Category Archives: steampunk

Cover art process










I spent a good chunk of the weekend painting, most of it on the cover art for Mike Reeves-McMillan’s novel Auckland Allies. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of my original concept sketch and something close to the final painting on the right. I’m very late on this one, but I love the way it’s turned out!

Category: art, Books, steampunk

Tinsel Tide is available!

TINSEL TIDE – A Short Tale of Boston, Officers of the Underground, and Murder
The day doesn’t begin well for Brim Archer, who follows the world of mathematics and airships, and lives by himself in a lonely house in the middle of the Nahant tidal plain, northeast of Boston. The day begins with the suspicion of murder. There’s no body. Not yet. But the seers from the Underground know where it’s going to end up. Right at the edge of the porch of Mr. Archer’s house. And they’ve sent along a couple sharp fellows to look into it.

Get it at Amazon:


Cloud War…

Or what I really want to see when I use Google Earth.  I spent 5 – 6 hours on this one over the weekend, and did some detail work to finish up last night.

Click for the full view.


Category: art, Art Rage, steampunk

Full piece

Okay, here's the full piece with the main character–the guy on the right, and the city and school in the background. 

Click for the full view

FloatingLands-ChrisHoward-900DISP copy

Category: art, steampunk, Writing

Wing Girl – character study

I did some sketching in my journal this morning, including this one of a character in an old idea for a story of mine–I was telling my son the story.  Scanned this one in tonight and did some shading in Art Rage.  I'm 35k words into my current book, the first in a new series.  It's a near-future thriller, and I've been saying I don't think I'll write fantasy again.  I've moved on–to the future. (I think I said those exact words several times at Boskone).  But you know how it is, a good story grabs you and won't let you go, demanding to be written. So, I'd put money on seeing this character in a book in the…near-future.


Category: art, steampunk, words, Writing, ya

Steampunk Map of New York

This was my secret project (Revealed!), a commission for a 9 x 12 foot wall mural for a steampunk cafe, opening in Brooklyn later this year.  I started it at the end of November.  Finished it over the weekend.

Here's a peek–keep in mind the real one is HUGE–9 feet high by 12 feet wide.  Click the pic for a closer view. Hope you like!



Category: art, steampunk

Steampunk Doghouse


Category: steampunk

Seaborn iPad app available in iTunes!


Calling all iPad owners!



App_Seaborn Seaborn—the iPad app—is a book and art platform for the stories, illustrations, paintings, and author notes created by me (Chris Howard) for a collected set of my works—the novel Seaborn, the graphic novel Saltwater Witch, and Seaborn’s sequel, Sea Throne. Also included: character studies, timelines, maps, character lists, sample audio chapters of Seaborn, art portfolio, short stories, and chapters from the SF thriller Nanowhere.

Okay, that’s the formal description of the app. It’s also a discovery effort to develop the necessary components of a mobile author and artist platform.

SeabornMenu I wanted to create something that makes it convenient to get to an author’s or illustrator’s work, especially the creative side-stuff we do that doesn’t always have a home, some of which appears in our blogs, they’re slapped up on image-sharing sites, scattered across the universe. Two things I heard over and over after Seaborn hit the shelves: “I wish there was a character list included in the book”, and “how do you pronounce names like ‘Kallixene’?”

My ultimate aim is to build something that brings it all together in a place that’s always available—with the base assumption that very few of us go anywhere without a mobile device.

Be warned: version 1.0 has a couple embarrassing typoes–fixed in version 1.1, which should be ready for download in a few days.  Version 1.0 is up now.  Go get it.  Grab the update when Apple pushes it to iTunes.

I’d really like some feedback on the contents, layout, the scrolling panes for Saltwater Witch, missing features, everything.

To go along with the app, I’ve updated the Saltwater Witch comic site, moved everything over to the actual site.

Here’s a set of app screenshots:


SeabornArt SWitchMain




Doodling can take you places…

Yeah, like far away.  For instance, I started with a pen in my journal with the general idea of something flying and ended up embarking on a study of Steampunk Restaurants.  Sure, it's not much of a study yet, but it's a start.  Below is my first piece, Aircowboy Bob's, a restaurant out of the American West where the menu consists of just about anything that can be hunted—and forget about vegetables.  You know, a "the food's brown, hot, and there's plenty of it" sort of place, where the BBQ smoke is so thick, it's like you've pulled a twelve hour shift behind the counter every time you eat there. 

Aircowboy Bob's Dirigible Diner


Just the ink…



Category: art, Food and Drink, steampunk | Tags:

Painting on your iPhone with the Brushes app

NazcasDinerDISP Or, as I would have called this post if there was enough room: Nazca’s All-Nite Diner, open 24 hours, coffee and good food for all Captains of the Heights, the brave men and women of the Blue Forest Air Corps and East Shadow Dippers. Best pizza this side of the Orn Gulf. 

And all painted on an iPhone.

Here’s the first in a series of tutorials to share some of the things I do when I paint with the Brushes app on the iPhone (everything here also works on iPod Touch).  These aren’t in order, although I might consider some more important than others, or maybe a better way to put it: some of these are work-for-me-but-may-not-work-for-you kinds of techniques, while others are just things to try, and still others are general use and I’d advise using them no matter who you are. 

I am by no means an expert with Brushes, but I’ve been using this wonderful painting app for months, and I’ve settled into a bunch of techniques I use over and over.  (For digital work I mainly use Painter, Art Rage, Photoshop on a Wacom). Here are a few things I’ve painted entirely with Brushes, starting with a blank canvas, and using all of the tools in the Brushes set. (Click to see the full view).

GoingToGetMyMagicBack SharkGirlPacific Steampunkery MoreSteampunk SharkGirl AngrySea

More—with videos:

Okay, let’s get started.

I’ve broken this up into a set of “techniques”, which run from advice, to the painting processes I use, tools I like and use, and other suggestions. Again, some of these work for me, and may work for you. Try them out, let me know what you think, let me know what I’m missing.

Technique: Start with a background and tell a story

Or just start fiddling and see if a story shows up on its own.  Start with a blank Brushes canvas by hitting the + sign.  Open up the brush size dialogue and slide it right, to the largest size.  Pick a color, any color, and keep the transparency slider somewhere less than the middle.  (You can also slide the brush selector to the bristly one–my favorite).


Start painting.  I like to make some broad strokes across the background, usually at an angle, sometimes angling both sides toward the middle giving it looking down from a great height sort of lines, sometimes zig-zags or ocean waves.  Pick a direction and paint.  For now, try to cover the background without lifting your finger—this creates an even tone with the selected color and transparency.  The fun stuff starts happening when you lift your finger and paint over the previous paint you just put down. This is where the brush transparency plays an exciting role, laying down a less transparent stroke with the same paint color.  Try leaving some white space, try different transparency settings and colors—unfortunately Brushes doesn’t currently support blending, smearing, color mixing, but it still allows you to do some wonderful things with transparency.

More than likely you’ll see a pattern emerge, a treeline, mountain, the edge of a forest, a dark street.  I consider myself an author before an Illustrator.  I love telling stories.  I love creating characters, places, conflict, and danger.  Look for the pattern or story in the background and bring it to life.

I start just about every painting in Brushes with one of two things in mind: A general idea of a character, place, scene.  Or nothing whatsoever.  When I haven’t the foggiest clue what I want to paint, I pick a color, set the transparency to about a quarter way up from the bottom, slide to the widest brush, play with the strokes, and look for the patterns that emerge. At the first sign of an interesting edge or angling shadows I usually add a layer, move to black and the smallest brush size, then trace some of the outlines, bring the shapes to the foreground, make the edges of the unknown clearer.  Before you know it, you’ll have a heaving ocean, the mouth of a cave, a sky full of stars, a forest of blue trees, or a microscopic view of fresh cut grass.

Here’s a set of backgrounds I recently worked up in a coffee shop over lunch, just playing with brush sizes, colors, and transparency:

IMG_0675 IMG_0677 IMG_0676

Technique: Use a mix of broad brush strokes to create shapes and define them
Sometimes I start small, sometimes big. If I’m thinking I need an airship in the foreground, I’ll create a new layer and use a big brush to give me a general shape for this airship. Then I’ll go to the smallest brush and give it definition, create the edges, refine the big pointy looking blob into something that looks airship-ish.

I think it depends on what you’re drawing. It may make sense to create a new layer and use the smallest brush to outline a figure, the horizon, ocean waves, or a 24-hour diner in the treetops.  Then on another layer, use a broad brush to fill in with solid color—again, use transparency to your advantage.  I rarely use a full solid color unless I’m drawing lines with a tiny brush.  You can also do some fantastic shading and reflection with the transparency down very low and then going over a shaded or highlighted area repeatedly.

I’m painting something inetresting for this set of techniques, and here’s what I started with, a background with a few colors and then some defining with the smallest brush:

IMG_0662 IMG_0663

I pictured trees, giant blue trees with an airship-catering all-night diner a hundred meters off the ground.

IMG_0650 IMG_0652 IMG_0653 IMG_0654 IMG_0657

I drew the basic structure of Nazca’s All-Nite Diner, and then started adding details, lights, some bracing–with shadow and highlight using a nearly transparent brush:

IMG_0661 IMG_0659 IMG_0660

Technique: Finger-painting works better than a stylus

You may not think so, and I didn’t either when I started out with Brushes. I bought a stylus, used it for a few days, and have never picked it up again. If a stylus works for you, use it. I think the perception is that a stylus (a pen like device for drawing on the screen) will give you accuracy, better fine line drawing, and while I think this is generally correct, there’s a serious downside: it affects the way I use Brushes. While painting I’m constantly hitting the Brushes toolbar buttons–undo, layers, brush sizing, colors.  In a typical work I’ll hit undo five hundred times or more, I’ll change colors and brushes a hundred times, roll through a hundred layers.  The stylus quickly became a pain to flip out of the way every time I wanted to select buttons, colors, and anything else.  And with a little practice I’ve found I have everything I wanted: accuracy, pressure/touch sensitivity, and easy access to the toolbar with my fingers. Fingers work better. Try them out.

Technique: Undo

Use it like it’s keeps your heart beating.  Paint with the boldness of grizzly bears on  Red Bull, because you can always undo anything you paint. This feeds into the next technique on using layers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve created a layer just to see what something looks like, then if I don’t like it, I’ll trash the whole layer.  Another tip that fits with this is to create duplicates of your work as you go. When I get to a settled point in the painting–and there can be ten of these along the way in a single work, I’ll click the “Done” button, and in the lower left, select “Duplicate Painting.”  I’ve only gone back and started with an earlier version four or five times, but it’s a peace of mind thing–knowing that if I somehow crap up a painting, I can always go back and start over with a good copy with layers intact.

IMG_0673 IMG_0672

Technique: Sometimes you can’t undo

Get used to this.  You’re pinching and expanding the canvas, painting, hitting buttons, more painting, doing all kinds of things.  And sometimes you’ll paint a line you don’t want and you won’t notice it until you’ve flattened the layers and you’re a hundred paint strokes on.  What you can’t undo, you can paint over.  Maybe this isn’t a technique all on its own, but I wanted to call this out as something that is going to happen.  I do it all the time. Painting along, everything looks lovely, and there’s a thin orange line through the center of the work. The only thing you can do is create a new layer, use the dropper tool to set the color next to the offending paint, and paint over it with little or no transparency.

Here’s a real example from the work I’m doing for this set of techniques:

IMG_0655 IMG_0656

Technique: Use hundreds of layers

Create a new layer for everything, a new highlight, shadow, new figure, every cloud in the sky.  Give them all layers. Brushes currently supports five layers, so make new ones and flatten as you go.  When I paint in Art Rage, Painter, or Photoshop, I use dozens of layers.  I just keep adding new ones as I proceed through a painting. I know some artists–when they use Photoshop–like Stephan Martiniere ( go through a hundred layers or more on most works.  Crazy cool.

Here’s what the layer panel looks like:


Click the + to create a new layer above the currently selected layer (that’s the one with the blue outline).  With layers, you can draw at different depths in your painting.  The checkboard pattern is the layer’s transparency—this won’t show up in your work, but lets you know what’s solid and what’s not—what’s going to show through any particular layer from the layer underneath it.

Click the down-arrow to merge layers.  Brushes currently supports five full layers, and if you need another you’ll have to flatten the image a bit.  Over the course of a painting I will run up to five layers and flatten twenty or thirty times.

Okay, that’s enough for today.  Here’s where I am with Nazca’s All Nite Diner, a late night crew of the airship Herakleia pulling into a berth because the captain has a craving for that insanely good summer squash and barbecue chicken pizza Nazca is famous for. And the coffee.  Damn good coffee.

One final note on image quality: Brushes allows you to download and create a high resolution rendering of any .brushes file, which is essentially a store of every recorded brush stroke for a work, with all its attributes, including color, transparency, layer, etc.  For a quick copy of your work you can also have Brushes send a lower res version to your camera roll and from there, email it to yourself or sync the images with your computer.

This is a low-res copy–nice enough for posting, but it gets a bit jagged when blown up.


Here’s the video:

Go paint!

Category: art, iPhone, steampunk