Telling Your Art Story

 Box Art – The Original Storyteller

box art title cover
Box Art - Telling a story through art...

This week we take another dive into the art of telling a story through your art. It’s something I have covered many times on these pages and it’s also something that is an ingredient in the magic formula of selling art. If I had to write the recipe for that formula down, the two top ingredients you would need to sell any work would be to get multiple eyes on your work together with a compelling story to hook those eyes in the first place. If you get the story right, you will find a third ingredient, the buyer connection.

I went AWOL!

A few of you might have noticed my absence over the past few weeks, I had to slow down, put the brakes on, and recover from a bout of anaemia. I had a choice between writing and sleeping and sleeping won because I literally didn’t have the get-up and go to get up and write!

Thankfully, I’m now on the road to recovery and writing again, I’m even producing more art than ever, but with a difference, I’m producing art that has been on my bucket list to create for as long as I have had a bucket list!

coffee and cake shop front art
Coffee and Cake - A typical eighties coffee shop, unshackled from chains! Available in my store now!

The truth is though, that the art on my bucket list is art that I have been creating outside of my traditional landscapes for more than thirty years. Over that time I have managed to pick up a number of collectors for this work, some of whom have been with me for as nearly as long as I’ve been creating. Now I’m producing more of it, finally publishing it in my store rather than as I have done historically and just making it available more as an aside to the collectors, but most of all, I’m having fun again and I’m producing way more of what I really love to create.

I’ve never made a secret that I create retro-inspired artworks, they’re not something I usually promote through social media and I have tended to fill my stores with my more typical landscapes for a number of years. I’ve never really promoted this work online because for the most part, it has always been more of a niche market than my landscapes, but if you had visited me at a show a decade ago you would be more likely to have seen this kind of work than my traditional landscapes.

Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of retro, childhood memories and anything that’s generally as old as me, and it’s kind of where I started out in my art career. Once upon a time, I was young you know!

I became inspired to create art the minute I was given a home computer back in early 1980, it might have even been towards the end of 1979. Sure, I was always into drawing and painting, but it wasn’t until I started to get into this new fangled trend of computer programming and video games that I began to really notice just how important art really was.

To this day I believe that anyone starting out in the art world or anyone who is keen to learn more about art should really take notice of the emerging culture of video gaming and home computing during the late seventies and eighties. That might sound weird, but video games introduced an entire and usually inaccessible generation into the world of art and it introduced them to a golden age of marketing and innovation through good design and great art that had multiple purposes.

Okay, some of it was a bit dodgy thinking back, and some of it definitely didn’t pass muster on the political correctness front, but what was good was generally great. This was the next iteration of Mad Men but in real life.

Bandits video game box art
Typical Box Art of the eighties, this is Bandits (C) Sirius - an excellent example of storytelling through art!

There were two aspects that really sucked me into the art world, computer graphics, or rather the lack of them back in the day, and box art. This was the art that appeared on the cases that the software would be packaged in. There was a third aspect too, that was the artwork that adorned the sides of video arcade games. I remember like it was yesterday when I first got to see a real-life Space Invaders machine at the local railway station café. That was back in 1978, and while I was impressed by the game, I was even more impressed by the artwork on the side of the massive wooden cabinet.

It was a masterclass in storytelling, and here’s why. The graphics on the game while being more advanced than anything I had ever seen before, were still pretty dire on reflection. It was accepted that this was as good as graphics got at the time because we didn’t know any better, and the technology to produce anything better hadn’t even entered into the world’s brightest geeky minds. Photorealism was still decades away, as was safe playground equipment and I can’t recall any of my friends having allergies.

It was inconceivable to think that graphics could be anything more than they were, this was the cutting edge of technology and after playing a home version of pong with a square ball and two rectangular bats, which had first appeared in 1972, Space Invaders was the difference between night and day. Almost alchemic in its appearance, yet it still had the ability to bankrupt an eight-year-old by emptying my pockets of loose change and my parents pockets too.

So if it wasn’t the gameplay graphics that attracted me to the machine could it be the novelty of being able to play with something new? I’m sure that was part of it, and the gameplay still holds up today but looking back, it was deeper than that, much deeper. The booming bass sounds repeating and becoming faster added to a sense of urgency as the invaders crawled down the screen, and that certainly helped, but even the sound didn’t hold a candle to the artwork. The artwork was so good that I was just as excited to get an original copy of the promotional flyer that came with the game as I was to finally get a home version of the game when I finally got my hands on an Atari VCS.

Taito Space Invaders arcade game flyer
The original Space Invaders arcade promotional flyer. Copyright Taito - I still own an original of this flyer today!

The artwork grabbed the player even before they played. Where a book cover might give a brief synopsis of a story or it might show a key moment in the story, video game art had to tell the entire story before you got to the game. You would view the artwork and immediately your imagination would begin to work overtime and transport you into that place. Marauding aliens attacking your base on the moon which you had to protect with a spaceship that fired lasers, it was the sort of thing that resonated with every nine-year-olds imagination. I’m 51 now and still find myself mumbling that background track as I wander around the supermarket.

That was really it, the artwork was exactly what invited you to play, you had seen the incredibly colourful imaging, built up the story in your imagination and bam, you then had a deeper connection with the game before you even saw the screen.

None of this was obvious, I didn’t even think about this until much later in life, even after I had begun my art career. In fact, it wouldn’t be obvious until around a decade or so ago when I began pondering the psychology of we really connect to a piece of art. This was perhaps the best example of artwork depicting a story that would immediately form a deep connection with the viewer that I have ever come across.

Sure, there have been a hundred and one artworks that I have felt a deep sense of connection with over the years, I remember shedding tears the first time I got close to The Return of the Prodigal Son in the Hermitage in Russia, but I have never been easily able to explain just how a connection to artwork is formed without thinking back to the artwork on the side of that arcade cabinet.

When you begin to build up the story around what you are seeing, you are already emotionally invested in what you are looking at, it’s at that point that you become connected to the work. Once you are invested in any way, shape or form, that connection starts to become exponentially unbreakable.

So what was it that hooked us in with these amazing yet often ignored works of art? That’s very simple to answer, it was the artwork that told a story that you could engage with and build upon. The more you thought about it, the more invested you became.

Remember, this was a time when the best graphics had been featured in games such as Pong or the even earlier Space Wars. Put those graphics next to a modern video game and there’s simply no comparison, it’s like the difference between prehistoric tools used by Neanderthals and current-day power tools, mostly still used by Neanderthals.

seagulls flying over fish and chips artwork by Mark Taylor
Do Not Feed The Seagulls - another throwback to day's out in the eighties - fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, seagulls swooping in for the kill!

Whenever home versions of the games were released they would be packaged in cases with colourful inserts, each one telling the entire story of the game the case contained. Screenshots that you might find on modern video games were possible, although not very good. Capturing screenshots was a whole new level of crazy that usually involved using a dark sheet and placing it over the TV and the camera, taking the photo at the exact moment that the word paused didn’t appear on the screen, and then waiting a few days for the film to be processed before you would find out if the blanket trick and your sense of timing had worked.

There was no screen capturing software that you could use, it was all down to a modicum of skill and luck together with your timing, it was also the biggest issue that video games magazines faced at the time.

The home versions relied on the artwork to attract the buyer just as arcade cabinets relied on the artwork to attract the player, and this really introduced the world to a completely new art movement that mostly went unrecognised, that movement was, of course, box art, some of which is insanely collectable today. It’s also a growing trend in collectables, forget the games, the box with mint condition artwork is worth considerably more in most instances, and just how many of them have you thrown away?

There was more to box art than telling the story though. This was a time when we witnessed a sea change in marketing. The bigger and more flamboyant the box that contained the game, the more chance a game would have of selling thousands of copies. It was beginning to happen in the movie industry too with the introduction of home video cassettes.

There could have been a hundred games on the shelf at the local game store, maybe a few hundred video tapes in the local video rental store, and the only way you could quickly filter out which one you were more likely to walk away with would be which one of them, you immediately got drawn towards by looking at the artwork on the box.

retro and vintage technology artwork by Mark Taylor
Totally Retro - One of my new artworks celebrating the 1980s and available to order in my store!

We can learn a lot from the marketing throughout this period too. This was a time when marketing didn’t exist on the internet because the internet didn’t exist. It became necessary to stand out and there was a visible competition for eyes with each new release appearing in packaging that would outdo the competition. It was a time when packaging began to include gimmicks, I think today we might call it a value add, but there were some really crazy tricks that packaging designers would use to make sure that their game or video made it on your list.

I remember getting a copy of Gran Turismo on the PlayStation One and finding a scratch and sniff disc inside the packaging, the odour of car tyres wasn’t that realistic but it was a nice touch and certainly made the game stand out. The only other game to feature this that I can recall was FIFA 01, which allegedly smelled like a football pitch, but probably not a football pitch any of us had ever got close to sniffing.

This era really was a masterclass in packaging design, unlike today where size standards exist to ensure that retailers can accommodate as much inventory as possible in the smallest possible space. When digital stores began appearing the use of box art began to wane and by now, screen capturing software and hardware had become a mainstream staple of every publisher, so box art was replaced with screenshots.

Once digital downloads began to take a foothold, the same issues began to appear, how do you make a needle stand out in a haystack of thousands of games or films. Box art, whilst it had been more of an afterthought for a while, it began to emerge, albeit in a digital form.

Physical releases were still being adorned with some great artwork but there’s a heap of difference in creating an image the size of a case insert and a small digital image that is little bigger than a thumbnail on a digital store or streaming service.

There’s also another emerging market that has been quietly gaining pace over the past decade, and that’s the market for limited run physical releases and special editions, and it’s a market that is becoming exponentially bigger every year with a growing number of retro collectors now paying big bucks for what was once little more than pocket change.

Many of the physical releases of today are a nod back to what can only be termed as that golden age of video gaming when box art was king. Specialist retro collector retailers are springing up and they’re less concerned about the space needed, such is the value placed on some of these releases. What we’re seeing now is a nod back to the time when the product boxes were real boxes and a time when gimmicks were included to stand out, except this time around those gimmicks are what we now might call a real value add.

This is a market that is beginning to become even more closely aligned to the art world than one might initially think.  A limited run physical release can easily cost ten times the price of a digital download, and once the run is sold out, collectors are eagerly queuing up to make sure their collections are as complete as they can make them.

Scarcity in the art world might drive up prices, but scarcity in the video games world of retro collectors is actually even more insane. A mint condition Super Mario Brothers game, boxed and sealed was not that long ago sold for the princely sum of $660,000, or about the same price that one might place as a value on a work from some of the old masters. Not bad for a game that in around 1983 would have cost around $50, and yes, it’s the box and the art and the fact that it’s sealed that brings with it the crazy price.

TV Tennis game art by Mark Taylor
TV Tennis by Mark Taylor - Another throwback to childhood, imagination and batteries required!

In terms of investment, video games can be even more lucrative than some artworks and it’s not just the stereotypical nerds and geeks like me who are buying them. Prices are going up exponentially as more and more people become attracted to turning a quick buck who might never have picked up a video game previously.

There’s also an opportunity for artists that has arisen with the growing popularity of retro and the new trend of limited releases, not just in retro-inspired works and classic games from classic systems of the past, but many indie developers now actively seek out artists to work on physical release box art and marketing materials, even some of the digital downloads have a need for artists to create digital thumbnails of box art and marketing materials. It’s like the e-book cover art gig for the video games world.

So whilst the concept of video game box art might seem a million miles away from the traditional art world, there’s a heap of overlap, an abundance of similarities, and more than a crossover when it comes to the value placed on historical releases, there are even books that cover nothing but the artwork and the packaging and don't forget a vibrant collector market.

The biggest overlap is when we look at artworks throughout art history that have told a story. It’s something that many new and even not so new artists struggle with, but to get any potential buyer to become invested in your work, it needs to resonate and connect with them and the best way of getting work to do that is through allowing that work to tell a story.

Box art is perhaps one of the best examples of storytelling that uses artwork to immediately form a connection with whoever is looking at it. It’s also a fascinating world of marketing psychology, the tricks that are used to get you to psychologically invest in the contents of the package deserve a separate article all of their own, and as I said earlier, it might sound a little weird for some people to start looking at video game box art to begin to understand better how storytelling can work with art but it really is an outstanding example to learn from. Here’s something else that you need to consider too.

There’s more to a story than the art can tell…

There’s another storytelling ingredient that you need to add into the recipe for any level of commercial artistic success and that is the story of you. This is something that many artists really do struggle with, and it’s something that every artist has at some point found some kind of excuse to avoid doing.

Eighties TV shop front art by Mark Taylor
The Eighties TV Shop by Mark Taylor - Every high street had one of these back in the day!

Again, we look back at the box art of video games and we begin to realise that storytelling is intrinsically linked to marketing. There is no way that is humanly possible for you to be stood in front of every viewer who gets to see your work, so what you need is something that can copy and paste an element of you that can be present whenever you can’t be.

What many artists struggle with is the exact same thing I struggled with for years, they think they have lived the most mundane of existences, yet everyone is unique and just as they say that there’s a book lurking inside everyone, there’s an interesting story or two, too. The greatest connection any artist can have with a buyer has nothing at all to do with the art, it’s the human interest that the buyer takes in the artist.

Throughout art history, art has never sold itself. Even artists represented by the finest and most prestigious galleries have had to share their story with the gallery in the first place so that the gallery can continue telling that story to potential buyers.

It’s nothing but a slight of arrogance to think that your work will stand head and shoulders above everything else and then do noting or tell no one about it, even if it’s better than anything else created. That is unless it comes bundled with the value add that is your story.

Throughout human history, storytelling has been one of the most powerful ways that we have of communicating. It’s how we remember history and who we are, but more than that, a good story keeps the conversation going even when you are not there.

I still don’t think I have a story…

Like I said earlier, there’s a story in everyone but you might have to dig very deep, and that can sometimes be painful, excruciatingly painful for some and your story might not fully emerge overnight. But just how far do you go?

I think there is a line and that’s a line that will be different for everyone. I’m not sure just how interested people will ever be in some of the things I’ve done or have been through in life, but they will be interested in the ‘why’, ‘what’, and the ‘how’. Why did I decide to become an artist, how did I get from being a non-artist, what drove me to get to where I am today, who inspired me, who influenced me, and perhaps one of the most important elements when it comes to collectors, what aspirations do I have for the future.

That’s important for collectors because they will also want to have some semblance of comfort in knowing that what they invest both in terms of building a relationship with you and in terms of financial outlay, that those investments might prove fruitful in future years. As an artist, a collectors investment begins in your hands and that’s quite a responsibility to hold.

Retro and vintage technology artwork by Mark Taylor
Tear Down This Wall by Mark Taylor

Story Telling Tips…

No matter how much we say it isn’t so, when the likes rack up on social media, our smiles become a little wider. It’s reinforcement that what we posted is liked, it has stuck, it’s also a completely false sense of achievement. Any content only sticks when it really sticks and then gets shared.

Having a compelling story to tell will eventually convert those likes into shares, but no post is going to get shared until it has a relatable human connection. Relatable stories mean that you are one of us, and that’s exactly how the best socially engaged brands and influencers want us to see them. Of course, they’re not really one of us, they don’t have the joy of parting with a week's worth of grocery budget in return for a single tube of paint.

People have long given up on buying from faceless brands waving coupons, voucher codes, and special deals for likes and shares, fewer and fewer people share posts on social, certainly the shares for most artists will be significantly down on what they were a couple of years ago, unless you have managed to establish your brand position and people continue to engage and relate with it. People buy from, and share from brands and businesses they have a real affinity to, brands that reflect them and their own sensibilities.

This is exactly why working on the story is so crucial for any business, not just artists. The story helps you to demonstrate your personality and allows you to shake off the audience’s automatic preconception that you are a money-hungry brand that’s only interested in them opening their wallets.

If you can add a sense of humour into that story then things get even better, the human race is hardwired to respond to things that are funny, so when the audience decides to share that funny moment in your story, it becomes a story that they’re telling about you.

It’s at this point the post becomes less about you and more about the person sharing it, they’re not sharing it to tell you that they liked it, they’re mostly doing it to share their own social purpose. If a post is funny, it’s being shared to show others that the person sharing it is funny, while demonstrating to their own audience that they’re savvy and well informed. It’s psychology baby, as a psychologist probably once said.

None of this is to say that your posts should forever forward be comedy gold. Comedy writing is another kind of fine art completely and something that takes years of practice to do well, but your story should be relatable, something that people can connect with, feel a deep affinity to, and then want to share it with their own audience.

When it comes to content, it’s actually not always about you or your work at all, it’s about giving your audience content that serves their own social purpose, and when that happens it will have a knock-on effect to propel your brand just a little more forward each time.

New Collections…

Hopefully, you will have found this weeks article useful and my advice to anyone is to spend at least a few hours taking a look back at the video games industry to get some inspiration on how to bring your work to life with a story, and because it really was a turning point in the history of mass marketing. It was an era of genius storytelling and it’s all becoming an (8)bit of a lost art. See what I did there?

Throughout this week's musing's you will have noticed a few newly released works that have been inspired by this golden age, and it’s also a nod to my previous post on retro artworks which if you missed it, you can find right here

If you want to support the upkeep of this website and support an independent artist in the process, please visit my store and take a look through all of my recent works where those tiny not-so-obvious details in each piece will be more easily viewable! Did anyone notice what the seagulls did? Also, I kind of need the hits since I haven’t been around for a few weeks and I guess I kind of need to eat again!

Until next time, as always, stay safe, stay well, look after each other and stay creative!

Mark x

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. My days are filled with art, dog walking and living my best life while still being stuck somewhere in the eighties. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here:   and you can purchase my new works, special and limited editions directly. You can also view my portfolio website at

If you are on Facebook, you can give me a follow right here,  You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at


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