Thoughts & Process: Designing an Original Character – Kya

Character design is one of the most coveted processes of illustrators, and character focused art dominates independent artistic social media. Some artists make an entire city’s worth of OCs, original characters, as their hobby or livelihood for their stories, and each character’s development has varying ideas that conceptualize them. While this actual process for my character of focus, Kya, isn’t the most professional and isn’t what you’d expect of a corporate character design job, this is the process the character happened to go through. Hopefully this excerpt can help others think of various elements of character design that might mean more to their subject matter. This is one artist’s thoughts and process on the character development of my original character Kya.

The beginning ideas

When I get down into the core concept of Kya’s character, she is meant to be a personified planet Earth. The center point of her conflict, in my original story SS: Outlook, was going to be that this character was going to feel stuck and wonder-less, as she realized she’d seen everything out in the universe, yet still misses having her desire to explore. I was going through some mental struggles during this time period when this idea first came to fruition, back in fall of 2018, and the story was based off my own frustrations of wanting to go out and find new things while driving. During my first conceptual drawing of human Earth, I made a rule that if I were to design what were essentially gijinka characters, that their race and ethnicity should be based off of the major color of the object they represent. So what I did was use a photo of planet Earth from a Google image search, use the color picker tool from an image editing program on a solid blue of the photo, and converted that hue to a skin tone. With this done, it was clear the character needed to be black, so I drew the illustration of Earth with the idea that she’d have the genetic structure of a black woman.

An illustration of a woman colored to look like the Earth, holding her head in distressed in a circular frame with a painted texture outside of it.,

The first concept drawing of Earth was this fake cover I made for my story, where Earth is surrounded by a circular frame while she holds her head in distress. I absolutely love the texture on the outside of the frame, how soft the cloud hair looks, and think the entire piece is pleasing to look at. At the time, I used the landmasses, which at this point weren’t based off of any actual continents, to cover up the character’s chest. In hindsight, this really wasn’t even necessary, since the character’s arm is already almost completely covering her breasts, but this was a concept I’d revisit later. Some of the elements of the piece, including the way the stars were done and even the cloud hair, are no longer consistent with how they appear in my fully illustrated story pages, but this was a solid first concept drawing to get the ball rolling. However, once I began thinking about my story’s execution for more than two minutes, it became clear that Earth was going to need another human form for her to actually live on…Earth! This initial human form character is now Kya.

Six illustrations of the Earth character from birth to current day.

There would be other illustrations early on just of Earth and playing with where landmasses would fall on her body, but none really experimented with the original building block. The above is a collection of 6 drawings of Earth and how she changed from birth to current day.

Trial and Error

Next, for future drawings, I wanted an actual model reference to better practice drawing the character in multiple poses and expressions for who would be Kya. Since Kya and Earth were two sides of the same coin, I felt comfortable in using a single person as a model to construct the both of them. Kia Archer is a fashion model I chose in order to structure Kya’s face. Her model shoots are so full of sunshine and happiness that I became immediately entranced once I found her. However, I ultimately decided to have Kya’s actual body weight distribution to be more in line with my own, generally standard but lacking muscle. It was after I saw Kia Archer that I started drawing freckles on my OC’s cheeks, nose, and shoulders, albeit inconsistently at first, and loved the added element too much to give it up by the time I solidified her design. It was very early on in Kya’s birth where she had Kia Archer as an inspiration and reference, I don’t think Kya has a single drawing without the Archer influence.

A sketchbook drawing of a woman in a loose red shirt, with an apple in her hand. She is lying on the ground staring at the viewer.

I always liked the idea of Kya and Earth having a round facial structure, I thought it would highlight their smiles beautifully. Another idea that got stuck in my head, and never left, was Kya having curlier afro hair. I thought that was comparable to Earth’s cloud hair, and allowed for some playful lines. How curly her hair actually is varied from concept drawing to another, and that was honestly because of me practicing varying ways to draw it. As I continued to draw, the hair got a curlier and rounder silhouette, with me ultimately disliking her more straight down/loose interpretations. Kya’s eyes were always meant to be a brown too, the question was just how saturated would that brown be.

Six illustrations of Kya from birth to current day.

Kya got more love, focus, and experimentation as I answered my artistic whims with her in 2020. After my Queztal illustration, where there is a solid spot of saturated red resting in her hair, I recognized Kya herself needed some consistency, and it was time for a proper character turnaround. At this point, Kya and Earth had existed as concepts since October of 2018, coming close to two whole years!

Solidifying Kya

Character design turnaround sheet of a casual exploring woman, facing front, 3/4 view, and 3/4 back view.

One thing was clear to me: Kya was going to be someone who did some light exploring, which meant most of her design had to be practical and comfortable. I found myself adding little details, such as a headband she wears on her left arm in case she needs to tie up her hair, and a jacket wrapped around her waist if she gets cold, that ended up being natural elements of her design. I opted for her to wear sneakers for more free movement as well. One last minute addition to the design was the Earth necklace; as tongue in cheek as this element is, I find the nape of the neck to be a big sign of vulnerability to me, and thought it appropriate to implement an accessory like this. I think the most “fashionable” thing about this final design is Kya’s tube top. I based the top design off of some clothing I saw at a local boutique in my commute. I actually really love how strapless tops look most of the time, but hate how I look in them. Even if it’s pointless, I’d like my characters to be able to wear certain fashion proudly that I’d be too timid to try myself.

You can call it cheesy, but I decided to go with a color palette that was more down-to-earth with Kya’s fashion choices. Not only does the color resemblance help her correlate to Earth, but after experimenting with a blue top and lighter pants, it just seemed like it suited her. The jacket colors and pattern was based off of a jacket I saw in The Awkward Traveller blog that I instantly fell in love with. I made the actual pattern bitmap on Kya’s jacket in CorelDraw. Finally, Kya’s hair in previous concepts were darker and sometimes much more vibrant, such as the red tones in the Queztal drawing. But with the setting being half in the Great Guana Cay, and her ethnicity being cemented as half African American half Bahamian, I decided to lighten her hair tone a bit from what existed before. Her design was finalized in late August, so any illustrations I made of Kya after then were now consistent with this turnaround, including Midnight Velvet and Sky High.

Getting Down to Earth

For Earth’s final character design, I didn’t see the need to change too much from the concept besides developing some consistency. One element that did get cemented where what her open eyes would look like. I’d battled this problem before in the conceptual drawings, do I make them fiery like the Earth’s core, do I make them a simple reflection of stars? I realized that the star idea was going to be difficult to implement emotion, since the dark colors blended too much with the rest of her skin tones, so ultimately, the core idea won. I was so afraid that when I painted the eyes in this manner, that Earth would look creepy. As I practiced, I’d like to think that her eyes evolved into looking more vulnerable.

During actually drawing and developing the first few pages, I ran into the problem where I wasn’t sure on how I wanted to draw Earth’s cloud hair. During previous developments, I found I drew the cloud hair in a way that was too cartoony for my tastes. During my drawing for page 3, I got the idea to simply draw the cloud hair as I would Kya’s normal hair, and the result instantly cured my qualms. I also found that drawing the extra lines allowed the cloud hair more volume, which also helped it look less cartoony.

A character turnaround of a woman with different parts of the Earth's continents placed upon her body, in black and white.

Finally, Earth needed a proper reference for where the landmasses fall on her body. I knew I wanted the Bahamas, and specifically the Great Guana Cay, to be where Earth’s heart is, since that is where the setting for Kya’s side of the story is. The final question was going to be how the landmasses wrapped around Earth’s body. To highlight a previous point, I very briefly questioned if it was necessary to draw Earth’s landmasses on her breasts and lower region, in order to act as some sort of cover. I quickly decided this wasn’t necessary at all, since I, as an artist, could simply chose not to draw any actual nipples or labia. It’s kinda funny how in the end result, South America is covering Earth’s right breast and Africa covers her crotch, while her left breast is completely bare. I greatly disliked just a flat horizontal layout, since North America would completely cover Earth’s face and almost all of her legs would be swallowed by Antarctica. So as you can see from the reference below, I decided to rotate a map of the continents by 90 degrees, and then fit the landmasses around the character’s arms and back. Because of this, Antarctica is shrunken down a sizable chunk to just rest around Earth’s right hand, and not a single landmass ended up on Earth’s face. I did originally really like the concept of some land existing on her cheek, but since I was basing this character off of reality and the actual planet Earth, I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.

Conclusion

Those are all the thoughts and developments I had on Kya and Earth’s character designs. I’m trying to make more original characters with proper designs and turnarounds, so hopefully within the next year I’ll have another original character to talk about. If you read this far, thank you so much for listening to my ramblings and ideas for these characters. I wish you the best, til we meet again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s