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