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I’ve enjoyed creating and designing since I was young. I originally started my career in graphic design. I realized I didn’t enjoy it enough to do that day in and day out. I searched for something I could be more passionate about. Now, at 24, I have found that passion and I am learning more about it by studying to be a Character Concept Artist at CGMA.

I have learned to see things in a different light due to moving around a lot while growing up. I have lived in Alaska, China, Idaho, and several other places. I have also had the opportunity to travel to places like Mongolia and Thailand. I have worked on various indie movie projects and comic books. My initial art style was in comic books. I have recently learned more about painting — both digitally and traditionally.

My desire is to work in the costume design world so this was a perfect course, right up my alley. I’m enrolled in the 2d Character Design Program, so I was happy when this course came up. I’m also a huge fan of Phil Boutte’s work, which added to my excitement in the class.

Finding a Character & Rough Line Drawing

One of my goals is to one day work on either superhero designs or historical characters. I decided to combine these ideas into a WWI Superhero. I chose WWI instead of WWII because it tends to take a backseat to WWII in the media. The hero, Artillery, is a brave renegade soldier, but not a flashy and bold character. I wanted to design a character who would look confident, yet humble. I also wanted him to have a strong, armored, and down-to-earth look. My first idea was to have him look intimidating to the enemy, with his large poncho and mask. His uniform would be slightly enhanced, giving him a large graphic read while being adaptable in many situations.

I narrowed down my selections by looking for a silhouette that would both intimidate enemies and inspire hope for the good guys. I also wanted the design to be unique enough that it wouldn’t be associated too much with other current heroes.

I used WWI and WWII soldiers and airmen for my real-world inspirations for this design. I took examples from their uniform materials, like leather, fabrics, colors, and general shape. I upgraded the basics to fit the character’s story. Going to a military museum was a big help and offered a great deal of inspiration. I was able to view the pictures and dioramas, recording pictures and ideas from actual era pieces.

I based the casting on the actor, Matt Lanter. His face/pose was the main influence on the uniform. Matt’s characters are the strong, adventure hero type, without being too bold and flashy. This influenced the proud, determined pose, and neckline design.

Final Design

More About the Character and His Uniform

At the beginning of the Great War, Ian Reynolds is medically discharged due to injuries sustained in an intense skirmish. While back home, he hears word that his brother is pinned down on the battlefield. With help from his wife, he puts together a custom armored uniform and goes back into battle to save his brother. Along the way, he becomes a legend, a hero who appears out of nowhere in times of need.

The character needed a time period and an accurate uniform to start with. I modified this a bit so he could make better use of it on the battlefield. I also equipped the character with used, military gear like pouches, grenades, and more. He also has a custom patch, resembling a military patch, but his own piece. I also added metal highlights to make him stand out more and strike the heroic pose. The scar on his eye highlights his injury.

My main goal was to accentuate the chest piece and the ammo pouches. I customized the chest piece just enough to become his own, iconic piece. The ammo and gear pouches also have the character’s own touch — creating his own gear system so he is ready for the trials to come!

Introducing Texture and Color Swatches – Identify the Texture/Materials

I investigated textures by researching the process in which items were made during the time period. I gathered information from online sources, personal collection items, and museum pieces. I used my research to create a reference board to use while designing.

I started the color swatch research by viewing the colors in the original uniform and accessories. The character’s uniform is modified so, I chose to use earth tones, similar to the original uniforms, but enhanced so they would stand-out more. I did not find blue in the original designs so I added it to make the uniform stand-out a bit more. I played with the tones, tweaking it until I found the desirable effect.

I had a pleasant ‘accident’ while applying color tests over the black and white painting of my character. I ended-up finding a good secondary color for the armored uniform accessories while exploring with different layers and colors. This color would be used in my final piece.

Final Material and Color Design

The most challenging part of the final week was the rendering and pose refinement. I have previous experience in painting. However, taking it to the next level was challenging — yet, rewarding when I was able to get it to work.

Trying to push the pose as far as I could without breaking it was tricky. It was satisfying to see the character evolve as I changed and modified the pose. Overall, it was a fun experience. Thankfully, Phil gave great lessons, tricks, and techniques that helped me learn more about this process correctly. This process resulted in a character in the proper position and direction.

I am satisfied with the design. In fact, I think it came out better than I imagined. My goal is to create a design sequel for the character. I would also like the uniform — and the title to become a family legacy. I can imagine the uniform being passed down to future generations. The next character will be his daughter during WWII — and possibly his grandson in the Vietnam War. I will possibly refine the current character’s mask and poncho.

The final critique was very beneficial. I enjoyed learning more and more. I was able to see clear progress from the beginning to the end of the course. I also see how I can apply the design knowledge and skills learned in my own career path.

Final Thoughts

I definitely learned how to make better use of reference and research and apply it to my designs, how to focus on and improve details, and how to make the character’s costume more functional. I also improved greatly on my technical skills like painting and composition. Previous studies in fashion and film helped with how the costume was practically broken down, my general knowledge of Procreate, and sketching techniques, really helped me focus on the design aspects itself. I also used my graphic design experience to create a title card and promo materials to push the movie look and feel.

Phil Boutte was a fantastic instructor! He had great information for techniques, career tips, fun stories from the life of a concept artist, and he really went above and beyond helping each of us in our pieces. Midway through the course, when I started taking the design from ideas to the final piece, his instruction on how to scale the piece, add dimension to the background and work with proper contrast and design elements really helped me to grasp the techniques and take it to the next level.

I would definitely recommend taking the digital painting class, anatomy class, and clothing class. I took the clothing and anatomy class, and this really helped me keep up with other elements of the class. Not being refined as I could be in digital painting slowed me down a bit, so I would recommend being well rounded in that class as well. I would also recommend learning a bit of style/ fashion rules, be familiar with how costumes work and have some pieces in mind that inspire your work. I have really enjoyed this class and learned a lot from it! I highly recommend it to anyone interested in costume design.

Check out more from John on his Instagram page (@millsteadart) or his website (

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