Give Your Artwork a Retro Feel with These 6 Tips

FEB 17, 2020
Whale Tale Collection by arthousewife

If you’ve been feeling like every day is looking like a #flashbackfriday, you’re not alone! From retro rainbows to mid-century mod, the Spoonflower community has caught the bug for old-school style. One artist under this spell is Kristina Hunter (arthousewife on Spoonflower). And with a love for all things retro and mid-century illustration, Kristina can’t help but channel that nostalgic aesthetic into her fabric and wallpaper designs. Her five tips for creating art with a retro vibe will give you the inspiration you need to try this throwback technique in your next pattern.

Kristina: There is a lot of love for retro designs these days, and for good reason: they evoke a sense of time and place that we remember fondly. The great news is that retro styles are abundant; there is almost a limitless array of possibilities to choose from when incorporating the aesthetic into your art. Are you itching to give your designs a retro feel? Here are tips to create your own vintage art:

1 – Do Your Research 

What retro styles do you gravitate towards? Start by making a list of the styles, then spend a chunk of time researching each of them online or at the library. What kind of products can you envision in those styles? Napkins, a duvet cover, throw pillows, a cheater quilt? Which style appeals to you the most? Make a moodboard (digital or print) of examples.

Designer Tip: When creating your moodboard, make sure you have at least five or more examples of the style you’ve chosen. You don’t want to be inspired too heavily by one piece of art.

Give Your Artwork a Retro Style with These 6 Tips | Spoonflower Blog
Give Your Artwork a Retro Style with These 6 Tips | Spoonflower Blog

2 – Choose Your Colors Wisely

Colors play a huge role in evoking a retro mood. You’ll either want to use a retro palette that is accurate for the style you’ve chosen, or you’ll want to freshen it up to make it a bit more contemporary.

I like to freshen up my retro palettes because it gives me a chance to put my own unique spin on color combinations that have been used before. For my kids’ travel print, I started by selecting popular mid-century colors from my digital moodboard.  I knew I wanted my new combination to be playful and gender-neutral, so I opted for brighter hues and changed the traditional orange color for pink. I think the new palette has a fresh and more youthful, kid-friendly appeal.

Freshening up a Mid Century color palette for kids

Play around with the combinations you like the best and if you need a little more guidance, be sure to check out fellow Spoonflower designer Rhianna Wurman’s post all about creating a cohesive palette.

3 – It’s All in the Details 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of designing your motifs too quickly based on how you’ve designed motifs in the past. Take your time! Pay attention to the little details you discovered during your research. For example, in my mid-century moodboard I noticed a specific quality of linework in the examples I chose, and made a conscious decision to add bold black lines to my design. There were also details I chose to leave out, like shapes with rough edges. These little details are key to adding an authentic retro flair.

Mid-Century Travel Wallpaper by arthousewife

4 – Add Texture

Patterns often fall flat because of a lack of texture. While some styles’ signature look is devoid of texture, a lot of them are not. Take a look at these gorgeous designs from the Spoonflower designer community as inspiration on how to add texture to your own work. Need more help? Try this trick.

Art Nouveau Modern Floral by red_raspberry_design
Almost Lemonade by ottomanbrim
MCM Butterflies by friztin
HexBloom by fleabat

5 – Try out Special Digital Brushes

Not sure how to add the texture and line work of your favorite retro style? Sometimes all it takes is a special brush! Try out the textured brushes that come with your preferred design program like Procreate or Photoshop. If you’re coming up short, you can also search for custom brushes created by other artists. There are tons available online and a few of my favorites come from Retrosupply, Bardot Brush, and Abby Uproot.

Give Your Artwork a Retro Style with These 6 Tips | Spoonflower Blog

6 – Take a Class or Try a Tutorial

If you’re really struggling, there are plenty of classes online that will guide you step by step in creating a retro design. This is a great way to practice before jumping in, and they will help give you the confidence to create retro art on your own.

Jamie Bartlett’s Shading with Patterns Skillshare class

Ready for more retro-inspired projects?
Try out this retro bar cart IKEA hack from PMQ for Two!

DIY retro bar cart | Spoonflower Blog

About the Guest Author

Kristina Hunter is an artistic housewife living outside of New York City with her husband, two young boys, two cats, and one dog. When she’s not house-wifing, you will find her in her studio, designing patterns, painting, and sewing. You can find her on Instagram @arthousewife or at her website,

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