Here are a few layout concepts for my seahorse merman scholar. I went through and evaluated each one and this is what I came up with:
Fig 1: Right off the bat, you can tell that this concept has way too much wasted space on the left side of the picture, the only thing filling it being books in bookcases. I want to put emphasis on books, but not too much as to make the focus more on them than the creature. The pose also seems somewhat hostile (I was originally going to have him channeling magic from the book towards the viewer). I want him to look mysterious while using magic, but docile as most seahorses are.
Fig 2: This was the layout that I eventually chose. There is both emphasis on books and the figure, too. The bookshelves lead down towards the central figure, drawing the viewer's eye towards it. There is also plenty of room between the book and the other hand for magic to be channeled. We also get a view of the massive dome-like structure in the background.
Fig 3: The traditional scholar pose hunched over a desk engrossed in studying books. Though this is indeed very suitable to the character, I felt as though we didn't exactly get a full view of the figure itself and the details of the lower half, since that's one of the main features of the character itself. I scrapped this idea.
Fig 4: Another good idea for the final portrait, but not great. As with Fig 3, one of the most defining features of the figure is cut off from view and we only see him from the waist up. With the positioning of the character, he seems almost like your average, everyday librarian stacking books on the shelves and not making any use of them whatsoever. The background is also very plain and boring; rows upon rows of books seems samey and dull.