Makeovers! Comparing Portrait Generators

Sigh… full-time work is great for paying the bills, don’t get me wrong. But it does cut into the worldbuilding time…

I’ve finally forced myself to make a new post with a little comparison of my two favorite portrait-making apps – Portrait and Artbreeder.

Here are the original portraits I made of my main characters from East of the Sun, Asta and Sindri. I used PortraitAI and I’m still very pleased with the results.

But as I’ve already mentioned, PortraitAI has is very Eurocentric, and much less customizable. And I got more and more comfortable with Artbreeder, I decided I wanted to try to make my leads in glorious HD.

I uploaded my Asta PortraitAI pic directly into Artbreeder and played with the sliders until I had something I liked. She came out a little younger than I would have liked, but I love what the program did with her eyebrows, and her eyes have that “glacier blue” stare that I wrote about. I’m somewhat less pleased with Sindri – I had to do him from scratch, as the three-quarters PortraitAI didn’t upload very well. So I found a few “dark-haired and gloomy” base from Artbreeder’s catalog and crossbred them, then played with the age and facial hair sliders until I got something I liked. The lines of the face aren’t quite what I picture in my head, but again, I love the direct stare, which I think captures Sindri’s intensity.

Artbreeder is free to use, but I couldn’t resist upgrading to the “Starter Breeder” tier, with gives you a greater number of both upload base pictures, and hi-res downloads of your finished product.

East of the Sun is Now Live!

  My novel novel, East of the Sun, is now available on Amazon as Kindle e-book and paperback.  

For generations, the Dukes of Morn have guarded the sunlit lands against the brutal Nightsiders who live in eternal darkness, beyond the Shadowline Mountains. Exiled from eternal Day, the Nightsiders will do anything to reclaim the lands they consider their own. And during the brief, dark winter in Morn, the mountain passes swarm with raiders. Only a strong duke can hold back the Night. But Morn’s duke is weak… and his sons have recently died.

Asta Arvaker is the duke’s only surviving child. Once overlooked as a bastard, she is now the most eligible bride in the realm. Ambitious lords on both sides of the Shadowline scheme to use her for their own ends. But Asta has no wish to share her throne with any man.

When her father is betrayed and her claim challenged, Asta must take her destiny into her own hands. And for that, she must seek an alliance with Morn’s greatest enemy, in the frozen lands east of the sun.

See it on See it on      |   See it on

Countdown to East of the Sun

I’m starting to do the final layouts and proofing for my novel East of the Sun, which I will be releasing with Amazon KDP. If all goes well, it could be ready by the end of March!

Asta Arvaker is the uncertain heir to the Duchy of Morn. She has been brought up to fear the brutal Nightsiders who live beyond the Shadowline Mountains, but when her claim to the throne is challenged, and her life is in danger, she has no choice but to journey east of the sun to seek the aid of the Nightsider prince.

Here is the first of several maps that will be accompany the finished novel. This is the regional map, covering all the sites visited or mentioned in the text.

A Tale of Three Maps

Exhibit 1 – the “reader friendly” version of the Northbridge, the dangerous trading route that goes over the north pole of Bifrons. I made it for my e-novella The Darkest North.

My priorities: readability and “intuitive clarity” – nothing extraneous cluttering up the map, nothing requiring a legend. You can see the heavy forests, the tundra, the major landmarks. There’s a scale and clear text labels. Should be enough for any reader following the story.

Exhibit 2 – the “antique” version of the Northbridge. This one was made for my worldbook entries, and is more of an “in-universe” map – specifically, the rather ambitiously speculative map that my narrator Farco Maldwyn draws up in his journal, based on the testimony of his guides.

My priorities: readability and atmosphere  – I wanted it to look old and worn, so I took the original map and overlaid it on some olde-timey parchment paper. I’m pretty conflicted over keeping the scale bar… I doubt Maldwyn would have bothered to add that, but perhaps I could say it was added later by scholars.

Exhibit 3 – The “satellite” version, aka “The Biggun.” Made because I have an abiding love of the lushness of detail in satellite view, and because I wanted an accurate picture of the north polar region of Bifrons. This is just a snippet of a larger map I made using an azimuthal equal-area projection of my base Bifrons map. I then did an overlay of Exhibit 1, made sure the scales all matched, enlarged to obscene proportions, and went to town with all my favorite brushes.

My priorities: consistent scale and sheer glorious aesthetics! It’s a lot harder to read at a glance, but all the detail is there for someone willing to take the time, it depicts the unique color you’d find in the Bifrons polar biomes (black taiga and purple tundra), and it’s soooooo pretty.


The Darkest North – NOW AVAILABLE!

My short e-novella “The Darkest North” is now live on Amazon!

Here’s a sample:

The paddleboat took me as far as it dared before the autumn rains made the river impassable. From there I found porters to carry my boxes overland, deep into the forest of ash and pines. The setting sun casts strange shadows through the trees; needle-patterns of light and dark play on the forest floor. Close to the river, it was easy enough to tell south-west, but once the trees surrounded me, everything seemed suffused with the same red glow.

My porters were natives to the area, yet even they almost missed the little clearing in the woods. I had expected a town, but the sad collection of sod huts barely warrants the title of village.

We came a few wakes too early. Once the sun set, Fyrtarn came alive. Bowls of peatmoss all along the clearing’s perimeter were set alight. The fire’s glow could be seen from miles away. And the heat was such that I soon cast off my heavier furs.

The village headsman held a sunset revel in the longhouse. All travellers were welcome, with the understanding that they would leave an offering at the village altar. As my lush furs marked me as a man of means, I took care to leave a silver mark alongside the heels of breads and iron trinkets.

I reunited with Bannik at the feast, and he introduced me to the other members of our expedition: a cook and his boy, twelve Thune porters, and eight Horned Men to serve as hunters.

That they are primitives is evident at first sight: they are tall and broad-shouldered to a man, with coarse features and the oddly protuberant gaze of a simpleton. Each man wears a voluminous headdress of dyed wool, ornamented with animal horns. The younger boys wear sheep’s horns, the elders, stag antlers. The leader of the group was unmistakable by both his size and the polished troll’s horns perched on his brow. His name is Maroth, and he is the only one of the savages to speak the One Tongue. I find myself quite hypnotized by the state of his teeth, badly worn yet quite straight and white. Bannik’s teeth, by contrast, are crooked and striped with tobacco stains.

I have no complaints with the state of the men: they all seem to be in robust health, and though the cook’s boy is a wiry thing, he is brimming with nervous energy. But I confess, I quarreled with Bannik when he insisted on bringing a seidwife on our expedition.

Seidwives: in Morn we have worked hard to be rid of their kind. I once watched one old witch being whipped through the streets for selling spells. The common women all wept, for seidwives are known to deliver children too – though I cannot see why women cannot rely on proper physicians. I will insist on such for my wife should I ever marry.

But in Thune, seidwives are still revered as priests and healers. There is a scarcity of properly trained heliophants outside the cities, and the common folk trust neither surgeons nor alchemists. Instead, they take their pains and fears to a bald witch.

To be sure, Goodwife Sohvi is much neater in her person than the old wretch I saw flogged. She is a mature woman, with a regrettably long face. But I daresay she would be still be comely, if she grew her hair out. Her dress is modest and well-kept, and she speaks the One Tongue almost without accent. With the proper cap, I almost could pass her off as the wife of a respectable farmer.

Her gaze is too bold, though. Her dark eyes invite and scorn at once. A good woman would look away more.

Bannik asked Sohvi to show me her healer’s kit. I could find no fault in her equipment: instead of charms and rune-sticks, she carries rubbing spirits and poppy-wine, along with all the usual alchemical remedies. Her knives and needles are kept sharp and clean. I continued to express misgivings, but Bannik warned me that the porters will not march without a seidwife to pray with them. And that, it seems, concluded the discussion.

“Do not pray for me,” I warned her. “I take my prayers to Súnna directly.”

She smiled enigmatically. “But can She hear you in the dark?”

Being no theologian, and no fool either, I refused to be baited.

There was no room among the little sod houses, so we bunked down in the longhouse for the winter season. So did the village livestock. For twelve long wakes, we shared the space with all manner of sounds and smells. I taught myself patience, and availed myself of every break in the poor weather to walk the torch-lit perimeter of the village.

Such noises came from the forest: the howl of the wind, the crackle of branches, the occasional cry of nocturnal beasts. But worse, oddly, was the stillness just before sunrise, when the world lay covered in fog, and all one could hear was the soft shush of the rain. In those moments, it was easy to believe there was nothing beyond our torches, but an endless expanse of icy mist.

I feared to look too long beyond the torches. Yet I feared to turn my back on the mist. One had the feeling that anything could come creeping out of it.

Coming VERY Soon!

Final revisions on my new novel East of the Sun are underway, but in the meantime, I will soon be offering a bit of a preview of the world of Bifrons in novella (novelette?) format. My 15,000 word story “The Darkest North” will be going live on Amazon in a few days.

As the title suggests, it’s a bit of a riff on the old “Into Darkest Africa” adventure stories. We follow the eager(and hopelessly naïve) explorer Farco Maldwyn on his quest for a safe route through the polar region of Trollmark. He hopes to make his fortune when he publishes the journal of his travels, but it soon becomes an apocalypse log as his fellow travelers are picked off one by one by disease, hunger, parasites and vengeful trolls.

Caught between the Dayline and the Shadowline, Farco Maldwyn and his expedition travel through the thin band on their planet where the sun rises and sets over the course of the 60-day solar year. While the sun is up, the explorers live in fear of deadly flares, and once it sets, they must seek shelter from the agonizing cold… and the many creatures who hunt in the darkness.

From the southerly lands of Morn, Farco is used to a night that lasts for days.  Armed with his musket and specimen bottles, he dreams of making history in the savage northern lands. But he soon learns that there is a reason men have yet to conquer the wilds of Trollmark, as his expedition falls prey to the dangers of the Darkest North.

How It Started vs How It’s Going

So everyone’s has their own particular *favorite style* of map. Browse r/mapmaking and you can see it breaks down into all sort of categories. Some people adore the real simple hand-drawn linework, or the iconic LOTR ink style. Others are all about the distressed parchment look, other still, the modern atlas.

Me? Deep down I’m all about the satellite look.

Nice top-down Google Earth style.

The problem as I may my “worldbook” -style info sheets, is that you can’t expect in-universe cartographers to be inking up satellite-style maps, surely. They’d be making 18th C style atlas maps, heavy on ink and low on color/accuracy. And I always love me some Tolkien-style mountains (I mean, who among us didn’t get into mapmaking from pouring over that LOTR map?)

So I compromised, and started making maps like these – sort of atlas-y, sort of parchment-y. Still some color to them.

But deep down, I knew it wasn’t enough for me.

And then I bought some new Photoshop brushes. Behold the Evolution of Sarkland.

So yeah, big mapping overhaul underway.


Tools of the Trade – Portraits using and Artbreeder

I recently found a great app for making 18-19th Century style portraits:

Just upload a picture, be it a selfie, a stock photo, your favorite celebrity or art model, and you can generate an oil painting in the style of the old masters.
The program is still very restrictive in terms of race (it will literally whitewash any POC), and aesthetics (the AI doesn’t quite know what to do with more modern or offbeat hairstyles), the website promises more diverse possibilities as the app continues to evolve. In the meantime, if you’re not a portrait artist but you’d love to “see” your European-equivalent characters, it’s a great place to play.


Here are some of my rulers from the Kingdom of Night:

But suppose you need to create a portrait from scratch? Or your character is less than lily-white? Then I highly recommend Artbreeder!


Here’s a screencap from one of the portraits I made. You can start with a randomly generated face, or choose multiple starting images from the catalog, then play around with all the sliders to customize gender, age, race, width and height, facial expression, colors of eyes and hair, and just how “artsy” vs. “photorealistic” you want to go.  Go a little too far in any category and the results are… abstract to say the least. But a little practice and you can make just about any face. I quite like turning up the “Art” slider to get that “DnD sourcebook painting” look:

Worldbuilding – Pick your Scale

The age-old fantasy writer’s dilemma: how much of the world exists – both in your own head and more importantly, in the heads of your characters. If your setting is only medieval-level, it would strain credulity for all but the most exceptional navigator to have an accurate map of the entire globe (or flat sheet, or dome on the turtle’s back, etc.).  Some writers only sketch out the immediate surroundings of their characters, then expand as need be. Many only reveal what is within the limits of their setting’s “known world.”  (We’re still waiting to hear just how big Essos is, George!)

Personally, I work best as zoomed-out as I can manage. In fact, sometimes I zoom out WAY too much and have to reel myself back in. But with my tidally locked world Bifrons, I had a good excuse. It has has such varied landscape depending on longitude and light levels that you need to see the bigger picture. And the more I worked out the logistics of having late 18th century level tech on such a world, the more I realized the characters needed to know as much of the world as possible. With some small exceptions in the Gloaming, this is NOT a friendly planet. Resources must be carefully rationed and traded, often over huge distances.  It stands to reason that the maps the inhabitants have are rather more accurate than anything we were able to have on Earth in 1800.

I debated making “in-universe” maps that show the globe with those nice “Here be Dragons” blank spots like our own explorers had. But having put so much work into making my coastlines, I didn’t want to consign them to the eraser tool. So I hereby decree the inhabitants of Bifrons hate blank spaces as much as I do. So they’ve filled in their globes to near-satellite precision. Whether it’s all accurate or not is another matter. No one will able to hike all the way to the middle of the Nightside and check for many generations.