Contest: January CDChallenge

Updated: Mar 16, 2020


Project type: Character design and illustration

Date: 2020

Hours: 8

The contest was to create a character design or illustration based on the Character Design Challenge (CDC) monthly prompt. For January, the prompt was “Cormorant Fisherman”.


“The Ferryman” - At dusk and dawn, Kharon and his two assistants, Heaven and Hell, traverse the Styx, fishing for those who have lost their way, and for those who have to find their way.


My process for this project was to:

1. Have a Central Character, but also a story

The theme of the month is “Cormorant Fisherman”. To embody my normal theme of fantasy mixing with reality, I decided to play with the idea of an undead fisherman, fishing for souls.

I played with tropes with illustration, so I wanted to make a ‘spooky’ illustration without using a lot of black or dark colors. The reference images pertaining to cormorant fishermen were inspired by those from Southeast Asia and China, so I wanted to include the Asian influences in my piece.

2. Deciding Lighting, Design and Composition

The lighting and design in the illustration came from my decision to play with white and pale colors. I played with light, cool colors in order to highlight the vibrant red of the sun and the soul lantern that the fisherman held. The early morning fog aesthetic was the environmental inspiration for this atmosphere. It also gave the illustration a creepy, ghostly ambiance.

The cormorant fisherman and his birds are undead, so I designed the boat, bird, paddle, and clothing with bones, jagged stones, and old weeds in mind. There is a fish bone on his hat, and his boat resembles that of a convex shark jaw. An aesthetic theme that I went for was ‘mouths’ and ‘consuming’.

3. Fixing the story and finishing the design

Having finalized the basic idea, lighting, and composition, one of the problems was how busy the illustration looked with all three fishing birds. It made it hard to focus. I decided to take one of the birds in the bottom of the sketch out because it didn’t add to my concept of the illustration.

The feeling of needing to simplify my illustration also made me realize that I needed to have more clarity around the details for my story. Having more clarity will allow me to make more informed decisions about what elements to emphasize or take out.

Inspired by Greek mythology, and the river Styx, I have decided that my undead fisherman’s two cormorants fish for souls that are lost.

By taking out one bird and therefore making my illustration less busy, I was able to add intricacies elsewhere, like the details of the actual souls floating down the river. While halfway through finishing the piece, I had the idea to give personalities to the two cormorants - one being Heaven, and the other being Hell. The idea hit me when I was already polishing the piece, so visually, not much of it incorporated that. However, I really liked the idea, so it inspired me to make a variation.


I added to the story a bit, by incorporating dusk and dawn. Therefore, there are two variations to this piece, but the final submission is still the dawn variation (white). I ultimately chose the dawn version over the dusk version because dawn showcases the cormorant fisherman more, while dusk showcases the Styx more. The competition is a character design challenge, so I had to prioritize the character over anything else.


If I had to complete this piece again, I would probably make the following changes:

Though the story of the piece is somewhat cemented, the design does not efficiently convey it. This is a byproduct of the story being developed halfway through the design.

Make the cormorant fisherman seem more like a judge (maybe incorporate scales into the design as well). This cements the motif that the fisherman is someone that processes souls, rather than just an accessory to the two birds (who have more of a story than he does). The fisherman’s design is also quite boring, and adding a character and purpose to him would give him a personality - this would improve the visual narrative of the character.

Instead of having identical birds, showcase that one is Heaven, and one is Hell.

Showcasing and differentiating the two different birds will be able to visual narrative to the characters. At first glance, without the caption, the viewer would not understand that these birds are Heaven and Hell, or that the fisherman is Charon, or someone similar. Their first impression would be an undead fisherman, holding a lantern-paddle, with two birds chained to his heart. I would push these narrative elements further by showing the purpose of the birds with their design.


If you would love to have a commission done, or need other design work, feel free to reach out.