I suck. At drawing, that is. My wife is an excellent artist but she thinks I'm a big dork and doesn't wanna draw pictures of elves and orcs and dwarves. I'm also not a millionaire and can't afford to pay Crowsinger as my full-time illustrator. Are you in a similar situation?
Illustrations help readers get into the scenes. For some, getting a sense of the scenery and faces of the main characters isn't automatic. A well-timed illustration can add mood, tell additional parts of the story not penned, or fill in the description of the surroundings without spending a chapter describing it. They are a tool in the writer's toolbelt. So, finding a way to get good quality illustrations for a very poor artist is something a lot of writers in this situation crave.
1. What not to do
Over the years, I have tried to find ways to get my characters illustrated. The first place I turned was to friends. They will never be not busy enough to draw you something, and it puts a strain on a relationship when someone is asking you for free stuff.
There are hundreds of free anime character or avatar creation sites on the web. No matter how great the claim to be, DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM! Hours of scouring the internet has taught me one thing: the internet lies. There is not an avatar site anywhere that has the range to be able to satisfy your yearning for good character illustrations. They may be able to do one, but not all. You will end up spending tons of time trying to fit an oblong peg into a totally-awesome-sized hole.
Rob a liquor store to bankroll your illustration purchases by real artists
Not sure how much time we need to spend on this one...
2. A simple (not read "easy") method to create your own illustrations using other people's time and effort!
For a while, I had been watching my daughter get sucked into Horizon: Zero Dawn. I can't blame her, it's a great game IMHO. A big trend now in RPGs is to allow a screenshot mode to take pics of your heroes/heroines doing amazing things, or just sitting in the grass in front of a sunset (thanks, shader creators). As I was pulling them off for her to post as wallpaper on her PC, it dawned on me that these were great pics. If only there was a way to get a game to make my characters any way I wanted and then let them run around in these very lifelike worlds and capture screenshots for my stories.
And lo and behold, there is a game on the market that specializes in fantasy RPGs, has great graphics, has a robust character generator, and has 15 years of modders in the community making weapons, armor, shaders, buildings, artifacts, and tools to make it easy to create screenshots. Thank you, Bethesda, for Skyrim.
After so long, Skyrim is easy on the budget, if you don't already own it. The modding community allows you access to tens of thousands of additional items and tools that make customizing the game to your liking doable. Want a funky piece of armor that also could double as a ball gown? Got it. Want to be able to add a tattoo of a kitten to your neck? Got it. Want a disney princess castle in the middle of a marsh? Not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised.
First, you need to buy the game. Now that you own it, let's make it your own. Although modding resources are vast, sticking to the basics is key to making this work. The ability to add functionality to the game and not just items is important for getting your characters to move right, add additional physics to hair and clothing, and to allow for more character creation options. For this, you will want to add a script extender that allows mods to add actual code to the game and increase its toolkit. SKSE is the script extender that is used by pretty much all modders for Skyrim: Skyrim Script Extender (SKSE) (silverlock.org)
Now, head over to where the modders hang out. The largest site for Skyrim mods, by far, is Nexus mods and community. Here you will find an endless amount of mods, some great, some poor, and some a little lewd so be careful. You will have to sign up to download mods but they are not intrusive with their accounts. An email address is all it takes. Go ahead and turn that content blocking on. Trust me, there's a lot of time spent on turning the attention from drragons to birds and bees. That being said, you may find the need to unblock for some content like skin textures and updated meshes for different races. There's a lot of time spent making things anatomically specific...
Spend some time sifting through character creator mods, the most important when creating the character in your mind. One very important one is RaceMenu at Skyrim Special Edition Nexus - Mods and Community (nexusmods.com).
From here, let your imagination guide you and eventually you will end up with a character in a location that you can use as a basis for an illustration.
Here we have a screenshot of a character, an orc female named Valgrugthrinostek, but you can just call her Val. The blurb connecting this picture is rather meek, explaining the main character's location in the kitchen and her location in the den. Finding a location that sort of makes sense of it took a bit of time. From the chapter:
"He pulled them from a drawer and shoved them into the pack and slung it around his body. He looked around the room for the girl but saw nothing. The few candles he had lit in the house had all been snuffed out. Then he noticed light breathing coming from the corner of the den."
Now, this is not going into just an article on the interwebs, but also in a bound book eventually, one that hearkens back to old young adult novels of the early 20th century. So we will need a monotone ink drawing, not a high quality shot like the one above.
On Youtube, there are plenty of vids explaining the following process so I won't bore you with details. GIMP is picture editing freeware akin to Adobe Photoshop. It is very stable and pretty good for something that is free. Grab a copy of that and watch a video on Youtube of how to transform a photo of someone into a pencil sketch!
There we go. Then, we just lay that into the story which I happen to have in MS Word...
Once I have all my characters created and all my outfit mods and weapons and locations, I can run around shooting different locations and turning them into the illustrations I could never draw.
By far, this is the best quality art I can find without spending a lot of money, asking too much of friends, or taking the next twenty years learning to draw. I hope this has been beneficial for someone and got them thinking about ways they can use what they have to be more creative. There's always a way to accomplish things if you can approach them from different directions. If anyone has questions about the process in modding Skyrim, doing pencil sketches from photos, or want to give me some pointers, feel free to reach out on Discord, P+ forums, or the official forums. Take care and good luck!
Benonai, leader of the Resistance Against the Corrupt House of Amensol