the problem with the characters

 

Since the end of September, I’ve been focused on re-imagining (because it feels more like that than just illustrating) “Howl’s Moving Castle”, a book written by the late, but brilliant, Diana Wynne Jones. Most people have not read the book, but they know about the Studio Gibli animated version. It’s supposed to be my personal challenge, as much as a university project. And boy, is it challenging…

One of my biggest issues (apart from the ever present, ever crippling self doubt) was the style of the illustrations, especially when it comes to the design of the characters. Initially, my mind was filled with the images of Jim Kay version of “Howl’s Moving Castle”. What I really wished for, was that the world would contain an edition of “Howl…” treated in the same manner that Jim Kay’s “Harry Potter” is. I was pretty obsessed with that.

As a result, I thought that a semi-realistic approach was the first step to obtaining that result. The problem? I am nowhere near a Jim Kay level. My characters were stiff and did not seem to belong to the world imagined by D.W. Jones. So I panicked. I tried to avoid the characters as much as possible. The semi-realistic portraits, based on people I had met at work, lacked the technique and depth I was looking for. Calcifer’s description was so detailed, it was only one way I could picture him, and even that did not seem to go with the self-imposed style that kept failing me.

In the end, I had a moment of luck. I was watching a really captivating film called “Arrival”, when I had an Eureka! sort of moment. In the film, there was a scene where the characters were set against a background of light, making the human body seem elongated and thin – in a way it seemed quite magical. It also reminded me of my usual, go-to style, which in no way can be called semi-realistic.

So I did a few character sketches, trying to get the shapes right, all the while inching back towards my normal style. And it felt easier. More importantly, it had the right personality and it looked as though those characters could belong in a universe of magic.

A very long post later…

This is what I learned: beware of the inspiration you find in other artists. Admiring is alright, as long as it doesn’t change your goal into an imitation game.

  • the images above are taken from my sketchbook and are fairly different from the final images which can be found on myย Instagram
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