▣ Frozen (2013) visual development, by Lisa Keene
Scans from The Art of Frozen
Okay, I’m asked this a lot. SO here’s how I hack the out of focus backgrounds in my illustration. Spoiler alert: my backgrounds are actually pretty ugly all on their lonesome! But in compositions, they’re just enough to sell an illusion of knowing how to paint an actual environment. (example 1 2 and 3 for posterity)
Step 1) I find some references for what ever setting I want to paint (mega important to me for city stuff because architecture), I find a photo with colors I like, I grab colors from that photo, and block out my shapes! I generally don’t fret too much with perspective, because I’m a hack and most of the time it doesn’t matter. When it does matter, that’s a different story. So…know how to perspective because it’s gonna matter sooner than it won’t (it should matter right now, with this little demo but..naaah).
2) I gaussian blur the shit out of it. Gaussian blur is a filter found under filters->blur->gaussian blur. Make it count.
3) I add more sloppy details on a layer over top, and then, I palette knife the hell out of it. Again, palette knife is a filter found in filters->artistic->palette knife (Skyward sword used the pallatte knife in their in-game textures. Unfortunately, they literally just left it at that, ha ha ha.)
4) I gaussian blur the shit out of that.
5) I lost some details I wanted, so I add them back in…only closer to the foreground though. Doing so in the back will really mess with the depth of field illusion.
6) I gaussian blur even that (to a milder extent).
7) At this point I generally decide I hate the colors, and I apply overlay gradients on an overlay layer to get colors more to my taste. Sometimes, I’ll play with levels to gain more contrast.
And that’s it! I’ve hacked myself a background.
This isn’t a tutorial. Learning to actually draw and paint will help. A lot.
This was a small packet (4 pages) of sketches I created at the beginning of my job as Head of Character Design for the TV show I’m working on for CBN, called “Superbook”. We already had a “anime influenced” style to the show, but the CG modelers were not making very unique, stylized hands. They were making real hands, which looked odd. Worse, they were the same hands no matter male or female, young or old, fat or thin characters. Anyway, thought you all would want to see this.
Writing a series takes a lot of hard work and dedication. In fact, writing a SINGLE book takes hard work and dedication. However, if you’re planning a series there are a few things you need to keep in mind. A series should not be thought of as one really long novel that is split up into several smaller novels and it shouldn’t be written that way. Each novel in a series should be easily distinguishable from one another. This all requires a bit of planning, so hopefully these tips will help you out.
1. Have a Plan
Obviously, it would take a whole lot of work to plan out an entire series, but you should know how many you want to write and how much time you’re going to give yourself to get it done. Create a writing schedule and do your best to stick with it. It helps to give yourself some leeway, but a writing schedule will help you remain focused.
2. Know Your Characters
You need to have a general idea of what characters you will have throughout your series. Plan them out, know how long they’ll be sticking around, and understand how they will play into the larger plot. Each character still needs to matter, so make sure they’re developed.
3. Think Long Term
A long series will have a huge story arc, so you need to think about your long term story. It will take a while for plots to resolve, so you still need to find a way to keep it interesting. Series will have a huge overarching plot, along with several sub-plots tied into the main plot.
4. Write Your Novels in a Timely Manner
It helps to write the novels in your series one after another. I’m not saying you can’t take a break, I’m just saying try not to work on other long projects in between. Keep the novels fresh in your mind, so you’ll remember details.
5. Don’t Be Afraid to Drastically Change a Character
Your characters will change over the course of a series, maybe much more than they would in a single novel. It depends on what you’re writing, but that will most likely be the case. So, don’t be afraid to drastically change some characters you’ve included. Give a reason for the change or develop it over time.
6. Introduce New Characters
You don’t have to have all your main characters introduced within the first novel. It’s not a no-no to introduce new characters in any of your novels, as long as there’s a reason and they’re significant to the plot.
7. Summarize What Happened in Earlier Books
A big problem I had with my own series was summarizing whatever happened earlier. I didn’t think it was necessary, but it is. Even if you just give a few sentence explanations, just to remind the readers, it needs to be done. Remind your readers of characters and plots. Remind them of your characters goals and motivations.
8. Goals Should Change
Your protagonist’s goals and motivations are going to change throughout your series. That’s okay because that’s what makes good character development. Don’t be afraid to switch up goals or have your characters reevaluate their goals. They will learn things along the way that might change how they’re thinking and feeling.
9. Know Your World
Don’t make it up as you go along. Your world should be clear and we should know if your characters change locations. This might take some worldbuilding, so make sure you take the time to plan it out. Know where your characters are and where they’re going.
10. Know How it Will End
You should know where your series is ultimately going and how it will end. Where will your protagonist be at the end? Where do you visualize them? What will be the outcome of all their struggles? Getting there is one thing, but you should have an idea where everyone will end up.
this is a long, but excellent read.
I don’t think you understand how accurate this is.
this is so relevant it hurts.
this is supposed to be a meme about college seniors but i started college like this
Excellent info graphic on fonts!
I would like to make a public service announcement on this piece of shit information floating around the internet. I’m NOT going to take pot shots at an artist’s personal palette but this is just misinformation to thousands of other people out there who may or may not know better.
Number one. IF YOU ARE PAINTING, YOU’RE NOT REFERENCING A DIGITAL SWATCH. So first of all, you need to know where paint comes from. I dont even know where to start with this. I mean seriously, the statement about not being able to make pure, strong colours with cadmiums is just so full of ignorance, I don’t even know where to start.
If you need visual evidence, let’s take a look at this picture
This picture was invented before CMYK ever came around, tbh. Too bad Klimt is dead or else he would attest to this just like EVERY OTHER TRADITIONAL PAINTER will.
Mixing colours is not magic nor is it as easy as picking colours from a digital swatch. It takes practice to understand how certain colours react with one another, employ painting techniques such as not mixing white with every goddamn colour to lighten a hue.
Let’s take another look at a somewhat LESS brightly paintedpiece.
The saturation is not nearly as bright but the chroma is pure. There are no muddy colours, nothing is brown where it was not meant to be. Because Kandinsky knows how to mix colours. It didn’t happen overnight nor was he born with that knowledge. It was years and years of practise and work.
Even Klee knew what was up. He was not a master artist by any means but he worked goddamn hard at it and look what he created.
Here’s another Klimt because we all love him so:
CMYK exists because it does not know how to replicate the natural pigments of paint that can reflect light. It’s a beautiful, beautiful fake at best. I love CMYK. I even want to get a tattoo that says CMYK. But it is by no means the one and only.
So PLEASE. PLEASE EDUCATE YOURSELF AND CROSS REFERENCE YOUR COLOUR THEORY BEFORE YOU BUY INTO THIS GARBAGE. NEWTON KNEW WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT WHEN HE MADE THE COLOUR WHEEL GUYS.
PAINTERS SPEAK OUT FOR OUR BELOVED COLOUR WHEEL! REBLOG AND REPOST! Whoo!
EDIT// Additionally, I re-read that ignorant infographic or whatever and have come to realize that the artist classifies pthalo blue/green and hansa yellow as CMYK. That is not CMYK guys. CMYK is used for digital prints because you can’t use paint. Duh. God, that information is so wrong, it wasn’t even worth making this post.
#whelp I was fooled by that first one #and tbh as an art student I can’t believe I let that slip by me… #printing ink and paints are two very different things… #art resources
Yeah, bullshit. During my time using oils in school my teacher, Eric Fowler, ENCOURAGED it.
When I saw the original version of this post lets just say I got SO. ANGRY.
It was like they were trying to slap everything about traditional art I learned back at university out the window with their misinformed bullshit.
I’ve had over five years of college-level art training now and I have to use those powers for good! Calling bullshit on the bullshit; this is doublebullshit, but here’s what’s up with your examples.
Klimt’s vibrant colors are coming from yellow paint, an earth tone able to be made in high fidelity during the time period he was working in and one of the colors that is consistent between the two pallet sets, so, not really a good example of RBY’s redeeming qualities. CMY is not “transferring from digital” because digital is an additive mixing process between RGB, Red Green and Blue; the three colors our eyes can actually “see” and combine into the rest of the spectrum. As primaries, RBY still don’t form an equidistant tertiary on a real color wheel and thus draws a narrower feild of mixing colors; you will never get a vibrant green or purple, which your examples don’t show either!
RBY is certainly something artists have learned to work with for a long time but tradition and examples that show artists surmounting previous challenges is not the same thing as “these new tools are not improvements.” Vermeer’s Girl With the Red Hat is an example of doing a lot with a little, but we can see how his pallet was limited. These old paintings take their strength from strong value & hue contrast, and Vermeer intelligently used the pigments he had to work with at full saturation for great impact. But you’ll never see a strong green or purple in any of his paintings.
When we’re talking CMY we’re talking about a cool color shift between the R and B in the tertiary we typically use creates a larger workable field in Color Space.
To explain what I’m getting at here I’m gonna crack open my paint box and go through the three types of color mixing I’ve been taught in my art education, going all the way back to “Blue and Yellow make Green!” in gradeschool.
Here is RBY, what we’re taught as kids. (sorry for the blurry photo, i’m in a rush!) Red and blue make purple, blue and yellow make green, via versa— and while it’s true that purple and green and orange are secondaries that exist between red, blue, and yellow, navigating color space isn’t like rotating around the spokes of a wheel. When you mix between a red and a blue, you literally move between them. (refer to the link above.)
So you will never get a real green or purple out of this pallet, not ever, no matter how good you are. You can fake it in the best of ways, by using blues near muddy oranges to make the more orange, or etc, but you’re still working with hobbles.
To get around this, here’s the “modern” oil pallet I was taught at community college during my last years of highschool. It includes a warm and a cold of each RBY, and in the corner there are some umbers to mix earthy browns.
Mixing “cold” blues and yellows together produces a more vibrant green because you are navigating closer to the “outside” of color space; the farther apart two colors are on the color wheel, the more they mix into nuetral gray, so this makes sense.
But even then, i still need all of these additional colors and was even asked to buy some of them in that same class! Besides the ochre and turquoise there, I had to purchase the two greens, an orange and a purple. A pattern arises.
Here’s what I learned at DigiPen; When Magenta and Pthalo take center stage, I can gaurantee my purples will be vibrant and my greens will be much stronger. But the reality of color mixing is this; each color does exist independently as an actual color that, at full saturation, has to come from actual pigment. When you mix oils, they’re partially pigment and partially medium, and they dillute each other the more you add between them.
Here’s how it looks in comparison;
CMY gets you way more bang for your buck in color space, and if you modified it with the same warm/cool principles in the traditional pallet, bam, you’re basically an unstoppable color monster!
But even switching to CMY, here’s what my paint collection looks like now. In short; CMY better reflects actual perceptive science; cyan, yellow and magenta are high-key, strong mixing colors because they each activate two cones in our eyes at once. Pthalo blue, a staple in all three palletes, is derived from the same pigmentation originally used to make cyan ink; printing and painting rely on the same real-world materials and perceptive laws to create color on a page.
As for “pure chroma, low saturation,” that shows a baffling misunderstanding of what the original post even meant about achieving vibrancy.
In short? Okay, so, no three tubes are going to cut it. You have to buy a lot of paint. But don’t forget how to navigate color space, and don’t ignore the value of new information and discoveries! CMY is a decided improvement upon the RBY model.
i made these CMY and RYB color wheels as examples
i did not actually have quinacridone rose or hansa yellow paint in my stash as it turns out so i used some near equivalents
there are a lot of near equivalents out there, so please play around and see what gives you the best results
Ty Carter Art-Thoughts on Color, Part 1 & 2; Design, Color and “Value” an Idea.
Thanks! Here are a few demos I’ve posted on workflow, color, values, composition, and story. To see the full text and details along with other tutorials/demos, visit tycarter.com
Feel free to share with your friends or download for personal use! There are many ways to paint and these are my humble thoughts. I hope you enjoy!
After a discussion last week with several of my cartoonist peers (and at the behest of Steve Bissette): I want to talk about image theft and uncredited content on social media. I’m only going to speak from personal experience (and only about the one image posted above) but I hope that this example will show the disservice this causes to any artist whose artwork is edited and reposted without credit.
[Disclaimer: I post all my work online for free. I want people to read, enjoy, and share my work. I have no problem with people reposting my work if it’s credited and unaltered. (That way new readers can find their way to my site to read more.) My problem is when people edit out the URL and copyright information to repost the images as their own for fun or profit.]
Below, I’ve listed the sites where my comic was posted and how many times it was viewed on / shared from each of those sites. (The following list was composed from the first ten pages of Google.) Let’s take a look at the life of this comic over the last 11 months.
On January 23 (2013) I posted the comic on my journal comic website, Intentionally Left Blank, and on my corresponding art Tumblr (where it currently has 5,442 notes). The same day, it was posted (intact, with the original URL and copyright) to Reddit. (There, credited, it has received 50,535 views.)
The Reddit post alone was exciting but on January 24, someone posted an edited version of the image (with the URL and copyright removed) to 9GAG. That uncredited posting has been voted on 29,629 times and shared on Facebook 22,517 times. That uncredited image caught on and spread like wildfire:
January 25: LOLchamp (39 comments. Views unknown.)
January 26: WeHeartIt. (With the 9GAG ad at the bottom. Views unknown.)
January 26: Random Overload (2 Facebook likes. Views unknown).
January 26: CatMoji (41 reactions. Views unknown.)
January 26: The Meta Picture (1,800+ Facebook likes. 6,000+ Pintrest shares)
February 5: damnLOL. (929 Facebook shares. Views unknown.)
February 7: LOLhappens. (1,400+ Facebook shares.)
February ?: LOLmaze (121 shares)
February ?: LOLzbook (37 likes and 37 shares).
On March 25, I was lucky and this comic was featured in a Buzzfeed post “36 Illustrated Truths About Cats.” The comic was featured alongside work by a 35 other artists who I admire and aspire to be. (Exciting!)
Buzzfeed was able to trace the uncredited image back to me and listed a source link to my main website but still posted the uncredited version of the image. The post currently has 6,000+ Facebook shares, 14,000+ Facebook likes, and 727 Tweets. Ever the optimist, I’ll count those numbers in the “credited views” column.
The problem with Buzzfeed posting the uncredited image and only listing the source underneath was: people began to save their favourite comics from the article and repost them in their personal blogs without credit. (13, 3, and 60 Facebook likes, respectfully.) I’m mentioning this not to target Buzzfeed or the individuals reposting, but to show the importance of leaving the credits in the original image.
March 30: FunnyStuff247. (47,588 views.)
March 31: LOLcoaster. (1 Facebook like. Views unknown.)
April 5: ROFLzone. (1,200+ Facebook shares. Views unknown.)
April 26: LOLwall. (70 Facebook likes. Views unknown.)
July 23: The uncredited image was chopped into four smaller pieces and posted on the Tumblr of TheAmericanKid, where he sourced it to FunnyStuff247. (124,786 notes and featured in #Animals on Tumblr.)
Aug 21: Eng-Jokes.com. (87,818 views and 41,400+ Facebook shares.)
There were 14 other sites which listed uncredited versions of the image within the first 10 pages of Google, but they were personal blogs so I’m not going to include them here.
One additional website I haven’t mentioned was Cheezburger, who originally posted the uncredited version of comic on January 23; but later modified it to the credited image after I contacted them. They didn’t contact me when they made the change but the image currently has 2,912 votes and 4,700 Facebook shares. Let’s be optimistic and count those as credited views and shares.
That brings us up to the current views and shares of the comic. Now let’s do some math.
I’ve removed the comments and reactions (because they could already be accounted for in views). I’ve left in votes, however, because some sites list votes instead of views.
Taking into consideration that Tumblr notes are made up of both likes and reblogs, let’s be conservative and say the Tumblr notes are twice as high as they should be. (That every single person that has viewed the image on Tumblr has liked the image and reblogged it.) Dividing the Tumblr notes in half, that leaves us with:
Posts using the credited image:
2,721 Tumblr notes
0 Pintrest shares
14,000 Facebook likes
10,700 Facebook shares
Posts using the uncredited image:
62,393 Tumblr notes
6,000 Pintrest shares
2,085 Facebook likes
347,984 Facebook shares
Adding those up and treating them all like views (assuming that every shared post was viewed once):
The original (unaltered, credited/sourced) version of the comic has been viewed 81,595 times.
The edited, uncredited/unsourced version of the comic has been viewed 588,310 times. (That’s over half a million views. Seven times more than the original, credited version.)
What does that mean for me as a creator? On the positive side, I created something that people found relatable and enjoyable. I succeeded at that thing I try to do. But, given the lack of credit, it also means that 88% of 669,905 people that read this comic had no chance of finding their way back to my website.
This was a successful comic. I want to be able to call this exposure a success. But those numbers are heartbreaking.
Morally, just the idea of taking someone’s work and removing the URL and copyright info to repost it is reprehensible. You are cutting the creator out of the creation. But worse yet, sites like 9GAG are profiting off the uncredited images that they’re posting.
9GAG is currently ranked #299 in the world according to Alexa rankings. As of April of this year, their estimated net worth was around $9.8 million, generating nearly $13,415 every day in ad revenue.
As a creator of content that they use on their site: I see none of that. And I have no chance of seeing any kind of revenue since readers can’t find their way back to my site from an uncredited image.
I don’t want to sound bitter. The money isn’t the point. But this is a thing that’s happening. This isn’t just happening to me. It’s actively happening to the greater art community as a whole. (Especially the comics community. Recent artists effected by altered artwork/theft off the top of my head: Liz Prince, Luke Healy, Nation of Amanda, Melanie Gillman, etc.) Our work is being stolen and profited off of. Right this second.
I do my best to see the positive in these events but the very least I can do as a creator is stand up in this small moment and say “This is mine. I made this.”
Something need to be done by the community as a whole: by the readers as well as the creators. We need to start crediting our content/sources and reporting those who don’t. Sites like 9GAG need to be held accountable for their theft of work. If you see something that’s stolen: say something to the original poster, report the post, or contact the creator of the artwork.
If you have an image you’d like to post but don’t know the source: reverse Google image search it. Figure out where it came from before you post. If you like it enough to share it, it means there’s probably more where that came from.
a public service announcement
Oooh, I’ve run into folks who, for what ever reason, have remained totally loyal to the RBY primary set while being totally knowledgeable about the CMY primary set.
If you’re worth your salt in mixing paints, you can make both RBY and CMY palettes do your bidding well enough. All of my traditional paintings are done with only the three primaries, and white. While I personally prefer CMY, I’ve had to work with RBY before, and (though I was mega rusty) I didn’t find it any more difficult to produce the colors I wanted.
If you’re working on very strict graphic design projects and need need NEED very specific colors (while, for what ever god forsaken reason, having to do it all with traditional paints/inks instead of digital mediums), then CMY is the better way to go. But if you’re just painting illustrations and are under no pressure to be mega mega mega nitpicky about the color purity, it’s really not going to make a difference.
So, read the info-graphic, and take it in. Play with a CMY primary set, etc. But if you’ve been working with RBY all this time, are comfortable with it, enjoy working with RBY, and feel like you’ve been getting the colors you want with RBY, don’t panic. You haven’t been fooled, nor have you been lying to yourself or anything like that. You’re doing just fine.
The difference between using RBY and CMY is very particular, and most people (if any) won’t even be able to tell if a painting was done with RBY or CMY. (But they WILL be able to tell if you used a black straight from the tube, ooooh).
Alright, so let’s talk about color theory, shall we?
Magenta and Cyan do not generally exist as PURE pigment paints. Many of these pigments are MIXED or not as light-fast as other pigments, making them susceptible to fading under light. Not only that, but PURE magenta, Cyan, and Yellow DO NOT EXIST in traditional media paints. And why are pure pigments important? Because every time you mix two sets of paints together, your colors get muddier and you lose color vibrancy.
So what does this mean? Okay, so magenta and yellow make red respectively. However, you CANNOT replicate the same purity and vibrancy of Cadmium Red no matter how hard you try, ESPECIALLY with the colors OP recommended.
Not only that, but you are working with REFLECTED LIGHT, not pure light itself like what you would work with on your monitor. Let me demonstrate with the color Cyan…
This is 100% blue and 100% green on your monitor, making this a pure Cyan through the RBG model all additive color works with.
This is your monitor’s best attempt at replicating the Cyan your printers use. Note the difference in both vibrancy and hue. The monitor cyan is much warmer than CMYK’s cooler cyan. I can’t, however, show a picture of what it looks like printed out because again, when you work with traditional media, you work with reflected light. This means some of the pure light pigment gets absorbed into the paper or whatever surface you are dealing with resulting in less light bouncing back into your eye. If you want to test this for yourself, try printing this cyan testing page out and compare it to the actual colors your monitor is displaying.
So… what point am I trying to make, here? Both RBY and CMY are valuable and BOTH have their separate color gamuts. Both have their strength and both have their limitations. You can’t produce a vibrant hot fuchsia pink with the RBY primaries, but you CAN with the CMYK palette. What’s more is that even the RGB additive color space, which is perceived to have one of the widest ranges of colors, is also limited since it cannot replicate the properties of reflected like properly.
So which is better? How do we counteract the problem of color purity being lost every time you mix colors? My honest answer is neither one can do this. Wanna know some BS? You’ve all been taught that professional painters ALWAYS work with ONLY the primary painters, and that having more than three paints on your palette tray (excluding the use of black and white) is a sure sign of an amateur painter.
THIS. IS. SO. WRONG!!
In fact, MANY painters, including THIS ONE, suggest each painter has six colors in all—a warm red (cadmium red is popular) and a cool red (or magenta a red that is close to magenta such as quinacridone red/magenta), a warm yellow and a cool yellow, and a warm blue (phthalo blue) and a cool blue (ultramarine.) I personally like to add a a few browns (burnt sienna is my FAVORITE color to work with of ALL time) and dioxazine purple (because while as a stand-alone color it sucks, the mixing properties of this color are STUNNING!!) I also use payne’s gray instead of mars or ivory black because I like the cooler properties of it (YES!! EVEN BLACK IS WARM OR COOL!! and you should definitely play around with them if you can afford to.)
Painting companies wouldn’t make all these fancy colors if artists, professionals included, had no use for them. A FANTASTIC resource for learning a brief about these painting colors is Gamblin Art. What you WANT to do i buy pure pigments of colors you use OFTEN yet CAN’T produce with your primaries.
Also, just as an example, here’s a professional artist by the name of Scott Wills who uses a range of acrylic colors to get the beautiful, vibrant range of colors he creates in his pieces. :
Now, I have NO idea just how many colors he actually uses, but if this picture of him working is any indication….
I’d say it’s a lot, though since I don’t personally know this guy, I can’t say for sure.
Seriously, guys. Colors are WAY more complex than you think ESPECIALLY when it comes to mixing paints, or any other medium, for that matter.
There’s one last note that I’d like to leave off on, and that is, depending on what paints you use (acrylic, oils, watercolor, gouache, tempera, blood-of-thine-enemy, what-have-you), you may even be dealing with transparency versus opaque, matte versus glossy, and even tint strength. By the way, here’s a photograph of the phthalo blue so many have been favoring for cyan:
Doesn’t look very much like Cyan now, does it?
Character design and drawing are tome-sized topics and even if I had all the answers (I don’t - I have a lot to learn), I’m not sure I could communicate them effectively. I’ve gathered some thoughts and ideas here, though, in case they’re helpful.
First, some general things:
- Relax and let some of that anxiety go. This isn’t a hard science. There’s no wrong way, no rigid process you must adhere to, no shoulds or shouldn’ts except those you designate for yourself. This is one of the fun parts of being an artist, really - have a heady good time with it.
- Be patient. A design is something gradually arrived at. It takes time and iteration and revision. You’ll throw a lot of stuff away, and you’ll inevitably get frustrated, but bear in mind the process is both inductive and deductive. Drawing the wrong things is part of the path toward drawing the right thing.
- Learn to draw. It might seem perfunctory to say, but I’m not sure everyone’s on the same page about what this means. Learning to draw isn’t a sort of rote memorization process in which, one by one, you learn a recipe for humans, horses, pokemon, cars, etc. It’s much more about learning to think like an artist, to develop the sort of spacial intelligence that lets you observe and effectively translate to paper, whatever the subject matter. When you’re really learning to draw, you’re learning to draw anything and everything. Observing and sketching trains you to understand dimension, form, gesture, mood, how anatomy works, economy of line; all of the foundational stuff you will also rely on to draw characters from your imagination.
Spend some time honing your drawing ability. Hone it with observational sketching. Hone it good.
- I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do this sort of thing better than Claire Wendling. In fact, character designs emerge almost seamlessly from her gestural sketches. It’d be worth looking her up.
- Gather Inspiration like a crazed magpie. What will ultimately be your trademark style and technique is a sort of snowball accumulation of the various things you expose yourself to, learn and draw influence from. To that effect, Google images, tumblr, pinterest and stock photo sites are your friends. When something tingles your artsy senses - a style, a shape, a texture, an appealing palette, a composition, a pose, a cool looking animal, a unique piece of apparel, whatever - grab it. Looking at a lot of material through a creative lens will make you a better artist the same way reading a lot of material makes a better writer.
It’ll also devour your hard drive and you will try and fail many times to organize it, but more importantly, it’ll give you a lovely library of ideas and motivational shinies to peruse as you’re conjuring characters.
- Imitation is a powerful learning tool. Probably for many of us, drawing popular cartoon characters was the gateway habit that lured us into the depraved world of character design to begin with. I wouldn’t suggest limiting yourself to one style or neglecting your own inventions to do this, but it’s an effective way to limber up, to get comfortable drawing characters in general, and to glean something from the thought processes of other artists.
- Use references. Don’t leave it all up to guessing. Whether you’re trying to design something with realistic anatomy or something rather profoundly abstracted from reality, it’s helpful in a multitude of ways to look at pictures. When designing characters, you can infer a lot personality from photos, too.
And despite what you might have heard, having eyeballs and using them to look at things doesn’t constitute cheating. There’s no shame in reference material. There’s at least a little shame in unintentional abstractions, though.
Concepts and Approach:
- Break it down. Sometimes you have the look of a character fleshed out in your mind before putting it to paper, but usually not. That doesn’t mean you have to blow your cortical fuses trying conceive multiple diverse designs all at the same time, though. You don’t even have to design the body shape, poses, face, and expressions of a single character all at once. Tackle it a little at a time.
The cartoony, googly eyed style was pre-established for this simple mobile game character, but I still broke it into phases. Start with concepts, filter out what you like until you arrive at a look, experiment with colors, gestures and expressions.
- Start with the general and work toward the specific. Scribbling out scads of little thumbnails and silhouettes to capture an overall character shape is an effective way begin - it’s like jotting down visual notes. When you’re working at a small scale without agonizing over precision and details, there’s no risk of having to toss out a bunch of hard work, so go nuts with it. Give yourself a lot of options.
Here’s are some sample silhouettes from an old cancelled project in which I was tasked with designing some kind of cyber monkey death bot. I scratched out some solid black shapes then refined some of them a step or two further.
- Here’s an instructional video by Feng Zhu about doing much the same thing (only way better).
- Shapes are language. They come preloaded with all sorts of biological, cultural and personal connotations. They evoke certain things from us too. If you’re ever stuck about where to go with your design, employ a sort of anthroposcopy along these lines - make a visual free association game out of it. It’ll not only tend to result in a distinguished design, but a design that communicates something about the nature of the character.
Think about what you infer from different shapes. What do they remind you of? What personalities or attitudes come to mind? How does the mood of a soft curve differ from that of a sharp angle? With those attributes attached, how could they be used or incorporated into a body or facial feature shape? What happens when you combine shapes in complementary or contrasting ways? How does changing the weight distribution among a set of shapes affect look and feel? Experiment until a concept starts to resonate with the character you have in mind or until you stumble on something you like.
If you don’t have intent, take the opposite approach - draw some shapes and see where they go. (It’s stupid fun.)
- You might also find it helpful to watch Bobby Chiu’s process videos in which he feels out his character designs as he paints.
- Cohesion and Style. As you move from thumbnails to more refined drawings, you can start extrapolating details from the general form. Look for defining shapes, emergent themes or patterns and tease them out further, repeat them, mirror them, alternate them. Make the character entirely out of boxy shapes, incorporate multiple elements of an architectural style, use rhythmically varying line weights - there are a million ways to do this
Here’s some of the simple shape repetition I’ve used for Lackadaisy characters.
- Expressions - let them emerge from your design. If your various characters have distinguishing features, the expressions they make with those features will distinguish them further. Allow personality to influence expressions too, or vice versa. Often, a bit of both happens as you continue drawing - physiognomy and personality converge somewhere in the middle.
For instance, Viktor’s head is proportioned a little like a big cat. Befitting his personality, his design lets him make rather bestial expressions. Rocky, with his flair for drama, has a bit more cartoon about him. His expressions are more elastic, his cheeks squish and deform and his big eyebrows push the boundaries of his forehead. Mitzi is gentler all around with altogether fewer lines on her face. The combination of her large sleepy eyes and pencil line brow looked a little sad and a little condescending to me when I began working out her design - ultimately those aspects became incorporated into her personality.
- Pose rendering is another one of those things for which observational/gesture drawing comes in handy. Even if you’re essentially scribbling stick figures, you can get a handle on natural looking, communicative poses this way. Stick figure poses make excellent guidelines for plotting out full fledged character drawings too.
Look for the line of action. It’ll be easiest to identify in poses with motions, gestures and moods that are immediately decipherable. When you’ve learned to spot it, you can start reverse engineering your own poses around it.
- Additional resources - here are some related things about drawing poses and constructing characters (click the images for the links).
- Tortured rumination about lack of ability/style/progress is a near universal state of creative affairs. Every artist I have known and worked with falls somewhere on a spectrum between frustration in perpetuity and a shade of fierce contrition Arthur Dimmesdale would be proud of. So, next time you find yourself constructing a scourge out of all those crusty acrylic brushes you failed to clean properly, you loathsome, deluded hack, you, at least remember you’re not alone in feeling that way. When it’s not crushing the will to live out of you, the device does have its uses - it keeps you self-critical and locked in working to improve mode. If we were all quite satisfied with our output, I suppose we’d be out of reasons to try harder next time.
When you need some reassurance, compare old work to new. Evolution is gradual and difficult to perceive if you’re narrowed in on the nearest data point, but if you’ve been steadily working on characters for a few months or a year, you’ll likely see a favorable difference between points A and B.
Most of all, don’t dwell on achieving some sort of endgame in which you’re finally there as a character artist. There’s no such place - wherever you are, there is somewhere else. It’s a moving goal post. Your energy will be better spent just enjoying the process…and that much will show in the results.
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. And an inspiration to get cracking down on my own art, as well…
Here is a very simple little app I wrote in AutoHotkey for Windows to help productivity. The artists I’ve attempted to give this to were horrified and sickened by the idea of it.
It floats in the corner of your screen. You tell it what programs you use for work/productivity. Whenever you’re using those programs, it turns a pleasing shade of blue and times you. If you alt-tab over to something that is not one of those programs, like Chrome or Spotify or 3D Pinball, or if you zone out and don’t move the mouse for too long, it turns red and stops the timer until you resume proper grown-up behavior.
This way, you have a constant peripheral reminder of how little of your day has actually been spent on important things like “doing what you’re supposed to” and “not having fun.”
This is indispensable for procrastination-prone home freelancers.