How I use shapes to define the focal point for a character
Summary Little Miss Muffet, a nursery rhyme, painted two times with 4 years in between. I explain how I used knowledge of shapes and hierarchy to create a strong focal point and improve the composition. Fixing the colour was only a bonus in this exercise.
In 2016 I was drawing different nursery rhymes pictures and a lot of animal figures to prepare for my portfolio as a children's illustrator. I have been since involved in several book projects and have learned so much during this time. I wondered, what I could do now with the pieces from the past time.
This is little miss muffet from 2016, as I painted her, and in the second picture as I changed her in photoshop a bit.
What I liked: The hair was sweet and the clothes pretty. The pose was quite what I had in mind back then. I didn't like the colours choice nor the saturation, but that was easy to fix in photoshop.
Miss muffet got a new dress, tights, and a new muffet. I also fixed some of the shades and the saturation and line work.
Now, after about 4-5 years, I went back to sketch a new miss muffet, but keeping close to the old idea.
What I planned to change:
A stronger pose The old one was sweet, but somewhat slow. I was wondering if Miss Muffet would just pull up one leg, or maybe rather jump up?
A definite silhouette I learned that you can emphasise the focal point, by defining simpler silhouette against more complicated ones. In the old piece, the pose is ok, but it is not directing anywhere. Should we look up, maybe to the spoon or rather the bowl?
Playful shapes I feel I am haunted by my early manga drawings. All my characters now have some manga/chibi/totoro in them, and as much as I adore studio Ghibli, as long as it wasn't an intentional choice of style for my picture, I didn't want to draw so similar.
This is the result
I got the jump in, followed a new colour sheme, and included some of more interesting shapes. I wanted to create a lot of action by throwing the bowl around and having the muffet fly about as well, and a comedy aspect with the spider being very calm and still.
A closer look at the silhouette, shapes, and focal point, from left to right (colour coded)
Pink Where the action is, I put a lot of shape changes. The calmer side, has only a few sticking out shapes
Yellow Avoiding cookiecutter chibi style by establishing clearly different shapes. The shape hierarchy is established through their size.
Green a sence of direction can be created with triangles
Blue The focal point is the spider, but knowing that we always start at the left of the picture, or at the face, it turns out that my choice of hirarcy of shapes, that is the sizes of shape become smaller, was perfect to lead the eye towards to spider. I arranged the main shapes from top left to bottom right, which is a typical reading flow (at least for cultures that read from left to right…).
Finally, I brushed up some shades (ambient exclusion points) in photoshop and clarifed the light source position through extra highlights
And here is a famous before and after view
A note about the colours
I found stressing about the colours doesn't make the picture better, but will distract you from choosing the right shapes and focal points. However, I made some adjustments. Orange and Red are very strong attractors for focus. The way I picked in 2016 the dress to be orange, disturbed the flow of the focal point, because the dress goes into the width. That flower on the coat, made things just worse, because your eyes jump form the dress back to the flower, and up, instead to down to the spider. The adjustment I made was to pick the tights to be orange. I didn't know if it will work out, but I was lucky. It emphasises the legs and so the jump of little miss muffet. The flower is now in her hair, far away enough to not disturb the flow towards the focal point.
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