Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The Art Of Character Concept Art

In a departure from all the recent gaming, I thought I'd take a quick look at what else I've been doing these last few weeks.

I've been a fan of concept art for as long as I can remember - probably from the days of seeing Jes Goodwin's 40k space marine concept sketches. I now have a vast library of collected images from the net of character concepts and comic book characters for when I'm developing my own personalities for gaming. I have posted on the blog in the past about inspirational art and have even had a go at digital art, drawing Roman soldiers and their armour. But drawing is something I haven't done seriously for decades.

Now, I have managed to get my rules for Project Hood to a decent point, ready for testing, so MY thoughts inevitably turn to visual representations of the characters involved. I had some (very expensive) concept art done in the past by Doug Telford, the guy who does a lot of the Guildball character art. Having lived with it for nearly two years I've decided that it's not quite what I had in mind. But rather than employ someone else to draw my characters I've decided to do it myself.

Drawing skills aside, this is quite a minefield in terms of choosing a style. The imagery will dictate the tone of the game absolutely. Is it a serious game or a fun game? Is it dark and gritty or cartoon-like and fun?

Initially I latched onto some fantastic work being done by Craig Bruyn. His characters have a chibi style to them, akin to Super Dungeon Explore. Whilst this is not something I would naturally gravitate towards, his style is packed with character and attitude without being overly cute. He makes it look terribly easy to draw like this, but he is truly a master at his craft. I love the quirkiness and simplicity, as well as the amazing amount of attitude his character drawings have. I had to give this a go!

My first attempt was a Soldier of Nottingham. Much fun was had playing with facial expressions and the various shapes - head, shield, helmet. Very happy with this little guy.

I moved on to draw my Hood character, and this is where things fell apart slightly. No matter how much attitude I put into the drawing, he still looking like a small child playing at being Robin Hood – not the look I was going for at all! I couldn't have the main character not being completely awesome.

 This left me in a bit of a quandary as I had thought my solution found. Back to the drawing board (so to speak!).

I looked at concept art and artists for hours and days. As easy as it was to find something I liked, I also needed to find a style that I could assimilate and reproduce to a decent standard (cannibalise?). It also had to be relatively effortless due to my distinct lack of spare time. Quick, easy results that look amazing – no problem!

I was watching a youtube video that was using a piece of art that really caught my eye and I felt compelled to find more from the artist. I soon discovered it was from Steven Sanchez DeviantArt page, and I felt like I'd unearthed something truly magical. So much character and attitude, with an angular graphic style that is not too distant from how I scribble anyway. This was surely the holy grail I had been looking for.

I decided to not mess about here and had a first stab at this style using Hood as the guinea pig. I was pretty pleased with the opening result. It was definitely encouraging, if not perfect. It had the Batman feel I was going for. I just need to give him a bit more of his own character. Just doing a head and shoulders image meant I could save a lot of time whilst still getting the character across.

Time to test the theory again, see if it would translate to Guy De Gisburne – The Raven.

The original concept art for Guy (pictured near the top of the page) was a good stab at the character I had in my head, but I wanted to really get the Darth Vader/Dredd feel across whilst maintaining an element of humanity (if that's not an oxymoron).

This one felt good from the off. It went though several stages of development at the pencil sketch stage, long before it saw any action on the computer. The style is definitely Steven Sanchez, but it's also definitely my take on it. It's more sketchy and rough around the edges. The digital colouring was great fun too, as well as adding textures to the clothes for an extra dimension.

I'm currently going back to my Hood drawing to see if I can match the intensity of The Raven. In addition, I'm looking at the other members of the respective warbands.

This has been quite a journey. I did not feel capable of doing my own artwork two years ago, and spent a lot of money getting two concept artists to give it a shot. Whilst the results were genuinely stunning, it always felt like they weren't quite the characters I had envisioned. This image for The Raven is not perfect, but it signifies a great amalgamation of the concept artists' work and my own ideas and skills. It has given me the confidence that this is my route forward. They may only be head shots effectively, but I can foresee the next step of expanding them to full body illustrations being straightforward. I need to establish the characters first, pin down a look and feel for them all.

Stay tuned…


  1. As another blogger and game developer, I can only wish you luck in making things work for the game you want to create Mike. :)

    1. You too sir! Loving what you're doing over at Kitbash Games

  2. Great post Mike, I had to chuckle at the chibi style Nottingham soldier, I certainly didn't see that coming. Loving the development, keep going.

    1. He is fun, and the may be scope for doing a chibi version of the game at some point with draughts style rules?

  3. You're quite good, your artstyle would certainly fit in some (especially the French) comic books too.
    I can imagine it wasn't easy to find and adapt the style you like.
    At least, it's one of the reasons I gave up on drawing.
    I hope to see more of your work in the near future!

    1. Cheers Wouter. I find drawing is one of those things it's easy to get despondent about as improvements only come with time and practice (kind of like painting miniatures!)



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