Drawing Characters with body language and gestures
Illustrator Tony Flowers carried a whiteboard from Canberra to the Library. He got to the library early on Saturday morning to prepare for a workshop as part of the Sydney Writer’s Festival.
Mr Flowers put a stack of white paper and coloured pens on a desk in the middle of the room. After setting up his whiteboard, he walked around. The room looked cozy with green cushions scattered in the front. There was few people here. Most were adults. He looked at his watch. He still had time before the workshop would begin. He drew a nervous dinosaur with tight muscle and then wiped it out. He smiled and said, ‘Never expect so many adults here but few children.’
He wore a pair of shoes with different color laces, jeans, and a blue plaid shirt. His crew cut and black framed glasses made him look just like his cartoon self-portrait. He said, “I always say you should draw wherever you are. This morning I’m on a train lugging a whiteboard to Kings Cross for the workshop. I couldn’t resist a quick sketch. Then I forced a guy to take a photo. Everyone averted their eyes and stared at their shoes. Commuters will do anything to not stand out.” People were laughing.
He said, ‘‘Children won’t ever be reading To Kill A Mockingbird in high school, if they don’t find books that engage them in kindergarten.”
“As a professional illustrator, my work is primarily in the area of books for 8 to 12 year olds. I feel that this a very important stage in the reading journey – and that through greater understanding, we can support children both to learn to read and develop a love of books and literature.”
He did a lot of research on the Edo period when working on the illustrations for writer Nick Falk’s series Samurai vs Ninja. He immersed himself in Japan’s history and culture, particularly the Edo period of Ukiyo-e woodblock artists. This included Utagawa Kuniyoshi, who worked from the early to mid 1800s. Mr Flowers studied clothes, hair, conflict, even battle horses in the Edo period. He made sure his characters were right for that period.
He is imaginative and creative. He filled pages with vegetable-smashing tyrannosauruses, time-travelling triceratops and kung-fu fighting worms. He also created armies of chickens, adventurous dragons, sneaky werewolves and dogs of all shapes and sizes.
During this workshop, he demonstrated how to draw a character. He asked, “Which character do you like?” A girl said, “A flying fox!” Mr. Flowers laughed. “Wow, super hero animal character!” Then he said, “Before you draw, you must think, what is the character like, is the character nervous? Is the character pretty?” He picked up his pen and drew a sketch on the whiteboard.
“We need to think about emotions. Is the character happy? Is the character angry? Is the character sad? Is the character puzzled? Is the character gloomy? Think of different ways to describe different emotions. Because subtle emotion is not on the face, you could put it in the body language. All little parts of the character makes the whole character.”
He drew an angry fox, almond-shaped eyes, raised eye-brows, four legs with tight muscles. This made the fox look large and intimidating. Mr. Flowers said, “What if the hero looks sad?” He wiped raised eye-brows and then pushed down them. He said, “Thinking about yourself, when you feel sad, what do you look like? Gloomy, you have no energy, your arms and legs are loose.” He used black pen to add some lines on four legs and the super hero angry flying fox turned to a gloomy one.
When asked about how he defines different subtle emotions and body languages, he said, “Observe.” He said he used to work in airport customs. This invovled checking people, asking for their passports, asking to open their bags, asking where they had been, watching them. He said the joy of the job was watching people.
He often draws in places like coffee shops to observing people. He looks to see who is happy, who is desperate, who is depressed. “Practice is important,”, he said. But it always requires careful thought.
“No-one gives a rats if you are drawing in public, or in coffee shop. Nobody cares, No-one’s judging you, so just do it.”