If you search for “steampunk” in Google Images, you’re likely to see pictures of the sort of honey-hued, corset-and-goggles aesthetic that’s all steam and no punk. Not quite the thing for the world of Doskvol, where the sun never shines and absolutely no one’s grass is greener.
If you’re particular like me (discriminating? fussy? difficult?), you want your skies dark (or at least dreary), not choked with zeppelins, and without too many horses in evidence. I have been going through a pretty massive image search and found a few hundred really good images. They may not all resemble The Dusk that lives in your imagination, but I’m presenting a few of my favorite sources here in the hopes that some of them will.
John Atkinson Grimshaw thumbnails here
19th Century painter of dark, sumptuous city- and landscapes. This is HDR imagery 100 years early. If he had lived to illustrate a graphic novel, every nerd would know his name. His son Louis carried on the tradition. His paintings are even more meticulous, even if (to my eye) somewhat less evocative.
If someone did turn the lights up on Duskwall, I think it would look very much like the carefully-observed watercolors of Louise Rayner. There is exquisite detail in her architectural streetscapes helps me visualize and describe Duskwall’s boroughs.
John Singer Sargent
His images are bathed in light, but they are nicely abstracted, often don’t contain the harsh shadows that can betray a day-for-night photo adjustment*, and the guy really liked canals.
Film and video game concept art works really well. The images are dramatically composed, the lighting is usually moody, and distracting or anachronistic details are kept to a minimum.
Obviously. The tech is appropriate, the world is haunted, and the visual style is both painterly and grim. There are screenshots of actual gameplay from this series that could probably be used as evocative art for your game, but the concept art is really where it’s at.
Thief and here
This is among the most gorgeous concept art out there within the aesthetic we’re looking for. It’s always dark, the city has a timeless feel (aided by the wild anachronisms of the game’s world), and it all has the kind of rickety verticality I imagine for Doskvol.
Vampyr and here
Gloom? Check. Menace? Check. Long black coats? Check, check, check. The environments have the sort of old-city feel I’m looking for, and the CG visualizations look great.
If you’re selective, there’s a lot of concept art from the Batman games that’s appropriate. You may need to photo-retouch ol’ Bats out of a skyline or two, but Wonder City and Arkham Asylum have great gothic bones, and much of the art I found is abstract enough that modernity doesn’t intrude into Gotham’s dark corners.
The Order 1886
A prettier world than Blades’, but good inspiration for nicer districts: your Brightstones, your Whitecrowns.
The Evil Within and here
Technically this game takes place in modern day, but weren’t all evil hospitals built in the Victorian era and then never really updated? Our protagonist even has the courtesy to ditch his trench coat, revealing a get-up like a riverboat gambler’s. There are some decidedly creepy interiors and character concepts to be found here.
Carnival Row and here
Not a lot online, but a few excellent images. Decidedly but not aggressively steampunk.
If you’ve discovered artists or media properties whose art evokes Doskvol’s gritty boroughs, I would like to hear about them in the replies.
*If a daylit image doesn’t have strong shadows, it can often be adjusted day-for-night quickly and quite successfully using a CLUT (Color Lookup Table). This software feature replaces colors in the source image using a predefined Lookup Table (hence the name). CLUTs can quickly create all kinds of effects from the subtle to the psychedelic.