Developing Characters for a Comic Strip

I began thinking of writing a comic strip a couple of years ago when I heard some people in a queue for the post office talking about the funny things children say. My first go at a strip on this subject was the simple one-panel strip above.

However, as I thought about it I wondered if it would be better to develop a set of characters in school and work from there. I could make each character a bit larger than life and really push their characteristics. At first I thought I might call the strip “The Little Plump Teacher.” so I began to design a little teacher around the title…

However, this direction didn’t work out. Firstly, the children were going to be the stars of the strip, not the teacher and secondly, I wanted each child to be very different from every other – with different personalities and different looks. I had been doing some reading on character design and one of the things the pros do when creating a set of characters is to make each individual have a very obvious and individual sillhouette. This gave me the idea to make my school a school for animals!

First I just played around with my ideas on a page of my sketchbook with some thumbnails of possible characters.

Then I made some quick character sketches.

At this point I decided I didn’t like the snail character “Smole”. This was partly because his personality overlapped a bit with my duck character “Duke” and partly because I didn’t like the shape.

So I created a different sixth character, “KittyKat”, a cat.

By this time I was happy with my little class, so I made some more formal character designs digitally. Here they are, ready to delight and amuse. I can’t wait to see what kind of adventures they might have!

An important side-note: Although the children I’ve taught have told me some of the most funny and heart-warming things over the years (enough to fill several books) I’m not going draw on any of that in order to protect their privacy and maintain my GDPR obligations. These characters are not based on any children I have ever worked with and the stories in the strip won’t include anything that has ever happened in a school I’ve taught at.

A School Comic Strip Preview


This is a quick, preview of a comic strip I’ve been developing.  It’s set in a fictional school where all of the children and staff are animals. (All of the characters are completely fictional too.)  In a later post I will go over the process I went through to develop the idea and the characters. This is just a taster.

Here is the rough sketch…

Once I had my rough layout I redrew it all digitally…

Then finally I added tones and textures…


October Ink – Aliens, Autism and Christmas


Feeling Alien at Christmas

My subject for this week is Alien.  I’m quite fond of aliens.  Being autistic, I end up feeling like an alien from time to time just from being so different.  I think I feel this quite a lot in the run up to Christmas.  Everyone else seems to be enjoying it and looking forward to it but I dread the whole thing.

I feel loads of anxiety about finding presents which my family and friends will like and about giving presents of the right kind to the right people.  It always seems like an impossible task and unless someone tells me something they want I am really at a loss as to how to go about it.  Then there are all the parties and events going on at work and at home.  I really really dislike parties so I don’t go to any except the class party at school (which is part of my work and is fairly well organised and controlled).  Then there’s the Pantomime.  Every year our whole school  goes to the pantomime.  It’s really difficult – too loud, with audience participation.  I’d rather poke my eyes out with a sharp stick.  Luckily this year, thanks to an excellent head teacher, I’ve been able to be the member of staff who stays on the school site for children who, for one reason or another, are not able to, or dont’ want to go.  That is brilliant!

I think I would like Christmas more if people didn’t give presents and made less fuss about the whole thing.  Once we hit November all the shops start filling up with Christmas stuff – trying to sell us all sorts of rubbish to give to someone else.  Then there’s all the decorations making everything look even more busy, not to mention the demented Christmas music – it literally does my head in.

By the time this post goes out (I’m writing it in October half term) we will have finished our class Christmas Performance at work.  Of it all, I don’t mind this part of the holiday season; the children learn so much from working together, and having a goal, and being brave in front of an audience.  They grow up immensely through this one activity.  It’s beautiful to watch that happen and help it along.


Giger’s Aliens

As well as seeing the alienness inside my psyche I have also been fascinated by Giger’s Alien designs for years.  I think the fascination comes from them being both beautiful and somehow repellant at the same time.  So this week I decided to draw my own tribute to Giger.

It began as a landscape head portrait but the drawing seemed to want to extend itself into a full body.  Luckily I was using the first page of a two page spread so I could extend the picture if I didn’t mind the crease showing through the image.  I began in pencil and then inked it with a very narrow pen (0.2).  Then I added some stronger 0.8 lines to pick out the large forms within the body.  This came out as a reasonable outline drawing…


Then I began filling in the details and shading.  Rather than trying to ink a pencil drawing I tried to use my pens to draw directly, just as I would with a pencil.  I also added the alien’s right hand because having it hidden seemed odd.  Because the image is twice as big as the others I’ve done in my sketchbook, it took quite a while to do this but I was pleased with how it turned out…


Days 96 to 102 – Using art to avert ‘Death by Chrismas Concert’

As the school term goes on (and on) and the staff (and I suspect some of the children) all begin to edge towards ‘Death by Christmas Concert’ syndrome I’m finding myself increasingly tired.  Not just a bit worn-out but bone-achingly, think-my-body-will-seize-up-any-minute tired.  It’s no wonder that, when I hear the introduction to ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town’ for the eightieth time and try to smile and encourage the children, I find myself losing the will to live.

So this week, art has been a bit of a refuge.  I’ve not had a great deal of time but what I have had I’ve used to do some ink work and then mostly to colour it digitally.

The first drawing began as a serious sketch of a Northern Saw-Whet Owl (which is a massively cute little thing with big big eyes.)  Gradually though it became more of a decorative ink pattern owl.

Here’s the final ink drawing…



Then I coloured it in Manga Studio 5…


At first I naturally tried to colour the leaves green but that added another hue to my colour pallette which I didn’t want so I played around with the colour and finally settled on blue.  The more I look at pictures with limited colour pallettes the more I like them so I’m trying to use this in my colour work.


Then I went on to sketch a butterfly while I waited to collect my son from his after-school session.  This was really just a way to relax…



As this was done mainly waiting in my car I had no computer, only a wet brush, some inks and some watercolour pencils.  I’m not sure I really captured the effect I was going for, where the butterfly brings colour to everything it touches, but it was fun to do.

The last picture I did this week was done quite late at night when I couldn’t sleep.  I recently got a set of Winsor and Newton Brush Markers (instead of Copics as my budget won’t stretch that far).  But I’d not had time to use them for anything, so since I couldn’t sleep and needed to relax I made a quick cartoon sketch of a Mr Fox character…



The markers were great to use although they bled a bit on the Moleskin paper and they blended really well.  (They also ruined the picture on the other side of the page but I was aware of this possiblilty and should really have thought about it and used some Bristol Board.)

I was pleased with the Fox character – I think he looks quite jaunty.

Then the next day I coloured him in Photoshop…



PS:  I wish you all a Happy Christmas!.  I do the artwork for my blog and write it up a few weeks in advance and then schedule it, so this work was done near the beginning of December when we were rehearsing like mad for the school Christmas performances.  It’s quite nice to think that by the time this blog is published I shall be sitting in my cosy living room with a cup of coco and my feet up!

Painter’s Progress Art Book – BOOK TRIAL #1

Over the next week or so I’m going to be looking through a few art books to see which one I would like to use to improve my artwork.  Today I read through the first 30-40 pages of the book, ‘Painter’s Progress’ to see what that one’s like.


The initial reading at the front of the book was excellent.  I learned loads.

(1) I learned some of the names artists use for things, and how technically they are used properly – things like shape, form, colour, dimension, tone and especially hue, tint and shade.  Previously reading art books I’ve been stuck because I didn’t know the nomenclature for this kind of thing, so this was really very helpful.  It’s interesting too because knowing how the words about something are organised seems to provide some stuctures in my mind for when I’m thinking about art so that the things I know just from looking can be better understood, categorised and remembered.  I’ve read before about the power of words, but being a ‘pictures person’ (I see and think and feel in pictures) I’ve previously dismissed this.  I get it now.  🙂

(2) Having read some of these special words in the ‘Painter’s Progress’ book I thought I would look them up on the internet to learn more.  I found that there is something called:  ‘The seven Elements of Art’  which are like the basic axes of the space which is called art (a seven dimensional space in fact).

The seven elements are:   line, shape, form, space, texture, value, color

Now line is kind of obvious,

Shape is a defined 2D area,

Form is the a defined 3D volume,

Space is the volume between objects in a piece of art,

Texture is a topographical description of the surface of an object,

Value is how dark or light somthing is (like tone)

Colour is what ‘hue’ something is (a hue is just a specific wavelength of light which has a colour) and how intense that hue is (from almost transparent to where only that colour can be seen).


I like these definitions. (Well I like them all except ‘Space’ which seems a bit wishy washy to me.)

To help me remember the colour / value thing I made a small chart:


(3) I also learned about primary secondary and tertiary colours (which are different from those in light:


(4) And I learned that some colours are warm and others are cold – e.g. red (warm) and blue (cold) and they have different effects in a painting because of this.  I expect that this warm / cold definition comes from things in our human environment which we associate with various temperatures. e.g. a wood fire is yellow orange and red and when things are lit by firelight they take on these hues so this is how we get warm colours.  Compare this to blue ice and white snow and the effect these things have on those around them colour-wise.  I think this is where the idea of cold colours comes from.

They also say that cold colours ‘receed’ and decorators use that to make small rooms feel bigger.  They also use the opposite effect to make big rooms feel more intimate with warm colours.  Although these ideas are pretty simple to remember it’s important to know them because in my painting I can use this info to communicate things in my pictures using colour.  Amazing!

There were  few other basic exercises I did as part of this introductory section in the book e.g the difference between line and tone to suggest an object:

Line work suggests the image of my phone on the desk.
Line work suggests the image of my phone on the desk.


Tone as well as lines suggest the image of my phone on the desk even more.
Tone as well as lines suggest the image of my phone on the desk even more.

However, after all the really good basic information about how to talk about art, the first few lessons in the book seemed to be all about drawing regular household objects.  I even gave a couple of the lessons a go to see what they were like to do but I really struggled with them.  The exercises themselves were reletively easy technically but finding the enthusiasm to spend time painting something which seems really dull to me was very hard.

Several times a day I feel inspired to draw or to paint by something amazing that I’ve seen. When that happens I just can’t wait to pick up a paint brush.  It’s very hard to describe, but it has to do with wonder and with joy and with the touch of heaven on earth.  Painting or drawing without that, for me, is like having a bike without wheels – I could own one but it would be pointless.  Which leaves me with a bit of a conundrum over working through this particular book since the whole of ‘Painter’s Progress’ seems to be about drawing ‘household objects’.  Hmmmm, so, if I do go ahead with this book I will have to be a bit creative in how I use it and maybe pick and choose the lessons a bit too.

I will look at some other books over the next few days.