Character Drawing and Character Design Step by Step

Character Drawing and Character Design Step by Step

by K. Vanessa

Have you always wondered about how great animated characters were born? Have you always wanted to know that how your favorite, for example, Disney characters were designed and drew? Have you always wanted to dig deep into character design and character drawing? If your answer is yes to the questions above, we are here to help you and give you a step by step guide about how you should start with character drawing and design. What is more, at the end of this article we will recommend some great books to your which are must-haves for someone who is into character drawing. So without further ado, let’s check what kind of information you will find in this article.

In this blog post we will cover the following topics:

  1. Character design - Finding the soul of the character and discover its look and behavior, what is more, its personality.
  2. Character drawing - The most essential techniques you need to practice.
  3. Character design books - Books that every character designer should buy.

So let’s get started with the first step: character design.

Character design

disney characters

Finding the soul of the character and discover its look and behavior, what is more, its personality.

Start with ideation. What kind of character do you want to draw?

Don’t worry if you are new in character design. Once you start doing it nothing can’t stop you, but maybe the ideation part of the process is a bit hard at the beginning. Because of that we highly recommend you grab a piece of paper and just start writing down some personality traits. Don’t hesitate a lot when you choose the first personality trait, just write down the first that comes into your mind. With this, your brain will automatically associate with that word, and some new and exciting ideas will come into your mind.

How to do it in practice? For instance, the first personality trait that came into my mind today was stubborn. I wrote it down, then my brain started to generate other words and I wrote them down too. These were, funny, touchy, strong, brave, kind-hearted etc. When I finished my list I had 10-12 words on it and this number was more than enough to take the next step which is the character identity.

Character identity. Create groups and find the keywords of your character.

After you collected some personality treats it’s time to create different groups with different focuses. For example, I usually create three groups and these are the followings:

  • Group A: here comes every single good or positive personality treat
  • Group B: here come those personality treads which are the bad or negative
  • Group C: here come those personality treads that are not negative but also not positive (the neutral ones)

After I created these three groups, I try to find those personality treads which I want to focus on when I’m designing my character.

How these groups will help me? It’s very simple, because if I want to design a bad character I can pick almost all of the personality treads from Grup B, but to make my character more human, I will probably add some positive personality tread to his or her identity as well. With this technique, you can be sure that you will design a character that is very detailed and has great values.

Last but not least, if you have chosen the main personality treads you want to focus on, it’s time to choose keywords from their group. The keywords of your character are the most important personality treads of your figure. It’s crucial to choose them before you start drawing because you can not focus on 6-8 different personality treads when you are designing a character. I highly recommend choosing 2 or maximum 3 keywords and write them down on a piece of paper and put this paper on a place where you can always see it during your drawing process.

After these keywords have been chosen you can say that you successfully defined the identity of your character.

Lastly, the hardest part of character design: imagine your character.

character with sad face

After you successfully defined the character identity, you have to start thinking of how your character will look. Luckily, there are some best practices you can use by this exercise too and these are the followings:

  1. Start with feelings. Once you have defined the keywords of your character you have a chance to get to know that imagined person. Start with repeating the keywords you have chosen and try to think with your figure’s head and feel with his or her heart. For instance, one of my keywords was stubborn. I repeated it several times and tried to think of what a stubborn person can feel and how he (I drew a male character) could behave. When I was doing this exercise, several ideas came into my mind about how his face and his body might look like.
  2. Sketching is crucial. When you are repeating the keywords and ideating about the look of your character you have to start sketching too. Don’t lose the opportunity to create great sketches about the face and body of your character.
  3. Choose the best one from your sketchings. After you have done hundreds of thousands of sketchings, choose the best one that fits to your character. Again, checking your character identity and keywords is crucial when it comes to character design. Choose those sketches that are coherent to your previously defined character identity.

Character drawing

The most essential techniques you need to practice.

Drawing gestures. Find the true soul of your character by drawing gestures.

woman laughing

Let’s imagine that you defined the identity and the keywords of your character, what is more, you created sketches about his or her body and face. But what is the next step? How will be your character truly alive? There is a hard but amazing technique that can help you with that. It is called gesture drawing and if you want to practice it you have to follow the following guideline and take the steps below:

  1. Start with drawing different faces with different feelings from photos. Choose your favorite images about actors, famous people, or from the newspaper and try to copy them. The most important part of this process is to choose different people from different countries and with different feelings on their faces. Remember one thing: the more you practice copying different faces with different feelings, the better your drawing technique will be.
  2. Continue with creating drawings about your own face. Grab a mirror and check your face. How does it look like when you are sad? How does it look like when you are happy? How does it look like when you say different words or different letters? Study these gestures and try to create drawings about them. If you practice this a lot, your character drawing skills will be improved significantly.

The most important part of character drawing: creating the whole figure.

After you practiced drawing different gestures, you are ready to create your character. Start with imagining how the whole figure will look like and create different sketches about your character. After you have hundreds of thousands of ideas, you can choose the perfect one from them and you can start working on its details.

Don’t forget to show your ideas to your friends and ask their opinion about your character. This can help you a lot because you will be able to see your character from different viewpoints as well and with this, you will be able to adjust the details of your character.

Character design books

Books that every character designer should buy.

In this section, we want to share some books with you that every character designer should buy. If you are interested in this profession or you just do character design and character drawing for fun, these books can help you to improve your skills. So let’s get started with the first one in the queue.

The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams

The famous creator of Roger Rabbit shares his experiences in this book. Using hundreds of drawings, Wiliams distills the secrets of the masters into a working system in order to create a book that is helpful for all animators, students and those whole are interested in animation. Although this book was created for animators, you can learn a lot from it about character drawing.

Anatomy Of The Artist by Jenő Barcsay

If you are interested in character drawing you must buy this book. The professor of several great art schools created this guide for his students in order to show them the anatomy of the human body and with this improve their drawing skills.

Lastly, if you are struggling with finding inspiration for your character, check our previous article where we collected 9 great artists you can follow on Instagram and get inspiration from them.

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