Creating appealing characters – Simplify and exaggerate!

 Cognitive illustrator Aggie shows how reference images can only get us part of the way in designing appealing and emotive characters

Cognitive illustrator Aggie shows how reference images can only get us part of the way in designing appealing and emotive characters

A little bit of caricature is needed to stylise and give more appeal to the visual result.
— Aggie Mardiyah

Conveying complex ideas and feelings through pictures can be more effective than relying on mere words. That’s why people come to us - we bring stories to life in a way that’s more fun and engaging!

 Cognitive illustrator Aggie Mardiyah

Cognitive illustrator Aggie Mardiyah

A lot of the time, we use characters to help aid with our storytelling which is why, as an Illustrator, I often study figures in real life and from video/photo references to improve my anatomy and sense of motion. However, through repeated practice and experience, I’ve learned that what we see in real life doesn’t always translate well into clear shots and when drawn, can feel quite lifeless. This is where a little bit of caricature is needed to stylise and give more appeal to the visual result. This is also why animated characters are often simplified and exaggerated - because they help tell a better story.

Exploring movements and poses that don’t necessarily obey the rules of real-life physics, is probably one of the best, fun and challenging things about being an illustrator. A good way to do this is by gesture drawing, which is a method of capturing the feeling of a figure’s movement. You can do this by drawing the pose as you see it in reference, then figuring out which parts of the body you can bend and push to make the pose work better. Or, like me, you can start by cutting out all the fluff and use just a few pencil strokes to capture the line of action, and then build on it. However you choose to do it, a gesture drawing should be able to fully express the action and convey the intended emotion in the clearest way possible – it’s not always just about how accurate your drawing looks (although it is important to keep things in proportions), but rather how it feels!

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“A gesture drawing should be able to fully express the action and convey the intended emotion in the clearest way possible.”
— Aggie Mardiyah

As well as body language, knowing how to communicate what a character is feeling through their facial expression is equally as important. The same rules of exaggeration can be applied here to intensify emotions. It should, however, be done with more care as modifying a human-like face too much can lead to an unsettling outcome - unless that was the intention!

There would be times when I need to draw a character pulling some type of expression, but not really knowing how to draw it. This is where using multiple photo references or even a mirror can help massively! You shouldn’t be looking to copy exactly what you see, instead you should study the angles, how the face squash and stretch, which bits to accentuate, and then adjust and apply it to your character.

Remember, drawing from imagination should be about using knowledge and experience
— Aggie Mardiyah
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Remember, drawing from imagination should be about using knowledge and experience – if you’re still unfamiliar or unsure of something, there is no need to feel bad about using references. It doesn’t make you less of an artist!

There is no need to feel bad about using references. It doesn’t make you less of an artist!
— Aggie Mardiyah
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