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Lackadaisy - Patreon

Journal Entry: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 1:24 PM

I've recently left my job in the game industry so that I could focus more of my time and attention on Lackadaisy.  Patreon is my weapon of choice in trying to see this to fruition.

If more Lackadaisy comic updates, illustrations, tutorials, mini-comics, books and other things interests you, please do check it out!

Support Lackadaisy on Patreon

Notes on Character Design

I received the question pictured below at my tumblr blog.  In case it's useful to anyone here, I decided to go ahead and use this otherwise dormant journal to share the article I put together in response.

character design question

Character design and drawing are tome-sized topics and even if I had all the answers (I don't - I have a lot to learn), I'm not sure I could communicate them effectively. Here are some thoughts an ideas that might help, though.

First, some general things...

- Relax.
Let some of that anxiety go. This isn't a hard science. There's no wrong way, no rigid process you must adhere to, no shoulds or shouldn'ts except those you designate for yourself. This is one of the fun parts of being an artist, really - have a heady good time with it.

- Be patient.
A design is something gradually arrived at. It takes time and iteration and revision. You'll throw a lot of stuff away, and you'll inevitably get frustrated at times, but bear in mind the process is both inductive and deductive. Drawing the wrong things is part of the path toward drawing the right thing.

cat sketches

- Learn to draw.
It might seem perfunctory to say, but I'm not sure everyone's on the same page about what this means. Learning to draw isn't a sort of rote memorization process in which, one by one, you learn a recipe for humans, horses, pokemon, cars, etc. It's much more about learning to think like an artist, to develop the sort of spacial intelligence that lets you observe and effectively translate to paper, whatever the subject matter. When you're really learning to draw, you're learning to draw anything and everything. Observing and sketching trains you to understand dimension, form, gesture, mood, how anatomy works, economy of line; all of the foundational stuff you will also rely on to draw characters from your imagination. So, spend some time honing your drawing ability. Hone it with observational sketching. Hone it good.

  • I don't think I've ever seen anyone do this sort of thing better than Claire Wendling. In fact, character designs emerge almost seamlessly from her gestural sketches. It'd be worth looking her up.

- Gather inspiration like a crazed magpie.
What will ultimately be your trademark style and technique is a sort of snowball accumulation of the various things you expose yourself to, learn and draw influence from. To that effect, Google images, tumblr, pinterest and stock photo sites are your friends. When something tingles your artsy senses - a style, a shape, a texture, an appealing palette, a composition, a pose, a cool looking animal, a unique piece of apparel, whatever - grab it. Looking at a lot of material through a creative lens will make you a better artist the same way reading a lot of material makes a better writer.
It'll also devour your hard drive and you will try and fail many times to organize it, but more importantly, it'll give you a lovely library of ideas and motivational shinies to peruse when you're conjuring characters.

- Imitate.
It's a powerful learning tool. Probably for many of us, drawing popular cartoon characters was the gateway habit that lured us into the depraved world of character design to begin with. I wouldn't suggest limiting yourself to one style or neglecting your own inventions to do this, but it's an effective way to limber up, to get comfortable drawing characters in general, and to glean something from the thought processes of other artists.

- Use references.
Don't leave it all up to guessing. Whether you're trying to design something with realistic anatomy or something rather profoundly abstracted from reality, it's helpful in a multitude of ways to look at pictures. When designing characters, you can infer a lot personality from photos, too.
horse reference horses

And despite what you might have heard, having eyeballs and using them to look at things doesn't constitute cheating. There's no shame in reference material. There's at least a little shame in unintentional abstractions, though.


Concepts and Approach:

- Break it down
Sometimes you have the look of a character fleshed out in your mind before putting it to paper, but usually not. That doesn't mean you have to blow your cortical fuses trying conceive multiple diverse designs all at the same time, though. You don't even have to design the body shape, poses, face, and expressions of a single character all at once. Tackle it a little at a time.

The cartoony, googly eyed style was pre-established for the simple mobile game goblin character below, but I still broke it into phases. Start with concepts, filter out what you like until you arrive at a look, experiment with colors, gestures and expressions.

Carl the goblin accountant cyber-monkey-death-bots

- Start with the general and work toward the specific.
Scribbling out scads of little thumbnails and silhouettes to capture an overall character shape is an effective way begin - it's like jotting down visual notes. When you're working at a small scale without agonizing over precision and details, there's no risk of having to toss out a bunch of hard work, so go nuts with it. Give yourself a lot of options.

Above sample silhouettes from an old cancelled project in which I was tasked with designing some kind of cyber monkey death bot. I scratched out some solid black shapes then refined some of them a step or two further.


- Shapes are language.
They come preloaded with all sorts of biological, cultural and personal connotations. They evoke certain things from us too. If you’re ever stuck about where to go with your design, employ a sort of anthroposcopy along these lines - make a visual free association game out of it. It’ll not only tend to result in a distinguished design, but a design that communicates something about the nature of the character.

Think about what you infer from different shapes. What do they remind you of? What personalities or attitudes come to mind? How does the mood of a soft curve differ from that of a sharp angle? With those attributes attached, how could they be used or incorporated into a body or facial feature shape? What happens when you combine shapes in complementary or contrasting ways? How does changing the weight distribution among a set of shapes affect look and feel? Experiment until a concept starts to resonate with the character you have in mind or until you stumble on something you like.

Lucky Charms rejects

If you don’t have intent, take the opposite approach - draw some shapes and see where they go. (It’s stupid fun.)

monster shapes

- Cohesion and Style.
As you move from thumbnails to more refined drawings, you can start extrapolating details from the general form. Look for defining shapes, emergent themes or patterns and tease them out further, repeat them, mirror them, alternate them. Make the character entirely out of boxy shapes, incorporate multiple elements of an architectural style, use rhythmically varying line weights - there are a million ways to do this

Here's some of the simple shape repetition I've used for Lackadaisy characters.

And for potato shaped characters, use potato shaped shapes.

- Expressions.
Let them emerge from your design. If your various characters have distinguishing features, the expressions they make with those features will distinguish them further. Allow personality to influence expressions too, or vice versa. Often, a bit of both happens as you continue drawing - physiognomy and personality converge somewhere in the middle.

For instance, Viktor’s head is proportioned a little like a big cat. Befitting his personality, his design lets him make rather bestial expressions. Rocky, with his flair for drama, has a bit more cartoon about him. His expressions are more elastic, his cheeks squish and deform and his big eyebrows push the boundaries of his forehead. Mitzi is gentler all around with altogether fewer lines on her face. The combination of her large sleepy eyes and pencil line brow looked a little sad and a little condescending to me when I began working out her design - ultimately those aspects became incorporated into her personality.


I discuss expression drawing in more detail here (click the image for the link):


- Poses.
Rendering poses is another one of those things for which observational/gesture drawing comes in handy. Even if you’re essentially scribbling stick figures, you can get a handle on natural looking, communicative poses this way. Stick figure poses make excellent guidelines for plotting out full fledged character drawings too.

Look for the line of action. It’ll be easiest to identify in poses with motions, gestures and moods that are immediately decipherable. When you’ve learned to spot it, you can start reverse engineering your own poses around it.

line of action

- Additional resources.
Here are some related things about drawing poses and constructing characters (click the images for the links).




Tortured rumination about lack of ability/style/progress is a near universal state of creative affairs. Every artist I have known and worked with falls somewhere on a spectrum between frustration in perpetuity and a shade of fierce ongoing contrition that'd make Arthur Dimmesdale wince. So, next time you find yourself constructing a scourge out of all those crusty acrylic brushes you failed to clean properly, you loathsome, deluded hack, you, at least remember you’re not alone in feeling that way. When it’s not crushing the will to live out of you, the device does have its uses - it keeps you self-critical and locked in working to improve mode. If we were all quite satisfied with our output, I suppose we’d be out of reasons to try harder next time.

When you need some reassurance, compare old work to new. Evolution is gradual and difficult to perceive if you’re narrowed in on the nearest data point, but if you’ve been steadily working on characters for a few months or a year, you’ll likely see a favorable difference between points A and B.

Most of all, don’t dwell on achieving some sort of endgame in which you’re finally there as a character artist. There’s no such place - wherever you are, there is somewhere else. It’s a moving goal post. Your energy will be better spent just enjoying the process…and that much will show in the results.

Add a Comment:
NyahKitty Featured By Owner Jun 26, 2017  Hobbyist General Artist
Having practiced at drawing and cartooning for many years
I still find this particular article to be helpful and encouraging.

Thank you for taking the time to put this one together.  :)
vibesblog Featured By Owner May 3, 2017  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I think you made a mistake by leaving games industry. That was a real job while this is just internet.
SimplyCookie Featured By Owner Sep 22, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I hope you don't mind, I referenced this journal entry in some of my uploads because it really inspired and helped me in creating character designs :) Thank you so much for taking the time to help out aspiring artists alongside creating such wonderful artworks <3
AngieWilson Featured By Owner Edited Sep 14, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Seriously, This needs to be a full-out TV toon series with this same quality of awesomeness!
Maybe a movie to add onto the series too! I'm so buy the DVDs of booth! :hug:

Keep up the stunning art, :icontracyjb:!:D
CloudedHeu Featured By Owner Jun 24, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
damn, forgot about this great lesson/ref lackadaisy made, happy to find it again I am a dummy! .
JewBay Featured By Owner Edited May 17, 2016   Digital Artist
What the fuck is a patreon?
raeurae Featured By Owner May 22, 2016
It is a website where you pay monthly to get special stuff from artists/people in general.  Like you may get a .psd file of a drawing with all the layers intact, process videos, discounts on prints, and other stuff; it really just depends on how much and who you are paying. 
NahriDolls Featured By Owner May 11, 2016
Holy mother of god that tablet is gorgeousssss

Can I ask what it's called and how much it cost???
Shadowkey392 Featured By Owner May 4, 2016
Huh.  Well, good luck to you, then!  I hope you're able to make this work!
golden1willow Featured By Owner May 2, 2016
I am definitely sharing this... may I?
tracyjb Featured By Owner May 3, 2016
Sure - of course!  I'd be honored if you did.
golden1willow Featured By Owner May 11, 2016
ricardoredway Featured By Owner Apr 13, 2016
awesome sauce
malik789 Featured By Owner Mar 24, 2016  Student General Artist
<3 yay!!! I finally found the person responsible for my inspiration in cartoons and animation.

I absolutely love your tutorials, tips, Illustrations, EVERYTHING! (including humor, which is of personal love). And it has been a stem of, well, importance to follow your advice about the way of drawing. I ended up making a new style out of it all but, i still have some problems doing the body.

But i really love your humor, and the characters and it got me really wanting to be an animator once i got really good at following your helpful tips.  I know most artists can say the same thing but you are really in depth about it all.

Also, sorry for typing so much. ^^;; really want to say thanks. I haven't posted any new art yet of my current progress but over the years, but i really improved now. ^^
Bandiheart Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2016  Student Writer
This helps so much. I'm a beginning artist and I needed a place to sorta, get tips and such.
HaughtyFoe Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Oooh, this is such great advice. Thank you for taking the time out to post this! I'd like to calm down some myself, just relax...
QueenoftheWillows Featured By Owner Mar 1, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
Girl: Do u even want to be with me forever?
Boy: No
Girl: Do u even like me?
Boy: No
Girl: Would u cry if i walked away?
Boy: No
She heard enough and was hurt... She walked away with tears in her eyes
The boy grabbed her arm
Boy: Your not pretty...your beautiful
Boy: I dont want to be with u forever...I need to be with u forever
Boy: I dont like u...I love u
Boy: I wouldn't cry if u walked away......I would die if u walked away.
Boy Whispers: Plz stay with me
Girl: I will...
*Tonight at midnight your true love will realize they loves u
*Something good will happen to u at 1-4pm
*Tomorrow it could be anywhere!!!
*Get ready for the shock of your life!
*If u dont post this to 5 other comments... You will have baD luck in relationships for the next 10 years
AngieWilson Featured By Owner Edited Sep 14, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm already happily married to my life-mate.... e_e'

So this "message" is mutedly pointless!
Go tack on your useless trolly posts onto PLZ accounts where nobody gives a flying fluke on dimwitted crap like this... :no: :iconfireplz: :iconreallybroplz:
Bandiheart Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2016  Student Writer
I already have bad luck in relationships. So I won't lose anything.
SP0OKY-RUSSIA Featured By Owner Mar 11, 2016  Hobbyist Digital Artist
violet-the-great Featured By Owner Mar 10, 2016  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Cabienne Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
I adore your Lackadaisy comic so very much. Your work is spectacular and your advice here is wonderful, insightful and very practical. Thank you so much for sharing this. <3
AzureAceStarburst Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2016  Professional Digital Artist
KlownyKritter Featured By Owner Oct 3, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Yay another artist from St. Louis!
AzureAceStarburst Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2016  Professional Digital Artist
It doesn't matter where this person is from. He's awesome.
KlownyKritter Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2016  Hobbyist General Artist
ClaraAzuos Featured By Owner Aug 3, 2015  Student
busterkeatonrules Featured By Owner Aug 2, 2015
I own a very big, very thick, very thorough and very expensive book on how to draw professionally - and I learned more from a quick look at this. Your work is incredibly awesome.
AzureAceStarburst Featured By Owner Feb 15, 2016  Professional Digital Artist
(That's because Big Publishing controls too much. The internet is better for literally everything.)
Link012 Featured By Owner Aug 2, 2015  Student General Artist
wow this is amazing. thanks!
IvoryFeline75 Featured By Owner Jul 22, 2015  Student Writer
This completely changed my view on character design x3 amazing!
tare-musume Featured By Owner Jul 17, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Gaahhhhhhh i'm so happy to hear you're going to be working on this more!  I've been looking forward to Volume 2 for so long  ;_____;
RukarioTrainer Featured By Owner Jul 15, 2015
I love Lackadaisy!! ^_^
I'm quite new to art and this is quite useful to me. Honestly I can see that you did put lots of efforts on your stuff and help others as things along, and so, thanks a lot.  = )
Spinball3 Featured By Owner Jul 4, 2015  Student Filmographer
A friend of mine introduced me to your comic about 3 years ago. I have been following your work ever since. I hope that Patreon can help you doing more of your great work, and I hope that one day, I'll be able to thank you in person for inspiring me to get back into sketching. Tight Hug 

Good luck and godspeed Tracy!
And I will be on the lookout for those cards wink grin 
SWtaervdesn Featured By Owner Jul 3, 2015
Are you serious!? A card deck?! That'd be super cool! I've always wanted my own card set and the possibility of having one with a Lackadaisy theme would just be awesome!

if said card deck were made, where would I get one?, I PROMISE to pay big $$ for it!
If I get a job I will I've always loved lackadaisy
Cricky-Vines Featured By Owner Jun 14, 2015  Student General Artist
Hopefully I'll get a job soon and then maybe I can help you out cuz I love Lackadaisy so much and would like you to work on something you love as well! I wish you luck with all my heart! :heart:
tracyjb Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2015
What a generous sentiment...that's very sweet. Thank you!  Either way, I'm happy you like the comic and I appreciate your readership!
Cricky-Vines Featured By Owner Jun 15, 2015  Student General Artist
I understand the feeling of wanting your job to be something you actually love doing. I'm far from reaching that point, but at the very least I can try to help you in reaching that goal. So no problem :)
DuskyLore Featured By Owner May 27, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
I feel as though I've learned far more from these demonstrations than any tutorial or explanations I've heard/read. Thank you so much for your advise!
AmoebaGagless Featured By Owner May 26, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
RobotsLoveU Featured By Owner May 26, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
thanks, this is very helpful
HamptonSisters90 Featured By Owner May 25, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Very helpful, thank you for sharing! :)
YoshuaCaptain Featured By Owner May 23, 2015
Awesome very goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
bruiser128 Featured By Owner May 17, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
 Just wondering did Ratchet and Clank games have any influence on
the art style, because I can see some similarities the Future games.
tracyjb Featured By Owner May 22, 2015
How so?  Not terribly familiar with them...never played them.
bruiser128 Featured By Owner May 22, 2015  Student Traditional Artist
Well it's mainly in the head design and expressions that bear the most similarities to your art style.
Plus the games have a great sense of humor.
Nightcaster460 Featured By Owner May 11, 2015   Digital Artist
Patreon is awful, stick to tumblr. Tumblr let's you upload whatever you want without the pic getting deleted, you can customize your profile page completely, it's awesome. Patreon is not that and therefore it's a sad website....sorry.... :( I never had an account there anyway...
tracyjb Featured By Owner May 22, 2015
Er...okay.  I have a tumblr blog.  Patreon serves a rather different purpose, though.  They really aren't in the same category and they're certainly not mutually exclusive.
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