NOT Boring Characters: How to Create Modern Character Illustration | Anastacia Sholik | Skillshare

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NOT Boring Characters: How to Create Modern Character Illustration

teacher avatar Anastacia Sholik, Illustrator

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Examples of Unusual Characters


    • 3.

      Analyze This and That


    • 4.

      From Boring to Not Boring


    • 5.

      Symmetrical Silhouette (Pt. I): Paper Cutting


    • 6.

      Symmetrical Silhouette (Pt. II): Adding Details


    • 7.

      Collecting Character from Parts (Pt. I): Sketches


    • 8.

      Collecting Character from Parts (Pt. II): Collage


    • 9.

      Gesture pose (Pt. I): Free Your Hand


    • 10.

      Gesture pose (Pt. II): Details


    • 11.

      One Pose - Thousand Options


    • 12.



    • 13.

      Final Illustration (Pt. I): Preparing


    • 14.

      Final Illustration (Pt. II): Creating


    • 15.



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About This Class

For a few years of self-education I’ve been taken many online courses, drown a great deal of sketches and created many personal projects. And now I absolutely realize how to develop my own style and what information is lacking on the Internet. Therefore, I made this class full of tips and exercises that will help you in drawing unique characters, finding inspiration and your own style!

In this class you’ll learn:

  • What is ‘not a boring character’ and where to look for inspiration.
  • What are the simplest ways to create a non-boring character from an ordinary one.
  • How to create a character, starting with a silhouette and how to assemble it from pieces, like a constructor.
  • How to free your hand and find your own technique for drawing.
  • How to create a complete illustration with characters, where to get a theme, and how to match colors.

I also added a PDF file with basic notes, tips & tricks, and useful links to the course.

This exciting class is for you:

  • If you are passionate about characters, but do not want to draw caricatures, cartoons or ordinary people.
  • If you are attracted by editorial illustration, fashion illustrations, creation of murals, modern paintings, zines and other projects that your favorite illustrators are already creating.
  • If you are looking for your own unique and eye-catching style.
  • If you want to try something new in illustration.


It won't be boring!


You can see my works here:





Le Gang

Meet Your Teacher

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Anastacia Sholik




My name is Anastacia Sholik and I am an illustrator from Ukraine.
You can find my commercial works in editorial illustrations, children illustration and in product design.  I worked with The New York Times, Quartz, Intercom, Serviceplan, Slowdown Studio, Moppet books and other companies. I contributed to artbooks, took part in exhibitions and won some competitions.

While being a fulltime mama I found how to improve my skills in illustration by experimenting, taking online classes and making a lot of personal projects. And now I want to share my finds with all of you!

Follow me on Instagram.

My classes are:

Inspiring Practical Not boring Available even for a children See full profile

Level: All Levels

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1. Introduction: Do you want to create unique characters? Find inspiration and your own style? There are a lot of classes about cartoon characters or realistic figures online, but how to draw contemporary characters for adults? Modern illustrations? This is what I want to make my class about. Hi, my name is Anastacia Sholik. I'm an illustrator from Ukraine. You can find my commercial works in editorial illustrations for sites, and for magazines, and in textile design. Moreover, I contributed to art books took part in exhibitions and won some competitions. Worked as a child illustrator for several years, I realized that I want to draw on adult topics because it gives me more opportunities to come up with ideas, metaphors, and more unusual shapes. I have accumulated many interesting things and I want to share them with you. Drawing human characters is convenient to show and practice different techniques and methods of illustration. I tried to organize the lessons as simple and informatively as possible. There will be a lot of practice, and I hope you will find something new for yourself, whether you are a professional or a beginner. Join, it won't be boring. 2. Examples of Unusual Characters: Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining this class. You'll find a lot of useful information and interesting exercises ahead. During the first lesson, I want to share with you some illustrators whose work I admire. They have a very interesting approach to creation of characters and other shapes. Namely, shape creation will be the main topic for this class. So let's get started. Zebu is a creative duo from Berlin. They work through the maximum simplification of forms to geometric shapes. Very often, Zebu characters lack facial features and small details. Zebu characters are perfectly readable in silhouettes. Remarkably, they look static even if they are depicted in dynamics. Here we see a reference to ancient Egyptian art, a very similar flattening of figures, which twisted shoulders and legs firmly stood on the ground. The influence of Suprematism art movement is obvious. It seems that the abstractions of Suprematism were able to appear in Zebu characters. Another variant of the simplest forms is interestingly interpreted by the illustrator from the the Netherlands, Geran Knol. The combination of razor realistic faces and the more simplified glimpse, as well as the distortion of familiar forms, catch my attention. He even used the principle of distortion and to create a music video as well. With absolutely ordinary photos of objects around us, but they're all equally distorted. This makes our brains work. This Illustrator uses razor flat forms of characters and plots, but each time, he chooses a new technique. Due to this, his work do not look boring, but razor exciting. I liked one of his statements from the interview. How would you describe your personal work? "I always start from the techniques, it's a tactile and tangible stuff. The structure of paper is always visible in my collages. For me, it feels like a research of shapes. Every work is a result of the previous." Another bright example which I have recently discovered is Brazilian illustrator Fernando Molina. I am impressed by the way he was able to convince the mood of the Brazilian carnival through the abstract patterns. Moreover, his character is created from simple flat forms. It is very important to study the folklore and background of the place where you were born or live. It often inspires and brings new shades to your works. Also, Fernando deals with color perfectly. He uses the same principle to create his characters. Elongated legs and arms, greatly enlarged palms and feet, and small heads. Have a look at the ears his characters often have. This ears counterbalance the characters' enlarged limbs. By the way, we saw the same ears before at Zebu. It can be seen that he was inspired by Zebu and interprets it in his own way. An illustrator from New York, JooHee Yoon, influenced me a lot when I was looking for my style. I wanted to do editorial illustrations after seeing her work for the New York Times. While observing her characters, I discovered that you can draw limbs of different sizes, arrange the eyes, nostrils, and other details of the character as you wish. The different character in the illustration can be drawn in different styles and techniques, and at the same time look, as a part of the whole. Let's take this work as an example. Can you see how characters are made in different ways? Some of them are more realistic, others less. There are some completely geometrized once, they have different textures and arbitrary size. However, they all look as a whole due to the limited color palette. Aside from the masterful combination of techniques, JooHee Yoon is very good at handling with shapes, sizes, and positioning of characters. They have different faces, are drawn from different angles, and their body parts are distorted in different ways. The Italian illustrator, Sarah Mazzetti, works from blurred letters and silhouettes. This making sure characters look sleek and boneless. She often uses lines to depict her characters. Some characters can be fully composed of lines. Sarah also varies the size of the characters relatively to each other on her own and prefers a limited color palette. These colors resemble poster illustrations. She perfectly much characters created in different styles and techniques. In one work, you can find an angular guy based on rectangles, a character consisting entirely of lines, and a streamlined person of circles and wavy shapes, and yet, they all look solid due to one color palette. Sarah Mazzetti loves to change the physical features of her characters. She uses them as threads, sometimes as pieces of fabric, sometimes as flat paper, sometimes as realistic people. She distorts, twists, flattens, interviews, and this combination of physically different people in one work always looks very interesting and unusual. An artist from Chile, Pablo Benzo, bends to still lives and this seems unexpected to see humanization of illustrations with characters. However, while analyzing his works, it always seems to me that he refers to the depicted objects as a living being. It is easy to imagine that by drawing a face to some of them or animating them, we will see characters, people. Also, this artist managed to draw objects at the same time flat and dimensional. It is mesmerizing. I really like how he combine thin lines with large shapes. This is especially evident in his collages. Pablo often uses contrast and shapes, thickness and color, and he combines all this with pastel colors and shapes mostly flowing into each other. By the way, contrast is one of the most powerful visual technique. In PDF file that I attach to the Resources section, you can read more about contrast. There are a lot of interesting illustrators and you can become one of them if you make an effort and work thoughtfully. Try to do each new work better than the previous one and do not forget to think about different parts of the illustration, whether they are boring or not well-looking. In the attached PDF file, you will find links and tips on where to look for inspiration and how to polish your own style. 3. Analyze This and That : I want to point out what we learn by analyzing the illustrations in the previous lesson. You will understand that the ability to analyze, open up a huge scope for experimentation in your work. Be sure to try your favorite methods in practice and don't be afraid to make mistakes, they lead to success in future. So what can you do to keep your characters from looking down? Flatten and geometrize shapes, exaggerate and diminish, use contrast of colors, shapes and techniques, break the law of physics and anatomy, add asymmetry where we are used to symmetry, combine different techniques in one work due to limited color palette. In the PDF file, you will find a link to Pinterest board I have prepared for you. I have collected the most diverse and interesting characters there. Try to analyze the ones you like carefully. Think about, what technique the author used? What exactly attracts your eye? What can be improved? However, it is important not to focus only on studying on other people's characters. Pay attention to paintings, sculptures, abstraction, the world around you, and of course, inside of you. 4. From Boring to Not Boring: On the silhouette of a man with classic proportions, I want to show what are the simplest transformations that can be done to make this silhouette non-boring. You can expand or narrow the shape, those changes usual appearance. You can tilt the shape at any angle and if the character is surrounded, you can tilt all the components of the surrounding, so we will change the usual laws of physics and it will definitely not be boring to look at such work. You can get a sense of perspective by expanding or narrowing the character to either side. You can change each part of the character separately, making something longer, something shorter, something larger or smaller. Add irregularities or angularity to the figure as a whole or to its individual parts. Also you can add asymmetry and change the usual forms to unusual ones. You can separate some parts from the body so that they float in the air or make a character in general from unconnected parts and you can make a navalized symmetrical figure and break the rules of anatomy. Having played with this transformations, I decided to make a version of the complete illustration from the resultant figures. When you do this with educational drawings, the exercise becomes much more enjoyable and interesting. You can share the result on the creative page and it's this way the new experiments are encouraging. Also, I will show some examples of using such transformations in ready-made illustrations. Here I stretch the characters horizontally and flatten it vertically. These group of characters, besides being heavily geometries, were also flattened horizontally and stretched vertically. I placed each one in the same rectangles. Here I used several transformations for different parts of the illustration. I arranged that some characters, are sharper than others, make others wavy and change the proportions of the upper and lower body in the fourth group. Also, I did not draw hands for many of them, but they still look like human figures. In this illustration, we can see on the symmetrical depiction of hands, both arms are longer as in reality, but one of them is not very elongated. And the second one is very much. Here are also long wavy arms and at the same time a wavy body. I really like this illustration. Here we immediately notice the contrast between the large and small characters and also see the asymmetry and play with the size of large figure. This Illustrator almost always uses simple transformations of shapes and objects in his works. And as he combines several transformation types in one illustration, it looks strange, interesting and unusual. 5. Symmetrical Silhouette (Pt. I): Paper Cutting : Asymmetry makes character not boring, but symmetrical character can be so as well, therefore, let's deal with symmetry first before proceeding with asymmetry. In this lesson, we will cut out non-boring symmetrical character from paper. I took paper of bright colors, it's similar to printer papers, smooth, of medium density; it will be most convenient to work with such paper in this task. Each sheet must be bent in half. The size may be small than A4, but it is better to start with a standard sheet. I will be sketching half of the character on the folded sheet, you can try to cut right away without sketching, but I can't do that, I'm using a mechanical pencil and I'm not afraid to use an eraser. I draw a silhouette of a woman from rounded shapes. Now, we need to cut out half of the folded paper silhouette. When we expand it after cutting it out, we'll get a symmetrical character. I use small scissors purchased from the Scrapbooking department ones, I love them very much, they're comfortable and not dull for many years. When cutting, I use a drawn outline only as a reference point and the scissors themselves tell me where to step back from it for a better result. I like to use scissors more than an art knife, the lines are more uneven and lively, perhaps you will like the art knife better, try it to find out. This is my character. Finally, I will add some more details to the silhouettes to give them a completed look. Remember about the finalization of exercises and experiments, but for now, just cut it out, make as many different silhouettes as possible, avoid repetitions; the more you practice, the better you will get. Next, I will make an angular character although I'm more skillful with rounded ones, but I have to try new things. I do not use a ruler, I draw everything by hand, but you can try with it to straight lines, connect your own charm. Those I cutout six silhouettes. In the next video, I will add details to them to make them look like completed characters. 6. Symmetrical Silhouette (Pt. II): Adding Details: I took a white sheet at the back so as not to stain the table. We'll use such a double-sided marker pen which I got from Graphic Twin. I really like the lines it draws with the thin end. Another end looks like a brush. This marker pen has been around for many years and thus not dry out. It is also a watercolor marker, but I don't use this option. Let's get started. I like to add jagged graphic patterns to my work. I love a checkerboard pattern and polka dot one the most, but I also use others to get more variety. This's what I did. I really look forward to your options. Be sure to add your experiments according to my exercises in the student project section. 7. Collecting Character from Parts (Pt. I): Sketches: Last time, we learned to create a one-piece silhouette. Now we will try to compose it from pieces, like a constructor. For this, I will use the collage technique. First, we will draw sketches, a kind of skeleton on which we will then layout the details of the character. For sketches, I use regular printer paper and a soft graphite pencil. I also like school sketchbooks on a spiral with smooth paper inside. Later, I will glue a collage in it and for pencil sketches, printer paper is enough. I'm drawing a rectangle as a composition of a sheet and inside the skeleton of the pose. I have filled in the whole sheet with doodles and now I will mark some that I like the most. I will use one of them for my collage. 8. Collecting Character from Parts (Pt. II): Collage: I transferred one of the sketches onto a thick A4 sheet and prepared various geometric decals from black paper. Too thin paper in this case will not be convenient to work with, but thick paper is also difficult to cut, so you need something in between. Make the character one color, not necessarily black. I cut out the decals in different sizes so that there was a large selection in the process. I also keep the frames which surround the decals were cut out from, I like to use them in collages. I lay out the parts side-by-side to make it easier to find the right one. Let's start. At first, we just try to apply different decals and see how they look like on our character. f there is a spare sheet of paper and scissors in case, I'll want some additional decals. By the way, here's the frame from the cut out circle. I usually don't use an art knife, I like scissors more. I will use a glue stick for gluing, it holds weakly. It is not suitable for professional work, but for studying or for digitizing works, it is very convenient to be used. Remembering the long thin fingers from the still life of Pablo Benza, I had also liked to try to make them. I already like this part, I will glue it. I'll just did a smaller head. Traces of glue on the collage do not bother me now, so I smear the decal right in my hands, so quickly. Usually I smear it on a separate sheet of paper so that there is no glue on the font side of the collage. I will trim fingers so that they're all the same length, and I glue them too. The character's other hand, I will clench it into a fist. I want a small one for contrast and asymmetry, and I let a small nose to make it clearer where the head is turned. To balance the lower part of the character, I will let a large hand. Done. In the same way, I did a few more characters. Also for this girl among other things, I used a paper hole punch. It gives an interesting texture with holes, and circles from these holes can also be used in the collages. 9. Gesture pose (Pt. I): Free Your Hand: Let's proceed to the next exercise. We have already tried to isolate the character from the whole and create it from the details. You know how to the form and the start. Now, it's time to freeze the hand with which you draw. There is such a term as gesture drawing. This is a quick sketch of bows from live for a photo with just a few lines. That task of gesture drawing is to convey the direction and dynamics of the figure. If you are just learning to portray a person, then first of all, I advice you to master this particular direction. Personally, I did not want to study anatomy and make clown drawing of figure as an academic art. After a month of daily gesture drawing, I felt confident in my field and was able to start drawing my own characters in any desired poses. I suggest you paint loose brush strokes of any shape on paper. When drawing, do not think about what you will do with them later, but just relax and enjoy the process. You can use any paint or ink. In fact, using a large sheet of paper and a large paint brush will make the exercise even more useful. I will draw on A4 sheets. I'll take two colors of acrylic paint and the flat bristle brush. I like the texture it gives to the stroke. I need wet paint to mix with orange and blue for less transparency. I also have a disposable palette pot. I find it very useful. You can draw while standing or not with your main hand. Try different options. You can lift the paper and let colors split or for example, you can take several colors on the wide brush and result in a gradient, or you can spray water onto the wet paint. Just take care for nature. Let the paint dry and turn then resulting strokes into characters in next video. 10. Gesture pose (Pt. II): Details: It's time to turn your brushstrokes into characters. You can scan them and do it on your computer, or use any materials that you like. I will be using a graphite pencil. Don't forget that you can use in your characters different shapes and sizes, symmetry, and asymmetry. In this video, I will show you a drawing of several characters. There are the characters I've got. I look forward to your options. 11. One Pose - Thousand Options: It is very difficult to learn to portray different forms of characters and place them in a specific pose simultaneously. So firstly, let's take the simplest poses, the characters standing, walking, or running. We will try on as many characters as possible in such poses. The challenge is not to make repetitions, try to make as many variants of the formations, shapes, changes in proportions as possible in one pose. If you especially like the new message from the ones drawn, remember it and apply it again later. To draw characters, I will be using A4 paper and this inside of the art and graphic twin marker. I will make the first character from circle standing. Here, I'm using the perspective deformation technique, and I exaggerate the difference in the size of the legs and arms. Next I'll try the shapes that I'm often used while drawing, palms and feet are mushroom like. There is a small head and a huge hairdo is for balance, as well as an elongated figure with slightly shortened arms. Now, I'm going to draw pose sidewise, I will flatten the foot intentionally to emphasize the static nature of the pose. I will add a small pattern and draw over the hair and shoes to make the figure more complete. The next character has asymmetrical hands and palms with fingers, but I'll draw the number of fingers approximately. This character will also have a small head, but with more realistic facial features, the rest of the figure will be exaggerated. The proportions of the upper body and legs are long, the legs are also asymmetrical. Do not forget to think about what character looks like in this silhouette. Now, I'm going to try some wild options. This character will have a flattened head and folds allover. I simplify all the forms, it's more interesting to me. If you prefer realism, you can do the same with realistic characters. I am exaggerating legs and I'm making the figure symmetrical. I will draw this character on a horizontal sheet and also try to make more extreme forms. I start with the silhouette. The legs are asymmetrical, hairstyle is of the size of her head. For this girl, I want to separate the head and arms from the body and make her hair out of gravity. Next I will draw a character with chopped shapes. For me, this is a step outside my comfort zone and that's good. Finally, if your characters are not being drawn with the main hand, I'm left-handed, so I paint them with my right. Here are the characters I made in this exercise. 12. Techniques: If you have not decided on your favorite drawing technique yet, then I advise you to try as many different ones as possible. You never know in advance what you might like. It is convenient to try different techniques on the characters, because the complexity of each illustration descriptors can be controlled by changing the number of characters, the presence of the background, and the size of the paper. I want to show you what techniques I used in my illustrations and sketchbooks. However, there are still many techniques that I want to try in future. I cut this collage from sheets of paper pre-painted with acrylic paint so that the texture of the brush strokes can be seen. On this abstraction, I combine two techniques, tempera paints and colored pencil. This character is painted with acrylics. It is tempera paint. I like it more than Gaucher acrylic. Tempera is denser, dries quickly, produced pleasant, bright colors, but is limited in colors. On the left, a drawing with a black pen. Also, I like to draw sketches with colored pencils combining different colors in one work. Here are some examples. I like to use watercolor pencils without water because they are very soft. I also use burnisher to shade the strokes. This girl is drawn with colored pencils and shaded with burnisher. Here I combine spheres and lines. I drew this illustration with acrylic paints for fuser transferred to digital with little modifications. Here is the result after the refinement, and there are the sketches that I made before painting. I usually sketch in color on a computer. I drew this character with Posca acrylic markers. I had a limited number of colors, so I blended with those I had and then change colors on the computer. This way, I made a whole series of character sportsman. This is also Posca. Here, I used the colors I wanted for the final works. This character was created from colored paper with a graphite pencil drawable. I'll also show you an example of creating a commercial work. This is a work for The New York Times. I often create works for clients on a computer, but sometimes I make a digital sketching color and then I repeat it with acrylic. I did this time to displaces where the light colors yellow and white has to be, I made the bottom layer dark so that this can be scene a little and shows the texture of the strokes. Otherwise, the white strokes on white paper would not have been visible. 13. Final Illustration (Pt. I): Preparing: At the end of this class, I would like you to create the complete illustration which will depict the group of characters. Choose the techniques that you like best, and the number of characters depending on your skill level. Remember which methods for simplifying and deforming you liked in previous lessons and use them. You can make all characters the same type or different from each other. Let them be on a one-color background to focus on creating the shapes of the characters. But you can use some auxiliary objects. For example, musical instruments, books, drinks, flowers. I offer you several themes to choose from, musicians, dancers, couple in love, or fashion illustration. I will depict musicians because I have already drawn another topics. I'm always interested in setting new goals for myself. Here are some examples of what I mean by characters group. This work illustrates the concept of oversized fashion. Therefore, I exaggerated some of the decors of the clothes. Here, I portrayed the dancers. The pose was copied from a retro photo I found on Pinterest. Both illustrations are made with acrylic paints on paper. Here I drew a couple in love. I created a contrast of white and narrow shapes, and also did not draw hands. This illustrator painted the musicians in such a way that we are watching it by diagonally, and their interrelation of selects makes you look at this illustration for a long time. This illustrator has rare dynamic can find a sense to it's characters. In this example, our glance slice in a circle. Here from top to bottom, Cristobal Schmal creates unforgettable alcohol drinking sense. The illustration by Daye Kim, create say tension because all the characters are the same, but in different clauses. We see a replication of the same things, but at the same time different plans. The interlacing of hands is also interestingly depicted here. Before you start drawing, I recommend sketch in separately different poses from photo. The PDF file contains links where to find people to sketch. Also use gesture drawing and transformations methods for each figure. When drawing from photo, try to choose poses in which the silhouette is well read. Here are some of my examples of drawing from a photo. There's one speedup video of a baseball player drawing. After choosing the theme, decide on the style of the characters and how they interact with each other. Are they similar to each other or not? Is there a contrast or is everything in nuances? What dominates: symmetry or asymmetry? What colors are best for the theme? What technique do you want to use or you want to combine several techniques? If you are not familiar with color theory and do not have favorite color combinations, then in the PDF file, you will find my tips on how to choose the colors from your illustration. 14. Final Illustration (Pt. II): Creating: I will show how I created my own illustration with musicians. I followed the same way as when creating commercial illustrations. First, I made the color sketch on a computer. Here is the process of my searches. I tried the vertical format, but then switched to horizontal one. I changed characters and tried different colors. Here is a sketch I choose to copy with paints. I transformed the sketch into lines and printed it on two A4 sheets. Then I glued them with tape and to the window through the glass, I transferred the lines to thicker paper about A3 format. For transferring, it is better to use some HB graphite pencil so that the contours are not very dark. I will paint with acrylics. Before starting to work with paints, I go through all the lines with a knead gum. With pressing movements, I take away the excess graphite making the outline dimmer. Now I use Fabriano Mixed Media smooth paper, but I don't have a favorite paper yet. I tried different versions, different manufacturers with or without texture. The main thing when choosing paper is to use the ones that is made specifically for your technique. I will use these colors. All colors except pink and brown will be taken directly from the tube. I usually use a round synthetic brush of one size regardless of the size of the artwork. I will also use a large bucket of water, water spray, and disposable palette. Paper towels will be definitely useful to wipe the brush or paint [inaudible] of the palette to use it again. I will paint the small details and patterns on top so they fill in all the large areas with colors. I like it when the texture of the paint and the jagged edges are visible, so I intentionally made them that way. Two transparent colors, such as red and yellow, I apply in several layers. Sometimes wet layers are enough. Sometimes you can wait for paint to dry. After adding paint onto the palette, I'm dropping enough water for the desired consistency. Paints dry fast on the palette, so I spray it with water from time to time. Now I will show how I'm adding patterns and details. I'm mixing pink paint with a lot of white and then adding a little dot of red to make the paint color not so vibrant. The work with paint is over. Now I will scan the drawing, correct the color and some flaws on the computer. Done. 15. Conclusion: This class has come to the end. I hope you found new interesting techniques and methods for you, and learned how to improve your characters. I really look forward to the results of your exercises and final works. I will try to give feedbacks to everyone. Also, I will be glad to discuss the questions that have appeared in the discussions. Happy experiments and non-boring illustrations.