Explore the Life of a Character

The most successful illustrators I meet always have fanatical connections with their creations. When I inquire about a sketch, they dive into the backstory of the character—it’s family life, it’s future plans, it’s moral dilemmas, it’s favorite color. Most professional illustrators build lives for their characters well beyond the pages. It is part of a process called character design and it’s used in most every character-driven illustration practices—from storybooks to video games. Our next workshop, led by the talented author and artist Rilla Alexander, will focus on this creative tool.

“We can get into habits when we are making and we don’t ask ourselves questions. This workshop helps you create unique and interesting characters and to develop their story further.” Rilla says. “It can pull you out of the normal way you do things when someone else is setting the rules for you. You push a little bit harder and come up with something that you might not have otherwise.” 

Rilla has been drawing since she can remember. Her mother would take her handiwork, place the pages into the typewriter, and ask Rilla to dictate the story. Once the tale was complete, her mother would bind the pages into a book—setting Rilla’s life of authorship in motion. “I guess I was brainwashed into these sequential sort of drawings and thinking about stories,” says Rilla. “I loved the stories and being able to make books.”

At university, Rilla studied graphic design and continued to integrate illustration into her work. “I approached my illustration in a graphic way. I love bold color and simple forms. It has a lot to do with being trained as a graphic designer. I don’t think in terms of incredible depth. Things tend to work as super strong compositions.” When she creates a scene, she draws different elements separately and later fits them together like a puzzle for the final product. She combines this drawing approach with rules of graphic design to create simplistic yet powerful landscapes.

If you are familiar with Rilla’s work, you know Sozi—her most prominent character. With her pigtails and signature color red, Sozi was modeled after Rilla herself. “Sozi is my alter ego. She is completely based on me,” says Rilla. “I like taking ideas that could be complicated and simplifying them. I can write stories from my own life and simplify them and have her act them out.” Creating and developing characters can be therapeutic. Like most artistic acts, it’s a way to express your feelings. 

For this workshop, Rilla insists you don’t have to draw like Disney.  In fact she prefers more a more abstract and intimate approach. In her eyes, the most successful characters include Tove Jannson’s Moomins, Studio Ghibli’s Totoro, and the charming characters in Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back. “If I had to pick countries that influence me visually, it would be Sweden and Japan. They have a lot of characters for the sake of a character—a pure representation of feeling,” says Rilla. “When you hear the term Character Design more often what comes to mind is the amazing work created by companies like Pixar. But you can also make a character who is literally a circle. The most important thing is to work out who they are, what you want them to say and how you are going to get them to do that.” 

Please join us for a day of inspirational character design and exploration.

Whether you are a graphic designer, illustrator or picture book author…or simply someone who likes to play…this workshop will help you get to know your characters better. Maybe you have a character you draw all the time or just a kernel of an idea you want to bring to life. This workshop is designed to push, pull and transform characters in and out of shape and to think about them from the inside out and the outside in. Attendees will receive an Idea Book, courtesy of our community partner Scout Books!

DATE: Saturday, April 11th
PLACE: Tillamook Station
665 N Tillamook Street 97227
TIME: 10-2pm 
COST: $40
Each attendee will receive a limited edition Rilla Alexander Scout Book too!

Snacks & Materials included.

Rilla Alexander is an Australian illustrator and graphic designer whose work has appeared on everything from toys and tea cups to busses and buildings. Her cast of characters dance across Museo del Prado's ceramics and stationery, populate Swiss Credit Cards and sleep on the walls of a Copenhagen hotel (where she replaced the bed with a tent).

Rilla’s work has been showcased at Paris’ cultural mecca Colette and at the Museé de la Publicité/Louvre. She leads a masterclass in character design at the Pictoplasma Academy in Berlin and is currently teaching illustration at the PNCA. Rilla has published several books celebrating creativity – including the collaborative toy project Neighbourhood and her picture books The Best Book in the World and Her Idea.