Tag Archives: Painting

iPad Journal: Painting astronomical objects with iPad and Procreate

Just to be clear from the start, aside from grade school, I've never painted anything other than room walls and home exteriors. I'm not a "painter" and only occasionally had a passing interest in trying it out. I've sketched a few times but there too, very minimal. A few months back the iPad app Procreate popped up on my RSS or twitter feed. I had recently bought some supplies to begin an attempt at sketching astronomical objects while observing at the telescope. Those supplies have gone unopened and sit in their original bag. I'd not really figured out how to go about setting up to sketch in the near dark but it was on my mind as something I wanted to try. Suddenly a lightbulb went off and I had the thought that perhaps I could use Procreate and the iPad to sketch? That approach might be easier because I always have the iPad out with me anyway. So, no extra supplies, no set-up of lighting and supplies. I'd give it a go.

My first effort was Mars which was a pretty basic object to paint/sketch. A circle with a few faint strokes to denote a few of the larger features viewable through the telescope. The next was the Lagoon Nebula. A little more too that but still not a whole lot. Then it occurred to me that it might be fun (and good practice) to try my hand at painting an object from a photograph. Actually, it was not quite like that. It was more like a moment of boredom as I was looking at the a beautiful image of the Eagle Nebula on the cover of a book sitting on my coffee table. It occurred to me to give it a try. To be honest I didn't expect it would go as far as it did. I'm often good at starting little projects but often don't finish. For some reason in this case I found myself drawn in.

I started playing with the brushes. There are many, many brush options in Procreate. I had absolutely no idea where to begin. I tinkered with a couple of brushes and settled in on the airbrush as it seemed the best candidate for painting something like a nebula. I focused on just a portion of one of the "Pillars of Creation" and after a couple hours I decided to try a larger portion. Over the course of a few days I came back to it. It was surprised how quickly time seemed to move as I focused on the "brush". I would look up and two hours would have passed. After about 15 hours I had this:

As it turns out the process is very enjoyable. I worked mostly with the airbrush on the first project. I worked i layers in a way mimicking what I imagine the dimensionality of an actual nebula to be. I created a background of black and on top of this a layer of background nebulosity. On top of that another layer of nebulosity. And then another. And another. Stars had their own layer on the very top though in reality, of course, the stars in intermingled dimensionally.

A few weeks later I decided to paint a much larger portion of the Eagle Nebula though not the whole thing. I started with my existing painting of the pillars and then painted them in. I used the same brushes and techniques. I finished that in about a week.

The next project was the Orion Nebula and then the Lagoon Nebula. The most recent was an infra-red image of the Horsehead nebula which shows the detail of the nebula not seen in the visual spectrum. My current project is a wide field view of the nebula that surrounds the Horsehead, IC 434 and the Flame Nebula NGC 2024. Really, it's just a complex of various nebulae of which the Horsehead is just one, tiny component.

Clockwise from top left: In process IC 434 (tiny dark spot near the middle is the thick gas and dust of the Horsehead Nebula), Orion Nebula, Lagoon Nebula, close-up Horsehead Nebula in infrared

Clockwise from top left: In process IC 434 (tiny dark spot near the middle is the thick gas and dust of the Horsehead Nebula), Orion Nebula, Lagoon Nebula, close-up Horsehead Nebula in infrared

As I've worked through these various projects I've been trying out some of the different brushes available. There's so much to learn. I have no idea how this compares to painting on a canvas though I expect some of it would carry over to that process. I do feel as though I'm making some progress. Learning how to see details I would have likely missed in the past. Learning how to use the different brushes and their interaction with one another. Learning how to layer and blend color. Painting with Procreate and the iPad has allowed for a whole new experience, a new form of expression that I would not have had otherwise. It's something I thoroughly enjoy and intend to continue with for a long time to come.