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Do you have a tendency to start with characters, but you aren’t really sure how you want to push the design. Or you have this idea, execute it, and end up with a completed character….and most likely it looks great, but you are just not getting a connection or feeling from the design? How do you improve your character?

Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. As a matter of fact, practically every single character designer in the world has most likely gone through that as well. And it’s not the end of the world.

I’ll give you some insight on how to plan out your characters before you start rendering for 20 hours straight. This is actually something I learned from Ross Draws, and now I’m giving you the same insight, but in the way how I understand and execute it.

What is the golden secret that will get your characters to a higher level that will actually end up connecting with people?

You only need to implement these 5 things.

  1. Character background story
  2. Using the correct shapes for character building
  3. Unrestrictive flow in the design
  4. Rule of 3rds
  5. Become your character

Character Sheet: Anime Techo anime girl. Collab with Oby1

To explain how to implement these 5 things into a design, I’m going to use one of my original characters as an example.

Now, it is important to keep in mind that by learning and improving on the basics such as shapes, anatomy, perspective, clothing design etc., still plays an important role in creating better work.

1. Background Story

I have a character series called ‘Endangered Species’ where I will take a specific animal and use that as inspiration to create the character. Before I start creating a character, I will first think of a basic background story to set an anchor and get an idea of the characteristics.

The animal chosen is a Snow Leopard. When I think of a Leopard, I think of stealth, intelligence, apex and independent. Looking at the colors of the fur, being white with black spots and golden eyes. Gives me the idea to go onto a more bad boy type of route.

jin-woo min character information card

So, here is a background for my character Jin-woo Min: Age: 35 | Ethnicity: South Korean | Occupation: Leader of The White Dragon

Dark Snow is the leader of The White Dragon. It is a famous Mafia group that generally deals with smuggling of weapons & are famous for the amount of information and dirt they have on the biggest political leaders in the Eastern part of the world. Dark Snow has a reputation of his clean escapes & combat abilities.

Dark Snow is just a front. Jin-woo is connected with the Pillar of Souls. Which means he is one of the 12 protectors chosen by the Snow Leopard Spirit to protect a certain location from human interference.

The Pillar of souls is a connection between all my characters from the endangered species series, it helps bind them to one world collectively while leading the story and character development for each of them.

You might be asking the question, “do I have to name my character when building the character story?”

No, not at all. As a matter of fact, it is better to name the character afterwards. There are 2 reasons.

  1.  You only wrote a basic background story that could change, because you are still understanding your own character through the design process.
  2. It’s easier to give your character a name when you have a completed design, because looking at your character, you will get an immediate idea of what weight the name carries. You can’t name a Mafia boss Fluffy, and 2 year old kid, Killer. They don’t match up. Unless, you have a very specific reason.

2. Shapes

Yes, we are back to the basics. Have a look at the most popular characters in pop culture, if you put Deku and Bakugou next to each other. You will notice that Deku has rounder shapes, where Bakugou is more rigid. That is because shapes help determine the personality and behaviors of a character.

As for my character, Jin-woo. You will notice that he has a lot more triangular features. And the reason is that it creates a stronger and more unapproachable personality. Remember, he is a Mafia boss.

In summary, when you create your character, think about the role shapes will display in your design.

3. Flow

When we talk about flow, we are referring to the design elements such as clothing design, accessories, color ect. When you design your character, keep in mind to have consistency. Having a character with a blue shoe and a white shoe on the other foot, a pink tshirt, with a royal robe on, in army pants, with yellow hair and face tattoos. Makes absolutely no sense at all. Is the guy homeless, a maniac, is he a rebellious royal? What is he? If it becomes confusing for yourself as the artist and your viewers.

Stay consistent, implement designs that compliments the characters personality and behaviors.

Looking back at my character Jin-woo, I kept that consistency in the flow of the design. Each element should connect with the characters personality and behaviour, and some elements telling the stories of his past, or giving hidden messages.

I went with dark semi-professional clothing as he doesn’t want to be seen, and work in the shadows, a large winter coat, and silver hair falling over his face. The coat is bold, yet creates a sense of curiosity. “What is he hiding under there?” The hair falling over his face gives him an unapproachable feeling, as if he is hiding and if you bother him, you will regret it.

In summary, be consistent in your choices of design to make sure it connects well and tells the story, personality and behaviors of the character.

4. Rule of 3rd

This is quite simple. The rule of thirds applies well with accessories, color, patterns and small details. Look at Jin-woo, you will notice that his Necklace, the pieces of metal on he’s coat and the buckles on he’s shoes are all gold. That is the rules of thirds. If I had to remove either one of them, it feels uncompleted.

5. Become your character

Actually take the time to imagine your character, imagine what your character went through In the past, imagine your character loosing or gaining something. And what would they do in conflicting situation?

By putting yourself in that characters shoes, will you be able to understand what the ideal personality and behavior traits should be, to truly create the ideal character that connects with your fans. 

In summary

To improve your skills on character designing, implement these 5 things.

  1. Character Background Story: Starting of a basic story helps you understand the direction you want to take your character to. Will he or she be the hero or villain of the story?
  2. Shapes: Understanding how shape and shape phycology works, will help build a stronger base for your design.
  3. Flow: Consistency is key
  4. Rule of 3rd: Just by including 3 of  the same design elements, or color usage throughout the design can complete it in a matter of minutes.
  5. Become your character: Imagine yourself in the shoes of your character, and you will know exactly where to lead your character development.

The fundamentals are generally universal across most mediums and styles. Whether it is traditional art like paintings for example or digital art and graphic design. But in today’s blog we will be looking at how to apply the fundamentals to character designing and illustrations.

The fundamentals I would consider would be Elements of Art (Line work, color ect.) , Technique (Application), Composition, Perspective and Iconology.

Elements of Art

Elements of art are stylistic features that are included within an art piece to help the artist communicate.

1. Line Art

Line Art plays a crucial part in character designing or illustrations to help define what it is about and gives it attention and dimensionality.

Lines can be horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, straight or curved, thick or thin.

I’m not saying you have to have clearly visible black lines, but there should be a hint of line work in your art to help divine it, for it to be readable for your audience.

Look at these examples below:

You will see that each one has their own unique twist to applying line work to their art.

Figure 1: Portrait of Faye. Art by Ross from Ross Draws
Ross offers great tutorials on his YouTube Channel and has a  Art Bootcamp where you get to learn on hand from Ross on improving your art, I highly recommend checking it out.
2021 Art Recap. Art by Ezra Art
Figure 2: Lemonhead Shark Reference, Art by RinoTuna

2. Shape

Shape Language is a concept used to communicate meaning based on shapes we are familiar with. When used in character, object, and background design, shapes can tell a story, show personality, and illicit an emotional response in the viewer without using any words.

Learn more about Shape Language and how to apply it in your own art. – Click Here –

Figure 3: Art by Ross from Ross Draws
Figure 4: BNHA Gym Outfit Designs. Art by Your Drawing Pineapple
Figure 5: Violet Evergarden Fanart by Ezra Art

3. Color

Color theory refers to the body of principles which address how we see color and what it is.

The theory is much easier to comprehend by breaking color into its three individual elements, being hue, saturation, and value.

Hue: Where the color is located on the color wheel. Red, blue, yellow, green: these are different hues.

Saturation: How vivid or rich a color is. A color which is highly saturated is vivid. A low saturation color is weak and close to gray.

Value: How light or dark a color is, on a scale of white to black. High-value colors are light and low-value colors are dark.

Okay so you have the basics of it sorted, but how do you apply it? My best advice, just try different ways in using the colors and have fun with it.

By using warm tone colors and applying purple tinted shadows, darkening the colors and just using the principals of color theory I’ve created a dangerous, bloodthirsty atmosphere that ends up making you as the viewer uncomfortable and scared.

Original Character: Ax. Artist, Ezra.

Technique

There isn’t much to say about this, but here we go. In my opinion how technique would be used in character design is combining everything you learned from the fundamentals of art together. In other words it would be the sort of style you are trying to convey. Whether it is more of a painterly aesthetic, 3d looking or styling your art in a 2d way.

Some example below. Look at the different ways of application.

Figure 7: Portrait of Faye. Art by Ross from Ross Draws
Figure 8: Original Character: Ax. Artist, Ezra.
Figure 9: Eren Yeager Peeker Sticker by Ezra Art

Composition

Composition means “putting together”. In graphic design, a successful composition is where all the separate elements come together to form a whole design.

This is everything from:

  1. Scale (Having each element of your character from anatomy, clothing, accessories ect. Be in the same scale and proportions with each part of the character.)
  2. Balance ( Refers to whether it is symmetrical or asymmetrical. Generally we have a thumb of rule to include some asymmetry in designing as it makes the character or illustration more compelling and interesting. )
  3. Rhythm (How is the flow of the design, is it chaotic, calming or balancing? )
  4. Focus point (Where is the focal point of your character, is it the eyes, maybe the clothing it’s wearing. Or if it is an illustration of a landscape, maybe there is a flower that might be the focal point. )
  5. Unity (The elements of your character or illustration come together in unity and complement each other.)

Examples below on composition:

Figure 10: Aurora. Art by Zdenek Benjamin Cehelsky. Rykyart
Figure 11: Lubbock Fanart by Ezra Art https://www.instagram.com/ezra_animeart

Perspective

Perspective in art usually refers to the representation of three-dimensional objects or spaces in two dimensional artworks. We as artists use perspective techniques to create a realistic impression of depth, ‘play with’ perspective to present dramatic or disorientating images.

With character designing we apply perspective to characters to create dynamic poses and relay a specific sort of view that tells the viewer a message.

Look at these examples below:

Figure 12: How to Draw Dynamic Poses: Step by Step Guide and Tips. By Jae Johns. https://jaejohns.com/dynamic-poses/
Figure 13: Art by Rykyart

Iconology

Iconology is a method of interpretation in cultural history and the history of the visual arts used by Aby Warburg, Erwin Panofsky and their followers that uncovers the cultural, social, and historical background of themes and subjects in the visual arts.

Okay, but this isn’t visual arts but character designing and illustration; so how does this apply to it? It’s simple, what message do you want to convey with your character. What is the personality, the intentions what is the reason for your characters existence.

Whether you want a mundane, hyper enthusiastic, murderous, friendly, depressed, smart, dumb, skilled in sports or science character… whatever the case, that is Iconology and that is what you want to convey for your character. Iconology applies for illustrations like landscapes or buildings too.

Summary

In the end if you want to improve or learn character designing or illustration, learning the fundamentals is important. Every artist, if you’ve been doing it for a year or 10 years, applies the fundamentals of art in the work they produce.

Now how can I learn these fundamentals? We live in a technological era where information is easily accessible. There are many artists out there that actual gives tutorials on these principals.  And to name a few, Ross Draws or Jazza (Older tutorial videos) on YouTube. Skillshare and Udemy are great platforms too. And one last option I would suggest is the Art Bootcamp run by Ross.

Now get out there and start creating. If you have any questions, send me a email and I’ll be more than happy to give you advice. hello@ezra-art.com

© Copyright 2021 ezra art - a manga & contemporary artist
designed by ettiene botha
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