For this competition I was challenged to create some sort of illustration or vector and I new from the start I wanted to do something space related because I have always loved space. It is just so huge, and there are so many unsolved mysteries out there. After doing some research I decided I wanted to do my own interpretation of  a nebula formation called  “The Pillars of Creation” which I think is simply one of the most beautiful things found in our universe. It looks like this:

The first step in creating this in the computer is to sketch. When I sketch I like to start by sketching out my source material looking for details I want to highlight.

sketch1My initial sketch looked like this: In this sketch I tried to take note of places where the color of the nebula changed and noted it by drawing a line through the nebula in the place of change. I also looked for placement of some key stars. Once I had a feel for the image I started doing thumbnail sketches. These are a great way to get ideas out quick to see what I like and what I don’t like. For these I am not worried about detail, but only composition. Playing with angles and placements. Below are my thumbnail sketches:

thumb-2 thumb-3 thumb-4 thumb-5 thumb-6 thumb-7 thumb-8 thumb-1

With a favorite composition in mind I returned to doing large sketches and came up with this:


I brought this image into Photoshop and traced the sketch to create the following image:

line-artI then used this line art as a guide and started working on the digital illustration. My first idea was to to use the blend brush in Photoshop to create some really cool blends of colors for the nebula and then paint in a glow. Going with this method gave me the following:

nebula-draftThis had some potential. You can see some of lighter color meant to be a glow, but it wasn’t looking how I wanted it to. Continuing with this method would give me a very cartoon look and I didn’t really like it, I new I needed to change directions. So I went back to the digital line art and started fresh. My main tool for my new method was the render cloud effect in Photoshop. I then changed the blending mode of my new clouds from “normal” to “color dodge.” I created a new layer under my clouds and with a brush on low opacity painted in various colors to create the space backdrop and the nebula in the front. I added an outer glow to the nebula to help it stick out of the background and also added an inner shadow to make it darker. Some of the brighter stars are actually a lens flare created using the render>lens flare option in Photoshop.

After bringing all of these together, I was able to create this:


Helaman Higley
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Helaman Higley

Graphic Designer. Illustrator. Photographer. Creator.

Helaman is a student of Visual Design at BYU-Idaho.
Lover of design and astronomy, he aspires to be a creative director. He loves using his skills to create unique and compelling graphics for any need.
Helaman Higley
Find me at

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