Character drawing is one of the first steps to bringing your character to life.
Sketching out your idea on paper is a great way to turn an idea into a real, tangible concept before molding it into its full potential. 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 make great stories.
They 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. 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 ten of the biggest drawing tips to help inspire you, starting with:
Writers know everything about their character and, as the artist designing them, you should too!
Try to focus on building a design that reflects the character, 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. Try using symbolic elements, colors, and shapes. The details are what can really take your drawing from good to great. But it’s also equally important not to overdo it, and to not force symbolism when it just doesn’t suit the drawing.
An easy way to start this process is to make a list of adjectives, features and personality traits – this will help you know your character and decide what you want it to look like” This way, you can understand who they are and how your drawing can incorporate those elements. You can add other columns that might help you understand your character even better, but here’s a simple example of an exercise you could do to get started:
We believe in helping each other learn and grow. And part of growing is looking to other artists for inspiration.
Yet, 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!
Just keep in mind that you don’t have to follow them exactly. Don’t put yourself into a box or restrict your artistic eye because of them. Find your own unique take on the picture, and let yourself adjust elements as needed to make your drawing the best it can be.
Better yet – switch up your references. Compile a bunch of pictures together that give you a rounded out view of what you are drawing and create your own interpretation. You can even create your own reference images by taking photographs.
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. With character design, sometimes looking at other people’s sketches and processes can be a really great tool to spark some new ideas. Then, you can apply that to your own work.
Combining elements, helping one another, and sharing ideas is how we gain momentum and inspiration to move forward; it’s how we make progress.
As they say, the greatest things are never created alone.
Sometimes we just don’t know what to draw. And one of the best ways to improve our creative drawings is to just let the pen take over.
Just try things and pull yourself out of that restrictive mindset of forcing yourself to be creative. But if you struggle with the blank page and still need a bit of guidance, you could 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 just letting your creativity run wild, might just be what you need to help improve your design 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.”
If you’re stuck on where to start for your character drawing, some artists like to divide up their character into three different sections: The head, the torso, and the bottom.
Once you’ve done this, decide the height of each section. Then, decide the width.
You can draw them just as boxes like this:
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. 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 your creativity, and 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. So, a technique that many artists use to make their characters unique is mixing 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.
Part of great character design is having your characters be memorable.
And making your characters memorable means being able to recognize them even without their inner details. 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 (to see if you can still distinguish their unique features). This can show you whether or not they’re recognizable enough against the other characters in your story, or against other characters that are already out there in the world.
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.
Drawing every side to your character is important to really get a rounded feel and look for your character.
Most character designers and artists will display the character in multiple drawings, with different expressions, movements, clothes, and more. They will also create what’s called a character turnaround, which is a 360 view of each character.
It usually consists 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 also creating guidelines to keep the right proportions for all of the angles of your character drawing.
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.
Just like with any kind of content creation, sometimes we just need to take a break.
In today’s world, we are so focused on productivity that we forget to take breaks and take care of ourselves too.
It’s been proven that taking downtime is essential in order 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.
The best ideas are drawn from experiences, so taking time to let our brains rest and reflect can actually make our work better. It helps give it 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 trying to create.
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 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.
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 to get to the great ones. Starting from scratch when you’ve worked so hard might feel impossible, but remember: being a creator is a process. A lifestyle. And that means you’re constantly going to be reinventing and improving.
All storytellers have to find a way to be okay with scrapping ideas. 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. And it means you’re on the right track. Just take some time to reflect on what went well, what didn’t go well and then move on.
In the end, part of being a great content creator is knowing when to hold on, and when to let go.
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.
It all starts with understanding and practicing techniques.
Understanding shading, shapes, textures and color are all 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 move onto people and so on.
Once you’ve mastered drawing these 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.
Drawing from the imagination is exactly what Anthony Fransisco, a Senior Visual Development Artist at Marvel Studios, believes is crucial to successful character drawing and design. He believes everybody has the ability to draw, and he follows a three step method for teaching artists how to draw from the imagination. By focusing on these steps, you are bound to learn how to take your drawing abilities to the next level.
These 10 tips for character drawing are only simple starting points to consider on your illustration journey. If you want to learn drawing tips and learn how to bring a character idea to life with Anthony’s three step process, be sure to check out the Anthony Francisco Academy course.