How to reinvent a classic mythological character

Artist Jakob Eirich explains how to paint a mythological folklore creature in a fresh new light.

jakob medusa redesign

Jakob uses the formiddable mythological gorgon, Medusa, as his inspiration – giving her a new look entirely

I chose Medusa for this task and before I start drawing I always do some research. This stage is crucial, because you need to get to know your subject. What are its most important features? How was it drawn hundreds of years ago? How is it depicted in recent illustrations, films or video games?

Doing this groundwork also means I become aware of what's been done before, and what to avoid if I want to find a new and fresh direction.

To give my character an original twist I consider experimenting with different genres. How about a zombie Medusa? A mutant Medusa? A cyborg or robot? If you don't have a specific brief then you have a wide range of possibilities to explore.

mutant medusa

Jakob says to pick two varying ideas for your character, here is his sketch for a mutant Medusa

Pick one or two ideas and carry out the same research as for Medusa herself, but this time look for ways these genres are depicted in different media. Don't copy what you see, though. Take what you like and mix it with things you find in real life. These can be totally unrelated objects or your own ideas.

Taking this approach will give you a better chance to create something fresh, that no one has thought of before.

01. Concept is key

medusa redesign

The idea is key, so this is what you should focus on when you start a design. Put down a couple of sketches to generate different approaches. Usually 
I produce my best results after I've got the initial ideas out of my head. Here I draw a mutant Medusa and a sci-fi Medusa.

02. Add value

medusa step 2 redesign

Value and shape is something you need to always have an eye on. You should even write it on a piece of paper and stick it to your wall in front of your desk! Both should be optimised to a point where it's interesting to look at, even from greater distance or with no shading at all.

03. Creative colour

medusa redesign colour added

I add colour and put my Medusa in an environment I imagine she would dwell in. To add visual interest I play with a spotlight. If your illustration is all about design in a production pipeline you shouldn't have fancy light and very dark areas, for maximum readability.

Words: Jakob Eirich

Jakob graduated in graphic design in 2009 and has been freelancing since. He’s keen to tell stories with his illustrations and create worlds that he’d love to explore himself. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 126.

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