Surrealism Character Design: Tips & Techniques
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. What is Surrealism Character Design?
  2. How to start with Surrealism Character Design
  3. Tips for creating surreal characters
  4. Techniques to enhance surrealism in character design
  5. How to use colors in Surrealism Character Design
  6. How to use shapes in Surrealism Character Design
  7. How to integrate surreal elements in character design

Picture this: you're sketching out your newest character, and you suddenly get the urge to add a twist of the extraordinary. You yearn for something a little different, a little unexpected. Where do you turn? The answer lies in the realm of surrealism, a creative technique that blends reality with dream-like elements. Today, we're tackling the question of how to improve character design in surrealism. So grab your pencils, sketchbooks, and your wild imagination—it's time to dive into the surreal world of character design.

What is Surrealism Character Design?

Surrealism Character Design is an artistic approach that combines aspects of reality with elements of the fantastical or dreamlike. It's like taking a stroll in a familiar park, only to find a rainbow-colored zebra munching on a candy cane tree. This technique allows you to play with the boundaries of perception, creating characters that are both relatable and astonishingly unique.

So, how can you begin to improve character design in surrealism? Here are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Push Boundaries: In surrealism, there are no hard and fast rules. A cat can have wings, a person can have a clock for a face—the possibilities are endless.
  • Blend Real and Unreal: Use elements from the real world, but give them a surreal twist. For instance, give your human character an extra pair of arms, or let a bird character walk on water.
  • Embrace the Unexpected: Surrealism is all about surprise. The more you can shock or amaze the viewer with your character design, the better.
  • Experiment with Form and Color: Surreal characters often feature unusual forms and vibrant colors. Don't be afraid to use bright, bold hues and shapes that defy expectation.

To truly master the art of surreal character design, you need to let your imagination run wild. Let's explore some tips and techniques that can help you create surreal characters that are truly one-of-a-kind.

How to start with Surrealism Character Design

Starting with surrealism character design might feel a bit like trying to catch a butterfly with a net made of dreams. It's a bit elusive and can seem overwhelming, but don't fret. Here's how you can jump into this fascinating art form.

  1. Start with a Realistic Base: Begin by sketching a character based on reality. This could be a human, an animal, or even an object. The key is to start with something familiar before you begin twisting reality.
  2. Add a Surreal Element: Now, imagine one element of your character that could be surreal. Maybe your character has eyes that are too big for its head, or its legs are made of jelly. This surreal element will serve as the cornerstone of your character's design.
  3. Push the Surrealism Further: Don't stop at just one surreal element! Once you've added your first surreal touch, consider how you can push the boundaries even further. Can your character interact with its environment in a surreal way? Does it have any surreal abilities or characteristics?
  4. Consider the Character's Story: Finally, think about the story your character exists in. How does the surrealism of your character affect its interactions, its goals, or its challenges? The character's story can help you fine-tune the surreal elements in its design.

Remember, the goal is to improve character design in surrealism, not to get it perfect on your first try. Like any art form, it takes practice, so don't be afraid to sketch, erase, and sketch again. Each time you put pencil to paper, you're one step closer to creating a surreal character that's uniquely your own.

Tips for creating surreal characters

Creating surreal characters can be as exciting as diving into a pool filled with rainbow-colored marshmallows. But how do you ensure your characters are not just surreal, but also engaging and memorable? Here are some tips to help you improve character design in surrealism:

  1. Tip 1: Embrace the Unexpected: Surrealism is all about breaking norms. So, let your imagination run wild. Give your characters unexpected traits or features. Maybe your character is a talking tree that loves to dance, or a cloud that rains candy. The key is to surprise and delight your audience with the unexpected.
  2. Tip 2: Balance Reality and Fantasy: While surreal characters should be fantastical, they shouldn't be so outlandish that they become unrelatable. Try to maintain a balance between reality and fantasy. This could mean giving your surreal character human-like emotions or motivations.
  3. Tip 3: Use Symbolism: Surrealism often utilizes symbolism. Think about what your character could symbolize. Perhaps a character with a clock for a heart symbolizes the relentless passage of time. Using symbolism can add depth to your character and intrigue your audience.
  4. Tip 4: Experiment with Scale: One fun way to create surreal characters is by playing with scale. You could design a character that's the size of a mouse but has the strength of an elephant. Or, perhaps a character that's as tall as a skyscraper but as light as a feather. Experimenting with scale can add a whimsical touch to your character design.

Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to creating surreal characters. The beauty of surrealism lies in its limitless possibilities. So, don't be afraid to stretch your creative muscles and explore new ideas. The sky—or rather, your imagination—is the limit!

Techniques to enhance surrealism in character design

So, you've got the basics of creating a surreal character, but how can you take it up a notch? Here are some techniques that can help you enhance the surrealism in your character design:

  1. Technique 1: Juxtaposition: This is a fancy term for putting things together that don't typically go together. It's like putting a fish in the sky or giving a bird gills. Juxtaposition can create a surreal effect that will make your characters stand out in a crowd, or rather, in a painting or animation.
  2. Technique 2: Distortion: Distorting elements of your character can create a surreal effect. Think elongated limbs, shrunken heads, or exaggerated facial features. But remember, distortion should not lead to confusion. The character should still be recognizable and relatable.
  3. Technique 3: Dream Logic: Surrealism is often linked to dreams, where the impossible becomes possible. Apply dream logic to your character design. Maybe your character can morph into different shapes or float in mid-air. The key is to make the impossible seem plausible within your character's world.
  4. Technique 4: Transformation: Transformation is a great technique to enhance surrealism. Your character could undergo a transformation that changes their form or nature. For example, a character that metamorphoses from a caterpillar into a butterfly every time it experiences strong emotions.

By using these techniques, you can create characters that not only embody the spirit of surrealism but also captivate your audience's imagination. So, why not give them a try in your next character design project?

How to use colors in Surrealism Character Design

Colors can be a powerful tool in surrealism character design. They can evoke emotions, create mood, and even tell a story. But how exactly should you use colors in surrealism character design? Let's take a look:

  1. Use bold, vivid colors: One of the defining features of surrealism is its use of bold, vivid colors. Use colors that pop to bring your characters to life and create a sense of otherworldliness.
  2. Experiment with unusual color combinations: Remember, surrealism is all about breaking the rules. Don't be afraid to combine colors that wouldn't usually go together. Who says a character can't have purple skin and green hair?
  3. Use color to evoke emotion: Colors can evoke powerful emotions. Use this to your advantage by choosing colors that reflect your character's personality or emotional state. Is your character feeling blue? Paint them blue!
  4. Use color symbolism: Colors have different meanings in different cultures. You can use this to add depth to your characters. For example, in many cultures, red often symbolizes passion or anger, while white can symbolize purity or innocence.

Remember, when it comes to using colors in surrealism character design, the only limit is your imagination. So, start experimenting and see what brilliant creations you can come up with!

How to use shapes in Surrealism Character Design

Shapes, like colors, have a significant role in surrealism character design. They can define the character's form, influence the viewer's perception, and add a layer of meaning to your design. So, how can you enhance your character design using shapes? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Distort traditional shapes: Surrealism thrives on distorting reality. Try distorting traditional human or animal forms to create an uncanny, surreal effect. Maybe your character has exceptionally long limbs, or perhaps their head is a perfect cube. The idea is to break away from conventional designs.
  2. Use geometric shapes: Geometric shapes can add a unique aesthetic to your character design. Circles, squares, triangles — each shape can convey a different feeling or attribute. For instance, circles often represent unity and harmony, while squares symbolize stability and balance.
  3. Blend organic and geometric shapes: One of the ways to improve character design in surrealism is by blending organic and geometric shapes. This creates a striking contrast and can help your character stand out.
  4. Play with scale and proportion: In surrealism, nothing has to be in proportion. You can play with the scale of different elements of your character to create interest and convey certain characteristics or emotions.

As always, the key to effective surrealism character design is to experiment and push the boundaries. Don't be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and try something new. Who knows, you might just create your best character yet!

How to integrate surreal elements in character design

Integrating surreal elements in character design can be a fun and rewarding process. The key lies in striking a balance between the unusual and the familiar to create something truly unique. So, how do you go about it? Here's a step-by-step guide to help you out:

  1. Identify the surreal elements: Before you start sketching, take some time to identify the surreal elements you want to incorporate into your character design. These could be anything from floating objects to upside-down landscapes, or even characters with multiple heads.
  2. Create a rough sketch: Once you've identified your surreal elements, create a rough sketch of your character. Don't worry about making it perfect at this stage; just focus on getting your ideas down on paper.
  3. Add the surreal elements: Now comes the fun part—adding the surreal elements to your character. You can do this by manipulating the character's proportions, changing their physical attributes, or incorporating surreal objects into your design.
  4. Refine your design: After adding the surreal elements, take a step back and look at your design. Does it convey the message you want it to? If not, don't be afraid to make adjustments until you're satisfied with the result.

Remember, there's no right or wrong way to integrate surreal elements into your character design. It's all about letting your imagination run wild and having fun in the process. So why not give it a try? You might be surprised by what you can come up with!

If you're intrigued by surrealism character design and want to further develop your skills, don't miss the workshop 'Drawing Compelling Expressions in Character Design' by Rory Duke Stewart. This workshop will help you create captivating and expressive characters, adding depth and emotion to your surreal creations. Dive in and let your imagination run wild!