Designing Poses that Work: The Revelers

So, I’ve been really swamped with a lot of NDA work recently and the personal work has gotten shifted to the back burner. However, I’d like to share a story here with you that I actually haven’t really told since I worked on it last summer.

I was asked by a client to undertake the biggest job I’ve ever worked on with no less than thirteen figures for a mural installation in a coffee bar in New York, NY. It is a long story (very long) so I won’t go into all the details. In the end, the project never reached completion. By the time I was finished, I had painted three separate large scale illustrations but none of them ever made it to the finish line. Multiple reworkings resulted in roughly 25-30 different figures over the course of roughly 2 months. It was a hell of a job!

Massive projects like these are like training for a marathon. The amount of sheer drawing involved forces a kind of learning that prepares you for the day when you really need those skills. The above GIF is composited of progress images I took at the end of every day’s work. Seeing just how much this entire piece changed as I worked on it is really eye opening, but that’s the nature of client work and sometimes those kind of intense revisions are the way a project goes.

Because this project had such a big scale, I’ll just focus on a character design that I think has some interesting lessons to teach. In my very first sketch, I actually had all the characters as classical Greeks in a processional. I really like this one character that was carrying a tray high above his head in a very haughty, dignified manner.

I studied a lot of Norman Rockwell, especially his mural “Yankee Doodle”, in preparing for this job. One thing that Rockwell does especially well is the posturing of his characters to achieve maximum impact.

This mural does such a wonderful job with a wide horizontal arrangement!  Each and every figure is designed to telegraph emotion and narrative content.

Here he the coffee server character again, this time after a the client requested he be revised and turned into a modern day Italian chef. As long as the pose is convincing and the body language is clear, it doesn’t really matter who he is or what he’s wearing – it still works.

And… here he is for the last go round after another revision, this time as a rapper, complete with mirror shades, tattoos, ripped jeans and Nike high tops. Again, the particulars aren’t that important if the overall design of the pose is good.

Looking back, there are a lot of things I would have done differently with this big job. Anything of this size is going to have some major areas of potential improvement. But a major lesson that I learned was that characters that have clear, definite poses and body language just work, no matter where you place them.

Here are a couple of other favorites. Who is this lady? Dang, those boots look like they were made for walking!

I also really liked this guy – drawing his full chest eagle tattoo was so much fun! But aside from the details, his pose is mostly derived from Greek sculpture. It’s just a classically elegant pose, designed to lead your eye to the point of focus.

Finally, to drive the point home that the details are irrelevant when it comes to pose design, just take a look at silhouette. This is a great way to check and see if a pose is “reading”. Can it work with just pure shape? If it does, then you’re on the right path. The rest is just filling in the blanks 🙂