The development of an illustrated character is a team effort that involves a lot of brainstorming, research, and discussion. You have to think about what’s been created before, the characters people are familiar with, and what’s being created elsewhere. But then there is the moment that it is just you, the illustrator. And you have to start moving a pencil around on a blank piece of paper and bring the character into existence. As much as I love the many other moments of the illustration process, this is my favorite.
I’ve been drawing characters since I was a little kid. This was the first character I drew when I was just a couple years old:
Funny thing is, I still do it pretty much the same way three decades later! Of course, this is just the first step in the process…the sketch.
I still sketch on notebook paper most of the time. I’ll doodle on an iPad or computer, but when I really need to draw, it helps my thought process to do it the old fashioned way. Some of the best drawing decisions come from the mistakes you make along the way and the best mistakes come from an actual pencil or pen.
So, after rounds of sketching, erasing, revising, and more sketching…I finally get the character sketch to a point that I — and the rest of my creative team – can consider it scan-ready. Then I’ll scan it onto my computer, or if I’m in a rush, I’ll just snap a photo on my phone and email it to myself (but you lose some detail that way).
Once the sketch is scanned, I pull it into Adobe Illustrator and trace it using a Wacom drawing tablet and pen. My left hand is always on my Mac’s Command-Z keys to take care of those mistakes, which are not usually welcomed at this stage of the process! Once the lines and/or shapes are traced, I color it the same way; adding textures, gradients, shadows, highlights, brush styles, and backgrounds as needed for the particular style.
But it’s probably easier to understand all of this if I just show you:
Once I clean up the layers, the illustration is ready to be brought to life in animation using Adobe After Effects.
But that’s another story.