Brainstorming Character Design with Alchemy

Developing and designing new characters can be tough. There is a tendency most artists have when faced with a blank canvas, and that is to draw what you feel most comfortable with. But what if you could find a tool to help shake up the process and kickstart some fresh new ideas? What if it were absolutely FREE? What if it worked on Mac, Windows, and Linux? Well, you’re in luck, because Alchemy is that tool.

From the Alchemy website:

Alchemy is an open drawing project aimed at exploring how we can sketch, draw, and create on computers in new ways. Alchemy isn’t software for creating finished artwork, but rather a sketching environment that focuses on the absolute initial stage of the creation process. Experimental in nature, Alchemy lets you brainstorm visually to explore an expanded range of ideas and possibilities in a serendipitous way.

Alchemy’s interface is pretty basic. There are no undos. To be clear, Alchemy is NOT a paint program. It is an idea generation program, and taken in that context, there are no mistakes. It’s quite liberating, actually.

When you first launch Alchemy, you’ll see a blank canvas. Hover your stylus or mouse to the top and you will see Alchemy’s main interface. You can choose style, line weight, color, and even the type of effects you want to use to assist in your visual brainstorming process.

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The Create menu lets you choose from a variety of starting shapes.
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The Affect menu toggles the method to affect the shape you have already chosen. For example, you can mirror your marks, repeat them or even randomize your marks as you lay down your line.

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Perhaps the best part of Alchemy is that you can also use sound to affect your overall marks. Simply play music or speak into your microphone and the waveform will serve as a randomizer for your mark making. I’ve found that music works best because it tends to provide more variance to the sound.

Here is just one example of using Alchemy to create some interesting shapes. In this one, I used the “Pressure Shapes” option (under the Create menu) and also selected “Mirror” and “Mic Expand” from the Affect menu. After just a few minutes, I came up with the shape below.


With Alchemy, you can record your mark making and save it off as a PDF. You can also export your resultant marks as SVG or JPG. I saved my results as a JPG file and brought it into Manga Studio, where I could then begin exploring the shapes to develop my designs.

Below are a few sketches I came up with. To aid in my brainstorming process, I rotated the canvas 180 degrees to find new forms that I would have otherwise missed.


And here are a few of those sketches, formalized into new drawings. Both were drawn using the same Alchemy image as a starting point.



Alchemy is an open source program, and as such, is free. It’s available on Windows, Mac and Linux. If you are looking for a good digital tool to help with brainstorming your character designs, give Alchemy a whirl. You won’t be disappointed.


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