Character Design – More Research (part 3)

In class today, I decided to look a little more into other people’s work for help with my own character design and drawing skills. In one of my previous posts here, I went into looking at real world portraits, other people’s sketches, and construction techniques. Now, I’d like to look at a couple of artists a little further and show what I’d done for my own head drawings, as per our instructions last class.

We were asked to: draw a page of heads, use design elements to position them on the page. We could stretch ourselves and add imagined elements to the heads, mixing skulls, écorché, and real observed heads. I don’t have any practice with drawing heads, so I did some tracings of pictures I’d found through my research and just scoping the internet, just so I could get some practice and an idea of how to draw different angles/elements/etc.


I found this exercise quite difficult – a lot of the heads didn’t turn out quite right or the facial features aren’t in the correct location/proper proportion to the heads. However, I do like the two skulls the most; I especially like the skull that has the etches on it, which seemed rather odd and beautifully macabre to me. The face just above the left-most skull turned out really well and I could later see how the features matched up to just a couple of sketched lines.

Throughout this process, I keenly referred to a book I picked up before I’d started school called “Figure It Out! Human Proportions” by Christopher Hart. He has done A LOT of books about drawing and seemed extremely talented in his field. He goes through the step-by-step process of how to draw a head, as well as where the features would be in proportion to the size of the head. He mentions to keep in mind the layers under the skin, much as Tony did – it’s important to remember how the muscles and bones dictate the look of the face.

Moving on, I’ve looked at two more artists who, I think, have such a unique art style each that they warrant a blog entry. One of them is going to be a major source of inspiration for this project, just because of the way he lays out his pieces on the page and how he incorporates different elements into his designs.

Dave McKean

I only took a couple pieces from his website, but I think they speak volumes about how he captures his characters and how he lays out a person on the page. A lot of his work is pure expression, likely done after an idea popped into his head from observing the oddities of the world around him, but McKean is also a primary artist for a lot of Neil Gaiman’s books.

The piece I want to primarily focus on is the following, drawn for Gaiman’s book “Smoke and Mirrors”. It’s a pencil sketch I found on McKean’s website, hidden amongst his prolific portfolio and it immediately stood out to me.


This is the sort of work that I would hang on my wall; there is something endearing and bizarre about it, from the woman’s oversized eyes to the floating koi. The book is actually a collection of stories and poems, however I’ve never read it so I’m not too sure which one this piece relates to.

I really so like the Burton-esque look of the woman and the feeling of life/wind in the picture, given the way her hair is moving. I like the koi taking the place of her mouth and the fact that the fish are the only elements of colour in the whole picture. They draw your attention and make you wonder about why they’re there.

One of the things that does bother me slightly is the angle of her neck and the slant of her body. While I appreciate there is a cartoon-y element to the design, there is something disconcerting about the way her body is drawn. It feels more Picasso-esque and (to me) doesn’t necessarily compliment the rest of the design choices in the drawing.

There are likely a number of reasons why McKean decided to draw her in this way, outside of it being his chosen style. He draws things in a more outrageous/unique way, but the funny thing I did notice was that the line of her neck draws the eyes attention straight up to the koi over her mouth. I like to think this was deliberate and necessarily to put even further focus on the fish.

Alex Pardee

Tony posted a piece done by Pardee as an example of looking critically at other artists’ works; I think he’s a fantastic place to take inspiration from. After looking further into his eclectic catalogue of work, he is an artist of the weird and wonderful, the grotesque and bizarre. I feel like his style comments or reflects a lot on pop culture and reflects on the modern world in a very clever way.

I had to be very critical about which pieces of work I could look at, since there were so many that I love. Again, these are the sorts of pieces I would put up on my wall – especially the skeleton My Little Pony! I think all of these pieces are exampled of character design, including the “incorporating imagined elements” into skulls/heads, as per the instructions for our initial sketch task.

There are two pieces I absolutely love that I found on his website, but one of the is exactly what I imagine will be inspiration for our next task (which I’ll speak about at the end of this post).

The skull on the left is what I would have love to come up with for the initial head sketches, where it’s made of gnarled tree parts and adds to the macabre look. I feel like this was a brilliant design decision for one of two reasons: either because nature can be odd and trees can grow into shapes that sometimes remind us of other things or because, at the end of our days, all humans can return to the earth in some fashion. It feels very organic and raw.

The second image is a skull comprised of characters from films (either horror franchises or were just bad guys in their respective movies). The task we’ll be focusing on for next class will be to create a picture of heads facing in many different directions or perspectives. Tony gave an example of heads bobbing in water, because they’ll face different ways as they float. I think Pardee’s skull made of many faces captures this idea as well. I really like that they all merge into one another and the entire design makes a whole – Gestalt theory, maybe?!

I’ll continue working on my head designs and come up with a couple of thumbnails before drawing a final version for next class. This seems like a good way to flesh out ideas and not get stuck on one in particular; this was something heavily enforced in last projects and I feel like it helped me then, too.



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