Interview with Ellen Million aka The Boss
Stars: A Walkthrough
Starsby Jenny Heidewald
With multitudes of brilliant, scintillating points of light in the night sky, there is nothing quite like looking up at the starry heaven to make one feel small in the universe. I think that one of the most fascinating aspects of the stars is that we are literally looking at the past! The light of the closest star, our sun, takes about eight and a half minutes to reach us, while the next closest star's light takes over four years. Imagine... a star whose light we see today could have become a supernova and we wouldn't know it for centuries.
There is a whole universe out there waiting to be explored. It is the heart of science fiction: great ships crossing the galaxy, dangers faced on new planets, and the people of Earth starting anew when their ship crashes, stranding them. Compared to those space travel ideas, in the current world we are still in our infancy; yet, it is still mind-boggling that humans have set foot on the moon and returned to Earth safely. Our explorations on Mars might seem small to some, but it is a marvel of technology. Photos from the Hubble Space Telescope are among the most beautiful things the human eye has seen. How can there not be other life out there, and will it be like us, or as alien as the thought of finding a planet that would support said life?
Used in navigation for centuries, it is not surprising that humans have "connected the dots" to form a picture from various clusters of stars. Many civilizations have their own distinct images of constellations; Western civilization recognizes the Ancient Greek mythological constellations, which the Greeks in turn had combined from different cultures that they had been in contact with. In the Greek mythos Zeus placed many of the animals or people in the sky as a reward. The constellation of Lupus, The Wolf, is the location of the first supernova known to have been recorded by humans.
The Greeks named the "wandering stars" "planetes", but they are individually identified with the Roman versions of the Greek gods. Pluto, discovered years after the rest, has since been demoted from a planet status due to its small size and irregular orbit.
Astrology, the belief that the objects in the universe can control and affect human life, is something that millions of humans subscribe to. Classified as entertainment now, it certainly is beguiling to think that the positions of the stars at someone's birth directly affect their personality. Interestingly, due to the Earth's precession in the centuries since the Zodiac signs had been created, the signs have moved from their original designations; so you might not be the sign you thought you were!
Other Night Sky Inhabitants
Auroras, while not technically in space, are a direct result of our sun's activity. They are most active around the north and south poles, and are called aurora borealis (northern lights) and aurora australis (southern lights), respectively. Solar flares cause electrons to explode away from the sun. These freed electrons are called the solar wind. The earth's magnetic field captures and funnels some of these electrons to the poles. Once there, the electrons hit molecules and atoms in the thin upper atmosphere, making them glow. The various colors are caused by the different molecules and atoms that the electrons hit. The greenish white most often seen is caused by oxygen molecules. Red is caused by electrons encountering nitrogen along with oxygen, and collisions with only nitrogen molecules produce purples and blues. There are several different forms the aurora can take: a glow, which is like what you'd see from city lights on clouds; arcs; rays; coronas; and, the most famous and dramatic, the curtain.
There are many ancient tales told concerning what the aurora is, but my favorite is the Finnish tale that the "revontulet" is caused by an arctic fox flicking snow up with its tail, causing sparks to fly into the sky.
This phenomenon is not unique to Earth. Other planets have had auroras recorded, such as in this lovely shot of Saturn.
Comets were objects of terror in years past; people believing that the appearance of a seemingly slow-moving ball of fire in the sky portended doom. These space travelers do not have their own light, being made up of a thin gas, icy particles, and "dust" that have all frozen together. They orbit suns elliptically, taking may years to make one trip around; when they finally approach the sun, the heat melts the ice and gas. Due to the solar wind, a comet's tail always points away from the sun. One of the most famous is Halley's Comet, which returns every seventy-six years. Visible in 1910 and 1986, the next year it is due back is 2062.
A meteoroid is the term for solid objects that fall through the Earth atmosphere. A meteor is the bright flash of light that happens as the meteoroid falls. These are often fancifully called "falling stars" or "shooting stars." If the meteoroid has enough mass to survive the Earth's atmosphere and land on the earth it is called a meteorite. Most meteorites are small and do no damage, or fall harmlessly into the sea. You can see the results of a large meteorite impact at Meteor Crater northeast of Flagstaff in Arizona (USA); it is about a mile wide and 550 feet deep. There are predictable meteor showers since certain times of the year the Earth passes through clouds of meteoroids. John Denver's famous song "Rocky Mountain High" was inspired by the most popular of these, the Perseid Meteor Shower. "I've seen it raining fire in the sky."
What is a Star?
A star is a ball of burning gas, with hydrogen being the most abundant. In a star, the hydrogen atoms are binding together to create nuclei of helium, four hydrogen nuclei to produce one helium nucleus. This action releases nuclear energy, while also losing some of the mass of the star, and is the reason for a star's light.
Since we haven't witnessed the whole life cycle of a star, scientists have formed theories/hypotheses from what we have observed so far. Inevitably the star uses up its available supply of hydrogen, and then the mass of the star affects what happens to it next. For something the size of our sun, the core would be shrinking while the outer layers cool and expand; in the future our sun will go through this process to become a red giant. After more time, the outer layers are sloughed off and what is left is a white dwarf. This star is a dense hot ball, the atoms tightly compacted together, the final fate of a white dwarf is to sputter out and become a Black Dwarf.
For a more massive star the process goes faster. When its hydrogen is used up it will implode suddenly, and then get blown apart in something called a "supernova outburst", which we generally just refer to as a supernova. In the end there is a mass of gas around what is now a neutron star. In the last thousand years four have been observed in our galaxy, the Milky Way; the oldest recorded was 1006, in the constellation Lupus, the wolf.
What about a star even more gargantuan? One theory is that once it starts to collapse it becomes so small and dense that eventually absolutely nothing can escape its gravitational pull, not even light! This star has become a Black Hole.
Since the only way we can really study a star is through its light, most of what we know about what stars are made of, or how hot they are, is deduced from instruments using spectroscopic principles. A spectroscope breaks a ray of light up into a rainbow of colors. Astronomers at Harvard College University in the United States made a spectral classification system that is still used. Stars vary in temperature and the color of a star also indicates how hot it is burning. Red indicates a cooler star than yellow, which is cooler than white.
O: These are rare, very hot starts; they are greenish or bluish white.
B: Hot white stars.
A: Cooler white stars
F: Slightly yellowish.
G: Yellow stars, which our sun is.
K: Orange stars.
M: Orange red stars.
There are a few more types, but they are uncommon.
This can be as simple as little asterisk like lines, cross like shapes, the stylized star we see used everywhere, or realistic with many layers and steps in Photoshop. In watercolor, salt can be used to great effect.
Starry Sky Walkthrough
I always work with several layers. I set my sketch layer to "multiply" which makes the layers under it visible, while enabling me to still see the sketch. Next I find references. I used texture stock by Sirius-sdz/Darkzero's Textures on deviantArt. The links can be found at the end of this article. Texture stock is useful for many things, from star fields to planet landscapes.
I am trying to reproduce the lovely colors seen in the Hubble Space Telescope photo I chose for reference.
I made three layers of the texture picture that I'd decided to use for my sky. I altered each one to a different color. This requires adjusting the transparency of the two layers overtop the third. I used the glowing edges filter on the red layer (edge width:14, brightness :11, smoothness:15), then Gaussian blur (6.3 pixels) to soften it. Then I adjusted the layer opacity to 35%. I also popped a few colors onto the fox.
I decided that I didn't like the layout, so I flipped the picture around, and then put a preliminary aurora across the sky. I continue to work with the background, adjusting it so that the interesting bits that ended up behind the fox and aurora are placed in spots where they can be seen. I use the clone tool set to a low transparency, as well as the select tool, copy and paste to a different layer, and rotating things around. When cloning I make sure to sample from many different areas and often, this is to avoid the obvious clone look.
Time to tweak colors. I made a new layer of my star sky so that I could work on it without worrying that I wouldn't be able to undo changes if I didn't like them. I was adding in nebulous gasses, and with a light touch I used the dodge tool set to highlight and 26% to make some of the areas glow brighter. I also used the burn tool, set to midtones 50%, to darken some of the brighter areas around the fox. This is to make the fox pop out better. I know that artists are warned away from dodge and burn, but used correctly they make good tools.
I wanted to get my aurora figured out so that I could decide where I wanted the nebula gasses to be in the star field. I made a new layer, and locked the layers I wanted to keep safe . I've found that auroras are simpler to make than I had feared. First, I drew a line on a new layer. It has to be thick to survive the filter I use.
Then I made a new file and dragged the line to it. I made the background black so that I could see what I was doing, and turned the picture vertical. The shear filter (find it in the "distort" section) produces really interesting organic effects with the line. Next I used the wind filter in one direction several times (filter :stylize: wind blast from the right) until I was happy with the look of the rays. The brightest and smoothest part would be at the bottom. I used motion blur, adjusting the pixel distance until it looked the way I wanted. Then I used Gaussian blur to soften the edges. I repeated motion blur and Gaussian blur once more.
Then I rotated my aurora and dragged it back to the illustration.
Now that I had the aurora in place, I locked that layer. To add in the blues I made a new transparent layer, selected a size 300 soft brush, changed the mode to soft light and reduced the transparency to 27. Then, to get really vivid colors, I chose a dark maroon color and used vivid light mode with the large round soft brush, opacity set to 14%, up or down depending. I did this in spots with a dark blue as well, using this sparingly so the work retained interesting light and dark areas. I added another layer flood filled with a dark, bluish purple, and made transparent. This helped hook the star field together, as well as make the main subject stand out better. Be sure to merge and/or delete obsolete layers regularly; they make the file bigger and slow down the program
So all this is great so far, but we need those little shiny lights! Rachael Tallamy has a wonderful brush set that includes a star field (link in References and Resources). I made a new transparent layer and used that brush a few times. I then adjusted the different stars so they wouldn't look the same. I refered to the photo and picked different colors to make the stars, using a transparent soft brush to add the color. Also, I used the eraser to fade some of the stars, to make them look farther away. Notice that in the real photos above the stars' ray lines are always facing the same way. This is why I decided to adjust the look of the stars manually instead of just rotating the star brush.
Adding another layer, I added a blue and purple gradient fill where the purple is on the inside and the blue circled around it. I set this layer to soft light and adjusted the transparency. This adds an extra bit of vividness.
Now I focus on the fox. I looked up a fur tutorial on deviantArt and found Coarse Fur Tutorial by Stadvarg (link in References and Resources). I already have a couple layers of color down from another tutorial I abandoned. I won't sugar coat it, fur is tedious work! First scribble layer done.
I find scribbling too laborious, so I went to my old standby, ye ol' grass brush. Yes, you heard me right, the grass brush. Normal mode, opacity varies, spacing 25% 0 fade, 0 color jitter, 0 scatter (a bit of scatter is good at times). I used the angle control to adjust the brush to the direction I need. It is tiresome, but not as much as scribbling! First, I put down a dark hair layer (10% opacity), then medium around 40% opacity, a whiter color on top of that 45% opacity. I finished the whole body with the dark color. I had to flip my fox to be able to make the hair grow the right direction with the grass brush for some of the fur. Another option would be to make a new custom brush. So now I have a rather drab grey fox, with one finished spot.
Well, I did not look forward to doing all that fur yet again, even with the grass brush, to get the white of the arctic fox. My fix? I did auto levels then invert colors! I was concerned with realism, but realized that the rather stark look of the inverted fur works with the fantasy theme.
Now I fixed up various parts. I mainly used the clone tool in different opacities as warranted. I also integrated the line layer, saving a copy of that hidden as a top layer just in case. With lots and lots of detail work, working on the fox takes the longest. As a final touch I heightened the saturation of the aurora, to make it stand out more. "Revontulet" is finished!
Stars can either add that last little sparkle accent that a picture needs, or be the main feature. There isn't any wrong way to depict a universe, after all there are billions of unseen galaxies far, far away... In our imaginations we can go where no man has gone before!
With this being the last issue of EMG-Zine, I would like to thank a few people. Ellen Million, thank you for starting EMG-Zine; I learned a lot of fascinating things writing these articles, though it was like pulling teeth sometimes (I saw a lot of Attack Squirrels!), I wish I had started earlier. Jennifer Broschinsky, thank you for your patience with my seemingly endless requests for extensions. And thank you to my husband, Alexander D. Mitchell IV; without your editing and help, I wouldn't have made it so far! I am still not sure about semi-colons though. Also, thank you to my readers. I hope I have shed new light on the subjects I've written about, and fueled your creativity. Keep on creating!
Star photos courtesy of :The Hubble Space Telescope
Mythical Brush Set, by Rach-Resources AKA:Rachael Tallamy
Space tutorials, comets, planets, stars, and lots more, by Qzoma, AKA: Marko Kuzmanovic
Make your own nebula brushes and stars, by Ov3RMinD AKA: S÷ren Graf
Star Tutorial, by For-as AKA: Pavel ForetnÝk
Coarse Fur Tutorial, by Stadvarg
Various DeviantArt Artist's Fur Tutorials
Arizona's Meteor Crater
Northern Lights: The Science, Myth, and Wonder of Aurora Borealis, by Calvin Hall, Daryl Pederson, and George Bryson
Astronomy For Dummies, by Stephen P. Maran
Exploring the Night Sky with Binoculars, by Patrick Moore
The Starlore Handbook: An Essential Guide to the Night Sky, by Geoffrey Cornelius
Jenny Heidewald is one of those self-taught artists that has been drawing since she was little; she remembers the exact moment she decided that she wanted to be an artist. Interestingly enough, it was while watching her mom draw the hand of God reaching from the clouds to His followers. Jenny was floored, it seemed to be magic, an image appearing out of nowhere. She thought, "I want
to do THAT!" In addition to writing for EMG-zine, Jenny is a prolific artist who has worked in many mediums. Her current favorite technique is working with colored micron pens, and coloring either with watercolor or Photoshop. Jenny lives in Maryland with her husband. Please check out her Sketchfest, Portrait Adoption, Deviant Art, and Elfwood pages.
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