Friday, 2 March 2012

Cute and Appealing: Put the Circle to Practice

I am currently playing around with the idea of characters Sammick and Jeff in a high school setting. The problem I have with my rendition of Jeff is that I can't seem get very interested in him. Compared with the flamboyant and outgoing Sammick, Jeff is very regular and run-of-the-mill. This was intentional, to counterbalance Sammick's craziness.

Jeff is supposed to be a teenager, but he looks too old in this picture. I believe I also tried too hard to make him look more masculine, which resulted in giving him hard edges.

I had asked myself, "Why do I like drawing Sammick so much?" For me personally, he has such a fun and appealing design, which makes it very easy for me to draw him. I kept thinking, "I like his big eyes, and those headphones. As much extra work it is to draw the headphones, I just can't picture him without them." I think the answer to his appealing design is below.

Hidden circles!
My personal drawings are notoriously angular. But Sammick is quite different. I realised that he has more circles around him than most of my other characters that I draw! However, Jeff has no circles or arcs.

Here is where my theory on circles, appeal and cuteness could be usefully applied. If I want to make Jeff more appealing for myself to draw, I can fall back on the circle. Recently, I tried out making Jeff more circular in some sketches.

Same character, subtly different design. I gave him larger, rounder eyes, and less skull definition. He is already becoming more appealing for myself, and he looks younger too, without sacrificing too much of his masculinity.

Well duh!
I went overboard with circles here, fitting them wherever I thought I could. There is something strangely charming about this version, as well as something unsettlingly cute about him. But I definitely take to this Jeff much easier than the previous version. I can imagine his behaviour, how he reacts with Sammick, and he is somewhat more pleasing on the eye than the old, angular Jeff.

As a joke, I replaced the "5" on his shirt with a circle. But this actually turned out to be a better design choice, as the five was too chunky and took longer to draw. This logo, a cross between the logos for the Canucks and the old Jets, is definitely more charming.

There is so much more I can do with this design. Right now, I am debating whether to pull back on the cuteness, or push it. As much as those eyes are unsettling, they do grab my attention. I can't stop looking at them! Perhaps I could somehow round out his eyebrows too?

But of course, appealingness depends not just on how a character looks, but also on what their personality is like, what they represent, how they move, and other abstract qualities that are much harder to quantify. As much as I would like to write an article about appealingness on that deeper level, I still haven't fully figured it all out yet, and I bet most other artists haven't either. It is that mystery that makes art the wonderful world that it is.

While only just a theory, I believe utilising the circle in character design can make a big difference in making a character seem more appealing. Whether the audience is conscious of the presence of circles or not, there is an undeniable gravitation towards its soft and inviting shape, as past examples of successful and merchandisable cartoons have shown. Aesthetic may vary from culture to culture, and beauty differs from person to person. But the circle is universally accepted, and it is one of many easy devices to fall back on when a design problem arises.

Watch out for that circle...

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