How to come up with character designs?



  • I love drawing characters and scenes and I have no problem coming up with ideas for finished paintings, but when it comes to coming up with ideas for character designs, I'm completely stumped. I'm trying to draw 100 characters and, although I can think of what to draw generally speaking (a raccoon pirate, for example, or a faery on a rock), when it comes time to draw, I can't think of what details to include (clothing, tools, weapons, or even the stance). How do artists come up with the really cool ideas for weaponry and clothing and other character details? Where do you find references for that stuff? It's so frustrating because that's the stuff that makes the character most interesting to me...



  • Actually, what makes characters interesting is mostly shape language. Clothing, props, etc.. are massively important, but are not the first thing that the viewer notices, nor it is the biggest challenge. The most difficult thing for me (and what distinguishes masterful character artists) is the shape design.
    If you look at Carter Goodrich or Nico Marlet work I think it is easier to see:

    alt text
    alt text
    alt text

    These are two of the best character designers currently working, with massive impact on the whole entertainment industry.
    So the best place to start with character design is shapes - that is why you start with silohuettes. It is much more difficult than it seems. The details and even what a character actually is (a racoon or a fairy) is a lot less important and should only be a second priority thought.
    One exercise that is very useful and has been mentioned here on the forum elsewhere is to start with a random shape (a blotch of ink, or a collection of superimposed geometrical shapes, an interesting oil stain on the pavement) and convert it into a character.



  • @smceccarelli great advice, and WOW what amazing examples! So well done. Obviously - if they're the best in the industry 🙂

    @amberwingart I love Pinterest for inspiration. If you search for 'character design' you'll come across SO many pins and so many boards that you can follow.



  • I know for me I tend to take the Herrera approach. Before even touching pencil to paper or pen to tablet, I write out everything I have come to expect from that character.
    What is their personality like?
    What is their body build?
    Are they a villainous character?
    What species are they?
    How old are they?

    All of these things are things I have to know if I'm doing a serious design.
    If it's just for a warm up then I start with shapes that I draw with my pen or make a visual list like small circles, large squares and then shift to the Bean method of breaking the design after coming up with basic shapes.
    Then I move onto silhouettes trying out different and strong builds before sketching.

    Doing all of this before even sketching is something I find helps build a seriously strong design and I also allow myself to trash designs if they aren't working. Even if I attach to one, if it doesn't fit the story I'm trying to tell, I trash it.
    Hope this helps!



  • Thank you so much for the great advice everyone! I guess I need to change how I approach sketching out characters...I always though that artists like Brian Froud or Jean-Baptiste Monge (a couple of my favorites) just sort of magically came up with all of the characters in their sketchbooks...it's so comforting to know there's a method to it. Knowing that takes the pressure of in a huge way!



  • But I'd also like to know where everyone gets their reference materail for details!



  • @amberwingart Pinterest, google image search, books, magazines, real life and (and this is a secret tip ;-)...stock photo databases. The biggest stock databases are Shutterstock and Getty. They have their own search engines and you will not find their content with a simple google search. You do not need to pay the (very expensive!) subscription to search with their engines, and the preview images are good enough to be used as reference.



  • @smceccarelli Thank you! Those are all the places I get mine (with the exception of Pinterest - I'll have to look there!). I guess everyone else is just better at finding stuff than I am, haha!