A Tough 5th-Grader

A Tough 5th-Grader

For my last project in my digital painting class, we had to do a character design, choosing a prompt from a long list of sometimes incongruent ideas: space cowboy, alien violinist, octopus teacher, and so on. I picked “the world’s toughest 5th-grader,” because I need to learn to draw kids better since I want to do picture books.

The obvious mental image that comes along with that phrase is a boy bully with a wide neck and fists. I thought I’d turn it on its head and make it a girl who is a math genius and is impossible to beat in math competitions. My image searches to find a cool-looking kid yielded a bunch of ideas, and then I decided that she could be something other than white.  I actually found a picture of a really cool Navajo kid with a few different angles. She looked like a humble badass—the one nobody would give a second thought to, and who quietly comes out on top, shocking everyone.


Like all of our projects, we had to do a bunch of thumbnails. Since I’d already decided she was going to be a math kid and doing things related to a math competition, all my thumbnails were around that idea. I got dinged for not having a variety of different images, but whatever. Here are the ones I came up with:

tought 5th grader thumbnails

I’m going to be the first to admit that these don’t look great. My people are still always so stiff, and I can’t seem to capture faces at all unless that’s all I’m drawing. But I didn’t worry too much since I’d be spending more time on the subsequent work.

Level-Up Studies in Color 

We had to do what’s called a level-up design, which is basically three designs of the same character showing the passage of time. This can be over a lot of time, like showing a young child, teen, and adult, or child, adult, and senior, stuff like that. I jus thought it had to be some progression of time, but I think it isn’t that simple, because I got dinged for doing “before the competition test”, “immediately after the test,” and “after receiving the 1st place certificate.” But I liked the idea anyway.

We had to pick three poses and do them in more detail and in color. I actually did these wrong first because I took one of the poses and picked it to do as the final pose, but I learned we had to do a different final poses, so I went back and redid the second pose here, which is why it’s a little different from the others (I didn’t want to spend much time on it). Here they are:

tought 5th grader level-ups

I decided early on to give her a bun because what’s color than a bun with pencils sticking out of it. In this set of poses, she’s about to go into the test (she’s prepared with a handful of pencils and a metal ring that has a pencil sharpener and eraser hanging off it). The second is during the test. The third is when she’s won. (And OMG, I know the face looks so bad in that one—I’m sorry fellow humans.)

Final Painting

To do the final, I started with the original level-up design that I had to repurpose, which was in black and white. I then started painting over it as a guide, and my earliest submission looked like this:

cross-legged 5th grader draft

I worked on it more over the next week. Here’s what I submitted because even though it was far from perfect, I wasn’t entirely sure how to fix any of the problems:

cross-legged 5th grader

I struggled with everything, but especially the stupid clothing folds. I actually did cloth folds on an early assignment in this class and actually captured it pretty well, but there were more, smaller folds with varied shadow situations, and it was harder. But here, I didn’t capture them well. Also, Her face doesn’t look good. Better than the thumbnails and level-ups, but still not very natural. I had trouble because the model I was using for the pose had her head angled up some, which is where her eyes are higher up, but I did not successfully convey the position with the mouth and chin, so the eyes look too far up. 

Even though the actual work isn’t good, I like the idea of the character. The girl whose photo I used has just stayed with me. I might do more with this character after I get better.