On Character Design

This is a guest post by my talented artist friend Genesis Whitmore.

I powwow with artists sometime and during one discussion the subject of people’s characters came up. I’m altering the specifics just in case someone is afraid I’m singling them out, but basically it came down to someone loudly insisting their character was unique because they had different colored markings. Their cheetah had blue and purple spots while someone else’s cheetah had purple and blue spots.

I can almost discern the age and creation timeline of someone’s character by their appearance these days. A lot of the old guard represent themselves with fairly common characters that resemble their creators. As time went on people started picking more exotic creatures, then we ended up with characters that had wings, multiple tails, horns, then hybrid animals, then exotic colors and more horns and wings and tails and elaborate tattoos and jewelry, and they were no longer known by their creator names. Joe Fox became Steeltalon Dragonwolfen (And if there is a Steeltalon Dragonwolfen, I apologize for taking your name in vain).

All this is well and good, but one of the problems is that people are creating characters for the sole purpose of them being different with no thought to design. They just want MORE wings, MORE bright colors, MORE words in the name, MORE hybrid.

One thing I find in common with the really detailed and strange creations is that the creator always has the same complaint about their commissions, “Nobody ever gets my character right!” It’s amazing how few people consider that they just have a crazy design that needs to be simplified or changed instead of simply blaming the artist.

During a livestream I pulled my blotter sheet under the camera view so people could see the mad swatches of color that covered it from me testing the hundreds of colors I use as I work. Then I got a black marker and drew a simple black rectangle next to it. I asked the audience which was more memorable and the answer was the black marking.

Look at iconic characters from comics and consider how many have very simple color schemes. Their uniforms are 1-3 colors. Some have weird physical characteristics but not all of them. The thing that makes the character unique is what it does and how it acts.

People are losing sight of what makes a character unique and turning them into impressionist paintings rather than characters. Having spots that are six different colors isn’t the thing that will make you stand out, and in the long run it might, in fact, make you more of a complicated mess that nobody really finds that memorable as it gets lost in a sea of sparkledogs.

Weird colors are fine, wings and horns and other things are fine as well, but remember that more isn’t always better, or as memorable.

  • This… this so much! Well spoken, Gen, I completely agree! (And this coming from someone who is guilty of the weird horns thing; at least I only have three colors!)

    —Agent Elrond

  • This… this so much! Well spoken, Gen, I completely agree! (And this coming from someone who is guilty of the weird horns thing; at least I only have three colors!)

    —Agent Elrond

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