Today… we’re not going to be talking about the coronavirus. I know, I’m breaking the mold. It seems like the virus is kind of the thing to talk about these days. I know it’s a very real and relevant problem, and I don’t take it lightly, but honestly… everyone else is already talking about it, and I don’t feel the need to add my voice.
Okay, now that I’ve made it clear what I’m not talking about, let’s talk about what I am going to talk about. And that is character art! This is for my fellow artsy writers… or writsy artists. (Is that a thing?… *shrugs* It is now.)
I love making character art, for other writers as well as myself. I’ve actually been doing a bit of character art lately. Some have turned out well, and some… not so well. And it’s got me thinking, What makes the ones that turn out good, good? and of course, Can I break this down into tips and write a blog post about it? (‘Cause when you’re a blogger that’s how the thought process works.)
So without further ado, here are my tips for making good character art, and infusing your drawings with life and personality.
1. Draw Real People
This is kind of a given. If you want to be able to draw fictional people, you have to be able to draw real people first. So find some reference photos, or get family members to sit for you and make some art! Drawing faces from photos and life will get the anatomy implanted in your mind, and make it easier for you to draw accurately from your imagination. I can assure you, your art will benefit from this no matter what style you prefer.
Alright, now let’s get to the actually character drawings (aka, The Good Stuff).
2. Use Multiple Layers of Emotion
Alright, pull out your pencils and paper, ’cause it’s time to have some fun.
The first thing we’re going to decide is what your character’s outer emotion will be. I say emotion, but it could honestly be just your character sitting/standing there like, “Oh, hey!” Or maybe you’re drawing your character doing something and you just want them to look determined, or focused. That’s fine. But it’s also okay to go with something more bold and emotional like joy, snarkiness, anger, sorrow, etc. You know your character, and if you’ve drawn them before (or even pictured them in your head) it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with an outer emotion for them.
Now we’re going to go deeper and find out what their inner emotions are. This is where it gets really fun.
I’m going to go on a bit of a tangent here, but don’t worry, it will make sense in a moment. Did you know that most of the time anger is actually a secondary emotion? I recently heard this in a talk about reading body language, and I’d never though about it before, but it made so much sense. Here’s what Prof. Google says about it:
“Anger is often called a secondary emotion because we tend to resort to anger in order to protect ourselves from or cover up other vulnerable feelings. We almost always feel something else first before we get angry.”
This is what I’m talking about. Anger is the outer emotion here.
It’s pretty easy to draw an angry character. But if you want to bring out something deeper and more real you’re going to have to hint at the root emotion. Often with anger, that inner emotion will fear, sorrow, shame, or guilt.
(See what I mean? Multiple layers, people.)
Anger isn’t the only emotion this works for. Joy springs out of sadness, snarkiness is used to cover up a loneliness and hurt, sorrow and hope walk hand in hand, and the list goes on. There are exceptions to this, but often times your character’s outlook on life—whether it’s optimistic, depressed, hopeful, hostile, etc.—will often be the underlying “emotion” when they’re just sitting there looking purty, or going about in their daily activities.
Of course, adding whispers of these multiple layers is much easier said than done. How can we apply this practically?
The answer is: very subtly.
3. Subtlety is Key
Art is another form of storytelling. You wouldn’t smack your readers upside the head with a statement like this, “Jamie was quirky and funny, but really hurting inside,” (it kind of pains me just to write that) and you don’t want to do this to your viewers either.
So how to we convey something that’s barely there in a way that’s perceivable? How do we subtly hint at the underlying emotions? There are many different ways, but I’m going to give you a couple methods to start with.
The eyes tell the truth.
I think I can safely say that we’ve all seen someone smile when they’re not actually happy. And most of us have seen joy shine through an unsmiling face. And we knew what that person was truly feeling because we could see it in their eyes. It’s wild how much the eyes, even by themselves, can speak.
Play around with eye shape, eyelid shape, wrinkles round the eyes, and especially eyebrows. The slightest raise or frown of an eyebrow can allude to so many different emotions.
Posture alone can tell a lot about who your character is. Even if you’re just going for a head and shoulders piece of art. A slightly downward tilted head can show humility or that your character is hiding something, while an upward tilted head can convey arrogance or openness and confidence. A slightly turned away head with a side glance can hint at a guarded or apprehensive character. This is so much fun, and so satisfying to put into practice.
But don’t take my word for it. Play around with your own expressions and poses. When in doubt, take a look at the man (or woman) in the mirror. Honestly, a lot of my time as an artist is spent making faces at a mirror. *very professional nod*
Find out what works for you and what doesn’t. But most importantly, don’t overdo the secondary emotions. Keep them subtle.
4. Embrace Diversity and Imperfections
When I was younger, all of my character art looked pretty much the same. I only drew girls, and all of them were very white, very American looking, and very… symmetrical.
It took me a while to acknowledge the fact that not everyone is a white American girl with a symmetrical face, and even longer to embrace that fact. (‘Cause drawing guys was just so. hard.) But once I did, there was no turning back. I love people, even the fictional ones (sometimes), and I’ve realized it’s their imperfections and diversity that causes me to love them.
So embrace it. Create imperfect, diverse, and complex characters.
Well, folks, that’s it. I hope you learned something from this and that you’re inspired to make something amazing.
I hope everyone’s doing well, staying healthy and joyful, and that the-thing-I’m-not-talking-about hasn’t put a damper on your ability to create.
Until next time, remain lionhearted. 🙂