Saturday, April 26, 2008

SF Visual Aids

Drawing inspiration from images is something I think every writer does in one form or another. When you work outside this realm of reality, however, it gets a little tougher to find images that suit your vision.

I started drawing characters and scenes from my SF stories in the eighth grade. I made my own cover art and story illustrations by tracing body shapes out of comic books and magazines before coloring them blue, giving them tusks or a face full of tentacles, etc.

I graduated from pencils and markers to acrylics in high school, and then to oils and watercolors in my twenties. Watercolors eventually won out, although sometimes when I see some of the amazing paintings SF artists achieve I wish I had stuck with oils a bit longer (the mess of working with them is what did me in.)

Here's a watercolor I did a few years back for a book of poetry. The non-human figure is one of my characters from Omega Games:

First watercolor of an Odnallak in shift

I can't paint much these days, so I've moved on to exploring what can be done with photoshopping and digital photography. I am strictly an amateur, but still I'm finding a whole new world of creative possibilities have opened up for me. Even doing something as simple as manipulating the colors of a photo can take a very ordinary image and make it look quite unearthly:

Cover of Joren planet notebook

It's nice to know that while I may not be able to swing a brush around, or remember how to spell planetary correctly, I can still create images that help jumpstart my muse.

What do you all do when you need an inspirational image? SF writers, do you have an special resources you use for things that are out of this world?


  1. This probably explains my fight with description. *g* I don't actually do anything, but try to picture things in my mind.

  2. Wow. You've inspired a trip to the art supply store tomorrow.

  3. Both are lovely. I wish I could paint or draw! Alas, the picture in my mind will not come out through my hands unless I'm writing. I am going to take a PhotoShop class next month, though, so maybe I can make something digital.

    P.S. I e-mailed you about the wonderful package I received last week, but I know I've been gobbled as spam before. Just in case, a huge thank you--Omega Games looks incredible!!

  4. Anonymous9:19 AM

    I write for a text-based online RPG, so my writing is very character based. I find it easier to visualize and write for a character if I know what she looks like. Usually I browse Google images for a celebrity photo that works with what I've envisioned.

  5. For me the best images are real life. When my muse is slacking, I just go for a walk, usually beside Lake Michigan. It almost never fails that I'm itching to sit down and write after watching the lake or visiting the zoo or the Botanic Gardens. Chicago is just so full of fantastic, muse-motivating spots.

  6. I can sketch a bit, so sometimes I'll fall back on that.
    Otherwise, I'll sometimes fall back on looking through the books I have on some illustrators--Vallejo, Frazetta, Rowena, Christophe Vacher. Lots of inspiration in those.
    Striking paintings, Lynn!

  7. A friend introduced me to the "book of wonder." I love to scrapbook, so I scrapbook my story--one page per character. Online modeling portfolios take care of my characters, images from magazines do the rest. If I can't find it, google images usually comes through. (Since this is strictly for my eyes alone, I don't worry about copyrighted images.) The only thing I had to draw by myself this time were the uniforms.

    The book of wonder is full of surprises. Two images go together and I see how they are linked in the story. Or, the same image belongs to three different characters, and I see new ways these characters are connected. Unexpected images seem to belong on a certain character's page, so I put it there, and next thing I know, it shows up in the story.

    I am an experienced scrapbooker so the book of wonder goes together very quickly. Once it is done, I can wander its pages if I am blocked, or if I've been away from my story for a few weeks. If you are a very visual person, you might try this.

  8. If I had any artistic talent, I would certainly use that. Since I can only draw horses, then I'm stuck in my own mind. The major roadblock is interpreting that vision into words and still leave the reader room for their on intepretation. Sometimes, I hate illustrations. That's not what I'm seeing.

  9. I'm still working my way through this, I have trouble with geography in particular (It's hard to work out a 3D geography when the terrain around you is pancake flat). Autorealm, the mapmaking software you talked about a while ago, has helped me out a great deal with making maps, now all I need to work on is a 3D representation of a castle that only exists in my brain (it's built into the side of a mountain on an island in the middle of a river that leads into a bay on which sits the capital of a larger island). Any ideas?

  10. Ann wrote: Any ideas?

    The only link I could find was City Creator, which has an online castle builder page, although it's pretty basic and cartoony. It might be good for a general layout.

    If you'd rather have something more realistic, you might consider photoshopping bits of architecture from real castles to make yours. There are some great castle sites online that feature photos of castles like Castles-of-Britain.

  11. Anonymous7:42 AM

    I sketch, although lately I've moved to sketching digitally. I'll sketch my characters if I can't find something that matches them.

    The "book of wonder" margaret yang discussed above intrigues me. I wonder if I'd want to do that.

    Great post, thanks! I love to see your work.


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