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So, one thing I’ve grown to appreciate since starting a comic is it’s really, REALLY easy to go off-model. Most (all?) sequential artists and animators know this. And now I’m gonna try to talk about it ahahahaha *sobs*
So when I say consistency (for the purposes of this post anyway), I’m talking about drawing your characters over and over and having them look the same. No matter the composition, they should be recognizable and look like they belong in the same world every time you draw them.
The short answer to this is to draw draw draw. It’s really about being familiar with your designs, and the only way to get familiar with them is to draw them a lot. But that’s pretty abstract advice, so we’re going to look at various systems for learning consistency.
Consistency’s all about understanding the design choices you’ve made, and sticking to them. You’re essentially establishing the rule book for how your characters are drawn. Now full disclaimer, I’m very much into asymmetry and energy over accuracy. I find that if I get too technical with my drawing, that’s when I screw up. So I never think too hard about consistency; mostly I just try to get my drawings in the right ballpark.
It’s not really about details, not entirely. It’s about big picture. Establish the big choices, and then work your way in.
So I’m all about shapes in character design. I try to keep them basic. This doesn’t just apply to the overall figure. What are the shapes of the eyes, the hair, the clothing? What do they look like in profile, or in motion? How should they look?
When you know your character’s shapes, it’s much easier to control those small details that give your character life on the page.
You’ll do yourself a lot of favors by keeping your designs as simple as possible. I’m not saying they all need to look like cartoons - I mean be mindful of eliminating useless noise. Too much detail can clutter up a design, which is why starting with broad shapes is so important.
Somewhere in the character creation process - preferably somewhere early - you’ll be establishing visual style. Are these characters going to be realistic or cartoony? Are shapes very literal, or subtle? For MFK, I knew I’d be sticking close to an anime-inspired style, with some flexibility. Most key characters have more superhero-type proportions, but I’m open to getting a little crazy with supporting characters. The visual style walks the line between stylized and realistic. To make this work, I keep proportions on all characters relatively exaggerated and line work to a minimum, even unfinished in places. It’s a personal preference, but I also stay away from straight lines and sharp angles. Even the most angular characters have a bit of curve in their design.
This is broadly speaking. Within your chosen visual style, you’re free to do whatever you like. Characters don’t all need to look the same - in fact, they shouldn’t.
Let’s talk silhouettes next. The theory here is that if you were to line your characters up, then fill them all in with black, you should still be able to recognize each character.
This ties in with establishing shapes and is also a good starting point when designing. This is when you think about how your character carries themselves, how the little details break up the silhouette and make them unique. At this stage, I start with a big brush (a Sharpie or marker if I’m working traditionally) and just start making broad strokes. Then I work smaller and smaller to add or take away details.
TIP: This is also a good guide when drawing your characters in action. If you filled them in black, would you be able to tell what they’re doing? Character pose is also a storytelling tool.
You don’t need to stick rigidly to your silhouette, but you do need to understand what features make your character recognizable. And this is not simply the clothing, the hairstyle, height and proportions, all those things, but the shapes of them.
Everyone recognizes Mickey Mouse’s silhouette, right? What’s interesting is that the shape of his ears is maintained no matter at what angle his head is drawn.
This was a design choice. These are the rules in the world of Mickey Mouse. It’s this silhouette that differentiates Mickey from every other mouse character.
Now, you are establishing your own design rules. You can make them whatever you want them to be. But, they’ve got to be believable (note I do not say “realistic”).
This is the part where we talk about drawing your character over and over. Once you have the design pinned down, it’s time to try it out in various conditions. Push and pull it every which way, and figure out its limits.
The turnaround is a common tool in animation. It’s a technical drawing that explores the design from multiple angles. Turnarounds are a handy way of getting the proportions and smaller details of your design down on paper. As such, they should be clean, specific, and detailed.
Here I’ve done a similar thing, just focusing on the head.
This is the time to discover the problems in your designs and work out solutions.
TIP: I don’t know about you, but my ¾ views are almost always lopsided. To check how you’re doing with a ¾ view, hold your drawing up to a mirror, or if you’re working in Photoshop, flip it horizontally. You’ll be able to tell if something’s off and correct that way.
I’ll be honest, I don’t use turnarounds so much for comics. Instead, I just sketch my characters a lot. I focus on full-body poses as well as the face. I like to think ahead about what actions my characters are likely to take, or the emotions they’re likely to experience. Don’t restrict yourself to one angle - try them from all different views.
The more you draw your characters, the more familiar you will be, and the better prepared you are when it’s time to work on those pages.
All this work you’ve done is going to be reference as you’re working on your comic/book/animation/what have you. Keep your character sheets and sketches handy as you’re drawing. When I’m working on a new page, I always have the last few pages up so I can look at how I’ve drawn the characters before.
So yes, there’s a lot up there about character design, but I feel that the key to consistency is having a solid design foundation. Make a study of your characters - draw them from the ground up, take notes, do what you need to do. Establish your rules, then stick to them. Hope this helps!
My buddy Jennifer Zyren had a question about consistency, so I tried my hand at a tutorial to explain some of the ways I approach drawing characters in a comic or picture book.
I consider three main properties when I go into using color:
- Hue-the specific color on the spectrum
- Tint or Shade-the amount of white or black in a color
- Saturation-the intensity of a color
Using the palette from Part 1, I adjusted the hue, tint/shade or intensity of the three columns of colors.
Here are a few results of mixing and matching the various hues, tints/shades and intensities of each color. Note the appearance of each color in relation to another. I also threw in a speculative saturated color for each palette
Change multiple properties of each individual color you choose. It complicates things, but in a way to give you more range in your color selection.
Just curious on how you approach composition and perspective. I feel as if sometimes I think too hard, not really about what to draw but how to draw it and make it look interesting. The comic panels you have been doing are amazing. Any tips/references on improving my knowledge of composition and perspective? What do you think about as you lay your pencil on the drawing paper? what goes through your mind?
*STANDARD DISCLAIMER* I’m not handing down life lessons or trying to assert that there’s a ‘correct way’ to draw. I’m just trying to make perspective more approachable for thems that want to tackle it.
Okay. Let’s do this.
1. Understand what perspective is and what it’s for. Stay away from rulers while you get comfortable.
Everyone struggles with perspective because 1. it’s not well or widely taught and 2. artists tend to see linear perspective as a set of rules rather than a set of tools.
Linear perspective is a TOOL we use to create and depict SPACE. That’s it. That’s all it is. Your goal is not to draw in ‘accurate linear perspective.’ Stay away from the ruler and precision for as long as you can. Your goal is to create the illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. Perspective is just a tool to help you construct and correct that space.
2. Know in your bones that you can ONLY learn to draw in perspective through physical practice. There is no other way.
Grab some paper and draw with me. If you match me drawing for drawing you will be more fluent in linear perspective and spatial drawing by the end of this post. Unfortunately if you don’t, you won’t be.
3. Sketch around in rough perspective. NO RULERS.
So let’s make some simple space. let’s start with a two dimensional surface…
K. We have a flat, 2D surface. Let’s create some depth by putting a vanishing point in the middle, and having parallel lines converge towards it. Make a gridded plane inside that space.
Good. Let’s make that space meaningful by adding a dude and a road or something. (Again, parallel ‘depth lines’ will converge into the vanishing point along the horizon)
And now we have the rough illusion of some space. I didn’t use any rulers, and it’s not perfectly accurate, but we got our depth from that vanishing point right in the middle of the page. And since we have a little dude in there, we’ve got human scale, which allows us to gauge the size of the space we’ve created. Gives it meaning.
You need people or cars or some recognizable, human-scale THING in there as a frame of reference or your space won’t mean much to your viewer. Watch. We can make that same basic space a whole lot bigger like this:
Same vanishing point in the same place, completely different scale, and a totally different feeling of space. Cool, right?
3. Sketch around in rough perspective MORE. STAY LOOSE.
See what sort of spaces and feelings you can create with vanishing points and gridded planes on a post-it or something. Super small, super rough. Feel it out. Pick a vanishing point or lay out a grid in perspective, and MAKE SOME SPACE. Do it. Draw, I don’t know, a lady and her dog in a desert. I’ll do it, too.
Good job. LOOK AT YOU creating the illusion of space! This is how you’ll thumbnail and plan anything you want to draw in space. All of my drawings start this way. I think about how I want the viewer to feel and then play around with space and composition until I find something that works.
Once you have a sketch you like, and space that you feel, THEN you can take out the ruler and make it more accurate and convincing.
4. Draw environments from life.
I cannot stress this enough. Draw the world around you, try to draw the shapes and angles as you see them, and you will ‘get’ how and why perspective is used. Use something permanent so that you’ll move fast and commit. I usually use black prismacolor pencil.
You’ll learn or reinforce something with every drawing. I learned a lot about multiple vanishing points from this drawing:
Learned from the receding, winding space I tired to draw here:
Layered, interior spaces:
You get the idea.
Life drawing will also help you develop your own shorthand and language for depicting textures, materials, details, natural and architectural features, etc. Do it. Do it all the time. Go to pretty or interesting places just to draw them.
Take a second and just draw a quick sketch of whatever room you’re in.
5. Perspective in formal Illustration: apply what you’ve learned.
1. I always start with research. For this particular location I looked at Angkor Wat.
2. Once I had enough reference, I did a bunch of little thumbnail sketches with a very loose sense of space and picked the one I liked best.
3. Scanned the thumbnail and drew a little more clearly over it. Worked out the rough space before using formal perspective.
4. Reinforced the space with formal perspective. I dropped in pre-made vanishing points over my drawing. If I were drawing in real media here’s where I’d get out the ruler to sketch in some accurate space.
5. Drew the damn thing. Because I do my research, draw from life, and am comfortable drawing in perspective, I can wing it. I just sort of ‘build’ the ruins freehand in the space I’ve established, keeping it more or less accurate, experimenting and playing with details along the way. I erase a lot, too, both in PS and when drawing in pencil. Keeps it fun for me.
And that’s what I know about composition and perspective. If you want more formal instruction on perspective and it’s uses, you can use John Buscema’s How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way. Or If you want to get really intense about it, Andrew Loomis can help you
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