Illustrative Character Design


ICD / Update #7 / Dec 19th

Illustrative Character Design concluded last session, and with it, the students took with them a very useful tool and the illustrative processes they learned.

Light Board

At first, I wanted them to build there own light box, for the experience, but after trying my best to find materials to build an inexpensive and portable version, I found them to be left wanting. For one thing, the plastic box’s lid kept popping off, and the lights simply were not bright enough.
No worries. I did some searching and was excited to find this light board that is exactly what I wanted for him. It’s a great product and I’m sure they will find good uses for it in the future.

Illustrative Processes

Some courses are focused on producing several finished artworks and others are focused on learning concepts. ICD was a concept-based course. If they learned the concepts then they can use them to make as many illustrations as they want. From the final drawings the completed, it showed me that they definitely took it all in.
The techniques and processes can be seen in the final drawings:

1) Sketching
- Large shapes first
- Line Association
- details last
2) Inking
- Can make small fixes
- Good line quality
- No furry lines
- Varied line quality (thick and/or thin)
3) Coloring
- Choose appropriate media (colored pencils, markers, etc.)
- Decide appropriate Color System
- Avoid using pure black for shadows

Some courses are focused on producing several finished artworks and others are focused on learning a concept. ICD was a concept focused course. If they learned the concepts and processes, then they can use them to make as many illustrations as they want. It’s a first big milestone in moving forward to creating comic strips, books, or graphic novels.



ICD / Update #6 / Dec 9th

Over the last few weeks, we have focused on one last concept called Color Systems, and also started building an illustrator’s light box.

like the other concepts learned in ICD, a Color System is a common concept used by illustrators and animators. It is a simple concept but takes some practice using it effectively. Like the other techniques, if used well, it can have huge benefits for your illustrations.

A color system is using a specific number of shades and tones of a main color to indicate shadows and highlights, rather than just using grays and blacks for shadows, which tend to make characters look dull.

For example:

The advantage of using color systems:

  • It tends to keep the characters brighter and more visually appealing than the background
  • It is an easier and more efficient way to color illustrations and animations after the inking process.
  • When you think about it, if you’re animating or drawing a series of comics, it would be easy to mess up where the colors, shadows, and highlights are each time you draw a slide, but using a color system makes keeping track of where they are more manageable, and increases consistency throughout the slides.

Illustrators and animators use light boxes primarily during the inking process, when they have a finished sketch but need to ink over it to finalize the drawing.  Just like holding a paper over a window, light boxes make it super easy to trace over your previous work.
I know I used the “t” word (trace), but it’s your own artwork and it’s just part of the illustrative process.

We started building our own light box. There are many videos online about how to build one. Most of them are geared towards people who have their own wood shop, so I looked around to find a more accessible approach. Regardless how you build it, here is a general idea about how to build one, with options for each material.

The final project will be using the finished light box to create at least two finalized illustrations, using all of the concepts from the course. Looking forward to the finished artwork!



ICD / Update #5 / Nov 4th

Inking & Line Quality

Up to this point, the focus has been on building a sketch. But how to do you go from a sketch to a finished clean drawing? That next step after sketching that will get you closer is called Inking.


Like it sounds, inking traditionally uses black ink, but it doesn't matter what you use as long as you remember that inking = black. In the illustrative process, whether creating cartoon strips, comic books, graphic novels, or just about anything else related to that, inking is essentially tracing over a sketch, using black ink to clean up the sketch and make it presentable for coloring and then publishing. Many publications stop at inking and don't bother with coloring, since black and white looks good on it's own (which also saves money on coloring and production time).

Watch the video below. Skip to 36:14 if it doesn't start playing at that time. You can ignore what he's saying if you want. The important thing is to watch as he first makes a sketch and then inks over it. He's using a computer, but it's the same effect. From about 44:51 to the end, he just spends some time tweaking it to make it look even better. You can skim through that to the last few seconds when it's done.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Inking is not sketching with a pen. Your goal is to make nice clean lines (unless you're going for a messy style, but not in this class yet), which brings us back to a lesson that we learned in last semester's ICND (Illustrative Character & Narrative Design) called Line Quality.

Line Quality

Line Quality is the intentional use of different line textures and styles to create a specific effect (like using smooth soft lines or harsh bold lines, etc.) To ink properly, and to just draw better in general, you have to learn to control your hands enough to make nice smooth long lines or curves. No furry lines:


You can use your hands as a compass (a.k.a. protractor). Those little metal thingys with the pencil in one end and the sharp point on the other that your classmate kept poking you with in elementary school. 

It's easier to show in person, but look at the images below. Your wrists work just like that. As long as you hold your fingers still and don't draw past your wrist's natural range of motion, you can create a near perfect circle.

For straight lines, lift your arm off the table, and using your elbow as the the compass can help you make nice straight quick non-furry lines. It takes a bit to get the hang of it, but keep practicing. These two skills are incredibly helpful when it comes to inking and drawing well in general! No more furry lines! Unless you intentionally want them, then that's different. 






ICD / Update #4 / Oct 28th

Our last day of driving home Line Association, they practiced putting what they learned on the 21st into action. We are trying to get a light sketch where the majority of the parts of the subject are mostly in the right spot and the right size. Once we get to that point, we can move on to the next set of lessons and the pace of the course will pick up.

Here are the students work below, and they can check what they need to correct for this project.
Here are some tips:

2) Avoid details until you have the majority of the parts in the right place and the right size
3) Don't spend too much time in one spot, keep moving around
4) I already know you can draw well, otherwise you wouldn't be in the course. Here, I want to see you use the technique
5) Did I mention drawing lightly? Mr. Ice Cream man would want it that way




ICD / Update #3 / Oct 21st


To drive the idea of using Line Association while drawing from observation, the students practiced with reproducing an arrangements of simple shapes. To get the shapes the right size and in the right place would be challenging on its own, but using simple line associations makes it quite manageable.
In essence, the Pokemon below is nothing more than an arrangement of shapes - a bit more complicated, albeit, but shapes nonetheless.

ICD / Update #2.5

So, what's with the lines?
These lines represent a very important step in getting away from the beginner's tendency to only draw details, and getting closer to learning to sketch out the major parts of a drawing first, and then the details last.

They are called: Lines of Association
I know it sounds like some kind of spy thriller movie, but the idea is much simpler.

A line of association (LA) is an imagined line made from any two or more points on an object. The most useful LAs line up with important parts of the object. For example, look at the line that goes through the center of the eye. It lets me know, more or less, where the hand and lower left section of his body are located.

There are two types of LAs:
Free lying LAs: These lines match up to any two or more points on the object, and usually make diagonal lines.
Vertical or Horizontal LAs: These lines are intentionally vertical or horizontal. They may not always line up with a specific point on the object, but, like the line touching the edge of his lower jaw, they can make very useful hemispheres of where the whole object should be. 


ICD / Update #2 / Sep 30th

We took our first real step into the first two aspects of character design and drawing:

1) Creative Mindset
2) Drawing Focus

Creative Mindset
It's hard to bring a character to life unless you are engaged, thinking creatively, and having fun with all the little details, stories, and style that make up that character. I didn't get a chance to take a picture of their work before we ended class, but more images to come!

Drawing Focus
What happens between the object we look at and the drawing we make of it?

If you observe a trained drawer while they are drawing something, almost always, they will start the large big shapes - usually circles. But what are they focusing on? What do they have in mind? What is that mysterious something?

Our brains naturally seek out the most efficient way of doing something. Trying to draw something in a satisfying way can be tough. For beginners, the easiest and most obvious way to start is with the details and work their way out until they've drawn the whole image, like piecing together a puzzle. Almost everyone starts off drawing this way, but its almost impossible to draw this way and have the drawing be in proportion. It doesn't matter how good each part is if it's in the wrong place or the wrong size. So what went wrong?

Our brains are awesome, but we are not photographic super computers. We have a limited amount of concentration and processing ability. What separates a trained artist/athlete/chef/musician/etc. from a beginner is the trained individual knows what to focus on - where to put that concentration and processing to create the best possible outcome.


ICD / Update #1 / Sep 23rd

To start the course, we discussed the main concepts for ICD.

1) Characters come from you, not specific drawing techniques
Your style, your humor, your imagination, your experiences, all come together to make your unique characters. It's good to learn techniques and different styles, but only as much as you are able to take it and make it your own, taking what you like and ditching the rest.

2) Techniques are only suggestions
There are many "How to" drawing books that claim if you use the techniques therein, you will be able to draw like the pros. This can be misleading. A technique comes from an individual artist's experience, and books usually only explain how to do a technique, but not why the technique is better or what the artist was focusing on while doing the technique. In ICD the students will not learn just how to draw, but how to think about drawing - to become aware of their own and others style and techniques and how to use them to their own advantage.

(Itty bitty teeny tiny) HOMEWORK
In class they practiced tapping into their creativity and staying in a playful mindset, entertaining themselves with the unique character parts they drew. They need to draw at least one complete character from the parts they drew today, and apply their best effort.