• Jen

Character Design

Updated: a day ago

This post is made as a resource for basic introductory character design, including creating context and backstory for characters, as well as some general tips for figure drawing. I've written this to be a companion to my Character Design workshops. Check out my upcoming classes and events to find out about those workshops and how to get involved!

For this workshop, I created a workbook with figure drawing tips. You can see a PDF version of the tips sheet here, and fully-loaded sketchbooks will be available to purchase soon!

Introducing Your Character and their Basic Information

Creating an interesting character starts with deciding some basic details about the character, including:

  • Type (i.e. species/race as in human, elf, cat-person, rock-person, mermaid, etc.) and general description like gender (if any) and age;

  • Context including where and how they live, family or group dynamics;

  • Roles they may have in their group (as a leader, a student, a villain, a researcher, etc.);

  • Tools they may need to do their roles, and costume that makes sense given their context and role.

It's also fun to think of more advanced details like

  • Dreams or goals, what they want to achieve;

  • Particular relationships they have with others;

  • Personality attributes, like are they kind of grumpy all the time, or sneaky, or perhaps they're dreamy and whimsical.

If you're having trouble coming up with some of these ideas for your character, here's a (work in progress) generator I made for character and story prompts. Fair warning, it's a bit... weird. If you have ideas on what can make it better, or possibilities to include, feel free to message me!

Character Design Generator

You can also look to characters in books, television shows, movies, games, etc. that you know well to help think through how you would describe that character (what type are they? what's their context? what's their role in the story? what tools/equipment/costumes do they often have?)

We're going to use Hermione as an example since she was the most requested character in my first workshop.

Here's how we can make notes of Hermione as a character:

  • Type: Human, witch, female, tween/teen

  • Context: England, late 20th century/ early 21st century, Hogwarts, school, fighting against Voldemort with her friends

  • Roles: Scholar/ researcher, likes to read and finds information in the library, she keeps Ron and Harry grounded, level-headed thinker

  • Tools: wand, books, undetectable extension beaded bag

  • Costume: school robes, shirt and jeans

All of this information will not only help us fit Hermione into her story, but if we were wanting to re-design her, it would also help us know what information is important to how she looks when illustrated.

Sketching Your Character

Now that you have some basic information about your character, you can start working on illustrating them.

The tips drawing sheet is meant to help jump start this, especially if you haven't done a lot of figure-drawing or are a bit rusty, this will help give you some practice. In the class sketchbooks, I've included a few sheets of tracing paper so that students can trace the basic figure drawing in the tips sheet, and then add important details as needed.

*A note on tracing: Tracing is FINE! In drawing, it's a method for practicing and learning new skills. It's certainly not cheating in any way. All student artists have some kind of "copying" practice in their learning, it's a very traditional method, in fact, and can really help develop observation skills. However, it's really NOT FINE to trace someone else's art and try to pass it off as your own, by either selling it or just posting it online to show other people. That's just downright plagiarism, and we don't do that here.

So here's a little demo to show how that works.

I use my pencil to trace the stick figure from the tip sheet onto the tracing paper. Then, I remove the tip sheet and start adding basic details to the stick figure, according to the character notes I've made. I've included here some fluffy hair, school robes, books, and a wand. You can see that I haven't included any fine details, this is just a basic sketch to start from.

When making a figure drawing, it's important to think about proportion and posture, as that will say a lot about a character. Illustration has a secret language, where important things are emphasized to say something about the figure. If I decide that I want to really play up Hermione's studiousness, I might make her head a bit bigger, or even give her glasses (which we never see her wear in the movies or books, but this is my redesign!), since these are elements that emphasize this character attribute.

Once I have the general details I want for this character, I can use the transfer paper (included in the sketchbook) to transfer this sketch into my sketchbook. This is where I can add more details like facial features and clothing texture. I can also make lots of changes here by erasing and starting over.

When I'm satisfied with that sketch (and I make my changes and adjustments as needed) I can transfer that sketch to a piece of bristol board to do my final piece!


There's definitely more to do on this post, I'd like to add more character notes for the different characters people have suggested, as well as more in-depth tutorials on figure drawing. But that will come later as I develop this workshop.

Please let me know what you think in the comments below!

If you have taken this workshop and want to give some feedback, feel free to message me here or on instagram. I'd also love to see your character designs!

Inklings Illustrated is owned and managed by Jen Hernandez Art LLC (2020)

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