Photoshop Painting #23: Mouse Druid

  • Name: Damian
  • Occupation: Druid, leader of the forest animals.
  • Notable Features: Grey fur, brown eyes.
  • Character's Race: He's a mouse.
  • Character's Equipment: He has a twig he uses as a walking stick/quarterstaff.

As I've shown before, I have a soft spot for mice. Maybe it was just too much Brian Jacques as a child. 

Photoshop Painting Catchup #12: Skyfire


  • Skyfire resembled a normal blink dog, but as we're almost epic level, he's partially fused with a dead deity's (homebrew deity called Set-Osir, a good-aligned death god associated with the moon, and appeared to his people as a ghostly white jackal.) power. His fur is now glowing white with a full silky tail, with bright blue eyes. He wears a long silk-like scarf that is flame-colored. Skyfire is very kind and gentle and caring, and like all blink dogs, he's lawful good.

I'm going to share something unsurprising with you: I love animals.

I particularly love dogs. I've spent a lot of time with them, and I've come to the conclusion that they are a species full of zen masters.

Sure, there are some anxious ones, and some needy ones. But if their needs are met, and they aren't damaged by circumstance, they have an amazing ability to both live in the moment and draw happiness from simply existing.

With Skyfire, I knew that I somehow needed to convey that lesson-by-example, that joy, that dogs are trying to teach us all the time. Because it is the kind of lesson a god of death would try to teach.

And on a practical level, I was intrigued by the challenge of drawing a character that is a light source. (The requestor mentioned in discussion that the character's 'glow' had occasionally been a problem during gameplay–makes it hard to hide!) I had to think ahead of how that would work, but I think I nailed it: Ferns behind and under him are lit, and the ones in front of him are no more than silhouettes.

What I did not nail was the scarf. I wanted it to feel a little heavy instead of gauzy, but it came across stiff instead. I clearly have to work on draping, and research how that works with different weight fabrics.

Photoshop Painting Catchup #11: Cacia


  • Name: Cacia Martinus-Laurel
  • Occupation: Bounty Hunter
  • Race: Sabei - basically anthropomorphic wolves (like wolfkin).
  • Notable Features: 22 years old, 5'9" with an athletic build. Her appearance is based on the red wolf: thick russet-colored fur with brown and black patches on her face and tail and gleaming orange eyes.
  • Equipment: Wears light grey carapace armor under a half-sleeve leather jacket with navy cargo pants. No shoes. She wears fingerless spiked gauntlets, keeps a highly advanced plasma pistol in a holster on her belt, and carries a glaive.

Anthropomorphic animal warriors are always a good way to get my interest–put her on a space station, and you have my attention.

love this background and setting. I've shied away from doing gritty machinery before, but this time I decided to find some reference material and go for it. I am slowly learning that the details of the machinery are important, but the color palette and shadows are the key. And I can do color and shadows.

In retrospect, do wish I'd toned down her armor shine a bit more, or at least roughed it up. Every time I use the dodge tool, I wind up with this problem- patches of what looks like over-exposure.

Having the character stepping through a submarine-style hatch really sets the scene, and conveys the claustrophobic feeling I imagine one would have on a spaceship. Which also gives me a nifty excuse to not have to draw her glaive. She's smart enough not to bring a swinging weapon into a tight space!

Steampunk Character Creation Walkthrough


I had never used a character generator before, and it seemed to me that it was past time. This painting brought to you by:

When I ran it, I rolled:

A selfish mechanic hmm? Also, how am I supposed to have a mechanic with a rifle, I need those hands to be holding tools to indicate she's a mechanic! Although I like that this doesn't specify gender anywhere.  I could have drawn a men's corset.

But I didn't. I like the trope of the female mechanic too much. Two tries at sketching resulted in this. It's not bad, but there are several 'I'll have to look this up later' items: I know skirts can be hiked up with little rings on straps, but I'm not quite sure how that works. And I know that little victorian shoulder-shawls exist, but I can't really remember how they fasten. Ditto those high boots with the little buttons. And I know I'm going to need some reference for that shoulder/arm position, and for the cat. 

Behold, reference. Two interesting things: the good trigger safety on the arm reference, and the stark difference in modesty in women's steampunk attire. Both of these things are good little details to use to add specificity and depth to a character.

First, I drew the parts I absolutely needed the references for, and then rotated and tweaked what I'd inked until I thought it fit reasonably on the vague idea I'd sketched.

These heavily reference lines were then desaturated to the same level as my original sketch, so I could see them all together at the same intensity, creating a franken-sketch. Over the top of that  I re-sketched everything with an eye towards adding detail and making design decisions. For example, the shawl has been nixed in favor of a collared shirt, mainly because I had the idea to give her a mechanical arm, and work out how to show it well under a shawl. 

Once the 'ink' is done, it is desaturated to become the new sketched layer, and the old sketched layers are removed. Ahh. Now I can see what I'm doing.

Then, we do it again. This is the actual ink layer, or the beginnings of it anyway.

Flip, and finish inking. If I had one general 'pro tip' for drawing, the horizontal flip would be it. It's an extremely simple and easy way to instantly see your mistakes in proportion, balance, and flow. This one actually had very little in need of adjustment, although I (as always) had to reduce the legs to some kind of reasonable proportion. I'm not sure where this conviction that legs are 2/3rds of a person's height came from, but I know I'm not the only one with this kind of consistent WTF when it comes to proportion.

Now to the fun part: color. On a layer under the lines, use a basic palette (three or four colors arranged from darkest to lightest is a good limit. For a good mix of color, I like to pull my values from reference ) and lay out the most basic of color areas; highlights and shadows. This is your underpainting.

Put another layer on top. Using the eyedropper tool and a 50% paintbrush, soften the edges between your basic colors, and do some detail of highlights and shadows.

More layer, more detail. See the difference in the blunderbuss and mechanical arm from the last progress image to this one?

Once you're happy with your color distribution, erase everything outside the lines. You can still modify past this point if you like, but I've found that tends to be needlessly fussy rather than helpful.

And if you've read through this far, thanks for sticking with me. I know, it was a long one. Which is why I'm stopping here, and not going into how I did the background! :D (Hint: It was basically the same process, but much less interesting, because it was mostly pipes.)

Photoshop Painting Catchup #10 Hecuba

A return to one of my old favorite subjects: A sexy lady.

Now, a nearly naked female spellcaster isn't exactly a rare subject in a fantasy setting, but there was one little detail in the description which nabbed my attention: She's barefoot. This is wildly unusual. Sexy women of any genre are practically always depicted in high heels* whether it fits the character or not. Hecuba's barefootedness says something about her personality, and makes a hell of a lot more sense than heels would.


I would really like to see one of my favorite characters brought to life! She's been in play for almost ten years and has reached legendary status.
Hecuba... [is] a beautiful, voluptuous, mostly semi-naked and self-assured woman in her early twenties. Absolutely stunning and captures everyone's attention - she's got 32 in charisma. She's barefoot and graceful. Ice blue eyes, long flowing black hair and wearing only a very skimpy bronze bikini taken from a succubus. A thin and exquisite waist chain gives her extra strength. A small but deadly looking dagger is at her hip. Her favorite spells are fireballs and Meteor Swarm.

I've spent a long time pushing myself to learn my way around color, detail, and realism. Returning to this flowing black and white style which is so much more intuitive to me is unbelievably relaxing. Not only is it loads faster, it allows me to pull clever tricks to avoid hard bits. For example, by making the boundary between her hair and cape indefinite, I've saved myself the trouble of actually deciding exactly how her cape attaches and exactly how her hair falls. 

Of course, the style also causes some problems- it's particularly bad at depicting a lightsource, or any kind of transparency. So my wonderful plan of showing off Hecuba's casting ability by holding a ball of shining power in her hand is a bit of a dodgy proposition. I pulled it off by using a few conceptual tricks I learned from watching anime: first, explosions are typically shown with radial spikes on the outside, but a smooth inside edge. This seems to convey force, expanding energy. Second, if something is backlit by a very strong light, it's slimmed down- or in the case of this hand, made to look almost skeletal. Which has the added benefit of making Hecuba look just a bit scary.

* An exception to this rule is Salma Hayek's character in the movie 'From Dusk 'till Dawn.'  Quentin Tarantino's got a teeny bit of a foot fetish.

Photoshop Painting Catchup #8

There was a nice complete prompt on this one:

Entropoly (Also known as Polly) is an Unseelie Fae bard. She's 4' 6" with dark red butterfly wings, a black corset, red pants, and a large red jacket over it. Her ears are pointed and pierced, her eyes are black without pupils, iris, or whites, and she is a fan of outlandish make up. She'll often glamour herself to have a gaping, toothy maw to scare others and other things like that. She plays a violin (she has numerous, from simple ones, to blue ones, to ones made of living wood and spider silk strings). Her hair is a blue and black mohawk that hangs over her eyes and is tied in a ponytail on the back.

I love everything about this. A classical musician punk fairy? Oh yeah.

Nothing too new in the figure painting here, although I did play with brush settings a bit, making the stroke edges much less clean and obvious. The pose is the most interesting part of the figure. I chose a very difficult pose because: I wanted to showcase the wings, and I really, really didn't want to try to draw a foreshortened violin.

The new thing is the background. I wanted something that was reminiscent of casting a spell, without being too obvious. This tutorial produced excellent results. I'll definitely be looking for an excuse to play with this more. 

Photoshop Painting Catchup #7

The seed for this post was actually a direct request- someone saw my work, and was hoping that if they asked nicely, I might do something for them.

So, of course, I did. (I'm a sucker for good manners on the internet.) This character's name is Settaja, and he has a fairly serious case of orc-related PTSD.

As you can see, something important has happened between the last painting and this. I did two things differently.

First, I allowed myself to have lines this time, but I did them in a very specific way. Using the darkest and lightest colors from the immediate area, I outlined the bright and shadowed sides of forms I wanted to pop out. For the arms, this means a pale pink is on the most brightly lit side, and a dark brown is on the shaded side. I like this technique a lot, and I suspect you will see it again.

Second, I've actually figured out what 'contrast' means in practice. I think somehow trying to make him obviously mentally unbalanced made it easier to have a major range from light to dark.

Other aspects of this painting I want to make note of:

Composition. Again, because of the unbalanced and dangerous nature of the character, I stepped outside of my comfort zone to take a low viewing angle. This also allowed me to have an easy background, and I am pretty much ecstatic that my experimental tree technique turned out so well.

Scars: There are scars all over his forearms from self-harm. Scars are hard– these are too subtle, but they don't look fake or drawn-on, which is a victory.

Border: Technically, this picture didn't need a border. But somehow it looks a lot better with one. I'm going to have to ruminate a while on why that is. 

Photoshop Painting Catchup #6


The title for the request which sparked this piece was 'An Inattentive Drow Factotum', which caught my eye. Mostly because I had no idea what that was supposed to mean.

Turns out, a factotum is basically a geek. As for inattentive, the poster intended his character to be naive, wildly intellectually curious, and completely unfamiliar with the above-ground world. 

Regarding painting technique, for once my blank-box background is fairly character-appropriate. I assume that for this guy, the rest of the world greys-out when something grabs his attention.

The pose is acceptable, but only just that. I'm still pleased though because I chose a pose that made sense rather than one that was easy. And doing 'okay' on a difficult pose is still something to be happy about.

The colors in general are a bit too fuzzy and non-specific. It does have enough of a range from light to dark, but the transition is too smooth. It could really use more hard edges, more like the hair and face. Although I rather do like the effect on the sleeve, it doesn't quite come across as maille, which was the intent.

Photoshop Painting Catchup #4

Larger version.

Okay, so before we talk painting technique, clearly I need to give you some context for this... silliness.

A pack of Orcs were captured by the fallen angel Bwana, the one responsible for minotaurs and owlbears. Using the corpse of a captured rabbit, he twisted the orcs, making them somehow more grotesque than they were previously. They thanked their maker, and dubbed themselves "rabi-tork".

That, plus a few details from the poster about weaponry and faces, and this is what happens. It's not my fault. 

Now then, on to business: If you go back and look, something changed since my last painting.

It doesn't have much to do with the nitty gritty of painting. My brushwork is basically unchanged. (Although I did do a little texture experiment with the fur on the legs, it wasn't really worth the amount of effort it took for how it turned out.) I think the real difference is composition. This is a full, of-a-whole piece: Not a figure by itself, and not a subject on a consistent but essentially irrelevant background. Here, things flow together, so the eye makes the rounds of the whole thing.

Part of that is the placement of the components– the mountains and the Rabi-tork themselves. But this is the first time I've really done anything resembling lighting. I try from time to time, but rarely do I actually make myself to a full range from almost white to almost black... While I'm working in color, at least. (Looking back on it now, I do wish I'd been more bold with the highlights on the bodies, but it's not bad.) When working in black and white I have no problem, which is possibly why I haven't been paying enough attention to it in color. 

Women of Star Trek: Kes

Oh hey look, texture.

I'm not really going to do a blow-by-blow of making this picture, because there's something more important I need to talk about. The making of this little painting kicked off a mild dark night of the soul for me. It doesn't look like the sort of picture that would do that, does it?

This is the central issue: for the two years or so I have been trying to learn how to use my tablet, and how to do somewhat realistic oil-painting-style color in Photoshop. I've learned a lot, but I've also picked up some very bad habits... like an over-enthusiastic use of google image search. The secondary issue is one of subject matter- I've continually allowed myself to play in other people's sandboxes. It's comforting to draw awesome things from the universe of WOW or Star Trek or Diskworld, because I don't have to do nearly as much work and I can be fairly certain of a warm reception in the geeky circles that I frequent. But if I keep doing that I'll never get around to drawing *my* ideas. And I do have them- I've even posted sketches of them from time to time. But they haven't had my full attention in years.

So. As much as I'm enjoying this series, I need to set it aside for now. I'm not sure what to tell you to expect to see in this space but I'll be working more from my sketchbook, and I'm going cold-turkey on fanart for a while.


Women of Star Trek: Dax

It's a known problem, but it still surprises me- I have a much harder time drawing things I love than things that just interest me.

And I love Dax's character. I will resist going full fangirl (I'd hate to spew spoilers at people- although when a show gets past about a decade old I'm pretty sure I couldn't be blamed for that) and boring you all, but suffice it to say: She's so cool. I want to be her when I grow up.

Because she is so innately awesome, I wanted to give her a great illustration. Well, I half-way succeeded. I really like how Jadzia and Ezri's faces look and how they are posed, and I'm mostly pleased with the control panel and Jadzia's body.

The background and Ezri's body though? ... Sorry about that Ezri. I know you aren't actually lumpy.

I would have continued to work on the background, shadows, and maybe the feet, but it was really time to be done. There comes a point at which you have to accept the failings of a painting, or start over. And if I'm going to begin from scratch, it's less depressing to just start working on something else.

Women of Star Trek: Kira

Welcome to Deep Space Nine.

You may have noticed the change in decor. And uniform. And attitude.

Deep Space Nine is in general a very different sort of Star Trek. One with ambiguity, the possibility that someone wearing a color other than red might die, and a refreshing lack of Star Fleet monolithism and moral superiority.

Kira's character is part and parcel of this new worldview. (Universeview?) She has internal conflicts, and a little more depth than 'emotionally scarred tough chick security officer.'

Kira Nerys is the first Bajoran we get to know well. It makes it a little hard sometimes to tell which of her actions and opinions are general cultural Bajoran characteristics, and which are individual to her. She is a survivor, unwilling to forgive, vicious when necessary but also deeply spiritual and with a strong capacity for love and play that she has a long-standing habit of sublimating.

I'm very happy with how this illustration came out. Kira is often in the position of having too much to do: she moves snappily, and has a tendency to multitask. She looks like she is on the way to deal with some 'problem', and has paused to hear a shouted amendment to her to-do list. Her face has both good and bad points- it is a better portrait than I've managed to date on this project, and I love that her makeup came out looking like makeup. That said, the contrast is still a bit wonky, and her hair is definitely more cartoonish than accurate.

My backgrounds are... progressing. This one actually looks like an underpainting, which is a solid step in the direction I want to go. It's just depressingly far from the last step.

Women of Star Trek: Crusher

In my memory, Dr. Beverly Crusher has a depth and importance all out of proportion with the role she actually played on TNG. I don't have to look very far to figure out why: Crusher is a female doctor in her early forties, head of her own sickbay and a brilliant surgeon who struggles to balance her work with her mothering obligations to her child.

Change out 'sickbay' for 'practice', and that describes my mother as well, at least at the time when I watched TNG on thursday nights on the big TV in my parent's room.

Re-watching the series now, I notice a different aspect of Dr. Crusher's character. Certainly being chief medical officer on the Enterprise isn't a bad gig, but it seems that Crusher never quite gets what she wants. She's perpetually stuck in-between. Between whatever happened with Picard around the time Jack died and a relationship with Picard now, between the challenge of being chief medical officer on a starship and the promotion to head of Starfleet Medical, and between her clear command potential, her desire to practice medicine and her need to raise and protect her son. When she does have something unequivocally good happen to her (falls in love) her partner in a whirlwind romance has a mostly fatal shuttle accident and ultimately switches gender.

She never shows any particular disappointment with her life, but it's hard to not feel a little sad for her.

I had quite a lot of trouble with Crusher's pose, not the least of which because she's a dancer and I wanted that to show through. Eventually I settled on a 'treating the fallen' pose, which worked out great... but left me with some serious issues finding background reference with a matching 'low' POV. I'm pleased with how the Enterprise passageway came out, but it's a bit of a random choice.

And again, the blue/orange thing. It keeps happening. I think it's following me.



Women of Star Trek: Troi

It always bothered me that Troi didn't look like an alien. Or act like an alien. She was raised on Betazed, yet she appears to have no cultural conflicts whatsoever living in Star Fleet.

Troi rarely acknowledges her mixed ancestry, and is even less often bothered by it. It is occasionally referenced, but in general characters like Worf wind up being a lot more fraught about their cultural heritage. But other than Troi's mother being difficult (which appears to be personality rather than racially driven) she seems remarkably unconflicted.

So when I sat down to draw Troi, I knew I wanted her to look a little... off. Not quite human. I'm not sure I succeeded, but I at least I didn't make her look awkward. I'm pretty pleased about that, given Troi's preference for twisted posture.

Women of Star Trek: Yar

In retrospect, Tasha Yar is clearly one of my childhood role models. Though I didn't know the word at the time, I thought she was hardcore. She was also competent: Her opinions were respected by Picard and Riker, and they relied on her expertise. (In contrast to poor shot-down Worf.) She was pretty but not womanly, and seemed to find reminders of her gender to mainly be annoying. This resonated with me, because I was just beginning to notice the surprise or disapproval some adults exhibited when I enjoyed 'boyish' pursuits.

Re-watching the series now as an adult, I am struck by other aspects of her character. Most obviously, she suffers from first season syndrome. TNG was finding itself, (as many shows do during the first season) so her character presentation is a bit scattered and flat. Since she was only in the first season, that's all we have to judge her on. Though her leaving the series did clear the way for Worf (who was a childhood favorite) it means she never got to grow a beard. Yar is good at her job, but she is not a generalist: She's holding a hammer, and by god she's going to hammer everything until she finds a nail. While she is strong, she is clearly also damaged in a disappointingly predictable way. Perhaps they would have developed that in a more interesting direction given more time, but the tough chick with trust issues/romantic anxiety is selling the potential of Yar's backstory a little short.

On an arts level, and am very pleased with how her body came out. There are low points (the hands) but I nailed something about her character with her stance. She is clearly powerful and forthright, but also somehow brittle. I also like the contrast between her figure and Uhura's: both are clearly adult women, but at opposite ends of the hourglass spectrum. (You'd think an ability to draw different body types would be part of an artist's basic toolkit. Unfortunately it's often not. )

The background... I'm still working on backgrounds. Suffice it to say that I didn't just take a photo of the bridge and run filters over it. I re-drew it, even the damn woodgrain. But it doesn't look like that's what I did, it looks like filters. Bah humbug. I would like to note however that I attempted a complementary color scheme that isn't orange and blue for a change. I think it works.

Women of Star Trek: Uhura

This series of drawings brought to you by Neil Degrasse Tyson. If you don't know who that is, it is my pleasure to introduce an astrophysicist whose wonder and love of the universe is contagious. In many ways he is a successor to Carl Sagan, particularly in his effort to publish advanced scientific information in a generally accessible form, and to popularize scientific thought of all kinds.

The spark for the series I'm beginning today is a podcast that Neil hosts called Startalk. Not too long ago he interviewed Nichelle Nichols, whom you may recognize as the original Lt. Nyota Uhura.  While listening to the recent time capsule episode, I was inspired by the juxtaposition of the interview with Nichelle and Neil's interview with Whoopi Goldberg, who of course played Guinan on TNG. (That's [Star Trek] The Next Generation, for all the non-nerds.) Both were amazing and they reminded me of the formative role Star Trek played in my perception of women and gender relations in the future. While I never really fully bought into Gene Rodenberry's utopia, I find I carry little bits of it around. I assume that the future will be full of women and men who can obtain equal levels of professional success, and that promotion is based on excellence. That sometimes even saying 'men' and 'women' will be a bit inaccurate, because not all people will fit under either heading. That no one will assume agression, tenderness, or other emotions are gendered qualities. All and all men, women, and other sentients will be presumed to be equal, without the assumption that they are the same.

I wanted my depiction of Uhura to primarily reflect two things: her competence/professionalism and her almost aristocratic grace. The facts: Uhura is curvy bordering on voluptuous, dressed in a miniskirt, and is typically presented sitting like a telephone operator with a funny-looking doohicky in her ear. I think I met my goals admirably, considering these restrictions.

I'm still not sure about the lack of chair. It works for me because I'm so familiar with the scene that by brain auto-fills that detail, but I think perhaps that her sitting on air may look strange to the general audience. Ah well. Like hell I'm drawing a full background of all those knobs and switches.

Literate Minuteman

Once again, my webmonkey has afforded me an opportunity to pay him back for his monkery.

This time, he wanted a logo for a neat little tool he wrote.  This tool works with a Goodreads 'to-read' list and a local library system to give you a nice clean list of books you actually intend to read that are currently available at various branches of your library system. Well, our local library system. If you're in the greater Boston area and use Goodreads, give it a whirl.

This is the cutest robot I have ever drawn. I'm not big on robots so it's not a particularly broad selection, but still. Lookit his little underbite. D'aww.

The lines of this piece were not particularly difficult (thank you Netflix, for having Iron Giant available for inspirational purposes) but I am pleased by my integration of revolutionary war and robotic elements. Although on review I think I should have added a glow to the eyes.


Zeetha, plus some news


I've mentioned Girl Genius before, so I'll just point in that direction and say read it. Zeetha is an awesome character but while I like her, I'm not totally invested in her, which is probably why I felt comfortable taking her quite tight character design and flubbing it as part of my learning process.

This is the 'go faster and be looser' part of that process. Again. The process is a cyclical sort of thing. On the bright side, there has been some clear progress. This one took about three hours total, and there were no outlines at any point in the coloring process.

Now, I implied there was news.  I've been spreading my branchy little dendrites over the internet.

Ever wanted to buy any of my drawings? I am now a member of a little artist's association called Paper Ribbons, where you can buy both already made pieces and commission things based on a style choice and a short statement. Paper Ribbons is aiming to make art buying make a little more accessible. Pricing is based on size, so it takes some of the uncertainty out of trying to assess artistic value. (They make it my job, rather than yours.) My Paper Ribbons page.

If you're more into my jewelry, I also now have a facebook page. Mostly because two people in one week gasped in horror when they wanted to 'friend' me and found out that I didn't have one of those buttons. (They don't actually issue them at birth. Surprisingly.)

And there's always my etsy, which has been updating lately. Which reminds me, I've got some new pieces I need to take pictures of. Boo pictures. Hooray updates!


Schoolgirl, Twenty Years After

I realize there's been a bit of gap since my last communique, but that's because this is my 200th post.  Noticing that resulted in a nasty case of the Specials: I was struck with the sudden need to do something memorable... something special.  Which completely got in the way of making the damn post.

But hey, 200th post! And I have something very pretty to show for it.

I wanted to do something similar to an old piece I was very proud of at the time, both to try to do something awesome again, and to see how far I've come. You guys remember the first post-apocalyptic lady? This is like that, but more awesome. In part because this time the set up is better. I mean, there's nothing wrong with your basic near-futuristic world weary lady warrior, but I think the idea of a private school punk who learned to survive after the bombs fell to be a lot better of a story. I mean, the husk of a dead city? The gattling gun/shillelagh dual wield? The ratty plaid skirt? This is a moment in a narrative, not just a moody girl in armor. (Not to insult the long and occasionally glorious tradition in illustration of brooding females with accouterments of implied violence.)

It's also just flat better stylistically. Last time, I couldn't build anything non-organic from scratch, I didn't have a great grasp of texture, and an extremely simple angle for the lighting. This time? The only time I really needed to have reference in front of me constantly while I was making it was for the gattling gun. I made the scree field by hand, and I'm much better with texture. Still not totally happy with my texture technique though- Mr Donkey looks a little sandblasted rather than furry, but I was getting testy by that point and it was time to be done.


Photoshop Stars Tutorial

And now for something completely different. It occurred to me that some of you might be interested in a guide to making stars like I did for the Diskworld post. It's actually not too complicated. And besides, if you want apple pie you've got to learn to make a universe.

This tutorial has lots of pictures, so I'm putting it behind a cut so as not to clog up anyone's RSS. It's SFW, I promise!

Step 1: Create Photoshop Document. Name it 'Stars'. Give yourself a nice big square field at a high resolution, 10x10 inches at 400 pixels per inch is what I'm using here.

Step 2: Fill with Black. Paintbucket tool for the uninitiated. Make this on a new layer, not the background.


Step 3: We need some basic speckles to work with. Go to Filter>Noise>Add Noise. Move the slider to between 10 and 20%. (Higher percentage will give you a more dense star field, a lower percentage will have more black space in it. I'm taking the middle path, 16.57%.) Make sure that Guassian and Monochromatic boxes are checked.

Step 4: Image>Adjustments>Threshold. Drag that sucker down to 98.

If you could see what you were doing before, you definitely won't be able to now. This would be a good time to zoom way in to reassure yourself that you're actually doing something.  Ah yes, see? Progress.

Step 5: Add a new black layer below your active layer. Rename your active layer 'stars 1' to help keep things straight.

Step 6: Now, while you're all zoomed in and are working on your stars 1 layer, we'll use the magic wand tool. Adjust your settings magic wand settings so that the Contiguous box is not checked, and the tolerance should be set to 2. Then select all the black.

Aaaaand delete it.

With the black layer in place underneath, you've separated your black from your stars. This will become important in a minute.

Step 7: Select one quarter of your stars 1 layer using the rectangular select tool. It will be easiest to do this if you zoom out and can see the whole workable field.

Copy it and paste to a new layer, named stars 2.


Step 8: While on your new stars 2 layer, go under Edit>Transform>Scale, (hold down shift to keep the proportions the same) and scale your stars 2 layer way up, until it is covering the whole workable surface. Don't worry about overshooting a bit.

Step 9: Select one quarter of the stars 2 layer, copy it and scale the copy up in exactly the same way. Name the new layer stars 3.

Step 10: One last time, same deal: Select a quadrant of stars 3, copy onto new layer stars 4, and scale up until it covers the whole workable surface. You should have something that looks like this:

Now you should have four layers of stars in order from largest to smallest, with a black backdrop underneath them. If all you want is a simple background, you could stop here. Yay!

But you might want to stick around, as we're just getting to the fun part. And by fun I mean 'more likely to ruin everything forever'.

The next bit is much more freeform. We'll be using the eraser tool, the blur tool, gaussian blur, and copy and paste to make things look a little more chaotic and realistic.

Step 11: In order to sidestep that 'ruin everything forever' problem, duplicate your layers. Make a group (create a group by clicking the folder symbol at the bottom of the layer box) named Basic stars.

Select all the layers you've made, then Layer>Duplicate layer. Take the copies and drag them into Basic stars.

This is your backup in the event you'd like to start over.

If you now have one set of five layers in a group and one set of five layers *not* in the group, you're golden.

Step 12: Hide the contents of Basic starfield, and make it invisible. (click the eyeball symbol next to a layer or group to turn visibility on and off.)

Now that your backup's all done, let's get to work!

Step 13: We'll begin on the biggest nearest stars, the stars 4 layer. For the moment, make all other layers invisible. Set your eraser tool on 50% opacity and a nice big radius of 300. Now start shaping your stars. Remember that one or two swipes will make a star dim, but not invisible. I'm going to shape my stars into a sort of swoop, thinking to emulate the horsehead nebula. Remember to leave a few clear outliers which are not part of whatever formation you are shaping. This is my version of stars 4, with all the other layers invisible.

Step 14: Now, my other layers need to be shaped as well. One by one make them visible, and shape them down with the eraser tool. Don't be too exact about your edges! This next image is while I am working on my stars 3 layer. I have stars 4 visible as well to help show me where the edges of my formation are. Feel free to adjust the opacity of the eraser if you feel it's taking away too much, or not enough. If you feel like you've made a mistake and wish to try again, just copy the un-erased version of that layer from your Basic starfield group, drag it into place, and hide your first attempt.

Step 15: After some erasing, here's what my layers look like all together.

This would also be a totally reasonable place to stop, depending on how you want to use your picture. But it all seems a little sharp to me, so I'm going to add some stardust.

Step 16: Duplicate all your stars layers again. Then merge all the duplicates into one layer. (Both of these commands are under the layers menu) On your merged layer, select a section of starscape you think could use some cloudiness.

Step 17: Copy your selection to a new layer. Name this layer with the small selection pasted on it 'Cloud'. Turn off visibility on your merged layer.

Flip your Cloud layer vertically (or horizontally, as is appropriate to your picture) using edit>transform>flip horizontal.

Step 18: Name your new layer cloud, and run a fliter>blur>gaussian blur on it, with a radius of 5.

Step 19: That doesn't seem nearly cloudy enough to me, so I'm going to duplicate the layer, and rotate the copy so the stars are not directly overlapping. (I also shifted it down a bit.)

Now I'm going to merge my two cloud layers, and use the eraser tool (still with it's 50% opacity) to make the edges a little less obvious.

Step 20: Cleanup. If anything seems too bright to you, remember that you can tune down the brightness of an entire layer using the layer opacity in the layer box, and that if things seem too sharp you can use a smidge of gaussian blur on an entire layer. In this case I'm pretty pleased with everything, but I made the stars 1 layer invisible to increase contrast, did a little more selective shaping with my eraser on my stars 4 layer, and nixed a couple stars that were too close together or otherwise bothersome.

And I think I'm done.

But by all means, continue if you're having fun. Using these techniques you can make a very cloudy nebula, or enlarge a few outlier stars for effect, or make your own constellations. Go nuts! If you keep all your experimenting on separate layers, it's very easy to say 'eh, that didn't really work' and just revert to an earlier version.