Artist of the Week: Steampunk Illustrations by Antonio Caparo

Steampunk is a huge cultural phenomenon, spanning books, movies and art. People love the look and “feel” of it, so much that it has sparked numerous conventions around the world. It’s easy to see why this is.

The retro futuristic aesthetic is elegant and, to some extent, more easy to understand than regular science fiction premises, seeing as rather primitive technology is used to achieve great feats of engineering marvel, such as flight, time travel and deep sea exploration.

The term “steampunk” has been used retroactively to describe the works of such classic authors as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, but it was apparently first used by James Blaylock, in a letter he sent to the science fiction magazine Locus, in 1987. He came up with the term in an attempt to describe his book, Homunculus, as well as Infernal Devices and The Anubis Gates by K.W. Jeter and Tim Powers, respectively. All three books had a 19th century Victorian setting, and imitated the speculative fiction conventions of such novels as The Time Machine, by H.G Wells.

As we’ve mentioned in the first paragraph, steampunk is not limited to books. Since it’s mostly about aesthetic, it stands to reason that steampunk would infect the world of design and illustration as well. This week, we will be showing you some absolutely stunning steampunk illustrations by Canadian-based artist, Antonio Javier Caparo.

Born in Cuba, where he also graduated the High Institute of Design in Havana, Caparo spent most of his early career in graphic design. Through all this time he harbored a truer passion, a passion for other worlds. It didn’t take long, and he decided to focus himself on illustrating, rather than designing. He is best known for his works in The Magic Thief series and the Percy Jackson series, making illustration in both the traditional and digital form.

Although not and exclusively steampunk artist, we will be focusing on his marvelous steampunk illustrations, of which there are quite a few.

1. Beyond


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This is also the image he uses as an avatar on his Behance profile. You have to love his attention for detail when it comes to the hair and glasses. The glasses, especially, are a true marvel to behold with all the little flourishes and mechanisms that comprise them. It’s also clear to see why he such a great illustrator for children and young adult books.

You can see how the child illustrated is really looking forward to whatever adventure presents itself (the planet and the falling star), and you can also understand why, seeing as the image reflected in his glasses is so very appealing. Also, the falling start might just be a reference to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince.

2. Create


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Now this is what steampunk is all about. The classic tale of inventor and, more importantly, awesome steam-powered invention. The invention pictured here is a robot (or perhaps automaton) nearing completion. All that’s left is activating the iron behemoth, and unleashing it on the world to the inventor’s evil, good, or morally ambiguous bidding.

The colors are perfect for steampunk: yellow, warm light, with a touch of blue and gray. Also, as in most, if not all steampunk drawings, what’s really cool is the way all the little nuts and bolts are drawn on the machine.

3. Discover


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Once again, children and young adults are the focus of this illustration. This time they seem to be in some sort of bathysphere, and there is not one single, solitary thing about bathyspheres that isn’t cool. In fact, the only thing cooler than a bathysphere, is a steampunk bathysphere.

Even the word bathysphere is cool, so we’re going to use it one more time. Bathysphere. Adventure, exploration and knowledge are the main themes of this illustration, showcasing yet again the artist’s skill in making illustration for good quality children’s books.

4. Explore


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This scene is brings the swoop racer scene from Star Wars: Episode I, with the Zeppelin and the “swoop racer”’s design being similar to Jabba the Hutt’s flying craft from Star Wars: Episode V. The overall look and feel of the illustration makes it seem like it would not be out of place in one of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ books, from the Barsoom series.

5. Imagine


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Who didn’t love dinosaurs while growing up? Nobody, that’s who! We all had our favorite dinosaurs, and there’s no way that Pterodactyls weren’t on your list. So seeing this fantastic illustration, with what could be a steampunk Valkyrie, flying away from a cloud city (ah… Bioshock III) escorted by a flock of prehistoric terror birds (let’s call it a murder of Pterodactyls), should definitely get you giddy, nostalgic and inspired.

6. Iron Letters: A


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“Iron Letters Co.” seems to be just the kind of huge enterprise that might have existed in the late industrial revolution. It might have been a huge family business, that employed a whole small town, and distributed its iron letters to the great royal houses, and new-money industrialists wanting to solidify their new position in society. Also, calligraphy is a hot trend for 2014, and this illustration might just give you a bit of design inspiration.

7. Sherlock Holmes Reinveted


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Holmes and Watson solving an infamous case, which involved an unholy alliance made up of Count Dracula, The Kraken and Martian invaders. This is a shoutout to everything that steampunk draws inspiration from.

You have Sherlock Holmes, a Victorian era super-detective, in a Victorian era London that is ravished by the space invaders from H.G Wells’ War of the Worlds, the blood-sucking Transylvanian Count from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and the Kraken, the terrifying giant beast that dragged many sailors and whole ships down to the dark depths of the sea.

8. The Age of Steam


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This could easily be the manually controlled version of the robot (or automaton) from the 2nd illustration on our list. On its left shoulder you can see the company that makes these machines, namely “Iron Works”, with a big “W” as a logo. The red-brick factory and Zeppelins in the background really complete the image, and the fact that everything is covered in steam and smoke makes the illustration more dynamic.

9. The Dreams Machine


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Every book is a world in which you can let you imagination run wild and free. Books are almost like lucid dreams, lovely little moments of escapism where you leave the quotidian of reality behind you. This illustration perfectly captures this, with the planet in the background and the totally amazing seat with all the gothic elements on it. The lighting, of course, is superb. Just as superb as the source of light.

10. The Incredible Charlotte Sycamore


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What most books are lacking is strong, believable female characters. Charlotte Sycamore seems to be the answer to that problem. In this illustration, we see her, and her blood stained rapier, freshly after besting a pair of clockwork wolves. Everything is beautifully drawn, and the steampunk elements in this one (which is also the cover of the book) are discreet, but definitely noticeable.

11. The Shifter


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Bathyspheres again! This time with what is, perhaps, a steampunk cyborg (a steamborg!) inside, gloating to the viewer after what appears to be another successful heist. The mask he’s holding, as well as the other three to his left, are really creepy, and what is, in fact, his face is absolutely awesome. He even appears to be wearing a monocle!

12. Victorian Interfase


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There are really just two elements that really make this a steampunk illustration, but they are used to really great effect. The background is typically Victorian, in fact, if you were to put someone dressed in modern clothes, it might as well have been someone posing somewhere in the old part of town.

In fact, the character illustrated, if he didn’t have the weird sunglasses or the umbrella with UI on it, this would have been just an illustration of a miscellaneous scene from the 19th century. You could maybe call this “steampunk minimalism”.

That concludes our Artist of the Week. It was a definite pleasure for us to seek out these illustrations, so we hope it’s at least as much of a pleasure for you to look at them. Be sure to tell us which are your favorites, and what you think of them, in the comment section below.

1 Comment
Diana Vick
A lovely article, but I have a small correction "...but it was apparently first used by James Blaylock, in a letter he sent to the science fiction magazine Locus, in 1987." No, that was K.W. Jeter, not Jim Blaylock.
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