Re-Drawability of character design

If you’re an illustrator, comic creator, animator or any variety of artist out there. Chances are that you are spending hours on end drawing the same characters over and over again. Whether you are trying to keep your character consistent from one frame to the next fame of your animation, or you’re telling stories that require a character to express their emotions in a wide variety of poses. Re-drawing a character will become the bread and butter of most storytelling artistic pursuits, this is why it is important to have a couple of things in mind when designing a character.

Keep It Simple

Art is infinite. You can do all sorts of things in all sorts of ways. It’s one of the fewest fields of work that allows you to solve problems in a myriad of manners. With so much room for experimentation you might run into the old problem of adding too many details to your character. Think for example about an animator that has to draw a character with chains all over their body.

Screen shot 2020-02-25 at 9.36.40 AMIt might seem like a good, interesting idea at first, but give it a couple of frames and you’ll be regretting having to draw so many chains every time you have to draw them. Same goes for comic strips and comicbooks.

Screen shot 2020-02-25 at 9.42.56 AM

When designing it is best to create balance in your design. Yes add detail, but opt for details that are important to the character and their story. Sure you could render each individual chain in a chain-mail armor, or you could forget the chain-mail altogether and stick them in knights armor and get the same character. It’s all about choosing the right bit of detail at the right time.

A wonderful example of choosing the right amount of detail is this image by cartoonist and documentarian, Dave Kellet.

Screen shot 2020-02-25 at 9.45.48 AMIn it we can see how he chooses simple details that enhance the scene greatly without becoming too overpowering.First we will take a look at the background, in it we can see how big colored shapes are making up the bulk of the scene. We have a green hill in the back with very little details, and in the mid-ground we have a lighter green grass with what seems like just the right amount of details, and of course a wonderfully rendered rock pile. It is very easy to appreciate the minute detail of the rock through the hatch lines with which Dave is able to give the illusion of a rocky surface. Same goes for the ground, with just a couple of zigzag lines here and there he is able to give the illusion of grass.

It is important when creating not just characters but any type of art, that you are essentially an illusionist. No matter how hard you try your images will never be real, it won’t be 3D traditionally. However with the right amount of details and knowledge of lights and shadows you can create the illusion of 3dmensionality.

Finding the minimum amount of details required to convey a certain texture, concept or idea will help you create much better characters and worlds in the long run.

We can this in practice;  see how Sheldon’s glasses are big round spheres and the duck’s body is a huge triangle. This attention to shapes helps Kellet draw the characters consistently across his various comic strips.

Work big and then find tune the details.

It’s all about what’s necessary and what’s practical.

When in doubt; Go BIG, BOLD & ICONIC.

Aim for this:

Screen shot 2020-02-25 at 9.55.58 AM

Over this:

Screen shot 2020-02-25 at 9.58.28 AM

Drawing such amounts of details will take you a really long time, and whilst your project could benefit from it, it usually does nothing more than waste your time. Perhaps i n the time you are making this hugely complicated comic, you could crank out 3 times the work if the comic was much simpler. Consider that and let me know what you think down in the comments section.


  1. Also consider: there are many ways to make drawing complex things easier. Your second example of a dude covered in chains is pretty clearly using some kind of custom brush defined in an art program, which makes it as easy as “choose chain brush, draw a line, maybe undo and repeat a couple of times to get it just right”. Tattoos and logos are easy to do this with too. Keep a file for each character with all their brushes/patterns/palettes, name them all with the character name. There are ways to do surprisingly complex things in real media, too, if that’s your preference.

    It’s still very worth thinking hard about every detail you add to a character you plan to be drawing hundreds of times. But “how can I make this detail easy to draw quickly” should be part of that thinking.


    1. I agree with you! Thanks for the comment. I actually use a brush for my cloud backgrounds that I just love. I plan to do a tutorial on brushes soon for my youtube channel that you might enjoy.


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