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Creating a Cute, Stylized Character in Inkscape&#0153

Updated on September 3, 2014

Finished Product

A quick finished example, I call him BlueBill.  Like the bird, I guess....  &#0169 Village Madman, 2014
A quick finished example, I call him BlueBill. Like the bird, I guess.... &#0169 Village Madman, 2014

What You Should Know

This tutorial will assume some basic knowledge of Inkscape. I will assume you know how to create shapes, and paths, and that you understand the concept of z-order in Inkscape. I also mention gradients, assuming you know (or can figure out) how to use them.

None of these concepts are too complicated, and all are already well documented on the web.

What You Will Learn

Section
Concepts Covered
Step 1
None, assumed you can create the sketch already.
Step 2
Creating lineart and base fills for your character using overlapping objects and paths with both a fill and stroke.
Step 3
Creating stylized lines with line width variation based on the lines in created in Step 2.
Step 4
Shading your character with gradients. Fast creation of tapered lines.
Step 5
Creating stars with randomization using the polygon tool.
Summary of the concepts covered in each section of this tutorial. These are the concrete techniques I am hoping to teach with this tutorial, in the context of creating cute characters!

Figure 1

My sketch for BlueBill.  As you can see, I am an excellent sketch artist... maybe not.  © Village Madman, 2014
My sketch for BlueBill. As you can see, I am an excellent sketch artist... maybe not. © Village Madman, 2014

Step 1: A Sketch

Begin the creative process for your character with a sketch. This can be done on paper, and scanned into your computer, or done digitally in a raster drawing program. In this phase, you should focus on creating a design you like, using as few lines and details as possible. Not only are simple, low-line designs easier to render in this style, but simplicity also contributes to cuteness (just see chibi anime characters for proof).

Figure 2

BlueBill, after completing the basic shapes. © Village Madman, 2014
BlueBill, after completing the basic shapes. © Village Madman, 2014

Step 2: Tracing in Inkscape

Now that you have a sketch which you like, begin the process of vectorization by importing your sketch into Inkscape, and tracing over your sketch with Inkscape paths or objects on a separate layer. This can be done with the pen tool, the freehand tool (with a drawing tablet), or any built-in Inkscape objects. For my design, I used the ellipse tool for the eyes and main body of the character, and did the rest with the freehand tool (with some manual touch-ups).

The key here is to create objects which have both a fill and a stroke. The fill should be the desired fill color for that area, and the stroke should be the desired outline color (in my drawing I chose to use all black outlines). By layering the objects appropriately (using either layers or z-order, here I used only z-ordering on a single layer), you can create filled shapes which overlap to create both color (fill) and lineart (stroke) for your drawing.

Figure 2 is the end result of this process for my character, and in Figure 3 I show the same drawing with all the fills set to transparent, so you can see how the objects overlap.

Figure 3

The objects I created for step 2, with transparent fills.  Note how the objects overlap to create the lineart out of their strokes.  &#0169 Village Madman, 2014
The objects I created for step 2, with transparent fills. Note how the objects overlap to create the lineart out of their strokes. &#0169 Village Madman, 2014

Figure 4

BlueBill, after having his lines stylized.  &#0169 Village Madman 2014
BlueBill, after having his lines stylized. &#0169 Village Madman 2014

Step 3: Stylize your lineart

In this step we will stylize our lineart, to give it more character. This will effectively be a way to achieve line width variation. See Figure 4, and compare to Figure 2.

If you are satisfied with your lineart as it is, move on to the next step.

In order to achieve this effect, go through your drawing object by object. For each object, begin by duplicating it (Ctrl-D).

Now remove the stroke of the duplicate, and change the fill color to your desired line color for this object.

Lower the duplicated object in the z-order, until it is one layer below the original object. (pg-down will lower a selected object one layer in the z-order at a time).

Now select the original object and remove its stroke. What you should now have is the original object, with the original fill color, directly covering the duplicate object, which is the color of your lineart. Neither of these objects should have a stroke.

Now inset the original object ( Ctrl-( that is, Ctrl-9 NOT THE 9 ON THE NUMPAD ). Alternatively you can use the dynamic offset here (in the Path menu, shortcut Ctrl-J) and this way you can control how much inset occurs. By moving the entire inset object around you can quickly create a varied line width. Moving individual nodes gives you more precise control of the linewidth as well.

This explanation is wordy, but if you work through it, I think it will start to make sense. The key is to take this process slowly, as it can be finicky at times.

Figure 5

BlueBill, after being shaded using simple gradients.  &#0169 Village Madman, 2014
BlueBill, after being shaded using simple gradients. &#0169 Village Madman, 2014

Step 4: Apply Shading

Now you can apply some shading to your character. In this case my approach was very simple. All I did was edit the fill objects, turning them into gradients (either linear or radial depending on the object), with two stops: the original base color, and a slightly darkened color for the shadow.

For this character, I used this fast shading effect, but for best results you can combine this with other shading techniques like cell shading, or semi-transparent gradients applied on top of the base shapes, etc. I may discuss more shading techniques in another tutorial.

At this step, you may notice I also added two lines in his hair. As a quick extra tip, tapered lines like this can be created very quickly by drawing a horizontal triangle, and copying it to the clipboard. Then go to either the pen or freehand tool, and choose "From Clipboard" in the "shape" dropdown menu. Then, when you draw, the triangle will be stretched along the stroke, creating a quick tapered line. This effect can also be played with using other shapes, as a quick way to achieve stylized lines with line width variation.

Step 5: Add the Finishing Touches

Finally you can finish up your drawing with some more details. Here I added highlights to his shoes (white-filled paths with "blur" set to 8), his pupils (using a white ellipse, and a white path), and added a star to his glasses for some flair.

All of the stars in the final image were created using the polygon tool, set to star, with 10 corners, spoke ratio of 0.25, rounded set to 0, and randomization to 0.075.

Figure 6

The finished drawing! &#0169 Village Madman, 2014
The finished drawing! &#0169 Village Madman, 2014

We Made It

Here we are, we've made it! I hope that this tutorial has taught you some new techniques for drawing characters with Inkscape! If you have questions or comments about this Hub, please leave them below.

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