Do you love to create characters for your illustrations and patterns? I do! So let’s talk about how you can level up your game to create charming figures and enhance your portfolio while having fun.
I’ll share my approach to character-driven patterns and illustrations and why this can help you create a better, more well-rounded portfolio.
Why should you even create more dynamic character artwork?
First, it’s because it helps you to come up with new ideas. If you ever get stuck on what to draw next you can use any of the ideas below. Also, if you pick out a single character, like a cat, you can create a different pattern for each of my eight suggestions and you’ll end up with a bunch of new artwork for your portfolio.
Related Article: The Pros & Cons of Procreate
as a Children’s Illustrator
You can also create artwork with a unique twist for heavily used topics, may it be Christmas, Halloween, florals, or food. This will help you stand out from the crowd and your chance of getting a licensing deal might increase. Or you might attract a possible client who wants to work with you on a commissioned piece for their company because your themes resonate with their company’s values.
Creating dynamic characters also creates more engagement than static ones.
If all of your characters look the same, a short moment will be enough to get the gist of your pattern. But if every motif is even slightly different, people will look at your artwork for a longer period of time. This will help you with the memorability of your designs and brand.
And last but not least, it shows your personality through your design choices. If you incorporate a lot of humor into your work, possible clients might be enticed to work with you, because you seem approachable and fun to be around.
To create more interest, I love to re-draw the same or similar characters in different poses doing all sorts of things or changing up the angle or emotion. One of these patterns takes much longer to create, but this helps me to avoid stiff and soulless artwork.
It also makes people linger on the design for longer periods of time. It’s a great technique if you design for the kids sector because children love to look for details and find all the differences and pick out their favorite characters. Changing out the expression is much faster than creating new poses. So if you are stuck on time, it’s still a lovely approach to creating a more diverse pattern.
Activities, Items, and Interactions
If you are ever stuck on changing up your character-based artwork, just pick an activity or item and imagine your characters interacting with it. They could be ice skating, riding in a hot air balloon, or doing their weekly shopping at the farmer’s market.
I also love to dress my characters up in sunglasses, suits, or other clothing items. You can create many mini-scenes this way, that are still connected by a common denominator and work well as a collection.
What could your characters do that you would laugh about? Or is there anything absurd they could do? People love to laugh. That’s why humor resonates with so many people. It also shows off your personality through your artwork and helps people to get to know you better.
While exhibiting at Surtex in 2023, many people commented on my ghost and snowmen artwork and it seemed like my humor resonated with attendees and exhibitors alike. They pointed out certain characters and what they were doing. For example — one of my snowmen removes his carrot nose and another one lifts off his head. And my ghosts all carry or hold items — without even having hands.
People also prefer to interact with comedic posts on social media. This can help you get traction and reach a wider audience as well.
Objects to Characters
Characters don’t have to be human to start with. Giving objects a soul makes for an interesting piece to look at, especially because anything can be turned into a character. Imagine objects around you come to life and think about how they’d spend their day.
This can be done with food, stationery, flowers, or shoes. I love to create a little backstory for my characters, which helps me come up with creative ways for them to interact with each other. One of them can be happy, the second one shy, and the third one can be quite the charmer. Doing this will help you to come up with fitting poses, expressions, and actions.
Focus on a Single Feeling
When in doubt, focus on a single feeling you want to convey. What is it you want the person looking at your artwork to feel? Sad, happy, adventurous? I always imagine how I’d react myself. How does my face look? What would I do with my arms and legs? Putting it all together I now know how to draw my characters in an enticing way.
Body Language and Expressions
I love to create static patterns from time to time, but changing them up with expressive poses hits the sweet spot for me. Use your character’s body language and expressions to your advantage to create dynamic patterns and illustrations that resonate with your ideal clients.
Phrases and Hand-Lettering
Some of my most-loved artwork doesn’t have the most detailed characters but uses a hand-lettered phrase to give it some context. It helps to ground your character in a certain scenario and makes it easier for your audience to feel a certain way. Plus, you can demonstrate another skill to potential clients and submit your artwork to a larger number of companies.
Interested in learning more about hand-lettering for surface designers? Shannon has a class on the subject, which I used when I started with creating hand-lettered pieces. I’m sure it will help you too!
Change It Up
You can always change up a theme by doing the opposite of what’s expected. It’s like a breeze of fresh air on themes that we see a lot — like Christmas and Halloween. Santa doesn’t always have to be human and Halloween doesn’t need to be scary all the time. This can help you to come up with some creative takes on beloved evergreen themes.
These are some of my suggestions to help you create more dynamic characters. But don’t feel like you have to incorporate everything into your own artwork. We are all different in personality and style and some of my ideas might not feel right for you — and that’s ok! Just have fun with it and see if it is something you enjoy while staying true to yourself.
Are you looking for even more inspiration to create new patterns and illustrations? Then read my blog post about 10 Ways to Find Surface Design Inspiration.
Written by Nina Schindlinger
Nina is the founder and creative director of MilkyRosa Design Agency. She specialises in branding and product design for companies that are young at heart. Her design style is bold, playful and charming, which she uses for her own line of products to make the world a fun and colourful place.