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Exercise 4.7 Character Development

The premise of this exercise was to explore character development, something that I was interested to finally give a go. Whenever a video game presents me with a character creator, I can get lost for hours in choosing details that help to tell a story about a person, but in my drawings I've never made a personality from scratch.

Firstly, the exercise asked me to gather up examples of existing characters and to sort them into groups. There are hundreds of headings that I could have used as the number of archetypes and stereotypes that appear in popular media constantly expand and overlap. I have been exposed to so many more than shown here, but here is a small selection of pop culture characters that i collected and arranged next to their matching headings.

One way I sorted these to try show variety in a small selection was by looking for opposing pairs to categorise such as Heroes / Villains and Rich / Poor stereotypes. Another method was to go simply by age, which highlights the physical similarities of these characters rather than the style or settings they are in. Similarities in height, weight, builds and fashion choices in a category became clearer the more I paired them with similar images.

I think lot of the details can become lost on an audience if the archetype is made abundantly clear. If what that character is all about is obvious to me at first glance from how they look when they appear on screen, I can't say that I've often considered what details have made them so recognisable before, so it was useful to consider the common threads as I was searching.

I was then asked to come up with two characters of my own. I had free reign to choose my subjects, but when I read the suggestion that I could make characters based on those I had encountered in life, I could think of a wealth of examples of stereotypes that I could recall from working with the public or from watching passers-by in cafes and restaurants. The two that stood out to me the most were 'The Curator' and 'The Cafe Worker', the latter of which I changed to 'The Barista' later on.

I brainstormed using spider diagrams and wrote out lists that concerned what each ones personalities and motivations could be, as well as their physical features and the environment they would most typically be found in. Although both roles are not gender specific, for the purpose of this exercise giving me different visual choices for each character, I envisioned 'The curator' as a female and 'The Barista' as male. I began work on 'The Curator' first.


Character 1: The Curator

The curator was an interesting character to aim for as it is not a career with any specific set uniform. I've met a fair number of curators through work and there isn't distinctive look to them in the same way as with other stereotypes I could have chosen. Despite this, I still tried to pinpoint any few common trends in terms of fashion after searching for images of professions who work in similar fields. I gathered some similar fashion items from these looks together to act as my guide when constructing my character.

I noticed that loose fitting woollen clothing items such as long skirts and cardigans appear more often than not and usually follow earth tones in the overall palette of an outfit. Rounded frames seemed to be the go to choice if glasses are needed and heeled boots are very commonly the ideal footwear to ground this look.

I don't know too much about women's fashion, but I would hazard a guess that these choices are comfortable to work in but still smart enough for meetings to give a business casual look that's ideal for the often mobile work of curators as they travel around different sites and exhibitions for their work.

On A3 paper using marker pens and coloured pencils, I began forming my character using a cartoon style that still roughly follows realistic human proportions as I wanted to make my characters feel like a real person who could still be expressive with only simple lines and dots for their main features.

Character Design 1: 'The Curator'

As this was new territory for me and I was drawing in an art style that is normally outside my comfort zone, I took things slowly and tried alternate options for the hair, expressions and and clothing before deciding on what to make final. By the time I had worked my way to the viewpoints that make up the 360 view at the top of the page, I felt that this was a solid personification of the type of person that I had in my head and I felt confident enough to draw her in small scenes that really brought her to life. I think my patience here has paid off as I'm pleased with how she ended up looking, particularly in my action shots of her going about her day.


Character 2: The Barista

By contrast, my second character had a much clearer visual as a real life counterpart for me to adapt from. I feel it's rare to visit an independent coffee house these days without finding someone that matches this description serving at the counter: A tall, bearded young man with well kept hair and glasses dressed in a leather apron to keep stains away from his hipster-ish attire underneath. The Barista is a perfect candidate for characterisation so I again gathered up images to use as inspiration for my own.

In general, brown is the dominant colour here with the apron typically taking up most of the frame, but some colour does come from the choice of rolled up shirt that can range from a plain black or white to a bright floral pattern. A beard is almost a must, but there are varieties to choose from, ranging from cleaner cuts to bushy and usually topped off by a handlebar moustache.

As it worked well for me for my first character, I used the same methods as before to plot out the features for my own hipster coffee maker.

I had fun playing around with ideas at this point, particularly with the facial expressions as I wanted to use his beard and moustache to help him be more emotive by dropping it for negative moments and curling it for positive ones. I threw in some swirls for arm tattoos as an added detail as although the arms in the pictures are mainly natural, most of the people who I remember serving me in cafes have had some sort of visible ink work on display.

As with my first character, I'm also pleased with how this one turned out in the end. I found his overall posture trickier to attain than with 'The Curator' though, as I think in her case I could avoid more of the subtle changes in the shapes that make up the human body underneath her baggy tops and cardigans, whereas in 'The Barista' my figure had tighter clothing that forced me to pay more attention to his framework. The human form is an incredibly difficult thing to draw and although I have made some steady improvements over the years, maybe some extra study into figure drawings could help me improve in specific areas.


This exercise took longer than I expected but I feel I benefited from treading over some new ground. I've made two characters that I feel attached to and could fit into a narrative if needed and even though they are different stereotypes I can picture them easily existing in the same environment and interacting with people. I would like to do more character development in the future and speed up the process once I have better established my own ways of making caricatures of human figures.

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