Sept302018: Character Design Tips

“Hey! I’m trying to concentrate my efforts on character design, and since I love your style and the way you portray facial and physical diversity I was wondering if you could share with us the process you use to create your super interesting characters! I have literally zero experience, and I think your help would be very useful! Thank you very much and have a wonderful day ✨”

Asked by limbel

Heylo! Thanks so much!!

I love character design a lot so I’d be happy to show you how I approach it. Hopefully they will help you and encourage active deliberation into your designs.

Observe and draw people in real life
People-watch constantly! Whenever I’ve free time and remember to bring my ipad/sketchbook out, I’d find somewhere to sit, like a cafe or a park, and fill a whole page with people’s faces. And not just faces, but stylised versions of their faces. I love looking at people and finding what is unique about them, then highlighting/stylising it. Doing this builds up your mental library of shapes and features, which is great if you want to reduce same face syndrome.

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Get a feel of your character first before designing them
Before you lay down your pen, spend a moment to think about your character. What is their personality? When someone else sees them, what do you want them to think about who your character is? What do you want them to see first? Write those thoughts down and actively work towards making your design hit those notes. Again, this helps to reduce same face syndrome as you’ll be actively thinking about what makes your character unique, so you’ll feel less likely to reach for those easy shorthands.

Keep trying and experimenting with different features (hair, eyes, face shape, body shape), mix and match, go wild, until you feel that a design is ‘close enough’. Then do more attempts based on that ‘close enough’ until you say ‘YES! This is it!’.

For example, from when I was trying to figure out Ayse, from The Carpet Merchant.

I knew that I wanted a woman who was matronly, who took no BS. I wrote that down. And I made sure to include a particular feature too: a monobrow. It took me a few tries. Played with shapes. Tried a few eyes and features. Then on the 5th try, I got it. (I wrote ‘getting there’ to tell myself that it needed a few refinements before the final)

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That 5th try influenced the way her personality is written, and after several exchanges between script and art, this is her final design. Fiery, strong, secure, always doing. She looks just right with Zeynel.

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Speaking of whom,
This is an example of slowly revamping an old character design.
I designed Zeynel when I was 15, but I didn’t get the hang of his personality. Not beyond ‘nervous’. It was admittedly flat-note and it showed, especially in the older pages of TWIDI. But luckily, it was a strong, unique enough foundation that I can rebuild a whole person out of that.

Zeynel is tall, long-faced, and elegant with a lovely, cute nose. As I wrote him and figured out his life, I got a few more notes. He’s sensitive, gentle, and nerdy. Basically, he’d look like the sweetest professor in your uni. That active thinking reshaped his character design. His edges became softer, more elegant. Most importantly, he gained a unique feature: his eye shape. The way they curved downwards, sealing his gentle aura regardless of what expression he’s making. Soon enough, I no longer have just this basic design. I have Zeynel.

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Another example, for Mora Strigoi, also from The Carpet Merchant.

Red-headed, goatee, somewhat gross looking, underbite, stockier than Zeynel, a fun design pls.

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I threw in a lot of shapes. The top left was the first. You can see how it progressed to the final Mora design. The process inspired me as well to make Mora’s human form ‘off-model’, always shifting, always off, because he is shifty and unnatural. But the base look is there. That Mora Strigoi vibe.

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That’s my approach! Imo, same face syndrome is due to artists having a limited mental library of shapes/features. As well as resorting to easy, ‘reliable’ stock designs, because they reliably accomplish an appeal the artist is looking for, and they don’t require extra mental effort to create. Which is fine. I mean, I’ve a go-to girl and boy design too, for when I’m just drawing for fun, not thinking too much. Sometimes I just want to draw a cute, big boy with wavy hair. Don’t shame me.

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But when it comes to characters who exist for narrative, I’m really dedicated to making each one unique. Doing that requires active thinking, active drawing. You’ve to be present when you do a design, from start to end. You can do as many studies as you like, draw as many variants of human faces, but there’s no point if you don’t apply them.

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Sometimes a character design naturally happens in the first attempt. Other times they just come out of nowhere. I’ve had a few like that. Praise the gods if that happens. But this active approach is my default. After years of this, it no longer feels like an effort, but as an activity to get my brain working. Like Sudoku. Character design is my Sudoku.

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Hello, hello

Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

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Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

Upcoming Events

French Book Tour, January 2024

Follow My Blog

Pop your email in the box below and be notified of my next post.

Categories

Archives