How to Draw Bullies

There’s a bunch of bullies in the book that badmouth and boss and generally behave like bumheads.

In the original storyboard Norm and I had the idea to make them faceless and shadowy, shown only in silhouette until the final pages. If you can’t see their faces they become creepier… the reader can add whatever face they want to the bullies. We thought this would be clever.

When we saw it as a picture, it wasn’t clever.

Here’s one version of the faceless bullies (with an early version of Norm’s text):


One problem with making them faceless is that you can’t quite tell how old they are. They’re supposed to be around Josh’s age, maybe slightly older and bigger- but here they look like teenagers.

It’s a good viewpoint, but it’s too terrifying, particularly when their age is unspecified. And the obvious threat of physical abuse is not appropriate for a children’s book.

The original was worse-


Here you can’t tell how old they are at all. They could be 30. Horrible. It needed to change.

Now, the bullies are shown for what they are- nasty little boys. The sequence below is from the colour roughs.


Wolverine was fun to draw in this sequence. He could finally show some expressions other than very happy and happy.

(Norm and Cate are still negotiating over the text for this sequence, so I’ve left it out. You’ll get to read it in the final book.)

Designing Josh’s other rellies- Nan, Mum and Dad

I’ve mentioned before on this blog that all the characters are based in some way on people I know. That’s mostly true.

Josh’s Nan is based on a friend at my day job, Lea. They’re not similar in personality (Lea isn’t grumpy like Nan)- it’s more in the facial features… their hairline and glasses are very similar.

I wanted Nan to be non-stereotypical, so my original plan was for her to be a funky grandma (which Lea liked the sound of). But then when Pop became this cuddly bear-like Viking man, Nan needed to be more boring in comparison- good cop/bad cop.

Here’s one of the first sketches of Nan, from the first storyboard. This image changed, but I love the look of horror on Nan’s face. She’s upset because Josh has announced he’ll be worshipping the Norse Gods.


The original script had Josh being sent to Sunday School, but it was taken out… our editor Cate suggested that Sunday School wasn’t relevant to kids today, and we wouldn’t want to set up a theme of Christianity vs Paganism. Excellent point.


So, Nan’s a tough woman. Here’s a more recent sketch.


Josh’s dad and mum make few appearances in the book- only at the start and the finish. Dad is based on me. Not that I’m a Dad. But I wanted the dad to be easy to draw, so I picked a face I’m familiar with- my own.

The mum’s hair is based on a lady I met through my day job- she’d come along to a training session I was running, and she had this awesome bit of fringe hanging over her forehead and a big ponytail. I sketched her in a quiet moment, intending to use her hair for a character in a different story- but then Josh’s mum seemed to like it so she took it for herself.

Here’s the first scribbly sketch of Josh’s family around the breakfast table.

mum-and-dad-1And here’s the final rough…


Here’s the whole clan.


Designing Josh’ Grandad. First name, Pop- last name, Gohsaweezel

That’s not true. I don’t know what Pop’s surname is. What I do know, is that he’s a major character in the book, and a major influence on Josh. He introduces the little bloke to Vikings, and encourages his efforts to be more brave and Viking-like.

Norm and I definitely didn’t want him to look staid and boring, like a nerdy historian or your standard beige oldie. He had to have presence and something different about him.

I’ve based most of the characters in the book on people I know. Pop is based on Norm, even though Norm has neither a moustache nor a beard. Without realising it, I guess he’s also based on my dad, who has a moustache. But no beard.

Here’s the first character sketch of Pop, with some notes. You can see he has similar hair to Josh, but his fringe curls up to make ‘horns’ like a Viking helmet.


At one point, Pop was going to have a motorbike in his shed. He even had a Celtic tattoo on his arm in the first storyboard.


He’s changed a little though, become softer in character- but his appearance has stayed mostly the same. Here’s some comparisons of Pop from the first storyboard (top row) to the latest storyboard (bottom row).


Not much change really. He was good to go from that first sketch. But I’ve needed to go back to my first sketches and check the character tags (defining features), making sure I’m drawing him consistently. He’s still a bit different in each of those sketches above.

Here’s some more recent sketches of him. I’ve been practicing drawing all the characters in a little jotter pad, trying to get them consistent and rough, to be able to draw them fairly accurately without trying too hard. It’s making the final artwork look more spontaneous and fluid, and it’s helping me to not care so much about whether the artwork is ‘perfect’ or not.  I’m finding that the less perfect it looks, the more perfect it feels- corny but true.


Here’s a panel from the colour storyboard (…I’ve used Photoshop and a Wacom Intuos3 (graphics tablet) to try out colour with the final storyboard.)

It’s a big symbolic moment, where Pop gives Josh his Viking sword, while heavenly light shines down from the window. You can almost hear the Valkyries singing angelically in the background.

And here’s a sneak peek at a final artwork sample, just completed! It’s another significant moment, where Pop gives Josh a book on Vikings. This is a scan of a pencil sketch, with digital watercolour applied in Corel Painter.


Working on Wolverine the Westy

Wolverine is Josh’s dog. Norm had the idea to make him a West Highland Terrier- cute, loyal and with a moustache like a Viking.

First step- Google image search for references.

Here’s the very first sketch of Wolverine..


and an early turn-around.


The first watercolour sample was promising.


Continue reading “Working on Wolverine the Westy”

Creating the character of Knut- part 5

I started attending a clay sculpture class in November 2008, the year before I started working on this picture book. I find clay a great medium to work with, especially for making models of characters. I’d made one sculpture of Knut already- the big-nose version- but I wanted to make an updated version.

Here’s the big-nose one:

big nose sculpture

and here’s the newer one, based on the ’round-cheek’ sketches:

round cheek sculpture

The head isn’t very big, it fits into the palm of your hand.

Then I started making the body over three sessions.

Firstly, I got the basic body parts in there. No detail at this stage.

he looks a bit weird with no clothes on

I hollowed out a hole in the bottom of his head so that it could pivot on his neck. This kept the head stable.

The next time round, I added a base to give him stability, and I put in the details of some clothes.

Much better with clothes I reckon

Then in the third session, I put in finer details- his fingers, the stitching and the wool on his ugg boots, and I shaped his shirt a bit.

version 3- more detailed

I’ve left gaps in his hands to hold a sword and shield, and I’d like to make a model of Wolverine to sit beside him (that’s why the base isn’t symmetrical).

I’m glad I made his head separate, because I’d like to redo it. His face is a bit flat, and his nose and eyes are too high on his head. He also needs his viking helmet! Perhaps I’ll also make some cardboard armour.

So, that’s how the character of Knut developed. From next week, I’ll look at some of the other characters in the book.

Creating the character of Knut- part 4

At this point I had a meeting with Cate to show her my character design for Knut. She gave some great feedback-

  • The gap in the front of his teeth might need to go- kids usually only have those gaps when they’re younger, around 4-6 years old, and Knut was supposed to look a tiny bit older, around 6 to 7 years old.
  • The size of his head, arms and legs in proportion to his body made him look slightly too old- maybe 8 or 9.
  • Maybe reduce the pointiness of his chin, and make his cheeks rounder
  • Wolverine looked great and could stay as he was.

Based on that feedback, I revised the character design on my computer, fiddling with the body proportions.

revised character design- dated 4/12/09

From there I started resketching the character, making the face rounder and the chin less pointy. This version of Knut I call the ’round-cheek’ version.

Starting to take shape- dated 17/3/10
I'm really liking this version now...
Photo0287 much so, that I was caught drawing Knut on the whiteboard at work

The body proportions started to look better with this version, and his character was more closely aligned with the text- Knut is a very innocent, sweet and gentle boy. His hairstyle is more consistent now too, with the two little bits of fringe coming down on either side and the little curl at the end. It was a lucky design, because when Knut wears his Viking helmet, his fringe pops out from the front, making him still recognisable.

I had been working on Knut for a long while at this stage- my first sketch had been in June 2009, and the round-cheek sketches were from March 2010 onwards. Here’s how he progressed. Which is your favourite?

The many faces of Knut

Next week- I show you how I made a  clay model of the round-cheek version of Knut.

Creating the character of Knut- part 3

I started working on a new version of Knut, one without the big nose.

some very early pointy-chin sketches, with a little bit of Nick coming through
lots more pointy chin sketches

You can see here that I’m trying to draw the same face over and over again while keeping it consistent. Well, I’m trying at least! I’m also trying some profile sketches so I know what Knut looks like from different angles.

I was pretty happy with Knut at this point. I had a meeting coming up with Cate, our editor at Fremantle Press, and I needed to show a watercolour sample of Knut. I used one of the big-nose sketches as a guide, but made his face more pointy-chinned…

Sword pose- big nose and pointy chin versions. I've added a colander hemet for Wolverine
Sword pose- colour testing on the computer before using watercolour
the finished sample using watercolour- dated 11/10/09

I do enjoy colouring on the computer for the ease of use, the speed, and the amount of control you get- but you can’t beat the feeling of using a real brush, real water, and real watercolour paint. I reckon the finished product looks a lot better too.

Next week I’ll tell you what Cate thought of the character design so far, and the improvements that were made after the meeting.

Creating the character of Knut- part 2

The first version of Josh/Knut had a huge nose. I made a small clay sculpture which seemed to be cute… but when I translated it into drawings his nose was enormous.

sculpture and sketches
big-nose sculpture and sketches
big nose version image 1
You can pick your friends...
 big nose version image 2
...and you can pick your nose...
big nose version image 3
...but you can't pick your friend's nose.

His character was starting to come through here- alternately brave and afraid, with his faithful Viking dog Wolverine by his side. But the nose had to go, it’s far too big for a young boy.

Character design tip-
Did you know that our ears and noses continue to grow for our whole lives? Babies and kids have small ears and noses compared to their head size, but older people have much bigger noses and ears. If you draw a character with big ears and a big nose, it will make them seem older. Unless of course your character is a baby elephant. In this case I’d recommend making their eyes much bigger than usual. The babies of all animals have bigger eyes than the adults, compared to their head size. Except those blind cave fish, they don’t have any eyes. And tadpoles, they’ve got tiny eyes. And… sorry where was I?

Right, yes, I was getting rid of Knut’s big nose.

The next version of Knut is the ‘pointy-chin’ version, you can see his nose is much smaller:


I’ll show you some more of this version next week, including an early watercolour sample.

Creating the character of Knut- part 1

So, after building the ship with Nick, I used some of the photos as reference for character sketches.

pics of Nick
pics of Nick
sketches of Nick, and character ideas
ship building sketches 1
ship building sketches, featuring a very early 'Wolverine' (Knut's dog).
ship building sketch 2
Nick performing cardboard dragon dentistry

These sketches look very similar to the final roughs for the book- I’ll show their development in a future post.

From this point I started developing a very early version of Knut, which looks nothing like the final version… I call it the ‘big-nose’ version. Here’s a peek:

big nose detail
One of the first Knut sketches, dated 6/10/09

More next week!