Push your character designs
Welcome to this step-by-step tutorial on how I go about designing a local version of a Filipino witch called a Mambabarang. I initially sketched a design prior from an art prompt, but I felt as if I could push it even more! This contains my personal process and general thoughts on how I go about exploring and pushing designs further.
Working from an initial concept to final piece
Have a prompt
I was working on a monthly art prompt involving Philippine fantasy and came across the equivalent of a witch or sorcerer who places curses using beetles stored in a section of bamboo. This witch is called a Mambabarang. The key details I had to play around with were witch, beetle, and bamboo. Identifying key words when starting with a new drawing idea or prompt is great in isolating and exploring design opportunities.
My initial drawing of the Mambabarang
Do your research!
I wanted to go for a more youthful look because most of the artist renditions of the witch are depicted as hags. The designs I came across were eldery women who had long dresses, staffs, and very gritty and sometimes grotesque elements to them. I then came across a younger and more modern-looking rendition and I felt I wanted to build on that and thus make the design more fun and friendly. I also looked up local beetles native to the area as I felt that the initial drawing I did lacked any anatomical and realistic sense.
Take inspiration from not just real life, but also from existing media made by other artists
After identifying certain key details, getting inspiration, and having a certain feel to go for, I do a bunch of exploratory sketches for colors and poses! I think about how I can apply the established keywords into the overall design like how the witch can have bangs that look like the antennae of a beetle, or wearing a witch hat that is made of bamboo straw. I also consider practicality thinking since this witch spends her time walking in the forest, I should give her comfortable clothes and the appropriate gear.
As for the beetle familiar, I got a basic grasp of how to translate their anatomy and features into my style thanks to looking at references. I like to push certain features and shapes to make it look more appealing.
Explore different ways to convey your key details. Exaggerate and minimize shapes to achieve greater effect
Combine and sketch!
Once I’m happy with the designs I got to explore, I then pick out certain design choices that I personally like. In this case, I really liked the bamboo witch hat, the hair that resembles a beetle, and the hiking outfit for the witch. As for the beetle familiar, I really like the spiky mane and spotted version as I feel it creates a cool contrast.
This is the stage where I keep my design choices in mind while making a composition. I think about how the characters interact with each other in the environment I established for them. In this case, I want them to be hiking in the forest.
For sketching a composition, keep it rough enough for you to understand when you head to finalizing
Tie it down
At this point, I now begin to make sense of the rough composition I drew by further tying down the details. This is the stage where I solidify forms, correct anatomy, distribute details and shapes to be ready for inking. Often, I also plan out spot blacks to see how it affects the overall balance of the composition. The most important aspect of the stage for me is getting the proper balance of shapes and detail.
Consider the balance of large, medium, and small shapes as well as how detail will play into the final piece
Using a near-monoline inking brush, I ink the sketch. For this sort of inking style and brush, there is little to no line-weight. The benefits of using a monoline brush is that you can focus on shapes.
Using quick strokes, I flesh out forms and details, carefully utilizing the heaviness of spot blacks in distributing visual weight. I also consider using areas of rest so that the eye can focus on certain places in the composition.
Spot blacks help in balancing the overall weight of parts of the piece
Basing on my previous thumbnail explorations, I already had the idea of using complementary colors for this piece. Green being the dominant color and red as the accent colors. I decided to draw in the polkadots to further frame the witch in the middle. I also sprinkled in some slightly different colors over the base colors to add more depth and complexity to the coloring.
Subtly paint a slightly different hue and saturation of a color to add more depth
For this last part, I tend to add subtle shading and lighting to a piece by applying a clipping mask on Multiply. It helps add a little more oomph to a drawing! I also tend to add extra details in an extra layer over everything. Tiny details such as extra foliage, or a small highlight on the eye or small glowing magic effects really tie everything together.
Use shading and other lighting effects to make the drawing pop a bit more
Develop your tastes
Your creative choices will depend on your tastes. How you distribute detail and shape, your proportions, your rendering techniques, the appeal of your drawings—all of this will depend on your taste. Observe and analyze the drawings and thinking processes of your favorite artists. Learn the materials or programs they use and how they incorporate them into their artistic process. Ask yourself “what makes their art look good?” Applying your tastes with practice will greatly affect your style as an artist.