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18 August 2015

Creating the Trojan Zebra with Inkscape

The intent of this article is to show my creative flow with Inkscape as opposed to giving a detailed step-by-step tutorial, which would be difficult with anything more than a simple design.

In June of 2015 I had the idea of drawing a zebra with a hair headdress instead of a mane – a kind that would look like the horsehair brush on an ancient Greek helmet. (My thought was, the zebra was bald and had to wear an artificial mane to keep up appearances.) I drew a quick sketch to save the idea and finally got around to working on it in August.

Original Trojan Zebra Idea

Since I'm pretty bad at drawing something I'm not looking at, I searched through my library of animal photos until I found a zebra that was in a good position.

Zebra Head Model

Inkscape is a wonderful tool for drawing resizable vector art, so I loaded the zebra photo into Inkscape and spent an afternoon tracing all the parts I wanted to use.

The next step was to create the mane headdress. After searching the internet for Trojan helmet images, I found a couple to use as models. I started with the following basic design. Interestingly, many of the images I found showed the brush having a long ponytail at the back. I also added a shine to the zebra's nose to give it a more 3D look.

Since this headdress is too plain and one-dimensional-looking, I started playing around with it. My first thought was to continue the stripes into the headdress like they are on a real zebra and to make the mane look hairy. I also wanted to decorate the gold band with a typical ancient Greek design. I found an interesting one on a piece of pottery.

I often ask for feedback from other people on my drawings, especially if I feel like something's not working. The consensus was: remove the stripes in the mane and do something different with the texture of the mane because the furry hair looks stupid. :)

After poking around on the internet some more I found some clip-art of a helmet where the brush part was drawn in an interesting style. I decided that style would look pretty cool on my zebra. (Aside: Good artists copy; great artists steal) I also added a shadow behind the ear and down the front of the neck.

The next opinion I got was that the mane shouldn't go all the way down the back and the tail end didn't look right. I shortened the mane and splayed out the end for a more punk look. I also added a highlight to the zebra's neck to make it look more 3D.

The next feedback was to fix the two ends of the gold base so that it would look more 3D, reduce the white in the mane next to the gold band, and tweak the tail end of the mane.

More advice followed, which was to remove the little circle under the ear because it drew the eye too much, to add something to the mane to give it a more 3D look like the body, and to change the tail end because it just didn't look right. I extended a stripe under the ear, added a light white highlight along the middle of the mane to give some subtle color graduation (Blur 5, Opacity 20), and cut the mane short at the back.

I was pretty happy at this point, except I thought the ear was too plain-looking compared to the rest of the zebra. It seemed to me to stand out too much. Since the inside of a zebra's ear is pretty hairy, I decided to give it a hairy outline.

The only thing left to do was create a background. I found an interesting design on another piece of pottery and created a tileable version.

I used Alt+D to make clone copies to tile into a pattern. That made it easy to change the color since it took me a while to figure out exactly which color I wanted for the background. I ended up choosing a complementary color to the gold in the headband.

While posting this image onto some products in my Zazzle store, I discovered that it looks cooler if the zebra comes into the frame from the lower right instead of being centered. It's more dynamic, emphasizes the face, and gives the zebra more of a personality.

Given the seed of an idea that I started with, I had no idea I would end up here. The creative process is fascinating that way.

(Please note: All images in this tutorial are provided for instructional purposes only. I am not giving permission for copying, transmitting, selling, or otherwise using these images for any purpose other than practicing using Inkscape. Exception: Posting an unaltered image to your website for display only with credit given to me and a link provided back to this post is allowed.)

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