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How to Design A Character

Updated on July 2, 2017

Disclaimer: This list is not exhaustive! These are general tips based on common things i’ve noticed with poorly designed characters. My word is not the absolute truth so you don’t have to follow everything I say. In the end, it’s your character and these are just my opinions.

Now what makes a bad character design? Let’s take a look at what makes a bad character design bad so you can avoid it.

Clutter

Cluttered designs have the same problem as the people in the TV show, Hoarders. There’s too much stuff. Ask yourself-what’s the purpose of all this junk?

Just a tidbit to keep in mind here: simplicity is the key. If your character is too tedious to draw in a short amount of time or over and over again, it’s time to redesign them. Too much clutter makes a character hard to look at and makes it hard to redraw them over and over.

Clutter!
Clutter!

Shapes

Shapes can be used to match your character’s personality. You should be able to tell how their personality is like from looking at them. Typically a strong, durable person would have a square, broad body. Rigid shapes like squares or rectangles are related to conformity or strength. Rounder shapes are more apt to change or adventure.

If you’ve seen the Pixar movie Up, you would know who Carl and Ellie are. I won’t go too much into detail about the story for spoilers and time reasons, but this a good example of how shapes reflect personality. Ellie is the driving factor for Carl and his motivations in the movie. Ellie's face is round, and Carl's face is square shaped. Carl is resistant to change.

Kirby from the Kirby series is another example on how shapes can give you an idea on a character’s personality. He changes quite often, so being a circle fits him pretty nicely. Is Kirby scary? Not really. Kirby is relatively friendly and innocent based on his appearance.

Colors

When choosing colors, try to avoid what I call “colors that make me puke.” While colors should be used to make characters “pop” and stand out, when done in excess, it has an effect like black and white flashing rapidly. You can’t stare long without wanting to look away. This is why too many colors can make the eyes bleed. A good example of bad color design would be the 2011 show Problem Solverz from Cartoon Network. \What’s the problem? The show is an example of both clutter and colors that make the eyes bleed. There are too many points of interest.

If you’re having trouble choosing what colors you should make your character, look up some color schemes online or look at nature! Colors from nature aren’t usually straight out of a Hot Topic themed rave. Choose roughly 4-6 base colors for your character and stick with them. If you want to see what colors go well with other colors, use a color wheel. Colors that contrast each other are located right across from each other on the wheel. These are called complementary colors. When designing your character, make colors match your character's personality type.

Making your character original

A huge component in designing your character is your art style! Your art style is just as important as your character for self explanatory reasons. Remember that this is your original character, and recolors, bases, traced, or recolored screenshots aren’t original designs. They are someone else’s work. Please be creative by coming up with your own character. Look online or even at your own life to come up with ideas.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Practice drawing! As stated earlier, avoid bases and tracing; they are unprofessional and generally look bad. References are fine to use if you redraw them! Use tracing only to practice! Draw all the time! This is how you get better.

  2. Using character makers is fine to get ideas, but redraw them in your own style to make it yours. Please stop posting screenshots of characters made in character creators.

  3. Please don’t use shape/ line tools! Practice drawing freehand. This is how you learn anatomy.

  4. Don’t use microsoft paint and the spray tool. SAI paint, paint.net, and other better drawing programs are available for free.

  5. What world do they live in? This should match how your character looks like. Overall, your character’s design should reflect their personality.

  6. Unless if you’re making a parody character, making characters out of already existing characters isn’t original since you’re basically using someone else's work.

Summary

Designing your character takes both time and practice. Avoid puking colors and clutter. The character you make is yours, so don’t recycle other people’s work. People’s artistic skills varies, so the way I like to think about this is that there’s always going to be someone better and worse than you. Comparing yourself to others is self destructive and there’s no point. The only person in this race is you!

I’m available to help you with your characters, so please comment or send me a message! Keep on drawing!

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    • Kara Skinner profile image

      Kara Skinner 2 months ago from Maine

      I really agree about too many bright colors at once. It gives me a headache.

    • ElizaxGrace profile image

      Eliza 2 months ago from Australia

      Totally agree about clutter! It's the worst when people ask you to draw a character that looks like a rave has thrown up on it.