Advanced Character Design with Stephen Silver, Part 8

It's a new year!

I'll be posting here more frequently in 2016. I've got a new position at work and some exciting developments in some personal projects and I'll be sharing all that stuff soon. For now, my final post about Stephen's class. 

The class has been over for months, but I figured I should share my last project. We had to design a set of characters based on traits—shy, athletic, bully, smart. Two boys, two girls.

I decided to try to fit these teens into the short-lived Spectacular Spider-Man show's style. I loved the art style and character design of that show (hat tip to Sean Galloway). It’s a style I’ve always admired, but never tried myself. If you haven't seen it, the show had super thin lines and flat colors, but everything looked really smooth and dynamic. 

Here’s what I ended up with:

I think I was mostly successful.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the feedback video for this one. I forgot to download it before the class closed. But his feedback was in line with a lot of the other things he said during the course. He pushed some of the forms a bit so they could better lean into their traits—a stronger inward hunch for the shy kid, a sassier tilt for the mean girl bully, etc.

The biggest thing I learned in this course (and this assignment was a good example of how I still struggle with it) is how to keep the energy and excitement of a sketch in the final image. Sketches are loose, kinetic, exciting. They're alive with possibility. When you start putting lines down, you tame that wildness. Tame it too much, and your drawing looks stiff and lifeless. It's not an easy thing to do, but I'm more aware of when it happens now than I ever was before.

I went to CTNX for the first time this year and got to meet a lot of art friends I know online in person, and that includes Stephen. I got to do some live drawing at his art studio with a bunch of my Oatley Academy friends. It was so cool!

Stephen has a bazillion students, both online and in person, but he remembered my art and, as I knew he would be, was super nice and friendly. He's an all around good dude, and I'm so glad I got to learn from him.

So if you're thinking about brushing up on your character design, I cannot recommend his class enough. It might be worth it alone just to watch him draw each week. Seeing character design the way he sees it has helped me be more thoughtful about the characters I create.

Advanced Character Design with Stephen Silver, Part 4

This assignment was about drawing women—something I’ve definitely struggled with. What I love most about this class is how many different styles Stephen exposes you to in each lesson. He pulled up tons of different images and styles and highlighted the similarities and core principles many of them used to design women.

Another thing I like about this class is how much he stresses putting in the work through repetition. Lots of people talk about it, but you rarely get to see that constant repetition in action (because unless you’re super into art, it’s not that glamorous). This lesson was filled with Stephen talking over sped up sketches. Faces, bodies, different styles, and more—he just kept drawing. It was fascinating and inspiring.

So before I took on my assignment—draw three waitresses with three different body shapes—I decided to just draw a bunch of women from reference.

I searched random stock photos and Google image results and went with poses that looked interesting. Then I dressed those women up as video game characters, because I like video games.

I also practiced a few faces. 

And then I brought in what I learned from the caricature lesson from the week before and sketched Garfunkel & Oates while I watched their hilarious show on Netflix.

All that sketching done, I felt ready to take on the assignment. Here’s what I turned in:

And here's the feedback:

Not bad! I’m getting better and better at avoiding tangents. Each time he catches one I commit it to memory to avoid in the future. It seems so simple, but cutting out those tangents makes an enormous difference when designing characters. Avoiding tangents and varying shapes is something Stephen seems to do easily--I want that! I can feel myself getting better at it the more I do it.

Heh, this just in: drawing a lot can help you draw better. 

Advanced Character Design with Stephen Silver, Part 3

The third lesson in Stephen Silver’s Advanced Character Design course was all about caricaturing. Stephen stressed how strengthening your caricature skills can help you design more interesting characters. So our assignment was to take a celebrity and caricature them.

I kinda cheated on this one and turned in two. I started with Josh Gad, but he felt too easy. His features are pretty easy to caricature. He was fun to draw, but what’s the point of taking a class with Stephen Silver if all I’m going to do is turn in work I know is a homerun? I'm in this to push myslef! Here’s my Josh Gad sketches. He’s a fun guy to draw: 

josh gad

After that, my wife suggested I try Jon Stewart (after hearing me lament the end of his Daily Show run all week). I’ve been watching The Daily Show for years, so I felt like I understood the “feel” I needed to hit. That’s something Stephen pointed out in the lesson, by the way. If you can see the subject you’re caricaturing in action, you can pick up quirks that can inform your drawing. If the likeness isn't spot on, but the "feel" is, you're good to go. 

Turns out Jon Stewart was pretty hard to nail. I spent a couple sessions just watching his show and sketching him, trying to pick out the features that made him Jon Stewart. Then I sat down with a ton of still images and started narrowing it down. Here are the sketches I posted on Instagram.

Jon Stewart sketches

And here’s the final image: 

Jon Stewart

I included my sketches when I turned in my work so Stephen could see how I got to my final picture. Here’s the feedback from Stephen:

I’m not going to lie, it feels kind of awesome when someone like Stephen Silver says you did a great job. I think he definitely helped refine it a bit more. I struggled a bit on the final image with the age. When I first finished it, Brooke said it looked like Jon Stewart from 2005, not 2015. So I kinda went in there and sagged a few things down. It sorta worked, but I think Stephen’s tweak to the nose is what really sells it.

That’s it for week three. Lesson four was all about drawing women. Our assignment was to draw one waitress with three body types. I’ll have that feedback up next week along with a bunch of practice images.

Advanced Character Design with Stephen Silver, Part 2

The assignment this week was to draw a character to fit into a show of our choice. Stephen said art directors want to see that you can conform to a show’s style. So this assignment would be good practice.

During the lesson, Stephen showed off the styles of several shows he worked on, as well as some character development concepts he’d done in the past. At one point he pulled up a random picture of a 1920s business guy and drew him in the Kim Possible style. Then he redrew that same guy in the Danny Phantom style. Watching him just flip between the two styles was kind of amazing, plus it served as a great example of how some very small established rules can ripple out to create a cohesive style.

As an animation fan, and a father of two small boys, I’ve seen a lot of cartoons. I ran through several that I thought about trying—Gravity Falls, Rescue Bots, Kung Fu Panda. Before committing to one for the assignment, I decided to try a style out for fun. I went with Fairly Odd Parents, a show that I’ve always thought had a really clear style, and drew this picture of Taako from The Adventure Zone podcast.


That was a fun exercise, but I wanted more of a challenge. While that picture doesn’t fit perfectly in the style of Fairly Odd Parents, it’s pretty close. One more iteration and I’d get it I think. I wanted to take on something a little tougher. Something with rules that were a little harder to define.

So I went with the Mickey Mouse shorts on YouTube. My oldest son and I watch at least one of these a day. I love them. They’re so weird, and charming, and the way they stretch and pull such classic characters in crazy ways is fun to watch. Also, the backgrounds are gorgeous.

Before working on my characters, I did some research. Most episodes have at least one or two random side characters with unique designs, so I pulled screenshots of several of them. Like Stephen did in his lesson, I started tracing over some of them to try and break down the style.



It was hard.

Unlike the straight against curve design of Fairly Odd Parents, there wasn’t an easy baseline theme that all the characters adhered to. And yet there was definitely something, because they all fit.

So I designed three characters: a boxing kangaroo, a landlord bulldog, and a traveling lama.

Mickey Shorts character designs

I was as eager to hear Stephen’s feedback as I was to see him break down the style too. I was not disappointed. Here’s the feedback:

See what he did with that kangaroo? Amazing right? It’s clear he’s been doing this kind of work for a long time. When I drew these, I was focused inward. I drew the general shape of the character and filled it with detail—because from my research, they all had really clear silhouettes, and I wanted to maintain that. But Stephen pushed outward, and his ended up fitting the wacky (a great word for this style) tone even better.

After watching his feedback, I went back and re-watched a few Mickey shorts and could already see how his interpretation of the style would work. I’m definitely going to try to do some more. It’s a good skill to have, and seeing him so easily break a style down and produce something that would fit made me want to polish my skills so I can do that too someday.

That’s it for this week. Our next assignment is to caricature someone, because being good at caricatures can actually be super helpful when designing characters. I’ll have that feedback next week!

Advanced Character Design with Stephen Silver, Part 1

Two weeks ago I started Advanced Character Design with Stephen Silver over at

Stephen Silver is an incredible character designer and it’s a real treat to get to learn from him.

Our first assignment was to draw a cowboy using the things he went over in the first class (basically an overview of Character Design 1, which I skipped). He talked a lot about the golden ratio of 1:1:1.68 and how to use it to get an appealing design.

I first drew a bunch of cowboy faces to loosen up and play with some different shapes.

cowboy faces

I knew I wanted a cowboy villain after I explored that one on the bottom left. I also knew I wanted him to wear a cool duster jacket.

So I did some research and started iterating as seen here:

I turned in the image below along with this description (because a character isn’t just a drawing):

I wanted him thin and sleazy, the kind of guy who thinks he's put together, but wears an old duster he stole from a man he killed 10 years ago. He might look refined to criminals, but he's still a dirt bag.


Stephen liked where I was going with it, and offered some tips on how I could push things—his arms, his hat, etc.—to make him even more appealing. He also helped eliminate a few tangents.

Here’s the full video of his feedback. Pretty cool how just a few minor tweaks make a picture dramatically better. I feel like this guy was probably just one version away from hitting the mark, so I’m gonna consider that a win.

Because art directors want to see that you can work in an established style, our next assignment is to create a character and draw it to fit in a show of our choice. I’ll have that feedback in another week or so.