Character Design

Creating Characters: 6 Tips to Help You (video) - Mark Crilley

How to Create Characters (video) - Draw with Jazza

How to Design a Great Character (video) - Draw with Jazza

Figures: They Speak For Themselves (NSFW at end) - Aaron Diaz

Cartoon Fundamentals: How to Draw a Cartoon Body (article) - Carlos Gomes Cabral

How a Character’s Choice of Clothing Benefits the Story (article) - It’s a Writer Thing

When designing a character, you have a ton of factors that you can tweak. Things like race, body type, hair style, facial features and posture, all play an important role in how readers will perceive your characters.

  • Even if you’re drawing monsters or other fictional creatures, it’s important that you get familiar with the anatomy of the body. While your characters may not share our human features, knowing how anatomy works will help your drawings become consistently proportionate, and thus feel more alive and believable. I’ve provided many links about drawing characters in the above section but here are some quick tips:

    • Compile a resource folder. If what you’re drawing involves a lot of women bodybuilders, look up websites with photos of women bodybuilders. The more photos you can collect of different people in different poses, the less you’ll have to draw from memory. This applies to anything you’re drawing, whether it’s people, animals, cars, or whatever. If you can’t find any photos online of your subject, go out and take some yourself! Many artists will use themselves or a close friend as a model for their drawings. If all else fails, you can always get a mirror and make the poses yourself. Don’t worry, no one will be there to judge you.

    • Attend life drawing courses. There’s no better way to learn how to draw the body than with a real model. Many famous artists swear by them, saying the courses they went to were the single greatest boost to their drawing abilities.

  • Make each of your characters distinct. Like I said before, there are many different features you can vary when creating characters. If all your characters are buff white dudes with brown hair and a goatee, your readers are going to get confused who’s who. There are many ways you can make someone look unique:

    • Accessories: Piercings, a cool haircut, a beauty spot, tattoos, a robot arm… These things might seem like small touches but they go a long way to helping a character stand out.

    • Clothing: Ripped jeans, a fine silk suit, sweatpants and a hoodie, a school uniform… Your options are near limitless with this one. Remember your character is dressing themselves so only go as wild as they would.

    • Equipment/personal items: A lucky bullet, a pocket bible, a pet side-kick, a photo of their mom… While items like these may be less helpful for identifying a character, they’re a quick way to establish personality or some background for the reader. Having a character pull out their set of trick dice that they stole from a gang lord will immediately add depth to that character’s history, making them feel more real to the reader. They can even be used as a part of the story itself if you can weave it into the narrative.

  • Once you’ve decided on their look, make sure to draw your characters consistently. While the clothes your characters wear may change, facial features do not. Even subtle slips in style can result in an unrecognizable character and consequently a confused reader. A lot of artists create character/model design sheets to help them draw characters consistently. These sheets involve a bunch of shots of their characters with many different positions, angles and facial/body expressions, providing a reference of the character for the artist.

Character stereotypes and whether or not to use them

Regardless of their truth, our society has grown to associate certain looks with certain personality types. Someone who stands tall is confident. A guy with scrawny arms and big glasses is a nerd. A girl with short hair and piercings is a rebel. If and how you choose to take advantage of these stereotypes is up to you but there are a few options you can take:

The first and easiest choice is to give your characters a look that matches how you want your reader to feel about them. Big and strong characters come off as angry and intimidating. If someone dresses quirky, we see them as outsiders or “different”. Features like this are immediately recognizable and can quickly help establish a character.

There are drawbacks to this approach however. Since these ideas all stem from well known stereotypes, they can lead to boring, predictable or even straight up insensitive and discriminatory looking characters.

Another option is to flip the stereotype on its head and give your characters the look that matches least with their personality. The burly pacifist. The aggressive short man. These looks reverse our expectations and are often used for comedic purposes. They can also be used as internal conflicts for your characters, having the world perceive them a certain way when really it isn’t true.

Personally, I would encourage you to try to break stereotypes with your characters. Not every big glasses wearer is a nerd, and not every buff guy is a meathead. Similarly, I encourage you to avoid the default look. Not every woman needs to be in perfect physical shape with long legs and gorgeous features. People come in all shapes and sizes and while it may take some tweaking in your style, avoiding the default look makes your characters more unique and can add a lot of depth to your story.