A project I started a little over a month ago. This character is named Cookie and she has a bakery and candy shop. She’s fierce rivals with the neighboring shop, Candy’s Candies.
Unless you count drawings I did in elementary school I’ve never actually done something like this before, so there were a lot of things I had to figure out as I went and at times it took longer than it would have if I had more experience. The slow pace was beneficial though because I could spend a lot of time thinking about things.
One thing I thought about was how something like this allows for context that a normal scene wouldn’t. A lot of art, such as the landscape paintings I normally make, presents a scene to the viewer as if they were standing there wherever the easel was placed. If I had made this in that way then you would have seen, at most, a floor, a ceiling, and three walls. Possibly a glimpse of another room through a door. If the scene was set in the hallway, would you know this is underground? If I painted this as if you were standing on the surface looking at the well, could you know that there were cakes in a display case below you? By presenting a cross section view of an entire area I can include a lot of context.
This does a couple of things. First, any one part of the image is deemphasized. The more there is in an image of any kind the harder it is for anything to really stand out. It can still be done, but it requires more planning than it would if there were only a few objects in an image. Second, the more context you have within an image the more it can become and tell its own story. This can be important if you’re making your own story rather than illustrating a scene from a story that the viewer might already be familiar with. In that case the viewer already has the context to understand the image with.
In my case I would like it if an image I made could be its own original, self-contained, wordless story that tells itself through imagery. Another thing I realized was how non-linear such a story would be, as the viewer would be free to explore any part of the image in any order they want. It’s something I’d like to experiment with.
When I first started I had a vague idea of what I wanted and I thought that I could make all sorts of objects before arranging them. The first problem with this approach, for me, is that I have never been any good at not moving on to the next stage of an artwork before finishing the current stage. If I’m suppose to sketch something before inking it I guarantee there will be ink on the page before it’s half sketched. The next stage is just too exciting to stay stuck on stage 1. The other problem, again for me, is that without the experience with this kind of image to have a good idea of how things might work and come together it’s not practical to try making all sorts of objects that may not even be used. The final for this did end up very different from my first ideas.
Originally I thought about having different levels with all sorts of activities on each, so I spaced out some rectangles. An idea I had sketched many months ago involved an underground river with a boat dock and I thought I might finally get around to making that. I was having a hard time figuring out just what I could fill so many levels with and I wanted things to be a little more natural and cave-like so in the next stage I rearranged things and included more negative space between rooms.
Feeling overwhelmed I decided to start out with a simpler and smaller design. A long time ago, after making this Bewildering Forest pixel art (link), I had an idea to make a similar image with a mysterious candy shop or bakery in the woods that would be named Cookie’s Cookies. Although I started working on it, I didn’t get very far because it was unintentionally looking like it’d be a scary place to go. Sometimes there can be a fine line between a mysterious theme and a dark theme. I’ve decided that for my art I want to follow what’s written in Philippians 4:8 (link) “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”
The idea seemed like it could work here though, and having just a few small rooms to manage seemed like a good way to start. It was soon obvious that the living area was too cramped and the overall design was too boxy. As I widened the image and de-boxed the rooms I also made ovens because, you know, I can’t work on just one thing.
I thought the bedroom went well and I was pretty excited about that. The colors badly needed brightening though. Around here is also the start of that one thing I do, where I decide I don’t want to do a certain part and I avoid it. In this case it’s because I really wasn’t sure how the shop should be designed or how to best get from the surface down there. It was hard to look straight at the entire top half of this. Instead, I kept myself busy working on the parts that I had at least half of an idea for.
One of the major questions I was thinking about at this point was just who would live here. How many characters and what are their relation? If they don’t all live on the same floor then why not and are their any differences in their rooms? If they do live on the same floor then how will I fit them all into the space I have? This is also where I started adding the extra area with the mushrooms. This goes back to the huge amount of context that this kind of an image can have. Little additions like this can add a lot of flavor.
Early on when I was going to have a very large and involved community-like area with many levels I had also thought about having a second secret community of possibly mice that would be intertwined with the main area. This tiny castle in the mushroom cave wasn’t planned, but it seemed like a good idea while I was drawing the mushrooms and it fits into the theme I wanted.
The level above the original hall and bedroom, which I thought of as the second floor even though it’s not, was going to have bunk beds for workers. I thought maybe their room doesn’t have as nice of wallpaper or can be just a wooden wall. That started getting into all kinds of relationship dynamics that I didn’t want to deal with. Plus I’d have to have a bathroom for them somewhere. I thought it could just be storage then, and as I kept thinking about whether it even belonged there I realized that I could have multiple layers of depth. This was very important for me for many reasons. One big reason was that it made the image potentially more dynamic and interesting to look at, but also it allowed for layouts and room arrangements that I wouldn’t be able to have otherwise.
I never did like the way the staircase was off to the side with everything coming off of it in a plain stack. Moving the stairs to the center was a big improvement. I raised the ceilings of each room around this point because I was wanting to be able to have the top of a room visible behind the hallway.
It was also at this point that I experimented with the perspective a little by making it not strictly side-view and showing a little bit of the floor from above. I really liked how that looked but I hit a problem when it came to the spiral staircase. No matter how hard I tried to wrap my brain around how to apply that perspective to the stairs it just wasn’t going to work. In real perspective the stairs would change as they went up so at the bottom step you’d see the top of it and the top step would be seen from below. The steps on the far side of the stairs would appear different too with foreshortening. The issue here is that if I introduce depth by showing the floor from above a little then all of the steps on the stairs would want to be at all sorts of different depths. With a depth of only 3 pixels in the rest of the image there was no way I could have a depth of 3 pixels on each step and also have them receding back and advancing forward as they go around the spiral while still staying in that 3 pixel range as a whole to avoid being a completely different angle of perspective. So the idea had to be thrown out.
My original plan for the spiral staircase was to have individual steps attached via a metal bar to the central column, but the steps were hard to see and the metal bar even harder. I tried having the steps extend all the way to the center but it didn’t have the same elegance. I ended up removing the central column completely because it was getting in the way of the door.
The well idea was from a different project that I never did much with except a sketch. I like this better than the original tree idea for this one. I also added some mice tunnels from that earlier idea, but the layout I have here wasn’t planned with these tunnels in mind so they weren’t very well integrated with it.
Although at first I was going to try making the entrance be at the side of the shop, and a lot of time I spent thinking about this project was just focused on how to actually get into the shop, I came to the realization that a strictly side-view image can just as easily be strictly front-view too. A little storefront at the bottom of a well would be pretty unexpected to find. Although I really liked how the heart on the door looked, I felt like it was too cute compared to the inside of the shop and didn’t really match.
I hadn’t made very much of the hidden extras like the mushroom caves so I started working on a treasure chest. Some of the ideas I had included mole tunnels or underground ruins. At this point though I didn’t want the extras to just look like an afterthought with no integration into the overall design, since that’s pretty much what they would be.
Here’s the final version again. I probably should have figured out the character a little sooner than this, but I like how she turned out. Originally I was going to make her be a rabbit but as I worked on the sprite a human character seemed better. The texture on the trees and the rocks in the well sort of just happened. I was trying things out and suddenly it looked good enough for me to just go with it, so I did.
There’s a few things here and there that could be done a little better, but I’ve reached the point where I’m happy with what’s here and I really just want to move on to the next project.
Here’s the 2X scaled image for easier viewing of the small details. It’s exactly the same as the final image except each square of color in this image is a 2×2 pixel area, so the overall image is 660×1200 pixels instead of 330×600.