Sketching from the Imagination: Cristina Lavina

Concept artist Cristina Lavina opens the pages of her sketchbook and discusses her inspirations, and the need to find time for your own work. Find out more…

Cristina's website


I’m Cristina Lavina. I work as a concept artist focused on character design at Blackbird Interactive in Vancouver, Canada. I have to confess that my main passion lies in characters. Sketches and rough art is something I especially enjoy. Obviously I appreciate finished works, but I truly enjoy and love to see the most basic and raw expression of ideas and characters. Sketches tell a lot with a few lines I always find.

One of my favorite things is sketching for yourself; I love that time for you and your ideas where there’s no pressure or time limit, it’s just you and a blank canvas. I personally think it’s very important to have that time for yourself. When you work in a production you’re not always fulfilled or doing what you want to do. It’s even in the nature of the production that you have lots to do in the beginning and less by the end of the project. Precisely for those reasons I love to sketch for myself. It is my escape, my way keep to ideas alive and still do fun things just for myself.

I went through a period of my life where I wasn’t doing anything for myself. I wasn’t even doing the stuff I wanted to do at work and it made me very sad. I lost inspiration and work just became work. But I managed to start sketching again and realized that work is not just work, it is also your passion, and if in your workspace you’re not able to fill that gap you have to try and do it by yourself.  Keep your art and ideas alive just for you, sketch and enjoy that time for your own because it is precious.

origins, fantasy, sketching, spaceman, alien


fantasy, sketching, mother nature, sad

The suffering of Mother Nature

western, fantasy, sketching, merchant, kid

Western: Maria, the merchant

western, sketching, dog, man, country

Western: A moment of peace

western, fantasy, sketching, smoking, pipe, buffalo

Western: 'Listen to my story'

Inspiration and ideas

Whenever I start sketching I try to imagine scenes in my head. I never imagine just a costume. I love to get in the heads of my characters; how they move, act, or talk. It’s always useful for me to ask questions about their lifestyle of specific situations they could encounter.

I think I’m obsessed with telling a story just with an image and a few lines. I find it difficult but challenging. Even with the sketches I like from other artists, the ones I love the most are those that are able to do that; those that make you wonder more about the character, their personality, and even its life.

Posing the character and making a good facial expression is crucial to me whenever I do character design. I always try to add that one particular element that portrays the character, with its expression and pose. I focus lots of attention on the personality of the character; I feel that’s what makes them come alive.


I sketch the most in Photoshop. To be honest it’s because this is a fast solution, and the whole point of sketching and getting ideas across is being fast doing them. Especially when you’re in a production. I recently started sketching on paper again; I haven’t done it in years! But I’m rediscovering the love for it. I know so many artists can’t live without their sketchbooks, but this is not my case. My sketchbook is to doodle and have fun. I always have it on me.

I usually draw by pencil and make the final line art on top with a pen. This pen though is just a round-tip pen, similar to BIC pens. I absolutely love the texture that those pens have, you can make so many shaded tones, and it pretty much feels like a pencil you can’t erase.

sketching, drawing, fantasy, man, dog

El pastor

sketching, drawing, fantasy, orc, woman, girl

'I kill Orcs for a living'

sketching, drawing, fantasy, orc, friendly

The good Orc

sketching, drawing, fantasy, witch, forest,

The witch from the forest

Sketching techniques

As I mentioned before I normally sketch in Photoshop, which ends up being quite similar to when I sketch on paper. I always do a very rough pass with general shapes and feel, and then I create a layer on top to refine the line art and get some more details in it. The biggest difference between the two would be that if I do it by Photoshop I block some grays or a bit of color to help the readability of the sketch, but on paper I just do a few shadows here and there to finish it up.

TOP TIPS - based on the three Western images

Imagine their lives

I did these sketches thinking about characters living in an old far west world. The way I imagined them was living regular routines but finding that thing that made them special. I tried to find elements that would speak of them; the dog for the cowboy, the old lady with her donkey carrying her goods around, and the guitar for the girl, playing it all the time. Imagine your characters being alive, not just costumes. Imagine them moving, talking, laughing, crying, make them live in your head and they will become alive on your canvas.

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