Whether it is because someone asks me for a sketch or I just want to add something to my portfolio, it comes up from time to time that I want to draw a character that I didn’t create. I always want to do my best work, but I don’t want to directly copy another artist’s style. Generally, I want the final illustration to be recognizable but my own interpretation. Over time I have evolved a fairly straightforward process to accomplish this on a reliable basis.
Step 1. Find good source material to use as reference.
Source can come from magazines, comic books, or more frequently, results from an Internet search. I try to find a character pose as close to the one I want to create, though sometimes it might require a composite from multiple images.
Step 2. Make an intentionally bad sketch of the source material.
Since I don’t want to directly copy or trace artwork created by someone else, this step is essential to my process. I want to inject my own style, but I want to make sure I capture some components that make this character who he (or she) is. So, the key is to make a quick and dirty sketch with some intentional problems, ensuring that I isolate some aspects of the character’s original design while allowing lots of room for my own flair later.
Step 3. Create a good sketch using my bad sketch as reference.
At this point I no longer want to have the original source material in front of me. I do not want any undue influence of the original artist on my final illustration. Here is where I add my own flair to the design and, using my intentionally bad sketch as reference, create my interpretation of the character.
Step 4. Finish the hand-drawn work.
Currently I have a few different ways that I am finishing my artwork. One method would be to ink over the pencils to create a clean final hand-drawn illustration. Another that I’ve been doing more of lately is using colored pencils (and no inks at all) to finish the final hand-drawn illustration. Of course I could color an inked illustration or I could paint it or any number of other methods, but these are the two primary ways I am currently finishing my hand-drawn illustrations.
Step 5. Scan the hand-drawn artwork and, optionally, recreate using the computer.
I’m always going to scan in my finished hand-drawn illustrations for archival purposes even if I do nothing else from that point. I might sell or give away an original hand-drawn creation, but would like a history for my portfolio if nothing else. After a high-resolution scan, this could be the end of the process.
In many cases, however, I would also like a clean vector-rendered version of the illustration. I might want to do something else with the artwork later, and having a vector version has all kinds of upside that is a topic for another discussion. Essentially, I redraw the illustration completely in the computer, using my scanned original artwork as reference. I do not use any built-in tracing features. Because it is hard to ever consider any illustration done, I also typically end up making minor changes and corrections in this new vector-drawn version.
And there you have it… a repeatable and reliable process where I can create my interpretation of characters created by someone else to add to my portfolio, for use in a parody or satire, or as an instructional tool like this post.