Critter Sketches 1
We have most of the set pieces in the works for Chapter 1 of the comic, but the other big task—and by big I mean huge, gargantuan, colossal, and monumental—is the character design. Part of what makes this part of the process such a big deal for us is that 1) we’ve never had to create so many character designs in one project before, 2) they’re all animals, which is another first for us, and 3) about half of all the characters that are in the comic will be shown in the first chapter, so at the very least we need to have all of those designs finalized by then, and we’d also like to have the rest of the character designs figured out by then as well.
Given that, you are going to be seeing a lot of critters and characters in the future. The rest of this post will include a couple of pages full of sketches showing the very beginnings of my design process for Derek: Preston’s pet undead raccoon that he taxidermied up to look less undead.
I’ve left these pages as they were—crappy drawings and all—so you can see my process.
The first thing I did was draw tons and tons of raccoon heads; I always work on the head first and the body second because most of the expression, and indeed camera time, is spent on the head. Many of these sketches were based on photos that I’ve found of actual raccoons. I don’t look at other artists’ interpretations of raccoons until after I’ve had my first stab at it. The reason why I look at the real-life subject first is because I need to understand the 3D form, the shapes, the colors, everything that makes a raccoon look like a raccoon. I want to learn that from nature rather than from another artist’s interpretation which will be distorted, imply certain things about the 3D form, and would have selectively omitted details to stylize the subject. So I look at life first and then when I feel like it I’ll go looking to see how other artists stylized their raccoons, which can provide me with ideas that I haven’t thought of before, and it won’t mess with my underlying knowledge of how real raccoons are constructed. In fact my study of what other artists have done will be informed by my knowledge of real raccoons because I’ll know why the artist drew it the way they did.
There’s a few things that are going on in my head while I’m at this initial stage:
I try not to make the raccoons look just like the photo. For one, rendering the fur will take too much time and I need to draw as quickly as I can. I simplify the form. I use big solid shapes and I don’t erase my construction lines because I want to see my thinking behind how I drew each design, which will come in handy when I create a design that looks awesome and I want to deconstruct the drawing so I can repeat that success.
I create my own interpretations of each raccoon as I go, trying different things, change proportions here and there so I’m not always trying to copy exactly what’s in the reference images. I’m looking for happy accidents. For some reason this experimentation also helps me understand the form better too, probably because I’m purposefully messing up and I can see if a mess up looks right or not. My goal is to create a new character design and eventually an artistic style for the comic, so I need to try different shapes, different fur patterns, and in this case different methods of constructing the character because I’m quite new to animal characters and I find muzzles and mouths tricky to draw correctly. So whatever construction method I discover that works for me I’ll end up using it for the rest of the animal characters as well.
And the last thing I’m thinking about, or rather not thinking about, is making sure every drawing is perfect. They’re not. There’s tons of anatomy issues, perspective problems, eyes not lining up, etc. It’s okay. The important thing is to be loose. Be spontaneous. Exaggerate shapes. Draw how something feels, not exactly how it looks, and then look back and see if it’s working or not. For example, some of the proportions I experimented with on the raccoon made it look more like a dog, so that helped me identify which proportions are critical for a raccoon to actually look like one.
Another thing that I’ve started doing more of is using ArtRage for this sketching phase instead of Photoshop. When I use Photoshop I can’t help but to use keyboard shortcuts to do stuff, and because I can lasso select and transform parts of my sketches to fix my drawing, I’m usually temped into doing so and that can take out the spontaneity of my sketches, and I’ll end up spending more time on each sketch. ArtRage has a nice pencil tool that feels really good with my new Cintiq (shameless gloating), and an unobtrusive interface with none the bells and whistles that Photoshop has. So it feels more like using pencil and paper but without the inconvenience of the real thing, so it helps me stay loose.
Along with this character, I’ve been drawing other species of animals as well for all the different characters in the comic. I’m hoping I’ll have one of those “Ah-ha!” moments soon, and come up with my own unified system for drawing these critters in the same way I have one for drawing people. If being an artist is about constant learning then our decision to use animal characters for the comic is definitely a good one, because we’ve been learning a lot on this project.