Creating characters~

Creating characters~

This is a long article with a couple of googled images.

Yay for Deji not drawing her own things to put here! (except for like… one picture…)
Sorry D:

You know, characters are supposed to be “alive”, or to give the illusion that they are. If you show a drawing of a character to somebody and they’re able to tell you about their personality, profession, etc, then you’ve done a good job! If not… then this article is for you.


  • Intro
  • Who is my character?
  • What does my character look like?
  • Translating words into visuals
    • The body
    • The face
    • Dressing up your character
    • Color
  • Draw your character!
  • The importance of the character sheet.


First thing I think about when it comes to visually told stories/situations are characters.
They’re the ones to be performing the actions and moving the story forward. They’re the ones that populate and use the environment and props, and the ones who will do the talk if there’s any. So yes, they’re an important part of an illustration or an illustrated  story (or a VN if you’re making one :3).

You characters can be whatever you want them to be: kids, teenagers, young adults, old people, animals, aliens, even inanimate objects. Characters have to be visually memorable and recognizable and be “believable” so people can also believe in them and their story.
To achieve this, you usually go through a design process with them, so they can fulfill the role you want them to play as good as possible anfd you’re able to draw them the way they’re supposed to be every time they need to show up on an illustration.

Now, there are two possible ways of giving birth to a character:  written or drawn.
The first is normally the writer’s approach, and there are some artists who also start this way, while  a lot of artists decide to start by drawing a bunch of random character ideas on paper until  they like one.

To star, the first thing you need is a story or situation to illustrate.
If you’re writing, you probably thought already of the kind of characters you need for the setting, and if you are and artist (or person who draws, in case you don’t want that title),  you have probably started doodling things around that give you the “feeling” you want.
In any case, after you are sure of having the basics or the outline of the character you need (written or sketched), it’s time for serious design.

1. Who is my character?

Who is this character I want to draw?
I don’t mean the outside appearance, but who they are as an individual and what role do they fulfill in your story or situation.
Think of what’s your character’s personality, what they like and dislike, what do they believe in and what’s their attitude towards life.
Also think about their occupation and profession, and if they have any hobbies or routines.

After you’re done with this, try to summarize your character in a few concepts. Shy, aggressive, outgoing, happy, hates the world, rebellious, gloomy, anarchist etc are the kind of concepts you’re looking for. Write them down, since they’re going to be key for visual creation later.

2. What does my character look like?

Now that you have a good idea of who your character is, and as detailed as you need it for your story/situation, now give this character a general appearance by describing them.
First think about their height. Is it a short character, an average one or do they stand out on the crowd by being really tall?
How about their general body type? Your character can be thin, average or overweight. Maybe they have a fit body, or maybe they are okay, but could use some exercise.
Finally, think if they have any especial thing: an object they use that is special, an accessory, a certain color they prefer wearing, a piercing, tattoo or scar. Maybe they have some kind of defect or disability.
Be sure to go through this process with all your cast (if you have more than one character)before moving to the next steps, since you’ll need them to be different from each other in the visual aspect besides hair,  eye color and style of clothing.

3. Translating words into visuals

The rule of thumb is: You should still be able to recognize your character even if they were bald and naked.

So how do you do that? Your base will be what you did on step 2.

3.1 The body

A good starts are the basics: height and weight/body type. Pick a bunch of people at random: it’s very likely that all of them will have different height, weight and body type, even if just slightly.

Easiest way to make characters different from each other body-wise is to play with how hard puberty hit them.

For women that revolves around breasts – waist – hips.  Varying the measures of those three areas will give you different kind of women.
For men that revolves around muscular tone and shoulder/back wideness.

And don’t forget the legs! They can be thick, thin, muscly, chubby or curvy! And they can be long or short as well.

Even if you want all your characters to be beautiful people, you’ll still want some differences between them, so play with your character measures until you have a nice cast of different people.
To keep a varied cast, you’d like to draw a line of naked, bold and faceless people next to each other representing your characters. If you and others can actually see differences between them, you’re doing great :D

3.2 The face

Now, people tend to remember other people by their faces, so it’s a point that needs attention as well. Again, it’s about playing with measures and proportions on the face elements.

The face elements you’ll want to play with are: face shape, eyes, mouth and nose.

Customizing a face to look different than another face can be really simple or quite complicated, depending on your drawing style. The exaggeration is a good element when you’re drawing cartoons, simplified or grotesque. Shape and position is the key when your style is stylized or minimal.

Face shape

This is the canvas you’ll be placing the face elements on. The basic shapes the human face takes are: oval, rectangle, square, triangle, round and heart. You can exaggerate the shapes of the face and of the head for uniqueness on your characters.
You can also play with the location of each facial element on the face and the proportions between them.


There are two primary things you may take into consideration about eyes beside color:  size and shape.
Shapes are almond, round and oval, and they can be normal, hooded or droopy.
If your style allows it, exaggerating size of eye and/or size of iris (the colored part) can be a good way of telling faces apart.
You can also play with how wide the separation between both eyes is (ideally the measure of one eye).


Shape-wise, they can be wavy, concave, convex, straight and flat.

You can also play with its size and how much of space on the face it takes. Even if your style is simplified, a longer line for the nose definitely looks different then a tiny line xD


Mouth can be big/wide or small/narrow.
If your’e drawing lips, the variables to consider are how thin/thick they are and how much flesh they have.


With our bald and naked character now designed, we need to give them some hair.

Straight, wavy or curly? Thin or thick?
How they wear it is usually a matter of personal choice, so make sure your character’s hairstyle matches their personality and lifestyle.
You can find yourself some good references for that with no problems on the web or in fashion magazines and catalogs.

When you have all your characters faces designed, draw them next to each other, so you can see the differences, study them and fix them if you need to.

3.3. Dressing up your character

Now that we have our distinctive character (or at least distinctive from the rest of the characters in our cast), we need to dress him/her up, in case they use clothes, of course!
Now you have two possible options here, and that depends on your setting:
The character dresses the way he/she wants or the character has to dress in a certain way, like a uniform or borrowing clothes from somebody else.

Now go back to step one and look at your keywords for this character.
Try to roleplay your character for a minute and think about what would he/she wear and why. Maybe they want to show off they body, or are very fashion-forward, or they want to hide their body, or they pick whatever is on sale and/or feels comfortable. If you just want to have a character dress in a certain way arbitrarily,  make sure the character as an individual has a reason to dress like that.
For uniforms, they usually have a concept behind it depending on the institution they belong to. They have to be comfortable and suited for the activity people wearing them have to do and they they have a relation with the cultural setting they’re immersed in.
Remember references are your friends, even if you’re making up a new world/setting. Mix and match elements from different things to make them looks unique if you can’t come up with a good design from scratch.

3.4. Color

You can be as arbitrary with color as you want, that’s a given.
Color on illustration are widely affected by light and mood, and the illustrator’s own artistic license, but it’s good to give your character colors of their own.
The constant colors on a character are usually skin color and eye color. Hair color counts for human characters as well, unless you have a character who likes to wear wigs or dye/change their hair color a lot during the story.
To have only a few colors for each character/outfit is a good thing to do. If you need more colors, just mix the colors you already have to make new ones.
Make sure everything looks good together! Unless, again, your character has a good “in character” reason to have a lots of mismatched colors.
Color samples sites can be very good friends to you in this point!

4. Draw your character!

Now that you have successfully created a visual character, a good thing to do is to draw them.
Make them pose for you, draw them in everyday activities. Draw different facial expressions. What face do they make when they’re angry? or sad? 
How do they move? Body language is important! How do they interact with other characters? Illustrate their relationship through body language.
You’ll get to know your character better this way and it’ll help you draw them in a more believable way once you have to do the final illustrations. You may also end up coming up with new outfits or things they like to do and use them for your story (in case there’s room for that, of course).

5. The importance of the character sheet

Now it could be a really useful thing to make a reference sheet for your characters, especially if you are going to draw them several times in different situations, like a series of illustrations or a comic, and it could be really useful if you eventually have somebody else drawing your character for you (or making a toy/figure out of your character, who knows!). You don’t want to have continuity mistakes with your characters, or have people make up things you didn’t think about because you never bothered to draw them.

What does a character reference sheet normally have?

  • A head-to-toe drawing of your character. Can be naked or wearing their default outfit.
  • You’ll need an image of the back as well and a profile view.
  • A close up to the face and maybe a few expressions.
  • A close-up to any special detail you want to feature ( a shape, pattern, accesory, a tattoo, scar, etc).
  • The color palette of your character and the outfit they’re wearing.

You can see a good example from my friend Gina here: 

Now, if you have any extra outfits for your character, make sure to draw them from head to toe, front and back, with close-ups to details and patterns and include the color palette. If the outfits have visible different layers of clothing, try to draw each garment separately (no need to be colored); you never know when your character need to take off the jacket of outfit #3 or you have to show the socks they’re wearing with outfit #4.

Sometimes I’m asked to draw a character and everything I have for a reference is a 3/4 profile drawing from  thighs up. And I have to draw them fullbody. Or I have a frontal view and the illustration requires to show their back. This could be extremely annoying D:

Another use of character sheets is when you’re working on a project for a super long time. Your style probably will shift during the time you’re working on it, so to keep things consistent and don’t make evident you drew this image in January and the next in September, you look at your character sheet every single time to draw the character. If they look the same and keep the same proportions, then your’e good! Ask other people what they think if you’re not sure (or to make sure you don’t say “nah, it looks the same” out of lazyness when you know it doesn’t)

Congratulations if you read until this part!
I’m sorry for the long wall of text without pretty images… I haven’t had time to properly draw things for this tutorial D:
And before it rots in my drafts folder, I wanted to share it.

I just hope you find it useful C:
If you think there’s something I missed or that there’s something that could be polished or explained in a better way, please let me know to fix it asap ^^

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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 7th, 2010 at 6:09 pm and is filed under Useful, VN. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.