Cartoon Animals, a new area for me to explore!

Hello there, well, since I wrote my last blog post about setting up an online shop with Redbubble, I’ve been thinking long and hard about how to expand it and improve what I offer. I decided I wanted to do something completely different to anything I have done before and that I felt could sell well. Importantly I also wanted the designs to make me happy, as recent months haven’t been good for me, and to prompt a positive response from the people who see them.

The end result has been to start illustrating cartoon animals. To get some ideas, and return to how I got my interest in illustration in the first place, I decided to grab a pad of paper and a pencil, and sketch some animals, which actually led to me quickly finding a style I was happy with.

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There are more sketches, but they’re under wraps.

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I realised over the years as I’ve grown up, life has led me away from creating things just for fun, and I now felt I could do this, with the skills I learnt while at university meaning I could satisfy the inner demon, that requires me to make things as perfect as possible and to not do them at all, if I can’t do them well.

My original plan was to use scan the sketches, and trace them in Adobe Illustrator to create them as vector illustrations. I started this process, but was very disappointed as it wasn’t enjoyable, seeing the character drained away from the original sketches. However, I felt I couldn’t use the sketches they were just too rough. Where to go next?

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A little riddle… Is a backwards step a backwards step if it helps you to proceed forwards?

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As it happened, the answer arrived while speaking to a friend one evening. Something I do love about designing and illustrating is that the answer doesn’t have to arrive when you’re working on something! We were discussing what we were up to, and I showed him the vectors, and then the sketches. We then agreed the sketches were where it was at. From that, I suddenly realised how simple it all was. I had the sketches scanned in, so all I needed to do was to open it in Photoshop, remove the white background — which I’d stumbled across a couple of weeks ago here — clean it up using a Layer Mask, add some colour and there we go!

The next day I set to work on one of the sketches and found this was definitely the correct route, however, the colour still looked a little flat and blocky when compared to the pencil marks.

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I pondered about what to do, with the answer arriving in the form of a Pattern Overlay, found within the Layer Styles dialog box. I searched through, found one I liked, and blended it in using the Blending Modes and Opacity tools. The net effect is a mildly scribbled look, which matches the pencil marks well, and being much more vibrant and fluid than if I had coloured the sketch in on paper.

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However, as the day progressed, I saw the original sketch I was working on had some restraints that could not be sensibly overcome, such as not having a tail as I ran out of paper! Or, some pencil marks were too light or crowded together. I realised I needed to create another version of the sketch, which concerned me as it’s all too easy to lose the character when you tighten up or trace a sketch. Thankfully this time, everything went well, which gave me some confidence that the designs I was drawing had merit to them.

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The finished chameleon sketch.

When sketching, I keep things simple and to a small scale. I use a pad of thin, plain, A4 paper, which is smooth enough to not corrupt my pencil marks and thin enough to be easily traced without a light box. The paper also possesses a bright white finish. Sketching at A4 means the sketches are small, but scanning them at 600dpi gives me the quality I need once it’s cleaned up, and changed to 300dpi. To keep things level, I place a unused A3 cutting mat underneath.

Using a 2B Staedtler (how do you pronounce that name?) pencil, and a Staedtler eraser to clean up mistakes allows me to get the results I want. Knowing the sketch can be edited digitally, I can sketch rather heavily and remove any stubborn marks digitally. Oh, and not forgetting a metal pencil sharpener I picked up from a corner shop a couple of years ago, which is perfect at keeping the pencils sharp, without breaking any leads like most other sharpeners I’ve had.

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My set up for drawing. I don’t feel so wasteful this way if sketches don’t work out, even though I keep all my sketches.

So with the new sketch now ready, I repeated the previous day’s work, finishing the chameleon illustration and also colouring the original duck sketch to experiment with colours and to decide what to do with it’s feathers.

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The finished chameleon!
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What to do with a duck’s feathers and what colours should the duck be?

For the duck design, I actually drew two more sketches, one to tighten up the outline and to block out the design for the feathers, and the final one to ensure things were neat enough to turn into a final design.

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Sorting out the duck’s feathers, plus the background is added.
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The finished duck sketch.
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The finished duck!

When it came to getting them ready to put onto my online shop, I decided the chameleon design really needed a background, especially as the duck design had one. To do this, I filled the background with a shade of green and placed a Pattern Overlay on top to give it some much needed texture. I tried a few different patterns, but found a suitable one in the end. Putting them into the shop online led to a small process of trial and error to get all the sizing issues sorted, and then I wrote the descriptions for them, where I had some fun, giving them each a name and personality.

Please click on the designs below to see them in my shop.

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“Meet Bob! He’s a rather nervous duck who goes around being quite worried at what might happen next in his life. If you so happen to find him bobbing around on a river somewhere near you, please take good care of him!

Bob began his life as a sketch, before being scanned in order to have his colour added and some feathers preened. After emerging from the digital world, Bob was loved by everyone who saw him, so I decided he should explore the world, spreading happiness as he travelled!”

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“Meet Karma, a rather friendly chameleon who just loves sitting on a branch humming his favourite tune! Unlike other chameleons, Karma usually chooses not to blend in, enjoying life to the full.

Karma began life as a sketch, before being scanned into the digital world in order for me to give him his colour. Once completed, Karma was loved by everyone who saw him, so we agreed he should explore the world, spreading happiness as he travelled!”

You should work out why the duck is called Bob pretty quickly, and as for why the chameleon is called Karma, if you’re stuck why don’t you try searching YouTube or Spotify for the answer!

With every design, I am learning something, and for the next step, I will probably try and think about the formats I am illustrating for, rather than having to edit them at the end to such a degree, such as extending a branch here or the background there.

I have plans to produce many more cartoons, some are already rough sketches, some still only feature in my head. I hope these designs will be popular and bring a sense of happiness to the people who see them! They’ve certainly helped to cheer me up, and have given me a fun new area to explore. Mission accomplished I reckon! 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Cartoon Animals, a new area for me to explore!

  1. Alex, these are WONDERFUL! After ages of struggling to find a way to illustrate my fantasy characters, without success, here you are producing these amazing images. If you want some more characters to practice with, let me know! How are you at unicorns and dragons? Maybe you could sell the illustrations when my books are published and made into movies? Go team Greenhead!

    1. Haha! Thank you for your kind words. I have no idea at how good I am drawing unicorns and dragons because I’ve never tried before, so perhaps I’ll have a go and see!

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