The Art of Retro Inspired E-Art

The Art of Retro Inspired E-ART

Painting the Eighties, one bit at a time…

The Aer of Retro E Art title image
Painting the 80s One Bit At A Time!

If you have ever wanted to create interactive artworks or artworks from alternative mediums such as electronic waste, this week’s article has you covered with tips, market insights, and even a brief history of early eighties computing and how it shaped digital art today! We will also be taking a glance at technology inspired artwork and you might just get a few previews of my next creations!

Built-in obsolescence…

Technology is often sold with built-in obsolescence and most people will probably have some old electronics sitting around that they no longer have a use for. Technology has been providing creatives with original ways to express themselves since, well, technology first existed, but eventually, it stops working and all too often ends up buried in the ground, left to leach toxins into the soil and groundwater supplies.

Recycling old electronics is an option, and the best option by far, but the facilities to do this in a safe and sustainable way simply don’t exist everywhere. But there is also a certain beauty that can be found in looking at something that previously had its very own history. An internet router that communicated with millions of other routers, a phone that would have been used for countless conversations, or a camera that took thousands of pictures. So where electronics cannot be recycled, they can be turned into very unique pieces of art.

Obsolescence artwork featuring electronics of the 80s
Obsolescence by Mark Taylor - available now from my stores!

Styles of tech-inspired artwork…

Just a cursory glance around the internet will demonstrate just how big the market is for this kind of work. You can see everything from statues to posters, apparel to home appliances. Sega – a company that created coin-operated amusement machines as far back as the 60s before releasing major systems such as the Genesis (Megadrive elsewhere), even set up a Kickstarter to create a Sonic the Hedgehog themed toaster which would burn an image of the character into the toast.

Regular readers will know that despite being known perhaps more for my traditional landscapes, for more than thirty years I have been creating technology inspired artworks, video game graphics, box art, and retro images for vintage gaming collectors. From 8-bit inspired pixel art prints to the artwork used on the side of arcade machines, and more recently, the artwork for physical packaging used in special edition collectors editions of modern retro-inspired works.

Wherever I can, I still use the original hardware to create the most authentic visuals, it’s extremely difficult to recreate say a Commodore 64s unique display in something like Photoshop. If I don’t have access to a physical system I fall back to emulation, a way of getting a modern PC to replicate whatever system from the past.

electronics on work bench
One of my workbenches in the studio where I soak test systems and create e-waste art - oh, and also create props! Notice the Commodore 64 to the right of the image - one of a number of systems I use to create authentic retro-inspired art.

My Eighties inspired collection, Retro Revival, has become increasingly popular recently and it is a series that continues to grow and evolve. Throughout this article, you can see some of my more recent additions to the collection, all of which are deeply rooted in the nostalgia that many collectors have for the true golden age of home computing and video games.

As a niche, vintage and retro gaming and computing have seen a recent resurgence and there are plenty of collectors who you might never have even thought about previously, let alone reached. This week, I have you covered so that you can at least step onto the vintage technology ladder with a little confidence.

Not just prints and paintings…

Whilst you might not want to extend your talents to manufacturing a Sonic inspired toaster, you might want to consider extending your art portfolio by using electronic waste. In 2019, some 53.6 million tonnes of electronic waste was produced and yet only 17% of it was recycled sustainably.

What’s perhaps just as concerning is that the raw materials in the e-waste stream from 2019 was valued at some £44.8 million ($61,44,944 US). The real issue here is that the lost resources are then having to be mined again, depleting the planet's resources even further while the unrecovered waste is buried within landfills and left to create toxins and health issues. Just £7.9 million ($10, 842,789 US) was sustainably recovered through professional recycling and recovery facilities in the same year.

Artists have always found use in things that others have thrown out. What might be perceived as junk will have some value to someone, and this is almost always the case with vintage technology, even if it is only ever reused to provide spare parts.

CRT TVs and monitors are becoming increasingly difficult to find in working order, yet a serious retro and vintage collector or owner of an original arcade game machine prefer the glow of a CRT over the flat and sharp image produced from a modern screen and they are happy to pay for that level of authenticity. Now that CRTs are no longer produced, they are highly sought after by the purists, either for that distinct original glow or simply because some vintage systems just won’t work at all with a modern display.

New CRT production is in demand, yet no one has started to reproduce them. Perhaps, because we have lost many of the skills required, but more likely because we have lost the technology and the production facilities to produce them, and of course, environmentally, CRTs were much bigger and heavier than modern screens and they were notoriously problematic to dispose of in later years.

Interestingly, cassette tapes are something else that has seen a surge in demand of late, and whilst one company continued to produce them in small numbers over the years, they were very much inferior to the tapes of the past. That has recently changed as another company have now begun production of high-quality tapes, for a premium price of course.

cassette tape and pencil artwork
Tools of the Trade by Mark Taylor - Now available in my store!

This has been welcomed by the retro gaming community who have had to transition to utilising after-market add-ons that allow SD-Cards to replace the need to load programs from tape, but a genuine retro lover would rather wait for a tape to load and listen to the noise of data being transferred than have something modern that loads the programs almost instantly. The retro purists prefer authenticity over convenience and they’re very happy to pay for that authenticity. I think you get the idea, the retro and vintage technology community are actively seeking an anchor to the past, and in big numbers.

Art Projects using E-Waste…

Printed circuit boards can be used as a unique canvas, repurposed into a sculpture or made into a clock, the only limit for their use is your imagination. For a number of years, I have reused old technologies in the props I created for TV and film, and more recently I have been taking old technology, deconstructing it and turning it into functional items such as clocks.

Old technology isn’t an overly expensive medium to create with, so long as you have a constant supply of components. Waste really is just a lack of imagination but when it is turned into art, it can unsettle the viewer and make them think about their role in adding to the overall problem of generating e-waste. E-Waste can be immensely powerful at conveying some of the most poignant environmental issues that we face today.

Technology has also shaped the art world we know today…

Much of what we see in the art world today, be that the performing or visual arts, wouldn’t have been made possible if technology and science had never found a parallel with creative people.

Leonardo Da-Vinci was known for his forays into the world of technology, Warhol wouldn’t have become quite so well known without the Commodore Amiga computer, and the genre of new media art, a term that had been coined in the 60s wouldn’t have had a hand in the introduction of the internet.

Technology is as critical to artists as a tube of paint, whether you currently use digital mediums or you continue to only use more traditional mediums such as pen and ink. As a digital artist, I’m not only interested in pushing pixels around a screen, I also push paint around a canvas, something I would never have done in a professional capacity if I hadn’t received a small microcomputer as a Christmas present from my parents back in 1980.

My first steps in home computing…

My passion for technology goes back to me being a small ten-year-old boy growing up in one of England’s newly built “new towns”. Towns that had been developed to ease the overspill population from the major cities. The seventies had been a decade of innovation and a hot summer in 1976, and by the 80s, the new town was thriving with new technology companies providing much-needed employment for the grown-ups. Not quite like Silicone Valley, think more like eccentric British inventors in a series of large sheds.

By the early 1980s, life had changed from the life I had known as an even younger child in the 70s. Accessible technology seemed to suddenly appear around every corner, beeps, flashing lights, shiny tech, I was suddenly sucked into a digital world before we humans even realised what digital really meant.

It was an incredibly important time in history,  it was an era that would define the tech we see today, and as the population of today reaches a certain time in life, nostalgia for the period grows stronger by the day. In part, maybe because back in the 80s we never had to wait for a Windows update to do its thing, but in part, because for most kids of the eighties, technology created a happy place that meant you could play games with friends on your portable TV after school.

Today there is a sizable and fast-growing market for vintage technology. There is also a market for artworks depicting vintage tech, and there is a market for technology to be implemented within art. The question that we need to ask ourselves as professional artists who are looking to communicate our individual messages to the world, is why wouldn’t we embrace any of that technology when we think about creating our next masterpiece?

In life, change is the default, not the exception. Evolution is baked into every aspect of our world, from physical growth to scientific progress, it’s little wonder that people long for stability. Maybe that’s why many of us choose a nostalgic anchor to the past to remind us of simpler times.

My anchor, as many of my regular readers will know, is a combination of the eighties and technology. Having grown up during the dawn of the home computing age, I feel incredibly lucky to have not just witnessed the beginning of something that has significantly changed the world in which we live, but something that I have been involved with right from the start.

Had it have not been for that small microcomputer sitting waiting for me under a Christmas tree in 1980, I’m not sure I would have ever had an art career at all. I had always loved drawing and painting, just as every child does, but it wasn’t until I began to learn to program a computer that I began to see the potential to create art on a screen.

At this time I had no idea that anyone had already created artwork using a computer before, but the first art created with a computer had already been created sometime in the sixties. By the eighties, the process of using a computer to either create or assist with creating a piece of art had become more prevalent and the term, digital art was first spoken.

When I discovered that the not very powerful device I found under the Christmas tree was capable of producing some level of visual output, it was a game-changer that opened up a completely new world of possibilities and it sparked a lifelong passion for the arts, not just digital art, but traditional art too.

vintage computer storage media artwork
Storage Wars by Mark Taylor - now available in my Pixels and Fine Art America stores!

Fast Forward…

It’s funny how technology has changed since the days when I started out creating digital art back somewhere around 1980. In the old days as they’re now known, you needed a small box that contained extra memory (RAM) to be precariously connected to a not very powerful home computer so that you could do anything remotely half productive with it.

Those small boxes were optional extras that were also kind of essential, and they would wobble and crash the computer if they hadn’t been attached with the aid of Blue Tack or Duct Tape to keep them in place. Excited fingers would vibrate a table just enough so that you would lose all of the work you had already done, only for it to be replaced with a blank screen and the need to cycle the power off and back on.

Computer programs were available on cassette tape, sometimes they would be available on interchangeable cartridges, and the code to create programs would often be listed, often incorrectly, in the computer magazines of the time. Those listings were the reason I learnt to program a computer, after spending a good few hours diligently typing the listing into the computer you would find out that somewhere, there would be an error that you would then need to track down and debug.

We had, by the eighties, just about moved on past punch cards and paper tape, transitioning to either huge floppy discs or compact cassette tape, but we hadn’t moved on when it came to the public perception of computers.  Most people still equated computers with a science fiction future and geeks wearing white lab coats huddled around a green screen display in a dimly lit lab. I knew of no one who saw computers as a viable art medium.

So I began creating traditional landscapes…

My interest in art had been piqued, the more I created on screen the more inspired I became to create art using any medium I could get my hands on, eventually selling my very first landscape work which was a watercolour painting of Westminster Bridge in London with a big red double-decker bus driving across it in front of the houses of parliament.

sunset, dry stone wall, artwork
Glow Over A Dry Stone Wall by Mark Taylor - One of the hundreds of traditional landscapes I have created. This one is also available on my Pixels and Fine Art America Stores!

Landscapes became my thing, yet behind the scenes, I was still creating on any computer I could get my hands on. That creativity even stretched to creating computer games on 8-bit microcomputers, systems such as the Sinclair Spectrum, Atari 400 and 800, later moving on to the Commodore 64, Commodore Amiga, and eventually the PC.

And then I began creating digital art…

If I wasn’t creating games, I was creating graphics for other people to use in their games or creating the artwork for the box art and I was suddenly earning real money for doing the things I loved. That Christmas Day in 1980 didn’t just present me with a computer, it presented me with a lifelong career.

A brief history of computing in the 80s…

If you plan on creating art based on vintage technology or create art directly on vintage technology, then knowing the history of that technology is extremely useful, especially if your intention is to show your art at one of the many thousands of retro events held around the world every year. Don’t worry, I have you covered with this, it’s my other specialist subject having been a collector since I realised that I never throw any technology away!

8-Bit and beyond…

In the States, the 8-bit home computer scene wasn’t quite as vibrant as it was over here in the UK. The Commodore 64 did really well in the USA, but come 1983, the American video game bubble burst, while over here in Britain, the scene was becoming busier with more and more home computers becoming available and their popularity increasing as more and more kids convinced their parents that computers could help with school work.

Computers of the time never really did help with school work, there were few teachers at the time who understood computers quite as well as the kids did.  By now, many teenagers were turning into entrepreneurs and creating games to sell from the comfort of their bedrooms through the power of mail order and placing cheap ads on the back pages of one of the many home computing publications at the time.

It was a lucrative time for many bedroom coders. I remember a time when you could turn up to a computer fair to sell your independently produced game and people would constantly be six or seven deep at the table, literally throwing money at you in return for the code recorded on a compact cassette tape.  

I was earning more money for a few days of work than both my parents earned in a month, just from creating a program that would take a couple of days to code or maybe a week if it was something special. Once I had created the code, I would visit a computer fair twice a month to sell my wares. Amazing times, but it wasn’t a sustainable business model in the long term.

Technology was evolving into something new every week. No one could keep up with the pace and the choice of technology available began to dilute the market for games. It was the original print-on-demand model, but without the need for a middleman, but then came the saturation as the industry grew ever larger.

1980s retro video game handheld artwork
The 80s Handheld by Mark Taylor - Available in the coming days on my store! I love, love, love, painting these!

The problem with such market saturation was that unless you developed for every system, it wasn’t viable, and it also wasn’t viable to develop for every system. Here in the UK, there were three original staples of the home computer market, The Sinclair ZX Spectrum which sold phenomenally well in the UK. It was sold as the Timex Sinclair 2068 in the USA where it didn’t do very well at all. Then there was The Commodore 64 which did incredibly well everywhere, and the Amstrad CPC464 which I don’t believe made it anywhere outside of Europe in significant numbers. There were plenty of other systems, Oric, Acorn, MSX, but none would really find similar market sizes that the Spectrum, Commodore and Amstrad had found.

Enter 16-Bit and beyond…

Those three systems were the systems that you would develop for if you wanted to find an eager market, but as 16-bit microcomputers and consoles began to gain popularity, the base of available models exponentially increased consumer choice and the development of software became exponentially more challenging. It would be an even greater challenge when the 32-bit systems such as the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast arrived.

Commodore introduced the Amiga, again, a system that didn’t do overly well in the USA, but this was a system that would go on to enable an artist by the name of Warhol to create some of the most iconic pop art of all time, and I have to say, he was creating on the Amiga much later than I was, he was simply better at marketing his work. I still own my original Amiga and frequently still use it to create authentic Amiga art.

80s pop music culture artwork
80s Pop Music Culture Artwork by Mark Taylor

This is when everything changed. Suddenly, the lone bedroom coder had to become a team of people and today, that team has become in some cases, 500 or 600 people strong, often more, in order to produce a modern video game. The other difference is that in the eighties, the limitations of the devices became the mother of creativity, today, we are blessed with plenty of resources to more or less build whatever we can imagine and add some photorealistic images and a full orchestra in too. In the 80s, you had to be an efficient coder, today, the software is nowhere near as efficient as it once was, despite its visual greatness.

The other difference between then and now is that not only could you create a title for very little outlay back in the eighties, you could also work on graphics and sound without relying on too many others. Today, you need the high side of a six-figure start-up fund and at least eighteen months of development on specialist development hardware, just to get close to getting your product to market. But, maybe the tide is turning once again.

What we are beginning to see today is a return of the indie developer.  Small teams, sometimes even lone coders going up against the big players, writing smaller games that are then sold via a platforms online store as a digital download, or, as is more increasingly the case, as a limited physical edition release which is often targeted towards collectors.

We are also seeing more and more retro remakes using modern hardware to replicate the look and feel of the old-school equipment that we once owned, although some of the best remakes still require huge teams and significant budgets to bring to market. As an example, you would probably need something like $100,000 to stand any real chance of success if you developed a title for the Nintendo Switch.

Fast Forward…

Fast forward to today and the gaming market that sprung up as a direct result of those early home computer innovations is now bigger than Hollywood. We’re talking about an industry that spans the globe and is worth billions in revenue each year, and there’s no sign of it slowing down. Recent predictions suggest that the video games market will be worth $200 billion per year by 2023.

Much of the recent surge of popularity around these old, now almost vintage systems rapidly increased throughout the pandemic, although interest in them had been gaining traction for a number of years pre-pandemic. Nostalgia has had a huge influence on the market, and it has even spilt over into the art world with retro-inspired vintage computer and gaming artworks becoming increasingly popular, especially when you look at the number of works now appearing on platforms such as Etsy.

data corruption artwork PCB, circuit board
Data Corruption by Mark Taylor

So how do I get into the market?

If you are looking for a niche and have an interest or ideally a passion for all things vintage technology, it is one of the few niches that you can dive into today that might very well still be a viable niche in a decade, and there is no other art niches that I can categorically say will grow quite as fast and still be popular so far in the future.

There’s a lot of gaming-related artwork out there already and there are some great pieces to be found, equally, there is a lot of work out there already that is fairly generic and I have to say, there is quite a bit that lacks any understanding of the technologies that it portrays. The more specialist works are also commanding higher prices, and if you can bring a new idea to the market, there are buyers who are willing to pay a premium.

We might not be talking about a Matisse original level of premium, but certainly, three or four-figure sums instead of two. A decade ago, some of my retro-inspired original works would hang around the studio for a few months, today they tend to go out of the door almost immediately, and they are increasingly being requested as commissions.

As we have seen throughout my recent blogs about creating retro-inspired works and looking at alternative niches, your success in this will be determined by how well you stand out above everything else that is already out there.

Before you embark on a voyage throughout this niche as an artist, it has to be said that you ideally need to have at least some knowledge of vintage technology and/or retro gaming, and it’s even better if you have a genuine passion for the subject, as you should as an artist in whatever you create.

The market for this kind of artwork is very switched on to the many nuances of technology and if you ever confuse your Mario’s with your Sonic’s, the community will let you know, often quite brutally. It can be a difficult niche to enter if you aren’t currently creating in the genre, at least until you begin to form relationships with the community. Thankfully, the community, wherever they are around the world are almost always willing to engage with you in return.

printed circuit board art work in progress
All of my work is created by hand using tools such as Procreate - each line on the board was drawn using an Apple Pencil in this piece. This was a WIP shot of my PCB artwork - more than 60-hours of drawing lines had been completed at this point!

 A word to the wise…

As I intimated earlier, buyers pay a premium for technology and gaming-inspired art that isn’t generic, but you also have to be mindful, especially if you chase the video games market, that you don’t inadvertently stumble into an intellectual property fight with the likes of Nintendo, or “Ninten-don’t” as they have become affectionately known.

Companies like Nintendo are fiercely protective of their IPR as are many others. It’s also worth noting that companies have been set up with the specific intention of buying out the intellectual property rights of long lost companies with the sole purpose of scouting the internet for unauthorised and unpaid use of old IPR.

Some modern companies with hugely popular back catalogues actually encourage fan art projects on a non-commercial basis, but there is a fine line when it comes to making any kind of profit from the work. There are a few who are perhaps a little more willing to negotiate the rights to use older IPR in works, although you might find that there is a curation process alongside a licensing fee that will need to be paid. No company wants to see their 8-bit character shown in a bad light.

The good thing about vintage technology is that, whilst you do have to respect the general principles, you can also take some artistic licence. People tend to value the feeling of nostalgia that the art brings over and above any precise technical detail, well, mostly.

Creating technology inspired artwork…

Throughout this article, you might have noticed some of my more recent works inspired by vintage technology, some of which is now being reproduced as mixed media pieces using original components. One of the pieces I am working on at the moment is to create a clock that uses an enterprise-grade Cisco router, a device that cost over $1000 ( £728 UK) a few years ago, but since the model is now end of life and is no longer upgradeable with security patches, there is no place for it in any corporate or home network. By extracting value from turning it into a piece of functional art, it becomes one less component destined for a landfill.

The paintings I have created have all been hand-drawn and painted using Procreate on the iPad Pro before being refined further in Photoshop/Illustrator and in some cases, using original hardware from the period. Some of the works are more than 70inches in size when printed out at full size, and they have been included in my Retro Revival collection of artworks which has become increasingly popular with its focus on the golden age of video games and home computers in the 1980s.

electronics painting, artwork,
Together in Electric Dreams by Mark Taylor - available from my stores now!

Ideas for E-Art…

I’m not sure there is a specific term that defines the entire home computing/retro-inspired art genre that also encompasses e-waste art, so I prefer to call it collectively, E-Art, perhaps it could make it as a new art movement. One thing I do know is that there’s certainly not enough of it about right now!

Some of the most inspiring works I have seen made out of e-waste recently have been themed around Steampunk. It’s a popular genre that has a significant market share of upcycled works in the art world. Take a look online and you will find artists who have created everything from shoes to coffee tables out of e-waste, even 3D skyline landscapes of famous cities, and they’re attracting collectors who are willing to pay that all-important premium price. More importantly, buyers in this genre tend to quickly turn into collectors.

Small printed circuit boards are being turned into keyrings and jewellery, speakers are being transformed into lamps, cables have been turned into paper towel holders and even an iMac clone. You can find the projects and instructions to recreate these things right here

Adding Micro-controlled interactivity into your artwork…

I kind of remember when any computer would take up about the same floor space as a large house, although by the time I started to use them they were by then, comparatively pocket-sized until later in my career when I began working with data centre based infrastructure. Fast forward to today and not only does the smartphone you are reading this article on have more power than was used to launch a man into space, you can now accommodate an entire computer on a single chip. A quick technical note here, your phone might be more powerful than NASA's space era technology, but it still can’t launch a man into space!

Devices and computers on a single chip are now increasingly common, there’s a good chance that something you already own has an FPGA device within it. Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) is a semiconductor device that is based around a matrix of logic blocks. In non-geek speak, that means that you can essentially create almost whatever device you want on a chip and then reprogram it later to become something else.

FPGA can be complicated for a first-timer, it’s not something I would dabble with had I not have been using FPGA technology in other projects for a few years, but there are easier options if you want to embed technology within a piece of artwork.

If you have ever used an emulator on a computer, and you might have done without realising it, for example, if you have ever played an old video game on a modern system, then emulation of some kind was probably involved, especially if any part of the game relied on or used the original game file. That would have been software emulation, or in short, not quite like the real thing. FPGA is full-on hardware emulation and pretty much it becomes the real thing in a modern and often tiny package.

Using a MiSTeR FPGA device, I built an entire arcade machine that is capable of running over 70,000 video games from a multitude of video and arcade game systems and home computers and it all runs on a device that is barely bigger than the palm of your hand. FPGA does have a downside right now when it comes to a device such as a MiSTeR, it’s expensive, although it can be done much more cost-effectively when it is focused on recreating a single device.

Slightly easier and cheap enough to instil into an art project is the Raspberry Pi. Raspberry Pi is a series of small single-board computers (SBCs) developed in the United Kingdom by the Raspberry Pi Foundation in association with Broadcom. The Raspberry Pi project originally leaned towards the promotion of teaching basic computer science in schools and in developing countries.

The original model became more popular than anticipated, selling outside its target market for uses such as robotics. It is widely used in many areas, such as for weather monitoring and because of its low cost, modularity, and open design. It is typically used by computer and electronic hobbyists, due to its adoption of HDMI and USB devices.

And that’s what makes the Raspberry Pi such a great device to incorporate into art projects, and especially devices such as the Raspberry Pi Zero or PICO which only cost around twenty dollars for the most basic versions. The question I guess, is just how much of a technology expert do you need to be to create an art project that involves this kind of tech?

The easiest way to incorporate modern technology into art projects…

I think, for the most part, the creative process is going to be the most problematic aspect. When you realise just what the possibilities are, it can feel overwhelming to settle on the one idea that will add some value to any particular piece of art to turn it into an interactive work, or a work that has the added depth of working technology embedded within it.

As far as the technology itself goes, that is perhaps the easiest part because there is a huge community both active and willing to provide help and support. I think it is one of the best communities for knowledge sharing that I have ever come across. Virtually anyone can learn how to use a Raspberry Pi just from watching 30-minutes of tutorials on YouTube, and if you utilise pre-configured SD-Cards, anyone can have a project completed and built within a very short space of time.

It would be awesome if you understood the programming language they call Linux, but for the most part, you are able to purchase those pre-configured SD-Cards I just mentioned with both the operating system and the application pre-installed. Your role is to then assemble a few simple components using the vast library of tutorials available on the internet or from the hundreds of books that have been written on the subject, slide in the pre-configured SD Card and turn the power on.

The versatility of the Pi is unsurpassed. You can quite literally buy an accessory that will make the device do almost anything you could imagine. From inexpensive high definition touch screens to home automation and robotics, cameras, facial recognition, and if you need a very cheap PC, you can even use a Pi as a fully-featured computer, especially if you have the latest Raspberry Pi 4.

I have seen Windows 10 functioning better on a Pi than one of my old laptops, so it is, without doubt, the cheapest way to get into computing and many of these devices have been used throughout the pandemic to allow children to access their schoolwork and participate in remote lessons, this is especially useful when finances have been drained a little too much and there’s a need to use a computer or access the internet. Pi’s today are perfectly capable computers in their own right.

Generally, if you can think of it, there is a device that has been made to attach to the Pi that will allow you to execute the idea, usually for pennies on the dollar compared to other technologies. Who wouldn’t want to add artificial intelligence to an abstract painting of the mind?

raspberry Pi 400
The Raspberry Pi is built within an official keyboard - Image copyright Pi and Pimoroni - the best place to buy Pi devices!

Be careful…

There are some materials and components that you definitely want to avoid in your e-waste art projects, used batteries that can leak, any materials containing lead and mercury, and smoke alarms that actually contain radioactive components are probably the most obvious components to avoid. Always check that the materials you are using are not only safe for you to handle, but they’re legal and safe for you to resell.

You will also want to take some precautions when creating your projects, especially when using old PCBs which can have very sharp edges, and using a soldering iron to deconstruct and reconstruct projects is fraught with risks, not only are they hot, they can set fire to anything they are resting on. That might sound obvious, but sadly it’s not, I have known people who have picked up a hot soldering iron by the tip rather than the handle.

Use a soldering mat to avoid damage to surfaces and if you can, use a heat resistant silicone soldering mat as this has the benefit of providing some additional grip to prevent components from slipping. Soldering irons should never be placed on a surface that doesn’t have a heat resistant mat, instead, they should be stored when you are not using them within a specialist soldering iron stand but these are inexpensive enough for you to not have to worry too much about set-up costs.

If you are thinking about deconstructing old electronics, it is worth researching the value of them before you do. A sealed iPhone 1 in its original packaging is currently on sale on eBay for £20,000 although an unsealed original boxed iPhone 1 is going to be closer to £2,000.

You also need to be cautious when comparing the prices of vintage computers and technology. Many eBay sellers will describe their Commodore 64 home computers as being super-rare and will inherently place a high value on the items. A person's own nostalgia is worth nothing at all to someone else, and as many as 30-million Commodore 64s may have been manufactured, although some sources state it was closer to 22-million units. With that in mind, the Commodore 64 isn’t actually rare at all, many of them are packed in boxes in attics having been forgotten about, they’re not rare, they’re just in hiding and that’s the same with most vintage technologies. The tech that is perhaps genuinely worth more will be prototype units or tech that only ever found a very limited market. Equally, you have to be mindful that this too isn’t the bar to set a value against, I own some very rare technology, but its value will be from nostalgia rather than being monetary.

It’s the same with a lot of vintage technology, although prices have gone even crazier recently after the graded sealed copy of Super Mario for the Nintendo Entertainment System sold for over a million dollars. There was though, a very specific set of circumstances that led to that price.

According to some websites and experts, the price the game sold for happened in a way that’s not too dissimilar to the way the murky parts of the art world operate, allegedly, but it did begin to drive retro prices up and up more widely for everything, despite there being no real reason for prices to increase. What it did do was to encourage more people to dig out lost treasures from their attics and list them on sites such as eBay for exorbitant prices.

You can find the full story on the Mario game and the auction online, and a number of conflicting views around why the game reached such an eye-watering price. There is an explanatory video on YouTube that may or may not present what really happened, of course, I’m not convinced we will ever know for sure. If you read about it or watch the videos that have been posted online and you are familiar with the stories from the murkier parts of the art world, I’m sure you will see more than a few similarities! Just Google the term, exposing fraud and deception in the retro video game market and you will find videos that allege what might or might not have happened.

Where can I find out about the history of vintage computing?

We artists do love to research our subjects before attempting our next masterpiece so you will be pleased to find out that the internet generally has you covered with enough information to provide you with sufficient knowledge that will more than get you started.

I’ve broken the links down into sections so that you can pick the most relevant ones to gain a better understanding of what you want to do, be that create 8-bit retro computer art, find out the history of any specific computer, or listen to podcasts that cover all things retro and vintage computing.

Boombox artwork by Mark Taylor
Turn It Up by Mark Taylor - available now from my store!

8-bit and Retro Computing:

Low End Mac:

If you are already into retro and love your Mac, you might have already come across a website called, Low End Mac where they guide you through keeping your Mac alive for as long as possible. What you might have missed is a feature on the history of Commodore’s 8-bit computer range. You can find Low End Mac right here

Gamasutra: More of a general IT related website but with a decent history of Atari’s 8-bit era for those who didn’t buy into the Commodore machines. Back in the day, there were only two real choices outside of the UK, Atari and Commodore. You can find the Atari article right here.

Old Computers: Old Computers is by far one of the best resources to learn about old computers, there are currently 1261 systems represented, most with information about the devices, the peripherals, software and a copy of the original documentation in some cases. I’m not convinced this site gets anywhere near as much love as people ought to give it, but I can spend hours on it just browsing systems that were only available in other countries. You know they still manufacture the Sega Genesis in Brazil right? You can find the online museum right here

Vintage Computing: Vintage Computing and Gaming have a wealth of retro information and it’s not just about computers. Toys are represented here too, specifically the kind of early electronic toys that we would once see in Radio Shack, or Tandy as it was known here in the UK.

I had completely forgotten about the Radio Shack Armatron, The Takara My Robot Watch which was an alternative to Transformers, and there are a number of 80s adverts scattered around which, if nothing else, will either provide you with a healthy dose of nostalgia or remind you that graphic design today can at times, be really dull in comparison.

You can find Vintage Computing and Gaming, right here

Byte Cellar: I stumbled across Byte Cellar while looking for Apple accessories online and found a personalised cut wood Apple logo sign from 1984, sadly, I don’t as yet have one of these in my collection.

There are a lot of systems represented here, the iconic TRS-80 which I still need to get my hands on because it was a great little development machine, and the early Woz and Jobs era Apple machines seem to be well represented. You can find Byte Cellar right here

Stack Exchange – Retro Computing: I have to admit, with such a need to consume everything tech-related, I can often be found exploring Stack Exchange – usually for answers to some strange coding issue I have come up against when programming 8-bit artworks.

There is also a Retro Computing Stack Exchange where questions get asked and answers are given. This is an ideal site if you are researching older technologies for art projects, the community are eager to support everyone with even the smallest of questions, and they’re knowledgeable.

This is the site that also touches on pre-8-bit computing, namely the times of punch cards, and mainframes such as the Russian Strela from 1953, a system that played a pivotal role in the Cold War. You can ask all of your retro technology and computing questions right here

The Centre for Computing History: Based in Cambridge, here in the UK, the Centre for Computing History is much more than a museum, it hosts hands-on exhibitions, educational workshops and a wide range of activities and events. If you plan to visit in person, it’s only open on weekends, and there is an on-site shop that sells everything from a MyZ80 maker kit to floppy disk notepads, and icons of beige computer poster prints.

Upcoming events which might be useful for those in the UK who want to start developing skills to add technology into art will find the Pico Clock event useful where you will learn to build and program the Raspberry Pi Pico! You can find out more here

Vintage Is The New Old: One of the things I really like about Vintage is the New Old, are the news articles that often showcase recent Kickstarter projects, often projects that are art-related and vintage technology focussed. Recently there was an article on a Kickstarter to create a deck of 52 playing cards, each paying homage to a classic video game, with each card promising some sweet 8-bit pixel art. You can find the site right here

Commodore News: I know I have a lot of readers from the USA and I am always minded to research things that will be suited to both US and UK audiences, and with that in mind, Commodore News might be just the site that US and UK audiences will both love given the popularity of the machine in both territories.

The Commodore 64 was huge over here in the UK and Europe, but until the Nintendo Entertainment System arrived, the C64 was the defacto 8-bit computer of choice in the USA, alongside the TRS-80 (also lovingly referred to as the Trash 80!)

For those considering using the Commodore as a source of artistic inspiration, it will be good to know that the machine is still huge today and there is an avid army of retro-heads, myself included, who still continue to both use and develop for the machine even today.

Visit retro fairs and there will still be deep queues forming around anything related to the breadbin of computers, so-called because of its distinct breadbin-like shape. The modern C64 scene is perhaps the most vibrant of all of the retro communities.

If you want to find out the latest developments and news, then head over to Commodore News, right here

Raspberry Pi 4
Raspberry Pi 4 from Pimoroni - This is a fantastic computer that can do almost anything you can imagine!

Generation Amiga:

The Commodore Amiga wasn’t an immediate follow up to the Commodore 64, there was also the Commodore Plus 4 and Commodore 16 along with a couple of other variants and we almost got to the point of seeing the Commodore 65 land in the wild before Commodore fell into bankruptcy, although a few prototypes did make it out into the wild and the machine is finally being released as a recreation. An original C65 prototype will set you back around $20,000 - $25,000 today. The Commodore Amiga was hugely successful in Europe, not so much in the USA, but it has become the Holy Grail for some US-based collectors of late.

The Amiga was an incredibly important computer in the digital art scene. Programs such as Delux Paint predated Photoshop and gave users an incredible amount of power over digital imaging, it was also the preferred tool for Warhol who used the Commodore Amiga to produce some of the most iconic pop art of our time.

The Amiga was also legendary for its music power, with chip-tunes created by demo groups of the time that are now highly sought after by collectors of the early demo scene floppies, discs that would often also contain cracked versions of commercial software with a musical intro created by hacking collectives of the day. I can neither confirm nor deny that I was involved in the demo scene for obvious reasons that would probably implicate me in the grey art of breaking disc copy protection.  

The Atari ST (and later the Atari Falcon which didn’t do anywhere near as well) would be utilised alongside the Amiga for its incredible, for the time, ability to act as a MIDI controller, and between both machines, the digital arts and music scene was to become well established.

I still use both my Commodore 64 and my Commodore Amiga for creating original digital art and a little games development whenever I have the time. They are incredibly important machines and anyone who is into digital art should definitely understand where digital art and music really originated. The scene today is arguably just as vibrant as it once was, and collectors and fans of the machines provide a ready-made market for artists who utilise the systems in art projects.

You can find out more right here

Atariage: In the USA, it was all about Atari. Youngsters would never admit to playing video games, instead, they would play Atari. Atari was also one of the most influential companies in the history of computing and video games releasing the Atari 2600 Video Computer System on the 11th September 1977.

The company ran into trouble just ahead of the video game bubble burst of 1984 in the States, having manufactured more ET game cartridges for the 2600 than there were 2600 consoles in existence. They then buried those that were never sold in the desert. Some were dug up relatively recently and some even still played the game without any issues when inserted into a working console, despite having been buried in sand for decades. ET as a game it has to be said was pretty bad and it disappointed a lot of folk including me.

Atariage is perhaps the best known Atari website of the modern-day, and you can find it here. It’s also worth noting that the Atari VCS has recently been re-released, and the verdict, it’s nowhere near the same as it was, and fans who bought into it are firmly split into two camps, lovers, and haters. It looks really cool though.

Lemon 64

I mentioned emulators earlier, C64 forever is one such emulator that focuses on the Commodore 64 (others are available) and it comes complete with a library of original games and it is available through the Lemon 64 site. If your research extends to the history of the C64, then Lemon 64 is perhaps one of the finest C64 resources out there. You can find it right here

Raspberry Pi and Raspberry Pi Art Projects…

If you have ever considered creating a truly interactive art project that utilises technology, the complexity might very well have put you off from even trying. Enter the Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Pi on Toms Hardware: There are some great ideas on this site here, that will get your creative minds thinking about how you might want to incorporate a Raspberry Pi type device into your next art project.

The Raspberry Pi scary picture frame would be an ideal addition for Halloween, albeit probably a little too late to get something produced for this year, although there is a simpler Turning Jack-O-Lantern. Perhaps you might want to create a George Orwell inspired 1984 style facial recognition artwork, although be mindful of any data protection issues that might arise if you display the work in public!

Inky 7 colour screen from Pimoroni
Inky 7 colour screen available from Pimoroni - what a great art project this would make!

Pimoroni: This is one site that is frequently recommended to me as a brilliant single source of Pi-related devices and components, so much so that my next Pi order will be heading over to them. Pimoroni offer worldwide shipping and prices are some of the lowest I have come across, even if you have to factor in import taxes, although they do have a network of global distributors.

This is also where the potential to utilise a Pi and technology in your art projects becomes financially possible. The HyperPixel high-resolution screens come either in a traditional rectangular format, or as a circular display, and they are touch-sensitive, making them perfect for interactive projects, or to utilise at art shows and exhibitions. The colours really pop on the screens and I can think of a hundred and one ways to bring an artwork to life with a Pi and one of these screens, or even multiple screens.

Hyper Pixel Touch Screen Pimoroni
Hyper Pixel Touch Screen available from Pimoroni

Hyper Pixel traditional touch screen
Available from Pimoroni - Hyper Pixel Touch Screen - traditional shape

There are other devices, so many other devices that you will only get a sense of the number and variety of them if you visit Pimoroni’s website, but of all of them, the most obvious to include in art projects for me would be the audio amplifiers and air quality monitors which would be a fantastic addition to artworks focussing on issues such as global warming.

Audio Amp for Raspberry Pi
Audio Amp for Raspberry Pi - available from Pimoroni - I have found Pimoroni to have the best range of Pi Products on the planet!

Retro Podcasts…

If you prefer to listen to history rather than reading about it, there are a number of retro podcasts, although all are not created equal. I listen to a lot of retro podcasts and have probably listened to at least a couple of episodes of most of them that have been created over the years, so I have picked the best of the best that are currently on my daily podcast playlist to share with you!

Retronauts: Retronauts is described by the hosts as America’s favourite games podcast… probably. The website to accompany the show is full of articles and includes videos so you can not only listen to the show but visit the site to get even more context around whatever they’re discussing. The shows are around 90-minutes long as many of the shorter shows are and podcasts are released a couple of times a week.

You can find the website and links to the podcast to play in your podcast player of choice, right here

The Retro Hour: One of my most listened to podcasts is The Retro Hour, a British podcast with hosts who record the shows every week, and not too far away in Nottingham. Dan, Ravi, and Joe bring exclusive interviews with some of the greatest names in the industry, from Atari veterans to modern-day developers who have worked on some of the latest retro remakes. The Retro Hour Podcast is a founding member of ‘The Videogame Heritage Society’ alongside BFI, National Science and Media Museum, Museum of London, C64 Audio, Centre for Computing History, Bath Spa University and the British Library.

If you want a definitive history of vintage computing, then you can find it right here

Maximum Powerup: Another great podcast, especially for collectors of vintage computer and gaming magazines and publications. Some of the past episodes have bought interviews from some of the early video game journalists, reviewers, and editors who shaped computer and videogame journalism in a pre-internet era. It is an incredibly important and historic look back at an industry that didn’t document its own progress very well, if at all, during the early years.

You can find Maximum Power Up right here

Retro Asylum: If you are looking for a nostalgia hit, Retro Asylum is another podcast that reflects on times past and also provides useful tips for retro collectors and enthusiasts. Covering computers and games consoles from all over the world, although, with a heavy hint of the popular systems available in Britain, the team have extensive knowledge of all-things-retro.

This is perhaps one of the most authoritative podcasts on the subject and there are plenty of past episodes to listen to. It’s a little like having a conversation about retro with friends in a pub on a Friday night!  You can find the Retro Asylum right here

work in progress artwork, CB Radio
This is one of my latest works in progress - massively popular in the 80s, the CB Radio! Who remembers the astounding K40 antenna? My handle was Mr Wimpy! Based on the character from the British fast-food chain that is still selling fast food in a few remaining restaurants today! Stay Tuned for More on this one!!

Arcade Attack: Covering a range of arcade games and retro consoles, Arcade Attack is another podcast that reflects on the history of video games and home consoles, PC and even the retro scene on the Nintendo Switch.

There are also a number of celebrity interviews from the likes of Al Acorn (of Atari and Pong fame), Rob Hubbard, who has to be one of the most prolific and most revered video game musicians ever, and there is a great interview from Tom Kalinske, one of the main driving forces who were behind Sega in the 1990s.

You can find Arcade Attack right here

RGDS: Retro Gaming Discussion Show: RGDS began as a podcast back in 2014 and has since covered thousands of historic video arcade games from developers all around the world. Discussing platforms such as the Panasonic 3DO, Gameboy, classic Nintendo consoles, Atari, PlayStation 1, right the way through to modern remakes of classic games, the show is chock full of information. You can find RGDS right here

Ten Pence Arcade: Focussing on video games culture between the 70s to the mid-90s, the Ten Pence arcade also covers some of the lesser-known systems from the time. There are also features around the restoration of video games cabinets and arcade PCBs, so if you are one of the growing numbers of people who are jumping on the recent surge to have an arcade machine in your own home, then this is probably one of the best sources of information you will find. They also cover emulation, a method with which you can emulate many of the systems on today's modern PCs and Macs. You can find the site and the podcast right here.  

The Ted Dabney Experience: In association with The American Classic Arcade Museum, the Ted Dabney Experience is a serious conversation about the golden age video arcade greats. With some of the most iconic interviews, often with the original people involved in the birth of games and systems back in the 70s and 80s, this is another definitive history that is being documented in a professional way.

The hosts, Paul Drury, Tony Temple, and Richard May, all have a deep connection to the industry. Paul writes for Retro Gamer Magazine, a British magazine that is also popular in the USA, Tony holds the Guinness Book of Records for his high score on Atari’s Missile Command, and Richard was co-founder of the popular geek-culture ‘design portal’ website, Pixelsurgeon.

Since 1998, Richard has been a freelance illustrator with clients such as WIRED, Edge, Computer Arts, Waitrose, Nordstrom, New Scientist and The Guardian. His long-term relationship with British rock band Echobelly has seen him design the covers for the majority of their post-Britpop era releases, so if you are still in any doubt that this is a history that is also steeped in art, Richard is probably all the proof that you need.

You can find the Ted Dabney Experience right here

Retro Magazines: I collect vintage computing, gaming and technology magazines and now have a collection that is in the high three digits and growing. From both a design and technology perspective, they represent a stark contrast to the technology available today and because the magazines are for the most part, in a physical format from the pre-internet era, there is a sense of nostalgia every time I pick one up.

Today, it’s rare to see a computer magazine, though back in the 80s and 90s there were at least two or three magazines on the shelves for each of the many systems. What often stands out is the design and publishing standards of the time, not forgetting the copy contained within each magazine, they’re sometimes also representative of the time when there were very few editorial standards around political correctness and I find that it can be a fascinating insight into just how much the world has changed.

Retro Gamer: Talking of magazines, if I didn’t let you in on the retro world’s best-kept secret, I wouldn’t be doing any justice to the history of gaming. I mentioned Retro Gamer earlier, and this is a magazine that I am lucky enough to own every issue of.

Published monthly in a physical and digital format, Retro Gamer since 2004, is a publication that looks back at the entire history of retro through reviews, interviews, and features and the publishing standards are outstanding. The magazine itself has become a bit of a collector's item of late, and it’s also one of the few remaining physical gaming magazines available on the shelves in news stores.

There is a no-nonsense approach that feels down to earth and familiar and often there is a humorous writing style that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The copy is always very well written and edited and the production values, especially with the subscriber-only cover editions are in themselves an art gallery of gaming’s greatest moments.

Covering every major computer and system, the magazine provides plenty of information every month, and it provides the inspiration to go out and search for some of the lost gems from a previous age that we might not have played, or played a lot and then forgot about. You can subscribe wherever you are in the world and the link to the subscription can be found on the Retro Gamer website here, or you can purchase a physical copy from all good newsagents in the UK.

The Importance of Computing in the Digital Art World…

The history of computing and video games is fascinating and it’s not something that is reserved purely for gaming enthusiasts, there is enough history throughout the above websites for you to get at least a small idea of just how incredibly important early computers and video games systems are to the modern age.

Without the likes of Delux Paint on the Amiga, a precursor to Photoshop, it’s fair to say that early computers defined the way that we create digital art today. It’s also surprising to find out things like the Sega Genesis (Megadrive outside of the USA) is still being manufactured and supported in Brazil, despite being last manufactured by Sega in 1997. The podcasts are always full of information that will sometimes make you say wow, and other times make you say oh dear. They are though, performing an incredibly important role in their quests to document and retain the information that is quickly becoming lost. 

Most of the podcasts also reflect back on the decades between the 70s and 90s, often covering popular culture of the time and not just computers and video game consoles, if you have fond memories of any of those decades then you’re likely to find something of interest beyond the subjects of computing and gaming.

Happy Creating!

Hopefully, you will have found this week’s article at least a little useful if you plan on utilising technology in your artwork. Being a long-time collector of technology, gaming platforms and video games, I have a huge passion for anything and everything that involves electronics.

I even have a collection of vintage gaming and computer magazines and am always on the lookout for more, especially magazines from the USA which I missed out on here in the UK. I love comparing the industry around the world and there’s nothing more retro than sitting down with a coffee and flipping through the pages of a physical magazine with the phone turned off and not a screen in sight!

I mentioned earlier that I never throw technology away, but in my younger days I did sell on computers that I had owned for a while so that I could purchase the next latest model. My parents funded what they could but that usually meant waiting until machines came on offer towards the end of the model's life, or as a result of me saving up. Since then, all I seem to have done is try to replace whatever I sold in my younger days and lived with the regret that I sold some hyper-rare items for pennies on the dollar compared to what they are worth today, both in a monetary and nostalgic sense.

Even some of the magazines that I had read at the time made me get that warm, safe, fuzzy feeling, and my own video games were advertised in some, yet I still don’t have a single copy of a magazine that featured any of my work, or any of the many letters I would write to the letters pages which got published. I also passed up the opportunity to work in video games journalism after being head-hunted at the age of 14, a regret I carry to this day. By headhunted, I mean they were pretty much, taking anyone on who knew how to play video games and write BASIC programs! Big regret, massive, my life could have been so different!

I have to admit that my digital art studio has become more museum-like over the past few years, but my ever-growing collection always manages to provide an abundance of inspiration for my eighties inspired work, and I can justify it by calling it research rather than hoarding! So, if you are sorting out your attic and need to find a home for any old computers, vintage computing magazines, or if you need to either know more about them or donate them to a good home, I’m all ears and always willing to find space! My bank manager agrees that I should just cut out the middle-man and exchange my art directly for vintage systems. Maybe they should create a special version of Patreon where I get funded in tech in return for art!

That’s all for this time, but keep an eye open for a future article on popular culture and art through the 70s, 80s and 90s, which might just give you a clue as to what my next artworks are likely to feature!

As always, stay safe, stay well, and look after each other, oh, and Happy Creating!

Mark x

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. My days are filled with art, dog walking and Teams Meetings, 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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