Creating Modern Character Art: 10 Essential Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 10 min read


  1. Study the basics of human anatomy
  2. Practice drawing from life
  3. Develop a unique style
  4. Use reference images
  5. Experiment with different mediums
  6. Create depth with shading
  7. Pay attention to light and shadow
  8. Focus on the details
  9. Practice patience
  10. Keep learning and improving

If you've ever marveled at the vibrant, expressive characters gracing the pages of your favorite graphic novel or the screen of a popular video game, chances are you've been touched by the magic of modern character art. Creating such captivating characters isn't a matter of chance, but rather, it's a skill that takes practice, patience, and a keen eye for detail. So, if you're ready to bring your own creations to life, here are ten tips to guide your journey.

1. Study the Basics of Human Anatomy

Before you start sketching out your first character, it's important to understand the underlying structure that makes up every human figure. This is where studying the basics of human anatomy comes in. It's the first step towards creating realistic and expressive modern character art.

Know Your Bones: A person's structure starts with the skeletal system. By understanding the shapes and placement of different bones, you can create a solid foundation for your character. For instance, knowing how the collarbone curves can help you portray realistic shoulder movements.

Understand Muscle Groups: Muscles give form to the human body. Understanding how they work together can add a level of realism to your character art. For example, the way the biceps contract when lifting an object can bring a dynamic touch to your character's actions.

Study Proportions: Human bodies follow certain proportional rules. For instance, an adult's body is generally eight heads tall. By using these guidelines, you can ensure your characters look proportionate and balanced.

While there are many books and online resources to help you study human anatomy, nothing beats observing real people. Whether it's at a local park or coffee shop, take the time to sit and sketch. This practice will help you understand how bodies move and interact, bringing a touch of realism to your modern character art.

2. Practice Drawing from Life

While studying anatomy gives you the foundation, practicing drawing from life breathes life into your modern character art. The real world is full of inspiration, from the way a person's face lights up when they laugh to the subtle slump of shoulders after a hard day's work. These little details can give your characters depth and make them more relatable.

Observe and Sketch: Carry a sketchbook with you everywhere. When you see something that catches your eye—a person's unique hairstyle, an interesting pose, or even the drapery of a coat—sketch it. This practice not only sharpens your observation skills but also adds to your repertoire of visual references.

Experiment with Poses: You don't always have to rely on other people for reference. Use a mirror and pose yourself. Notice how your body moves, how your clothes fold, and how your expressions change. These observations can help you create more dynamic poses in your character art.

Take Advantage of Technology: There are numerous apps and websites that offer timed life drawing sessions. These platforms provide a wide range of models and poses, making it a handy tool for practicing your drawing skills.

Remember, the goal is not to create a perfect sketch every time, but to learn and improve. So, keep your eraser handy, and don't be afraid to make mistakes. After all, each stroke brings you one step closer to mastering the art of modern character art.

3. Develop a Unique Style

Creating modern character art is more than replicating reality; it's about adding your unique touch to it. Developing a personal style can set your work apart in a sea of artists and help you connect with people who resonate with your art. But how do you discover your style?

Explore Different Styles: Start by exploring different art styles. This could range from the bold, exaggerated forms of comic book art to the soft, dreamy style of watercolor illustrations. Try out different techniques, and see what resonates with you.

Find Your Influences: Who are the artists you admire? What is it about their work that draws you in? Understanding your influences can help you identify elements you'd like to incorporate into your own style.

Experiment and Refine: Once you've explored and understood your influences, it's time to experiment. Combine elements from different styles, play with colors, and don't be afraid to break the rules. Your style may evolve over time, and that's okay. The important thing is to keep pushing your boundaries and refining your work.

Remember, your style is a reflection of you—it's your voice in the art world. So, don't rush it. Allow it to develop naturally over time. As you continue to grow and evolve as an artist, so will your modern character art.

4. Use Reference Images

When diving into the world of modern character art, reference images can be your best friends. They provide a visual guide that can help you get proportions right, understand complex details, and bring more authenticity to your artwork.

Get the Basics Right: Using reference images allows you to accurately capture the pose, proportions, and details of your character. For instance, if you're drawing a character in a dynamic pose, a reference image can guide you on how the body bends and stretches in that particular pose.

Study Details: Reference images are also great sources for studying intricate details. For example, if you're drawing a character with a leather jacket, a close-up image of leather can help you understand its texture and how it reflects light. This way, your character's jacket will look more convincing in your artwork.

Bring Authenticity: Your character art becomes more relatable when it's grounded in reality. If you're drawing a character from a specific culture or time period, reference images can help you capture the authentic elements of that culture or era.

Remember, reference images are tools to guide you, not to constrain your creativity. They're there to help you understand the reality, so you can bend it to fit your vision in your modern character art.

5. Experiment with Different Mediums

Modern character art is not limited to one medium, and as an artist, neither should you be. Experimenting with different mediums can open up new avenues of creativity and help you discover unexpected techniques or styles that can enhance your artwork.

Digital Art: This is a popular choice for many character artists. Programs like Adobe Photoshop or Procreate offer a wide array of brushes and tools that can mimic traditional mediums, or create effects that are impossible on paper. Plus, they give you the power to easily edit your work, which can be a lifesaver when you're refining your character designs.

Traditional Art: Don't overlook the charm of traditional mediums. Pencil, charcoal, watercolor, acrylics... each one has its unique texture and feel. There's something magical about the tactile experience of creating art with your hands, and this can bring a unique flavor to your modern character art.

Mixed Media: Why limit yourself to one medium when you can use several? Mixing digital and traditional art, for example, can yield interesting results. You could draw your character traditionally, then scan it and add digital colors. Or, you could create a digital sketch and print it on watercolor paper to add traditional textures. The possibilities are endless!

Remember, there are no rules here. The goal is to try new things, make mistakes, and learn from them. You never know, your next experiment could lead to your signature style in modern character art.

6. Create Depth with Shading

Shading plays a significant role in modern character art—it gives your character a sense of depth and volume. Without it, your character may appear flat and lifeless. But don't worry, mastering shading isn't as daunting as it might sound, and it can actually be quite fun.

Understand the Light Source: Before you start shading, decide where the light is coming from in your scene. This will determine where the highlights and shadows fall on your character. Is the light coming from above? The side? Multiple directions? Make a mental note of this—it'll guide your shading.

Start with Basic Shapes: When you're new to shading, it can help to break your character down into basic shapes—spheres, cylinders, cones, and so on. Practice shading these shapes first. This will help you understand how light and shadow work on different forms, which you can then apply to your character.

Go Gradual: Shading is all about gradual transitions from light to dark. Don't rush it. Start with a light hand and slowly build up the darkness. This will give your shading a smooth, realistic look.

Use Contrast: Don't be afraid to use bold contrasts in your shading. Dark shadows next to bright highlights can add a dramatic, eye-catching effect to your modern character art.

Remember, shading is more than just making parts of your drawing darker—it's about creating the illusion of depth. With practice and patience, you can use shading to bring your characters to life and give them a sense of three-dimensionality. So grab your pencil or stylus, and let's add some depth to your art!

7. Pay Attention to Light and Shadow

Light and shadow are the dynamic duo of modern character art. They're like the salt and pepper in a recipe—without them, things can get pretty bland. But when used correctly, they can add flavor and depth to your art, making it pop off the page or screen.

Recognize the Types of Shadows: In art, we typically talk about two types of shadows—cast shadows and form shadows. Cast shadows are the dark areas that objects throw onto other surfaces. Form shadows, on the other hand, are the dark areas on the object itself that are away from the light. Both are key to creating convincing modern character art.

Use Shadows to Define Form: Shadows can help reveal the form of your character. They can show us the curve of a cheek, the bulge of a muscle, or the fold of a cloth. So don't just think of shadows as dark areas—see them as tools for revealing form.

Consider the Color of Light and Shadow: Shadows aren't just grey or black—they're often full of color. The color of the light source can influence the color of the shadows. For example, under a warm light, shadows might appear cool and vice versa. So play with color in your shadows—it can add richness and depth to your modern character art.

Remember the Ambient Light: Finally, don't forget about ambient light—the general light in the scene that's not coming from a specific direction. It can soften shadows and reveal details that would otherwise be hidden in darkness.

Light and shadow are a game of push and pull, of reveal and conceal. By understanding and using them effectively, you can create modern character art that's full of depth, drama, and life. So keep an eye on the light and shadow in your art—the results might surprise you!

8. Focus on the Details

Details are like the secret ingredients in a master chef's recipe—they can take your art from good to jaw-droppingly amazing. In modern character art, the devil truly is in the details. But what kind of details should you focus on? Let's find out.

It's All About the Features: Facial features, that is. The eyes, nose, and mouth can convey a lot about a character's personality and emotions. So spend some time perfecting these. A slight arch in the eyebrow or a subtle smirk can speak volumes about your character.

Don't Forget the Hair: Hair is a treasure trove of details. From its texture to its style, the way a character's hair is drawn can tell a story. Is it neatly combed or wildly tousled? Is it long, short, curly, or straight? Each choice adds a layer to the character's personality.

Remember the Clothes: Clothes make the character, as they say. The style, color, and condition of a character's clothes can tell us a lot about who they are. Are they wearing a worn-out t-shirt or an immaculate suit? Each tells a different story.

Include Props and Accessories: Props and accessories can also add valuable details to your character. A character who always carries a book, for example, might be a bookworm. A character with a funky pair of glasses might have a quirky personality.

Details can make your modern character art come alive. They can make your character feel real and relatable. So pay attention to the details—they can make all the difference.

9. Practice Patience

Creating modern character art is a journey, not a sprint. It takes time to master the skills, to find your unique style, and to bring your characters to life. That's why patience is your best friend in this process. But how can you learn to be more patient? Here are a few tips.

Don't Rush the Process: Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day and neither will your character. Take your time to sketch, refine, and perfect every aspect of your character. Each stroke of your brush or pencil adds depth to your creation. So, take a deep breath and let the creation process unfold at its own pace.

Learn from Mistakes: Nobody gets it right the first time. Making mistakes is a part of the process. Instead of getting frustrated, learn from them. See each mistake as a stepping stone towards improving your skills in modern character art.

Enjoy the Journey: Creating art should be enjoyable, not stressful. So, take a step back and enjoy the process of creating. Find joy in each line you draw, each color you choose, and each character you create.

Mastering modern character art requires patience—there's no way around it. But remember, good things take time. And the satisfaction you'll feel when you see your completed character? It's worth the wait.

10. Keep Learning and Improving

Just like any other field, the world of modern character art is always evolving. New techniques, styles, and tools emerge regularly. Staying on top of these changes is key to continually improving your skills and creating art that stands out.

Stay Curious: Curiosity fuels creativity. So, always keep the desire to learn more about modern character art. Whether it's a new drawing technique, a different art tool, or an interesting art style, embrace the opportunity to learn and grow.

Seek Feedback: It's easy to get stuck in your own bubble when creating art. But getting feedback from others can provide valuable insights. Show your work to others—be it family, friends, or online art communities. Listen to their thoughts and use them to refine your work.

Set Goals: Setting goals can motivate you to push beyond your comfort zone. Do you want to try a new medium? Or maybe master a specific drawing technique? Setting these goals can guide your learning process and keep you motivated.

Remember, the journey of creating modern character art doesn't end when you finish a piece. It's a continuous process of learning and improving—one that keeps the art of creation exciting and rewarding.

If you enjoyed our blog post on "Creating Modern Character Art: 10 Essential Tips" and want to further develop your art skills, we recommend checking out Eric Drummond's workshop 'Classical Painting in the Modern Day.' This workshop will teach you how to incorporate classical painting techniques into your modern character art, elevating your skills and helping you create truly unique pieces.