Toffle Towers: designing the characters

Designing characters is one of my favourite parts of the job. There are lots of little tricks and techniques you can use to design great characters – here’s how I do it.

To celebrate the upcoming release of Toffle Towers book 3, I’ve prepped a bunch of behind-the-scenes blog posts. I’ll show you how I designed the hotel’s interior and exterior; how I designed the cover of book 1; and how I designed other elements like the shuttle bus and the title typography. But today, I’m showing you possibly the most important part of prepping for this series: how I designed the cast.

Toffle Towers is a chapter book series, fantastically written by Tim Harris and illustrated by me. Tim wrote a HUGE cast into the series, and I had to create all their character designs – partly based on descriptions Tim included in the text, and partly from my imagination.

Chegwin Toffle is the main character, so of course I started with him. Chegwin is a 10yo dreamer who inherits a hotel and becomes the manager.

Because I’d be drawing Chegwin so many times throughout the series, I drew a quick turnaround sheet for him too.

Chegwin’s parents were next.  Mrs Toffle’s design worked out straight away, luckily. Mr Toffle’s occupation changed to band manager in the second draft of the text, so his design needed to change too.

Mrs Flibbernut, Chegwin’s tutor, was originally called Mrs Saxon. In her first iteration she wasn’t interested in rock climbing, so she was a larger lady (I based her on Miriam Margoyles).

Pepper Perry, the hotel’s young chef, went through a couple of versions to get her distinctive hair right.

Dusty and Mildew Staines, the hotel’s housekeepers, were fun to design. They started off looking a lot more comatose/senile, almost like old zombies!

Here are some more of the original quick sketches of the characters.

And here are the rest of the final designs for the characters.

Finally, here’s my cast sheet.

This is how I check if my character designs all fit together, both in terms of style and colour choices; I can make sure that no characters look too similar, and can check that their shapes are distinctive from each other; and I can also use it as reference to make sure that character’s relative heights stay consistent throughout the series.


Toffle Towers 3: Order in the Court

Pre-order now:
Booktopia (Australia/NZ only)
Dymocks
QBD (Australia only)
Readings
Angus & Robertson (Australia only)
Book Depository

Toffle Towers 2: The Great River Race

Buy online
Booktopia (Australia/NZ only)
Dymocks
QBD (Australia only)
Readings
Angus & Robertson (Australia only)

Toffle Towers 1: Fully Booked

Buy online
Booktopia (Australia/NZ only)
Kinokuniya (Australia only)
Dymocks
QBD (Australia only)
Readings
Angus & Robertson (Australia only)

Author: James Foley

James makes books for courageous kids. He’s the author/illustrator of the S.Tinker Inc graphic novel series for middle primary: Brobot (2016), Dungzilla (2017) and Gastronauts (2018) star Sally Tinker, the world’s foremost inventor under the age of twelve, and Joe Tinker, her stinky baby brother. The fourth in the series, Chickensaurus, is out in late 2020. He is also the illustrator of the Toffle Towers series written by Tim Harris. James’ earlier books My Dead Bunny (2015), In The Lion (2012), The Last Viking (2011) and The Last Viking Returns (2014) have all scored several honours, including children’s choice awards, shortlistings in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year awards, and selection to the International Youth Library’s White Raven list. The sequel to My dead Bunny - There's Something Weird About Lena - is out in late 2020. James comes from a long line of queuing enthusiasts. Follow him on FB/twitter/insta/youtube @jamesfoleybooks, or at www.jamesfoley.com.au .

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