Nuclear Hellscapes and Travel Posters

Holidays crashed over me and the New Year started pretty rough.

A mix up at the pharmacy has left me with a bit of a brain chemistry issue I’m still dealing with. (For the record; double check labels and spelling on any medications you take.) It’s been a fun month or two.

But despite the weird mood swings, head aches and drowsiness I have actually gotten something done.

It might be somewhat obvious on here but I’m a bit of a history nerd.  I also love and collect vintage posters and post cards (well reprints anyway.)  A few years back during a cross country road trip I got introduced to the National Park posters from the Depression era Works Project Administration and fell in love with them.

The Works Project Administration was a program that was part of the New Deal to stimulate the economy and get unemployed folks working. In an attempt to get out of work artists producing and as a way to get art to the lower classes they started commissioning posters for various events and projects. Public Service posters, Health Reminders, local events, and in this case advertising the National Parks. For more information and examples the Library of Congress has more information and over 900 examples of said posters.

Me being a graphic design nerd and a bit of a gamer, I tried this style out for a location in Fallout New Vegas – because making travel posters for imaginary, inhospitable locales amuses me. I had a lot of fun making that poster and it surprisingly was a great eye catcher at my last convention so I decided to try to give it a revisit when I had the chance.

My brother in law was awesome enough to give my computer an upgrade for Christmas so I spent most of my holiday vacation playing Fallout 4. While it has many flaws (I am not getting into that) it had at least one or two interesting ideas and a few nice bits of scenery. Including the Glowing Sea.

In a bit of sci-fi logic that makes any scientist’s head hurt the Glowing Sea is ground zero of a nuclear bomb. Two hundred years after the bombing apparently the radiation still lingers, leaving a hazy hell scape filled with the shambling dead, weird cults, mutated creatures, and a chance of storms blowing through stirring things up and giving us green lightning.

Of course such a lovely bit of scenery needs a tourism poster. (One day I’ll try to do a poster for a location that isn’t a radioactive wasteland, but not today.)

gs1 I start off in Photoshop with a very very vague idea of what I want the final piece to look like. I decide pretty early on that keeping this monochrome is the way for this to work. I want to keep the atmosphere of the location in game, and often its got this sickly green/ yellow light to it and you can’t see more than a few feet in front of you.

Each level/color here – the fore ground – the middle ground and the background are all separate layers. This allows me to move stuff around and tweak stuff easily. As I add more details those are also separate layers.

I actually separated the layers like I would if I were to actually make this piece in a traditional print shop instead of digitally. Sometimes my college education comes in handy.



Composition wise I’m borrowing a bit heavily from a specific Travel Bureau poster. I really
like the feeling of depth that the layers of blue give and the way the foreground frames everything in it.   The simplicity and flat colors still manage to convey a lot of detail and give you a real sense of form.

I’ll stop gushing  now – but this is the sort of thing that makes these posters stand out to me and why I love them so much and exactly the look I wanted to aspire to for this.


gs2To add a bit of visual interest I add an outline of a church. There’s one in the game and while its very unimportant set dressing it looks rather nice and desolate which fits the look I’m going for here. I want to keep this piece simple but I add details to make it clear that this isn’t some desolate park, or wilderness, this was a place people lived and now they don’t.

To keep the feel of a silk screen print I’m limiting my techniques to mimic only what I could achieve in the print shop. Soft edges and blending are not things one can do in printmaking. Simple gradients can be done but they aren’t common. So all of this is done mainly  using the polygon tool with a bit of basic drawn in bits with a plain solid brush.

I start really rethinking the layout of everything. I realize I need a focal point and as hazy as the subject is I want things to pop more visually. So I rearrange layers, make the church pop out and adjust the color levels. To give an effect of distance I fade out the background, this is a form of atmospheric perspective (another occasion my college education comes in handy.)

When I work on complicated pieces  like this, when I know I’m going to be hacking at it for a while I usually slap in rough place holders. There are not really “rough sketches” to refer back to when I work in this style or technique so this is as close as I get.

Partially this is so I don’t forget any details as I go and this allows me to get an idea what I’m shooting for. And lets me see things more clearly so I can tweak compositions before stuff gets too far along. In the end its not uncommon for the rough “blueprint” to not match the final version of things.

These are also handy when I ask my buddies for feedback. This gives them an idea what I’m trying to do, and what they think of things in general while I’m off wrangling stray edges and clouds.


This is the blueprint that I made for this image. The highlights were to remind me what I wanted to push and emphasize in this piece. This isn’t part of the step-by-step process persay but I still feel it’s important to mention and show.

Now I start tackling the sky. Initially I had the sky a solid color with gradient clouds over it. I decided this didn’t look right so I switched it. The sky layer is now a gradient and the clouds are solid.

I now start working on rendering the clouds. I ignore the placeholders I slapped in and just go to town. I want to get a really heavy cloud cover like an ominous storm. Achieving this takes me more than a few sessions. I’m really bad at timing my processes so I have no idea how long it took me to get the clouds finished.



A wild survivor appears!

I’d been debating off and on about adding a figure into the image. I was afraid it was going to muddle the image and fuck with the composition. Finally I bite the bullet and scribble in a rough sketch of one to see what it does. Surprisingly I end up liking it and leaving it in.

I now turn my attention to the background.


I just wanted this to be a canyon wall sort of thing. Something that looks right but isn’t too distracting, this isn’t the focal point.

I tweak the edges of the canyon to be more organic. In a separate layer I use the polygon tool to start mapping out shadows to try to give the rocks form. Showing the shadows help give a sense of form and texture without adding too much detail.

Rock formations are not my strong suit so I wade through my 600+ photos I took on a trip to Colorado to get an idea of what I want this to look like. Royal Gorge is a poor substitute for a radioactive crater but its the best stand in I have on hand.

With the background more or less ironed out the middle ground is the main thing that needs work. This is more the focus of the piece. Everything is assembled to more or less frame the middle ground so most of the details are going to be here. I’m not sure of all the details I want, though I know I want a car – and some shambling ghouls. I need to indicate there is some debris but I’m not exactly sure how or what I’m going to show. I decide to play this by ear.

This goes by with a LOT of trial and error. So much trial and error. It took a while for me to be happy with anything in this part. There isn’t much technique to explain on this part, mainly just trying to figure out where the light would conceivably hit and what reads right for this.

Eventually this gets done and looks right. This was rather slow and tedious, buddies of mine who were awake at time got to suffer as I bugged them for feedback.

gsblankAt this point this picture is about finished. Little touch ups and polish in places but its done and ready to be finished. All it needs it some text to properly sell people on visiting this hellhole otherwise this is just a very very green landscape picture

To keep the feel of the old vintage posters I hunted around the internet to find an appropriate font. Thankfully there are other graphic design nerds out in the world who have collected and recreated fonts and are willing to share.

I ended up using a font called “Enemy Sub” from that is based on actual posters.


also debated about “lose your troubles & your skin” “get brutalized at the glowing sea” and other silly crap.

Now I just need to figure out what to say. Fallout has a history of wacky humor interspersed with serious bits so I could conceivably be very silly and still remain in the correct tone.

This is where I turn out to be quite awful at words and decision making. And my text layouts gets very hectic.

Finally I get over my really really bad jokes and settle for something very simple.




And with that it’s finally done. I stamp it with my signature block and release it into the wild.  The piece is now finished, I immediately pass out and wake up and feel lost and confused cause I’ve spent what feels like an eternity slaving over this thing.

This piece is now available as prints and shirts and god knows what else on Redbubble and I’m currently working on getting it printed up to sell at conventions.

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