this northern boy

Illustrations for an imaginary age

Category: spaceships

Computer Graphics for Free

 

This is the first of my guest blog posts, and my first guest author is Nick Stevens.

Nick is an Artist Member of the International Association of Astronomical Artists, and was on the board of the IAAA for several years. He specialises in realistic 3D rendered depictions of unflown space missions, and the space program of the Soviet Union.

You can find more of his work on his web site, and Nick is pretty prolific on Twitter too, where you can find him at @runnymonkey.

Now, over to Nick…

 

Computer Graphics for free.

There’s a general perception that computer based graphics is a highly expensive business.  And while it is true that the professionals use software with annual licence fees in the thousands of pounds, and high end graphics workstations, you can get very good results using cheap, or even free software. All you really need is a computer, (it does not have to be the latest and greatest), and time to invest in learning it. The second part is important! There’s a lot to learn, and whatever software you use, you won’t find a handy one click button, helpfully labelled “Instant Great Art”.

Types of software.

There are, broadly, several types of software, and I’ll cover those first.

The biggest division is between 2D, (like painting on paper), and 3D software, (making things you can view from any angle). 2D software can be divided into pixel based, (like your screen, essentially a mosaic with lots of tiny tiles), and vector software, where shapes are defined that can be scaled smoothly to the required size.

A good example of a pixel based image would be an icon. And a good example of a vector would be a typeface or font. (As with fonts, vector images are generally converted to pixel images at some point).

With 3D, I’d say the biggest divisions are between general software, (things like Maya, Lightwave 3D, 3D Studio Max) that try to cover all aspects of 3D graphics, and specialist systems that make it easy to do one thing very well, such as Daz Studio, (for characters), or Vue, (Terrains and landscapes). 

Whatever you go for you will find that your physical media art skills give you a head start, as you probably already have a good grasp of form and colour.

2D Vector Software – Inkscape

Inkscape is very highly regarded, 100% free, open source, and runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

inkscape.jpg

It does the same kind of thing as the (expensive) applications, Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, and Freehand – and it supports industry standard formats like .SVG, .PDF, .PNG, and .EPS.

2D Pixel Software – GIMP and Affinity Photo

Gimp stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program, again, it’s 100% free

gimp.jpg

Again it runs on Windows, Mac and Linux.

Its user interface can take a bit of getting used to, but it does have its strengths. It is perhaps the best at loading obscure and scientific image formats, for example, and is handy to have for those kinds of conversions. Also it now supports higher bit depth colour channels. (Don’t worry if you don’t understand that bit).

Lots of help and tutorials out there too, so Google is your friend!

If you do need something more capable, (and this is the only bit of commercial software I am going to recommend), take a look at Affinity Photo.  It’s insanely powerful, yet costs less than the “Lite” versions of the likes of Photoshop. It will even run on an iPad, and gives acceptable performance on my old iPad Air 2. Though I wouldn’t want to stitch together large panoramas with it.

affinity-1.jpg

2D Paint software, Krita

Krita, also available for Mac, Windows and Linux is painting software, and is 100% free and open source.

krita.jpg

This means that unlike image processing software, (Photoshop, GIMP), it focuses on emulating traditional tools, with the advantages of digital such as undo, and layers.  So it will let you work with the digital equivalent of a marker pen, watercolours, or oil paints, reacting to existing elements in a similar way. It works well with Wacom tablets.

General 3D Software: Blender 3D

Blender is a powerful general purpose 3D program, 100% free and again available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. It has some advanced features like a hair and fur system, and fluid simulation. Like any 3D software, it is complex and will take some learning, but it has perhaps the most actively supportive community of any software. So support is second to none while you are learning.

blender.jpgThere are entire short films where you can download all the assets, (files, images, models and scenes), to examine. This includes the Pixar style “Big Buck Bunny”, which you can watch here.

If hard science is more your thing, NASA provide plenty of 3D models in Blender 3D format, ready for you to use. You can download them here.

Sculpting software – Sculptris

From the makers of ZBrush, Sculptris is free sculpting software, (Windows and Mac, not Linux).

sculptris.jpgIt’s important to note it is no longer being developed, but even so, pretty good for free. Most 3D software is based on placing points and polygons; sculpting software emulates sculpting with materials, in much the same way that painting programs emulate brushes and paints.

Everything at once!

If you have a somewhat old laptop or desktop, you might want to consider turning it into a Linux system. This will take a bit of getting used to if you normally work on Windows or Mac, but it is very efficient, and will perform much better than it would under Windows or Mac. Every time I boot into Linux it feels like I’ve just had a hardware upgrade.

I’m recommending a particular flavour of Linux, called UBUNTU STUDIO.

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It’s a special version of the popular Ubuntu Linux, aimed at creatives. And after installing it on your computer you will find that it comes with a whole mass of graphical tools already installed and configured. And audio tools, video tools, photography tools, and publishing tools. These include Blender, GIMP, and Inkscape.

You can also install it alongside your existing operating system, but that’s outside the scope of this blog post.

While not all the tools included are best in class, (or anything like it), there’s a solid core of extremely useful and powerful software here. And as I said, it will run well even on older hardware.

You can also try before you install, setting up Ubuntu Studio to boot from a USB stick. Instructions are here.

Conclusion:

Time, dedication, and talent are much more important than money if you want to get into computer based art. Software will not magically make you an artist, but it will give you the tools you need to become one, even if all you have is an old desktop PC and monitor gathering dust.

leonov-on-moon

For more stuff from me, please visit: www.nick-stevens.com

Thank You! 

Nick

 


Huge thanks to Nick for taking the time to put together this very handy blog post, which I’m sure will be useful for a lot of people wanting to get in to computer arts. Do check out Nick’s website – there really is a huge amount of wonderful work there, and give him a follow on Twitter.

I’ll have another guest blog post coming up soon.

Spaceship Drawing Time-lapse

I’m planning to do a lot more process videos this year. I’ll have to get a proper rig set up above my desk, rather than just using a GorillaPod.

 

You can also find prints of my work here

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‘Weird-Field’ Spaceships

‘Weird-Field’ Spaceships. That’s what I’m calling them. I’ve been toying with the idea of drawing some spaceships for a while that don’t use standard means of propulsion, or even non-standard. I wanted to draw a spaceship that looked weird, as if the means of its technology were slightly other-worldly. I came up with an idea of a set of machinery that manipulates some exotic fields in dimensions we don’t understand, to create drive. Maybe these were alien ships, maybe just something human, but far future. It was lots of fun trying to figure out some narrative to all this as was sketching. Eventually, after a bunch of doodles, I worked up a few of the ships in to a more finished form.

 

Weird-Field Spaceships – a brief history (part 1)

The first set of instructions was received in May of 2089. After a period of disbelief, skepticism and blame, it was the scientists who finally knuckled down to decipher the message. Written in a slightly abstracted form of Base-7, this didn’t take too long and the content of the message became clear.

Earth had picked up a broadcast for a set of instructions on how to build a spaceship. By the time the UN, various organisations, and the couple of dozen governments capable of building the ship had finally decided on a course of action to build it, South Africa had already done so.

The first completed ship, christened the Mandela, was a bizarre conglomeration of pipes, cells, and pods, surrounding a crew capsule built for seven. There was zero space for any cargo bar moderate supplies for the crew.

After extensive ground tests, which revealed almost nothing about the ship, the Mandela took off for the first time in early 2090. A shakedown flight proved the ship to be an intuitive and capable flyer, after which the initial mission was launched.

During this time various governments and agencies attempted to build another ship from the same instructions. All failed. Design and manufacture were checked and rechecked, scientists from the successful Mandela construction were brought in to no avail. The ships simply sat there, inert. All attempts to coax them in to life failed. The South African team began construction of a second ship from the same instructions, to be called Biko, but after several months found the same problem as all the other teams. The Biko simply sat in its construction bay, refusing to do anything at all.

Earth now had one functioning spaceship that was able to journey to Saturn in a single flight. The data it brought back was invaluable in research terms, but from a practical point of view – apart from some minor advances in material sciences – the alien instructions had brought little to the people of Earth.

Eighteen months after the failed attempt to build the Biko, another message was received. This time there wasn’t just one set of instructions, but three. The three spaceships were all totally different from each other, and from the Mandela. The only similarity was in the style and construction of the weird pods, capsules, modules, and nacelles. One of the ships was huge, measuring over 120m from tip to tip, yet only had room for a crew of one. The next was a similar size to the Mandela, but room for a crew of four and a large storage area that seemed to be made for cargo. The third ship was smaller than all the others, had two identical crew compartments, each with seating for one, and had a very small cargo compartment.

If there was method or design to the types of ship instructions being beamed to earth, nobody had manage to figure it out yet.

The three ships were to be built, instructed by the UN, by China, the US, and the EU. No other agencies, corporations or governments were permitted to attempt to build ships. This obviously didn’t stop rogue building projects starting up. Some were discovered and shut down, some were only rumoured, and some weren’t discovered until it was too late.

Of the three official ship-building projects, two were successful. The EU, and China both managed to produce working ships, almost identical in operation to the Mandela, but with slightly different performance figures. The US attempt to build a ship failed. Nothing seemed amiss during construction, but once completed the ship simply sat inert in its berth. Scientists from South Africa who had successfully built the Mandela, and failed with the Biko consulted with the US, but nothing was found that could explain the dead ship. Until a few weeks later when a new ship, launching out of Russia, was observed. It was identical in design to the ship the US was had built – but it was obviously successful. Once the diplomatic incident had died down the scientific consensus seemed to be that there was something inherently unique about the way the ships manipulated Space/Time, and that meant only one of each specific ship could be built. The way each ship interacted with whatever weird dimensions, forces and fields provided propulsion, seemed to prevent that exact configuration being used elsewhere. There was much discussion about whether or not this effect was proximity based. Would the Biko work if the Mandela was far enough away? The answer to that, after extensive tests, was no. After sending the Mandela out past the orbit of Neptune, testing of the Biko commenced – and it still just sat there like an expensive rock.

Over the next eighty years, at intervals which were as random as could possibly be established, the instructions for another 317 spaceships were received on Earth. Sometimes the messages included instructions for up to a dozen ships, sometimes the instructions were for a single ship. Eight sets of instructions were received in 2099 for what were obviously interplanetary communications relays. Looking like small ships these provided a massive boost to the speed and bandwidth available for human communications between the planets.

More to come.

Drawn, as usual, on A4 Daler Rowney Smooth – Heavyweight cartridge paper, using Copic SP Multiliners and a Rotring Tikky.

I’ll be expanding on my Weird Field world over on my Patreon page.

 

You can find prints of my work here

I also have a Patreon page

And you can find more of my work online…
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Sketchbook Spaceships

If you’ve been following my blog for a while (or following me elsewhere on social media), you’ll know I love to draw spaceships. I always have enjoyed drawing everything to do with space, ever since I was a little kid, but in the last couple of years I’ve begun to build a little fleet of ships to inhabit my Asteroid Belt Blues universe.

I’ve managed to fill a few sketchbook pages with ships in the last few days, and I dare say there will be a lot more to come in the next days, weeks, and months.

Pretty much all of them are drawn with Copic Sp Multiliners in a Moleskine sketchbook. Colour, as always, is added with Copic Ciao Markers.

If you like them you can buy them as postcards or posters over at my store.

You can find prints of my work here

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A new fleet of Spaceships

Recently I’ve been filling pages and pages of my Moleskine sketchbook with lots of tiny spaceships. I’ve drawn them, mostly, on my lunch hours while working in Shoreditch. Often just scribbling away with a Copic Multiliner pen, and then using markers to add some colour later. I spent a couple of hours scanning two dozen of the pages and cleaning up the sketches for a new poster and a set of postcards that you can buy over at Ellipress

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Deep-Space-Fleet-Mock-Up

Inktober 2017

If you don’t know what Inktober is, read this. Got it? OK.

For this year’s Inktober initiative I’ve decided to create a comic in 31 panels – one a day for the month of October. The comic is a shortened, abridged, version of a story I’ve had in my head for a while. I’ve never done a comic before, or even tried to tell much of a story through illustration – so this is all new to me.

Once finished I’m planning to put the panels together (along with some additional art) in a book. I’ll also sell all the original artwork from the comic.

I’m up to panel eight so far (running a couple of days behind).

Inktober-1Inktober-2Inktober-3Inktober-4Inktober-5Inktober-6Inktober-7Inktober-8

Updates…

It’s been a while since I blogged – work and holidays have both combined to keep me from doing so.

Over the last couple of months I’ve been working on getting some artwork ready to sell online as prints – should be ready to go in April – which is very exciting. I’ll be launching with five or six different illustrations, most of which will be available to buy at a couple of different sizes. When everything is confirmed I’ll post here about it.

I’ve also completed a couple of commissions and worked on some concept art for a couple of clients – I can’t share any of that just yet though.

For now, here are some of the sketches I’ve done over the past couple of months.

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Spaceships for Sale

 

UPDATE: SOLD – thanks Padi.

My A4 illustration – A Gigantic Fleet of Tint Orange Spaceships – is now for sale.

It’s drawn in pen on good quality, heavyweight, cartridge paper, and coloured with Copic Ciao Marker. There are 150 tiny spaceships – and it seemed to take forever to fill the page.

The price is £100 including UK postage (worldwide will be extra). Payment by PayPal. Email, Tweet, or message me here on the blog or on Instagram.

Orange-Fleet-Clean

The finished fleet. 150 strong.

August blogfest – day 15

Halfway, almost. Blogging every day is actually tougher than I thought. Thinking up a new subject to blog about every day, tricky.

Today there’s a look at three quick little illustrations I’ve done in one of the lovely orange Field Notes notebooks I received recently. I rarely draw on coloured paper, so it’s a nice change, and also it’s cool to use a similar coloured marker to add a bit of subtle shading. A white Posca marker is great to add a few highlights or stars.

Is there anything you’d like me to blog about? Something about my work, processes, inspiration? Let me know in the comments. And thanks for sticking with me, 16 days to go.

IMG_6976

One-man flyer

IMG_6998

Little droid

IMG_7044

Orange freighter

IMG_7052

Field Notes special edition notebook

Spaceships look better in Orange

I like spaceships. I like orange.