A tricky foe to tackle

A lot of creative thinking is needed to create your character from scratch. Many of the classic characters from cartoons, advertising, and movies look straightforward, but a vast amount of effort and skill went toward shaping them to be so effective in form.

Without getting into too much detail, there are some important aspects to take into consideration.

The fundamentals

Firstly, Solomon Asch wrote a paper on how shape language and the physical aspects of a character affect the emotional aspect of them:

Body shape has a tremendous impact on the overall impression of the character. If you ever looked at a cartoon character and though they seemed confident but didn’t know why, you probably were not aware of the character’s shape language!
Illustration from Stefano Camelli, showing characters built on shapes

Artists often use a silhouette to test whether the character’s basic design “reads” to the audience. That is, is it memorable enough? From the silhouette, we can see a distinctive and recognizable design without details and understand what the figure is saying with its overall form. As a quick exercise, can you identify all of them?

Iconic silhouettes from various animated characters

Besides shape and silhouette, your colour palette will also play a fundamental role in communicating personality to your character. Faber Birren, a famous colour theorist, wrote in his book Color Theory about the link between colour and decision-making in humans.

Just like the words “love” and “like” elicit different emotions, colours like red and black makes people feel certain things.
Example of protagonists

Digital artists are blessed with thousands of colours with just a click. That is simply not possible in other mediums because it is either difficult, expensive, or both. Digital tools features like undoing a brushstroke, layering the drawing into distinct pieces, and the almighty adjustment layers (that can solve every colouring problem) also help immensely! They also don't exist in physical mediums. Maybe some day?

Using harmonious colour schemes help us show a pleasing colour combination. Colour schemes can also help us describe a certain mood to the viewer. Can you feel different moods in these similar comic panels?

Different colours panels

An example of these concepts combined is the character “Anger” in Inside-Out is a rectangular type figure, which complements the short-tempered personality type of that character.

It can be helpful to try and deconstruct why certain character designs work and why some don't.

My process, with fundamentals in mind

When starting something new, I like to browse the internet to get some inspiration! Pinterest is a good place to find it. A random image with an uncommon colour scheme can inspire something. But, while inspiration needs to come from somewhere, the aim is to create something original.

After a while, it's time to get sketching. It's important to remember the concepts mentioned before but also to keep it simple and fun! Posture, lines, curves, exaggerating some aspects are short of some of the ways to get some interesting results.

Above all, even the fundamentals, the thing is to enjoy the journey and not be afraid to ruin that empty canvas (extra points here for digital art).