Earlier this year, I got an email from a gentleman out in California who's developing a steampunk card game and needed some character designs. As it turned out, I only ended up doing one character. But both the client and I were happy with the final design, so I thought I'd share my sketches here as sort of breakdown of (one way) I design characters. The game is still in development and the final art will likely be based on these drawings, so the client has asked me not to mention the name of the project or the character. Feel free to speculate based on earlier work. The character is a 16-20 year old Edwardian farmgirl turned steampunk inventor. All my visual cues came from trying to stick those ideas together. For simplicity's sake, I'm going to divide the design process into 3 linear stages - silhouettes, heads, and costumes. In reality, the design process bounced back and forth between these areas.
After a rough brainstorming phase, where I scribble things and collect visual research, I like to start a character design with a silhouette. Working in silhouette lets you lay down a lot of information about a design quickly, and allows you the freedom to easily add/drop/remix elements and poses. Animators, cartoonists, and game designers will tell you that a character's silhouette is the most important part of their design. The viewer sees the whole shape first. Depending on the context, they may only see the shape. And the silhouetted shape can tell the viewer a ton of information about the character's personality, attitude, and background. See Aaron Diaz and Rad Sechrist's blogs for more info.
In this case, the character's body type and level of stylization were more or less locked in with the brief, so I settled into a core silhouette after only a few sketches. From there, I started playing around with costume elements like clothing and hair. This is where I try to break up the big shape with smaller shapes that provide texture and additional character details without ruining the read of that main silhouette, while simultaneously trying to fold in my visual research and get as many design options as possible on the table.
Sometimes, as with this project, I need to pull back to a simpler set before going forward into more detailed design work. Next time! Where did all the hairstyles from the first set of silhouettes go? And why doesn't this poor girl have a face?