On Drawing Characters

Growing up, I often had a beautiful image of something in my head; maybe the layout of a dream home, or the most romantic garden. But when I’d sit down to draw it, the work wouldn’t compare at all. Sad anger would fill my stomach; totally awful.

I’ve since learned not to start with a mental image of the final product; the result rarely lives up to it. I’ve had more luck with a vague plan and a willingness to be surprised. There’s no pressure to create something great that way. Only to notice it when it does appear. And there’s a lot less ego tied up in that.

I’ve been practicing this by drawing characters. Since characters represent something that lives—something with its own personality—it is easier to let them create themselves on the page, and to detach my ego from how they turn out. 

Drawing a character, I’m not trying to put my personality on the page. Of course, some of that happens anyway, since it’s my hand making the drawing. But the point is that me or my ideas are not the focus. The focus is to watch this little being. To let it move, to wonder what it’s looking at, to have fun with it.

Last year, a client asked me to draw two coatis. I’d never drawn coatis, but I have since been sketching them, with no particular agenda, and their personalities have come out. They started showing up in numbers, looking funny and ridiculous, their expressions making me laugh.

Maybe they will write themselves a kid’s book some time.

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Hes van Doornen

Illustrator, Designer From Amsterdam, living in New York City. hello@hesvandoornen.com

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