This post isn’t really baking related as it is more of an art related post. I wanted to share with you how I’ve been spending some of my free time in hopes it might help you out in some way.
The topic of this post was triggered when my friends, Jon and Topher, asked if I could make cookies of their faces. Without giving much thought, I quickly said, “Sure!” Then, as I began to process what just happened, fear and doubt started to consume me.
WTF, Mike! Did you just agree to the impossible?
Character cookies are what I consider the hardest kind of decorated cookie to do. To make one from scratch AND have it resemble a real person? Craziness, for sure.
I know drawing my friends’ faces on cookies was going to be a major challenge, but begrudgingly, I convinced myself it would be a good opportunity to try out some of skills I’ve been practicing. You see, I’ve always wanted to be better at drawing cartoons. I think it’s a skill that comes in handy in the world of custom cookies. When clipart can’t help you out, why not try drawing it yourself?
A few mouths ago, I mentioned cartooning to Steve, a illustrator friend whom I’ve collaborated with in the past. He pointed me to a few books and online courses highly recommended for a beginner wanting to learn cartooning. So, I bought them all. I have to say they were very useful and I’ve learned a ton in such a short time. I’m still a newbie when it comes to drawing, but my skills have improved to the point my sketches now show decent results.
I want to take this time to share these cartooning resources, as well as a peek into my sketching process, if you’re interested in starting this hobby for yourself.
Humongous Book of Cartooning by Christopher Hart
Christopher Hart specializes in retro-style cartoons like you would see in today’s kid shows, such as Dexter’s Laboratory or Kim Possible. Retro is probably the easiest of the styles to draw, making it the ideal choice for recreating a drawing with royal icing.
Hart has a few books out there on cartooning, but I found his Humongous Book of Cartooning covers all the bases. He goes over a long list of characters– adults, kids, animals, fantasy characters, and more– while sharing useful tips along the way. (For instance, did you know the difference between a cartoon of a living bear versus a teddy bear is eye placement? Eyes drawn far apart indicate it isn’t a “living” animal.)
Cartoon Animation by Preston Blair
Don’t let the title of this book intimidate you. Cartoon Animation does focus on animation, however, it was the character development section at the front of the book I found most useful for a beginner. (Don’t get me wrong, the later sections on animation, movement, and timing are an incredible read that shouldn’t get overlooked.)
Blair’s cartoon style is best described as Disney-esque, which makes sense; he was a Disney animator for most of his career. This style of cartooning is more detailed than the retro-style in the first book, but I find Blair’s style cuter and more relatable.
ToonBoxStudio by Paris Christou
I’ve mentioned ToonBoxStudio before in a previous post of my favorite things. I’m here to mention it again because it’s definitely worth repeating. Paris Christou’s online courses are excellent and easy to follow. I’m a visual learner, so seeing him in action is a major help for this cartooning newbie. I purchased his How to Draw Cartoon Animals course and loved it! Soon after, I purchased his Slim Male Character and Macho and Overweight Male Character courses, which were equally helpful.
Christou’s courses are also cheap for the value you get out of them. The most expensive course is only $27. His YouTube channel is full of informative sample videos, so you can witness his teaching style before committing to the purchase of one of his courses.
My Sketching Process
All three cartooning resources provide a large library of character features to choose from– head shapes, eyes, mouths, ears, noses, etc. I like to view the ToonBoxStudio videos to nail down the sketching process, while having the two cartooning books as tangible references I can flip through.
Since I’m new at cartooning, my method of sketching characters may not be the best, but it seems to work for me at the moment. Usually, I have to go through a few iterations to get it right. I start with a rough sketch in a sketchbook using a Prismacolor Col-Erase pencil. The lead in these pencils are more waxy than your typical pencil, which prevents smudging.
As I sketch, I draw features I learned from the books and videos, slowly putting together a character with each facial feature added. If I like some aspects of the sketch, but parts of the sketch still aren’t quite right, I won’t erase the bad parts. Instead, I’ll scan the sketch and print it out at about 20% opacity. This gives a faint indiction of the previous sketch as a guide to sketch new, more desirable lines on top. Once I end up with a sketch I’m happy with, I use tracing paper to ink the final lines of the finished character.
I pop the final sketch in my Kopykake, then begin icing the character onto cookies.
After handing these cookies over to Jon and Topher, they seemed pleased, which brought a huge sigh of relief from me. Just like with decorating cookies, learning to be a better drawer doesn’t happen overnight. However, with plenty of practice you can get there.
If you happen to be experienced with drawing cartoons, would you have any tips to share? Any resources to add to this list that might help others new to character drawing? I’m all ears and would appreciate any help.
Some of you commented that you’d like to see what Jon and Topher look like. Well, I couldn’t find an accessible picture of them together, but they did post this silly video on Instagram after I dropped off the cookies.