Hi there Mr. Kole! I was wondering if you could share some ways to improve at creature design. Yours have such lovely energy & life, the shapes all work together to give the feeling of power/speed/etc. and I don't know how to do that. Thanks so much!
I don’t get to do enough of it these days- but I do love me some monsters and critters.
I used to be mesmerized by the act of creature design as a teen- taking Dragons as an example, they were just so obviously cooler than anything that actualy existed. I would spend hours drawing scaly, beasty faces (so I suppose step 1 might be obsessive, if misguided, practice). But they were just copies of other people’s Dragons and (to paraphrase Ursula from Kiki) not very good copies, either.
Then I went to a zoo. Mind: blown. I talk a lot more about this in an older blog entry: On God, Art, and Dragons, but the gist is this- you don’t know what you don’t know. Without getting out there and looking at the creatures that do exist, you’ll never be truly equipped to design creatures that don’t. Unless you reach out for real reference, you’ll just be regurgitating other people’s work and shoring up your weaknesses. God is WAY better at creature design than you or I, and taking a sketchbook to a zoo or an aquarium is a great first step towards better design!
Regarding shape language- that comes from a basic understanding/study of human and animal anatomy, so you know which rules to bend and break- but also from a focus on motion and dimension. There’s no silver bullet here- shape language and the elegance of form comes from practice- only once you understand the anatomy and forms you’re working with can you start designing them in a way that convincingly and dimensionally communicates motion, weight, power or speed. You can’t skip to those until you understand the meat and potatoes of the design.
To put it simply: you have to draw a whole lot of awkward clunky dragons, and lizards, and bats while figuring out their anatomy, before you can remix those elements elegantly into a chimera.
(What’s funny to me is that I am by far not the best at this- Claire Hummel springs immediately to mind as an example of someone who is much further down the road than I am. But we’re all learning!)
SO! My advice boils down to this: get out there and study from life, draw creatures non-stop until they get better. You have great designs in you, but they’re hidden under all the not-so-great ones that you need to draw through first. I’ll be drawing right alongside you.
Press on :)