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cartoon characters to drawOne of the most difficult things a beginning cartoonist has to overcome is coming up with cartoon characters to draw. While you may get started by copying well known comics or cartoon characters, eventually you’ll want to branch out and come up with your own. There are several ways you can come up with ideas for cartoon characters to draw, any of which can get you started on populating your cartoon world.

8 Ways to Come Up with Cartoon Characters to Draw

Finding ways to come up with cartoon characters to draw is often the biggest stumbling block a new cartoonist will meet. Thankfully, there are several methods you can use to do so, any of which will get you drawing in no time.

Pick a Style

You may not realize it, but just coming up with a basic style of drawing will give you a wealth of different cartoon characters to draw. For example, if you want to draw Anime figures, you’ll start with a generic character and give him or her exaggerated eyes, mouth, and head size. Then it becomes a matter of filling in the details. You can also take a course to learn to draw a specific type of character, such as this course on learning to draw cute characters. Once you have a style, you can begin to get the details that help create your first character.

Create a Story Line

If you’ve come up with one cartoon character it’s very easy to use it as a jumping off point for others. You may want to create a whole world for your character to live in, but unless you have a story – even if you are only creating one scene – it’s difficult to know who else populates it. Start coming up with details for your main character: where do they live, what kind of personality do they have, what kind of work do they do? Once you have some back-story, it’s much easier to say; well, this person would be in this setting. Once they’re in a setting, it’s easy to take the next step and say; these other people would also be here. Then give them a story. This time, though, the story will be what gives them their characteristics. Even if you have an overarching story, such as wanting to come up with a superhero of some kind, each character has to have his or her own story – even if it’s one you never tell. It’s these stories that give a character personality and detail. Then it’s just a matter of drawing in those details to create your character.

Create a Morph Grid

If you’re truly stuck on ideas to get started, and you need to practice your drawing skills, try making a morph grid. Take a sheet of paper and divide it up into 2 or 3-inch squares that form a grid. In the upper left hand square draw a character that is well known to you, like a cartoon from TV or a character in a comic book. In the square next to it, make a single change to the character. For example, if you were drawing a cartoon cat, you might make the ears much larger in the second box, or remove them all together. In each subsequent box, draw what you did in the box previous but with one change. Eventually, the character will morph from one that is recognizable as a licensed character to one that is completely different. Doing this enough times will allow you to create completely unique characters without having to think about what characteristics they have, or what their stories are. These are things that can come later, once you get a clear idea in your head of what the character will look like.

Insert a Character into an Established Story

Another way to come up with cartoon characters to draw is to take a storyline you already know and love, and think about how a new character would interact with them. This could be a cartoon show, or a comic book, and it doesn’t have to be a character that would ordinarily fit in there. Just come up with a character that could be a part of that timeline. Then, come up with a back-story for that character. Where did they come from, where do they live, why are they in this particular world right now? Once you have the back-story, you can start to create new characters that arrange themselves around the first one.

Draw Your Daydreams

Many good cartoonists will say that they didn’t create their characters – they dreamed them up. If you’ve ever daydreamed about a scenario where you were the hero, but are wildly different than you are right now, then consider making this your character. The character doesn’t have to look like you; it can be an idealized version of you. The best part about this exercise is that it lets you take the whole scenario and create a scene for the character to star in. If you get stuck, just let your mind wander back to your original daydream and see where the character goes, what he or she does and how he or she acts. Then draw those details or write them down for later use.

Associated Brainstorming

Associated word games are a fun way to lead yourself down a path you might not have ordinarily gone down. Start with a word that describes what it is you want to draw, like “cute” or “hero”. Then see where you mind goes when you think that word. For example, if you write down the word cute, you mind might reply with “bunny”. From there you might write down words like, “hop”, “jump”, “fly”, and “wings”. Eventually you may come up with a word that makes you think of something you might want to draw, such as a flying bunny that uses his over-sized ears for wings.

Look at Pictures

If you have the basic idea for a cartoon character to draw, but you’re having trouble drawing realistic details such as clothing, or scenes to put them in, take a look at pictures. Try to find a photo of a person wearing the style of clothing you envision for your character. Use the picture as a starting point, study it and the details, then try drawing it over and over, tweaking it until it fits your character. The same can be done for faces; consider drawing a realistic face in a morph grid, then subtly shifting and changing features until you achieve the look and style of your character.

Do the Scribble Test

An exercise many artists and cartoonists do to help get the creativity flowing is do a scribble test. Draw three lines on a piece of paper. Now try to arrange them into a face. If you do this often enough, you create a face you want to see again, giving you the starting point for your character.

Keep Drawing

The most important thing to do, no matter what character you try to create, is to keep drawing. Try taking some classes, like a course in anatomy, a course on drawing caricatures, or one on animating your cartoons to help keep your skills sharp. In no time at all you’ll find yourself creating characters out of your head that seem like people you know in real life.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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