FMP: Beginning to create the constellations

For this blog post, I will be talking about a major breakthrough that I have made for the second chapter of this project. The contents of the second chapter is about picking out 20 distinctive constellations in the night sky, writing some text about them and picking out the stars that form them, before creating an illustration for each one that outlines the stars into a meaningful shape.

What I wanted to achieve

A geometrically structured illustration composed of polygonal shapes. This was to tie in with the fact that constellations are always formed on star charts with straight lines as this is the simplest way of forming the shapes. I want to take this technique but carry it over to a much more complex style of illustration, which I hope will provide a great illustration for each constellation that highlights why it has the name it does and how the reader can draw the same connections if they go stargazing.

The current standard for constellation illustrations
The current standard for constellation illustrations

Starting to illustrate

I decided to start with the easiest constellation, Orion. It has a familiar shape and therefore I decided to carry out most of my development on this, rather than trying to make all 20 and constantly improve all of them, which would be too time consuming.

Before I could illustrate though, I had to create a rectangle in InDesign around the space I had to fit everything into, and copy that into Illustrator. Then I went to the IAU website, and downloaded their star chart for the Orion constellation.

Orion constellation star chart - IAU
Orion constellation star chart – IAU

So, I then placed that into the Illustrator file, and was disappointed to see the white background had remained, even though it was a GIF file. Therefore, I went onto Wikipedia and downloaded the SVG file version, as it was exactly the same as the IAU chart, but had a transparent background. I placed it in Illustrator, sized it to fit well into the space and positioned it over the bounding shape I had coped from InDesign and added a Clipping Mask (Object > Clipping Mask > Make) to keep them together.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 10.38.26

I then had to work out the key and add in the vector star magnitude scale I had made earlier in the project, when I was experimenting. This took some time, but worked well.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 10.38.37

The final step in this part of the process was to create the illustration. I decided to create a vector outline first. I realised that I could start building an illustration from the stars by using them as pointers. This meant that I wanted a geometric shape around them, to give a point where the different shapes could interact.

The shape I chose was a hexagon as it had enough sides to give points for other shapes to connect to, but not so many that you could lose the real geometric nature of the illustration’s shape. A good example of this can be seen in the below image.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 10.54.04

I was very pleased with the end result for the Orion constellation, but now my attention turned to how I was going to get some geometric elements into the inside part of the illustration.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 10.34.48


I was very clear in my mind as to what I wanted to create, the question was whether I could create it. My main inspiration came from Justin Maller’s style of illustrations, collectively termed as ‘facets’ – which achieve the geometric chiselled aesthetic I wanted for my constellations.

Justin Maller - Facets - Agent J wallpaper
Justin Maller – Facets – Agent J wallpaper

Knowing that, especially with the time I have for the project, I would never be able to create anything as complex as he has done, and also not wanting to directly copy his style (as that would not be designing anything), I decided to focus on finding an illustration that could teach me how to make basic polygonal structures.

The tutorial

Searching on Google popped up a tutorial written on Blog.Spoongraphics, a  really useful blog full of graphic design tutorials that I really recommend.

How to create an Icy Blue Vector Geometric Design

This was the major breakthrough and following this tutorial saw a major improvement to the quality of my designs. I was really pleased with the result below, as I had managed to create a geometric pattern. With a colour scheme very similar to that applied in the tutorial, set to 50% opacity to allow for a softening on the dark background I was working on.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 10.55.57

At this point, I then placed the illustration onto a page to see how it looked. I also placed the stars around the edge which I thought worked well, and added some information to one, but was not impressed with it as it cluttered the page up excessively.

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 20.42.10

However, about a hour later after a break, I came back, had another look at the illustration and was not so impressed with what I saw. It now reminded me more of a patchwork, which reminded me of one of my favourite books when I was a child – Elmer and Wilbur! While they’re great illustrations, it wasn’t what I was wanting to create!

Elmer and Wilbur by David McKee
Elmer and Wilbur by David McKee

But, I had an idea that could improve things and get them back on track. It was based around the fact that if the illustration was all one colour, then with each shape having a gradient, a rippled effect would be possible to create. I then advanced this to add light sections down one side and dark sections down the other to create a 3D effect.

Screen Shot 2014-05-18 at 11.11.54

Although only applied to a small part of the illustration, I knew I had made a big step forwards, then applying it to the rest of the illustration. The progress I had made in one day can be seen below.

Screen Shot 2014-04-26 at 20.44.26

Placing this new illustration onto a page and viewing it in relation to the text pointed out to me that I was heading in the right direction. The only thing I would point out is that the star names appear quite close to the main text boxes, so this will probably need adjusting.

Screen Shot 2014-04-27 at 10.47.25

Next Step

Now I know how to create the illustrations I can continue on to the next stage and create the rest of them and solve the other design problems along the way, such as a colour scheme for instance and how to tackle the more complex constellations.