I think making imaginary creatures believable should come from things that work and are recognisable in the real world. Believable anatomy will make you think the creature could exist, or make you hope it exists, at least. I have tried making creatures up just from my head and they are never as believable as they are when I have done some forward planning. Even borrowing tiny snippets from something real can really add to your own freaky freak. I don’t think that approach is due to a terrible lack of imagination (at least I hope not), they are useful to help you make real the thing you already thought of.
A few years ago, I was participating in the Twitter Collective Animaloonies (a very silly art challenge to inflate creatures) and one month it was the turn of the elephant – an elephantloon. I always hesitated at just inflating them into balloons and often chose other whimsical ways to play. So, I went the way of the chimera, combining a jerboa with an elephant and insect wings. This work was ultimately used in a Twitter Art Exhibition (TAE) charity auction and seemed to be well liked, too!
My creation has since evolved and is now based on the body of a jerboa, an anteater’s snout, and a hummingbird moth wings.
I call it the humming pig. I named it before I discovered the hummingbird moth so I feel this is some sort of destiny, and that makes me happy. I like moths. I know some people don’t but since they are the cool and darker cousins of the butterfly, I’ll take it.
As you can see, my humming pigs are based on a number of real animals to help make it believable despite them not being real at all. I’ll just put it out there. All of them were fun to draw and explore, but Jerboas are ridiculously adorable. Those things are so cute it’s heart-breaking. I drooled over and drew many examples preparing this. Just for practice, you understand.
Sketching out the real animals helps us to learn more about them – such as their form and proportions, and the correct positioning of the limbs and wings. It also serves as a practice run for the animal they will eventually become. You can try out different angles and figure out what your imaginary creature is doing, and how it functions in the world it inhabits.
I looked at lots of different examples of each animal and considered how they would work together to make something believable. Some things were simply abandoned. Not just because they wouldn’t work, but because they just didn’t appeal to me. The anteater snout replaced the original elephant trunk, but it isn’t that prominent – and to be honest this is maybe a sign that the elements are blending successfully as I make something new. The original proboscis wasn’t there in my first attempts either, but I think the proboscis is important for my redesign since I eliminated the elephant trunk, the kids got to eat after all, and I wanted to make something that might actually survive.
My humming pigs will continue to evolve, and I look forward to continuing my project. I’ll be trying different animals as a way to take my humming pigs forward and expand their natural history. I plan to keep exploring and testing new ideas so I can build a world for them. I want to explore geographical considerations which would inspire distant cousins – humming pigs from different places, evolving in different climates and with different diets, all influencing the final creature.
There is a huge line of animals just waiting to be transformed!
It’s worth mentioning that looking at other artists is always helpful. I like to collect art books and I have a couple of really nice ones about imaginary creatures. So, here’s some recommendations:
Principles of Creature Design – Creating Imaginary Animals by Terryl Whitlatch, 2015, Design Studio Press
Mythical Beasts – An Artists Field Guide to Designing Fantasy Creatures, 2017, 3dtotal Publishing
Sketching from the Imagination – Creatures and Monster, 2019, 3dtotal Publishing
There’s an animal anatomy section in a magazine which is still available:
The Creative Masterclass Anatomy Essentials ImagineFX, Future Publishing.
TAE and Twitter:
Animaloon Collective (@Animaloonies) / Twitter
Links about me: