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Developing Characters, Environments, and Story Boards

Lesson 13 of 13

Critique of Audience-Submitted Illustrations


Developing Characters, Environments, and Story Boards

Lesson 13 of 13

Critique of Audience-Submitted Illustrations


Lesson Info

Critique of Audience-Submitted Illustrations

So with the critique, or the crit, we're really looking for both the strengths and weaknesses of a particular, it could be a rendering of a character, an environment, or a character in an environment, and all the aspects of the things that we, I talked about previously, I wanna assess in these images. And the purpose of that is really to get a person to understand what they're doing well and where they can sort of ratchet up or do something stronger. So with that, I think we'll get started on our very first image. And actually, I think this is a beautifully rendered character. I don't know the context of many of these images, but I can try to extrapolate what I think this world is about and what I think the character might be about. And if I land it right, then I know this person is really expressing something that they're communicating well to an audience. So my first impression is, the first thing you notice really is it's rendered beautifully. This is probably done in some kind of a...

Photoshop program. The understanding of light and texture and form is really strong. This is a person who paid attention to what is the texture of this furry coat? It's a viking-like character. And maybe it's a fantasy that's based on viking themes, or themes tied to that, but it feels like it's drawn from that kind of historical reference. If you look at the armor, it has a different texture, it's smooth, it's metallic-looking. It's really convincing and beautiful. If you look at the leather sort of pantaloons, or pants, it also has a different texture, a different material. And because this is done very realistically, all those elements of the costume I think are really the first thing that jumps out at me. Even the structure of this weapon, it's really well delineated in light and shadow and form. So this is a person who understands how to use light, how to use shadow to delineate a full form, how to use reference material to build the costume, and how to make something really convincing in a sense of what could be a kind of quasi-realistic world. I also love, absolutely love the expression of this dude, and Hannah, I'm gonna turn to you, what do you think his role is in his world, if you could just guess? Well first of all, this is, the artist is Eric Williams. So thank you Eric for your submission. And to me what comes to mind back to color is that his eyes are red and his face is red, which just means he is a warrior. Yeah, yeah. He's full of angst and argh, he's ready to just go into battle, and that's totally clear from expression. When you have the brows pointing down, the tension of that face, the redness chosen, all that tells us that story instantly. And even the braids which are very straight and symmetrical kind of frame the energy of the face, so I think that's really nicely chosen. I also like that this axe is huge. I mean, this looks like a big dude. I do not know how tall he is, but I don't imagine he's a little tiny guy. This looks like a really big character. So this seems like just a massive kind of weapon, and I think it's a really interesting choice when you're playing with proportion. So these are the things that I see as being the strengths of the character, and my impression is pretty instant in terms of the silhouette and the read of the whole form. The pointed shapes, there's softness, but it's counterbalanced by all these pointed, hard edges. The one thing that I'm wondering I think to myself, when he's not ready for battle, and he's just maybe having a beer or he's sitting with his friends, what does his face look like? These are softness, is there something like maybe not so hard when he's at rest? And part of me asked that question because of the lightness of the hair and that symmetry and also that fur suggests something that tells me that there's humanity in this character. It's not purely like, "I'm just a warrior in battle, "that's all I'm about." So that would be the question I would ask Eric, I wonder about that. The couple things, technical things that I want to point out for Eric that I think will help to strengthen the work has to do with the musculature of the arm and the chest. So I look at the face, it's really well delineated. If I look at the hands, very well understood anatomically. But when I look at the chest and the arm, it has to do with the texture of the skin and the light on that form. There's a very strong line right here, and it's the same line as under the chest pectoral muscles. And that line kind of flattens out the form of the body. I don't see it in other places, so it seemed a little out of sync with those other parts of the anatomy. And so I think it's just a matter of making sure that that feels like a believable shadow, not just a hard line following under the arm and across the pecs. The other issue is the texture of that skin. There's muscles in the arms so that everything else is so believable, you convinced me I'm there, but then when I look at how the muscles of the chest and the stomach wall and this arm don't feel as well observed, and so I would just want you to go back and look at that musculature on a human being who's pretty buff, and try to tweak that a little bit so it's dialed into a more believable muscle structure. And the only reason why you need to do that is because you've already convinced us of the realm of reality of everything else. The second piece that when I look at this that, it's just a tweak, has to do with the body is centralized, and the legs and the feet feel like they're almost shifted a little bit to the right. And I can't imagine this character's quite balanced on those feet. And it has to do with if you draw the anatomy of the body, if you think about the central line of the body and where the feet, the hips, everything falls. If you figured that out in terms of the linear structure underneath the armor, you would probably start to see that the hip structure and the legs are not quite perfectly aligned with the upper body. And again, in Photoshop, that's a really straightforward, pretty simple execution to change that. I would also maybe pay attention to the size of the feet because I'm just guessing that he's a pretty big dude and his feet might be a little bit larger than what you have there just by a tiny notch. These are tweak-y little things, but I think just by dialing that in might be interesting. The other thing that I'm paying attention to is this piece of armor is meant to be sitting, I believe, on stomach of this character, but because of this hard edge of dark and the light hitting this form, it's like the stomach is in shadow and this armor is in light, so they feel really separate. So I'd probably pay attention, maybe knock back the light on this part, so that we're really seeing this form as attached to or in front of or protecting his stomach. These are small things, they're details, I'm very detail-oriented, but I think that this is a really solid, interesting character. I would love to see the world that it comes from. And these tweaks could actually make it just a little bit stronger. So thank you Eric for sharing that. Now, do we know what this is from? I actually don't have the name on this one yet. Okay, so I don't know who this character is or what it's about, but let's just see if we can get a read on the role of this character. My first impression when I look at this is it's both sort of someone who's going into battle, but not in a particularly serious way, because let's just assess all the elements. You've got, what is called, like a tiki torch in the back? And so this is Chris Stow's. Okay, so Chris, this is a fascinating character 'cause it's like a study of opposites, and that, we talk about a character should be this way or that way, hard or soft, but when you create that nuanced sort of crossover juxtaposition, you can also create some very weird but very interesting characters, and this would definitely fall in that realm. Interesting and definitely weird and bizarre. So I have no idea the world this character lives in, but let's just try to deconstruct who it is and where they're coming from. So I got the tiki torch, and it looks like a Confederate flag, and maybe a prosthetic, I don't know if that's a prosthetic arm or if it's armor, it's hard to tell, and like an old-style gun, which is huge. What do you think, Hannah? What is that thing? Do you have any idea what this element is? I mean, I'm just guessing. (Hannah laughing) Maybe it's something that pivots, and it's like secondary eyes, set of eyes, or maybe it's light, like a flashlight. Or maybe it's like if you're, like a stick, when you have when you're out in the woods? Maybe it's a beer can? Maybe it's a beer can. Well, the belly would suggest you're correct about this. So this is the funny part is that you have this character, who looks like it would go in battle, but would it be a very effective character in battle? Would it do very well, do you think? Don't think so. Yeah, well, not like that. See, 'cause you've got this exposed stomach, you've got sort of the ragtag outfit. So it's this, it's clearly meant to be humorous. It's a funny looking character, and its gesture and pose is like, is sort of like, "Hey, come on, here I am." But what's interesting is is that it's, the character itself is made of these hodgepodge elements, and so it tells you that it would go into battle but it may not be very effective, but it may not matter, it's meant to be funny. The other thing that I look at is the stylization of the character. It's built of all line construction. So would you, talking about style, the realm of the world you would imagine this character in, how would you describe the world you would expect? I would say maybe in outer space. (both laughing) I would say that it would be kind of in that cartoon realm of maybe traditional outer space characters but in a-- But comical. Humorous way. Yeah, it's humorous, huh? So a couple of suggestions I would make, Chris, if you want to dial this up just a little bit, and I can see that it's sort of cut off at the knees, I almost want to know what do his feet look like? What is he wearing? He's wearing boots, or is he barefoot? Could be either, but I would think that it would be so interesting to see the realm, the atmosphere that he's in. This is sort of placed on a placeholder yellow background. I would love to see a little suggestion of where does he exist? What is the space behind him? What is his atmosphere or the realm that he exists in? I would imagine it would be humorous, but I would love to see that terrain, rather than just a color, but actually see some sense of the environment. Even if it's tonal and it's just simple landscape, I would love to know that. Or buildings, maybe this is existing in some weird city on another planet, I don't know, but this is so, it's dystopian, and yet humorous. And I love that combination, I think it's funny. And the other thing, the belly. (laughing) So, okay, this is an anatomy thing. When you look at the stomach, you see this hard, heavy line here. I want to believe this belly is jutting out over the pants, but it's both the belt and this is all black, so it's sort of keeps that stomach from looking like, what I think it's supposed to be, like really protruding, and it's got several folds. And I know this may sound silly, but it's like you're pulling us into the space and that's sort of your, it's like a humorous note. So you really want to push that further. I would take this black shape out of there and let that belly just be this big shape that's maybe one of the most noticeable things you see when you look at this character. The other thing I would pay attention to, and this is an anatomy issue is this arm, maybe it's supposed to be, but it's super short, but this arm seems like regular size. So it's either that this character has one arm that's really short and one that's really long, or you're just not paying attention to that anatomy. This looks like a quick study or sketch, something fun that this person sort of played with, but because there's so much good drawing humor and interesting elements, it's like he went into the garbage and found all these parts and put it together to build his armor, I think there's a lot of good storytelling here, and I'm serious, Chris. If you do this, you need to do more of it, but you need to do other characters. Who's the sidekick to this character? Who's the foil to this character? What is the environment they're in? And all's it takes is do your ink, add the color, and play a little bit more, but this is, it's funny, it's bizarre, but I love that. That's where the interesting thing comes out is when it's, it's not what you expect, and you've never probably seen anything like this character before. So thank you Chris for sharing, yes. And shout out that that Chris is our director Chris. I had a feeling that that was the case, yes. Great job, thanks for submitting. Awesome, thank you. So we'll go to the next one which is, this looks like someone from yesterday, might be, is it Wendy, Wendy Edelson? It is Wendy, yes. Okay. So with people, you can start to see style. This is a little pixelated in terms of the presentation on the screen, but you can still tell a lot, what's going on with a lot of the elements. In terms of character development, the thing here is, I mean for me, when I look at this, I recognize Wendy's style, she has sort of a signature style of working that there's a lot of imagery that I've seen that she's done that looks like this. And it's very much like an illustrator that I'll call out, he's an illustrator of Animalia, which is a very famous series of picture books and the artist's name is escaping me, but very reminiscent of this, lots of things to look at. And we talked yesterday in the color class and about her work as well about kind of dialing some colors back so it's easier to see. And in this case for environment, maybe downplaying something so it's easier to see this character interact maybe with that one a little bit more clearly. Wendy's drawing style and her skill at drawing and painting is really clear. She's an illustrator, she's probably a professional illustrator, I'm guessing, by the level of this work. So my recommendation is maybe a couple elements to pull out to get this character, he's having some kind of conversation or dialogue or interaction with character, the child. This element right here, the lamp, is too close in color to this, and it's right in the way of the interaction between this character and this one. And this is something, a theme that I'll bring up again because what's happening when you're creating a scene with characters in an environment, if there's a connection between them, and you put stuff in the way that is a barrier or breaks that connection, it makes it harder for the viewer to make that connection and dialogue between the two, so I would probably have taken this out and let there be an easier passageway, horizontal shapes that leads you between this character and this character. The other thing is, and I'm not sure what the artist's intent is, this is challenging. He, or it, is looking pretty much in the direction sort of over here but in the realm of where this child is, but the child is looking at me, the viewer. So I have to wonder if Wendy's intention was to have that creation of dialogue between the viewer, or the reader and the child, or if the conversation's meant to happen between child and this character, and if it is, this child's head should be turned in that direction and making eye contact because by doing this, it changes the dynamic of the storytelling. And it's fine, you just need to know which one your intent is, and I don't know, but that would be, I would question that like if that child's meant to talk to this character, maybe it should be looking, or she should be looking, or he, closer to this character. And the other thing that I'm thinking about here is I probably would have also played down some of this information over here, because again, I feel it's a mirror, but it feels as though it's crowding some of the, some of the main action, which is right in this zone here. So editing, good visual editing is really important. And I'll say it again, such a high level of skill, this is really beautifully done, but these are things to kind of just make a clear choice in terms of storytelling. And I'm not sure if this next one, is this also Wendy? It is. It is? And this is a really interesting example because in this image, Wendy's kind of dialed it back so there are less pieces of information, it's more simplified, it really is easier to read. And if you look at this kind of, what do you think the story is? What's happening here? You don't know the story, but what do you think? Don't know the story, but it seems like maybe there's a parade going on, and that it was not, the bear maybe went into honey, and rattled up the bees and that they're following him. They don't look that, I mean, he doesn't look too terrified of them, but, so it's still playful. Yeah, so you're not thinking, "Oh my gosh, the bees are gonna sting him." Yeah, but you would think that that would be the case. So yeah, that's an interesting thing, and again, we don't know what the story intent is but what I read from this too is that you have a bear, he's either playing dress-up or he's royalty, could be either. He's interrupted the honey-making, and so the bees are like, "Hey!" But it doesn't look like the intent is like that they're upset with him or that he's particularly upset about them following him. It almost looks more dance-like, or a parade, as you say. And the leg action, that leg being up, the character in motion really activates that sense of movement forward, and I think that's super fun, I love that. I think that makes a very dynamic composition, it makes the character come to life, and I think it's fun that you have this texture of bees against this big, large shape of the bear. So that contrast makes for an interesting image. I like that you have these horizontal bands of color tonality that are soft enough for this character to sit in front of. We notice his purple, his textures, all the detail, and this kind of falls away. It's actually what we were just talking about in the other scene, you've done it here, and so there's a beautiful hierarchy of texture, of color, and of focus for really looking at the main character and looking carefully. So, and there's also motion and activity, which helps activate the scene. But if we look at, there's a couple things I want to talk about, I love this bear, the rendering of this bear is so sweet and he looks really friendly, and he looks like an interesting, playful, youthful kind of character. There's one thing I want to draw attention to though in terms of, again, this is an anatomy issue, because your bear is quite realistic. The way that you've turned the head, and I've done this myself, is you've turned it almost 180 degrees around in a way that it's highly unlikely a real bear could ever turn its head that way. So I start to look at the head and feel like it's almost on backwards. And that's just because it's literally facing absolutely back to what's behind it. So it's, and this part of the body is really facing quite forward. So anatomically, that's something you want to pay attention to is, again, if it's realistic especially, how are you structuring that body so that it's convincing to the viewer? You get away with it because there's enough fantasy here that one might accept it and be okay, but this is something I point out because, I teach at RISD and I'm holding, everybody that is showing their work, I want to hold them to the highest level to just notch them up one more step, and I would say in this case, I would have the bear, and I've done this, you turn looking over its shoulder, as opposed to completely turned in the opposite direction, would be just a little bit more believable. The other thing I would recommend, it's not a necessity, but when you have all these beautiful bees, they're different sizes, tiny ones way back, one's closer, I might have found one cut off at the edge here, some a little closer, go off the page with that texture of bees because that creates the illusion that this world keeps going beyond the edge of the frame. So that's just another secondary element. But these are, again, just like noodly little things that could make it stronger, but this is, I really think this is a wonderful image. I love this character and I think it's almost entirely perfectly there. So again, thank you Wendy, awesome. Do we know who this is? Yes, these next two are from Sam Streed. Sam, okay. So Sam, I have to say, this is super simplified. It's the absolute opposite of some of the things we just saw. What's so effective about it though is that the simplicity feels almost like it's child-like, it feels like it's drawn with a crayon, but of course, it's extremely sophisticated simplicity. The way this character is drawn, it has the sense of believability because it has this wonderful set of proportions and it looks like that character is looking at someone. There's a real sense of expression here. I love the hard hats sort of tipped on the side, and imagine the tools it might use, and even this character, it's close to being like having no expression, looking almost too dull by comparison to this one, which has more humanity and more personality to it mostly because it's, these little red dots are off-center from that circle, so it looks like he's a little bit cross-eyed, which is endearing, and also the structure the face is closed into this larger square shape, it's not perfectly balanced. That creates the interest in the face. This one's very balanced, so it runs a little bit of danger of looking more like a doll or something more generic by comparison to this little guy. And so the style is fantastic. It's simple, it's elegant, the palette's really limited. It feels like something for a very young child. It's fresh-looking with that mark making, and I am totally in love with this character because of its, the sense of its personality. Now there's a, oh yeah, Hannah? Well, I just wanted to point out from Sam that this is Red and the Dog Builders. So Red and her dog Daisy are the characters themselves. So this is Daisy's dog? Yes. Okay. Oh wait, Daisy is the dog? Wait, this is Red and her dog Daisy. So she's Red, and that's Daisy. So, so sweet. All right, I'm gonna jump to the next one because it's the same character, if I can. Here we go, and this is more of a scene, those are just like spot images. And what's really again, endearing, I mean look at that bear. He's just, he's charming. He's got this big, hulking-shaped body. It's a nice contrast for these two characters. I don't know if these characters, if she's imagining the bear or if the bear's really there, what the storyline is. It doesn't matter, it could be either way, but what's really exquisite is this, the arrangement, we're looking, I love this expression, he's like, "I'm not really sure about this." And just that expression, the eyebrows, the mouth tipped down makes me wonder like oh, is this cool? Is this gonna be okay? And then Red is handing flowers to this bear in a gesture of goodwill and friendship. So it's a really sweet narrative scene, and it makes me really think that there is a lot more about to happen in some sort of journey or adventure. So I love the arrangement and organization where you have two things that are almost the same size. I almost feel like Daisy is a reflection of her, or like a kind of other half of Red. This is her doppelganger, this is her companion. So it seems to make sense that they'd be similar in size, but their shapes are different. The dog is very square-shaped, and Red is very, based on little round sort of shapes, rounded shapes. And then the bear of course is almost like a mountain. So there's a variety of shape thinking. and the other thing I think is great is the eyes are all looking at each other, and this is probably one of the biggest things that people forget to do is make eye contact, characters making eye contact with each other. They're often looking in the wrong direction, it's like, no. Instantly, I believe this scene more because of it. So even though the style is very simplistic, clean shapes, I'm moved by the humanity of the moment of the scene. And so whether it's highly stylized or really simple, that's something to consider. I think this is a terrific piece. I think the only thing I'd probably watch, and this is, again, Sam, this is what I do is I noodle, the alignment of the stems of the flowers on the bear, they run right into each other. You might see this tangent. That's what it's called, it's a tangent. And human beings, when they're drawing, have a tendency to align things, tops of head with the top of a mountain, or points coming together that make it harder to read the picture, so I'd probably just scoot the bear over or scoot the flowers over so that tangent of the line of the bear and the line of the stem of the flowers aren't exactly perfectly aligned. Other than that, I just, I think this is a terrific scene, I think it's beautifully done. I might suggest a little bit of the foot on that character 'cause it looks like the foot is gone, but other than that, it's awesome, really nice work. I love to see a children's book done this way. Thank you. And this is from? The name is Mitch. Oh, it's Mitch. Yes, Mitch Vichconi? Not sure how to pronounce, and Mitch says it's a volcanic-based environment created digitally through Photoshop. So I met Mitch at Lyme Academy in Lyme, Connecticut. It's Lyme Academy of Fine Arts. And he showed me this piece, so I was able to see it before, and we talked through some things but I want to talk about more things with him because we had a brief moment at lunch before I was doing a lecture there. So what I want to point out, and I'll reiterate this for Mitch as well, this is an environment that's meant to be hot lava, a river of hot lava. And so what he did really well here was he articulated this sense of heat with the orange and the pink, and it contrasts this purple/blue environment in a really beautiful, believable way. The whole world is really warm, but there's still enough contrast between the darkness around this, and the hot lava itself to create a sense of being, it feels like fire. It feels like it's a flame. You would not want to land in that if you're a character crossing this bridge. So I think that's probably the most effective thing about the scene. What I would recommend is to articulate things a little bit further to create that sense of believable space that we're in here. So one of the things that I mentioned to him was that the picture almost feels like it's broken here, and then you have all the shape of color here, but it feels like this area is very flat. You have all this dimensionality of rock formations and lava, but all this, we don't really see anything going on, just a light suggestion of rock. Because there's light emanating from the lava, we can only assume, based on what it would look like perhaps in real life, there might be spots of light hitting forms of rocks in the distance to create depth of field in this picture. There are two kinds of light it could be. Some of it closer to the lava could be hit with warm light. Further back, if there's, if it's really, if we're moving back in space could be lit with a secondary light, a cooler light that's just gentler, not as powerful as this light. By creating that depth, you create more visual interest because we're here and we're able to move deeply into the scene, and for environments, that creates an atmosphere and a space that is just more enticing for the viewer to see. The second thing is you have a bridge articulated here, but what it lacks is specificity of a time or a place. I kind of want to know is this old wood? Is it build out of metal? Is it high-tech? What is it? What's the material being used here? And where does this place us in time and in the world? Because it's kind of generic in drawing, it's just almost like field goals. It doesn't have enough specific image to tell us about materials or to tell us about any clue as to who might walk across that bridge. And in building environments, your environment is like a character. It needs costume kind of detail, and that would be it here. And I would research that kind of bridge and see what could it be based on historical references, based on different parts of the world, footbridges and bridges like this. A great movie to reference of course would be Lord of the Rings for the flame and the lava, but I think for this part, there's lots of different references you could use. And again, I always look to history, but you can look to contemporary things in different parts of the world to get a clue as to what the structures can be made of. The other thing is the purple that's in these areas I think makes sense, but when we get over to the corner, I would push the development of that kind of purple shape so that we understand, again, what is the structure of rocks? Give us a little more concrete shape of rocks through this area, so we really feel like the light is hitting the form on one side, and on the other side are shadow shapes. The overall feel of flavor is, and this is blown up really large here, the smaller a picture gets, the tighter it gets, it's a lot going on. It's really believable, really convincing. So these directional things are just to notch it up a little further, and I thank you so much for sending it in. It's so cool, it's so great to meet you. And this is Rebecca, who is a former student of mine from RISD, and she's studying in the Hollins Children Book Literature Master's program. She's wonderful and it's so fun because we actually worked on this piece together. And so there's things that she knows I might say, but then some new things she might not know. So this is a piece that was generated basically from the idea of making a single narrative image that tells a story with two characters interacting. And it started with a, I believe this one started with a shadow shape and then went from there if my memory serves me well. But what I think is really wonderful is that she captured a sense of fear and weather, and something's about to happen, and wonder, like why is that little girl protecting this rabbit? What's happening in this scene? And in previous iterations, the girl and rabbit were just sitting next to each other, there was no interaction. So we talked a lot about it and she sketched and sketched and came up with this idea that the girl's protecting the rabbit, and the rabbit has a cape, so we know it's not just a regular rabbit. So we understand when we look at this, there's something magical about the rabbit and the girl is looking across the river, so something's about to happen, what could that be? There's a lot of beautiful storytelling in all of that. And the composition I think is really strong because you have the girl, imagine if this is a book and there's a gutter in the middle the girl is looking across to this area, the text would probably land there, and this gets your eye to move around the scene, and these, the trees kind of go in that same direction, mimicking the direction of the girl and her hair, all of that is going this direction. The lights, the text would pull you here, and then the flowers also kind of angling you back in the ceiling and framing the girl. These are all my favorite things about the scene that I really like in terms of storytelling and character development. I feel like, I really wish there were more scenes tied to this 'cause I want to know what happens next, but a couple of the things that I want to point out that I know with Rebecca is something that she struggles with a little bit is that when she draws very realistically, she gets that form and nails it and understands it 'cause she's drawing literally from what does the object look like? But when she moves to characters, and this is true of a lot of people, that shift from drawing from reality to characters from the imagination, sometimes there's something a little lost in translation and it's hard to try to figure out what that is. And Rebecca and I have talked about this. Here, it's really, it's about the anatomy. The anatomy of the rabbit's pretty convincing, but the anatomy of the girl, if we look at the length of her arm, it's almost like it's too long for the size of that body form. Or if we look at the toes and the hands, they almost look like they're from a doll's body, or a puppet as opposed to a human hand. The face is very believable, it's really exquisitely done, but those elements are probably the biggest issue in drawing; Hands and feet, hands and feet, hands and feet. If you can draw hands and feet, you can draw anything. Yes, Hannah? I just want to give a shout out to Rebecca who is watching and says, "Thank you MJ. "I want to do more in this style." So, we want to see more of your work in this style. Thank you. I love it, I love it. She actually, this was, I taught the students my technique that I use, which I wish I had more time to be able to talk about, but it's using watercolor and acrylic to build tonality. And she did such a beautiful, Rebecca, you did such a beautiful job with this, and it's the only piece in her portfolio that looks like this. I would love to see more of it. She's gonna be in the program again this summer, and so I'm hoping we can work on more of this together, somehow, someway. But the other thing I just want to point out, and this has to do with something we talked about with the character, the very first picture that we saw of that sort of warrior character, how his feet were just a little off line from the center line of his body, this is true of the feet of the characters here. We talked about this, Rebecca, so I'll point this out for the audience, I think you probably already know this. They're a little off-center from where the center line would be of the body if she were actually crouched up in the this way. So these little things are the things that when you dial it up a little bit and you land it, it's like landing the form, if you're in the Olympics, boom, you land both feet perfectly. And so in saying that, I want to go to her next piece which I'm really, I'm blown away. There's two images from this, it's I believe a new story that she's working on. I think she's done some kind of independent study project when Brian Lies, who's a very famous fellow writer and illustrator. This design, this image is like that next step for her. And I'm so excited to see it because she's released herself from wanting to constantly use line to outline things, and that's been an issue, an ongoing issue, like if I want to use line, when do I use it, when shouldn't I? And here, Rebecca really utilized shape to tell us about this character. So when you look at the, you know about cats, Hannah, right? So what would your take be on this cat, what he's suggesting here about his personality? This cat just seems to be pretty mellow, seems to be pretty loving, like she would, or he would come sit in your lap. Playful, but also likes to sleep a lot. It's funny, 'cause I also see in the shape, when cats do that, they're usually a little bit mad. And so he sorts of squished down like he's like, "Ugh, I'm kind of disappointed, "there's something that I needed or wanted "and it's not happening." And so the whole compressed body shape, the flatness of the ears, even the eyes have a slight tilt to it that's realistic, but it's still, I feel the mouth, there's a little sadness about him, like he's disappointed about something. I have no idea what, but I'm pretty sure that that's what Rebecca is going for here 'cause it seems so strong to me, and this beautiful horizontal shape, imagine this is probably a book and the gutter lands here, it's gorgeously designed. I imagine text would land over there. Again, her use the secondary elements guide your eye to the text and mirror the shape of the cat's body. So the technical execution of this in terms of watercolor, the characterization of the cat, the beautiful use of the secondary elements, and again, these are bleeding hearts. So that also tells us, well maybe he's got a little bleeding heart, there's something going on that's making him sad. It's a great choice for the scene, so I am very impressed, very pleased to see this. I want to know more when I see Rebecca about what this story is, but I think it's spot-on. And it takes some of things that I talked about in the previous one and ratchets it up and really lands it, so I'm very pleased to see that. And I believe the next scene is also connected to that, see if I can get that right, there it is. There's two more scenes tied to this story, and these are, if you're doing samples for children's book illustration, or any kind of book illustration, doing at least two to three samples is really important, and actually, here's why. Because you're seeing your character in multiple points of view, you're seeing that face again and again. If you can't draw your character more than once, that's not good for publication, it's probably not good for any realm where you're doing character development because you have to be able to make that character convincing. Our faces don't change dramatically from moment to moment, so nor should a character in a scene like this. So that's one of the things I would say about this cat is it has a little bit of a variation, and I'm just gonna go back to this cat. This cat's proportions, the eyes are quite big in the structure of its face. It almost looks like a kitten, this feels kitten-like. And then I go to this one, and the eyes seem to be a little bit smaller and the body shape a little bit wider, so it feels a little less kitten-like. So I know it's supposed to be the same character, I could almost believe it, but those tells, the body shape and the eye and face proportion just a little off, not quite landing where they need to learn to make me believe that that's the same cat. I love that Rebecca again came from this POV, this point of view from above, as though we're a butterfly flying around, looking down at this cat, and I also like the simplicity of the surroundings. She let that color go and let the contrast of the most important elements really pop forward in space. So I think that's a really significant decision-making. Some of the hardest things to do is to edit and let things go, and so she has, and I know Rebecca, this has been, again, a challenge, and she continues to work at it. And now she's landing it successfully because she's worked so hard. So I'm really thrilled to see the articulation of the design overall. I would just love to see that cat be a little bit more like the cat in the previous page in terms of who is this character? And actually, here we are again. That character, I believe. I mean, does that look like the first one? You know that's the same little guy or little gal, you can just tell. So it's the style too, it's sort of realistic-looking face, even though it's characterized, there's still some realism, whereas the piece before, it moves away from that realism. Can you see that, kind of like the difference between that style? So you've got us in this world, and then you pull us out here a little bit, then we go back to this. Ah, okay, yeah, we're in that world we believe with things that are based on realistic flowers and the cat, the characterized, stylized, and with expression that's absolutely endearing. And I love this character's face. And he's just so sweet. You've mastered this thing where you're combining realism and characterization. You're dancing this line, you're characterizing something that's representational-looking, and this has been her challenge, so I love seeing this, beautifully painted. The one thing I would say is the paw I thought was a tail. I'm still not sure if it's a tail or a paw because its anatomy, it's so straight, it looks like it has no bones, so I assume that could be a tail flopping around. So you want to make sure there's clarity as to what is that. If it's a paw, it needs a little more anatomical structure, 'cause the face is so believable. So that consistency is important. But again, the design is really beautiful, I know that there's text landing there to balance out the composition, maybe some here and there, so it's a really successful grouping, particularly with the first. The other thing I want to call out is that Rebecca uses, I know this, she uses watercolor and she's doing an underpinning ground of this pink tone, which creates a kind of warmth. Even though it feels almost pale like the white of the page, it has just enough color to feel, it's like heart-centric, it's sweet. And again, it's like the bleeding heart, it tells me there's some emotion space that's positive and peaceful and beautiful, and that's why the paint makes maybe more sense than green or gray. And then I think we have, yes? We have a question that came in when we were talking about making the characters look the same in the different environments. So this is from Amani who says, "How do you keep the same size features in your character "when you move it from into different positions, "different environments, different point of view? "What's kind of the approach for that?" So basically, in order to do that, you need to have drawn your character a number of times so that you know what is outside of the stage of the environment, so you know the proportions. And I use tracing paper to throw over to make sure, "Oh, is the head and the body proportion the same? "Oh wait, I made my character too long." Tracing paper helps me keep that guideline, create horizontal band lines for turnarounds helps to keep that proportion. Drawing it over and over helps you to know, "Who's my character, what are the proportions?" But the other than that I think really helps is understanding that, if you're in Photoshop, you can just literally lay things over each other and compare the size relationships from one sketch to the next to say, oh wow, you put one next to each other or one on top of the other, hitting the transparency, you can see, "Suddenly, I put the eyes too far apart, "I need to move them closer back together." So it's comparing one sketch to the other and paying attention to that. Once you've done that enough times and you've figured out, okay, the space between the two eyes of that character is exactly one eye width every single time, or there's half that space between the nose and the eyes. It's measurements, you're measuring initially how much space is there between, say, the mouth and chin? Or how much space is there between the head and the neck? Or how many heads tall is my body? These are basic drawing questions that you would do if you were drawing a figure and drawing a character, it's the same kind of questions. So initially, kind of mathematical, you're just comparing to make sure that those, you're just literally looking at it, even measuring it, drawing it again and again, and then before long, it's in your head, you know your character, and you can draw them from any point of view. I draw my characters from as many points of view as I can over and over until I got it, I got it down, but it is practice, it is doing it more than once. So we'll shift to this sloth, this is also Rebecca. She worked on this for this last summer, and this I can tell is an older piece now because she's released herself from the lines of the structure. The faces, just the loving intent of the mother and the baby is perfect, it's just so sweet and tender. The overall composition is solid. The biggest issue that we had here last summer and that now that you've moved to another space, Rebecca, that I think it stronger is the use of line, and this happens a lot. People will throw lines in places where you bring an edge that you want to fall away, you make it come forward, because the line is dark. This would be an example of that. This part of the body is sort of tipping away, and it's kind of competing with the structure of the lines in the face, or even hard claw, you might expect to have Christmas, but this line right here kind of throws me off, so it's orchestrating the hierarchy of the line weight and where you're putting it on the form, and if you're using it at all. And what I'm discovering with Rebecca's work is I think she's more shape-centric than line-centric. And the more she uses shape to tell her story in her narratives as opposed to outlining things, the stronger the work gets. And I know this because, let's just go to the next scene, if I can, this is a perfect example of that. It's much more shape-centric. There are textures of line, but she's not outlining forms. And I think that's really, that's her bliss, that's where she lives now or is moving towards. And the one thing I want to say to people is sometimes you use a method that is kind of foreign to your intuitive sense of how you should use materials, and I think if you understand that, trust your instinct about the way you like to work. Some people are shape-centric, some people love the line, other people like to render or make things really dimensional. Some people like it all. But if you do something that's almost like ill-fitting clothes and you keep doing it 'cause you think that's the right thing to do, you may be going down an avenue that isn't the best thing for you. And the only way to know that is to trust the things you do intuitively, and I think that this is just, the combination of the emotional content of the two characters, the palette itself tells us about this peaceful, beautiful space, the relationship. This is just a gorgeous little scene and I can't wait to see this. I know this is gonna land in a picture book, I just, I feel it in my bones, it's beautiful. So thank you Rebecca for sharing this stunning work. And I think we have one more picture, or maybe two more from the same artist, who is this? This is Lisa Griffin. Lisa Griffin, okay. So Lisa, hi Lisa, I actually know Lisa and I'm really excited that she shared this 'cause there's some things I want to talk about in terms of expression and composition that I think might be helpful in terms of the construction of this scene. The thing I want to shout out about that I think is so cool is that I don't know how Lisa did this, it may be traditional media collage, or it might be all digital, I'm not sure, but she has a beautiful and very elegant use of contrast of shapes, like patterns, and textures throughout this piece that give it interest, visual interest. And that's one of my favorite things about it is this contrast of textures and tonalities. It helps make the picture feel like it's moving. And I would encourage you because it feels like it's intuitive to you, I would encourage you to keep doing that, I think it's beautiful. And people can scan in physical textures into the computer, into Photoshop, and use those textures, they don't have to just be made in Photoshop. So the other thing I want to call attention to, we're talking about characters and their interaction, I love this little girl, she's imagining and this is her whole world, and this boy's wearing this costume, and they're playing together. And there's gonna be a battle between the dragon and the princess. And there's this guy back here, but just like said before, if you put something in the way, it creates a barrier, and this boy is literally in the center of the page and right in between this action, so it kind of breaks up the direction of, we look at her 'cause she's the most contrasting element in the whole space, lavender dress. I want to look across to that character and then move around the scene, but this character is too centralized and right in between the other two characters. So I would think that this character, either off to the side or in that space, or maybe just push back value-wise so that he's not as white, light on his metal helmet or the arm is contrasting as other elements in the scene. And that's an easier way to achieve it is just put some tonality so you're kicking back those value contrasts. And watch this tangent, the arm is going right into the quote unquote "fire" of the dragon. And so that tangent creates this sort of weird connection. And that makes it harder to see this as being in front of that character. It's one element that gets in the way a little bit for me for this action, which I think is really, really fun. I love these stuffed animal characters watching the show. This guy right here kind of angles us back in the scene. This line keeps us, it follows the line of this action, so compositionally, it's really solid. And we know this is children imagining they're doing what they're doing. This is theater in the backyard. So it's really playful and fun, but yet it's that one element, it's the one thing that I would be concerned about in terms of the overall composition. The other thing is the face of the girl, it's very passive and calm and peaceful, but it almost feel like the stuffed animals have more human-ness, they look like they're really looking, like, what's going on here? Especially that rabbit in the corner, he's peeking around the corner, but the girl is looking over here instead of at the dragon. So I would take her eyes and just shift them so they're looking at this character, so you really feel like she's in battle with them, and also give us a little more expression of what is she feeling? Is she excited, is she angry? Is she in battle mode, is she laughing? What's her emotional space? When it's too even and unclear as a human being, I'm not sure, so I would tweak that, 'cause I don't know. What would that expression tell us? So maybe that's something that could also be shifted for us to know. But I love this style of the illustration, it's yummy. Little moments in here just capture my attention. And the contrast of textures and patterns feels really intuitive and really, really good. And I think the next one is also from her. This is the last image. And here, Lisa, you're doing exactly the kinds of things that we just talked about in the other scene, you're capturing it here. And I think it's the soft gentle space of this winter scene, the contrast of these textures and colors which pop in front of this blue world. They connect to it, but they cause you to pay attention because they're warm in an otherwise really cool field. There's a beautiful connection between these characters. I mean, do you imagine that they have a kind of good relationship? Absolutely. It's really, it's tender, it's sweet, and I believe the characterization is really consistent, they look like they belong to the same world. I also think the authenticity of this stuff, it almost looks like it would be Norwegian or some sort of Northern place in terms of the patterning, and this design of the coat, so it feels specific, and again, that makes it really interesting, I love it. The hat, the red hat makes me focus on her first because it's the largest shape of red. It also points up, but then it circles around to this wonderful horn shape. So my eye is doing this, I'm going to this girl's face, because of the high level of contrast, the saturation, her smile on her face. She's looking at this creature, I'm going like this, looking around, follow his back with its tail. Then I move up and I see I really pay attention to where I am. So your orchestration, your organization is really good. It harkens back to again, this makes me think of Jan Brett in terms of sensibility of stylization, who's a very famous children's book illustrator. This feels straight out of a book that you must be doing. It's gorgeously done. If I would define anything that I would question, it's the littlest, tiniest thing, but I'm gonna mention it, 'cause that's what I do. This tail is really close to the edge of that tree. It's a tangent issue. I would bump that tree just a little further out so that tangent, they don't align quite so tightly. Other than that, I think this is just a stunning scene, I love it, it's atmospheric. The snow is also asymmetrical, every dot is an equally spaced one from the other. It looks like it might be acrylic, and the color and the patterns in the design just come together really, really beautifully. And the characterization, it's sensitive, it's sweet, and it's telling us a story, and it's telling us a really nice story. So I thank you, Lisa, for sending this in. Just give us some final words of advice, things that you tell your students when they have sat through your classes and they're like, "Okay, but now I have to actually do the thing." (laughing) "Do the thing." So yeah, probably one of the biggest things and it's a barrier in any kind of art-making, but illustration for sure, when you're trying to tell a story, you're trying to get characters, the blank page is terrifying. It's the scariest thing in the world. So one thing that I try to do if I have a blank page is I just start making marks on it, scribbles, dark shapes. I'll just literally take a pencil and start making marks and then look at it and see what I can see, and oftentimes I see faces in weird shapes. We all do this, every person looks at a cloud, looks at a tree, sees faces, sees things. I use that as a drawing prompt. So I think if you remove the terror of looking at the blank page, and that's just one exercise, but there are many ways to try to give yourself one element. I'm looking at your face, kind of, if I wanted a prompt, I might look at your face, draw it and say what character? If I were turning you into an animal character, what might it be? Boom, I have your face, I'm thinking animal. Suddenly, I've got the start of some kind of character and storytelling. Don't feel like you're in a vacuum. You are in a world with all kinds of prompts and things around you. So try to say to yourself, okay, it's not really a blank page at all. The page has almost already got things on it. And if you start to think that way, you'll move past that kind of weird space of the blank page and fill it with your dream space. So the things that are rolling around your head you don't even know exist until you just start to draw, start to make. So I encourage all the students, all the people out there who are engaged in art-making, engaged in illustration, characters, environments, whatever it is to remove the fear, have a good time, enjoy this process because it really is magical, it's really amazing. And, thank you. Well, thank you. And again, thank you from Lisa Griffin who were the last couple images in that critique who is watching. So, so glad you could tune in and get that live. MJ, where can people follow you and make sure that they are, know what you're up to? Well, so there's a couple spots. If you want to see my work, you can go to my website, But to connect with me, two of the best places would be either Instagram or, I'd say three places, Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. So these are the best places to find me. And again, check out my website, look up the work, connect, email me. If you choose to, my email is also on my website. I'm happy to hear from people, from students. It just pleases me, so I hope they connect.

Class Description

Instructor Mary Jane Begin is an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s picture books, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and professor in the Illustration Department.

In this course, Mary Jane will help viewers learn about the components of developing a visual narrative and learn about best practices for creating more believable characters, authentic worlds and compelling, dynamic visuals that tell a story.

She will cover the following topics

  • Creating a cast of characters
  • Developing characters through multiple iterations
  • Creating a turn-around
  • Inventing environments
  • Designing images/storyboards
  • Layout and understanding light, stylization, and overall pacing of imagery.

Mary Jane will also guide viewers through developing compositions, creating depth of field and merging real and imaginary worlds. The course will come to life through real-world projects both from Mary Jane and from other masters of the industry.



I have to say, this class and the companion class were very humbling. I assume I am not like most people who would watch this class in that I have no such artistic talent. I cannot draw at all (limited to "Spike" from TED Talks), but I had no idea such thought, imagination or ideology went into creating these designs. Professor Begin has an amazing presentation style, she is clear, concise and thoughtful. The subject matter was amazing and I can only see it helping me in evaluating my own work and taking a whole new perspective on art, light and evaluation. I highly recommend this class whatever no matter your creative bent. Thank you Creative Live for hosting this wonderful speaker.

a Creativelive Student

This course is well organized, very informative and goes into great detail regarding the best way to develop character(s) and how they should relate to their environment. Mary Jane articulates her points through art fundamentals, color theory and the power of strong research - as well as her extensive experience in the creative industry. I highly recommend this course for anyone interested in advancing their career or pursuing a career in animation, game design, or children's book publishing.

Nancy Morrison

Excellent!! This is a course that I will review over and over for there are so many great bits of information extremely well explained embedded in the broad concepts of composition and detailed illustration both in her own pieces and that of constructive critiquing her student's work. MJ is an excellent teacher! I am looking forward to her other classes! Nancy