Before creating my own characters I looked at a range of characters and thought about how they are illustrated, what has been used to describe the character to make the viewer see it in the same way the artist does. I looked at characters from different categories.
Noi from ‘The Storm Whale’ by Benji Davies.
Noi is a young boy living with his dad in a house by the sea. He often only has their six cats for company while his dad is off working hard as a fisherman. Noi is visually depicted as having fairly large head, with his body only being about two heads high. Accurate proportions have been slightly distorted to increase the child like presence of Noi. From his appearance, he looks might he might be 5 years old, possibly younger. He doesn’t have a neck which also creates a younger child look. Although it is short when related to his head, Noi’s body is in proportion with itself. The arms and legs are the correct length and width and he has quite small feet. He is always shown wearing a snood type garment on his head which covers his ears and hair leaving just a round face shape. Two dots are used for his eyes and a single line for his nose. He is never shown with a mouth which I find really interesting. Despite his facial features being limited to just two dots and a line, accurate expressions are created through angle of head, his body pose and the visual narrative. Noi is often lonely and has sad moments such as when he has to let the whale go. The lack of mouth and smile gives him a sort of doleful look, one that makes you want to give him a hug!
Eddie from ‘The Marvellous Fluffy Squishy Itty Bitty’ by Beatrice Alemagna
Eddie is a fiercely independent and determined little girl. Like Noi, there is some stylisation in the proportions of Eddie. Her head is slightly too large for her body although not to the same extent as with Noi. She appears slightly taller than him with longer skinny legs. She wears a neon pink oversized bodywarmer which gives her a real comical look but also suits her independent nature. Young children often assert their authority over a piece of clothing they particularly like, regardless of whether it is appropriate, like only ever wearing wellies for example! The pink of the bodywarmer was also probably chosen by Beatrice Alemagna to match the pink of the marvellous fluffy squishy itty bitty. She is quite excitable which is reflected in the way her hair is drawn. It is often flying in different directions as Eddie runs from shop to shop. Her facial features are simply drawn. A curved line for a nose with two dots for the nostrils accompany and simple line for her mouth. Her eyes do vary in how they are drawn, sometimes being just two dots while at other times an oval eye socket is drawn with the pupil. Her ears are two curved lines on the sides of her head, often not level and not in the ‘correct’ proportion. Like Benji Davies with Noi, Alemagna uses body and head positioning that match the narrative in addition to the simple facial features to create Eddie’s expressions.
Pippi Longstocking illustrated by Lauren Child.
Created by Astrid Lingren, Pippi Longstocking is a fearless, adventurous and imaginative child. Lauren Child depicts her with the the red pigtails we’ve come to expect from this classic character but draws them at crazy angles which accentuate the crazy side of her character. She is drawn mostly in correct proportion for a child of about ten. She is quite skinny, especially her legs which also seem to be positioned in ways that make her look a little awkward and kooky, the latter of which again matches her personality. Her facial features are fairly simple with a line for the mouth and simple ovals for eyes. The positioning of the pupil helps add expression. Lauren Child doesn’t use eyebrows to add expression .
Swatch from Swatch: The Girl who Loved Colour. Written and illustrated by Julia Denos.
Swatch is a colour loving wild girl. She is energetic and fearless, dancing with and hunting colours. Her wildness is reflected in her appearance. Her hair is black, long and untameable created with loose brushstrokes. She is always covered in paint of all different colours. Her body is drawn in a very loose almost impressionistic way with long sweeping strokes for her limbs and minimal use of line for her hands. Her eyes are vertical ovals with large pupils while her nose and mouth are created with just an impressionistic smudge of pastel of paint. Additional details such as a tongue sticking out are also used to create expression.
There are similarities between most of Quentin Blake’s elderly characters. They tend to be quite skinny as in the case of Grandma from George’s Marvellous Medicine, Grandpa Joe in Charlie and the CHocolate Factory and the BFG. The skinny appearance gives them a sort of frail look which suggests elderly. Lines are used to show their age with wrinkles depicted in the neck, across the cheeks and along the top of the lips. The way he draws eyes varies a little, with the BFG having dots while Grandpa Joe has eye sockets and pupils. Hands are made to look bony by drawing long, nobbly fingers.
In contrast with Quentin Blake’s elderly characters, Benji Davies creates Noi’s ‘Grandma Bird’ without drawing any lines on her. Instead he uses the clothes and body position to hint at her age. She wears a granny scarf on her head leaving just enough grey hair poking out to tell the viewer she is older. She wears glasses and a woolly cardigan. She is quite short which could have been done purposely because people can shrink as they grow older.
Hector from The Bear and the Piano, the Dog and the Piano’ by David Litchfield.
Like Grandma Bird, David Litchfield’s elderly character Hector is created without using lines for wrinkles. Instead he is mostly bald, white moustache and a big nose. All of these features are used to show his age instead of the wrinkles.
For this group I looked at non fiction illustration.
Suffragette by David Roberts
David Roberts paints quite detailed characters. Generally they all have similar shaped eyes, horizontally oval with variations in iris size, colour and position depending on the character he is trying to create. He places the pupil carefully to reveal an expression or show where the character is looking. Noses are often long in his depictions of adults and tend to be attached to eyebrows. The characters often have rosy cheeks or red skin under their eyes. He is quite good at uglifying characters by giving them wonky eyes, eyes that are too close together or with huge bags under the eyes which which gives them a comic feel. HIs use of distortion is generally present in facial features rather than bodily which tends to be in proportion. He uses a lot of detail in hair, clothes and accessories to add to the character.
This is New York by Miroslav Sasek
Like David Roberts’ depiction of adults, Miroslav Sasek keeps his generally correct in proportion. The addition of clothing is central to depicting a character in Sasek’s illustrations for this set of books. The clothes tell us what type of person they are and what they do for a job.
All photos: Briony Dixon
The first character I wanted to create is one from a story I have written an outline for. Ki is an eight year old girl living in a slum who copes with life and keeps a smile on her face by creating a dream fantasy world all of her own. She is creative and uses scraps of material and other recyclable bits and pieces she finds to make art, clothes and costumes. She is skinny and often dirty but has beautiful big, soulful eyes.
The idea for my story about Ki was originally sparked by an image I came across which is shown below. The girl in this photo is younger than Ki but I still chose to use it to make an initial drawing from because I wanted to draw from observation before illustrating. My first attempt shown at the top of the page below was all out of proportion, I has squashed all her features up and made the area from brow to top of head too long. My second attempt was much more in proportion with the eyes midway between the chin and crown of the head. I didn’t capture the likeness though, I think because I found the mouth so difficult to replicate. From this initial drawing, I then used some distortion to create my illustration of Ki. I made her eyes big and slightly shortened the length of the forehead to create a wider head overall. I still struggled with the mouth but at this stage thought it was because I was drawing the faces in isolation without a narrative behind them.
When I added colour I was really happy with her face, even the mouth. I had managed to give her a smile that looks a little anxious, a little unsure. A smile someone would have if they are trying to make the best of things as she is. Her eyes have a depth and a longing.
From here I tried to draw her from the side which I really struggled with. All of my attempts seemed to make her look too old. She didn’t look eight years old in any of them, the lips made her look pouty. In the end I decided to try drawing the body, thinking that putting her in different positions would create a narrative which would help me draw her in profile.
I started with a front view and a drawing in proportion. In the book, ‘Drawing People for the Absolute Beginner: A clear and easy guide to successful figure drawing’ by Mark and Mary Willenbrink, it stated that a child’s body should be five heads high. I used this book to help me make an in proportion drawing of Ki before stylising her. She looked in proportion but so tall! Maybe because she is skinny. I decided that I wanted her to be shorter, to be out of proportion without looking ridiculous and depicted as eight years old. I tried her two and a half and three heads high but she looked too young.
In the end I went back to my mindmap to help me visualise her in my mind. What might she be doing that gives us a front view? How would her body look in that pose? I thought that she could be showing one of her creations, her dress. Having this story in my mind, I was able to just draw her without trying to adhere to number of heads high. It worked! This told me that I work better when drawing to a narrative and by feel, deciding what looks right as I go along.
I then imagined her in different situations and drew her positions. For some I asked someone to take a photo of me in the position for reference.
One of the big things about Ki is that makes her own clothes from scraps of material she finds on the rubbish dump. I wasn’t sure how this would look in my illustration of her so I decided to get in role and play about with some textiles, stitching and creating as she might. From my creations I was able to work out how I would show this in 2D. I did think about using collage and this is something I may do in future development of Ki as a character but I had decided on an orange colour scheme and I didn’t have any orange materials.
I wanted to explore using a limited colour palette for the artwork and I chose orange as the predominant colour because it is a symbol of hope, endurance and motivation, all qualities Ki has. Like I did with the kitten in the previous exercise, I decided to use a bright colour, in this case orange, as a base colour. In the first front view image of her I think this works, particularly for the face. I left areas free of added colour to act as the lighter areas of the face and added pastel to create the darker areas. I used pastel, oil and soft, and coloured pencil to create her rag dress using dark outlines to differentiate each piece as I did with the feathers in the vulture tattoo illustration. In terms of her pose, she looks like she is nervously presenting what she has made which is what I wanted to achieve. I’m not happy with the left arm, it is too wide and I completely ruined the hand. Hands are an area I need to improve.
I am also happy with how the side view below turned out and think I definitely improved in drawing hands! I think it is clear she is the same character and have kept the proportions the same, with the head slightly too large for the body. To improve this I think I need to work on her expression. There is an element of her looking happy about finding a piece of pretty pink material in a world of orange but it could be made more. Perhaps turning the corner of the mouth up more and/ or drawing the cheek pulling the mouth up would solve this. Perhaps a different pose with the other arm coming towards the material would make her look more enthusiastic about her find.
The next one was a really difficult pose. I wanted to draw her sitting down, looking downwards at some ribbon she has found. I think she looks like a gremlin! I’m not really sure why, maybe because I put lids on the eyes to portray her as looking down, maybe it is the angle of the face, or both! I had to remix the orange I used as the base and couldn’t get it right. It is too dark here. Learning point: Mix up LOTS of a colour to keep consistency.
Ki watches the birds and thinks how wonderful it would be to be able to fly away from the horrors of where she lives. Engrossed in her imaginary world, she makes herself wings from material scraps. Although I like her pose, I think her head is a little large in this illustration. Her eyes have the dreamy look I wanted but I haven’t caught it in the mouth, I really struggle with mouths.
My final illustration was the back view. This time she is reaching up to hang the ribbon. think I have captured the pose quite well in this, but again the hands need work. I gave her rag dress a less defined look in this one.
Overall I am fairly happy with my development of Ki as a character however I feel there is long way to go. I definitely want to come back to her, try her without the orange and experiment with using collage. This exercise has really taught me about the role the body pose of a character has in determining expression. It doesn’t need to be all in the face. For now, this has been a good start in drawing of figures which has definitely never been my strength and is an area I will keep practising.
For my second character, I had an idea but it wasn’t as formulated as with Ki. Based loosely on my grandad, I wanted to create an old man who is a mobile greengrocer. His name is Wilfred.
My first step was to draw lots of old men from observation. Unlike with Ki, I didn’t have a clear visual idea of what Wilfred looks like so wanted to explore lots of different looks. The first two thirds of the page are drawn from reference while the bottom third was more me experimenting with different nose shapes and jaw lines.
Looking at my drawings, I was drawn most to the one of the man with a beard in a hat. I thought this kind of look would work perfectly for Wilfred. I tried drawing him from the front and side then remembered about distortion. Old men seem to have large noses and ears so I drew him again with these features exaggerated . I really liked him with a larger nose but felt that with the ears enlarged too he looked too caricatural.
To draw his body, I made some quick sketches of ‘elderly’ poses and positions. I wanted Wilfred to have a slight stoop and pot belly so I included these characteristics in the sketches. Then I started thinking about Wilfred in action as a greengrocer. I thought about the different positions he might make. For front view I imagined him slightly leaning forward, partly due to the stoop and partly because he is leaning towards a customer to find out what they would like to buy. I also imagined him leaning casually on his greengrocer van, then changed it to leaning on a counter. I pictured him handing goods to the customers for side poses and made quick scribbles of these before making larger, more developed versions.
I then explored colour. I wanted to explore the bright base colour idea further and thought a bluish purple might work well. He is a greengrocer so I felt that green needed to be predominant colour.
I don’t feel that this first illustration (below) is very successful. Although I like his pose, I think his head is too big and his eyes too small. I used purple as a base colour to further explore this idea but after completing this illustration I wasn’t sure about this either. As with my illustrations of Ki, I struggled to create the right expression with his mouth. I think I have added too many wrinkles because some of the lines are unnecessary. The elderly characters I looked at at the start of this exercise are drawn either without wrinkles or are minimal but very carefully placed.
So I tried another front view. This time I used a conventional flesh colour for his skin and gave him bigger eyes. I gave him less wrinkles and made his mouth and laughter lines turn upwards more to make him appear more jovial. I think his pose depicts him as having a stoop and leaning forward. Out of all my character illustrations so far, I think this is the most successful.
Not wanting to put the purple skin to bed yet though, I tried agin with the side views. I am happy with these and think the think the purple works well. I particularly like the pose in the first image although I think the pupil needs to be directed down further at the tomato. In all of my illustrations of Wilfred I played about with layering of colour using coloured pencil and pastel. I enjoy creating a depth of colour by mixing and layering hues.
During this exercise I wonder whether I was too worried about making sure my characters are in proportion and look real enough. I feel that I could have been bolder and taken them further in order to portray their character more strongly. In order to combat this shackle, in future assignments involving figures and character I will try to be more confident to draw them without reference and use reference to check and edit.