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Helen Capewell
OCA Learning Log
Student Number: 522802
Degree: Illustration
Current Level: 2

Assignment One

You're a Character!


It was roughly 2016 when I began my own cartoon journey. From the day I handed in my notice, the urge to express the joy and relief I felt in a single character was a shift that woke in me. From that day I began creating daily cartoons which were based around the boredom of work and the last month I had until "freedom". I didn't have a job to go to at this point, I was just very much letting the universe work its magic for me (it did amazing work for me). I just created cartoons, and they were my slice of happiness. I wanted to document the small things, the small feelings or the small activities. It gained attention on social, to the point I would receive requests. This saw the next chapter in the cartoons, they became less about me and more about other people. It was strange to see how appreciated they were, how I was able to bring joy to others. I was able to make moments that hadn't happened, or give a second chance to those that may have suffered loss. They mattered, which was crazy to think, but they were never commercial. They became a chore with each cartoon taking more and more time as more people would be in them or I wanted better backgrounds, and now sadly have come to the stage of hiding them from public sight to avoid the requests. My thoughts are, if I let them disappear long enough, maybe I can bring them back for me again?


Well, every now and then they creep back, and when I saw this assignment I was excited to unleash my cartoons again! Here are a few examples:







I treated them like a photo that was taken, just a little moment in the day or week. When request came in, my cartoons grew. They became more elaborate with backgrounds, sometimes a little story in there, but often they were cartoon photos, I liked to draw selfies!





I suddenly was able to turn anyone into a cartoon, and it felt like my style, it felt unique! But the commercial side always stayed in mind, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to do them for other people forever.


Later I saw a trend going round on Instagram. It was a fan art trend where you would draw 6 illustrations based on childhood. I managed to restore my love for making cartoons of myself, for myself, because not only did I make fan art of a few of my favourites, but I decided to make a few of my own dreams come true with the ultimate selfies.


Making "fan art" with my own twist wasn't entirely new for me within my cartoons. In the past I had drawn myself with characters from Star Wars to celebrate May 4th, I've drawn myself with musicians that I was listening to, and I have even switched famous movie double acts and replaced them with my best friend and I, a personal favourite was this:



Here were a few from the childhood selfies:






And that brings us up to date with my personal cartoon self. It brought me so much positive energy at a time when I had almost lost it. Even looking back I smile at the collection I built. Documenting my hairstyles, my style change and just a phase of growing up, but the influences of my childhood always came through.


For this assignment, I wanted to include the cartoon self I had already created, but add more. It feels fitting for the opportunity to introduce myself, to show a little about my background on my interests in cartoons, and how I feel Graphic Fiction might be the missing piece in my life!


Stepping aside from my own creations, it was time to do a history lesson on some of the greats in the industry and how they set up their self portraits.


I began with hunting through the internet based on the general searches that was suggested in the exercise. At this stage I didn't have names of particular artists in mind, partly because I didn't know any names, and also to keep it broad. Once I had found what I could on "comic artist self portraits" from Marvel and DC such as John Romita, Jack Kirby, Gene Colan and Herb Trimpe, I changed the search to be mostly around cartoonists, as more results seemed to be showing. I also decided to search for names I did know of, like Quentin Blake for example, to see they had also created self portraits.


During my time searching I came across several artists, some I knew of and others I had learnt for the first time. I was getting a little fed up with most results showing American artists, and so tried to be more specific in the searching, looking for British artists and then also female artists (which also seemed short in the results). Here is a complete mood board of all the artist self portraits I collected.




I had taken an interest in Tove Jansson a while back, perhaps due to a documentary. Moomins is a very iconic cartoon, gaining more popularity in merchandise and as collectables in recent years. Growing up with such cartoons had me less aware of their creators, and more focused on the characters themselves. Now at an age of appreciating behind the scenes as much as the performance on screens, I found Tove to be super relatable in the sense of being a multi disciplinary success in her craft. I for one have never been able to stay attached to just one creative outlet, I enjoy all aspects, and finding the different style portraits of Tove warmed my heart and gave me hope!


It is quite literally engraved in the creative industry today, that one must find a style to be successful and stick with it, build up your social media following and be consistent to keep up with the algorithm, that is how you will be found, it's what people will look at! Rarely do you see artists like Tove, who can be as contrasting as the creator of Moomins, to being an experimental visual artist as well. By no means do I think she is the only one to break those kind of barriers, and still be successful, but when you do discover such contrasting styles in one artist, one can't help but stop and appreciate, and to finally see representation, through art and personal life. With my cartoon character living in the digital world, I too have a collection of painted self portraits that are in the realistic realm.


I digress!


A list of names of the artists I had collected during this research starting with the superhero artists and beyond. Not all I had self portraits of but they were names I thought would be great to remember for future:


John Romita, John Buscema, Jim Steranko, Jack Kirby, Herb Trimpe, Marie Severin, Gene Colan, Robert Crumb, Will Eisner, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland, Frank Bellamy, Joe Colquhoun, Don Lawrence, Tove Jansson, Ramona Fraden, Jackie Ormes, Noelle Stevenson, Marie Duval, Antonia Yeoman, Posy Simmonds, Kate Charlesworht, Devi Menon and Janette Parris.


After collecting images, I was getting a feeling of the type of image I wanted to create. As I was inspired by the images that had characters surrounding the artist, I thought about creating something similar, but with a twist. Like the above series of cartoon I had created, I wanted this to be based on childhood, and the influences I grew up with that shaped who I am as a creative and as a fan of storytelling through images. The endless hours of animation I sat through, from Pixar, Disney to Cartoon Network, and everything in between - it consumed me, and even today I am still watching cartoons, often returning to a few classics! To pay respect to them, I wanted to surround myself with versions of myself, drawn in the different styles that I grew up with. Not only that, but the idea I was thinking of, was to include some of the characters or props that would be associated with the cartoons as well. I wanted this piece to be busy, but didn't really know how to go about it.


I used the mood board above as reference to stage a photo of myself in my setup. I liked many of the illustrations above that were perched on their artist chairs, with perspective being at a bit of an angle from above, like Jack Davis caricature. Now with a photo of myself for reference, I had a place to start.




I began sketching the photo roughly in an A4 sketchbook in a stylised manor, then began adding the different versions of myself surrounding me. I quickly established the layout and had already began placing the other elements around the background. This was really in my area of all things that I love, it was flowing really naturally once I had gotten the space set. Filling it was easy!





And finally, outlining and colour/shade!




In this image you will find reference to Scooby Doo, Bob's Burgers, Pixar, Looney Tunes, Pokemon, Spiderman, Popeye, Spongebob Squarepants, Hey Arnold!, Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, The Simpsons, Super Mario, Tom and Jerry, Dexters Laboratory, Mutley, Powerpuff Girls and Sonic The Hedgehog. I also included my own cartoon!


The paper I used was from an A4 Promarker pad. The paper feels so nice to work on and sadly I didn't have A3 available at this point. That said, I don't think size restricted me at all, and in fact I think helped in making this scene feel compact and full. For outline I used the Uni Pin Brush pen, and for the shading I used Promarkers.


I love how this illustration came out. It feels to be a perfectly good slice of everything that played a huge part in my life, that has influenced me and continue to do so with the cartoons I create. It might not have been comic books that I lost myself in, but I was/am obsessed with cartoons!


Something that I know I should work on more, is using my sketchbook to test out different ideas before settling on the first and only idea. On this occasion the idea came naturally, and as I sketched it was as if I was coming up with the ideas as I went. I filled spaces which felt to be part of developing the idea, only it was all done in the one sketch, rather than different thumbnails.


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