Drawing Models and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

One of my favorite things about browsing the Internet is how easy it is to randomly discover something new. That could involve stumbling upon an informative subreddit, finding a great thread of funny images, or even learning about something cool you’d want to buy. Even better, but a bit more rare, is when finding one cool thing leads you down multiple paths to another completely different awesome thing. This happened to me recently, when I started down a path with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) and ended up looking at pose-able art/sketching models.

A couple weeks ago, I happened to be mindlessly flipping through some forum posts (I think it was either ResetERA or Reddit) and came across a conversation about collectible figures. I can’t remember all the details, and haven’t been able to find it again to share here, but I think the gist of it is that they were discussing the best and worst quality figures. Several posters started talking about some Ninja Turtle figures from the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con. Essentially, the prevailing option was that these are some of the best figures out there, and look identical to the rubber-suit turtles from the 1990 movie. This immediately grabbed my attention, as it was one of my absolute favorite movies when I was a kid. Nostalgia drove me forward from there.

As someone born right at the beginning of the 80s, TMNT is a powerful driver of memories and feelings from childhood. I was around six or seven years old when the cartoon came out, and nine or 10 when the movie was released. If you’re not familiar, the Ninja Turtles were basically four pizza-loving mutated turtles who battled against Shredder and his evil Foot Clan. Actually, I think the entire thing can best be summed up by the most amazing theme song of all time:

Anyway, I started doing some research on these TMNT figures, which were made by a company called NECA. I was able to find them on Amazon and Ebay…but the prices were absurdly high (far more than I’d pay for my impulse-driven interest). I also discovered that NECA made the figures again after Comic-Con, and released these identical versions as a set for Gamestop! My kids also have a great fondness for Ninja Turtles (their fandom being from the more recent cartoons), so I decided to make the purchase. I’m glad I did, they are really excellent:

The NECA 90s Movie Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Raphael, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Donatello come with pizza slices and all of their weapons (two of which I broke – can’t blame the kids, they have played with them really carefully). They really do look exactly like their movie counterparts, and the joints/limbs have surprisingly good range of motion.

Now that I had these cool figures…something occurred to me that I hadn’t even considered: I could use these as models to draw the Ninja Turtles. I am not a great draw-from-imagination type of guy, but if I have a model or example, I can come up with decent results. So, why not pose them and do a sketch? Well, I did just that, which I’ll talk more about in a bit. But, this thought process actually went farther – maybe I should research actual human form pose-able art models. As luck (or smartphone app data harvesting/algorithms) would have it, I soon found my Instagram feed populated with drawing figure models. Once again, I veered off on a new research path and found something I wanted to try. I’ll discuss these pose-able figures in another post.

As for my TMNT sketch, here’s the scene I came up with:

First off, these fellows are obviously not humans, so they are automatically going to be a bit more challenging for me. Giant human-like turtles are definitely subjects I’ve never tried to tackle (as an adult anyway – I drew these guys all the time when I was a kid). But since I had the models with me, it really wasn’t too bad. I posed the turtles in what I thought was an interesting position and got to it.

I feel pretty good about my color matching, and think I basically got their bandanas and skin in the right ballpark. The greens I used blended pretty well and worked out with the darker shadow colors. There were a couple areas that weren’t as strong as I’d hoped, though. Their teeth and eyes aren’t particularly well done, and the facial expressions got a bit lost in the green blending. Also, the pizza slices are quite bad! I just didn’t approach the cheese and sauce well, and it doesn’t look like any pizza I’ve ever seen.

I actually really liked where this was going when I was in the outline phase. I can’ t help but feel like, although overall the end result looks fine, it was on a better trajectory early in the sketch. Here’s the progression, maybe you can see what I mean here:

As I mentioned previously, this Ninja Turtles project started me on a path towards exploring pose-able drawing figures. I found some and purchased them…on eBay…and still haven’t received my order. So, I’m not sure if that was the best course. But it sure was the cheapest. Well, when/if I finally get them, and get a chance to try them out, I’m definitely planning a write-up on my impressions.


  • Heroes in a half shell – great job!

    • Turtle Power! Ha ha, thank you I appreciate that!

      A nice side effect of doing this post on the ninja turtles is that I got to listen to the soundtrack from the original movie again. I had forgotten about it, but what a great thing to listen to while writing about those radical dudes. This was a fun one!

  • I like this new idea! and although small, don’t discount the idea of drawing old “tin” soldiers — some of those are quite elaborate and historically accurate

    • Oh I like that idea too! Any thoughts on good places to get something like that? I imagine eBay might have some, but I wonder about any brick and mortar stores – maybe something like Hobby Lobby or Michael’s in the U.S.? I’ve been so focused on sources like family photos, I never even gave much thought to tools artists have probably been using forever. Rookie mistake!

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