I like to use the standard JG scale of 1m/36px, and that is what will be represented in this factbook. This is a good all purpose scale, and you will find that it is a popular scale among other artists. Sometimes I use more boutique scales, especially in my older work or when working on particularly large subjects such as rockets.
Microsoft Paint and GIMP are what I use in this quick intro. Paint.NET or other equivalent programs will work just as well.
You can use any programs for what I am going to detail, and these are the ones I happen to use, it's not really an endorsement of their superiority or anything. Ultimately this comes down to personal preference, and it is worth trying out different art programs to see what you like!
Traditionally ships are done in a different scale and follow a different set of conventions not covered in this factbook, please see Shipbucket for further information.
STARTING YOUR VEHICLE:
CHOOSING A SUBJECT:
Find something that interests you! I think that the Douglas XB-43 Jetmaster is an interesting plane, so I'm going to choose it for this demo. If you're in TWI and you want to make art for an ahistorical expy of a vehicle, it's polite to check to see if anybody else has already done so to avoid a situation where two nations somehow ended up with identical designs. Once you've found your subject, look for some high quality images taken from the side, as isometrically as possible. I found two for the Jetmaster, one a picture (which I'll use as my base) and the other a model (which would work, but is a secondary source that I will only use if details are obscured on the picture).
Multiply the length of the vehicle in meters by 36 to determine the desired length in pixels of the final line art. The Jetmaster is 15.7 meters long, so my final art should be 565 pixels in length. Open Microsoft Paint, and make sure your image is a PNG file. If it isn't, save it as one. Always save as a PNG to avoid artifacting! After this, measure the length of the vehicle in the image using the selection tool.
As you can see, the plane in this image is 834 pixels long, about 30% longer than I want! To fix this, select the resize option over the selected area, click the pixels option, and insert the desired length. This will put your picture into scale.
Perfect, now it's the right size, and the real work can start!
Using a single pixel thin line or curve tool in a highly saturated color such as blue or red, trace out all "major lines" of the vehicle. This typically means all major details and features such as the actual outline, major welds and seams, or any detail that you simply view as important. Don't use this for small details and welds that are nearly flush with the surface of the vehicle, those will be handled separately!
Some aspects of the line art such as whether to treat glass as opaque or show what's behind, or whether to outline markings on the vehicle in a manner similar to seams ultimately come down to your preference. This is pixel art and not all detail will be preserved, and it is your call to include or change aspects of the design in such a way that they fit the art style. Once all of the major lines are finished, it should look something like the following image. Note that the landing gear and other details do not perfectly line up with the picture. This is because the picture was taken from a slight angle, so some corrections had to be made. Additionally, keep in mind that if you don't want landing gear in your finished piece, you don't have to include it! I happened to, but it is up to personal preference.
Using much the same procedures as during the previous step, trace minor details using a less saturated color than the major ones. This is the time to include minor welds, bolts, and seams. Once this has been finished, save your work (AS A PNG I SWEAR TO GOD DO NOT SAVE IT AS A JPG), and open your file (PNG!!!) in GIMP.
FILLING IN THE LINES:
Now that you're in GIMP looking at your file, click the "Select by Color" tool, and set its threshold to 0. Then, click on a major line, then shift click on a minor line. This should select both the major and minor lines, and nothing else.
After that, invert the selection, selecting everything BUT your traces.
Press the delete key on your keyboard and all that should be left is your trace! Now select everything using the "All" option in the selection menu you just used to invert your selection.
Now go to the color menu, and desaturate your lines.
Now you're ready to color in your lines! You can do this in GIMP or in Microsoft Paint, honestly I prefer paint so that's the method you're gonna see, but ultimately you get the same result. If you want to color the vehicle in using paint, export the file (AS A PNG!!) and open it back up in paint and then simply use the bucket tool to fill it in, using the same shades for areas that have similar geometry so shading can be applied all at once. We aren't doing gradients or shadows yet, so just ballpark the colors. As far as palettes go, look to the real world for inspiration, whether you're doing an ahistorical or entirely real vehicle! Technically, you can be done here if you want, although I recommend you go further. Whether you want to include markings or just leave it as bare aluminum (or steel) is up to you. Once you've done that, you should have a file that looks like the image below.
As you can see, I've put some basic markings on the plane. If I wanted to be more realistic I would have even more, but for the purposes of this demonstration I am sticking with a few simple ones. Now I am going to add the shadows produced by the wings.
Now all of the colors are blocked in and it is ready to be opened back up in GIMP. Could you have just done the whole thing in GIMP? Yes. I just like using paint for filling in the lines. Using the same Select by Color tool as before, select a section of the vehicle and use the gradient tool to model how the light plays against it. This can be a bit tricky at first, but remember that planes are basically cylinders and cars are boxes! Look at pictures to get a good sense of where shadows should be, and when in doubt, just make the top bit lighter than the bottom bit.
Here's what a good gradient can look like. Already it looks much better than the flat version!
Now let's fill in the rest of the colors with gradients as necessary; if it's flat or a small detail, it often isn't (this is another situation where you should just do what you think looks best).
And there we go! You can see that I decided not to go with the orange, instead opting for a more muted blue and black typical of Corindi aircraft. This is a relatively simple process, and once you've done it a few times, I encourage you to branch off and attempt new, more complicated techniques. There are a lot of great resources both on and off of NS to help you improve, and you should quickly pick up skills allowing you to make much more complex and elaborate creations.
CRITIQUING AND REVISING YOUR WORK:
Just a few days after I posted this dispatch, I decided I didn't love some aspects of the plane I drew, particularly the size of the roundel. Instead of quietly fixing it, I decided to make it a teachable moment. Never be afraid to go back to your older work, identify what you don't like, and either fix it or completely rework the past design! It's an excellent way to hone your skills as well as see how far you've come.
If you liked this intro to line art for beginners, feel free to gift a card my way or credit it in any dispatches it helps with (gotta up my NS cred), and remember to check out The Western Isles if you are interested in a roleplay and art heavy region. If you want to learn more, consider checking out some of these helpful sites and threads: