art, no matter the form, exudes the same confidence. Furthermore, it also brings a steampunk staple twist to it. The imaginative additions inspired by the Industrial Revolution and reminiscent of the good old days are a distinct signature of steampunk art.
However, the everpresent dark undertones are also something that distinguishes steampunk art from any other genre. A satirical and often dystopian viewpoint that the artists take is almost as recognizable as the brushstrokes of Van Gogh. Steampunk art always has two feet firmly on the ground. However, one is in the past, while the other is in the future.
How the Literary Genre Inspired and Created Other Steampunk Art Forms
Of course, the root of steampunk art stems from literature. Before it became the household name it is now, steampunk was a small, niche subgenre of science fiction.
It all began in 1979 when a couple of science fiction fan heads drew inspiration from Victorian novels that displayed an alternative vision of the history and the future. Kipling, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells provided the foundation for all forms of steampunk art. Classics like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea proved to be quite the motivation for, as the movement grew, more than just a few people.
The Victorian setting, combined with dystopian, alternative views of the future and steam-powered machines created a whole new esthetic. What’s more, the movement quickly outgrew the bounds of literature and spilled its influence on other art forms.
A Distinct Style Across All Art Forms
Therefore, nowadays, you’re able to pinpoint a steampunk fan by their distinct fashion style. Not only is the clothing peculiar, but it also involves a very retro ensemble of pieces. Corsets and brass buckles, steam goggles, top hats adorned with gears and screws — these are the staple pieces of steampunk clothing. Fashion has always been a very expressive art form. However, steampunk really takes it to another level.
While the most obvious influence of the Victorian literary genre can be seen on the clothing, steampunk art is so much more than that. Metal welders take great pride in their steampunk-inspired jewelry and knick-knacks like pocket watches, gas and face masks, leather gloves, corsets, and even footwear.
However, perhaps the most imaginative form of steampunk art is the peculiar form of digital and physical paintings. Imagination runs wild when it comes to steampunk paintings. What’s more, the artists display an almost fantastical range of uniqueness. Therefore, even though steampunk as a movement and a culture is instantly recognizable, each piece of art created is different, unique, and particular.
It All Started with Jules Verne — or Did It?
Even though original artwork like novels of Jules Verne started the steampunk movement, we can’t exactly call them “steampunk art.” Artists who created their life’s work during the Victorian era didn’t have quite the same “throwback” perception. While innovative, they weren’t as much of a fusion as steampunk is.
The Split Personality of Steampunk Art
As mentioned before, steampunk art is a fusion of opposites. However, there are also movements within the steampunk culture that often pull in opposite directions.
While some artists draw their inspiration from the sociopolitical stand of the Victorian era as well as the industrial mindset, others turn the other way. Therefore, you will often find occult motifs and fantastical concepts as part of steampunk art.
As they say — to each their own. Both streams of steampunk art are equally derivative of the Victorian era, but the different approaches are a real treat for the viewers.
How to Create Steampunk Art
There’s a lot that goes into creating steampunk art. It’s not just the background inspiration that you need to be almost intimately familiar with. There are also all these other factors that contribute to the final piece and make it look Victorian-fantasy-worthy.
Typically, artists rarely stray away from standard Victorian materials when creating 3D art pieces. Therefore, if you’re looking to become a bona fide steampunk artist, then stock up on metal, brass, glass, and copper. Furthermore, you’ll also need copious amounts of leather and lace. If you wish to stay authentic, you can also incorporate wood.
It goes without saying that modern materials such as plastic are almost never a part of these art pieces. Even though the main motto of steampunk is the reinvention, some things are avoided as “untraditional” — plastic being one of them.
However, what makes a piece really recognizable as steampunk-inspired are the little bits and pieces of steam-powered technology. Furthermore, industrial paraphernalia is always a welcome addition to any steampunk art piece.
Steampunk Art Speaks — Will You Listen?
You’ve probably gathered by now that there’s a certain consistent look to steampunk art. Nevertheless, that’s not exactly true. Steampunk aims to transcend all uniformity. What’s more, the same theme or a motif can transform into anything in the hands of different artists. Therefore, steampunk art, as a way to channel creativity and inspiration, is very forgiving. After all, if this dystopian, retro movement doesn’t allow individuality — what will?
For aspiring artists, the recipe is simple — listen to your gut and create your own vision. On the other hand, those of us who aren’t talented enough to create, but admire the ingenuity of steampunk artwork, have to support the artists and their journeys.