Key Steps in Illustration: Character Development

This exercise asked to create three different characters, either based on a story, a sterotype and draw the character from different angles and in different situtations.

To start this exercise, I did some general research in Character Development for authors, and also illustrators. This article on CreativeBloq gives a great overview on what to focus on, e.g. know your audience and the context where your character will appear. Also give your character a distinctive and easy to recognize design. Some other thoughts from various artists around the world can be found here.

Some tips for authors on how to create a character and then develop them throughout the story can be found here or here. Even though I’m not looking to write a book (yet), I find it very helpful to come up with characters for paintings too. It helps me consider different ideas on what a character would think or do, and what features and character traits they would have, and how I could convey them in a painting.

Illustrator Alison Relyea explains her process of developing characters in her YouTube video. She starts off with an objective drawing to understand how e.g. an animal really looks like. While she will later work a bit more abstractly and change certain details, she still wants the animals to look realistic in a way. She then also does a clay model to have a 3D model, which would then help her later when painting the final artwork. I find this approach quite interesting that she even goes further and creates clay models, while her work is actually done with different materials.

I decided to develop some characters that might be used in children’s stories at some point, so I aim for having very sweet and likable designs. For each character, I did several sketches in pencil, coloured pencils and some other materials, including brushed pen, and guoache, to explore these characters.

Each character is based on an archetype, which I envisoned through several photo references found on Google searches. E.g. a Sailor, a Business Women, a teacher, a girl, and a mermaid. I did several sketches per character, from the front and back and the side, and also in some “action” scenes, where I envisioned scenes that the character might go through in their daily life.

Lars, the sailor

Lucy, the school girl

Thomas, the teacher

Susan, the business women

The Little Mermaid


After finishing the sketches, I decided to create another scene in which Lars, the sailor, meets the Little Mermaid. Inspired by the colourful houses of Copenhagen, and the Little Mermaid that sits there in the water too, I created this piece with aquarells and guoache.

Lars meets the Little mermaid

kat-illustrates-character-development (19)
Character development: Lars meets the Little Mermaid

Key Learnings: 

  • Before I start painting, I need some time to “meet” the characters, imagine what they would think and do and how they would behave. This also involves a bit of visual research, which helps me decide on the characteristics.
  • Generally I find painting characters quite difficult if they are in a scene/movement because I’m never quite sure if I get the positions of the legs and arms right. That’s why I tend to show the characters from the front.
  • I enjoy painting “likable” characters a lot. They somehow become like friends.
  • What I need to do: Practice painting figures more in different action scences.



  • “20 top character design tips” by Jon Burgerman. Published on Sept 7, 2017. URL 
  • “Character Development: How to Write Strong Characters in Your Novel”. URL
  • “The Ultimate Guide to Character Development: 10 Steps to Creating Memorable Heroes”. URL
  • “14 Character Art Tips” by Lisa Hassell. Published on June 1, 2018. URL
  • YouTube. “Developing a Character by Children’s Book Illustrator Alison Relyea”.  URL
  • Google searches. “Sailor”. URL., “Business Women”. URL. “Male teacher. URL. “Girl kid casual wear”. URL. “Mermaid”. URL

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