Sunday, May 8, 2011

This weekend's workshop...

This past weekend I taught a local workshop on fantasy character illustration. It was a 2-day session with a wide age-range aiming to teach the techniques of creating unique designs and bring them to life. The students ranged from a teacher to a psychology grad to high school and junior high students. Everyone seemed to share a passion for art, gaming and fantasy.

The first day, I introduced the students to a bunch of original finished illustration from my personal collection. I think it's important for artists to see the original product to understand the quality, detail and craft that the top artists have going on in their work. I also showed some quality drawings and stressed that these detailed paintings are made possible by strong drawing skills and a mastery of the pencil.

I brought along many books for the students to look at for inspiration and instruction. My pile included everything from Loomis' "Creative Illustration" to "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way". I also talked about the various tools I prefer and why certain tools are better for certain jobs. For instance, I believe early thumbnails should be done in a more tonal medium, such as a soft pencil, marker or watercolor, whereas a sharp mechanical pencil should be employed to attack the drawing's construction and detail and to build hand dexterity.

Each student received a package of printed information that I prepared showing examples of the various stages of character design, from thumbnails to figure construction and using reference.

To prove a point about generic design and the need for reference, I had the students draw various objects from their head: a buckle, leather pouch, boots, etc. Once completed I showed them a sheet of object reference to illustrate how we really don't know what stuff looks like without researching it and building our internal visual library over a long period of time. I then gave them the task of doing some reference gathering for the character they were creating on the first day.

After a long day focusing on the steps and technical aspects of character concepting, I went home exhausted and needing an idea how to make the next day more interesting to keep everyone's enthusiasm up. I thought of a few games to play last night and made some preparations for today's class.

The first activity we did was to revisit unique abstract shapes, as was stressed in the discussion on thumbnails. I noticed the first day that people had difficulty breaking from their habitual design thinking. I needed to show and reiterate that the abstract design can become anything and is the foundation for successful concepts. I prepared and handed out a sheet of 3 light grey Rorschach splotches on a page and instructed the students to make characters from these designs. Here are a few great examples from the class:

Another game we played today was a random generator of character attributes, where I prepared a list of 31 physical characteristics (big ears, horns, 2 mouths, armoured, furry, etc) and had the students pick random numbers and create a creature from the resulting description. This task was another attempt to force the students to draw something outside of their own choosing and hopefully create an interesting and unified result.

Lastly we broke off into 2 groups for a team challenge. It just happened that the boys and girls were sitting on opposite sides of the room, so knowing this I split the class in 2 and made each side design a character. I broke the character down into a number of drawing tasks, like their armor, weapon, sidekick, etc. Each team needed to co-ordinate themselves and decide on a central theme so the various aspects of the character had design unity.
The girls, being a co-operative bunch went beyond just a unified theme. In a couple hours, they were able to concept the elements individually and use photocopies and tracing paper to plan the aspects coming together into a single scene!

I especially love the frozen viking ship in the background and the little skeleton minion with a fuzzy bear head...

The workshop was a success and everyone learned alot. I got great feedback, and my initial fear of the class being too technical was put to rest when I read the instructor evaluation forms at the end. Most students stated it they wished the class was longer!

My one student who teaches art and other subjects at a school recommended that I take my methods to the teacher's conventions and teach other teachers in the school system some new ideas for stimulating their respective classes. I was glad to hear such feedback, as this particular teacher had done his master's thesis on visual teaching methods.

Anyhow, I'm not used to so much talking and interpersonal interaction. Its tiring!
Back to the quiet time of just me and the computer making pictures...