Deliberately getting it wrong: accelerating towards finding a style for character design through the psychology of seeing

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Instituto Politécnico do Cávado e do Ave


School of Arts and Humanities / Centre for Research in Entertainment, Arts, Technology, Education and Communications




Medley, S. (2016). Deliberately getting it wrong: accelerating towards finding a style for character design through the psychology of seeing. In Proceedings of International Conference in Illustration & Animation. Instituto Politécnico do Cávado e do Ave.

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This paper explains the research behind and the steps involved in a character design workshop that seeks to explore the elasticity of visual schema. Recent literature draws parallels between language acquisition and drawing competence suggesting evidence of ‘correct’ ways to draw visual schema within certain cultures. The same sources argue that consistency of visual schema in a culture improves visual competence. This paper cautions against illustration theory embracing these parallels without some skepticism. Literature on the psychology of making and seeing pictures is reviewed, explaining that picture making can be as much about an ordering of the artist’s interiority as it is about recording or representing the visible aspects of the outside world. The illustrator necessarily departs from pictorial realism as soon as the drawing begins. These departures appear as visual style in the illustrations. In spite of the subjective origins of picture making the viewer can comprehend and enjoy highly stylized pictures because the human psyche appreciates visual difference and is also equipped to deal with representations that are reduced in fidelity on the one hand or wildly exaggerative on the other. Knowledge of these mental faculties allow the development of teaching materials which prompt students to deliberately break the conventions of depiction in order to accelerate towards a discovery of their own personal illustrative style. Details of a workshop are given to explain ways to expand schema deliberately until ‘broken’ so that students know the boundaries of visual depiction rather than sticking within the safe parameters of ‘consistency’. The methods deliberately avoid what’s known and seen in depicting figure and face in order to purposefully develop character designs and individual style. Students find benefit in ‘deliberately getting it wrong’, especially with regard to expressing emotional states, drawing characters consistently and differentiating between characters. Style is a function of a set of choices. The workshop makes the choices overt and makes clear that the choices may be wider than students first supposed.

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