Lesson I: Designing the Character

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A blank page is probably the most frightening thing an artist can ever encounter. The reason for this is actually because of the freedom it implies. In an infinite universe with unlimited possibilities, deciding which one you want to pursue is a daunting task! The commonly heard phrase "I don't know what to draw" would probably be better stated as "Out of all of the possibilities of subjects I could draw right now, I can't decide which one I want to draw the most!"

This is normal. It happens to every artist when they encounter 'the white void'. The solution? Start somewhere. Anywhere. Put a line on the page. Then put another line. Draw a circle and continue drawing circles to see what shapes you can make out of them. Grab a blue paintbrush and slop some blue on there. Or red. Or green. Heck, even run over the page with your car tire and then look for patterns in the treadmarks! It doesn't matter where you begin, it is only important that you begin so the creative process can start!

You see... I believe the creative process is just that - a process. An associative process in fact. Where you begin is irrelevant, it's where you end up that is important. Experienced artists know this. That is why you rarely ever see them staring at a white page trying to think of what to draw. They just start sketching until they find an idea that makes them shout "Eureka!". Try asking them what they are drawing... usually they will say "I'm not sure yet".

It can also help to take a look at what others are doing to get inspired. Find artwork that appeals to you, and gives you ideas of your own. Make a mess! Have fun! The creative process is child-like and exploratory. Perfectionism must be left at home if the exploration is to be successful.

Which brings us to the next topic...

There Are No Mistakes

I feel this concept is absolutely essential to understand in order for creativity to flourish. Leave the judgemental/critical mind at the door while brainstorming, it can only get in the way. In order to 'think outside of the box' to find new and unique ideas, the creative mind must be given an all access pass to explore any and all ideas, no matter how silly they may seem to the logical mind. You can edit and judge once the ideas are out, but let them out first! Premature editing, I think, is the biggest hurdle for many artists to overcome.

Suspending judgement and allowing our minds to play freely can be scary. Living in a society with rules and regulations, our minds are conditioned to maintain 'normalcy' or risk alienation from our peers. This criticizing of our own thinking may be useful in our day to day lives, but it is the very thing we must release while creating. This is probably why most great artists are very 'anti-establishment' or 'free spirit' types. Not that it is necessary to be that extreme, but I think it is useful to realize why they are that way. They have mastered this concept, and do not hinder their own creativity with self-criticism.

It is also worth noting that professional artists never start out with their final artwork. They start with thumbnails, and sketch out ideas quickly until they find a concept and composition they like. They then redraw it a little bigger, and work out more of the details. They draw it from different angles and in different colors. They draw different parts of it separately to study them further, until they understand their subject fully. They then redraw it at full size and finally, when they're happy with it... they draw their final draft. That is the process.

My Thoughts On Appeal

I think a word that loosely defines 'appeal' is 'empathy'. In order to appeal to someone you need to empathize with them, show them that you understand them so they can feel comfortable with you.

I believe the same is true in design. What makes a design appealing to someone is that it relates to them, and they can identify with it to some degree. Therefore, I believe there is no universal ruler against which to judge whether something is appealing or not. It is different for everyone.

If everyone has their own sense of what is appealing to them, that leaves only one option: create what is appealing to you. It seems obvious, but it's very easy to get caught up in trying to please or impress others too much and forgetting to enjoy ourselves and what we do! Learning to trust your own intuition as a creator is a process I believe is vital to succeeding as an artist (and one that I am still learning myself!)

Now, that being said I still think there are some basic guidelines one can follow in order to create something that is generally appealing to most people. I believe that appealing art has the following properties:
  • It has detail for visual interest, or something unique to hold our attention. By detail I do not mean 'every hair on the head' so much as 'depth'. Depth is achieved when you go beyond the surface impression and find the distinction or quirk that separates your subject from all the rest, both visually and conceptually.
  • It is clear and easy to understand, and not confusing in any way. Try to focus on the 'essence' of your subject. The essence is the basic idea or theme that makes your subject recognizable. When detail is added to a simple idea, it is elegant. But when detail is added before the basic idea is understood, it can quickly become a mess.
  • It has contrast. Contrast is the use of opposites to create movement, or energy in an artwork. Light and dark, straight and curved, and so on. If only one element is present the piece may feel bland. Like having a caramel chocolate bar everyday... no matter how delicious it is at first, it will soon lose it's splendor if you don't change it up with broccoli from time to time.

The Character

When designing a character for this tutorial I had a couple of things already in mind for who/what the character should be:
  • It should be humanoid, since that is the most common character design and therefore one that most people would want to know how to make.
  • It should be appealing to Blender users since I also want to use it as a mascot for this blog.
  • It should be a character that many people would want to use in their animations.
  • It should be simple enough to complete the tutorial within a month! (Originally, I had intended to use another design, but decided to change it so the character would be more appealing, more relevant, and simpler for the purposes of this tutorial.)
This character's name is Booster (the Rooster), and he's basically what I thought of when designing a character based on the Blender logo. I drew the character a couple times to explore his personality and get a sense of what he should look like (click the image to see the sketches). The featured sketch to the left is going to be the image I will model the character from. If this was for a full production, I would definitely spend more time in this stage to fully realize the character before moving on. But for a small project like this I find it quite enjoyable to work out a lot of the "final" details in a more hands-on way in the modeling stage. The sketches were done quickly in MyPaint.


I hope this part of the tutorial has given you new insight into how to overcome obstacles to creativity, and realize your own creature creations. This information has come for me as a result of many years of creative struggle, and I know all too well what it's like to be lost in 'the white void'. So if I can help even just one person to find their way out of a creative rut with this tutorial, I will be a happy guy!

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