Quanyails's Guide to CAP Art Submissions

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This guide is not authoritative. It represents my personal viewpoint, not the viewpoint of the CAP moderation team.
  • Do not use this guide to justify or disparage someone's CAP art submission.
  • Do not assume this guide is a recipe for success. There are many factors that affect the CAP art process beyond the points listed in this guide.

I've been drawing for the CAP Project for over 10 years now. Throughout this time, I've made many contributions to the CAP process. Among those are my art submissions; I've won the art poll for Floatoy + Caimanoe, Pluffle, and Astrolotl, and I've placed highly in a number of other art polls.

During the CAP process, I see many people post their designs, and I see many people give feedback on designs. Coming from my past experience, I thought I should write down my experiences in one place and share them with other CAP art contributors!

Each of the following suggestions is one I've seen, given, and/or received within the CAP community.

Excuse any formatting errors you find! Some of them seem to be due to a forum bug, as they reappear after every edit.

What this guide is not

This guide is not a "how-to" on creating Fakemon concepts. Given Pokémon's nature, you can take a very simple concept and make a really cool design out of it. Instead, I'll be focusing on tips on how to best present your design.

General art tips
  • Design comes first.A good Pokémon design is one that can be read at a glance and understood, and its concept should accent that—not the other way around. You may want to adapt an obscure creature into a Pokémon, but it will fly over the heads of the audience if they need to know the concept for the design to make sense.
    • In both Pokémon games and CAP art polls, a Pokémon's design is the first impression a viewer will have. When sharing a design with others, I try to hide design explanation to match so people can focus on the visuals..
  • Understand the principles of good visual design.
  • Understand image composition. A good "official art" image shows off all of the important parts of the design, and every detail matters when you have five seconds to convey your design to the audience.
  • Understand how the eye travels through an image. You want the audience to know where to look in your "official art" image. Otherwise, your audience won't focus on the image. Understand how lines of action work and how to create focal points.
  • Know the limitations of your medium.Pokémon designs need to be clearly recognizable when displayed at small resolutions.
    • As an exercise, take a screenshot of an in-game battle background and place your Pokémon on both sides of the battle. See which details pop out and which are too small to notice at that resolution.
    • For concept art, I usually start with lineart. Once it's time to make my final render, however, I start with blocks of color and focus on how well it renders when scaled down to 25%.
CAP-specific tips
  • Not all Pokémon designs make good CAP designs. CAP uses a voting system to select the winning design. Unlike Pokémon, CAP designs with niche appeal won't get selected.
  • Know your competition. Your design will be shown next to the other submissions in the voting stage—many by seasoned CAP artists—so you need to make yours stand out from the crowd.
  • Master the fundamentals of art. Your competition is stiff, so the flaws in art fundamentals will be that much more noticeable. However, this does not mean you need to be flawless in your execution. Great design + good execution > good design + great execution.
  • Learn from past CAP cycles. Winners and high-placing runners-up share good design qualities, which make them excellent study material. CAP has a gallery of art from previous CAP processes that can be used as a reference.
  • It takes experience.You can be a skilled artist, but it is uncommon for your first Final Submission to place well in the art polls—let alone win. There are many factors that go into a winning CAP design, and you'll likely miss the mark on your first go-around. Once you've gone through the CAP process cycle once, you'll have a better understanding of what you were missing last time, and you can calibrate your design accordingly.
    • Ask any winning CAP artist, from the time they joined, how long it took for them to win a CAP art poll.
  • Start early. The earlier you start, the more time your design has to leave an impression on the community, and the more time you have to update or change designs according to feedback. However...
  • Slow and steady wins the race.In CAP, aspects of the Pokémon you're designing are given to you piece by piece. You can start designing as soon as you have partial information, but that makes it harder to fit new information down the line. It can be obvious when an old design has a new element shoehorned into it.
    • Don't get too attached to your first design.Unless you're a professional, it's rare your first design is the best design you can make. Besides, other artists will be improving their own designs over time.
      • This YouTube video demonstrates how to improve upon a design by letting it compete with your previous designs.
      • I tend to come up with a small set of initial ideas, then focus on the one(s) that get traction and/or fit later stages the best.
    • Don't force a square peg into a round hole. You might have a brilliant design in mind, but if it must be compromised to match the given abilities, moves, and stats, it will turn out weaker than a holistically-tailored design.
  • Supporting information helps. Supporting information can be an excellent tool to show how your design matches the CAP's aspects in ways a single static image can't, and it can be pivotal for some voters. However, it's not a requirement for CAP designs, as several winning artists can tell you. (Colossoil, Crucibelle, Smokomodo, Miasmaw)
  • ...But don't rely on it."Show, don't tell" is important. If your main image doesn't pull its own weight, your supporting information will act closer to an attempt to patch it up rather than add to an existing good design.
    • Don't rely on in-game exceptions. Sometimes, artists point to in-game exceptions to justify mismatches between their design and the provided requirements. For instance, a design that looks too slow might be justified using Purugly's base 112 speed stat. In the polls, voters will pick apart your submission, so gross mismatches between design and requirements will stand out. People are more likely to vote for a design with a solid justification than a design with a flimsy one.
  • Don't fret over your tools. While useful for productivity, you don't need high-end graphics software or drawing tablets to do well in CAP. Winning CAP designs have been made with tools like colored pencils, MS Paint, and computer mice. (Stratagem, Kerfluffle, Astrolotl)
  • Get feedback. You might be proud of your own design, but CAP is a community project, so community sentiment matters.
    • The CAP Discord server is active and allows for real-time feedback.
    • Creating anonymous forms/informal polls can be helpful for letting people who are otherwise lurkers share their opinion with you.
  • ...But not too much. Everyone has different opinions, often times at odds with each other, so you can't please everyone. You'll need to carefully weigh which feedback works best for your design.
  • Get feedback early. Even if you adore your design, your effort is wasted if other people aren't receptive to it. You'll save time and energy by receiving feedback while your design is still a draft.
  • Know how to interpret feedback. It is just as important to recognize the whybehind the feedback you receive as it is to receive it in the first place. Reacting to feedback with a series of small, iterative tweaks can be frustrating to both you and the feedback provider.
    • This YouTube video, while written for video game developers, explains the importance of listening to what feedback providers say versus what they mean.
  • Be aware of silent majorities and vocal minorities.The people who give you feedback don't represent the average voter. A submission popular with one of these groups may fall flat with the other. When acting on feedback, consider what the average voter might think.
    • A design most people rank as their second favorite performs more reliably than a polarizing design.
  • Don't fish for feedback. Certain designs will get more discussion and feedback than others. If your design isn't discussed much even after soliciting feedback, there's a reason. It might be because people have given as much input as they could on your design, or it could be because your design is perfectly fine already.
Miscellaneous suggestions

The following tips stem from personal experience, so you may not agree with them.
  • Stand out.
    • The CAP process lasts for months, so people are inclined to vote for an extraordinary design that reflects months worth of planning. A design that looks like the Pokémon you can find on the first route of a Pokémon game doesn't reflect that effort.
    • During voting, people will be browsing through a large number of designs, so you will need to make yours attractive. Imagine your design on the boxart of the latest Pokémon game. Does the design sell?
  • Make your design memorable.
    • The more time it takes for a viewer to process your design, the harder it is for your design to keep their attention. Try redrawing your design from memory. If you can't remember how to draw certain details, you may want to simplify those details.
    • A memorable design incorporates iconic and unique imagery. How much can you reduce your design and still keep it recognizable? Alternatively, imagine if you drew your design as a caricature or gijinka—which features become the design's defining traits?
    • A Pokémon is not a checklist of requirements. If the Pokémon you're designing has types X + Y, don't draw an X + Y Pokémon. Instead, draw a Pokémon that can fit that type yet be more than the sum of its parts.
    • Eyes are the soul of a Pokémon design. You can identify any Pokémon by its eye region, so you should be able to do the same for your design. If the eye region is too generic, viewers may not get hooked by it.
    • Supporting art acts as a great litmus test for design depth. How does your Pokémon live in the wild? How does it act when it's happy, sad, or angry? If your design can't answer those questions engagingly, you may need to flesh out your design more.
  • Get involved.A guide can get you started, but there's no better way to learn than to participate in the process yourself.
    • The CAP Project is a community project. You'll learn more about the designing process by sharing feedback with other artists in addition to receiving it. In addition, people will are more inclined to give constructive feedback if they notice you're active in the community.
    • If you want to get more design practice in outside of the CAP process cycle, CAP pre-evos, Flash CAPs, and Fakemon-focused pet mods (not part of the CAP Project) can be effective venues.
Additional resources

(Originally posted on DeviantArt on 2021-07-11.)
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