Interesting visual style is really important; clichéd looks are generally good enough but aren't very noticeable or impressive. It's when an expert knowledge is applied interesting outcomes are achieved - even if they miss the mark, they still aimed high and the result is respectable. Good examples of this are Fable, inspired by Norman Rockwell, and Team Fortress 2 by Leyendecker. Both of these didn't quite hit the mark but are reputable even then for having great style.
My point here is that I want to study and apply Rockwell's style to my own designs and even though I know for certain I simply won't hit anywhere near him, I believe that through trying I will find a decent approach of my own. On top of that it shoves me out of my comfort zone which is both terrifying and exciting.
What I like most about Rockwell's characters are the faces and how emotive they are. There's a pseudo-realism going on as they look like actual people but with a little exaggeration that lends to both intrigue and discomfort from the viewer (uncanny valley). I love this painting, and I'm sure that's because Rockwell has used many magical techniques to dazzle my simple brain with and it is that magic I need to figure out and apply to my own character designs. Composition, contrast, tonal values, colour, proportions - I've rarely considered composition as a design element for characters but might have been doing it anyway such as asymmetry and silhouette.
Other artists I am looking at are Chris Appelhans (Rise of the Guardians, Monster House) and the aforementioned Leyendecker. Also going to compare my designs against Fable to see how I stand-up to another who attempted it before.
Hence this is going to be a mind-raking project. I really hope my time investment now into a new, undiscovered area for me will pay off and not screw me over. High risk, high reward I suppose.