Brynn Metheney has used real animal reference to combine characteristics to create a new creature. Now she refines her ideas to find a fun and unique design
Brynn Metheney on reference.
Part of creature design involves refining it into something unique. Sometimes, just adding shapes to a silhouette can make the design more exciting. The plain shapes break up the overall design and creates spaces for filling in with more characteristics.
Using vellum or tracing paper enables me to work on top of my design so I don’t lose my original drawing as I develop my animal. In this article I’ll be looking to creatures like aardvarks and newts, but you should also consider prehistoric animals such as the platybelodon and other extinct proboscideans.
I use the Col-Erase with a regular pencil to seal in the design. I’m using a Blackwing pencil because the heavy lead enables me to solidify details over top of the Col-Erase. Once I like a design I can even use another sheet of vellum as a clean sheet to strengthen the design. It’s also a good idea to pull from groups of animals that aren’t related. For example, I can reference animals that are outside of mammalian anatomy, even though my creature has a more mammalian form. This is especially true for colour.
My final lesson will cover posing, colour and specific details about my creature. For now, I want to push the silhouette and have a strong surface anatomy.
1 Try out different shapes for your creature
I lay vellum or tracing paper over my original drawing and just have some fun lightly sketching in shapes over the silhouette. I keep the new shapes light so I can build up my creature. In this example I’m pulling from ancient elephants in the face and newts in the neck dewlap. So while I’m combining basic shapes, I’m also using general shapes from real-life reference.
2 Find the details
Now that I’ve got some shapes laid in for general design, I can begin to find details. The overall movement of the initial shape can help inform where the eyes might be or where the ears might have moved to. I’m able to change the overall identity and character of this creature just by moving features around a bit.
3 Solidify the details
Now I can start to pull from the reference more. I’m looking to aardvarks for the feet and claws , making the creature feel like more of a digger/forager. Always think about the function of your creature as you go. I want to make an interesting silhouette but I also want to make something that has a reason for looking the way it does.
4 Go in with graphite
Now that’s I’ve reimagined my creature, I can start to find the details and volumes of the creature. Blackwing pencils are soft so it won’t take long to build up the drawing. I’ve laid over another piece of vellum on top of my Col-Erase sketch so I can keep these layers separate. This means I have all of my work saved, and won’t lose any layers.
5 Now, try taking another visual direction!
Don’t stop at one attempt; try a few different ways to see your creature. It’s exciting and fun to make the effort to push your design in opposite directions. When you start to explore options with your designs, you can arrive in a place that you might not have thought of before. It’s important to remember that concepts like this are never set in stone and shouldn’t be treated as precious. Keep exploring your designs!
Shapes like squares and boxes are associated with power and stability, while rounded shapes are friendly. Pointed shapes are more sinister. I work to find details like the eye placement, frill shape and what the feet look like. Keeping the overall shape of your creature in mind will help you convey the kind of creature or character you’re dealing with.