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Learn to paint heroes and villains

By Charlie Bowater
Web: Open Site
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Date Added: 22nd May 2015
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Learn how to turn character design briefs into portfolio-worthy designs, with heaps of pro tips and tricks with this sample chapter from the Learn to paint heroes and villains eBook for purchase in our shop now!


Character design is easily my biggest painting passion. What can I say? I'm in love with painting people! I always find painting characters fun, but painting a villain? It's the perfect opportunity for having that little bit of extra fun! The starting point for my villain, Moonshine, is a brief description:

"This character carries a tank or cylinder on his back, attached to a hose that fires flammable liquid similar to a flamethrower. His appearance is shabby and he wears a large, overhanging hat that helps obscure his face.”

Exploration is an important part of any character creation – a little experimentation will give you a nice selection to choose from – but I have to admit that I usually picture the sort of character I'm aiming for instantly.

After reading the description of Moonshine I already know what I want to go for: something leaning on the side of stylized rather than realistic, purely because it's going to be a hell of a lot of fun! Perhaps it's harking back to my Disney years, but I do love a good villain. With a little stylization I can exaggerate his features and throw in some bright pops of color, both of which are appealing to the idea I have stewing in my head.

Step 1: Let's Get Started

To start with I'm blocking in some rough silhouettes to try and find the pose and shape of the character. I want to get this part nailed first so that I'm completely happy with the pose before I start playing around with any of the character's features.

I don't have a specific pose I'm aiming for, but I'm trying to keep in mind that this is intended to be a character design rather than purely an illustration. This means that I want to make sure you can see as much of him as possible, clearly, while avoiding just sticking him in a boring T pose (Fig.01).


Step 2: Don't Forget to Flip!

I do it so much it seems a given really, but don't forget to flip your image! Flipping is a great way to gain a new perspective on a painting. It really helps when noticing mistakes; they usually stick out like a sore thumb once flipped! Try and do this every hour or so, that way you won't reach the end of a painting and realize it looks terrible flipped the other way (Image > Image Rotation > Flip Canvas Horizontal) (Fig.02).


Step 3: Experimentation is Key

I haven't quite set my sights on one idea in particular at this point, so I've duplicated Moonshine a couple of times. This means that I can try out some variations and different ideas on his character.

As I mentioned before, exploration is key. Rather than sticking with one idea at the start and then potentially changing different elements of his design throughout the painting, it's much more logical to experiment at the beginning and develop the ideas you like best until you settle on a final design. You can always add in smaller elements as you develop the painting (Fig.03).


Step 4: Putting the Pieces Together

So here we have a few variations on Moonshine. There are different elements that I like about each of the designs, and I think a mixture of them would work well together. I like the overall shape of the middle iteration. I think he's got enough contrast within his shape to make him interesting.

I also particularly like the welding visor in place of a hat. I do like large, overhanging hats but I'm bending the rules and going with the visor – I just think that it looks the best out of the options. I really like the fire extinguisher as the flamethrower tank, but I'm going to opt for the second one. I'm thinking ahead and I know I could throw in a vivid pop of color for the flammable liquid – if I go for the clear tube option (Fig.04).


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