Comic, Creature and Character Illustration: 4 Pro Tips
Tips for Comic Book Designers
Dei G of Deisign is a master of comic design. A provider of unique character and creature designs for the entertainment industry, as well as a generator of character driven covers and promotional illustrations, Dei has won numerous awards and has produced work for Paramount Pictures, Stone Circles Pictures and ToonBox Entertainment, to name a few.
His work is captivating, his characters jumping off the page with a refreshing sense of life, movement and vitality.
Just how does Dei animate his illustrations so exceptionally? Here are some of his pro tips for comic book style graphic design:
Designing Creatures & Characters
Move beyond emotion.
It is not so much about “the best way to depict emotion” but about the best way to emote. What I mean is that the goal shouldn’t be to draw great facial expressions that are identifiable, but believable and relatable ones. To achieve this, I try to abstract myself from the fact that I’m just drawing lines on a piece of paper, and believe that I am in fact revealing a character that was already there, who is genuinely alive in its own little universe and therefore, has got real emotions that I need to stay true to. Ideally, when looking back at the character, you wouldn’t go “boy, that’s a good sadness expression!”; you should say “boy, this character is heartbroken”. In fact, another thing that helps is to be precise with the vocabulary of emotions you are looking to express. Never go for generic emotions like sadness, happiness or fear. Instead, think in terms of specific shades of emotion, like feeling melancholic, bitter, defeated, thrilled, glad, anxious, terrified, etc. When you do all of the above, it becomes a matter of drawing with emotion (I frown, grunt and smile at my drawing table all the time) and asking yourself if you can truly empathize with the character’s expression you just drew. Drawing great expressions is not so much an exercise of draftsmanship, but an exercise of emotional honesty.
Evoke a sense of movement and life.
My background in Animation taught me that every pose and every drawing is not an isolated instance in time. Every drawing is coming from somewhere and going somewhere too, like a single frame from a film sequence. To evoke that sense of life, motion and emotion in drawing, one should be mindful of what precedes and follows the instance that is being depicted, both physically and emotionally. Additionally, a good base of anatomy and life drawing can’t hurt. Being aware of these things helps inform the drawing choices and ultimately increases that sense of dynamism and life in the illustrations.
Mind your composition.
I don’t use any actual grid systems when creating cover illustrations or character designs, but I am very mindful about composition, which does have some inherent guidelines. One example could be the famous rule of thirds: This particular rule states that when the canvas is divided in three equal vertical and horizontal segments, the top left and bottom right line intersections (and vice versa) are thought to be the most restful and comfortable for the human eye to settle on. However, one may also choose to set the focus at the very center of the page for a striking effect, etc. Composition is a very powerful tool that’s worth learning about and the possibilities it offers are endless. The only general recommendation I could give when it comes to planning the composition of a drawing, is to strive for clarity and to know beforehand which is going to be the focal point of the image.
Know your Focal Point.
As a character oriented illustrator and character designer, the focus in my illustrations is usually on the character, but it could be any element in a composition. What’s important is to know what that focal point is (could be one or multiple) and to use the background and other compositional elements to direct the viewers attention to it. This doesn’t necessarily mean keeping the background plain, but using it to compliment the main element of the composition. This can be achieved through subtle directional lines/elements, but also through contrast in tone, color and detail.
Lastly, Dei reminds, always be prepared when inspiration strikes.
“For my professional work, for efficiency’s sake I usually use Photoshop all the way from initial sketch to final color. However, I always bring a sketchbook with me to doodle and sketch out ideas. Nothing beats the feeling of pencil on paper.”