Last week in Character design workflow: Part 1; I talked about the conceptual stages of character design, this week we’ll be putting pencil to paper.


Stage 3: Guides, boxes, circles, cylinders and blobs.

As I explained last week I don’t scan my drawings into the computer for tracing like many illustrators do. This is because I trust my own accuracy with the computer more than I do with a pencil; it’s completely personal preference. However my technique does make the age old illustration method of simplifying forms into simple circles, blobs and boxes all the more important. There’s no substitute for practice here, once you’ve drawn up several characters you’ll begin to learn where best to put the circles and boxes to ease character posing and even animation. There are so many tutorials on the internet, I won’t even bother trying to come up with some sort of comprehensive guide to illustrating characters, however I can give the following tips: Start with the eyes, face and then head. Keep joints rounded, I use circular guides to make sure the edge of each joint can be at least almost circular, this will ease the animation and posing stages later on. Always draw in a pose, reflecting some sort of personalty, this will stop you from getting bored with your characters and also help you develop their traits and depth. Having said that, don’t make the pose so extreme it distorts parts of the character. This stage is as much about you translating your ideas from your minds eye into comprehensive shapes, think of it as ‘getting to know your characters’, undertand their form, it doesn’t yet matter how neat and tidy they are, that comes later.

Stage 4: The computer.


I use Adobe Illustrator CS6, though any version of Illustrator will cover the basics. Now, it’s a bit like starting all over again but this is a good thing. The more character revisions you have the more meaning and personality you’ll be able to build into the characters form.

Starting again from the ground up I re-draw the blobs, circles and boxes that create the shape of my character, of course this time they’re much more perfect and symmetrical which will ease animation stages later on. The grid can be turned on and off with ‘Command+’ ‘ this  along with guides which can be created with ‘Command 5 ‘ and turned on and off with ‘Command ; ‘ help create an even and balanced character.


I use the pathfinder window quite extensively when creating these primary shapes, this can be found in ‘Window > Pathfinder’. The window is pretty self explanatory. Getting to grips with the pen tool and bezier curves is an absolute must when it comes to any kind of digital digital graphics, here’s a great tutorial for that. The pencil tool is great for editing existing lines and shapes, select a shape, press N then you can freely draw over or along and existing path, great for adding character to your lines.



Lines are important but black lines around everything almost always make work look super-childish. Try using deeper shades of whatever colour they’re on top of. Also line width profile is important, default lines genrally look out of place, width profiles can be changed while a stroke is selected at the top middle of the of the toolbar, or in the stroke panel when ‘show options’ has been selected. The stroke width tool is also useful, this can be activated with ‘Shift W’, when selected move over a stroke and drag out a new size for that section.

Part 3 next tuesday…