FMP: Finishing the constellation illustrations and getting feedback

For this blog post, I will be picking up from where I left off with the post about beginning to create the illustrations for the constellations that form the book’s second chapter.

Choosing colour schemes

It was really important that I got the colour schemes right to ensure there was enough contrast in the illustrations as well as colours that were realistic and set off the right connotations in the minds of the reader. My original plan was to make them all one colour, but after creating a few, I realised I needed to create a range of palettes that would allow for individuality, making them more interesting.

You can also see with Gemini (top-right in the image below) that I tried a brighter opacity of 85% instead of 50% that made them stand out to a greater extent.

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I started with basic colours such as the blue, green, orange, yellow, brown and white-grey, but as time progressed and more illustrations were completed, variations were created where needed to keep them different and ensure interest remained high.

All the colour palettes made for this project
All the colour palettes made for this project

Making the constellations a colour that would harness the power of connotations (yellow for lion, green for snake etc.) raised an issue as to what colour the human illustrations should be. The concern was that picking any skin tone colour could lead to accusations of racial discrimination, which would be completely unfounded. LEGO provide the answer to this, by making their mini-figure heads yellow, and I remember reading an interview where it was stated this was specifically to avoid this problem.

A LEGO minifigure
A LEGO minifigure

So I decided to keep the blue tones for the human constellations, as it was a really bright, vibrant palette that also had no connection to any human skin tone.

Constructing more illustrations

For this section, I am not going to go through the process of designing every single constellation illustration, but pick out challenges and successes along the way that stand out.

I found Scorpius an extremely difficult illustration to create because of its unusual proportions and features. I decided I would be better off finding an image of a scorpion I could trace loosely and then fit to the stars I had to work with.

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As can be seen from the finished outline on the left compared to the traced image on the right, I have had to bend the body to fit. It doesn’t look a lot, but I have substantially altered every shape to get the result you see. I was very pleased with the end result.

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The illustrative process involved dividing each shape up into sections, which for something like Scorpius, would take forever, and could lead to a disjointed pattern running through its body. So I experimented by performing the Divide function in the Pathfinder option for several shapes at once. This worked perfectly, saving me a lot of time, and ensuring a higher quality illustration.

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Creating the swan Cygnus’s wings was very challenging and involved a lot of time with the Direct Selection Tool moving the points around to ensure everything looked right.

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Something new I came across when colouring the swan’s wings was that the feathers tapered to a point and were too thin for there to be three sections. I decided for these sections that I would break them into two sections, using the lightest and darkest colours in the palette to create the shading. I then made sure with future illustrations that nothing too thin was created as it wouldn’t look right when finished.

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Unfortunately, when dividing shapes, I found if the lines were not perfectly drawn, you could get what looked like two shapes still merged as one. To split them I had to remove any excess lines so there was definitely just one shape to deal with, before drawing a line where I wanted to divide to be, before going to Object > Path > Divide Objects Below.

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The two images below are an example of how small changes can make such a difference. I was struggling to get Leo’s (the lion) head right, and worked it was the shape of the mouth at fault.

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By changing the position of one anchor point, this made a huge amount of difference to its head.

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 19.31.02 Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 20.11.40

With one of my illustrations for Draco, the dragon, I firstly created what you see below.

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However, when I asked for feedback on it, most people thought it looked like a snake and it was hard to disagree. I was advised by a fellow student who knew more about dragons than I did that it needed wings and that she read somewhere they were “snakes with legs”. She advised me to go and have a look at dragons from Lord of the Rings for inspiration. One Google search later and I could see what she meant, and that the dragon design needed to evolve.

A Google Image search for 'Lord of the Rings dragon'
A Google Image search for ‘Lord of the Rings dragon’

One image by Marco Genovesi stood out in particular, and it was this one that led to the eventual dragon I created.

Lord of the Rings dragon created by Marco Genovesi
Lord of the Rings dragon created by Marco Genovesi

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For constellations such as Draco, I first decided that occasionally more than one colour palette could be used to add contrast and interest to the illustrations. Here we see Draco now has a bright red tongue which stands out against the green body.

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Throughout the illustration making process, it was important to get the small details right, such as for Pisces, where the rope that is tied to a fish as either end needed to be lined up perfectly.

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When I was creating Capricornus, I started with a dull brown palette that I had used for Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. I decided it needed something more interesting, so lightened the browns, making them more orange-like, which brightened them up. I also made sure there was more contrast between the light and dark tones.

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I decided I needed a second opinion on the illustrations I had created so asked around and received feedback, which is visible below.


Aside from some very small changes relating to the constellation’s gradients and minor re-shaping, the two that it became clear needed more work was Aquarius and Virgo.

For Aquarius, it was a case of adding a second arm, which meant the first arm had to be repositioned. I had assumed the second arm would be hidden behind the first arm the way I had drawn it, but apparently it looked like he only had one arm. As you can see below, I made the necessary changes and was very pleased with the end result.

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As for Virgo, the main problem lied with the wheat that she was holding. The feedback I received was that it needed to be larger, with more space in between them. I also decided to cross the wheat over one another instead of the three stems merging into one.

At the same time, I chose to replace the yellow-gold in the colour scheme with the actual gold palette I used for Libra and Aries.

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The finished illustrations

Save for perhaps a few minor tweaks if anything arises from now until I send the book off to print, here are the finished illustrations. I will talk about how I plan to place them into the book in the next section of this blog post. Draco and Ursa Minor still need some work as I was experimenting with opacities but will look like the rest in the book.




Canis Major




Ursa MajorScreen-Shot-2014-05-18-at-14.31.40
Ursa MinorScreen-Shot-2014-05-18-at-14.31.44

Exporting the illustrations

In the early stages of creating the illustrations, if I wanted to place them in the book, I first selected the shapes and copied them into Photoshop. From there, I saved them as a PNG and placed them into InDesign. The reason why I wanted a PNG file was that you can save transparent backgrounds, which negates the issues of matching blacks when printing.

However, early on I noticed there was ‘cracking’, either gaps or lines (either light or dark) between each shape, which looked terrible. I did a search on Google and it seemed like a problem with the anti-aliasing not functioning properly. Usually it smooth the edges and connects the shapes without any problem.

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I then tried making the vector shapes much larger before repeating the process, and while this helped get rid of the dark lines, it introduced thin gaps and I was still not impressed.

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I then started experimenting in Illustrator with the exporting options, and was really surprised to see I could save my files directly to a PNG format. Therefore I put each vector illustration into an individual file and exported it as such. For the settings, I made some changes to ensure the quality would be as high as possible, as visible below.

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For the anti-aliasing, I chose the middle option as although I was not sure, my instinct predicted this would be the best, and thankfully it was, as no ‘cracking’ was visible when I placed the files into InDesign.

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Placing the illustrations into InDesign

I spoke to my tutor about the illustrations who suggested at 85% opacity it was on the black background made it too strong, and took away from the stars it was representing.

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I decided to reduce the opacity to 40% and while this did help it also removed a lot of vibrance from the image, which was really disappointing. When speaking to another student, he said I should try and use blending modes to get some of that vibrance back. I said that I didn’t know they were available in InDesign, so had a look and found them at Object > Effects > Transparency. I could then experiment with blending modes and opacities.

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Setting it to Soft Light and the opacity to 100% was a good start. This had exactly the same effect as lowering the opacity, but left more vibrance in the tones. Then I duplicated the illustration and placed it on top of itself. This worked, but as I was to find it did not work for all the colours, especially the darker ones such as brown. Therefore for these, I set the top layer to Screen which drastically brightens the image. Then by lowering the opacity, the right result can be achieved.


This has been a very pleasing step forward in the project, and means the majority of the work for the second chapter is now complete as the text is nearly done. I will need to spend some time placing the star names into position, which I’ll cover in a later blog post.