Drawing Characters

Hey Everyone! Tracy MacLauchlan, co-producer and artist of Gemini Journey here.

I appreciate everyone’s patience with the delay of this post!

Today I'm writing the basics of what I know about drawing character images. I hope this will be useful for budding artists.

This also marks the last of the 6-week-long post schedule Yesenia and I set up and we would love to hear your feedback about the over all experience.

How I draw Characters

Art is a subjective undertaking. There is no right or wrong way to get to a complete drawing, but there are plenty of methods to experiment with.

Like this one.

Here’s what I find to be true about illustrating characters:
  • Learn the Rules
  • Draw from life
  • Apply knowledge to a set style and formula(s)

Learn the rules
Even if you plan to break the rules, learning them first is a must. If you’re drawing a human or animal, it's necessary to understandwhat muscles go where and how they work, how clothes wrinkle, perspective, and so on.

Learning this is a lifelong pursuit, but there are some good places to start. I suggest a life drawing class at a local art center. These classes are fairly cheap and you can often get permission to attend if you’re under 18 but serious about your work.

Home study is also an option. I love books and resources. My favorite books for anatomy and life drawing are:

Draw From Life 
Taking a class or reading can be the first step, but practice really sets up the basic skills for illustrating living things.

Life Drawing Sessions
Many art centers that offer life drawing classes will usually offer life drawing sessions.  The difference between a class and a session is that a session lets you draw on your own without supervision- great for experimentation and working in your favorite media - where a class will be much more instructive.

Draw the people around you
Carry a sketchbook and draw from life in every spare moment!

This can be scary to do in some places, especially if there’s a low ratio of artists around. Sometimes I feel as though taking out my drawings and doodling is like sending out a beacon, beckoning people to suddenly look at me (I’m pretty sure to look into my very soul, even).

I recommend if you have a hard time getting outside and sketching, to supplement your work with online resources. It’s true that nothing beats flesh-and-blood reference, but some good substitutes are:

Another thing you can do is draw friends and loved ones who are okay with you following them around all day. It’s a happy compromise for the insufferably shy.

Why bother again?
I find the practice alone will improve your draftsmanship, but you also learn a lot about the human and animal form from simple observation. You start to build up a mental library of poses and details to conjure up from your imagination later.

For instance, if I can just get some I get quick little gestures like this from a friend casually laying on the couch:

It helps me create images like this from my head later:

By observational drawing, you will understand and visualize what you are drawing better.

Take What You Learn, and Apply it to a Style
In my experience, illustrating people and animals isn’t all about getting the anatomy and the pose perfect. It’s also about composition and stylistic choices.

Follow a Formula
I'm not here to really talk about character design, but the way I see it, designing characters visually is about finding the right formula. That formula is created from anatomical knowledge blended with conscious caricature/design choices. How much of one ingredient is put into the character design is up to the style the work calls for. In the end, an artist will follow these guidelines to replicate the characters for new images and animation.

Here are the basic mannequins I currently follow for Veil and Gemini:

Note how each character can be broken down into a sequence of specific shapes, designed to fit the character and style choices of our show.

These, along with the details like eyes, mouth, and hair specific to each persona make up the formula I can replicate for new images.

Putting it all together
So how do I apply all these things to our work?

First, I do everything I preached above:
  • draw from life every day to hone my draftsmanship
  • do anatomical studies of our characters to understand them
That’s all preliminary practice, but for a single character image, my process usually is: gesture > rough sketch > tight sketch > ink > color

  • Gesture: the gesture stage is the point of a drawing where it is most loose.
  • Rough sketch: the rough sketch further defines the pose and composition, but is not always on model to the ‘formula’ of the characters
  • Tight Sketch: this is where I place the character designs on top of the rough sketch to fit the formula and style, and details are added. I try to make this stage as clean as possible, with most details added in.
  • Ink & Color : The inking stage sets the image in stone. After that, the image will either be colored by myself or vectored in actual Taffetas style by Yesenia.
I also posted some walk throughs of some images I drew for these posts on my blog

And Finally…
Tell us what you think! Yesenia and I will write soon on our plans for future updates, but we would love to your thoughts! Let us know what you thought about our last few weeks of posts, and what you would like to see from us in the future. Leave a comment here, on our Facebook, or e-mail.
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