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Monday, March 14, 2016

Character Design in Children Picture Books

I enjoy developing characters in the current picture book story. The first image is one of main characters. Feedback is very good. Character design requires lots of work and research. An illustrator uses all what she has to create it. In order to set "telling" characters, these are essential : daily observation, profound and broad knowledge and the insights of humans and society.  They give an illustrator inspiration and an idea, which enables an artist to establish an interesting, adorable and distinct character. In me, each character has personality and begins to work or move. Characters are alive in me. I'd share my methods to illustrating Moon. If you could find something, I'd be happy. (*My writing on approach was submitted to a publisher. Sorry, if the style is too formal to bore you, please pardon me.) 
The text, Moon is very poetic, imaginative, emotional, yet realistic at the same time. So, it had many challenges to be illustrated. The most challenges of Moon were three tasks. First, give life to an inanimate moon life and set “her” into a protagonist as well as a boy, Max. Second, visualise invisible and visible elements together in pictures. Third, technical challenges in watercolour painting were to express the first and the second tasks on paper. Night scenes were not easy. 
In order to find answers for the first and second tasks, deep and broad research was carried out in a multi-dimensional way. For example, I checked beautiful Australian nature, classic literature, mythology, folk tales, songs, paintings, any English words related to the moon and so on. At the same time, Publisher/Editor Helen, Author Matt and Mentor Ann’s strong encouragement supported me so much. Helen sent me an old German folk song. I translated it and tasted it.  Then, to enrich my visual images, I went outside and observed the moon, from the evening to the mid night. The aim was to feel the sensations such as sound, silence, smell in an air, atmosphere etc as well as moon, light, reflections and colours. The collected data enabled me to establish the concrete image and the character of Moon.

When I developed the Moon's personality, this image, below, came up in my heart. This is a colour rough that won the publishing team's thubm's up. 
In order to achieve the second task, I played with children like Max’s age and read out the text for tens of millions times. I also reviewed my huge sketch references, focusing on Max’s emotions and inner world. I could build up his personality that convinced Helen, Matt and Ann. I confidently drew lines and put colours. When Moon was launched at Gleebooks, Margaret Hamilton AM said, "I don't know how much Sadami was led in her choice of how to interpret the story." Behind the good interpretation of the story, there was my profound and extensive research. It established the characters of Moon and Max. (*I'll omit the answers for the third task. It does not relate to character design.)  I could confidently draw lines and put colours.    

The illustration of Moon has become my very important experience to work on following projects. Before Moon, I tried another text for my study with mentor Ann (unpublished). It also became a momentous experience, particularly, to learn character design.  

As I mentioned above, character design is not an easy task, but its process is a great fun. Once, a character has been established and come to alive, s/he moves on papers and shows me how s/he behaves in scenes. So, I work hard on the study of a protagonist and draw lots. In addition, I know Shaun Tan did the huge research of Australian immigrants at State library. His talk of the massive and longitudinal research impressed me most at the book launch of "The Arrival." I've learned lot from Shaun. I thank for all the people teach me and lead me. 
Black and White Max and Dad 
Each illustrator or an artist is different. My approach is above. If you have any interesting and useful way to create a character and if you do not mind, let us share it. 
Friends, Happy Painting!  




  1. The illustrations are filled with wonderful emotions and are so very poetic !!! I love how you tackle the task before you :) As always, thanks for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Meera, for your warm cheers. Yes, research skills are essential for an illustrator. You, too, enjoy drawing. Best wishes, Sadami

  2. Wonderful to see your process, Sadami!

    1. Thank u, Judy! Quite a time and energy consuming process, yet really a fun!! Cheers, Sadami