Color Adventures: The Tetrad

I WANTED TO BREAK AWAY  from the standard Yellow Red Blue (or Split Primary) palette that I've been using for most of my landscapes. One afternoon, my friend Tony Weinstock suggested that I try a tetradic color palette. The following paragraphs will break down the techniques I used to achieve this. 

It's spring in California, so I know I need green. I started with two greens–Permanent Green (a warm green) and Winsor Green (a cool green). Opposite green on the 12 color wheel is red. I then chose two reds–Cad Red (a warm red) and Alizarin Crimson (a cool red). This is actually a Tetradic Color Scheme, consisting of two complementary pairs. A relatively warm and cool version of opposite colors. See infographic below.

All the areas in light, such as the lawn, the tree on the left, and the bench, are warm green and red mixtures, and the areas in shade are cool red and green mixtures. The violet tree on the right in full shade, was mixed with crimson, white and  maybe some green to neutralize it. It's relatively cool by contrast. The takeaway is that you don't always have to use blue for shadows. In fact, according to Nathan Fowkes, shadows in nature are warm, with the exception of the bluest glaciers.

I cheated a little because I already had a yellow orange ground ready to go in my pad. I let some orange peek through for interest. Notice that I didn't use any pure white. The resulting painting is cartoony and way out of the ordinary, but unusually pleasing. A fun experiment in color mixing! Share your Tetradic Color experiences in the comments below.

Drawing from Life

GREAT IDEAS MAY COME TO YOU IN THE SHOWER, or while driving, but even the most brilliant illustrators don’t whip out designs without some visual reference. Sure. The internet is a decent place to start your search. But there are disadvantages to limiting your research to a pool of still images curated by an algorithm. Furthermore, drawing from photos has a multitude of drawbacks as described in this well written article by Veronica Winters. Join me as I take you by the hand away from the comfort of your chair and into the real world in search of live reference.


Observational Drawing

Otherwise referred to as “coffee shop drawing” or just “people watching”, this is the practice of drawing people in the wild. To get the most out of this, your attention must be focused on your subject. Not yourself. Think of it as a recorded observation on paper. Forget about your individual style, your reputation, your Artstation, Etsy and Instagram. The goal is to learn something about people. People are interesting and behave unexpectedly when they aren’t aware they’re being watched. Which makes for great character reference! Whether searching for reference or inspiration, observational drawing is a beginning drawing exercise that should really be taught and sustained at all levels.

Drawing from a Model

One way to create a character is to directly reference a live model of your choice. The following images show how Disney animators based Alice on a live model named Kathryn Beaumont. Conveniently, she also voiced the character.

By doing this, they were able to more accurately depict the character’s size, age and mannerisms, among other things. It’s not clear whether they are tracing over photos, but they do appear to be drawing her very literally. I can see some problems with this, but in general, figure drawing is extremely important and should be practiced often because it allows you to focus on details.

Drawing a Live Animal

Have you ever tried your hand at animal or creature design, only to realize you don’t know what the hell you’re doing? I have. Disney animators found themselves in that situation in the late 1930s when they were tasked with creating a believable, but not overly realistic Bambi. They studied live animal models to get the anatomy and movements just right. It wasn’t convenient for the production, but it was an investment of time and talent that resulted in a landmark film.


I doubt the old Disney animators would have relied on the internet as much as we do today. Another awesome thing about drawing from life, is that the playing field is level and accessible to everyone. And it's not limited to people. In the end, you’ll have a better understanding of various subjects for present or future character design, and the confidence to draw anything in public or in private without fear.

Have you ever wandered away from the computer in search of live reference? Have you ever been inspired to design a character based on somebody you saw? Share your stories below.


Forget Everything You Know About Caricature

JOHN K. (THE CREATOR OF REN & STIMPY) has written a lot about this topic on his blog John K Stuff, so let's kick off this post with a quote from John. "When you sit down to caricature a person, you should try to bury all your preconceived notions of what 'caricature style' is.” This is the best advice a budding caricature artist could receive. An artform that is predicated on exaggeration and the depiction of an individual must be unique. Not formulaic.

I’ve found that the best way to approach caricature is to practice it a lot over a long period of time. Years. Then put them all together so that you can see what’s working and what’s not. Literally print or photocopy them and attach them to a piece of cardboard or corkboard. At work, we have a place where all of the caricatures go. A colleague once told me that it was her favorite part of the office. It has become sort of a shrine. A year after it started, when employees had moved on to greener pastures, my colleagues (non-artists) moved them over to a separate board so they would not be thrown out or forgotten. This was truly a grassroots movement within the company. People universally love to see themselves drawn by someone else. And they love to see people they know drawn. Humans are so vain.

Here are a few of my personal favorites, and let me tell you why. Each one is primarily a behavioral exaggeration of a person, as opposed to a purely physical or facial exaggeration. It should tell a story about your subject. Caricature shouldn't call attention to your artistic skill level. Everything down to your choice of medium and linework should reflect your subject. 

How do you approach caricature? How often to you do caricature? For more about John K., follow him on Twitter @JohnKricfalusi1

Character Flaws: The Evolution of Unintelligent Character Design

IF YOU WERE TO DO AN IMAGE SEARCH FOR CHARACTER DESIGN right now, you’d likely see something like this. They look like professional Character Designs, don't they? Slick digitally colored characters, turned around in space. Let's take a closer look.

Sometimes, Google search results are misleading. The algorithm uses filenames, site context, and image recognition to group images. Then it optimizes based on clicks. The most clicked images are considered to be a match. That's fine if you're searching for pictures of antique cars. But as we become dependent on the internet for answers, I would expect to see more authoritative examples of character design from a variety of films and games. There is a glut of fan art and student work that is spoiling the results.

I see a lot of good looking humans. Looks are important, but looks aren't everything. Personality is a key ingredient. So is story. A telltale sign of amateur character design is a lack of story. Even if characters are well drawn, they can't exist without a story. There's a term for characters without a story. Doodles. 

Don't get me wrong. Good characters can inspire a story. Fun unique characters and creatures. Bipeds. Quadrupeds. The possibilities are endless! The world doesn't need another human warrior coming-of-age story. And the adorkable kids look like adorkable kids I've seen before.

Let’s say that you don’t know anything about character design for games and animation. How would you distinguish good from bad when it’s all lumped together like this?

Feel free to jot down your thoughts in the comments section!