Arizona - New Mexico Railroad Maps - Available from Sonrisa Publications

Building a TrainGIF 

Painting a TrainGIF is a lot easier than writing about how to do it - or reading about how to do it for that matter. Some of it is learning to effectively use the tools at your disposal and some of it is developing your observational skills. At any rate, if you have any inkling of desire to paint a TrainGIF, try it! Hopefully my artwork isn't so astounding that it looks difficult. Hopefully you'll look at it and say, "I can do that!" Or, better yet, "I can do better than that!" - Dave Cooley

BNSF 1008 DASH9-44CW, January 2000, Tacoma, WA. David Cooley photo.

Painting TrainGIF's is a mixture of math and art. Math is required because of the scale conversions needed to create an image of proper proportion and size. TrainGif's are scaled at the ratio of one pixel per 8.5 inches of the actual object. In essence this means we are painting with a paintbrush 8.5 inches wide. Or you can think of it as using a big rubber stamp that is 8.5 inches square, stamping one block of color at a time. Fine detail is left to the imagination.

The alternating blocks in the images at left show where the individual pixels for the GIF will be - remember you can choose only one color per block!

This is where the art comes in. Choosing and blending colors creates the illusion of a train image. I say illusion because when you enlarge a GIF image, there really isn't much to look at. The eye conspires with the brain to interpret what is actually there. An artist learns to exploit how the brain reads what the eye records and makes it "see" what he wants it to see.

Getting started 

For this tutorial I will demonstrate how I drew this Burlington Northern Santa Fe DASH9-44CW locomotive as a TrainGIF. I will not be giving instructions on how to use any specific graphics software and instead will focus on my approach to producing an image. For the curious, I use Corel PHOTO-PAINT, simply because I have it as part of a larger package. To be honest, I use very few of its fancy features. Most graphics programs will be able to produce a quality image once you learn the basics of their use.

Some research may be necessary before beginning to draw. A good side view photo (like BNSF 1008 above) with some basic dimensional data is probably the minimum you can get by with. A scale drawing is better but you will still need a photo, good descriptive information or a keen memory to come up with the colors and lettering details.

GE DASH9-44CW Feet Total inches Pixels
Length 73'2" 878 103
Height 15'10" 190 22
Wheel diameter 3'6" 42 5

I found length and height dimensions for this engine on GE's Locomotive web page. Other sources are railfan and historical society webpages, model railroad magazines and books on railroad equipment. These dimensions can be used to create a properly scaled GIF file for the drawing:

Lengths are tricky and it is good to know just what is being measured. Rail equipment lengths can be given as Length Over Strikers or Length Over Pulling Faces as well as others. For determining the length of diesels, I prefer to use the dimension between pilots and ignore the couplers and plows. GE did not specify what their length referred to, but in doing some quick measurements on the photo I found that the length between pilots was proportional to the height given. To account for a coupler on each end I will add 6 pixels to the length when creating the image file dimensions.

Ready, Set, DRAW! 

Create a new image file using dimensions of 109 pixels in length by 22 pixels in height. GIF images are always rectangular in shape. Sorry, there are no DASH9- shaped image formats! Unwanted background elements can be rendered invisible by utilizing transparency, but the image is still shaped like a box. If your program allows you to specify a background or paper color, set it to one that will not be used in your drawing and will contrast with it. Otherwise paint the entire image area with the background color. When you have completed the drawing, this color can be made transparent and will not appear when viewed in the web browser. In fact other parts of the page will be able to be seen through the transparent elements, creating an apparently DASH9-shaped image! (Choose your background color wisely or your drawing will appear to have "holes" in it if you paint with that color!)

The first thing I do is draw in the couplers. I generally use black, but a rust color would look good, too. The important thing is to copy the shape of the coupler so your equipment will "couple" with equipment drawn by other artists.

Fig. 1. At each step, I will show the actual GIF on the left side and an enlarged image on the right so you can see the individual pixels.

Previous 2. Outlining 3. Underframe 4. Body Next

Copyright information: All images on this page (and throughout are the work of, and copyrighted by, David J. Cooley. You are encouraged to download and use these images on your personal website, as long as credit is given and a link to this page is provided. Please do not link directly to the images on this page.

Please note that you are not authorized to download and use these images on any website or other medium that has any commercial content, including banner or other advertisements. Contact David J. Cooley if you wish to use these images in any manner that may be considered commercial.

Copyright 2004 David J. Cooley