Getting Gimpy? Go big. PLANETARY Big!

My first planet, following the tutorial. Family polling led to the name ErikrII

My first planet, following the tutorial. Family polling led to the name ErikrII

I can’t draw well. Well, some things I can handle – cartooning, maps, schematics, real static stuff, I can do okay. But three characters sitting around a campfire, mid-discussion? Maybe. Dynamic action-shot of giant mecha jump-kicking kaiju? Doubtful. I get lost in figuring out how things will be proportioned based on depth. I just can’t get myself to draw an arm that small, even though it’s way in the background, while the other is much closer to the observer. I can sketch and doodle well when I don’t care, but as soon as I want to do something important, my conceptualization processes and my fingers all go phhhhluuh.

The point is that, in endeavoring to self-publish a novel, the thought of cover art made me worry. Even when something I draw turns out well, It’s still just a good sketch. I never developed the skill for polishing something to a finished product. What am I going to do? Paint? That’s for painters. I don’t know nuthin’ ’bout no paint, lighting, shading, blending colors. I have neither the time nor the courage to do that, nor do I have the cash to commission something from an artist.

I know how to do Lego. Could make a diorama in – No! I may have written an adventure-fantasy of the bellowing-barbarian type, but I’d like it to be taken maybe a little bit seriously.

I decided to try digital art. I’d known about Gimp for a long time, even installed it on a few past computers (long-since stolen or defunctified), but never actually learned how to use it.

I started out with Gimp’s own tutorials, poked along with them, learned the real basic-noob nuts-and-bolts of how to work the thing. But what really got me going was when I hit the boredom wall. I didn’t want to flip pictures upside down. I wanted to MAKE stuff! Crazy light effects and laser beams and hellfire and… and PLANETS! I wanted to make a planet, like all the cool kids were doing!

So, then, to the Google machine! Did a search for something like “gimp planet tutorial.” (Don’t ever not search for something. There are a whole lot of people out there, making all kinds of stuff they find useful. Never know what cool stuff you’ll find. Just be careful not to switch to the image search for anything with “gimp” in it.)

Cha-ching, found this great guide to planetary design. And whaddaya know, a plugin for der Gimp. Even if you’re not interested in creating pictures of planets (I am, for upcoming projects) I recommend this tutorial for anyone trying to learn Gimp. It’s a bit like project-based learning. You don’t just learn how to make a pretty orb.

You learn:

  • different selection tools
  • manipulation and layering of mundane texture images to create something new.
  • Layer masks
  • The power of opacity
  • distortion and blur filters, tricks with embossing
  • layer navigation
  • color fiddling
  • so much more!

I could have learned all that by following more of Gimp’s own tutorials, but this was far more fun. That’s the thing with project-based learning. If you care about the end goal, you learn the skills and tasks needed to get there, and are driven by seeing your progress toward the goal. By fiddling with the tools of Gimp with the structure and guidance of the

planet tutorial, I got to see the potential of the program. I started getting ideas on how I could use it for other project’s I’d been dreaming up. I got to finally understand, “Oh, thaaat’s how the cool kids are doing it!”

Some lettuce from Texturez

Some lettuce from Texturez

Some broken glasse, also from Texturez

Some broken glass, also from Texturez

...Which I combined into this, Oversea, a Luminous Gas Giant that figures in most of my fantasy stories.

…Which I combined into this, Oversea, a Luminous Gas Giant that figures in most of my fantasy stories.

I haven’t published many stories set on Tethlo, one of the moons of Oversea, but you can find this one over on

Thanks for reading!

#Gimp #makeplanets #coolkids

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