mini personal breakthrough in character consistency

  • SVS OG

    So I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been trying for awhile to learn to draw a character consistently, over and over. I still have a ways to go, but I did a little exercise last night that helped me more than I think anything else has, so I thought I'd share it and my theories as to why it was helpful.

    There are several articles and videos I've come across that talk about how to draw characters consistently. There are a couple which I will not link to that say something to the effect of, "If you can't draw a character consistently, you're just not good enough at drawing yet. You just have to draw people/faces/everything a lot more." Which may in fact be true, but isn't at all helpful. And even if true, I feel it is incomplete. I think what is really going on with the people writing these articles is that they're great artists but not necessarily great teachers--they know how to do good work, but not how to break down what they're doing in a way that they can explain it to make sense to others.

    An article I found helpful was this one:

    In particular, last night I did the exercise suggested near the end where you look at someone you know, draw them from several angles, and WRITE DOWN specifically what you notice about their features. I did my husband, because what are artist's spouses/SOs for anyway? ;-). I'm a bit embarassed to show this because it isn't perfect, but I think it will help illustrate what I'm saying so here are my imperfect sketches


    I didn't actually draw from life, since he was busy, I used facebook photos. Since they were photos most of them he has a big smile on his face--but since he's generally a happy smiley guy its a pretty good representation of him anyway.

    I didn't just draw him over and over. I noticed, and then WROTE DOWN, specific things about his features. "Wide, square chin. Pronounced smile lines. Eyes--center corner slightly higher than outer corner. Mouth closer to noes than chin." Simple things like that.

    Then, I took the sketches into the other room to show him. Then, with him watching, I made another sketch. While sketching, I told him in WORDS, what I had noticed about his features. "Your face is an elongated hexagon, like this. Your nose is round and points down, like this." I did this without looking at him or my previous sketches. And we were both surprised at how recognizable the resulting sketch was. But that was all in a row--what about later? Just now I tried doing another sketch, and though its not quite as good a resemblance, it's still clear who I was drawing. Again, excuse my rough sketching, I wasn't making this to look pretty.


    I have a theory about why this worked for me as well as it did. It has to do with the ideas in the book Drawing on the Right Side of the brain by Betty Edwards, which I hope at least some of you are familiar with. Apparently more current research is questioning whether these specific types of thinking actually physically happen on a certain side of the brain, but I believe thinking about the different types of thinking you do helps you to understand how to draw better. So, here goes: my theory.

    Drawing from observation is primarily a right brained activity. You see something, you understand the shape and angle and form, and you translate that into lines on a page. Its a very literal, present way of thinking and seeing. If you just drew a person in this way over and over and over, I think you would eventually get good at drawing them from imagination, but it would take awhile.

    But what happens when you get the Left brain involved, by using symbols and WORDS? Now its not just the right brain working, both sides are. You're understanding and labeling what you're observing, and therefore making it easier to reproduce later. Drawing from imagination I think has to work this way--you can't go pure right-brained because you aren't observing, you have to have some specific verbal knowledge you've put there to draw on.

    Thats why I think it helped me to talk my husband through how I was sketching him, though usually when I draw from observation I have a hard time if I try to talk. I was drawing from the LEFT side of the brain, going through my list--hexagon face, square chin, round nose, wide smile etc.

    Anyway, it's just a theory. And my rough sketches are far from perfect. But I thought I'd throw it out there to see what you all think--am I crazy? Does this make sense?

  • Hey! That's a really great idea. I think that's something my brain tries to automatically do in my head, but writing the characteristics down so that you're always aware of's so simple yet so smart. Thanks for the tip!

  • @Sarah-LuAnn Wow, that's a very interesting experiment and observation! I never thought about having to bring in the left side of the brain thinking before too in order to keep a character looking consistent. It does make sense to me though. I'll have to give this exercise a go as well! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Pro SVS OG

    Thank you for sharing! I will try it- by the way everyone, I have met him, and it does look like him:) Nice job!

  • This is wonderful insight! I had an a-ha moment reading it...I see Jake Parker draw things from seemingly only his "creative bank account" (also an awesome concept) and figure I just got the draw-from-observation and not the draw-from-imagination gene. But it probably involves this type of thinking that you illustrated so well here. Thank you for helping me and others get a little better at consistency! It helped.

  • SVS OG

    I'm glad it was helpful to you guys 😊 I'm still working on this skill but I feel like I'm a lot closer with this exercise/realization.

  • SVS OG

    @Sarah-LuAnn I like this idea! Glad it has helped you, and it sure makes sense to do that, even though it's not something you might immediately think of.

    I haven't written down things about life drawing characters (yet) but I wanted to share that increasingly I've been making written notes about my art, and like you I've found it to be really somehow it goes in my brain a different way, or it helps me to crystallise my thoughts about exactly what I want to do next time... eg I've made lists like 'Things I want to include in my next piece' or 'my current process is like this:...' and 'Things I'd like my style to include'...and the bits on each list might be anything about the way I've been making art - brushes, materials, layer styles, composition etc... or things I've seen other illustrators incorporate in some way, which I'd like to learn how to do. Just a way to keep my thoughts in check and not dissipated over time. It's also been interesting to look back at older notes, to see what I've crossed off the list and what still needs to be worked in. So anyway, I'll have to try your method too 🙂

  • SVS OG

    That sounds like a good idea too... the more I do it, the more I think that actually verbalizing things to yourself and physically writing them down is helpful, from everything to drawing characters to long term goals. I think I sub-consciously have known this for a while, which is why I'm an obsessive post-it note user.

  • great article. thanks for sharing

  • very interesting, I'll try it too 🙂

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