Learn and Grow

Character Drawing: 10 Beginner Tips To Take It To The Next Level

Great characters make great stories.

Team Nas Academy

29 Jul · 10 mins read

Character drawing is one of the first steps in bringing your character to life.

Sketching out your idea on paper is a crucial part of turning a simple concept into a real, tangible end product. Learning how to draw characters that go with the voices in your narrative is definitely not an easy job, but it is one of the most important ones. After all, great characters are what make great stories.

Characters are the boats that carry us through the wavy oceans on The Titanic, that swing us through the skyscrapers of Spiderman, and they bridge the gap between our lives and a completely new world that we will never get to experience in person. They keep us engaged and connected.

If you’re a creator who’s interested in getting started with illustrations and learning how to draw characters that fit your vision, we’ve rounded up 10 of the biggest, best drawing tips to help inspire you, starting with:

10. Know Your Character’s Story

Writers know everything about their character and, as the artist designing them, you should too!

Before you start your character drawing, try to focus on building a design that reflects your character’s personality, backstory, and current situation. That way, your character fits into its own world and its own personality. When doing this, the small details can really make all the difference.

Sometimes small, hidden visual details of your drawing can add a whole new layer to your story, and really add complexity to your character that audiences love. When you go to draw characters, try using symbolic elements, colors, and shapes to build a story within the characters themselves. These details are what can really take your drawing from good to great. But while this tip can take your creative drawing to the next level, it’s also equally important not to overdo it. It’s best to not force symbolism when it just doesn’t suit the drawing – it can actually take away from the realness of your character, and come off as desperate.

An easy way to start this process is to make a list of adjectives, features and personality traits before you start your character designs – this will help you know your character down to the last detail, and help you decide what you want it to look like. This step in character design helps you understand who you are drawing, and allows you to take these elements and personality traits and make sure that they all work in tandem to create a well-rounded out character. You can add other columns that might help you understand your character even better before you get drawing, but here’s a simple example of an exercise you could start with:

Tips On How to Draw Characters For Beginners

Image Credit:

9. Use Other Character Drawings As References

When it comes to any kind of artistic craft, the best way to learn is by looking what has already been done.

Not only does this help inspire you, teach you what looks good and shows you what doesn’t work – but it also allows you to see how you can add to these ideas, and use your own unique perspective to deviate from the norm. So as you begin your journey to learning character design, make sure to take some time to study other successful work and artists out there, and try to find something that inspires you.

And while this is an extremely normal, and important part of the artistic process, there seems to be a certain stigma around artists using tools like reference images for their work. But really, every artist does it – and every artist should do it!

But this doesn’t mean that when you use a reference, you copy it stroke for stroke. When you draw characters using a reference, it’s important to remember that you are simply using this tool as a guide to help you in discovering your own voice. You don’t have to follow them exactly, put yourself into a box or restrict your artistic eye just because of what the painter or comic artist did in the image you’re using. Find your own unique take on the picture, and let yourself adjust any elements as needed to make your drawing the best it can be.

A great exercise you can also try, is switching up your references as you create your piece. Instead of using one single reference image to practice your skills or inspire your character drawing, compile a bunch of different images together that give you a rounded out view of what you are trying to draw, and what story you are trying to tell. Take all of these images, and create your own interpretation of it. You could even create your own reference images by taking photographs yourself.

Especially when starting out, learning from the work and experience of past creators is how we can get inspiration and ultimately grow as artists.

This goes for any creative work, including character drawing. When you begin a character design, sometimes looking at other people’s sketches and processes can be a really great tool to spark some new ideas, and help you create unique characters that you never knew were there.

Combining elements, helping one another, and sharing ideas is how we gain momentum and inspiration to move forward – it’s how we make progress. After all, the greatest things are never created alone.

8. Give The Pencil The Power

Do you ever sit down at your desk, ready to create, but your mind is just a complete blank? Or, you have a project coming up that you need a drawing for, yet you have no idea where to even start. This is a normal part of the creative process – and it’s something you have to learn to work with.

Sometimes, we just don’t know what to draw. And that’s okay – it happens to even the best artists. But when you find yourself in this situation, it’s best not to get frustrated that you can’t come up with any creative drawings. Instead, take a gentler approach. Simply pick up your paper, and let the pen take over. If your hand wants to draw curved lines, let it. If it wants to draw a bunch of straight lines, allow it. You can’t force a good character drawing – or any good drawing for that matter.

Just always be open to trying new things, let your creativity flow and pull yourself out of that restrictive mindset that’s forcing you to be creative. But of course – this is easier said than done. If you struggle with the blank page and still need a bit of guidance when you’re feeling creatively drained, pick a very general topic, color, mood or a theme and just see what you happen to come up with.

Draw from your imagination, even if your drawings don’t turn out as planned. That is the whole point, after all – to find those hidden gems you know are buried in you somewhere, but just need a little light to help them shine.

Pushing through a lack of inspiration and letting your creativity run wild, might just be what you need to help improve your character designs and character drawing. By allowing yourself the space to be free and creative, you’re allowing the space for solutions to present themselves and for your character to speak for itself.

“It is only by drawing often, drawing everything, drawing incessantly, that one fine day you discover, to your surprise, that you have rendered something in its true character.”
-Camilla Pissarro

7. Divide Your Character Into 3 Different Sections

If you’re stuck on where to start for your character drawing, then this tip is for you. Before you start to sketch your full character out on the page, many artists actually tend to divide up their character’s body into three main sections: The head, the torso, and the bottom.

Once you’ve done this, you then decide the height of each section. After that, decide on the width.

You can draw them just as simple boxes like this:

Tips On How to Draw Characters For Beginners

Image Credit:
This technique can be particularly helpful in cartoon design. But even if it’s not cartoon design, and simply another kind of character design, focusing on creating these sections individually, and varying up the sizes and proportions between your different characters is what can highlight the unique look and presence of each one. These shifts in structure and proportions is a great way to help you consciously create diversity between each drawing.

6. Mix And Match Your Shapes

When you’re first learning how to draw characters, it’s great practice to try and design them with as much of a unique look as possible. This will help them stand out in the sea of content that’s already out there. So, when you dive into your character drawing, make sure to use your creativity!

People are always looking for new ideas. The creator economy is so large, and the amount of talent out there is overwhelming. Using your perspective and creativity, and then applying that to your character drawings, will make your designs feel fresh and unique. And that’s what will catch the eyes of your audience and keep them interested.

Most characters can be drawn by just stacking simple shapes, and then adjusting them from there. But a technique that many artists use to make their characters unique, is mixing different kinds of simple shapes – like circles and triangles – to combine a look of harsh angles and soft angles. This can be a great way to create a cool contrast within your character drawings.

Tips On How to Draw Characters For Beginners

Image Credit:

5. Try The Silhouette Test

Part of great character design, is making sure you draw characters that will actually be memorable.

And making your characters memorable means you should be able to recognize them even without their inner details or facial features. In other words – you should be able to tell who your character is by its outline alone.

To make sure you’re on the right track, it can be great practice to turn your drawing into a silhouette or outline. This way, you can see if their unique details, aside from their facial features and facial expressions, are still recognizable. This can show you whether or not they’re different enough to stand out against the other characters in your story, or against other characters that are already out there.

When you draw characters, always turn them into silhouettes and try using the “squint test”, to see if you can identify their outlines. If it starts to get messy or questionable, you may need to work on it more. Create exaggerated hairstyles, clothes, heights and widths of your different characters that will show up clearly in their outlines.

Similarly to brands that we can recognize in any color or setting, this helps your character be recognizable the moment your audience sees them.

You can see in the picture below that the most popular characters start with great designs that can still be identified even if you can’t see their face.

Tips On How to Draw Characters For Beginners | Nas Academy

4. Show All Their Sides

Drawing every side to your character is important to really get a rounded feel and look for them. When you start telling stories with your characters, having all of these variations is what’s going to make sure they remain consistent – no matter what action they are doing, or which angle the audience is seeing them from.

Most character designers and artists will display the character in multiple drawings, with different facial expressions, physical movements, clothes, and more. They will also create what’s called a character turnaround – which is a detailed, 360 view of each character.

Character turnarounds usually consist of 5 different views: the front, back, left profile, right profile and a 3/4 pose. This process is made easier by starting with the front side, and then creating a grid or guidelines to keep the right proportions for each angle of your character drawing.

Tips On How to Draw Characters For Beginners | Nas Academy

Image Credit:
Doing this in advance is necessary for animation, but also helps lift the drawing from the page before it’s finally approved. It shows both the personality and features of the character in more detail.

It gives you a chance to decide whether or not you are happy with the way your character looks in action before they’re brought to life in your story.

Dora Milaje - Drawing Characters

3. Step Away

Just like with any kind of content creation, sometimes we just need to take a break.

All too often, we mistake ourselves for machines, and expect ourselves to have endless energy. We get so focused on productivity, that we forget to take breaks and take care of ourselves. But we are only human beings – and the only way we can work at our best is by allowing ourself the time to rest.

It’s actually been proven that taking downtime is essential to develop our understanding of others, grow as people and even properly build our own code of ethics. It allows us to think, reflect, process information we’ve learned and apply it to our lives.

Whenever we approach a creative project of any kind, the best ideas that come about are always those drawn from experiences. If we take time to let our brains reflect, we’re actually going to be able to ideate concepts better, and bring our best work to life. We start using those skills we’ve allowed ourselves to cultivate in our downtime, and applying them our work – which is what helps us make connections, create realistic and relatable characters, and helps give our stories deeper meaning. It’s in that time off that we get those “ah ha!” moments that we’re always looking for when we’re sitting at our desks, and trying to force groundbreaking ideas out of our brains.

If you find yourself stuck or struggling during your character drawing process, you might find it really helpful to just take a break from it for a while. Sometimes you just need to let yourself gain a bit of perspective.

Then, once you come back, you’ll be able to look it over with fresh eyes. You might find you have a completely different outlook on your character afterwards, and you might realize that a simple break is enough to give yourself the space you need to see an answer that has actually been there all along.

2. Start Over

Sometimes, if the design isn’t there – it just isn’t there.

You’re going to have to face a lot of challenges as a content creator, and it takes a while to get through the not-so-great ideas, before you start getting to the great ones. Scrapping an idea, and starting from scratch on a character drawing when you’ve already invested hours into it might feel like an impossible task, but remember – being a creator is a process. It’s a lifestyle. And that means that you’re constantly going to be reinventing and improving. And the only way to do this, is by trying and failing a couple times along the way.

All storytellers have to find a way to be okay with scrapping their ideas when they aren’t cutting it. Part of learning how to draw characters is learning to let go of a design if the concept isn’t strong enough, and moving on to something new – no matter how strongly we might feel about it.

You’re not a “terrible” artist just because something you made doesn’t work. It means you’re human, and it means you’re learning. It’s actually proof you’re on the right track to learning what a great character drawing looks like. All you have to do, is take some time to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go well, and then move on to the next one.

In the end, part of being a great content creator is knowing when to hold on, and when to let go.

1. Learn to Draw From Your Imagination

Learning how to draw characters, like anything else, is a skill we can all build. An ability we can practice and turn into a strength.

And being able to draw from your imagination starts with understanding, and mastering proper techniques.

Understanding how to shade, draw simple shapes, create textures and use colors are what’s going to help you pull ideas from your mind, and put them on the page. You have to get used to drawing things from what you see around you, in order to be able to draw from your imagination.

One of many great exercises you can try, is focusing on drawing just one subject for a whole month. Practice and practice again until you’ve understood its shapes, shading, color and form. Then, next month, move on to a different one. You could start with something like dogs, then draw faces, a facial expression, human bodies – anything!

Once you’ve mastered drawing these specific subjects from reference, try drawing them from a different angle without a reference image. Getting used to drawing something that is already somewhat familiar without guidance, will help you draw subjects directly from your imagination much easier. And in the end, you’ll be able to pull that familiarity and what you’ve learned from this, right into your character drawing.

Anthony Francisco Course - Draw From Your ImaginationDrawing from the imagination is exactly what Anthony Fransisco, former Senior Visual Development Artist at Marvel Studios and “father of Baby Groot”, believes is crucial to successful character drawing and design. Anthony believes that everybody has the ability to draw, and that’s why he’s launched his very own Academy right here, at Nas Academy.

With Anthony’s tried and tested, three-step method for teaching artists how to draw from the imagination, this course is going to teach you how to take your drawing abilities to the next level, and bring your wildest character ideas to life. Anthony is going to walk you through tools, techniques and everything you need to know to get started in illustration – no experience required! You will get resources, guides, and the chance to learn alongside other passionate artists from all around the world. Better yet, you’ll get to meet Anthony and get LIVE feedback.

These 10 tips for character drawing are only simple starting points to consider on your illustration journey. If you want to finally take it to the next level, learn drawing tips and get help from a true expert to bring your character idea to life, then be sure to check out Anthony’s three-step process, only at Anthony Francisco Academy. Sign up today.

Tips On How to Draw Characters For Beginners | Nas Academy

Anthony Francisco Course - Draw From Your Imagination

Learn How to Draw From Your Imagination

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