In this case, further talking about character models. I was inspired by this sketchbook entry to compile a list--probably incomplete, but everything I could really think of--of things to do without clothing/accessories entering the picture, to vary characters and also have these details stay consistent for them.
The list I came up with was a little extensive--making it intimidating to tackle.
But that means it's all the more important that I am able to nail it.
Some of them are stupidly obvious and basically don't count (hairstyle, colors, etc.). But others I feel are legitimately things that I need to work on in order to actually get my characters looking the way they need to look.
The incomplete list, "things to vary/things to keep consistent", was as follows:
Head size/base shape (circular/oval/square/etc.)
Basic structural form of the head. More rounded, more blocky, more streamlined, etc. This one you can technically write off as being something subdivided below (see below ones to get a good idea), but I think that this is a basic characteristic in of itself.
The stupidly obvious one. Different hairstyles come from different characters. This is mostly a 'keep consistent' one, though, because I've been widely inconsistent with character hairstyles--mostly by virtue of having changed my mind on them; I need to lock them down.
Could technically lump this in with hairstyle, but simply changing the part in the hair can make two previously-identical-looking drawings look like different people. If this is intentional, good; if this was accidental, bad. Keep consistent for the same characters, and experiment with changing for similar characters.
Subtle one which I can kinda sorta do differently for characters, but which I also kinda suck at keeping consistent for characters; I need to establish this for them.
Eye base shape/location/size
Eyes have a general location on the head, and a general shape, and the size changes with expression, but different characters have different base eye sizes/shapes, and the locations of their eyes are in slightly different spots on their head and need to stay consistent for the character.
Not quite sure what to call this. It's the inward curve on a face around the eye; this is an excellent spot for variety assuming I can nail it down and get it consistent.
Ear location/shape/form (lines inside; width/height)
Ears are generally in the same spot on the head, but there's details that can be changed. The exact position on the head. The exact shape of the ear. The width of the ear. How tall the ear is. Whether the ear has the connection flap to the head or not. (Some people have it, others don't.) And the various ear details inside the ear which are important but which are widely inconsistent in my drawings.
Again, noses are generally in the same region, but the exact spot they are in can vary, but needs to be consistent. The shape of noses varies, and so too does the size. Noses are a very easy detail to master, and yet they're a detail that I basically just wing it every single time I do a drawing; I slap one on randomly and hope it's right. I need to put thought into them.
Mouth location/base shape
General region of the mouth in reference mostly to the chin and nose; how far up or down it is from them, basically. Also how 'big' their mouth is. Mouths are not all the same size. This is something usually associated with the jaw itself, but isn't inherently the same thing. You can have a big jaw with a small mouth (many 'deformed' characters, e.g. lots of One Piece characters, have this aesthetic), or a small jaw with a big mouth (again, many deformed characters have this aesthetic to them).
In art, this mostly manifests as how big a smile/frown/neutral face/etc. they make, and where it is. It's a small detail, but it needs to be consistent. For female characters, this also controls the size/shape of their lips, a detail that I kinda suck at drawing because I kinda suck at drawing lips.
This one is pretty self-explanatory and is one of THE biggest details to establish.
Big difference between jaws of
Where O is the top half of the head and the other shapes are various different chin shapes (pointed, rounded, square, being the most common three I can think of and what I was approximating above). These variances in chin/jaw shapes and length can be subtle, but they need to be deliberate above all else. It's one of the biggest details to establish.
Those, just for the face.
I continued down further than just that.
People have different thickness necks, and these necks have different head connections. This is a detail I can sometimes be good at differentiating between, but usually suck at keeping consistent.
I usually just use loose estimates where I know guys have twice head width and eyeball it, and girls are slightly more slender than that and eyeball it, but while this is a good guideline, shoulder width isn't universal for all guys and all girls, so this is a detail I should be introducing slight variances in.
That is, the armpit area; not quite sure if this is something that varies, but it's definitely something of an artistic weakpoint and I need to get more consistent at it even if not more variable in it.
Arm length (subdivide forearm length; base hand length)
Pretty self-explanatory. We like to think that arms are all equally proportioned, but they're not. My limbs I know are disproportionately longer, with my torso comparatively smaller. This is, admittedly, not something I want to mess with much, but a little deliberate variation would be nice...and it's something that seriously could use consistency even if I never vary it between characters. Keeping the character with the same-proportioned arm's more important.
Arm tone/definition (musculature)
I kinda suck at drawing muscles which might be one of the reasons I tend to like to draw characters who lack visible ones (girls and effeminate guys). Still, for those who have muscles, I need to be consistent about them.
They have a name but I forgot it. Collars? The two boney protrusions on your front. They can be different thicknesses, lengths, and locations (both in reference to one another with how far apart they are and how down from the shoulders they are), but this needs to be kept consistent, and it's something which isn't right now.
And also height, but that's a given. Pretty self-explanatory. Not all torsos are exactly the same in their (lack of) curves. I have basically zero consistency here, when I know I need it.
For the characters that have them, of course. I have some general references as guidelines for some characters. Off the top of my head, I know that Aria is quite well-endowed--not extreme anime boobs levels of endowed, but she has the largest chest of any of my frequently drawn female characters. My best reference for this is actually fanart I got of her as part of a Christmas exchange program. That's actually legitimately about how well-endowed she is (maybe ever so slightly smaller), which is to say quite large but not boing-boing-boing-bouncing levels stereotypically seen in anime.
However. Critically. She is the only character of mine to be that well-endowed; while others might have large breasts, if I draw any who have measurements rivaling hers, then I am drawing them off-model because they're supposed to have smaller breasts than she does.
Breasts are usually another of those things I draw mostly by feel, mostly by instinct, of what feels appropriate to draw--and that's not something that leads to artistic growth because it leads to most female cast members having about the same near-universal measurements, measurements that change according to my art rather than according to the character as they should.
Wait we were blogging about something? I heard the word breasts and got a little distracted.
Hips are similar to torsos and shoulders in terms of needing variance. I kind-of have trouble making girl's hips be large enough (I consistently make them too small even when I deliberately try to exaggerate them), but in general I could use a lot of consistency here, and yet also a lot of variance because hip sizes are one of the main things that people use to vary character designs especially in females. There's whole TROPES devoted to different hips, which ties into their relationship with the torso.
Leg length (subdivide thigh/shin length; base foot length)
Same as with arm length; I basically said everything there that applies here.
Leg tone/definition (musculature)
Ditto this; same thing applies to leg tone/definition as does arm tone/definition. Mind you, as arm length and leg length are separate (you can have short arms and long legs, or vice-versa), so too are these different; you can have ridiculously muscular legs and scrawny arms, or vice-versa.
Then there were a few miscellaneous considerations.
Obvious one, which ties into proportions, of leg length/torso height/head shape/etc.
Basic proportions (limbs/etc. disproportionately big/small)
Kinda sorta covered above, but if a character has a significant part from the "generic"/"standard" design, this departure needs to itself be kept consistent.
Basic skin color
Obvious thing to track is obvious. And I do...except my notes are computer-specific quite often meaning that I've long-since lost my exact RGB combos for basically every single character I've ever drawn. I'd need to manually recreate them, and my recreations wouldn't be exact and would only be "eh, close enough".
Obvious thing is obvious; see above for skin color, and you get this, too.
Again, obvious thing is obvious; again, see above for skin color and you get this too.
Scars, tattoos, the like. These are separate from accessories such as rings and such, because these are things that can't be removed. I suppose things that are part of the body, like extra limbs (say, horns/wings) would also count as being in this category, but these are things that I have sometimes overused and which I need to scale back on using only when it actually makes sense to be used.
For instance, Aria might have scarring from her ill-fated fight; Sasha living her life definitely has scarring; Tyra and Sinaer both went through experiences that would leave scars; Sally might have gone through an experience leaving a scar; Vili as a seasoned street fighter might have scars somewhere.
But those are about it as far as female characters I draw frequently go--and each of these should be in locations that make sense rather than just being randomly tacked on in "heroic" locations as has been what I've done in the past. I need to work out what their original injury/injuries are/were and from that, figure out what would be left behind, and then consistently show it the entire time.
I think that's about it for blogs from me for today.
Both because I'm running out of time (11:15 pm, and once past midnight, blogs wouldn't archive properly), and because getting this all out has helped me a lot.
Still doesn't make the art.
But this is what I'd need to do to make the art.
Art is hard.
Look at that probably-incomplete list of variables I need to track, and imagine applying it across every single pose from every single camera angle they will ever appear in, and now you have an idea of the sort of workload I'm setting out to need accomplished.
For every single character.
You might think that this is overthinking things. That me just winging it is fine, that I do well enough without paying attention to all of these levels--and that's true. I do okay by not tracking these things. But if I want to take my art to the next level, which I do, then these things are a necessity. They are NOT optional to take my art to that level; they are a prerequisite.
I guarantee you, every artist who gets as good as I'm aiming for in some way shape or form can manage this. They might not have neat character sheets, but they still have character references and even if they don't? That's because they've spent years drawing the characters and can do them from memory and still get them "on-model" for the most part.
Take, for instance, Dan Shive; he's had well over seventeen years of drawing almost every single day in terms of experience; he was drawing characters for EGS years before EGS even started and again, EGS started seventeen years ago. And like I said--he did those drawings? Almost. every. single. day.
I draw one character every six months or so, on average.
One character, not multiple. Every few months, if I'm feeling particularly artsy and active.
There's no shortcut. There's no easy way to get to doing art well. Yes, I get better at doing art when I take long breaks from doing art somehow. I don't know how that works, but it does. Yes that's a thing...but there's limits to that growth. That growth is random, can't be controlled, and is something sporadic at best.
There's no way to become a good artist without time and effort.
And building those character sheets tracking all the data I mentioned?
Best way to get that time and effort in. It is the only way I will ever get to that level, because it's the only way anyone ever really could. By drawing, establishing rules, establishing guidelines, and practicing those drawings with those rules and those guidelines.
Soyeah. Still am not improving in my art just by thinking this out...but by verbalizing it, by having it spoken and a set list of "I need to do this, this, this, and this", it gives me an idea of what I need to do in order to accomplish that improvement.
Which feels good to get out of my system, and slightly satisfies the artist within me.
She'd be more happy if I made this a reality, but she'll have to settle for me having laid out the process by which I could ever possibly make it one.