I want to paint the Aurora Bo­re­alis with­out mak­ing it too fan­ci­ful or un­re­al­is­tic – help!

Ben Jones, Wales

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Imagine Nation Artist Q & A -

An­swer

Dave replies

Cre­ated when the Earth’s mag­ne­to­sphere in­ter­acts with the so­lar wind, the re­sult­ing emis­sion of light of­ten takes the form of rib­bons or cur­tains of light. I’ll use the cur­tain metaphor as we de­pict this beau­ti­ful phe­nom­ena.

Start by vi­su­al­is­ing a flat plane in the at­mos­phere of your scene, a level rib­bon that winds through the sky as a river might if you raised it up into the air some­how. This will be the main spine of your aurora, so feel free to pick a shape that best suits your com­po­si­tion.

Paint your main aurora colours along this “rib­bon in the sky”. Once you have this in place, start pulling those colours up ver­ti­cally, as if it were a cur­tain and your main “rib­bon” is the bot­tom hem. Use a Smear or Smudge tool, or paint with a brush. Try to keep your lines go­ing straight up from the ground, and let them fade as they get higher. Over­lap them more as you ap­proach bends in the rib­bon.

Once you’re sat­is­fied with this, al­pha-lock the layer and play with paint­ing in other colours. If I find I’ve been con­ser­va­tive with colour, I’ll take my colour layer and du­pli­cate it. I set the du­pli­cate layer to Over­lay, which can make el­e­ments look in­tense. I can dial this layer’s Opac­ity up or down as re­quired.

For my frozen citadel scene, I used a block Chalk brush to paint, and then the same brush to smear the aurora colours ver­ti­cally. Start with the bot­tom edge of the aurora “cur­tain”, and then paint or smudge your

colours up­wards from it.

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