Character Concept Art: From Initial Sketch to Final Design

Charlie Bowater, Concept Artist & Illustrator

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6 Lessons (51m)
    • 1. Preperation

    • 2. Create Your Thumbnails

    • 3. Refining

    • 4. Variation

    • 5. Adding the finishing details

    • 6. Finishing Details Part 2

27 students are watching this class

Project Description

Design and create your own character concept art

Creating Your Thumbnails

  1. Create your canvas

    You can use any canvas size you like but I would suggest something around 1900 x 1200 with a DPI of 300 as a starting point. You can increase the resolution at a later stage but starting with a smaller canvas can also prevent you detailing your work too soon.

  2. Choose your brush

    There are thousands of brushes to choose from and you can create a work of art with the simplest brush. However, at the start of the thumb-nailing stage I usually opt for one that has an interesting shape or texture to it. I find that you're more likely to create some interesting shapes and happy accidents this way. 


    Download my brushpack:

  3. Choose Your Theme

    Before getting started on thumbnails you'll need to decide what type of character you want to paint. You can go with any theme you like: you could create an entirely fresh character or you could create something designed to fit into a pre-existing world such as your favourite game or movie, etc. Whether it's a human or a creature, deciding on your theme is an important step and can help in making sure your character design process isn't aimless.

    To help get you started here are a few examples of characters I've painted. 


  4. Create Your Thumbnails

     Now that all your preparations are done it's time to get painting!


    This is the most creative part of the process and it's all about idea generation. Try and keep things loose, fun and remember there's no need to worry about the details just yet.

    Don't be too concerned if you end up with a few thumbnails you don't like, chances are you'll probably only like one or two out the many you create. I'd suggest painting as many thumbs as you can from a minimum of 10 up to a whole sheet if you can take it!

    The more thumbs you create the more you'll push yourself into painting with more variety and not repeating exact shapes. 


  5. Think about shape & negative space

    As explained in the video really try and focus on creating interesting silhouettes and shapes by purposely contrasting those you've already created. These are the core elements of design and dictate how we read the character.

    What makes a shape interesting? One of the best ways you can create better shapes is by utilizing negative space.

    You can use pretty much any element of character design to help in making the shape more interesting, whether it’s the pose, weight of the character, clothing, weapons, armour or hair you can use them to your advantage.


  1. Evaluate Your Thumbs


    Take a step back and have a look at the work you've created. By this stage you should have a variety of designs to choose from. There are probably a couple of designs that stand out to you more so than the others.

     As for deciding which thumbnails you should take to the next stage, it would usually be at this point when you would receive feedback from either fellow artists, directors or a client. So now would be a good stage to utilize the student gallery and see what other artists think of your designs.

    The final choice is down to you of course but you may end up with some helpful feedback or suggestions. 

  2. Refine Your Sketches


    The primary goal of refining is to make the design of your thumbnail easier to read, it's time to try and make sense of those sketches! This stage is not necessarily about excessive detailing but is all about defining and tweaking the shape, adding a little value or sketching over your thumbs in order to bring out the design of the character a little more.

    Don't sweat it if things are looking a little messy and just take this stage as an opportunity to understand where your design is going.

    Some key points to think about:

    -       shape / silhouette / negative space

    -       How does the pose look / is the anatomy believable?

    -       Style: realistic vs stylized proportions

    -       Bring out the design of elements such as clothing, hair, weapons. Figure out who the character is and what the purpose of their design is. 



  1. Create your design variations

    Now it's time to move forward with your chosen design and create some variants.


    Varying your character design is an excellent exercise in general. It allows you to experiment with your chosen design and gives you the opportunity to enhance elements of the character that you like and replace those that don't work as well with a better alternative. If something isn't working, now is the time to fix it.

    In a studio or freelance environment, variation and experimentation is key. Designing a character is all about the journey, throwing out ideas that don't work and pushing the ones that do.  

Finishing Details

  1. Push your values

    One of the best ways to make your character pop is to think about the values you’re using. In my own experience, my thumbnails and sketches only tend to be one or two shades of grey. When it’s time to start detailing things however I like to push my values from black through to grey and right up to bright white highlights. Pushing your values instantly helps with making the design readable and more believable. 


  2. Add lighting and texture

    Lighting and Texture

    In order to push your values think about two main things; lighting and textures.

    You can add simple values to suggest various textures within your designs, whether they’re wearing a lighter top and darker trousers, add some simple values to indicate this. After that you can push the lighting on your character.

    Lighting will dictate where you place your highlights and shadows so make sure you decide on a rough direction for the lighting. It doesn’t have to be exact but a general direction will help keep things uniform. 


  3. Add your final details

    For the bulk of detail work I tend to use a small brush, zoom in and just start working up the final details. You don’t have to go crazy about it and refine every single detail, but just enough to give all of the main elements enough form so that you can make sense of the overall design.

    Your character can be highly detailed or slightly more suggestive and either method can look great. So just have fun and focus on the areas and elements you think need the most care and attention. Personally I always like to make sure the characters face is nicely detailed as I find I’m always drawn to faces and I can relate to the character far better that way. Other than I just like to have fun and detail the rest of the elements as I see fit.

    Make your character as suggestive or refined as you like but just remember to have fun with it!


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