Let’s get this post started with a sketch I did this afternoon; Here’s Xaal the Liar, a charming demon with a trusting grin and a name I made up just now.
Before I get to explaining Xaal, I want to talk a bit about cliche’s and archetypes. Not infrequently, I hear artists say something along the lines of “I simply wanted to avoid the cliche’” when speaking about their work. The individual who uses that phrase may see bull horns and hoofed-feet as a cliche’ in demon designs. I only see such a thing as a cliche’ if it’s done poorly, lazily, and sloppy. If embraced and done well, you’re sticking to the archetype, and can come up with something classically-awesome, a timelessly-grand design. And if you incorporate elements, or the essence, of the archetype, but take it in a completely different direction? If you shift, and take a lateral step, but with the same inspiration at the heart of the design? Then you’re thinking outside the box.
That is what I tried doing with Xaal here. I wanted to take a side-step, To think outside of the box, but with the same inspiration as those archetypes at the heart of it. Take a close look at Xaal…There’s no giant horns and hooves, but there’s plenty of “bull” in his design. Bovine and human characteristics are all there; Two things that are present in many classic demon archetypes, are just presented and assembled differently here. After sketching him up, I went and added the little bull skull above his head for a few reasons. I wanted to incorporate a design into the featureless face, but didn’t want to use warpaint or scars (so a cast shadow did the job instead). I also thought that it would be neat if demons, in order to manifest themselves, needed a sacrifice, and would take on physical attributes of whatever that sacrifice may be (a bull in this case), and be bound to the mortal world through a piece of that sacrifice (the skull of that bull). The final reason I threw that little skull in was to hit the viewer over the head with the design. If they didn’t notice the bovine elements in the demon before, seeing the cow skull just might flip on that switch, and get them to notice it.
So, do I feel like I succeeded in my outside-the-box demon design? I have no idea. That’s for the art director and viewer to decide. I can tell you that I had a heaping pile of fun creating our friend Xaal here, and this exercise is one that I’ll be revisiting soon.