Surprise Monday : Week 1 : Characters

Welcome to Week 1 of Surprise Monday!
Each Monday I will be giving a little behind-the-scenes look into my process in illustrating the book Surprise! for Miscellaneous Press (aka Karen Andrews).

This week I have been working on the main characters. For me it is really important to get to know the characters I will be illustrating as much as possible. I find that sometimes they take on a life of their own! I think the more you can draw them, the better you know them, so it's where I always start.

This book is sort of like 4 stories in one, with four equally important main characters - Hamish, Alice, Meg and Thomas. They are about 4 years old. Karen had provided a few notes on character traits, which helped a lot. Then, in reading the text over a few times, their personalities sunk in a bit more. I had pretty clear ideas of what I wanted for each character right from the beginning, except for Thomas, for some reason he was a bit harder. I wrote down several character traits, and kept referring back to them while sketching. I also looked at photos of 4 year olds to make sure I was getting the proportions right. Here is what I ended up with (with the character traits I used in the right hand corner):

When sketching, I mostly just did a lot of heads to try to capture the personality traits I had written down. For some, my initial ideas were it, but others surprised me. For instance, I was sure Meg was going to have pigtails, but once I drew this one (circled) I knew that was her.
It's weird creating characters, sometimes it's like they were always there, just waiting for you to find them. Does anyone else experience that or does that sound crazy? I promise I don't talk to them or anything! (not yet anyway!) Where do your characters come from? Do you like to draw them a lot first or just start the project and they evolve along the way? Do you use much reference or is it all from your head?

Next Monday:
Secondary characters and storyboards