I've already drawn a person or a portrait in Manga class...why do we keep revisiting this subject?
When we practice drawing a person either by creating a portrait, or drawing the full figure, we’re developing skills in character design. So what exactly is character design, and why is it important in animation or graphic novels?
Character design is the visual development of a character’s appearance. While it sounds straightforward, it’s more than just creating an awesome looking character. Artists use character design to further tell a story.
Consider your favorite cartoon, animation, or graphic novel. Who is your favorite character? You can also probably describe what features about this character make them so appealing to you. This is character design!
While the writing and dialogue in a graphic novel or animation are important for explaining a character; how that character looks, dresses, moves, and emotes, describes who a character is as a person. Character design will help you create a character that is not only appealing to those who view your work, but also tells a story about who this character is. You may even design someone’s favorite character one day!
Let’s cover a few skills we learn by drawing a character’s portrait or a full figure in class, as well as ways this can be applied to character design.
We use proportions to make sure each facial feature, or body part, is drawn accurately. More importantly, proportions allow you to consistently draw a character multiple times "on character".
In graphic novels or animation, characters appear quite a bit throughout the story. You also see them from different angles (up close, far away, etc.). Imagine if a character looked slightly different (off character) each time you saw them. Wouldn’t that be confusing? Using proportions helps prevent this, and makes a character that can be drawn on character time and time again. By practicing drawing the body and face, we’re learning how to accurately and effectively use proportions to design consistent characters.
When you look at a character you see many things. How old they are, what type of costume they’re wearing, how they style their hair. Did you know that these are also methods of visual storytelling?
A character who is just starting out on their first adventure looks different from a world-weary traveler. Likewise, a character from modern day looks very different from one 200 years ago.
How we design a character’s costume, or depict their age, are all tools we can use to tell a story about a character without writing or speaking a single word. Practicing adding costumes, assigning different ages, or using various hairstyles in our projects helps us learn how to create a wide range of different characters.
Emotions and Expressions
Emotions and expressions are essential for showing how a character feels at any given moment. This can add more interest and depth to your characters, instead of showing the same emotions all the time.
It’s exciting to know how a character feels about something; that’s what makes them so relatable! Practicing drawing expressions and poses are two ways we can learn to convey emotion in our characters, making them seem more real.
Exploring Different Style and Designs
While it’s common for many visual artists to create characters in a similar style, it’s not so good when all their characters look identical to one another. In Additionally important to building consistency in rendering a single character is creating diversity in multiple characters. What attributes dinstinguish one from another?
Experimenting with different proportions, eye designs, or other stylistic elements allows an artist to make a wide range of varying characters each with new unique appearances. Each time we create a portrait or figure in class, we have an opportunity to create a new character!
Okay, so I've learned how to use some of these tools in Manga class...now what?
Great question! Art isn’t about learning something once and moving on from it forever. The more we practice and utilize these skills, the better we get at each technique.
Think about drawing a person. You’ve probably drawn a person when you were very young. Compare that to your character drawings from you recent Manga class. Are they the same? Probably not! This is because you’ve practiced drawing a lot since then.
You’ve also had many life experiences that have allowed you to observe people and put that into your work. Manga is the same way. The more you practice, the better your work will become!
We asked our Manga instructor, Gavin Cheng, about the importance of revisiting a concept over time. He said, "I actually have one character that I regularly redraw over and over again to see how my skills have progressed over time.” Gavin even provided us with examples of some of the character drawings he’s created over the years.
© Gavin Cheng. All Rights Reserved.
Full Body Practice
© Gavin Cheng. All Rights Reserved.
Notice how Gavin continued to practice his character design skills as he transitioned from traditional art materials (2007 - 2013) to digital art (2015 and later). “What I’ve learned from redraws is that there is no age or time limit when it comes to improving your art.” He suggests, “Always leave your progress open to improvement and you never know how your craft will change over time.”
Point being, just how Mr. Gavin has grown and improved his skills over time, so can you! Keep experimenting with the concepts and techniques you learn in class, and try pushing the boundaries on the characters you create. The more you practice character design, the more elaborate types of characters you can create.