On My Hollow Knight Humanizations

An anonymous individual asked me about my notes and process regarding my Hollow Knight humanizations. Here's an adapted and cleaned up version of the rather long response I wrote. This is written with the assumption you already know Hollow Knight lore, so beware of spoilers below.

I love designing and humanizing characters; It's a real fun brain exercise! However, humanizing the Hollow Knight characters has really given me a lot of gusto that perplexes even me? Either way, I'm not complaining! It's very fun and I'm glad to elaborate on all the thought that went into these! (As it's a bit much.)

Image Description: Digital art of humanoid Hollow Knight Characters. Quirrel, Hornet, the Knight, and the Hollow Knight are all hanging around a bench and looking at the camera. The Knight is sitting on the bench, their legs dangling off, and holding their helmet. The Hollow Knight, all bandaged up, is sitting on the ground but leaning their head on the back of the bench. Quirrel is standing and leaning on the bench back, making a thumbs up and smiling a big smile. Hornet is also standing, though she rests three of her hands on the bench with an unimpressed expression. End ID.

In this, I’ll be talking about inspirations and showing off the designs of the Knight, Hornet, Quirrel, the Hollow Knight, the dreamers, and some less polished designs for the higher beings. As I do so I will mention the thoughts and processes behind my decisions.

Hopefully my thoughts laid out below will give you some direction -- but let’s say you’re just beginning with your own designs. What questions do you ask? Where do you even begin?

One must begin with groundwork. Try to figure out what aspects of the character you want to be most important. Do you want their silhouette to be immediately recognizable? Are you inspired by a particular time period or region, or want to set it in that time period or region? Do you want to prioritize colors? Are you willing to let go of silhouette or direct visual relatability in lieu of emphasizing personality in the little details of appearance? Try to strike that balance and see what is to your taste.

You should also consider how seriously you want to take things. Will you consider things down to material and essentially fabricate Hallownest's textile economy or do you just want to ball off of vibes? (I did incorporate specific garments and feels, but I do get silly here. Maybe I'll bow to my inner desire to ground everything some day and take another stab at, well, all of this.)

There are some things you can easily render turning bug to person (as I love diverse face shapes, you’ll see a trend of pointy in-game, pointy here, round in-game, round here) and some that are much harder (horns in particular). Either you can go for what is straightforward for a viewer to go “oh, a Hornet head shaped mask! That must be Hornet!” or you can try something more subtle! Your humanizations, your rules. Hollow Knight has a very simple, curve and shape-based art style, so you can incorporate a lot of both subtle and obvious details on that. You can also do any other motif and really lay into it -- if you look at my Monomon design, I have all these that are jellyfish-esque: her gown shape, her choker, her braids, the embroidery on her gown, etc.

Or you can ignore all my advice and do what you want! I’m not the boss of you.

So, first things first: aesthetic inspirations! I did a few passes based on a variety of regions but I decided go with an end-of-medieval era European influence, largely because of the general influences and aesthetics I saw in the in-game architecture and appearances for things and places. I decided to land my inspirations anywhere from the 1500s to late 1700s or very early 1800s, though I for sure aimed for simply inspiration and not historical accuracy because that would be just a little too wild. (Cue me kicking some papers under the table.)

I decided to have individuals from before the fall of Hallownest have look inspirations from later in this time frame with those after (or in the present day, so to speak) being earlier. My intention was to get this kind of ‘technology and society has backslid’ idea. That, and because I thought the aesthetics of later monarchist Europe -- l’ancien regime and all that, if you will -- quite fitting with Hallownest right before its fall. Because of this extremely broad time frame (300 years!) and also me just generally not trying to be concerned with ‘historical accuracy’ to a T, there’s going to be a mess of looks and styles and such -- though I do love a rich deep dive into history, this is a time for fantasy fun and nonsense.

I also decided to constrain myself with a few internal rules: one being the inspirations I draw on, and another main one being regarding masks. I decided to restrict mask-wearing to as little as possible -- no offense to people who include masks in their humanizations! I think they look wonderful with them and are lore relevant! But, I felt like me, personally, using masks would keep me at times from being at the very top of my design experimentation game. So, as a little sort of fun challenge, I’m keeping away masks as much as possible in these people’s everyday wear. This means it is harder to keep silhouettes, but my priority is less 100% sticking close to silhouettes (though that is something to consider) and more evoking enough motifs and such to where they are recognizable.


Image Description: A reference sheet with various views of a humanized Knight. They’re a pale little humanoid thing armed with a shortsword, their skin and hair that same color of off-white, and always maintaining that same wide-eyed, small-mouthed, and neutral (yet almost determined?) look. They’re dressed in virtually rags from neck to boots, and all dark colors - navy blues, greys, dark brown leather, and even the deepest blacks. Charms are studded to their outermost cloak (and there seems to be a pair of vestigial, black-soaked wings under said outer cloak). They have a flat, square face, and a flat, square nose, though their corners are blunted. Their hair should be straight but it has gone long unbrushed; it stops in bangs at their forehead then cascades to their chin, where it hugs their jaw, especially at two points on the left and right where two ticks stick out on each side.

They can be seen also wearing headgear: a chainmail hood with old, yellowed horns poking out at either temple. They are also shown with their hair up in a little bun, or in two pigtails remniscient of their canon horns (one can thank Mato!). There is a little drawing of their exposed arm, showing how all their joints are harshly segmented, as if an insect or porcelain doll. In the corner, their dark shade chases after them. End ID.

An idea I wanted to play with for the Knight -- and any of the vessels, for that matter -- is that of the uncanny. They are almost human. (As I am approaching these humanizations with the idea of ‘human universe’ and less so ‘everyone must be humanoid’, the higher beings are markedly less human here. I will get to that in a bit.) I decided to go for the concept that the Knight is a living porcelain doll -- hollow, white, uncanny. They are probably not shiny -- their surface probably feels like it was once porcelain smooth but is now ever so slightly abraded -- and theyre also not literally a doll. They do have a crackable exterior, yes, and are hollow, yes, but their segmented joints and such are less ‘doll’ and more ‘insect exoskeleton segments’. Thank their dad! (Though I always thought he was more of a platyhelminth. But that aside...)

Them being this humanoid non-human lends to some fun details! This is an example I like but is extraordinarily hard to communicate through just stylized art: their eyes cannot close as they have been ‘carved’ that way, and their pupils are just a hole into their void interior -- thus if you look at their face at an angle or profile you can see a little ridge or rim of the thin layer of their ‘porcelain’. They are also virtually dressed in rags, though the bottom cloak layer of those rags are wing-shaped -- but still vestigial without the monarch wings, like in-game. And the two little hair-ticks on either side of their chin are meant to evoke their horns!

Image Description: Various views of a humanized Hornet. She’s a thin, lithe person, with a long thin face wider at the top than the bottom and a thin chin. She has four eyes, and four arms. She has brown skin, with the exception of a patch of pale skin in the shape of her canon head right over her nose, with the ‘horns’ extending up into her scalp. There’s a flash of white coming from her forehead amongst her curly black hair, which is tied back into a bun by a hairtie shaped like two lightly curving pale horns. She has a long and pointy nose with a thin bridge, but it is crooked slightly. She largely has an unimpressed and stern look on her face.

She wears a bright red cloak with three weaverling buttons on the front, and white embroidery on the collar, back, and hem. The design on the back is a heavily stylized spider: a round body of eyes, with floral arms extending out from the junction between the body and the curving leaf-mandibles. Underneath her cloak she wears a white top with gold embroidery down the center (that goes up her neck to the underside of her jaw, and can be optionally decorated or plainly wrapped in white) and a bodice that is black on the sides but gold and white in the center at her torso. Tied to her belt is a silver chatelaine with sewing supplies. She has red puffy sleeves, slitted to show white fabric showing through, and black forearm-length fingerless gloves. There are a few more sketches: one of her with a double-horned hennin (her formal wear, maybe she wore when young), one of her as a child shouting excitedly for her ma, and a tiny her standing unimpressed next to a wide-eyed Knight. End ID.

Hornet was kind of difficult, particularly because of her head shape, but I fired out a couple solutions. The double-horned hennin (the funny two-cone hat) is from history, though the idea was scrapped as I imagine Hornet in the present, as you see her, would not be of a mind to wear such finery. Thus, I decided to give her a hairpiece shaped into horns, to evoke that silhouette. Much more practical. (Same idea goes with her patch of pale skin.)

As I mentioned this is a not-strictly-humans scenario, so I decided to splurge on the weavers and spiders and give them some differing anatomy, i.e some extra arms and eyes. As a treat. I haven't entirely sussed out the exact logic of her wear -- turns out making real things fantasy makes them, construction-wise, rather odd -- and anyways, it's always subject to change. Hornet wears things rather simple, for practicality reasons; and though her outfit is highly fictionalized, her garments under her cloak are somewhat based off of the portraits by Cranach the Elder, though I incorporated a few other eras and influences to create the construction strangeness you see. (All weaver clothings generally would feature repeating shoulder puffs. Not leg-of-mutton style, but moreso in the image of the 1530s-40s. You'll see this more on Herrah.)

The Knight is a bit too ’young’ to have these features be quite apparent so they are the exception, but the trend with the ‘pale lineage’ is that of very pointed chins, long faces, and thin long noses. You'll see this on the Hollow Knight and the Pale King, and you almost see this with Hornet. She is still somewhat her father's creature, though he was never quite in her life.

Image Description: Various views of a humanized Quirrel. He's a portly brown man (with warm-toned skin) with a squat (but not comically so) face, a pointy and stick-out nose, freckles concentrated around the top of his nose and where his eyes meet, relaxed, monolidded black eyes, and straight black hair. His hair falls short onto his forehead and comes down his cheek in sideburns, but is pulled back into a low bun -- though it is usually covered by a dark grey-blue headscarf. He has silver plate armor on his upper body, upper arms, and over his thighs, with a sash winding 'round his waist and holding up his scabbard; he too wears long black gloves, and thigh-length leg gaiters over brown breeches. Covering his neck is a white neck stock. He has a bit of a hunched posture, his hips and neck both leaned forward; his belly is well-rounded, and his long legs are rather spindly.

He is also seen younger, before the fall of Hallownest. Here he has less wrinkles, though his face is much the same. His black hair is tied back in a headscarf (though actually short here). He has a couple possible outfits: a more realistic one, a dark greatcoat with multiple capelets over a sky blue waistcoat, high collar with a white cravat and pin, high black hosen with brown breeches; and an alternate one: a segmented grey coat, high collar with a white cravat, green vest with rich gold embroideries, high knee stockings with brown breeches, and over all that a segmented cropped tailcoat. He dresses pretty well, as befitting his station -- but not as well as he could (science gets messy!) End ID.

Quirrel was both easy and hard. To mimic his segments, I decided to give him plate armor -- reasons for this are fairly obvious, I imagine! (Though his armor isn’t based on or accurate to any particular armor style. This is because i do not like drawing armor.) For his outfit pre-fall of Hallownest, I gave him some breeches and leggings, as is typical for his very Regency or turn of the century inspirations, but those give him the effect of white legs. To sort of mimic the black legs he has in-game, I instead gave him black thigh gaiters. I could have given him long boots (and I imagine he did have a pair) but 1. I liked the gaiters more and 2. I forgot boots existed.

A fun little tidbit: eagle-eyed viewers (I feel like a YouTuber saying that) may spot is that the brooch on his neckcloth is an isopod shell! I just thought it would be cute. In some illustrations, I draw this brooch directly on the cloth / above the knot and not on the draped part. No man would wear a stickpin / brooch like that on his tie in real life. I just don’t like drawing knots. Younger Quirrel also features more teals and greens in his design, along with gold accents, to fit more with the Archive’s colors. (Even in the present day, hidden under his headscarf, he uses a green ribbon to tie his hair back.)

Honestly, he and Monomon were the main reasons I decided to extend the period outside of late Medieval. It’s their fault! Not only did Monomon fit really well to the dress silhouette of one of these later decades, but I really wanted Quirrel to have this later feel. This is largely because with the Enlightenment there came the rise of natural philosophers and the scientific sorts of fellows, which have become sort of their own iconic archetype in the public consciousness (and in fiction. Stephen Maturin my beloved.) I thought that would fit him well, and so I went for it.

Image Description: Various views of a humanized Hollow Knight. They’re a very tall and svelte hollow humanoid, almost gangly in their proportions. They have a very elongated face with a straight, aquiline nose, large almond-shaped eyes, and a permanent expression that is all at once solemn, neutral, and melancholic. They look a lot like their father. They’re pale white on their skin and hair -- hair that is parted in the center at the forehead and tucked behind more hair, which cascades down to their torso when not tied up. Framing their face on either side are two slightly shorter bits of hair with three little spikes on each.

As the Pure Vessel, they stand straight and tall, completely cloaked in deep grey cloaks and holding a broadsword in firm gloved hands. Over their cloak is pale silver-white armor, with three-layered spaulders, a cuirass, and a helmet with large horns. Holding the Radiance within them, their cloak is torn and their armor and helmet are gone, with their hair splaying out loose. One of their boots is missing, exposing a segmented leg. Their right arm is gone, and a crack runs down their face down their forehead, into their eye, and down their cheek, exposing a bright yellow light from within. Still, they clutch their sword. In a corner of the image a tiny Hollow Knight looks with wide eyes at an even tinier, shouting Hornet. End ID.

The Hollow Knight’s design was fairly straightforward, as I had figured out their siblings before them. Even their armor -- which has been pointed out to be largely ornamental and they do not actually use it when fighting -- was easy to transpose. I was, admittedly, trying to avoid helmets (especially those that completely cover the face, though their’s doesn’t) largely because I just dislike drawing them, but i felt i really had to with the Hollow Knight. And so here we are!

I purposefully gave them a sort of gangly and out-of-proportion feel to them -- I like to think their grace is that of a stick-legged bird, like a heron or flamingo. Maybe a jamb figure on a Gothic or Romanesque church... Someone stretched them in taffy, help! But it also speaks to their true delicacy and fragility -- both emotionally and literally. They’re a perfect hollow creation, but could very easily fall... or something like that.

But as I mentioned earlier, their design was a natural conclusion to come to from that of their relatives, so there’s not much new to say about them.

Next, let’s look at the dreamers!

Image Description: The three dreamers, standing primly. In order from left to right there is: Herrah the beast, Lurien the watcher, and Monomon the teacher.

Herrah is a tall brown and broad-set, wide-shouldered woman. She has six eyes and an aquiline nose, and curly hair; on her head she wears a horned metal helmet and a dark blue bandanna covering the lower half of her face. From her neck there is a waist-length dark blue-grey cloak that cascades out behind her back. She wears a pale grey-blue doublet with a full skirt; on her arms there are rows of pinched pale fabric to look puffed, and her forearms are covered in dark grey fabric to the knuckles. She has striped grey spanish breeches and black hosen and shoes. One pair of arms is crossed, the other pair of arms rests on the hilt of a thin sword.

Lurien is a short brown man with an upside-down droplet shaped head. He has very short wavy hair and a long straight nose; a large teardrop shaped mouche is placed at the bridge of his nose and between his eyes. He has a navy blue cloak draped over his entire body; underneath he has a white circular millhouse ruff that hugs close to his neck, a black doublet, black breeches, and white hosen. He has two strings of beads: around his neck with a king’s idol, and in his hands -- which hold each other -- with a silver pomander.

Monomon is a tall black woman with an oval-shaped head, a wide nose, and a long, thin neck. She wears a rather unadorned teal gown with a wide, almost bell shape skirt, split down the center. At the top of the bell meeting the waist are two layers of teardrop shapes in light cyan fabric emitting out, similar to those on a jellyfish. At the bottom of the bell are more cyan embroideries, this time of floral motifs in the general shape of jellyfish. Her sleeves can either be puffed (for inaccuracy but design fun) or unpuffed (for accuracy) and then drape to the elbow, and she wears forearm-length white gloves. Her stomacher is green, with lighter green designs: four eye-like ovals, two smaller ones on top of the larger ones, with floral decorations around them. She has a dark blue headscarf, but seen coming out of it are four braids. End ID.

First to clarify: Monomon’s braids are floating so you can see her gown easier! It’s not literal. Second to clarify: in this sort of little half-baked alternate universe-thing, I decided to make their masks only a part of the spell. That is, their mask is one of the seals binding them to their slumber, and all that good rot, but it is not everyday wear. This means they follow my no-mask rule when not sleeping and their masks remain relevant. (Namely, Quirrel taking Monomon’s mask to her.)

The dreamers are all based off of different centuries and it is pretty easy to tell with them standing side by side, hah! Hell, they even go in order: Herrah i largely based on the 1500s, Lurien the 1600s, and Monomon the 1700s...! That was unintentional.

Herrah largely has this kind of puffiness to her body segments in the game, and so my first thought was immediately: 1500s style puffs. The sleeve puffs (as also seen on Hornet, and they were often slitted. Think the original Disney Snow White!) and also the very wide and puffy breeches (which I always thought were hilarious). Unlike Hornet’s hairpiece, I gave her a helmet to show her horns! I felt it fit her more than it did Hornet -- maybe it’s just me, but I feel like Hornet wouldn’t be one for metal armor. In formal or dressy wear she likely switches the helmet for a headdress like a hennin or escoffion.

However, I am feeling not 100 percent satisfied with her design as it is right now, though I do think it works on the levels of thought I put into the other designs. I don't know! I’ll change it when I feel like it -- such is the nature of these.

I won't lie, I put the least effort into Lurien out of the 3 dreamers... Sorry bud, I just don't care much about you comparatively... I'm pretty content with his design, though. I decided to base him off of the more subtle and understated north Europe fashions, as I felt they would fit him. The big ruff is the biggest staple of this design for me -- in my mind at least! It’s drawn from the period and it also introduces a big round shape into his general design, when his in-game design is literally only round shape and some draping cloth.

I decided to have him wear largely black to show status! Normally in this time period richer folks would wear black -- which may seem odd and plain to us but is rather telling of status as deep black was quite hard to dye. However, I still gave him a dark blue cloak to more allude to his in-game design.

I imagine he is devout from the few bits of in-game characterization we get -- hence the idol. He also has a pomander! They were medieval scent-objects thought to keep away miasma, or plague air. (They contained strong scents! It was for the same reason plague doctors stuffed their beaks with herbs: good scents keep away bad air! Or so they thought.) I draw people with them a lot -- I just think they’re neat things and one of my favorite medieval objects. As for the thing on his face -- a mouche! What are mouches? I recommend you watch Mina Le's wonderful video on the subject -- she could explain it far better and in a more entertaining way than I.

And Monomon! I had so much fun designing Monomon. (And I think that’s easy to see, hah!) Dresses and gowns from the latter 1700s (not yet regency like Quirrel is -- dresses got more tube-shaped in regency) really do give the look of a jellyfish bell. A thin waist (comparatively speaking from the wideness of her dress) would mimic Monomon’s thin neck (unless neck is not the right word), which you see right before the grey-blue cloth in her in-game design. And since she isn't wearing a mask here, I put the imagery of the two pairs of eyes on her stomacher instead! Wide puff plus then pinching / thin segments is kind of the theme of her entire design -- in her dress, in her sleeves (optionally, due to its inaccuracy), even in her neck and head. Sort of like a bowling ball i suppose. (Sorry Monomon.)

Her braids being similar to her tentacles was an idea I believe inspired by valdotpng's depiction of her, and it's a great idea! Another allusion to jellyfish is the four little oval shapes I put on the skirt of her dress, to mimic those on jellyfish. (Those are, in fact, their gonads.)

I haven’t drawn this, but if you or I were to draw the dreamers while in sleep, then there would be cloth completely covering their shoulders and up, and the mask over where their face would be. Just like in-game !

Last but not least, I have some tentative sketches of some higher beings!

Image Description: Sketches of some higher beings.

The Pale King is a segmented worm with several rows of arms; he wears a rather simple white robe with embroidered trim. He has a svelte, high-cheekboned face, with a long aquiline nose and long straight hair with some pulled back in a bun -- his entire surface, skin and hair, is entirely pale white. Atop his hair he has a spiked crown. However, that human face is a false magical add-on; this ‘face’ is detachable, with the true head and mouth at the ‘crown’.

The White Lady is a large tree-woman; she has a oval face and delicate, pointed nose, but out of where her hair would be if she were a human extends out innumerable tree branches out in every direction. From the branches and to her face and downward are dignified wrinkles of bark. She is, however, restrained and bound in magical cloth.

Unn is a large hunched woman, her form covered almost completely in water plants that droop down to the lake she comes out of. Amongst the shadows of the fronds peeks a weary smile, though all else is covered. However, out of the plants peeks out two eyes on stalks. She is smiling down at a very small Knight.

The Radiance’s face is entirely obscured in darkness, and long hair flows down from her sun-ray crown. Out of her back come countless moth wings, large and small, each one covered in countless eyes of various sizes, though the lower wings turn into longer ray-like fronds. From under the wings comes a long-nailed hand, which is held up to her hair-covered chest. End ID.

Outside of the Pale King and maybe the White Lady, I'm rather unsure about these! The Radiance I’ve barely thought about -- so I'll have to work on her a bit more! This is more of a sketch of general motifs and the direction I would like to go in.

As aformentioned I wanted to take more not-really-human designs for the gods. They’ve just got a different spin on their in-game motifs, with ‘humanoid’ added to the blender as well. For example -- the Pale King is still the rather insectoid-wormoid-wyrm that he is in the original, but what he is trying to do here is attempt to ‘diminish himself’ and appear like that of a man and not a common bug. (An extra thought tidbit: the lines on his face and wyrm body are meant to evoke the seals of binding, though they’re rather simplified here. They would be more detailed in an actual polished picture.)

And since they aren’t meant to be human, we get fun stuff like literal tree woman White Lady, and all that! It will be fun to think some more on it.

Now, that’s it for the characters. I’ll go over more if people want to see them, but I cant let this go on forever...

A few more scrap thoughts:

1. There is a common thread amongst Hallownest clothing, despite the decade differences, that I want to keep in mind when drawing these characters, to maintain consistency and believability that they're from the same region. The main idea is embroidery and just general decorative choices. I’ve tried to involve a mix of straight and curvy lines (heavy emphasis on lines in these designs in fact) along with floral motifs. Try thinking about the swirling curves balanced with geometric / curved / straight lines of the UI menus and such from the original game, paired with (though not a direct inspiration) the motifs of real life period decorations.

2. Hallownest would still have insectoid iconography in its art and its architecture -- the gods they worship are still rather insectoid, after all. And there is still no reason they wouldn't include insects in their iconography in the same manner of bird and mammal motifs. As for what their architecture would be -- I think the game is a perfectly fine show of it, but also I would tentatively throw the dart at Gothic with some dashes of late Romanesque.

3. My art, me drawing these designs, is horribly inconsistent. That’s fine with me! These are all for fun -- I think putting metric tons of thought into these are fun, as much as I think making tweaks depending on how I’m feeling is fun. Gritting my teeth white-knuckled so I can allow myself to be fantastical and inaccurate to history when humanizing characters from the bug metroidvania is also, somehow, fun.

With all of this in mind... I bid thee, reader, adieu! I hope you enjoyed my ramblings! Hopefully it made sense! I would love to hear your own thoughts about all this, and feel free to ask me questions about characters I haven’t mentioned here, an aspect you’re curious about, or anything at all. (And if you wish to and are feeling either exceptionally charitable or exceptionally inspired, I give my express permission to draw all these, just please somehow show me.)

back to articles

Pluviôse CCXXX / 2022 © Pleurodelinae. Writing and art is mine. Except for the background image, which is obtained from Hollow Knight's presskit. Hollow Knight is by Team Cherry.