In a previous post I suggested that you can make maquettes to help visualize realistic human or dinosaur characters. But you can also use 3-D miniatures for completely imaginary characters, too.
For example, Berkley Publishing asked me to design an elf-like alien for a science fiction book cover. To begin with, I sketched out the character in charcoal.
Then I sculpted a model in an oil-based clay. I was short on time, so I decided not to photograph the maquette (which meant a half-day outing to get the photos processed), and drew this study on tone paper instead. The clay maquette and the charcoal study together took about two days.
The study guided the form modeling in the final oil painting. You can see how it helped with the cast shadow on his left ear, and the reflected light under his left eyelid and cheekbone.
I also dug into the scrap file for pictures of frogs’ eyes. And I set up a leather jacket with an electrical clip and a zipper to give inspiration for his hat.