It’s important to not get overwhelmed with all the information out there on character illustration and design. In addition to finding a selection of high quality sites you want to participate in, I recommend buying one or two books at a time and working all the way through them. While you’re doing that, there are loads of videos and resources online to learn from as well. Let’s take a look at some of these sites and resources that have helped me build my skills, and can benefit you as well.
Investing in Character Design
In the recent Creative Sessions article “The Making of a Chocolate Bar Character” by Dacosta!, Alex Smith leaves a comment about the true length of study needed to make high quality characters:
So you’d say you spent at least 6hrs creating this character? Of course plus the years of experience :) . I think insight, how to’s, are fantastic. Probably one I underestimate, not sure about others, is the time investment necessary to do things. Theory is “easy” execution is everything. Thanks for the inspiring works.
This is a good point. To get really good with creating characters will take months of drawing and lots of practice. In all honesty months may be an understatement, you’re really looking at a longer investment in time and energy. Typically, people only pursue this long term and become serious about it if it is a true passion.
If you find yourself compelled to create characters over a period of time, then you may want to work on taking your work to the next level. Focus on building your skills and creating finished work in your chosen final medium, whether that’s vector, vinyl, digital painting, CG, animation, sock puppets, or any other of the many options available to character makers.
This is Rocketro, a retro rocket I created and finished up as vector in Illustrator, shown flying through stylized space.
Character Creation Resources
There are quite a few resources one should put together if you’re going to get serious about this endeavor of making ridiculous characters. Let’s take a look at multiple resources I’ve amassed for my own studies and amusement.
I’ve been at this for about six months so this is a good collection for those just getting started. I draw about an hour a day, sometimes more and sometimes less. I only occasionally finalize these drawings in vector, I’m mostly focused on improving my drawing skills at this point. But I do take time to think up character backstories and other fun projects as well. Also, while I tend to work in vector, I do appreciate quite a bit of diversity of character illustration mediums.
I’m kinda slow though with this, I’m really in no hurry to push myself to make amazing characters as quickly as possible. I’m enjoying the learning process. You might be able to pick up more speed than me and get a bit further in the same time frame. Whatever your pace, don’t get discouraged, just make sure you’re having fun.
Keep in mind, putting together your own personal selections of resources will depend on your interests, as character design spans a vast stylistic field. Many of the following resources though would appeal to many just getting started. Let’s take a look.
The Character Design blog covers a wide range of character artist interviews, tips, techniques, inspiration and more.
Characterdesigns.com is a great place to get reference photos. They have photosets one can use as reference images for character poses. They also have textures you could use to practice drawing to add that touch of realism to your work where needed.
Fresh Characters is a great website to get a variety of character inspiration from multiple artists working in various styles. They have designer toys, illustrations, CG rendering, and animation, vector character artists, and more. Their Flickr group is also a good place to participate. In general, Flickr is a great place to display your character designs, communicate with other artists, and get feedback on your work. Vector Characters is another group worth checking out as well.
Mojizu is one of my favorite sites for getting character design inspiration. It’s also a friendly and active community. There is a variety of character styles represented there and plenty of high quality vector character artists. There is a big range of experienced artists and newbies on the site and all are welcome. It’s great to see artists like Scott Jackson on there. One of the features on the site is Moji War where various characters are pitted against each other grunge match style. Also, you’ll find lots of well developed character concepts on this site and thousands of characters.
While CG Society isn’t vector, it’s is a super high quality resource for CG style art, much of which is character driven. Read Kutche Slides into Wonderland for a great story behind the art of the movie. I find this site very inspirational and if you’re thinking of starting to work more in 3D, then this is a great resource. Their portfolio gallery has some amazing art in it.
Do check the Character Design section in your favorite illustration websites, you’ll often find some great information there, such as this section in Drawn.
Following the blogs of your favorite cartoons is a great way to learn about how characters and larger projects come together. Archer is a newer adult cartoon on FX, which isn’t for everyone’s tastes, it’s ridiculous and raunchy and I find it hilarious. You can also follow the Archer development blog as well.
Another cartoon I really like is Futurama. If you can’t tell, I tend to watch late night toons when I can’t sleep. Reading the cast descriptions is a quick breakdown, and good example of character backstory development, especially everyone’s favorite Bender.
There are quite a few great character design/illustration blogs by individual artists that I really like as well. One of which is the SOS Factory Blog. If you love to draw with a Wacom in Photoshop, rather than in Illustrator in vector, then the techniques displayed on this blog are invaluable. Sergio Ordonez is a high caliber digital character illustrator, and he shares his knowledge on this blog.
Here is another single artist’s blog that has some great character designs. Ilikecharacters.com is the blog of Steve Rack and showcases his wide variety of illustration and vinyl character design work, as well as his all around character passion.
Vynyl Pulse is a website dedicated to vinyl characters, which is a great source of inspiration.
There are a wealth of books available for character designers. I’ve been working quite a bit with some simple ones. The books that will appeal to you will depend quite a bit on your style interests and your skill level. Also, if you’re on a budget don’t neglect to check your local library, you may be surprised by the character drawing books you find there.
The book that I’ve been working with for month’s now is “Cartooning the Ultimate Character Design Book by Chris Hart. This book really appeals to me because I like the retro cool style explained in this book. It is also a learn by drawing book. There is some really quick practical theory given and then he shows you how to put it into practice.
A good method I’ve found from learning is to first copy down his example as shown, then work on applying it toward something more original. I also keep track of what is from the book, inspired by the book, or really original in my sketchbook. In the example below the bottom right “Bouncer” character is heavily inspired by the top middle Jumbo Container character from the book, but obviously has a different look and unique personality.
Note: I also make notes on areas I should improve in the character, like giving the Bouncers eyes more personality, and working on his hands in a later draft.
Here are some more books that’s I’ve found helpful:
- Simplified Anatomy for the Comic Book Artist by Christopher Hart, which covers anatomy for those that just want to learn how to apply it in making characters. It’s streamlined in comparison to studying actual anatomy, but still quite a large book to work through.
- Ad Boy, by Warren Dotz and Musad Husain, which displays vintage american advertising characters by genre.
- Japanese Comickers, which covers multiple techniques and styles across many mediums within contemporary anime.
- Character Design Today, this is a high quality hardcover book that showcases new cute style Japanese characters. There is a large assortment of projects displayed and they show how these characters interact with larger branding campaigns for print, web, and more.
- Computer Arts Projects Issue 126: Character Design, this is actually a magazine and not a book, but a great resource. The double spread cover that numerous artists contributed to is just awesome. I’d love to hear about other character magazine in the comments, if anyone has some suggestions on that.
Videos are a great way to learn how to create characters. I watch character drawing videos and follow along. Of course, there are loads of character illustration videos on YouTube covering character drawing skills and digital skills as well. Vimeo has character illustration videos as well. Here is a simple monkey character drawing video I followed with my results shown below, and later playing around shown as well. I’m sure many of you can do better.
Here are a handful of videos to get started with:
- Character Illustration, awesome to see Von Glitchka showcasing his work live. His work is extremely professional, his final work is in vector, and he has a refined working process that jumps between analog and digital.
- How to Draw Graffiti Spraycan Character, which is a fun character drawing video set to a Snoop Dog track.
- character design from life: 2 Figure Composition 1/2, which I found through the awesome EFII site.
- drawing a cartoon character in photoshop with a wacom cintiq, the title here is self explanatory, but it’s interesting to see someone working with this digital tablet. I hope to have one those one day.
Inspirational Character Compilations and Tutorial Roundups
There is always another character compilation coming out on various design and illustration blogs, which is a great way to get a heavy dose of inspiration quickly. And of course roundup of the latest fresh character illustration tutorials. Here are a few to wet your appetite and keep an eye out for new ones on your favorite blogs:
- 40+ Cartoon Character Illustration Tutorials
- 25 Impressive Character Designs from Behance
- 15 Of The Best Character Illustration Tutorials Online
- 30+ Outstanding Character Illustrations in Modern Web Design
- 100 inspiring character designs
Your Favorite Resources
We’ve pulled together some great character articles, case studies, and more in this first Creative Session on Character Illustration. It’s up to you to take it further. You may find some of the resources in this article helpful, I know I have. For those that took part in this session’s Create an Antihero community project, we’ll be posting some inspiring results tomorrow and it’s great seeing the community so active. If you haven’t gotten your project in, then do so quickly.
I’d love to hear what your favorite character illustration resources are. Feel free to link to your top choices for character design books, websites, videos, cartoons, and resources as well. The whole community benefits from having a good selection of high quality material to learn from.