| Let's face it: stars can be really hard to draw.
I'm not talking about the singular balls of blazing gasses,
though, I'm talking about the subtle and beautiful star fields
that make a piece of celestial art what it is: a portrayal of
space. One of the reasons space is so much fun to draw is because,
despite the plethora of Hubble images inundating cyberspace
and science magazines, most people don't have a preconceived
notion of what space should look like. This means that there
are endless possibilities for wondrous visuals, as nobody's
been to or seen wherever or whatever it is that you're depicting.
There is one exception, however: stars. We've seen these before:
we know what they look like, and what they don't look like.
This means that a couple clicks with the spray-can is just not
going to cut it when you're working up a good star field to
finish off your creation. The spray can is a means to begin
developing a good star field, but to rely entirely on the computer
to randomly assign stars is quite simply a cheap solution to
what could be the defining details of your piece. Another approach
is the ever so convenient noise filter, but shame on you if
you use this filter alone and think it sufficient! Do you want
to draw space, or let your computer draw it for you? Let's consider
this for a moment... do either of these "solutions" even look
like stars? (Does space look like a snowstorm on crack?) I don't
think so. In order to draw deep space, even as a background
for a more important subject or scene, you've got to think about
what it actually is that you're drawing. We're not talking about
mere pixels here, we're talking about millions of pinpricks
of brilliant light, stretching back in layer upon layer, plane
upon plane. We're talking about space, a vastly deep expanse
filled with exquisite lights and shadow. (You've got to get
excited about this subject, because that is what is going to
power you through the effort it takes to develop a truly great
space piece.) What we're talking about when we create our star
field is an expression of depth, and this is communicated through
two factors: variety and density.
Looking at Hubble images, you can easily find images of stars
where the entire image is jam-packed with as many of the brilliant
suckers as possible. True, some star fields are like this, and
I've seen several people draw stars with this effect in mind,
but they always seem to leave out any sense of variety.
Look at the Hubble images: are all the stars the same size?
Do they all shine with the same brilliance? Sometimes (and
this depends on the filter used to get the real image in question)
the stars aren't even the same color. This leads me to assert
that all stars are NOT created equal. (Thankfully, physics
is here to back me up on this one.) Similarly, stars do not
all sit on the same plane of view. Some are far, some are
near, etc and so forth. As such, when you're developing a
star field, it's a good idea to have a variety of stars represented.
How do they glow, how bright are they? Are they big? Are they
small? Do they twinkle or have little crossbars coming off
them? Or are they just specks of light? Any and all of these
are absolutely fine, and it's up to you to determine a good
mix of each. From this point onwards, I'm going to assume
that we're drawing a generic star field without any special
use. As such, I'd advise using a small handful of larger stars
with more detail, and medium to large amounts of the mid-level
and smaller stars respectively. The trick is to get an appreciable
gradient of star sizes represented in your work. Another thing
to consider is that not all stars shine as bright as their
neighbors: smaller, dimmer stars are often a good thing to
have to give an even more refined sense of variety to your
Once you've established the types of stars you're working
with, think about where they'll be in relation to each other.
One of the problems with using a spray-can tool or noise filter
alone to generate stars is that it's not always entirely random.
Stars are not always spaced out evenly: they come in clusters,
densely packed like a giant hand came along and brushed them
all into little piles on your screen. They also can spread
out to the extremes, with a vast amount of space being occupied
by only a handful of stars all by their lonesome. Both are
good, and using both together is even better. The way I see
it, drawing a star field isn't about clicking madly with a
paintbrush tool just to get the background for a particular
piece finished (although I'm in full agreement that this is
hardly the most glamorous part of celestial art). Drawing
a star field is best done when you're telling a story with
the stars. Stars have gravity. They evolve. They drift. If
you wanted to go the extra mile, you could even start adding
an ambient glow to the clustered parts to show the stars interacting
with each other. The possibilities are endless: go nuts.
Once you've developed a good star field, it's important to
use it correctly. Lots of people tend to just slap stars on
top of their pieces, erasing where there's a planet or a nebula
or some other exciting thing. That's all good and well, but
something worth considering is how your background star field
interacts with your piece. In particular, an element I often
see missing is light pollution. For those of you unaware of
this phenomenon, light pollution is where an ambient light
source or proximity to a light source makes dimmer lights
invisible. And example of this can be seen in every major
city today, where you're lucky to see a handful of stars at
night due to the interference of the city lights. Space exhibits
the same phenomena, although the light sources are often the
very nebulae, planets, or burning stars you're drawing in
the first place. As such, keep in mind that the dimmer stars
in your background field might be drowned out by the radiance
of the objects in the foreground. Keep in mind also, in the
case of nebulae, dark matter is dark for a reason: it's either
blocking light or refusing to reflect it. There aren't any
rules for how you should treat your stars in any of these
afore-mentioned cases, but they're something to consider.
One Final Note
That pretty much wraps up what I have to say about stars.
One final note, however: you may have noticed that as I'm
writing, I alternate between speaking about "drawing" and
"developing". That's because, just as stars themselves just
don't pop into being from nothing, your star field won't either.
You've got to start with something broad and then refine your
composition to the perfect piece. I won't go into detail here
on exactly how to go about developing your star field in step-by-step
detail, but I will say that it's always beneficial to start
with as big a canvas as you can. If you make a good star field,
and it's huge to begin with, you can reuse it in a number
of ways and save yourself work in your later artistic endeavors.
In other words, work hard, but work smart as well! Getting
a good star field is worth a decent amount of effort on your
part (you only get out what you put in, after all), but not
worth having to work redundantly.
[Actually, I am going to
give you a step-by-step guide to creating stars, just keep
in mind that the article wasn't written with the intention
of working as an introduction to this tutorial... it just
worked out that way.]