In a quandary about artistic license... input, please!



  • Several months ago I had a portfolio critique from a very reputable editor. It was a very positive experience and he gave me lots to think about and to work on. My question comes from his comment about one of my paintings, which he said looked like "a man in a mouse suit." Looking at it again, I completely see what he meant.

    My question is this: How do you know when you can divert from strict animal anatomy (ie Bugs Bunny) without making it look like a man in a mouse suit?

    Thanks for your input!!



  • Anatomy is one of those ‘learn the rules to break the rules’ kind of things. If you are making an animal that is a quadruped bipedal you have to break rules, or anthropomorphising their look so far that they look like a person in a suit (biker mice from mars are just men shaped with fur and mouse heads and tails for example and Beatrice Potters creatures are the opposite, they are real creatures) you might want to look at what makes an animal uniquely that animal, what bones are you shifting to make them stand etc and maybe you are fine with just making a human shaped animal because of what you want them to do. That’s where the artist licence happens I guess; what do you need them to do and how can you make them do it? I’d draw the actual animal you are using and then see what their real anatomy allows.



  • @lollyw Thanks!



  • It is a very good question. I think there are two basic ways to approach when you are depicting animals. One is using the animal's anatomy, maybe distorting it a bit or emphasizing certain body parts while simplifying certain features. It really depends on what the character's role is. What is the story about? The other approach is basically using human, or mostly human body features with an animal's head. Both are acceptable and popular. If you can take a look at @Jake-Parker 's work, you can see how he is using both on a mastery level.
    For picture books, even though the animals are often highly "designed" and act like humans, illustrators often keep the animal's body features too. But it depends, and actually you can use it as a tool in your storytelling. If the story has humans too, e.g.: Goldilocks, I would keep the bears very bear like to emphasize the difference between them and the girl.
    On the other hand, in comic books or books for older children animals often have human bodies, perhaps some features ( claws, tail) are kept, but basically they are standing on two legs and walking and acting like humans. To me, they rather represent a human heroes, who are acting out their "spirit animals".

    Uh, rereading your lines I am not sure I have answered your question. Perhaps it referred to the technical side. I try to rephrase it:
    How can a half animal half human character, or an anthropomophic animal look great and consistent? (As if all the body parts belonged together, not like somebody randomly stitched a head, a body and some limbs together? 🙂 SVS learn has a fantastic "Drawing Animals" course, one of the exercises asks you to draw a real animal study, then different stylized versions. It is a not only a fun exercise but will change how you se things and a huge help to understand character design. Copying other illustrators' animal characters and trying to grasp why certain parts look as they look could be also useful .
    From SVS: The Posing Characters, Heroes and Sidekicks and How to Draw Everything are fantastic sources too.
    I hope it helps. 🙂



  • @susan-szecsi Thanks!



  • It may be time for some master studies.

    My absolute favourite designs for mouse characters are from Don Bluth. Go watch the Secret of Nimh and American Tail. Then Disney stuff. Pause the screen and you've got myriad awesome mouse character poses.

    Unless you're going for a completely different mouse look...

    Can you post the image in question? I'd love to see it.



  • @art-of-b Thanks! 0_1534769715339_day 26.1.jpg This is the offending rodent. He was a part of my self-imposed challenge to paint 100 watercolor paintings in 100 days (day 26).



  • @pinky 0_1534792023525_82610358-A0BB-4372-BEA5-D320CA1B0409.jpeg I have done a quick sketch of how this would look if you used mouse anatomy. It does the job, he can wear clothes and carry the strawberry, but it just might not be the look you want. Your guy does look like a person in a mouse suit, but that's Not necessarily ‘wrong’. Make sure you bare consistent, if all the animals in the book are the same then it won’t look out of place and make sure you are also getting the human anatomy right.



  • @lollyw Thanks!



  • I don't have anything to add, but just wanted to say this is an interesting topic! I've enjoyed hearing the thought process behind the way you can depict animals. Thanks to those who shared their thoughts.