Learning About Concept Drawing

Hello friends. As I am on a forced hiatus due to work commitments I felt the need to include a quick post here on some of the learning I’ve been doing related to style and character concepts.

In the book, The Skillful Huntsman: visual development of a Grimm tale at Art Center College of Design, three concept artists chronicle their approach to concept work for the main characters in the Grimm tale The Skillful Huntsman. It’s a great book for anyone who is learning about concept art and design. There are many very good points of learning in this book. One that stuck out to me, and I feel applies to the antagonists in my story, is to be conscious of the balance between familiarity and strangeness. I’m in the middle of concept work on some of the fairytale creatures that the two boys will be facing in the story. My first concepts are feeling too “grown up” and perhaps too familiar as well. Because this story is meant for a younger audience I need to be carefully considering this balance. The creatures must be strange enough to be interesting and familiar enough to be believable and imposing, but not overly frightening. Their purpose in the story is to represent danger, fear, anxiety and the unknown, but that needs to be conveyed without bruising any little peaches. I certainly wouldn’t want any children having nightmares because of this book.

In regards to the familiarity of the creatures:

  1. I don’t want to completely rely on my experiences of what I’ve seen and enjoyed of fairytale creatures. For example, I’m working on a concept for a troll right now and as I watched The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings last night I realized that I had scooped the trolls hands and feet straight from that film. I have a large bank of fairytale creatures stored up in this old head of mine. I want to be careful not to default, even subconsciously, to that bank. If in the process I see the value in keeping something familiar then yes, I’ll keep it that way, I just want to be careful to be aware of that choice in my designs.
  2. I want to be sensitive to the need for some familiarity in terms of keeping to basic tenets of fairytale creature design, insomuch as the kind of creatures they face. The basic fairytale baddies: trolls, goblins, wolfs, spiders, etc.

While working on these concepts I have again come back to thinking about style. This recurring theme in my learning has proven to be of great encouragement to me as I let go of my old thinking on the subject. I used to look at artists work whom I admired and strive to illustrate in an identical manner to them, believing that if I could achieve that “look” then I’d be successful. I realize now that this is not the key to my work being strong and memorable. It lies in the strength of the drawing itself. I feel a release to be true to my self in my work and pursue visions and images in which way feels most natural to me. I keep coming back to Martin Salisbury’s book Illustrating Children’s Books in my posts. When his students query him on the subject of style he informs them that they won’t be learning about “style.” In his words,

“Style is a word that other people use when talking about your work. If your drawing is to develop naturally, with integrity, it is vital that you do not consciously pursue a “style.” The process of working honestly, and with a passion for your subject matter, will allow your work to evolve and develop its own identity.”

Easily read, but not as easily done, especially when I’ve spent most of my life wanting to be able to draw like so and so. Fact is, there are a great many artists who’s work I love and am inspired by. I don’t think those inspirations and influences will fall null and void in the visual language of my work, but I find myself feeling motivated to just develop my drawing and observational skills and allow the feel and look of my work to take shape more naturally.

In the next month and a bit my work demands will continue to limit my time to work on Our 1984. I will be fitting time in here and there and will continue to share my thoughts with you until I can present you with some content of a more visually compelling flavour.

Blessings and health to you all.



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