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He’s got it licked! The colourful world of Jonathan Ball

Vibrant vectors and characters bursting with colour are at the core of Jonathan’s designs. Here’s his step-by-step guide to his process…

Jonathan Ball’s pokedstudio character and animation portfolio is awesome. He’s produced work for top-tier clients including MTV, Sony, BBC, Nickelodeon and many more, and he regularly Tweets new designs. Ice Lolly Guy (featured here) is a multi-discipline piece created mostly using Affinity Designer with some 3D rendered objects made in Blender to save time.

Ice Lolly Guy ... the finished article

We can’t give you Jon’s vision or imagination—but we can give you a few tips on how to make your ideas come to life in Affinity Designer, straight from the horse’s mouth…

1. Draw a rough sketch

Give yourself a head start

I always start by creating a rough sketch of the characters and general image. In this instance, I know I want shadow at the front with the lighting coming from behind, so I marked the shadowing on my sketch.

2. Create the basic shapes

Next, I scan the rough sketch into Affinity Designer and start blocking in shapes with the Pen Tool and filling with solid colours.

Getting busy with the Pen tool

I try to create each major element in its own layer so I can select, move, reorganise and apply adjustments later quite easily, and use something like a Multiply blend mode to see through to the underlying sketch to help with the tracing.

3. Experiment with colour

Now that all the most important shapes have been created it’s OK to deviate from the initial ideas, adding or removing elements to better suit the scene.

At this point I also experiment with colour, still keeping to solid fills for now.

These guys can be whatever colour you like

4. Start adding detail

It’s time to start adding detail, especially character features, to get the general look and feel of the piece going.

Add detail and depth

I use the Divide Boolean operation to make all the holes. They can remain editable if holding alt when clicking the Boolean buttons; it can be applied afterwards in the Layers panel too.

For highlights and shadows simple shapes with radial or linear fills and transparency work best for me - highlighting edges of more complex shapes is quick if you use copies of the shapes and apply different gradients.

That’s a real time saver in Affinity Designer, gradients are draggable in real time on the design and look amazing. Gradients also give the scene depth, knocking some things into the background using an overlay. You could cheat a bit with some glowy edges using Layer Effects too.

5. Create in 3D

There are no rules!

To save time I’m now recreating the main character, log, and ground in the free and open source 3D creation suite Blender.

I use Blender a lot, quite often for entire scenes but I still love creating vectors too.

3D suits organic forms like the log, melting chocolate, and rippled ice lolly texture and is quicker than creating the same elements purely as vectors.

Having a raster image in an Affinity Designer document is fine, although it’s a good idea to take the use case into account so you know what size image to create.

My image layer exported from Blender was a little over 2700x3900 pixels, larger than A4 @ 300dpi—which is enough for a high quality magazine cover if the client wants to use it for that.

Everything else is vector, so it scales natively, and even the raster layers resample at high quality when needed.

6. Embellish with more vectors

With the 3D render in Affinity Designer, it now replaces my rough sketch. I start adding details and highlights to the 3D character, just treating it as part of the scene.

I’m still concentrating on characters for the most part here, starting to deviate further from the original sketch and adding more characters.

Add character to the characters!

I’ve decided to de-emphasise the bushes, creating more characters and making them a bigger part of the scene.

I’m still reworking colours now too so am thankful for having worked characters into their own layers. As this stage evolves I can start picking out things of interest, making more of little characters that deserve a higher profile and adding interesting things for people to find.

7. Make it POP!

With character detail finished, I step back and make sure I’m achieving what I set out to create. It’s not so tricky to make changes even now, you can change base shape colours or apply an Adjustment Layer to characters or elements of a character, dragging and dropping where you want the adjustment to apply.

Layers with large areas of colour over the background add atmosphere and the scene can now have more intricate shadows using drawn shapes and gradient transparency.

Now looking good enough to eat

Blend modes help the colour layers merge into the scene, and the characters’ top level layers can have a Passthrough Blend Mode applied to carry their effects through to what lies beneath.

More detail and vivid colours in the foreground really help define this surreal world and even at this stage I’m changing things to define the mood—even the ground is a hungry character that wants a piece of ‘Ice Lolly Guy’!

Want more?

Jon travelled from Cardiff to Affinity HQ to record a great free Skillshare video class that shows him using Affinity Designer.

This entirely free one-hour collection of bite-size videos shows exactly how Jon creates his imaginative characters. With a dozen video lessons, you can go from coming up with concepts to creating shapes, editing curves, and adding finishing touches, all at your own pace—maybe inspiring you to create exciting new characters of your own.

You can also find out more about Jon’s work in his profile here on Spotlight, or see more of his work at pokedstudio.