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.)

Allison in Armor: Photoshop color tutorial

Okay, so 'tutorial' is overstating this a bit. There will be no 'set your brush to 45 percent opacity' in this post.  This is more like a quick tour of my thought process as I'm working, which I hope will be helpful to people with some photoshop skills who just aren't sure quite how this 'painting' thing works. When I get a good art idea, it tends to be because two previously unrelated ideas ran into each other.

In this case, a friend sent me a link to the winner of this year's The Longsword Competition At the World Invitational Tournament. In passing, my friend added that she would like to have a set of that armor for her very own.

Bingo bongo, time to draw my friend in medieval armor.

I had an armor reference, now I needed a pose reference. Enter google, and the nice people at The Medieval European Martial Arts Guild, who have large images of classical european martial forms linked to from their site.  I chose one of the forms, and got to work on a 'blueline' sketch.

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Doing the first sketch in blue makes it easier to pick out the lines I actually want in black later. Also at this stage I began collecting my pallet. Each major color needs at least three (dark, medium, light) constituent colors, although apparently my natural inclination is to choose four. Keep the number of shades to a minimum though, or you'll drive yourself nuts.

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With the black lines completed, I flipped the image horizontally, so that I can see the perspective and proportion mistakes I made in the original sketch.

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Egad. It's always worse than anticipated.

Once the perspective was suitably unfucked, I trimmed down some of the too thick lines and fixed the face up a bit.

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Then, it was time to flip her back the other way and lay down some colors pulled from my reference images. The first layer of color is at full opacity, just trying to vaguely cover large areas. Detail comes later.

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Now that I had color mostly in place, I needed to complicate it a bit. With a combo of the eyedropper tool and a fuzzy brush at half opacity I turned blocks of color into shades of color. Here it is about half-way along, top almost done but the bottom untouched.

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Not too shabby. I took away the lines for a second just to make sure it was going well.

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Then I put the lines back and trimmed the color to fit.

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Of course, it's at this point (too late) that I realize I've got a few lingering structural issues. The thigh armor plates leave an awkward gap under the belt, and the draping around the backside is... subtly wrong. Also the blade isn't consistent enough, and the skin needs some evening out.

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With that about done, it's time to start on the background. I thought putting her in a woodland would be nice. Also since I was planning on fuzzing it out, I thought woods would be recognizable without being too much detail. First, lay out the basic blocking, and put in a row of trunks.

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Aaand not enough trunks. So I just copied the layer and scaled it up to make a second closer row of trees at a higher saturation. Then I went and found the 'leaf' brush and went to town.

Stage 1:

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And Stage 2:

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And now enough guassian blur to make things look less obviously drawn in with a pre-set pen. Some blurring was done with a brush, so that nearer leaves will be marginally less fuzzy.

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Now for some style: cutting to a frame.

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Time for the really fun part. Texture! I went and found a metal texture, cut it to fit, and used the overlay function. It pumps up the contrast a bit too, which I kind of like.

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Texture for everyone!

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The background gets some texture too, just a little even canvassing to separate it yet further from the figure.

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Background needed a little more separation, so I desaturated it a bit. The last step is to add a bit of key light glow, which helps the figure become more three dimensional. Then it's time to stop fussing, and call it done.


Green Spike Necklace: The Making Of

I considered calling this a tutorial, but that's really too strong a word. I'm not going to lay out a map of where I've been for you to follow; today I'm more interested in getting out the photo album to tell you about my trip. Yesterday I had a great experience for any maker. Y'see, I had a plan. That plan, like most, did not survive contact with the enemy. So I modified my plan. Which didn't work all on it's own, but it did give me a different idea. So I tried that, and it turned out brilliantly. This is how it went down:

A few weeks ago I found a new local semi-precious stone and findings supplier. I like to buy local and in-person when I can, it makes for a more satisfying hunting-and-gathering style shopping experience.

On my inaugural trip, I picked up this string of what appears to be dyed abalone shell.

These are perfect for making a 'spike' necklace structure, like this one in smokey quartz. So I threaded the spikes, and assembled them in the same way I had done previously.

Very nice... as far as it goes. Quite literally. Due to the shape of the human neck and our insistence on wearing clothing, making a necklace with spikes that go all the way around is not very practical. So I'm left with extending the basic weave for more than half of the necklace. Which not only looks boring, it also verges onto appearing lazy.

See what I mean? No one is willing to pay 'handmade' rate for that. So I went looking through my gradually accumulated bead collection to see if I could find a decent color match. I thought perhaps I could add some interest to the boring part of the necklace with a bead that wouldn't tangle in a collar.

These were not a bad match at all. Also dyed shell, with strong striations.

This interruption structure works reasonably well for adding interest and maintaining practicality, but there is a problem. The color match isn't exact, so the transition between spikes and beads is less smooth than I would like. However...  the way the beads interspersed with the pattern of the chain gave me an idea.

It worked! Though the bead 'separators' are a bit longer than the simple connection links that were there before, there is still just enough room for the lower spike to dangle freely.

And the final. Excellent.

UPDATE: This necklace sold within ten minutes of its very first show debut. A success all around.


Sylvannas Windrunner: Photoshop Painting Tutorial

I've already done two color studies of this character, but while Sylvannas in her Undead Queen persona turned out really well, the younger Ranger General Sylvannas was, um, bad. (For one thing, I misread my reference picture and made her hair blue. In my defense I was playing a blue-haired elf at the time, so it didn't seem weird at all.) So when I needed a subject for my adventures in painting faster and with less useless detail, I thought I might give her another chance.

The bones of this painting come from an old sketch that had never been finished, in part because there were some underlying proportion issues that I just couldn't seem to resolve.

We'll start with an unadulterated scan of the real world sketch, which formed the first layer of my Photoshop file. Problems that need solving: Head too big. Torso too long. Anterior pelvic tilt over-exaggerated. And, y'know, no feet.

Problems fixed using copy, paste, scale and rotate. Not too hard, right?

With a little increase in contrast, I can select everything close to white and delete it. This leaves me with something vaguely like lines. Then I need to add more lines to finish the form.

Referring to the lines throughout the process is useful, but once the color is well established I try to use them as little as possible. I paint under the lines, and use them as a guide for now. First a broad underpainting just to lay the colors down in approximately the right place, and then a bit of refinement on another layer. (Note the palette in the corner. Start with limited colors, complicate them later) Also I need to put in an estimated placement for the background.

Now she needs some background. Given that she is primarily blue, I wanted something in the orange family, for the pleasant complimentary relationship. I wanted to imply ground and foliage without going into too much detail, so I used a large brush and just tried to lay out a tree-like structure.

Now the hair is a problem. The color is sticking out in the bad way. Using a low opacity brown I need to bring it down to a strawberry rather than a true blond. It's also now time to trim the colors to the body shape, and complicate the colors by using a brush at about 50% opacity, then selecting colors from areas that have already been painted to continue.

Time for some details. All the metal bits, and a little refinement of her face and hair.

Finally, copy all active layers into a single layer and drop the brightness way down. Then go in with the erase tool set at 25%, and create highlights. (Depending on the picture you can also create a 'bright' layer and erase away the shadows. The layer on top tends to be dominant, so it just depends how dark you want the final piece to be.)

When you're happy with that, you may want to run a filter or two to help break up it up. In this case I used watercolor and film grain.

Also her eyes need to glow.

And here's my final. There are still things that need doing (the front boot cuff has blue where there shouldn't be any, her near eyebrow has a squiggle in it, and I'm not sure I like how the 'frame' around the background looks with highlighted bits in it) but at some point you have to just say 'good enough' and move on.


Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: Orientation

I had heard of this book on drawing, called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. I still can't remember where I heard about it, or when. But I noticed the library has it, and thought I'd check it out. Guys. Guys. OMG guys.

If you have ever wondered why some people are good at drawing and others aren't, or why almost all adults say they hate or aren't good at drawing, or how it is that artists see the world, or what it would take to learn to draw, this is the book.

Now you wouldn't know it to look at me, but I actually have an aversion to learning. It's pretty specific, and very annoying. Basically, if I think I *should* know something by now, I am very averse to taking the necessary steps to actually learn it. (Which would entail admitting that I don't understand it.)

I'm going to take a big step towards combating that tendency by doing the exercises in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Oh that's right- in addition to answering some very big questions about art, it's also a workbook with exercises taken from a 4-day course teaching adult beginners how to draw. The before and after drawings by the students (included early on in the book for encouragement) have to be seen to be believed.

The first exercise is pre-instruction, and Betty Edwards (the author) is mainly just establishing a starting point. It's broken into three parts: draw your non-dominant hand from life, draw a person from memory, and draw a self-portrait using a mirror.

(My apologies for the fullpage gradients, which are a result of my scanner. I didn't want to fix this in photoshop however, because I wanted a true representation of the relative greys in my sketches.)


My hand. It went okay.


This is supposed to be a drawing of my father-in-law, done from memory. As you can see, it sucks. (And also looks nothing like him.) I am conveniently illustrating one of the first points in Edward's book, which is that when we are in doubt we fall back on a symbolic visual language we all developed as children. The drawings of adults often look 'childlike', because they are still using a representational rather than realistic visual vocabulary. I don't recall my father-in-law as exactly as I would if he were sitting in front of me, so instead of drawing 'the curve at the bottom of his face' I draw what I know people will understand to be a chin. Which doesn't necessarily look like a chin at all, and certainly doesn't look like his chin.

My self-portrait is actually pretty good, although my husband insists that I am wearing 'serious face.' I view it as a compliment and a good sign that it is not only recognizably me, it is recognizably one of my faces.

Here I was using a mirror, and so did not need to fall back on my representational vocabulary. I was in what Edwards calls 'R-mode': I am drawing the line because it is the line, not because it is my chin. (Incidentally, right brain thinking is emphatically present-tense. The characteristics of right-brain thinking are covered fairly early on in Drawing, and you can find independent confirmation of them from brain researchers such as Jill Bolte Taylor.) I was still suffering from a few perceptual errors however, including the 'cut off skull' error, which Edwards tackles later in the book when talking about proportion. I could also stand to spend a little more time evening out the intensity of my lines, but sometimes when your tea has gone cold you just have to take the hint and stop drawing.

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.