by Kirk Wallace
Kirk Wallace, trzown | Freelance Illustrator & Graphic Designer, Boston Massachusetts
Art prints, t-shirts, stickers etc for sale. Illustration & graphic design by Kirk Wallace
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As an illustrator and graphic designer, I'm able to do what I love for a living. That doesn't mean I'm content, satisfied, or even happy with a lot of what I do. I am creating this blog to share some insight that hopefully both you and I can learn from about my experiences in the world of designing for a financial and emotional living.

5 Steps in Making Mascots

WorkMob Fox Mascot Character Design

Workmob and I worked together to bring their brand to life with what is now this clever little fox mascot. Lots of thought has gone into his creation and I thought I'd share some of the process both in thought and creation. Keeping things very informal and non technical. The mindset is always if in doubt, take it out. These are some of the steps I take when creating a character.

Understanding

First the brief I received, then I'll talk about my points of focus and try to break it down a bit. The client needed a character to not only represent their company, but become a companion to their customers. What WorkMob does is pair freelance developers with employers and projects. The mascot's job is to inject life to the company, stand strong by the freelancers side, and make sure the freelancers are getting only the best work that's matched up specifically for them, acting as a bouncer for any unfitting projects.

Here's the final version. Simple in most qualities (thin, conservative body, simple shoes) and explosive where it counts (head, eyes, tail)

1. Story

What story is our mascot telling? How will he help tell WorkMob's story? The initial suggestion and assumption was a human mascot at which point I thought, 'Gross'. I wanted the mascot to have the ability to be tough and sly when needed when standing up for the freelancers, but friendly, protective, and even cute when he's being the buddy. Think a mobster. They can either be your best friend, or your worst enemy. That best friend element was missing when thinking human to me. In my opinion, human mascots are best left for bratz dolls and other tacky things of the like. No offense bratz or limp bizkit. But really. An animal told a more interesting story in this case. We decided on a fox, dressed up in his pinstripe suit. He fit the mold pretty perfect. Sly, protective in nature, handsome, cuddly at times, and with great properties like a tail we can play with a lot, a big head, ears. It was a great playground for a design.

Using his tie colors and very basic changes in his features I'm able to bring out certain emotion easily. This is great for perhaps help messages in the app. If a form is invalid when submitted, he can be worried, if successful, yay!

2. Design

As with anything we create, it must be visually appealing. As much as this was an illustration project, it also had a lot of design and problem solving components. Taking proportion, color and shape/silhouette and designing as I would a logo. The mascot needs to be unique enough that he's recognizable in different environments, small, large, monotone, you get it. So with Foxy (let's just call him Foxy for now) we relied a lot on the things that made a fox a fox. That was: his big head shape, ears, scruffy fur, and dominant poofy tail. Bright orange and a creme white worked out great and a big tail and big head contrasted by a thin, confident body.

There's nothing more intimidating than starting a project. First step's first, start sketching. It never comes out amazing but it gets the thoughts out of your head. I hadn't even drawn a fox in a while so I had to start with that. Drawing foxes, discovering what made them unique in the Animal Kingdom. In my work, I'm never striving for hyper realistic drawings. They are iconic representations. So it's good to rely on the peculiar bits. Think Mickey Mouse and his tail, gloves, and of course ears. These are the things that make Mickey... Mickey.

So remember, the mascot has to inherit design fundamentals and be easily recognizable as unique.

I discovered with some sketching that a fox's muzzle is key. Ok so his ears, slender type, duo tone face, and big poofy tail are going to be my best friends. There's my focal points!

3. Branding

Does the fox fit the company's philosophy? I think so. That was certainly something I took into consideration while creating. I think this is something more to just.. keep in mind rather than worrying too much. Just try to understand what the client wants to portray and how they operate. How does the product actually work, what is their focus?

The online app has a very clean, crisp, interface and aesthetic so I wanted to keep Foxy simple with splashes of intensity. His suit is subtle and classy, like most of him, but his tie can be bright and colorful to fit the UI. It wouldn't make sense for him to have a tie-dye shirt, or flames coming from his hands.

WorkMob has a loyal relationship with both their freelancers, along with the people paying them. They protect their clients and give them only the best matchups. A fox is a loyal, protective animal by nature, so he fit's great. They can be sly elegant and beautiful, but scary attacking creatures if need be.

Look at this sly bastard. He's totally got you covered. I'm using his handkerchief and tie to help bring out the emotion.

Look at this sly bastard. He's totally got you covered. I'm using his handkerchief and tie to help bring out the emotion.

4. Replication & Malleability

Like a logo, Foxy is going to be the face of the product. He will be on the app to guide users along, giving tips, saying hi, bye, etc. He's also likely going to be on shirts, icons, badges, social media, etc. Perhaps he'll be animated in a video to explain how the product works. How about during the Holiday season when we want to dress him up as Santa Claus?

I always try to keep these things in mind. In this tech startup industry, people need things done quick and if he was a highly rendered, furry animal with all kinds of sharp teeth, and stitching in his clothes, we'd have a difficult time redrawing him for all the occasions above. Especially if those tight details were what I relied on as his creator. Changing Foxy from a sitting to standing position will be easy enough with his current build because he's simple. Black legs, arms, some orange balls for hands.

Various versions of Foxy. Notice the different styles. With/out rosey cheeks, scrappy/groomed fur. 

In fact while creating, I was sure to break down the working model into a very simple almost iconic version every once in a while to make sure he was still unique without all the shading, highlights, and fuzzies. It's good to keep that in check or you're going to be spending a long time drawing him in a santa suit. That's not to say detail isn't great. Foxy could very easily be hand painted with immense detail and still hold his essence. Let's again look back to Mickey Mouse, he's drawn in soooo many different ways but his circular ears, red shorts, and giant shoes / gloves are what make him Mickey.

5. Personality

Digging into a character's soul is not easy. And for this particular project, it was even more difficult because there was a time line we had to stick with. There's always a fine line of getting it done, and making it perfect. Some of the best feedback I received from the client was that he seemed a little lifeless, too cold. This was solved primarily with a simple change of the eyes. Giving him some detail, glare, etc really brought him to life and made him someone you can trust and connect with. He looks significantly more trustworthy now. You can actually look into him and at least begin to create your own story of what he has been through, what he does, and what his intentions are.

Even after the jitters are out, there's a lot of refining and revisions to go through. I started with a bit of a menacing look, with a bat and terrible attitude. The original briefing from the client left me thinking they wanted something sort of 'badass'. I had misunderstood and we softened the sweet thing up a bit. Next issue was, like we talked about, lifeless eyes. Then too many angles, not enough. Like anything, it's best to keep saving new versions, comparing, sleeping on it, and getting some feedback to see what qualities are working towards your initial goal and what aren't.

Summary

Understand the brief, why are you creating this guy or girl? What makes sense? Male? Female? Animal? Spaceman? Figure it out. Try lots of things. Try to take it as linearly as possible. Once you get your subject matter start sketching, see what is going to make this character a unique design. Refine, refine, refine. The mindset is always: if in doubt, take it out. Come up with something both you and your client are happy with.

Hope this was helpful. It's by no means a definitive guide, but perhaps will give you an idea of at least how I try to approach my work. Organizing my thoughts just on paper for this blog post has helped me realize what worked in my process, what I could pay better attention to, and what totally sucked. So, I'll continue to post these for myself and you guys. Feel free to keep up on twitter to know when more posts are coming. Or if you're feeling real saucy, subscribe to my newsletter. Eventually I'll email you when I see it necessary.