Art, Artists and AI

AI Art blog article

Over the course of writing this blog, I have often fallen onto using public domain art to illustrate the incoherent thoughts that I tumble onto these pages. As I ventured into short stories, pictures were much harder to come by. I usually needed a very particular image to add to the story, and amidst the billions of images, I was never really happy with what I could find. Unfortunately, commissioning art is out of the question. I write not for fame and fortune, but to document my hobby life and all the things I find interesting, and then toss in a few stories to get them out of my head. So, there isn’t any money in this, least of all any extra money to use to commission art. That said, I have commissioned a few pieces. Just a handful. Four or five, I think. All are brilliant, and the two artists were fantastic to work with and created exactly what I wanted each time. There are many, many artists out there. Prices are all over the place, depending on what you want, how detailed, how many revisions are allowed, and who the artist is.

I choose two artists on separate criteria. The first artist was contacted to create a picture that depicted a stained-glass window. I wanted the piece to use in a terrain piece I have being planning/building/dreaming about for a few years. I wanted a fantasy window depicting a character from Bretonnian lore in the Warhammer Fantasy universe. I knew the artist personally, and saw her create something similar on her own. We set up a contract, agreed on a price, and she delivered this incredible piece of art. When the rest of the Grail Chapel is ready, I will print this on acetate and install it as window, backlighting it with flickering LED “torches”. I think it will be quite spectacular.

The second artist (and honestly I can’t remember where we first ‘met’) was commissioned to create some character sketches for our DnD campaign. The key to these images was price. I needed more than one, so they had to be pretty cheap. I wanted something close to the pen and ink illustrations in the original Red Book for Basic DnD my role-playing adventure started with. In particular, this image by Larry Elmore.

It is a relatively simple image. Nothing flashy or wild. As a younger lad, this image, and the others like it in the Red Book, captured my imagination and lit a fire for gaming that has never diminished.

I was contacted by an artist in Brazil off one of the forums I peruse, and the process started again. We had a discussion, set a contract, preliminary images were shared, revisions were made, and a complete image was delivered. This guy is great. I send him an email with the basic description of the character, he replies right away and delivers a preliminary sketch within a couple days, we hash out any changes and a day or two later I get a complete image. Easy. These are what he has delivered so far. Dynamic, evocative characters right out of our DnD campaign.

In case you are wondering, there is Malark, howling in rage. Seraphina, slyly ready to slice and dice with her twin blades, and Lia, her unique wand of fireballs wrapped around a wrist, ready to deliver fiery retribution.

As cool as these are, they cost money for each image. When I need exact images, this will be the route I pursue. For more images though, I needed something else.

On another forum or thread or Facebook group, I saw some AI images one of the members had created. I was blown away. These images were as good as anything many of the digital content creators were selling as commission pieces. Incredible detail, full color, and a variety of subjects. This was something I had to explore.

My first attempt had mixed, and frustrating results. I tried the MidgardAI. It is utilized off Discord, which is an app I had, but only for following a single Kickstarter campaign, so my experience with Discord was fairly limited. I don’t even recall exactly how you use Midgard. In the open chat you type the prompts with some other command, and in a few minutes you image appears. Also, in the chat thread. You can somehow (I never quite figured that out) upscale and evolve the initial image.

My biggest complaint was that this was happening in a chat thread. Once your image was generated, depending on how busy the thread was, the image was a few to many items away from your initial prompt. When the chat was hot, stuff was appearing every second. It might be mildly annoying, or even perfectly acceptable to some, but I found it pretty irritating. I don’t enjoy chasing stuff on a rapidly populating thread. Weirdly, I did not download the image i created. Or images. I don’t even remember how much i used it before I quit. I think you had one use a day.

What else was out there? With a few searches I next came to the StarryAI program. You can explore other people’s images, and there is some super cool stuff. From Anime to Furries, Fantasy to Goth characters, much of it seems to center on characters. I gave it a shot, throwing some prompts in and getting this as one of my initial images:

I used this simple prompt: Elven Druid Cloak Long Sword Staff Leather Armor

Weirdly, I don’t think of the four images created off that prompt show leather armor. In fact, I think the AI sees Armor and instantly depicts metal. It cannot decipher Chainmail either. Specific limitations, but fairly significant for fantasy characters.

StarryAI has a bunch of settings, and I will not be getting into all of that. The basic prompts and settings generates 4 images for one credit. The above image is one of those four. You can evolve and upscale these images in a much easier manner than with Midgard. Here is one of the first upscaled images I created.

I was trying to get an image for my daughter’s sorcerer, Lia, and the prompt didn’t say anything about a hat. But it created a very cool image.

The only down side to StarryAI is that you only get 5 free credits a day. Surprisingly, once you claim your credits for the day, they don’t seem to expire. On a day I don’t have time to play with the program, I just claim my credits and save them for later. Of course, you can buy more credits, and better access to the AI servers, but I was looking for cheap. Free is the best kind of cheap.

The first images were rough. I spent some time on the Google looking for hints and tips to creating better images. What I really want is the exact prompts some of the best creators are using, alas, none are sharing. I found some helps, though and quickly started creating pretty decent character sketches and landscapes. Some came out very weird. The following image on the right was created using prompts for a female warrior with red hair. I don’t know about you, but I am pretty sure that is a male face, despite the boob-armor. The image on the left is the same prompt, adding ‘human’ to the beginning of the prompt. Definitely a female warrior.

By now, I have created 65+ sets of images using StarryAI. Some have weirdly been so horrible that I  deleted them from the My Creations area of the site. Here are some of my favorites:

Quickly depleting my StarryAI credits, I wanted more AI, and discovered DALL-E. To use that site, you have to set an account and log-in. StarryAI seems to be based of your IP maybe. Honestly, I am not sure. I have a profile, but I do not recall how I started on the site. Every time I go to the site my creations are there. DALL-E gives something like 50 credits up front, and 15 a month after. It is supposed to be more plain language friendly. They claim you just type in what you want to create, and the AI works its magic. I have had mixed returns with DALL-E. Some stuff is super cool. Some stuff is weirdly distorted. Faces in particular often seem to be melted wax, or scary eyes. There is less detail and crispness as well. Of course, it might be my prompts and lack of key phrases to lock in specific features.

Here a few of my favorite images created using DALL-E:

Both programs have some weird issues. Both are hit or miss with weapons. Sometimes the weapon hovers in front of the hand, or it starts weirdly near the hand. Many times, the weapons are not fully developed and don’t resemble any sword, mace, spear or staff anyone on Earth would recognize. StarryAI doesn’t understand Single Story Building, either. Any time I say building, it ends up multi-story. I tried DALL-E and get single story, but if the description says lodge, it might generate an outhouse or shed.

I’ve used both for portraits, landscapes, ships, and buildings For character portraits though, StarryAI wins hands down.

So far, I have only used these AI programs for fantasy art. I am curious how a more pulp or historical figure might turn out. Will I be able to use these to add more art to my short stories? Can I get the generator to produce a Wild West gunslinger? What about an Indiana Jones-type Pulp character? I’ve seen sci-fi characters, but can it do a theme like Star Wars or 40K?

It’s a relaxing game, adding a descriptive prompt and waiting to see what the AI generates. So far, I can’t get exactly what I want. I can’t give a list of details, and know they will be in the final image. Which I can absolutely do with an actual artist. Things like jewelry, tattoos, equipment or weapons will be reliably generated with a human artist. I can even say I want silver jewelry with sapphire stones and know I will get that combination. AI is fun, and much cheaper, but not capable of replacing a real artist for quality work. Is it fun to generate images? Sure. Will I have plenty of images to depict NPCs in our campaign? Absolutely. Will I be able to get every image I every need? Nope. There will always be a need for real artists, taking prompts and descriptions and making revisions until my image is realized.

One frustrating image I can’t even get either AI to generate is a single-masted ship. Maybe I need to say sloop or bark? Off to the AI, to see what comes next.

Distractions and Repainting X-Wing ships

Summer is nearly over in the States, and again, my production has been sparse. I have a good excuse, the same one many of you in blog land have. Real Life.

It is a shame the Real Life can’t conspire to paint our models, or finish that terrain piece. Or pieces. I have many in various stages of progress that Real Life could finish any time it wanted to, I won’t complain. This Real Life event has kept me away from my painting desk, my terrain table (spoiled, I know!) or gaming. I’ve been preoccupied and busy, and haven’t done a whole lot.

Not that most of you care about the why, but here it is anyways. My Princess is heading off to college/university this week, and so I have not had the mojo to sequester myself in the basement when we could be making memories. I did this four years ago with my son, and it was tough. He was my soccer fan, shooting, 40K, Bolt Action companion. And now the other half of my kiddos is heading out.

Mornings have been full of Star Wars Rebels and The Bad Batch, and lots of discussions on characters, ships, plots and future stories in our favorite galaxy far, far away. She gets Star Wars, and knows as much if not more, than I do. She has a phenomenal memory for characters and traits and plots. So, we sit and watch and I complain because I am not to the end yet, and she smirks because she is all caught up and knows what comes next. We laugh, and sometimes cry, miss characters lost, futures that won’t be, and all of the story that is Star Wars. Time well spent.

Evenings have been spent watching Supernatural and sharing Daredevil (the tv series) with her and my wife. Or rewatching favorite movies. After watching Revenge of the Sith my wife looked over at us and said “you know you talked through the entire movie, right?

Of course, we did. We talked about Anakin and Padme, and Obi-wan and Satine. And Corky. And Mandalorians, Mandalore, The Scouring and how it fits into the timeline. We discussed who was where and when. She kept trying to figure out Clone commanders and lamenting the death of all of her favorite clones. Fives will never be forgotten. We enjoyed Yoda in all his saber-flashing glory. Of Anakin’s fall. Hope lost. Sadness. Misery. And the twins. All of it.

And every day that passed brought me closer to the day I’ll help her set up her dorm room, and make the 1600-mile trek home. Without my Star Wars and DnD buddy. Watching Andor will not be the same. Nor will watching whatever is next. She is a next-level fan and very few around me can match her knowledge and enthusiasm.

No one really warns you about this when you have kids. Eighteen years is a long time in the future, right?

Hardly enough time at all.

College. Post grad work. Marriage. A job. She has so many things to look forward to, and her future is incredibly bright.

Mine is just a little dimmer without her light on the couch next to me whenever we want to put on a bit of Star Wars. And it is gonna be hard to deal with.

She is a busy kid, and there were times when I did have a few minutes to myself. I did get a couple things done. Mostly a couple repaints of ships for the game X-Wing. I found a YouTube channel by a chap named Jay Adan. He repaints X-Wing ships, and does a fine job of it. Two of his videos inspired me to make my own attempts. I ordered a couple used (i.e., cheap) ships off eBay or used model sites and got tucked in. Here are the results.

First is a partial repaint of a TIE Phantom. In the game of X-Wing, the Phantom has the ability to cloak and disappear. Nasty little surprise when it happens. This paint is as it begins to cloak. Painting black over the area to cloak, then some electrical/cloaking effects. Finally, I added a bit of the starfield that shows through the cloaked machine. It was pretty quick to do, and ended up way better than I expected.

Second was a set of standard TiEs painted in a black scheme. Mr. Adan used a mask to make the white Imperial symbol. And he used an airbrush. I used neither. I rattle-canned the model black with Testor’s black spray, then applied white decals I found on eBay, before some dry brushing, highlights, and detail work. While Mr. Adan did a single TIE, I went a step further and painted a wingman. In fact, I picked up several more TiEs and a Devastator to paint in the same scheme. Then I can field a unique squadron in a custom paintjob. I think the effect will be quite stunning when the group is finished.

The last ship is a Y-Wing that came originally in the Scum faction paint scheme from the Most Wanted box. The ship was mostly a light cream of tan with some parts in a coppery color. I added a blue over parts, repainted the astromech, and used a dark wash to dirty it up. Y-Wings are all over the place on the secondary marked and I wanted one that looked cobbled together from the wreckage of two or three ships.  It looks the part.

Lastly, I dug out a wild west bank I started ages ago. I crafted a base from a floor tile, and started adding a wood floor and the boardwalk around the building. I didn’t get far on this project, and look to finally get this one completed sometime next month.

That’s it for this update. Not a lot of hobby time, but as much daddy-daughter time as I could fit it.

But not nearly enough…

Sad BG out

How to start? Or where to begin? It sure is a big hobby!

As a gamer, I often find my self as an Army of One. Out of all my co-workers (50+ in my office) I am the only miniatures gamer, and one of very few that play any board games at all. I deal with the usual jokes and silliness. My Hasbro Black Series figs are referred to as “dolls” by one guy. I play with kid’s toys. My fellow gamers are “those” guys. You know the ones; the unwashed, uncouth, basement dwellers. All the same stuff I am sure many of you have dealt with at some time.

My two brothers are the same. Neither really has a hobby, and they think it is funny to make jokes about my “shiny” as they refer to my unpainted models. Since they are not gamer, they were blown away by my total models owned. Especially by the number in the Lead Mountain, or The Boxes of Despair, as I refer to them.

It’s mostly in good humor, but still, it gets old. I’ve had decent conversations explaining war games in general, and the games I play in particular, with my direct unit. Because we spend 8-10 hours a day together in very close quarters and we’ve pretty much covered everything. None have really showed any interest. One guy asked about board games a few years back. Games with a military/war theme that would be suitable for a ten-yar-old. I gave him a couple options, and every time I followed up, he replied with “he hadn’t gotten any yet”.

My “gaming buddies” are all of you. The guys and gals that read my blog, post on the forums I frequent, or right blogs of your own. You are the ones who get it. Collecting your own stuff. The ones who buy more models than they paint, and collect rules like somewhere out there is the perfect set. My peeps.

We have a collective vocabulary and a shared knowledge base. Unless you play a single game, or ruleset, you all know that there are literally thousands of rule sets floating around. Starting with eponymous Little Wars, to whatever ruleset is being published the week I publish this, to whatever week you read this into infinity, rules abound. Those in the hobby know and understand it. Those outside the hobby have no idea.

It comes as a surprise, I am sure, when they ask a simple question like “what rules should I use if I wanted to start wargaming?” Three weeks later, when you finish discussing the various eras of warfare and how to divide them, they have lost interest completely…

Honestly, where do we start?

I’ve briefly alluded to some of the eras in warfare that have rules or army lists in this post (the eras I game post link), so I won’t delve into it again. It does create issues though, when someone asks about wargaming. I had this problem today when the guy who asked about board games asked for a set of rules he called “Wargaming 101” and specifically mentioned battles from Thermopylae to Gettysburg.

Well. Hmmm. How do I break it down that no one set of rules is capable of doing that? 2300+ years of history, innovation, tactical changes, and weapons development means that a pike-armed phalanx and a skirmish line armed with repeating rifles are very, very different. While I supposed you could have some very basic rules to cover that wide of a span, it is the differences in units that makes war gaming so great. Otherwise, play checkers.

I answered my friend. He is recently retired, and has way more free time than I do. I suppose he is looking for a hobby, and the world needs more wargamers, not less, so I did my best to help. I gave some options and opinions of the same. My real knowledge is limited to the ten or so rulesets I play most. I am familiar with about probably ten times that number. And have heard of double that. Reading his question, my brain started sorting through what I know.

Plenty of gamers will yell out “you told him about DBA, right?” Which technically, I did. By telling him that Triumph! is the playable successor. We all have our opinions; I don’t care for DBA. Sue me.

I mentioned the Osprey Wargaming Series to start, specifically Lion Rampant.  I like the small rulebooks and narrow focus of this series. Handing someone a book the size of the 9th Ed Warhammer 40K book is almost a surefire way to get them to NOT play wargames. There is literally a 300-page difference between 9th Ed 40K and any rules in the Osprey series.  And the former still needs a pair of army books to really play the game.

Granted, one is sci-fi and the other is medieval, but you understand the dilemma. How to we get a totally newbie over the initial hump and on the slide into wargaming madness?

My recommendations to him were Field of Glory, several from the Osprey Series, Triumph!, the Fire & Fury rules (both Brigade and Regimental) and Black Powder. The real problem is the timespan. None of these will work for that entire timeline. I think a minimum would be four rules. One for Ancients, one for Dark Ages, one for Medieval, and a last for the American Civil War. Unless he is interested in Napoleonics battles, too, then, well, he needs more rules.

What about all of you? If someone asked you the same question, what would your answer be, and what are your favorite rules for these various eras?

For me, these are my current rules:

Ancients: Triumph! I like the vast array of army lists, the simplicity of play, and the guys that play it. I’ve had great fun recreating battles from the Battle of Marathon, to the battle of Hastings.

Dark Ages: Saga I like the warband feel, and the unique traits off the battle boards. Plus, cool dice. Everyone loves cool dice.

Medieval: Lion/Dragon Rampant Easy to read and learn, fast-paced, and really open to include any units you want, I can use my Warhammer Fantasy models with these rules without tossing a monstrosity of a rulebook at my opponent.

Black powder era: Muskets & Tomahawks for skirmish battles. Fire & Fury for ACW. M&T is so cinematic and cool. This evocative set uses cool scenarios and side plots to create really interesting games. The F&F rules allow regimental to brigade level gaming in the ACW.

Anyone of you who has read before know I also game fantasy, WW2 and various sci-fi. He didn’t ask about those, but I’ll list my current favs just for completion’s sake:

Fantasy: Warhammer Fantasy Battles AND Dragon Rampant. I’m still torn between the two. It is the unique units in WFB that makes the game both cool, and overburdened with special rules. DR really streamlines the unit and weapon choices. I need to bust out a couple armies and give DR a go.

WW2: Bolt Action (plus our house rules) and Chain of Command. I’ve written before about how I WANT to love CoC, but there are certain aspects I just don’t care for. I think I will end up with a hybrid of the two, picking parts I like from both.

Sci-Fi: 40K will always be my first gaming love, but I haven’t played it in years. Kill Team has piqued my interest, though, and I might get into it. Mostly I play Star Wars using X-Wing and Armada. Ground combat in the galaxy far, far away isn’t my thing, but space combat is so much fun.

My friend hasn’t taken me up my lunch offer yet. I think he knows lunch would turn into dinner, and the sun would set before I even got to the Black Powder era in rules discussions. He wants to dip his toe, not leap into the fire. I can’t say I blame him for caution, since this path can lead to madness.

A quick peek at what I’ve been up to on the terrain front. A couple sign posts/ message boards, and a ruined tower for fantasy gaming. The signs are from basswood and balsa, with mdf bases I scavenged from the last mdf kit I built. I forgot to take any in progress pics of the tower. It was built stone by stone from XPS bricks/blocks I cut on my Proxxon hotwire cutter. I used Alene’s Tacky glue instead of hot glue (hate the strings) so this took a while. I could only get two rows on at a time before they would slip out of position if I tried to add more layers.

I finally finished this kit from 4Ground. Harper’s Dry goods. I have another copy of this kit already, so i modified the front face, cutting a different profile on the top and hiding the cuts with profile boards. My western town is coming along nicely. Mostly I need to finalize signs and get them printed and installed.

Not sure why the door looks broken. I wonder if I messed it up finishing the tarp?

That’s it for this update. There are few models painted, but no pics yet. With end-of-the year stuff of my daughter, my free time has been limited. June is gonna be worse. If I can finish even one small project, it will be a miracle.

See ya next time!