Paint a sci-fi pin-up


Welcome to the final chapter of this Pin-Up series. I’m not very familiar with science fiction but I am going to give it a go in this tutorial. I hate painting spaceships and ray guns and things like that, but I do love old fashioned sci-fi movies so I will try to use that as my inspiration.

pin-up sci-fi female character

Final Image


As with the other tutorials I will start with a list of the artists who inspired me for this image.

  • I looked at a lot of the work of old school sci-fi illustrators like Frank R. Paul or Pete Elson.
  • Siudmak is probably one of the most famous sci-fi book cover painters. The main influence I took from him was his use of very saturated tones.
  • I looked at a lot of the old covers from the magazine Amazing Stories, which had incredibly kitsch sci-fi covers.
  • Hajime Sorayama as usual!

The Sketch

The sketch is very simple (Fig.01).

female character sketch design


It is a girl and a rocket. Although it’s basic, it’s a classic pose for a pin-up that has been used by a lot of painters. You often see military pin-up girls sitting on bombs and that is the type of style I would like to mimic.

I always work on big file, at least A4/A3 format at 300 dpi. Always keep your sketch on a separate layer and don’t hesitate to create a lot of layers around it if you need to. I used to create roughly 200-300 layers even for a simple picture. If you don’t have a very powerful computer, merge them when you’re satisfied.

The Head

Bambi’s face is different in every picture I do. This time she was less cartoony than usual. I tried different proportions and skin tones. Once again I didn’t work in a logical way, as I think it is good to not know where your painting is going. I added details like the helmet, which I made bubble-like with very strong (and false and incorrect) reflections. I didn’t try to create a realistic result, but instead tried to get the old-school look I was aiming for (Fig.03).

pin-up space female character


The Flesh Tones

The gradient I’ve used for the flesh tones is very classical in appearance (Fig.04).

digital art female design skin tones


I added a little bit of red between the darkest tones and the middle tones. This is very similar to the technique used by Elvgren.

The Outfit

I wanted the outfit to look a bit like rubber (Fig.05).

pin-up female character latex clothing


It’s not a very difficult material to paint. You have to paint a logical gradient and then add some strong but small white reflections. There’s a very easy way to paint reflections like this. Create a new layer and paint the shape of the reflection with a Hard brush with the opacity at 100%. Once you have done this decrease the opacity of the layer. If your gradients are good, it will work. Quite simple isn’t it?

The Rocket

When you have to paint geometric shapes don’t try to paint them, use vectors. You can work with vectors in Photoshop but there is software which works better. I use Flash Time. I just do a screenshot of my picture then past it in Flash. I paint the shape with vector tools and then export it as an .AI file. I can then import the shape in Photoshop where it becomes easier to paint over the shape (Fig.06 – 07).

The Stars and Halo

I wanted to add a kitsch halo to this picture. To create it I duplicated a simple line again and again, changing the opacity and the size of it every time. When I’d done this I was able to change the angle and create the desired effect. I also added a bit of noise in the background with a Standard brush (Fig.08).

star and diamond layer shapes



As I made a lot of changes to the colors and the lights along the way, I didn’t have to do a lot of adjustments (Fig.09). Once I had it was finished (Fig.10).

The four pictures of Bambi are simpler than my usual work, but the only difference is time. The more time you spend on your picture, the more precise and detailed it will be.

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