Category: character creation


I’m excited to share this character portrait of Tsu-Yin Aasha Hou Kapoor, She Who Knows Ten Thousand Things.  Daughter of high-born sorceresses and chosen of the Unconquered Sun, Tsu-Yin left a life of comfort to pursue epic adventures and a grand destiny as a Solar of the Twilight Caste!

She’s from the same tabletop roleplaying game as my character, Kalara, if you all recall meeting my gunslinging businesslady earlier this year.  Exalted is such a fun game full of amazing Eastern-inspired imagery and epic level action!

For Tsu-Yin, my brainstorming began with the many beautiful references of Indian clothing and character drawing references provided by Tsu-Yin’s creator, Minis-sketchbook.

Mood Board


Tsu-Yin’s mood board on Pinterest.

Tsu-Yin was described as excitable and energetic.  She comes from a life of comfort and is finally able to see the world for herself.  She’s also a martial artist with a snake-inspired style as well as a sorceress.  I knew from her concept I wanted a friendly and optimistic pose, something more energetic than whimsical. 

Gesture Sketches

Brainstorming began with a sheet of gesture sketches to help me discover Tsu-Yin’s personality through pose.  Finding a good compromise between energetic and aesthetically pleasing was pretty challenging!  None of my initial poses really fit her perfectly. 

ten-thousand-things-gesture Read more

Homework: Concept Art Starter Kit – Design Basics

I’ve recently started up CtrlPaint’s Concept Art Starter Kit with artist, Matt Kohr, as a way to brush up my own character design skills.  While I’m not quite going into Concept Art as a profession (yet?), I still think the basic skills will improve my artist’s eye, overall.  Plus, it’s just tons of fun designing characters for my own personal projects!

Since I’m coming mainly from an illustrator’s background, I felt like I needed to start at level 0.  I’ve read a lot of tutorials on concept design, but almost all of them assumed prior knowledge of industry jargon and familiarity.  It’s been refreshing to see something that starts off very simple with tons of visual examples.  The videos thus far are more lecture with examples than they are technique, but that’s just what I wanted and needed at this point. (Expect a review of the course kit over at The Muse’s Library once I’ve completed it!)

Shape Design covers the fundamentals of interpreting shape language and image recognition.  I tried out the suggested exercise of taking reference photos and not merely copying what I see, but trying to get a better idea about how the subject works via closer study and contouring.  The cat on the bottom right corner was drawn from memory after my studies were complete.

Exercise - Reference Studies

While this method does take longer, I think Kohr’s on to something with this more scientific approach, as I seemed to retain more info this way.  Admittedly, I’m used to copying and pasting references to get my final art done quicker.  Creating more in-depth studies is a good habit I need to get back into!

Next, I tried another suggested exercise where I took what I learned from doing my studies and drew a ‘good’ version and an ‘evil’ version of the same animal from memory using no reference.  Can you tell which one is which?

Exercise - Good vs Bad

If you guessed evil for the cat on the left and good for the cat on the right, I have succeeded!

For the evil cat, I went with the ‘modern’ body style of Siamese cat, which is sleeker and more pointed than the rounded ‘classical’ body style I used for the cat on the right.  I also made intentional choices to give the evil cat claws, pointed ears, pointed eyes, and to be showing his teeth while good cat is softer with rounded eyes and an overlarge head.  Both were drawn from memory based on what I’ve retained from my studies.

I’m looking forward to the next lesson!  Delving into the psychology of shape is utterly fascinating to me.  I think most of us understand this language instinctively, but learning how to purposefully implement it in our art can bring it to a whole other level.

Next Lesson: Design Basics 2

IP Development Mentorship Blog Series PREVIEW

I’ve been working on tons of exciting things this week for my IP Development Mentorship with Anthony Jones and Dan LuVisi!

You can get a more in-depth peek at my world-building experience, thoughts about the mentorship process, plus sneak peeks of my personal project’s art by supporting me at any level on Patreon!

I’ll be uploading weekly blog posts of my progress *exclusively* for my Patrons there.

And now, SLEEP! This first week has been exhausting, but amazingly productive!

Once you become my Patron, you can login to start reading the first blog post in my mentorship diary here:

Sketch Diary – Nariko of Heavenly Sword – Part 2

Now that Nariko’s design is figured out, it’s on to coloring!  I decided to try a new coloring technique called the Ambient Occlusion method.  This technique is a way to bring a structural quality to your images relatively quickly.  I used Alex Negrea’s tutorial and also this helpful process post from David Lojaya.

Here’s a breakdown of the main layers in my painting.

  1. Sketch – I produced a clean line art using the hard brush. This Sketch layer hovers above all of the other layers for the figure.  Notice I didn’t sketch in pure black, but a very dark brown so as to keep my image from looking too stark. I wanted subtle warmth and for the line art to look natural. The same goes for the AO layer, which is not pure black, but a dark brown. You can tweak this coloration later to suit the mood of your piece.
  2. Sketch+Ambient Occlusion – The Ambient Occlusion layer sits below the Sketch and Flat Color layers and above the Shadow layer and represents places that are hard for light to enter, the deepest, darkest shadows where light is ‘occluded’.  It is set to the blending option Multiply.
  3. Sketch+AO+Flat Colors – The Flat Colors are actually a group of layers, as I kept each color on its own layer just in case I wanted to change them later.  The entire group is set to the blending option Multiply so they show the AO layer beneath them.
  4. Sketch+AO+Flat Colors+Shadow – The Shadow layer was clipped to a standalone layer that masked out the entire figure to keep my shadows from going outside of the lines.  The Shadow layer is located below the Flat Colors group and above the AO layer.
  5. Final – In the final image notice I’ve actually masked out some of the Sketch layer so that the hard lines don’t look so unnatural (particularly in the area of the neck where lines are too harsh for the soft transitions there).  Lighting effects have also been applied here.


NOTE: My Patreon Patrons at the $5+ reward tier have exclusive access to my .psd file, so be sure to pitch in there if you’d like to peruse my layer structure!


Tools Used:

Deharme’s Brush set for Photoshop CC

Finally, here’s an animated GIF of my process (roughly 8 mb).

If you’d like to download wallpapers of the final image, I’ve provided the 1920×1080 size for free.

Also be sure to check out the article this image is featured in, What Women Want…In Women Characters for an interesting discussion of female character designs and representation.

The 1920×1080 wallpaper of this image. Download here.

Other sizes plus the .psd are available exclusively for my Patreon Patrons.

PRINTS AND PRODUCTS – Contact me privately if interested.

Back to Part 1


Characters on the Couch

I’m taking a bit of a detour today to talk about another aspect of my art that I don’t talk about as much as I’d like on this blog – characters.  You might have seen a few of my muses here and there in my art, but never quite gotten to know them, as they’re all on the sidelines while I sort out the Artist part of my career instead of the Writer.  Eventually, I want to bring characters to the forefront of my art AND writing and that is where the savvy Jeannie Campbell comes in!

Aurora Adonai, one of my
first muses.

Any writer will tell you that research is key to writing convincing, engaging scenes and never is that research more important than when you’re working with characters with psychological disorders.  We can make as many guesses as we like about the textbook definition of a psychological disorder and its effects, but this can come off as stiff, as if we’re recalling a grocery list of symptoms when we write.  That is where Jeannie comes in.  As a licensed marriage and family therapist, she has opened her couch to the analysis of our fictional brainchildren.

Last year, Jeannie did an analysis for Aurora, my unstable Elvish hitwoman.  Her analysis opened my eyes to the possibilities with this character, not only for what she is capable of, but how best to balance the darkness of her past with that element of humanity that would keep her sane and also grounded as a character.  For Aurora’s full analysis, you can read on here.

With so many characters chilling in the backstage of my brain, I plan to use Jeannie again in the future.  For that purpose, I’ll be visiting her newly opened website – The Character Therapist!

Jeannie Campbell, The Character Therapist by Elizabeth Mueller

She offers brief assessments of characters for free or a detailed assessment at $14.99.  If you sign up for her newsletter, you can get a copy of her ebook “Writer’s Guide to Character Motivation”, a handy 28 page guide to help you build your characters from the ground up.

For those of you pondering characters, I recommend giving Jeannie a shout!  Meanwhile, I’ll continue plotting ways to send more imaginary folks to fill up her proverbial waiting room.

Eventide Hijacked: The Artifice of Character

Coming to you from the fingertips of fellow fantasy enthusiast, Hayley E. Lavik:

Artist and fantasy writer Angela Sasser hijacks the blog today! Angela has hijacked the blog in the past to explore the overlaps between fantasy writing and fantasy illustration, and she’s back today to talk about dissecting fantasy characters with her cross-media point of view!

(Check out my guest post at Eventide Unmasked and join the discussion!)

Guest Post – Introductions and Trading Spaces

I’m excited to announce my Wednesday posts will be over at Eventide Unmasked while my good friend and writer, Hayley E. Lavik, is off on vacation in England! Join the discussion on literary interests, artistic minds, character creation, world-building, and more! This week’s topic: The link between artists and writers.

Introductions and Trading Spaces

Well met and hello, all! I hope you don’t mind, but I’ve kidnapped Hayley’s Wednesdays while she’s on her folklore hunting adventure in England. I feel much like Mr. Rogers coming in, adjusting his favorite sweater, and settling on a chair to tell a story when I’m here, but I’ll refrain from singing about neighbors for the good of us all.

Hayley briefly introduced me, but I wanted to divulge more about how the heck I’ve come to kidnap her blog. I was a starving caffeinated college student double-majoring in English and Studio Art when I first met Mrs. Lavik through random conversing about lore, logic, and anime through the backways of DeviantART. I have since become one of the apparently many caffeinated sardonic women with which she spends her late night conversation. We have done much scheming, plotting, and debating since we met those many years ago, much of which has bled over into each other’s blog discussions. We share a similar love of empathetic antagonists, character tormenting, and folkloric research.

(Read on at the full blog post)

Aurora Goes to Therapy!

Just in case you’ve missed this plug in my other online outlets, I’m pleased to announce that one of my more dangerously unhinged characters has finally gone to therapy!

You may remember Aurora Adonai from a past blog entry. Jeannie Campbell, the Character Therapist, did an excellent reading of Aurora and what I might need to consider when writing about her to make her more believable as a character.

Treatment Tuesday – The Hitman Hitwoman

“This week features a science fiction/action character created by Angela. Her character is Alaura*, an orphan who witnessed her mother’s violent murder when she was 4 or 5. At age 8, the orphanage caretaker began to engage her in molestation. He liked it rough and would get very angry if Alaura cried or showed signs of pain. Alaura endured for several years before she hid a knife in the sheets and murdered him. The other orphans helped cover up the crime and Alaura moved on to become a hitman for a criminal organization. She feels that nothing she does can make her any more “unclean” than she already is. She thinks she’s damaged goods and irredeemable…”

(Read on at Jeannie’s blog)

At this rate, perhaps Melakim might show up on her couch? I always did say they went to the same therapist.

Many thanks to Jeannie for providing such an excellent service to writers. Where psychological problems are involved with our characters, it’s definitely helpful to look beyond our own scope of experience.

Introducing the Muses – Aurora Adonai

So far, you’ve met the lovable rogue, the faithless Hunter, and the werewolf Prince. For the last of the muse series, I’d like to introduce the first of my character muses, the beginning of my redhead obsession, and the most foul mouthed Elf I know, Aurora Adonai, street samurai extraordinaire.

Aurora’s Artistic Evolution:

The Short Bio: Aurora has little memory of the life she had before she was brought to the Home for Goblinized Children ran by David Becker at the tender age of 9. She grew up plagued by the abuses and unwanted affections of David, who labeled her his ‘Little Butterfly’ and sought to control her in every way. At the age of 18, however, something snapped in this once sweet, unassuming child and David was found murdered one morning with 41 stab wounds coupled with the words “Little Butterfly” cut across his chest.

The home was shut down and the children scattered to the wind, none of them willing to admit just who it was who murdered the home’s owner. Aurora struck out on her own with the help of her best friend from the home, David’s daughter, Natalie. The girls found the only work they could as exotic dancers in the red light district of Seattle.

Their simple life changed forever when the two girls witnessed a Yakuza hit by the famous Elven hitman, Oberon, son of the local Oyabun. Instead of disposing of these witnesses, he took them under his wings, Oberon taking a liking to the young Aurora who had a strange fascination with his deadly trade. He was responsible for aiding her in cyberization. Aurora was tattoed with the tribal style butterfly wings at her own request instead of the traditional Yakuza markings, her way of ‘honoring’ her murder of David, who used to give her the gift of fake cloth butterflies which sparked her obsession with them.

Now, she works the bar by day and does the dirty work of her Yakuza employers by night.

Written Stories:
Jade Tears – | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 |
Jade Tears Character Sketch: Serenade – Available Here

What Inspired this Character?

Aurora came about from my first concerted effort to put deep thought into a character for the purposes of a roleplaying game called Shadowrun, which takes place in an alternative future where magic has begun to re-emerge in a modern world. I didn’t want just another cardboard cutout who was a reflection of myself. I wanted someone different, someone dark, someone with real issues. She was my first step in getting outside of my own psychology and towards a character who was wholly different, an imbalanced, violent woman with little tolerance for others. I was fascinated by the concept of an untrustworthy hero, for that is what Aurora is. She may seem beautiful and like someone you want to nurture, once you see her emotional scars…

…but by the same token, she killed a man…and enjoyed it just a little too much. Aurora is damaged goods and she knows it.

She is plagued by that thought daily, that her soul is stained because she took that slightest bit of pleasure in ending another person, and does it daily for her current employers. And yet that little demon inside of her, the one she echoes with her cyber fangs and horns, delights in that feeling of power and the righteous justice she brings. Aurora stands on the edge of that bloodthirsty abyss, fearing the monster she might become of she loses her humanity, but listening to the little whispers that tell her “Come on. It feels so good. Why not do it again? You have the power now…” A hint, also, that she suffers from a possible Multiple Personality Disorder.

Aurora is a sado-masochist, a boiling angry soul, and someone who is anything but ‘good’. And yet, she still has a basic sense of morality, like many of my characters, an inclination to do the right thing. Perhaps sparing a child after killing the child’s parents, or saving a woman by maiming her abusive boyfriend. Like Melakim, the more years pass without hope, the less she will begin to care. That little light of hope in her soul is why she was named Aurora Adonai, meaning roughly “First Light of God”.

Come to think of it, Melakim and Aurora probably go to the same therapist.

Amazingly, this is the first time Aurora’s back story has seen the light of day outside the little known comic pages and stories, and yet I’ve had so many individuals come to me professing their adoration for this character. I believe this exemplifies how sometimes a visual presence is enough to garner a viewer’s interest, even if I’ve always thought she looks like a reject from KISS.

On a final note, I’ve actually had people ask after reading her story if her life experiences involving sexual abuse are inspired by my own. They are not, thank heavens! But it is the fascinating battle with inner duality and her own off-kilter sense of sanity, morality, and self-worth that echoes so true of those who have survived abuse which make her so convincing. I have known those who have suffered similar circumstances and who have come to fear the strange things they enjoy or the state of their souls after enduring something that no person should. But like Aurora, the ability to overcome these challenges lies within and only needs an ember of love to begin the healing.

I still have many plans for this character, despite the fact my tabletop roleplaying days are long over. A web comic is on the horizon and I fully intend to push her story as far as I can go with it. My ultimate dream is to see her animated or portrayed cinematically.

How do you get inspired to create for this character?

Movies with Angelina Jolie tend to get my juices flowing for Aurora. This character was NOT based on Jolie originally, but over the years I was attracted to this actress’ self-destructive beauty, her seething intensity, and her propensity for bladed weapons. Consequently, Aurora began to echo Jolie’s looks more closely, though I’ve recently tried to bring her back to her non-Jolie roots. Kill Bill‘s story of bloody revenge and sword swinging action also lend themselves well to portraying my foul-mouthed muse. If there was ever an Aurora movie in my lifetime, Jolie would star in it with Tarantino as the director.

Aurora’s Playlist: Available Here

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse at the characters playing poker in my head and that hopefully next time a piece of character-centric art pops up in my gallery that your first reaction won’t be “who the heck is that and why should I care?” I hope as well that those of you who have mentioned that you don’t have any characters will read this series and be inspired for your own creations.

May the muses guide thee just as you guide them.

Introducing the Muses – Ramah Sirhaan

In weeks past, you’ve been introduced to the dark Hunter angst pot, Melakim Fahre, and his kooky womanizing thief pal, Ry Phirunaden. Today, I’d like you to meet his majesty, Ramah Sirhaan, the werewolf Prince and wayward soul…and probably the closest thing I have to a benevolent hero in my stable of rogues and miscreants.

(For all of you waiting on Aurora, she will be the next and last character for this series. Look for her introduction and the end of this series next Wednesday!)

Ramah’s Artistic Evolution:

The Short Bio: Prince to a desert land founded by gods, Ramah lived in the lap of luxury, spending his days in battle for his country, or indulging in the mindless delights of the palace. He was a wild youth until witnessing the public execution of an innocent man made him realize the state of things in his very own kingdom. He began to become more sympathetic to the common folk and grew into a just man at the influence of his betrothed, a free willed noblewoman named Syvillia.

However, when a cry for assistance against a beast that was slaying the populace in the poor quarters rose up, Ramah was the only one of his class who saw fit to take action. When he could garner no support in the matter from the others, he rode out personally to slay the beast, thinking it no more than an animal of some sort. He could not be more wrong after a tussle with the beast left him bitten and infected with one of the world’s oldest curses.

It was the first change into the Wolf in which he slaughtered his caretakers that caused him to flee his beloved country. For, not only had he murdered kinsmen, all werewolves were viewed as anathema in their culture and seen as spiritually corrupt. How could he serve as the future ruler of his country being the monster he had become?

Now, he wanders the countryside, a Free Knight of the Untamed Land, aiding others where he would and seeking to make amends for a life he views as unclean.

The Long Bio: Available Here
Written Stories: Mark of Cahim (Character Sketch) 

What Inspired this Character?

To reveal a dirty secret of mine, he was inspired by taking a fan character of mine from Dragonball Z and dumping him into a fantasy setting. The Saiyan ability to morph became lycanthrope and the debauched vizier to King Vegeta became the debauched prince of a desert kingdom. (Yes I know I’m a COMPLETE dork for liking Dragonball Z in high school…)

Soon enough, however, I found that Ramah evolved from his roots in my mad social experimenting into a character who had a most charismatic presence about him. By all seeming, he was a charming and sensitive fellow who chose his fights carefully, who was calm and understanding, and who could possibly rip your head off with his bare teeth if you knew what triggers to press.

The concept of battling an inner Beast that threatens to sap one of their own humanity and soul was one I found fascination with ever since I was introduced to it in the Vampire: The Masquerade, of which I was an avid player up till my high school years. Even more, it’s fascinating to see how a man put in Ramah’s position adjusts to life anew, whether by succumbing to his base primal urges or the soothing presence and possibility of hope that a very special lady might bring. It’s a paranormal romance waiting to happen and one of these days I may indulge that urge with this character.

In the end, Ramah is destined to succumb to the Wolf entirely as the years pass, but it is not this curse that will define him, but rather how he lives the rest of his years as a man. That is why his name, Ramah Sirhaan, roughly translates to Sublime Wolf from Hebrew and Arabic.

How do you get inspired for this character?

Movies and music, my eternal muse supplements. In particular, Kingdom of Heaven with its vistas of Jerusalem, haunting music, and tale of a morally conflicted character seeking redemption is one of the few that get me in the Ramah mood.

Ramah’s Playlist: Available Here

Until the next Muse, what character do you love who battles with an ‘Inner Beast’? Why do they inspire you? How do you prepare yourself to write or draw for your own creations?