Shop Mobile More Submit  Join Login

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:
KlownyKritter Featured By Owner Oct 3, 2015  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
Yay another artist from St. Louis!
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.
Link012 Featured By Owner Aug 2, 2015  Student General Artist
wow this is amazing. thanks!
IvoryFeline75 Featured By Owner Jul 22, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
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!! ^_^
xtendedversion Featured By Owner Edited Jul 7, 2015
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  Hobbyist Traditional 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  Hobbyist Traditional 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 :)
AtomicF0x 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   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.
Hidden by Owner
Hidden by Owner
Hidden by Owner
Hidden by Owner
Hidden by Owner
unforgivable-porn Featured By Owner May 12, 2015
but tumblr doesn't have comments feature.
Umbrayl-and-Paynx Featured By Owner May 12, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
how can you judge a website without even having account there. Seems a bit biased.
Hidden by Owner
Hidden by Owner
Hidden by Owner
Hidden by Owner
NycterisA Featured By Owner May 7, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Heeeyyy that goblin guy is from Tiny Heroes! I remember that I instantly liked that guy in the tutorial!
Pan-Zareta Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2015  Hobbyist Photographer
thank you for this. I've wanted to improve my figure drawing for the longest time
RifkaMarie Featured By Owner Apr 27, 2015
I love the message you put in this helpful hints sort of tutorial. I actually took out the original pencil sketch of my first drawing I ever liked enough to post here... and all these years later, I finally knew how to fix the one issue I had with it, but had to leave because I didn't know how to fix it. (long braided hair that just didn't look right somehow...)

But now I don't have a scanner, lol. I can't upload the updated copy. OH WELL. *I* know I fixed it. That's good enough.
Dandy-L Featured By Owner Apr 25, 2015
OMG I want the card deck!  Actually been wanting it since the first time I saw the drawings with the spades.
JDWorth Featured By Owner Apr 25, 2015
Good Luck!
lordofarabia Featured By Owner Apr 23, 2015  Hobbyist General Artist
Have you ever considered turning Lackadaisy into an animated TV show?
snk911 Featured By Owner Apr 21, 2015  Hobbyist Writer
You won't see a penny from me, but you can bet your fluffy butt I'll be standing on the sidelines, cheering you on! Good luck!
Wooooooooooooooooooooow ur great
MellieBels Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2015  Student Digital Artist
AAhhhh wow I can't believe I haven't had the pleasure of reading Lackadaisy all these years! I've always followed you and kept up with your fantastic art and INCREDIBLY helpful and knowledgeable tutorials, but things got in the way for me to focus and read your comic. I'm so happy to say that I finally have time to soak it all in and read it! And I'm so happy for you that you have enough support on Patreon to follow your heart and create what you're passionate about! That's always the most important <3 If I had continuous finances myself I'd definitely be a patron. Perhaps soon! Your comic is so wonderfully paced and the art has so much love put into it. The story so far is just wow *w* I love the research put into it as well! And the perspective and background work is so grand. So many things going right with this! I'm so happy for you! Congratulations :heart:
This is such perfect timing. I can't wait to keep up with your comic. <3

MrNuclearPsychopath Featured By Owner Apr 18, 2015  Hobbyist Digital Artist
La is puking Rainbows Rainbow Voimt :rainbowfrog: Seizure Kitty Dance Foxy's MLG Victory Dance (Chat Icon) Rainbow Sheep :awesomerainbow: Lily's Rainbow Box :FeelingFree: :rainbow: :rainbow:Rainbow La -plz account- Rainbow doge emote RAINBOW LA ThowUp Rainbows so much info that I'm puking rainbows.
6milk Featured By Owner Apr 17, 2015
I'm SO EXCITED you're going to be dedicating more time to Lackadaisy, it's my favorite webcomic ever and I really hope you get the support you need to continue on it! I'll happily introduce all my friends to it so you have more readers, too. Wishing you the best of luck, Tracy!
Add a Comment:

Featured in Collections

journals by nothingsgoingon

Journals by TinyWild

Journals by mechacharibdys

More from DeviantArt


Submitted on
November 30, 2013


437,572 (563 today)
5,020 (who?)