Character Design


This is was originally designed as a five-day (3hrs/day) class focusing on character design. Generate a simple, repeatable character drawn from multiple angles. Starting with the idea stage, brainstorm, and iterations. Using basic shapes and forms build the character with modeling clay and draw it from different angles in different poses.  


Learn tools to create and develop characters. Make illustrations of a character from 3 different angles.


1.     Intro, Character Definition, Ideas (Inkblot Characters, Thumbs and Fast Sketches)
2.     Practicalities and Context (Economical Drawing, Story)
3.     Form from Shapes (Model Clay, and Contours)
4.     Colouring (Choosing and Blocking in Hue, Value)
5.     Inking (Calligraphic and Enhanced Line Quality)


At the end of this class, participants will have a pliable model, preliminary and finished drawings (which could then go on to be developed further {for example, an illustrated story, comic, cartoon, logo or animation}).



(Some Drawing Skills Required)


Oil Based, Non-Drying Modeling Clay, Watercolour Set (and brushes), Black (fine tipped) Markers / Pens, Pencils, Sketchbook, Good Quality Drawing Papers x 3, Brushpen

Introduction & Types of Art

Some Types of Art / Terminology

Realism (arts)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"Realism in aesthetics" redirects here. For other uses, see Aesthetic Realism (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Realism (art movement).

Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet, 1854. A Realist painting by Gustave Courbet.
Realism (or naturalism) in the arts is the attempt to represent subject matter truthfully, without artificiality and avoiding artistic conventions, implausible, exotic and supernatural elements.

Realism has been prevalent in the arts at many periods, and is in large part a matter of technique and training, and the avoidance of stylization. In the visual arts, illusionistic realism is the accurate depiction of lifeforms, perspective, and the details of light and colour. Realist works of art may emphasize the ugly or sordid, such as works of social realism, regionalism, or Kitchen sink realism.
There have been various realism movements in the arts, such as the opera style of verismo, literary realism, theatrical realism and Italian neorealist cinema. The realism art movement in painting began in France in the 1850s, after the 1848 Revolution.[1] The realist painters rejected Romanticism, which had come to dominate French literature and art, with roots in the late 18th century.

Representational Art

The term 'representation' carries a range of meanings and interpretations. In literary theory, 'representation' is commonly defined in three ways.
  1. To look like or resemble
  2. To stand in for something or someone
  3. To present a second time; to re-present[2]


Typically, representational artwork aims to represent actual objects or subjects from reality. It can still be representational even if it’s stylized. Realism, Impressionism, Idealism, as long as it is representing something (usually discernibly) it can be called representational.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Two Sisters (on the Terrace), 1881








Abstracted or Stylized


abstraction definition:

1. An abstract or general idea or term.
2. The act of considering something as a general quality or characteristic, apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances.
3. An impractical idea; something visionary and unrealistic.
4. The act of taking away or separating; withdrawal:
The sensation of cold is due to the abstraction of heat from our bodies.

in Fine Arts.
  1. the abstract qualities or characteristics of a work of art.
  2. a work of art, especially a nonrepresentational one, stressing formal relationships.

For sake of discussion we could simplify abstract as a term to mean sort-of ‘artistically changed’. This spectrum of art can be anywhere from slightly abstracted all the way to unrecognizable subjects (not literally depicting something).

Georges Braque. Woman with Guitar, 1913

Renee Magritte. The Treachery of Images, 1928-1929
The often misunderstood type of art known as abstraction aims to take subjects from reality but present them in way that is different from the way they are viewed in our reality. This may take the form of emphasizing lines, shapes, or colors that transform the subject.
Magritte painting entitled, "The Treachery of Images", 1928-1929.  Written in French under a representational painting of a pipe, is the phrase, "This is not a pipe."  The point is that the painting is indeed not a pipe, but rather a painting of a pipe.  Artists of this time where now approaching paintings as paintings, allowing for a new form of intellectual expression.  Many people have difficultly in understanding the differences between abstract art and non-objective art.  The clear difference lies in the subject matter chosen. If the artist begins with a subject from reality, the artwork is considered to be abstract.  If the artist is creating with no reference to reality, then the work is considered to be non-objective. 


Non-Objective art takes nothing from reality. It is created purely for aesthetic reasons. The intent of Non-objective art is to use the elements and principles of art in a way that results in a visually stimulating work.

This, as the name suggests, is art that does not depict a discernable subject. No representation has been made. In definition, it can be somewhat interchangeable with Non-Objective.

Jackson Pollock. Number One 1948

The best way to learn about kinds of art is from history. The internet is an amazing place for this.
Here's an example of a rather comprehensive time line, from cave art to the 19th century (although a bit of a Eurocentric one):
Early Art History
I also like learning about modern art, street art and going to galleries.

Knowing What Type of Art to Use / Communicating

Some decisions will be intuitive while others may require further consideration. Either way, how and what your trying to communicate go closely together.

In 2007/08 I lived in South Korea. I didn’t speak the language and many ‘even-basic things’ were difficult to do.

One day I went to a large department store looking to find a bike lock. All the signage and service staff used a language I know nothing of. That day I happened to have a small sketchbook in my possession. I drew a simple picture of a bike lock, and showed one of the people working in the store. They immediately knew what I wanted and led me straight there. It was the first time I can remember using art to communicate in such a way, and I started bringing my sketchbook everywhere.

The kind of drawing I do to ask for a bike lock, and the kind I do to hang on the wall are usually quite different. In the case of getting an idea across, a fast simple line drawing is usually the best answer.

When drawing fast, start with the basic shapes and structure. Omit details. Fast drawing is also a good way to get gesture, movement or record something that will soon be gone or change.

As an exploration of drawing it's good to be "to the point" sometimes. Inversely so, there is value in learning to make a picture purely from your mind. It can help you shake off 'writer's block' and make divergent-thinking kind of discoveries. Instead of imagery, think of rhythm or pattern.

Here's a link to an interesting example:
Abstract Drawing


Where you begin depends on whether or not you have ideas already. If you don't have an idea yet you can generate one through exercises.

One example that's really fun is Inkblots. Making an inkblot and trying to draw form and personality out of it is not only fun but can lead to more developed projects. Like this guy and his Inkblot Monsters on Youtube:

There is no shortage of resources for learning character design. I find Youtube amazing for learning because I can direct myself related to my interests. Here are some examples of links that caught my attention and have to do with Character Design:


Another indispensable tool is sketching. It will help you develop your drawing and can in and of itself be a form of generating ideas. Here is an interesting example of an artist using Thumbnails as a development tool. It's in digital media in this case, but the principals still apply. Draw small noncommittal characters. By not getting caught up in the details you can get out lots of ideas.

Character Definition: Feature and traits that form the individual nature of a person (or personified. Personality.

Kinds of Characters/Character Uses: Cartoon Characters, Sports and Corporate Mascots, Comic Book, News Strip (See Practicalities) In design pipeline, working with a team

Caricature: A portrait or that exaggerates or distorts the essence of a person

Our Character: Think of uses and how to get across personality.

Class Notes:

Research: When I was in Jr High School I went to a work experience program at a comic book artists' studio. I sort of expected to be drawing, but much of my time was spent researching and finding references for scenes in the comic. When designing a character start to collect not only ideas, but reference pictures of things that might appear in your character's world or be similar enough that they can inform your drawing. 

Designers: If you're designing your character to be used with a brand, be sure to make colours and styles congruous.

Visual styles:  Look at how other artists solve the problem. If you are interested in a specific genre don't be afraid to learn and appropriate.

Understand Audience: (Simple shapes and colours) Children/Adults, artists, designers, cultural groups, sensitive groups (hospital etc)

Exercises: Inkblot and Thumbnails 


Part 2

Practicalities and Context (Economical Drawing, Story) 

If you still haven't got an idea for your character, think of it as a game. Simply choose a random Animal + Occupation + Verb. (This is how I made my animation "Anything Goes" : Baboon + Clown + Falling Down).

Developing the Character:

Fleshing out the idea requires imagination and notes. Keep a separate page for writing a description of your character as the idea starts to develop.

Do lots of sketching. It's good to try different ideas and develop pictures to different levels of completion.

Collect relevant images and use software (Poser) or photography to help you figure out anatomy and proportions.

Try variations of your character – simplest shapes, not repeating – change: proportions, angle, features – chaotic and experimental.

Use (facial and body position) expression to develop character and be part of story.

Symbolic marks like movement lines, light bulbs, question marks, drunk bubbles, music notes, Pig Pen’s dirty cloud (from Charlie Brown) and speech bubble can be used to great effect.

Physical attributes: scar, tattoo, related to props (era) Script & other characters.
Think about occupation,  skills, culture and generally how does the character fit in their world.


Be economical. Limit features if having to draw 100’s of times (if repetition is likely). Think about range of motion required (reaching {can’t have tiny arms and big head} for things riding a bike {must reach the pedals}etc). “Cartoon” solutions, elongating arms etc. Ask yourself if the character is “impractical”.

Tools in Context/Worldbuilding:

Story: Consider your form of story. Comics, animation etc, have lots of information to sort through and can explain verbally what's happening. Could you tell the story with only pictures? How many frames?

Be Relatable: Encourage audience to connect with characters through context and the appeal of being familiar.

Be Fantastic: It's art; so sometimes it's good to explore the range of possibilities. Make things wondrous and impossible in the real world. Impractical, ornate, foreign, or outright weird can be fun and intriguing.

Use anecdotal or fictional story, background, triumphs and defeats, strengths, weaknesses, motivations.

Connecting your character to  literature, human history or personal experiences, can help to make a believable departure from your regular spectrum  of knowledge/creation. In other words, it's hard to imagine the world of a (for example) doctor if you've never been one. Finding a model and references will help. You don't necessarily have to give away who your character is actually based on (or any of your references). Did you know Alien with Sigourney Weaver is based on the kid's story "Little Red Riding Hood"? And Star Wars is based on an old Samurai movie? Cultural appropriation is a part of the design process in general, and can be very useful with character design. You can do a period piece and it will help you pick costumes, sets, and architecture in the background.

Tips on Worldbuilding
More Tips

Choose visual style to relate to audience and tone/mood.

Here's an interesting one using modelling clay:
Kid's Book about Monsters

An image search for "sepia + illustrated novel" could give you ideas:

Drawing I

Basic Elements

Adult: Beginner
[Class Dates]


This is a one-week course (3hrs/day). The primary subject revolves around the core elements of drawing. Working with pen, pencil, and charcoal, participants explore a range of styles and approaches. This is suitable for adult beginners and early intermediates that want to learn or improve their drawing skills.


Develop the tools to make beautiful/interesting drawings. Get the fundamentals down and use them to draw from life and photo references.


1. Intro & Line (Blind Contour and Modified Blind Contour)
2. Shapes, Sighting and Triangulation (Measuring and Contour from Still Life)
3. Form, Value, Texture (Geometric Forms and Still Life Study)
4. Space (Contrast Drawing Exercise, Simplified Landscape)
5. Draw from a Photo (Charcoal Value Drawing)


At the end of these classes, participants will have undergone the steps used to make a large charcoal drawing (and several smaller drawings and preliminary work). An understanding of the basic elements and principals of drawing will have been developed through application and discussion.


Compressed Charcoal, Vine Charcoal, Kneaded Eraser, Rubber Eraser, Basic 8x11 Sketchbook, 2-3 Pieces of Charcoal paper, 2 black pens (Jelly Roll), and Pencils

7 Elements of Art

Visual components: colour, form, line, shape, space, texture, and value.

Line: An element of art defined by a point moving in space. Line may be two-or three-dimensional, descriptive, implied, or abstract.

Shape: An element of art that is two-dimensional, flat, or limited to height and width; encloses 2D area.

Form: An element of art that is three-dimensional and encloses volume; includes height, width AND depth (as in a cube, a sphere, a pyramid, or a cylinder). Form may also be free flowing (water, fire). 

Value: The lightness or darkness of tones or colours. White is the lightest value; black is the darkest. The value halfway between these extremes is called middle grey.

Space: An element of art by which positive and negative areas are defined or an implied depth.

Colour: An element of art made up of three properties: hue, value, and intensity.
• Hue: name of colour
• Value: hue’s lightness and darkness (a colour’s value changes when white or black is added)
• Intensity: quality of brightness and purity (high intensity= colour is strong and bright; low intensity = colour is faint and dull)

Texture: An element of art that refers to the way things feel, or look as if they might feel if touched.