Spots illustrations that focus on characters for my portfolio - critique please

  • I recently got my portfolio reviewed by an art director. He pointed out the character design in some of my older pieces are a bit generic. This is the way he puts it: "it seems you are in auto-pilot mode when you made these illustrations. There is no clear decision behind the choices you made". Of course, he was absolutely right.

    So I decide to make a few more spots illustrators replace the old ones. I might re-do some of the old ones as well.

    I am curious about what are your thinking process looks like when making a spot illustration that focuses on characters. 🤔


  • What I usually do is try to explore the character's stories and personalities. In example, think if the kid is clumsy? nerd? messy? shy? etc and give some hints to their accessories (maybe a ribbon? a pin on their bag? ). Play with the emotions (are they sad? happy? afraid? etc) and shapes (are they tall? thin? small? etc) also help 🙂

  • I think that there is definitely more life in these new sketches you’ve done. Their posing shows more action and liveliness than in the last. I do enjoy the stories being told in the old illustrations, especially the dragon. I’d be interested in seeing how you would redraw the dragon illustration now with the liveliness you’ve shown in these new sketches so far!

    I look forward to seeing these as they come along 🙂 thank you for sharing your sketches!

  • I find myself creating characters that feel "generic" as well, and I think that just comes from playing it safe. Mild expressions, mild poses. What usually helps me is thinking "larger than life"- bigger expressions, larger size difference in characters. Your new characters have more movement - they look awesome and their cuteness would make anyone smile!

  • Just a thought, it might be cool to do a set of 3 spot illustrations where a character is active and it's sort of a mini story. Just for example a character working really hard building a little airplane...then the test flight, excitement!....then the aftermath of a crash, sadness. You could show 3 very intense emotions with lots of action while at the same time telling a story and showing you do character continuity well. I don't have a portfolio or anything, I'm no expert, but that's my 2 cents lol.

  • @lenwen thank you so much. It is really a nice list to keep in mind. So it is personality, emotion, and shapes. 🙂

  • @Kali thank you so much for the encouragement. I also like the dragon idea. I think I will re-draw that one. I need to study a bit more on reptiles in order to come up with a good dragon design 🙂

  • @Kaela-McCoy really interesting insight on how to get out of being "generic". I should definitely try to push the expression, and shapes more. I think @Braden-Hallett is really good at doing that.

  • @KaraDaniel thank you for such a cool idea. I was going to do some spots illustrations to go with the kids wanting to catch the moon story (my entry for svs Jan prompt). I think building aircraft, or similar story would work in relation to that image :-).

  • What if you had a back story for each character before you drew them. "This is Penny. Penny is a scientific genius who loves her dog. She has endured bullying by her neighbor, Billy." Then little details become parts of her character.

  • Moderator

  • @chrisaakins super good idea :-). I always overlook the obvious stuff in the process.

  • I agree with @chrisaakins I was also given this feedback in the past and the recommendation was to show more of the person's personality through their character design. So if you draw a little girl and she really active, maybe she's has tears in her stockings? Or maybe she has a stuffed animal she takes with her everywhere, and it is a little beat up. Etc etc.

  • Pro SVS OG

    Excellent tips by @lenwen and @chrisaakins on how to infuse more personality in the designs! If I may add one more point, what strikes me in your „old work“ examples is that the style of the final rendering is completely different from one spot to the other. Even though the characters look very similar (which is probably where the „generic“ comment is coming from), it does not look like the three images could, for example, sit in the same book. The first and third are „almost quite“ there, though the third has a more prominent presence of linework than the first, while the second is a different space in terms of color and rendering. That gives the feeling that there‘s no intention in the work and may have caused the critique of being generic.
    One possible way to go about that is to design portfolio work in sets of threes (or more). Design one character and put her in three different scenes, paying attention to keep the character and rendering consistent. If you change „story“ for a new set, also change the character very clearly to a different one: different personality, gender, ethnicity and design.

  • SVS OG

    @xin-li i must say, I’m also guilty of going auto-pilot on my characters.

  • @carlianne really good examples of character design. It is funny that I do think of these things when I am painting a full scene. But when I come to character design only, then I threw everything outside of the window. I wonder maybe it is a matter of taking the time, slowing down, and thinking through carefully.

    @smceccarelli thank you so much for the advice. I will try to do a set of 3 instead. It just makes so much more sense. My style is all over the place - I think it is because I have not done enough illustrations, and also because I have a personality of wanting to try everything. But I think I need to try to keep a consistent style for a set. If I have an urge to trying a different style, then I will do a new set.

    @Nyrryl-Cadiz I am glad I am not alone here :-). I think maybe when I am done enough characters, things will become more of second-nature. But now, I really need to think hard, and make a list of things that I need to consider to avoid go auto-piloting 😄

  • SVS OG

    @xin-li i think I need to join a character design class to enhance my skills. I’m really meh at it 😅

  • I often "draw" a lot of inspiration from my own kid, and kids in his class even. It is great to immerse yourself into their world and form a great image in your head about what their quirks and personalities are.

    A short sentence like this also can help me get started: Character X is very [enter characteristic like "shy, quirky, curious, adventurous"], loves [enter interesting noun/activity i.e. "biology, taming dinosaurs, thunder storms] and detests [enter noun/activity i.e. "broccoli, doing the dishes, gymnastics"].
    The outer appearance is something to look at secondly I think. It builds from these characteristics.
    I think @smceccarelli gives a great tip about putting her/him in three different scenes. I often find it difficult to maintain character consistency. Three different poses would be a great practice for this as well.

  • @xin-li said in Spots illustrations that focus on characters for my portfolio - critique please:

    I should definitely try to push the expression, and shapes more. I think @Braden-Hallett is really good at doing that.

    Lol, thanks 😃

    Lot's of quick shapes hanging off of one kinda anchor line and pretending things are made of some weird posable syrup (as well as inadvertently making the expression I'm trying to draw while sitting in a coffee shop and getting really weird looks)

  • @nadyart that is a great approach. I started thinking of based my little gardener's personality on a friend. I try to think about what she was like when she was a kid.

    @Braden-Hallett wow. I did not know you do life drawings from a coffee shop. I remember I saw a youtube video of how Stephen Silver does life drawings. I think I tried it once in a cafe and came back with a blank sheet of paper - I was too nervous to draw in public. But weird syrup visualization is something I could give a try 🙂

Log in to reply