So the lat­est round of inter­est­ing tasks included cre­at­ing some cute car­toony mas­cots for the swim les­son age divi­sions — from infant through about 13 years old.

The idea was to cre­ate some­thing fun and light, with each age divi­sion hav­ing its own mas­cot. The youngest was pol­ly­wogs, and the old­est was orig­i­nally going to be whales until I pointed out that might not go over well if any­one on the team was fat. So they got renamed orcas instead.

So far no prob­lem, right? The pol­ly­wogs were easy to make cute; they’re most of the way there already.

I was a lit­tle con­cerned at first that it would be too easy to mis­take the pol­ly­wog for a sperm cell, but I think I’m okay there. The min­now also went pretty well.

The col­ors make it look sort of like a gold­fish, but min­nows don’t seem to be par­tic­u­larly col­or­ful. And we all know how closely kids pay atten­tion to detail; I hope I get away with it. What’s more impor­tant is the trape­zoidal shape of their fins.

For the seal I decided to echo the whiskers in the eye­brows. (Actually all of them have some kind of expres­sive struc­ture above the eyes, even the min­now, whose dor­sal fin looks a lit­tle like a hair­style; with each one I tried to use a shape that was sug­gested by the body type of the mascot.)

One of the trick­ier parts about draw­ing some marine life is that the bod­ies tend to a kind of shape­less­ness — or, more accu­rately, one sin­gle shape molded by the opti­miza­tion needs of stream­lin­ing. Creatures like rays and starfish are weird (I did one of each) rel­a­tive to the body plans of the rapid swimmers.

In many ways this por­poise resem­bles the orca I drew; the poses are basi­cally the same, the dor­sal and ven­tral fins and flukes are sim­i­lar. Can’t really be helped, that.

Where the wheels sort of came off was with shrimp. While it can be easy to anthro­po­mor­phize and encute­nate pretty much any­thing that swims in the ocean — even jel­ly­fish — shrimp, crabs, lob­sters and other such arthro­pods can be harder to do. Crabs can work — wit­ness Sebastian from The Little Mermaid — and if pressed I could prob­a­bly find some­thing to do with a lobster.

But shrimp are … well, they’re sort of fea­ture­less, half-​​squishy, half-​​pokey things that remind me more of sil­ver­fish than of food.* The parts peo­ple eat are not the whole crea­ture; the ani­mal in toto is really just plain unat­trac­tive. They’re not even as cute as Popplers. They’re also wimpy; they don’t sport a decent set of rec­og­niz­able claws.

When I did the art for the shrimp, then, the first take just did not work at all.

Glaah. It looks like it’s plot­ting some­thing ghastly, yet under­handed. Such as crawl­ing into your nose, lay­ing eggs in your sinuses and breed­ing 50 skil­lion hillion jil­lion shrim­plets in your brain aieeeee.

I stopped as soon as I pulled it into AI and saw there wasn’t any way I could vec­tor­ize it into adora­bil­ity; I went back to Photoshop for the fix. It was actu­ally much eas­ier than I feared it would be. I was glad it didn’t require a redraw. Not because draw­ing another shrimp, aim­ing a lit­tle more care­fully for the cute­ness tar­get, would be par­tic­u­larly dif­fi­cult — but there’s a prin­ci­ple in play here. I thought it was fix­able and it turned out that it was.

Do you see the dif­fer­ence? Look at the antennae.

I rotated them in the orig­i­nal scan in Photoshop. That was all. But it worked; the eyes seem wider and the entire expres­sion is less glowering.

It’s easy to for­get that some­thing as appar­ently minor as eye­brows can pro­foundly affect the way an expres­sion is per­ceived, even in a sim­ple car­toon like this. I ended up with a shrimp that actu­ally could be called cute.

Not that I’m plan­ning to eat one any time soon, of course. After all I still have some standards.

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* Full dis­clo­sure: For the most part I don’t eat lob­ster, crab or sim­i­lar shell­fish. I know what they are.

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