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How to Make up a Character for a Drawing

Updated on March 31, 2013

The Character Hancock


How to Make Up a Character, Where to Start?

Whether you need to make up a character for an illustration project at school a real illustration job or for your own purposes, creating a character can be a lot of fun. Before you even think about what your character is going to look like though it is often helpful to decide on what his personality is like. Human beings are complex creatures! No one is all good or all bad. The best characters are caricatures or exaggerated versions of what could be a real life character. In the world of fantasy, the most believable characters are the ones with the most exaggerated personalities- usually in one direction over any other.

Start with the Character of your Character!

Whatever personality traits you decide to go with, don't make your character perfect! Perfect is boring as hell! Human beings have personality flaws in real life, that is what makes us interesting. Fictional characters become more interesting, the more flawed they are because we see reflections of ourselves in them. We can relate to them, even if they are not in human form.

Allow your character to be defined by who they are as individuals, not by what they do. Think of Wil lSmiths character Hancock in the movie Hancock. He was a superhero yes. He saved people and fought criminals. What made him most interesting were his flaws! He was an alcohol drinking, depressed, moody, temperamental superhero, who caused millions of dollars worth of damage everywhere he went. He also had a touching, selfless and soft side when it came to humanity, the woman he loved and the man who loved the woman he loved, who turned out to be a really good friend! You see the complex development of this character?

One thing to note which can spell the death of your character if you fall into the trap is stereotypes. Avoid stereotypes and the obvious at all costs to maintain the integrity of your character.

Drawn Character Examples

A stereotypical caricature of a villain (i.e. generic melodrama villain stock character, with handlebar moustache and black top-hat).
A stereotypical caricature of a villain (i.e. generic melodrama villain stock character, with handlebar moustache and black top-hat). | Source
Betty Boop character design 1931
Betty Boop character design 1931 | Source
Caricature of a mad scientist
Caricature of a mad scientist | Source

Exercises to Draw your Character Out

  1. Choose a name at random if you are struggling. Try opening up a phone book and picking the first name that jumps out at you.
  2. Choose a profession for your character. A fun way of doing this is to have a number of scraps of paper to hand in addition to a hat or jar and a pen. Write the name of an occupation on each piece of paper. For example, artist, doctor, nurse, fireman, firewoman, decorator, businessman, accountant, lawyer etc.. Put them all into the hat and shake it up.
  3. Next write down different character traits on another set of scrap pieces of paper. For example, moody, sarcastic, rude, nice, smiley, bad tempered, honest, compulsive liar, kindhearted, ego-centric, determined. Write as many as you can think of! Place these in a separate jar or hat.
  4. Pull out a profession and then pull out a personality trait to get the basis of one character. Write down the pairs that you get. For example, you might get a sarcastic doctor or a moody fireman. You might get an egocentric accountant or a bad tempered decorator.
  5. Once you have a few, decide on which one you like best as your lead character- or the character you wish to start off with. Decide if you want them to be male or female, then interview your make believe character to find out more about their personality! For example, your sarcastic doctor might be a female called Nicola Daisy or Doctor Daisy with a particular penchant for chocolate and an intense dislike for children which is actually a front for the fact that she can't have children of her own, so she pretends that she does not like them in an attempt to protect herself from pain. Get the picture? Pretty soon, you will have built up a comprehensive list of personality traits and an idea of what she looks like will start to form in your head.
  6. Draw what she looks like in your minds eye.
  7. At this point, it is a good idea to start looking for reference images for what your character might look like. For example, if you imagine Dr Daisy as a blonde, attractive and slightly plump lady in her early thirties, use Google to search for similar images.
  8. Refine your drawing making use of, but never copying your reference images. Rope in a friend who looks similar or hire a model to pose for you. Exaggerate the character. If she is slightly plump, make her a plumper version of Jessica Rabbit in a white coat with a stethoscope and a mean gaze!

Finishing Touches

Now you have your character. Develop him or her further. Use your imagination, reference photos and models to draw the character from every angle imaginable. Think of the different scenarios they could find themselves in. Think about the context of the character, what kind of scenery is likely to be around them. Visit such places in real life and imagine your character there. Think of the stories and adventures your character could have.

You now have the basis of an interesting character to draw. Have fun!

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Will you use any of the advice in this article to help you with character development and drawing?

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    • adelaidewrites profile image

      Adelaide Damoah 4 years ago from Kent

      Aww thanks very much! You can do it if you want to, just try! :-)

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      I am always impressed by your knowledge and envious that reading your hubs is probably the closest I will be able to get to doing this!

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 4 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      would be better to see an example of yours. Anyway, gonna try out myself. Thanks