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The Intricate Art of Emoticons

(Or: How I Lost My Mind To The Pencil Tool)

Over the years, I have personally developed my skills as an Emoticonist from horribly editing the good old vBulletin emotes, to emulating the phpBB inverted pear style (minus the irratating white halo obviously!) until now I have settled on my own (steadfast) ways of shading and animation. What I aim to do with this article, is give fresh faced 256 colour Emoticonists a bit of an insight into the finer thinkings of making a cute little fella that people want to use on their forums, in dAmn or on their journals.

To Shade Or Not To Shade?

It's not really a question...SHADE!!!

Shading is one of the key factors to giving any cute little 15x15 splodge of colour its character. I'm not saying that all unshaded emotes are by any means horrible, but think how much smoother they could look with a dollop of highlighting and shadowing. Much like any other form of art, giving a piece shape, depth and texture is all down to the shading.

I've searched through the dA gallery to bring you some examples of flat vs. shaded! (although not trying to put anybody down, merely using examples for the context of my point and...where did I leave that cup of coffee? hmm)

Smile by TruthMercyRegret Smile by 5N1P35 smile rvmp by Bad-Blood

Ok let's break 'em down!
Beginning with Exhibit A. (I've always wanted to say that)
Smile by TruthMercyRegret by TruthMercyRegret
A simple, flat-colour smile emote, it does its job I grant you! It's a smile, what more can you say? As TruthMercyRegret says, it's his first shot at an emoticon and it serves its purpose! Nowt wrong with it says I!

If we take a look at Exhibit 2...errr B!
Smile by 5N1P35 by 5N1P35
Another simple emote, but this time with a simple bit of shading that makes it stand out just a little! Now to get this shade effect would be a case of a standard soft brush in Photoshop (my weapon of choice, so using examples from my perspective) to make a quick and simple emoticon that does its job!

And now on to Inhibition Charlie...eck, that's enough M'lud!
smile rvmp by Bad-Blood by Bad-Blood
Again, the same simple smile emote, but now jam-packed with life and character! and all because of some TLC with the shading, and I don't doubt, the pencil tool.

Obviously along the way of learning to shade and style on such a small scale, there will be many that don't look quite right, I have many failed attempts indeed. But hopefully you can see from the examples above that the one that stands out the most, is the final one as it feels "alive" almost. From an Emoticonists perspective, when you get blurry eyes from concentrating on shading so much at 1600% zoom and then go to 100% and see the finished article, a certain flicker of a grin is sure to appear at a job well done.

Action Pose or Action Sequence?

Animation, although not a vital component to an Emoticon, can ofcourse tell more of a story than a static. On the flip side, a well executed static, doesn't NEED animation, because it tells enough of a story, or shows enough action as it needs to! It's a vicious little circle of logic, I know. I do believe it's time for some more examples!

TEAM KUNG-FU by SophieHoulden by SophieHoulden is wonderfully done, you can feel the movement in all the characters and with a tiny bit of squinting, could almost feel like they were moving.

What... the hell? XD by X-wing9 by X-wing9 again is beautifully executed and needs no actual animation, the expressions say it all. If you don't have to think too long about a static showing a scene, it works!

In Closing M'Lud...ack! Not Again

I hope that this random babbling has piqued your attention and given you a few ideas on how to improve your emoticons! And now time for some handy links!

EMOTE TUTORIAL by luckylinx
A easy to follow and barebone tutorial on how to shade emoticons using pixel shading by luckylinx

Emote Tutorial by Teddy33
A fantastic "show and tell" style tutorial on shading by Teddy33

How to: Shade emoticons by arrioch
A soft-brush tutorial to shading in Photoshop (with a beautiful end product!) by arrioch

How to Bounce tutorial is a great start for any emoticonist wanting to get a feel for animating (if you'll excuse the secret bit ofcourse) by sereneworx

Always enjoy creating a new emote and never despair!

This article of babbling and caffeine fuelled randomness was inspired...rather oddly by a song called Professor Pumplestickle... don't ask.

Add a Comment:
SparklyDest Featured By Owner Feb 27, 2010  Hobbyist Artisan Crafter
catluvr2 Featured By Owner Feb 22, 2010  Hobbyist General Artist
:iconeagerpee: Very nice.
Teddy33 Featured By Owner Feb 21, 2010
Awesome article! :iconohjoyplz:
And thanks so much for featuring my tutorial. :aww:
renekotte Featured By Owner Feb 20, 2010
This is an awesome article! :love:
littlehowlingwolf Featured By Owner Feb 19, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
this is a good article not simple not complex it just right
arrioch Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2010  Professional Interface Designer
Great article! :clap:
Synfull Featured By Owner Feb 18, 2010
Nice news article :)
SunlightIncarnate Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2010
Fantastic article!
Durinthiam Featured By Owner Feb 17, 2010
Cheers Godliek! :)
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Submitted on
February 17, 2010


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