What makes our characters so unique? They’re created by a global network of talented illustrators, who each bring something special to our collection. It’s what makes every sock surprising, every mug memorable and every paper model a cut above the rest.
Jota Han is the artist behind colourful characters Ernestoe Hemingway, Rene Mug-ritte and Georgia O'coffee. We caught up with him to find out how he brings his ideas to life and discovered that the eyes really are the window into a character’s soul.
Hi Jota, thanks for chatting!
How do you go about creating characters inspired by real people?
It’s easier to do when they have a very unique beard or glasses! Without these, you really need to dig deeper to find something unique, so it’s not just about their physical characteristics, but also their personality.
What do you look for in a character?
Emotion. The character may give you a sense of happiness, tenderness, innocence, mystery – even hate, if it’s a villain.
Where do you start?
First, I dive into the character’s life using photos, biography, videos or even their artworks. I always start with a neutral expression and focus on their physical features. Later, I consider their most recognisable outfits, objects or symbols – things that convey who they are.
I draw until I’m more or less happy with the result and then adapt it to the shape of the sock. This involves simplifying the illustration, adjusting the proportions and finding the right colour palette.
What are the most difficult parts to get right?
It depends on the character, but perfecting the eyes is hard. They’re the first thing people look at and they have so much impact on whether the character looks like the reference. Even slightly moving the mouth or eyes can mean the character no longer resembles the real person. It’s a delicate balance.
When I illustrated Ernestoe Hemingway, I wanted to reflect his strong personality. That’s why his eyebrows are that way, plus I exaggerated the thickness a little. He is also looking at the horizon, which gives his character a melancholic touch. The mouth is slightly tilted, representing seriousness but not anger.
How do the eyes change the story?
The gaze can make the character look lost or melancholic. Glancing down could indicate shyness, while a penetrating look could expose a strong personality.
Isaac Newtoe was a particularly tricky character – can you talk us through your process?
At the start, I had no clear picture of what he looked like. I found some paintings of him, but they were not enough to make the character recognisable.
The best option was to introduce an apple, as many people know the story about gravity. I started to test the position of the apple on different parts of the sock and even tried to add an arrow to indicate gravity. In the end, it was enough to use Newtoe’s gaze to show that he was observing the apple falling.
You recently created an illustration of yourself for ChattyFeet, was it a challenge?
Yes and no, haha! You're supposed to know yourself better than anyone – and you have a live reference. The thing is, it’s not easy to know how others see you.
I wanted to represent myself and my country. A few years ago, I left Madrid to live by the coast, so I drew myself looking towards the beach. I included a crab dancing to flamenco music, which is very typical of Andalucía and gives it a comical touch. Placing myself on a clean beach also speaks of how much I like to take care of the environment – I have participated in several campaigns against the use of plastics.
What do you think is unique about ChattyFeet characters?
I really like that they are designed by artists from around the world. The characters are playful, created with ingenuity and have original names.
Do you have a favourite character (other than your own)?
I like lots of the ChattyFeet characters, but I will name Basquiatoe because I really like the work of the artist. Basquiatoe has a reflective and impulsive look. I like how the iconic three-pointed crown appears. It looks like he’s wearing a scruffy suit that was stained with strokes of paint.
Do you have any tips for newbie illustrators?
Make it easy for people to identify your character. Decide which are the most important traits, then highlight them. Also, each project is different and sometimes you get it right after one attempt and on other occasions it can take many iterations.