Character Design Crash Course: Designing Animal Characters | Melissa Lee | Skillshare

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Character Design Crash Course: Designing Animal Characters

teacher avatar Melissa Lee, allow yourself to fail before you succeed

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.

      Inspiration and Reference


    • 3.

      The Fundamentals of Character Design


    • 4.

      Using Reference


    • 5.

      Practice Exercise


    • 6.

      Sketching and Designing Your Character


    • 7.

      Blocking In Color Using The Pen Tool and Radial Gradient Tool


    • 8.

      Rendering In Photoshop


    • 9.

      Closing Thoughts


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About This Class

Welcome to Character Design Crash Course, a series of illustration classes meant for beginning cartoonists or intermediate character artists looking for a refresher. In this class I'll take you through my entire process of designing and illustrating an animal character, starting with finding inspiration and reference, then moving on to sketching and developing your concept, and finally, rendering it in Adobe Photoshop. I'll also talk about the fundamentals of character design, and the importance of using reference and learning from other artists. 

What You'll Learn

  • Finding Inspiration and Learning from Other Artists: I'll talk about studying the styles of other artists, how it helps you build your versatility, and the importance of being influenced by more than one artist.
  • Using Reference: I'll talk about why using reference is key to improving your drawing skills, the best ways to use it to benefit yourself, and why it's particularly essential when designing animal characters. 
  • Developing Your Character: from rough sketches to more developed concepts
  • Rendering in Photoshop: blocking in base colors manually and with the pen tool, using the radial gradient tool to shade and highlight, using paths to make selections, and how paths and the lasso tool can aid in coloring
  • Color Adjustment and Texture: how to use color adjustments and texture tools to add interest to your drawing

What You'll Make

Once finished, you'll have a fully illustrated animal character to add to your portfolio. :D


Adobe, and Adobe Photoshop are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

Meet Your Teacher

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Melissa Lee

allow yourself to fail before you succeed

Top Teacher

Hi! My name's Melissa Lee, and I'm an illustrator and surface pattern designer living in the hilly forests of Northern California. Alongside doing freelance and art licensing work (I am a proud Riley Blake Designs fabric designer), I've spent much of my time cultivating my love of sharing what I know and encouraging others to nourish their creative side through teaching online art courses here on Skillshare. I love making patterns, character art, and watercolor paintings. I'm endlessly inspired by animals and nature (whether living today or extinct), science fiction and fantasy, space and astrology, witchy things, and bees.

Always bees.

The classes that I teach on Skillshare focus primarily on surface pattern design, watercolor techniques, and character design. See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Hi, and welcome to Character Design Crash Course: Designing Animal Characters. My name is Melissa and I'm a designer and illustrator based in Northern California. In this class, I'll take you through my process of designing and illustrating an animal character. Starting with finding inspiration and reference, then moving on to sketching and developing your concept and finally rendering it in Photoshop. I'll also talk about the fundamentals of character design and the importance of using reference and learning from other artists, and demonstrate a couple of exercises that I find helpful. Once finished, you'll have a fully illustrated animal character to add to your portfolio. I can't wait to see what you create! 2. Inspiration and Reference: Inspiration and reference and why it's essential to growing as an artist. "If you want to learn how to play an instrument, you have to learn to play another musician's song. If you want to learn how to draw, you have to draw another artist's picture." Stephen Silver. I took Silver's character design classes on, which is a site that, unlike Skillshare, really just focuses on visual art. All the classes are on various forms of visual art. Anyway, a lot of what I'm going to talk about in this class was learned from Silver and Daniel Arriaga and some of the other really wonderful teachers on Schoolism. They're all professionals in the industry. They know what they're talking about. Before I talk more about that, though, I want to recommend a few really useful books. The first is The Art of Animal Drawing. Construction, Action Analysis, Caricature by Ken Hultgren. I love this book so much. Not only does it have realistic drawing advice, perspective, proportion, all that good stuff, but he also talks about caricaturing animals. Basically, designing animal characters. Yeah, he just goes over so many animals, and it's just such a wonderful resource to have. The next is Animals in Motion by Eadweard Muybridge. It's basically just a series of action shots of a ton of different animals. These are really helpful if you're an animator. But even if you're not, it's really cool to have all these different poses for reference. Just have a few examples. I thought this one was neat. I like how they hold their tail up like that. Something you might not think about. The last book is The Silver Way: Techniques, Tips, and Tutorials for Effective Character Design by Stephen Silver. This book doesn't just focus on animal characters. It focuses on everything, humans, and all that good stuff. He just has a wealth of knowledge. He's been working in this industry for a long time, so he really knows what he's talking about. It's just wonderful. There's so much you can learn, and he has a lot of great advice. I wanted to show you some of Stephen Silver's animal characters and also the artwork of some other artists that I really admire just to get you inspired and ready to design. Essentially, what I've learned from Silver and the other teachers is that you don't want to know just one way of drawing. It's important to study the styles of other artists and build up your versatility, and it's important to be influenced by more than one artist. This was something that was repeated over and over and over again. Having your own unique style is, of course, important, but there's nothing wrong with looking at other artists and being inspired by them. Plus, particularly, if you want to work in animation, you have to be able to adapt to different styles. These are just more characters by Silver. He's got this one character in a bunch of different styles. A lot of variation of shape. I don't think any of these are particularly in his signature style, but he has them in his portfolio to show his versatility. Here's another example with wolves. I love that there's realistic wolves in here, as well as some really exaggerated and pushed designs. He's not afraid to really use exaggerated shapes and find these really interesting configurations. I also like the top left because it's an example of him using an actor to base a character on, which he said helps him figure out a character sometimes. I think that's cool. Another artist I wanted to talk about is Milt Kahl. He was one of the Disney greats. I was looking up his work and, basically, realized that he drew so many of my favorite animal characters from Disney movies. I really love Shere Khan, and I've always thought Shere Khan was so cool and expressive. Yeah, his work is just fabulous. There's tons and tons of drawings online that you could look up and look through. Another artist is Heinrich Kley, and he's famous for the dancing elephants. I just really love his drawings. His animals are sort of realistic but anthropomorphized. They're so expressive and so human. I just think it's so cool that they still basically keep the form and anatomy of the animal. Yeah, I just love his stuff. Another artist I love is David Colman, who focuses on animal characters. I just love how expressive they are. It has these amazing bears. Their expressions are so cool. I could just flip through his portfolio forever and stare in awe. [laughs] Anyway. Next is Mary Blair. Mary is most famous for her illustrations of children, probably, and definitely for designing It's a Small World in Disneyland. But I really like her animal characters as well. I love the shapes she used, and the color choices are really nice. Also, the texture within her work is really nice as well. Look at this horse, I love the curvature of it's back and the shape of its head, and how she drew the mane and tail with the beautiful texture of the ink. The fox is really cool too though it's got this weird shape, this tiny waist and legs, and big head. There's just a rhythm and a flow to her work that I really like. And finally, Charles Harper. He specialized in animals, and I think they're so cool and so unique. I like how geometric they are and the textures he used. An exercise Silver had me do was to choose an artist and try drawing an animal in that artist's style. The reason I bring that up now is because I'm going to be demonstrating that exercise using Charles Harper's work as inspiration. Anyway, that doesn't mean that you should then continue to draw in that exact style and copy every single element of that artist's style and then claim it as your own. But it does really help you to come up with creative ways of drawing different elements. It helps you to build up your own style and versatility. Any practice is good practice. Especially if you want to work in TV or movies, where you will definitely have to be able to mimic another artist's style. Speaking of style, I think that a lot of people worry too much about it. Personally, I think that if you put the work in and the dedication and you practice all the time, and you take inspiration from other artists and just draw as much as you can, you will sort of naturally fall into your style. It will just happen organically. Try not to stress about it if that's something you worry about. I personally don't feel like I've quite found my own unique character design style. I'm getting there, I'm close, but I don't quite think I'm there. But I really believe that that's only because character design isn't my main focus when it comes to visual art. I haven't practiced it enough to really reach that point yet. I love it, but I don't necessarily want to be a professional character designer, so it's more of a hobby for me. But that said, I have learned quite a lot, and I really wanted to share what I've learned with more people. So yeah, just look at artists you admire and look for basic visual concepts that you can adapt to your own work. Like how they draw certain elements, eyes, feet, that sort of thing. There's so many things you can take inspiration from. Moving on, I have a ton of Pinterest boards for inspiration. But I wanted to show you this character design references series of boards. It's one that I didn't make. It's just one that I found. They have it organized with what feels like endless categories. It all has to do with character design. They have all these anatomy boards and human figure boards, and then they have a ton of animal ones as well. They've got creature anatomy, various different specific types of creature anatomy. Then they have anthropomorphized animals, non anthropomorphized animals. It just feels like every single animal has a category. Say you wanted to do a raccoon character, look in this board at all these amazing different ways that people have designed raccoons. It's just so inspiring and really cool. It really helps kick me out of artistic ruts that I'm in. I also have a ton of Pinterest boards, personal ones, that I've made that are for inspiration. If you don't do something like this already, I strongly encourage you to do the same. I find that even just looking at a few pieces to get myself excited about designing goes a long way. Don't skip the inspiration part. Inspiration is key. It really helps. Anyway, moving on. 3. The Fundamentals of Character Design: Before I move on to the demonstration portion of this class, I wanted to briefly go over the fundamentals of character design. The four big things you have to consider, are shape, silhouette, rhythm and construction. Everything else falls into these four categories. One thing you have to try to get into the habit of doing is juxtaposing hard straight lines against curves. This Border Collie drawing isn't mine, it's Stephen Silvers's. I just think it's a really good example of this. How straights and curves can work in tandem to make a really appealing design. It doesn't always have to be this exaggerated. It can be more subtle than this, but this is just a nice clear example of it working really well. Shape variation is really important. You want to avoid the ladder avoid the bowling ball. Try to incorporate small-medium-large and avoid sameness. These are just simple examples of how varying your size and shape can create more visual interest. The ladder is basically everything being parallel and everything being equidistant and the exact same size. It's just kind of boring. The bowling ball effect mostly applies to the face and it happens when the eyes and nose, or say the eyes and the ears, are the same exact size and the same exact shape and it's just not very interesting to look at. You also want to avoid monotonous shapes and sameness when you can. Here are some examples of avoiding the bowling ball. Mickey Mouse has got his medium-sized nose and his medium-sized eyes, but they are a different shape and then there's the big ears to contrast those. Then you've got the Red Panda character on the bottom right with his small nose and big eyes and Dug with the opposite with his small eyes and big nose. Then there's the little mouse lemurs in the top left with their tiny noses and big eyes. Part of why I think people are so drawn to animals like this is because their faces are so interesting and cute and it's the variation of shape that makes them interesting. When it comes to silhouette, you want to look out for your positive and negative space and understand that clarity is key. The silhouette on the right is unclear. It's not entirely clear what she's doing. Her legs and arms are bunched together and it's just not as appealing to look at as the silhouette on the left, which is super clear. There's a lot of breathing room for the negative space, which is just as important as the positive space. You know exactly what she's doing, she's walking with purpose. So that's something to digest, all of this information is information you need to digest and over time you won't even have to think about all this stuff. Just the more and more you practice and the more you consider these things, the more it will become second nature to you. Learning the construction and proportion of figures, humans and animals is super important before moving on to designing a character based on them. You have to be careful about breaking the animals down into sections and making sure you stick with those basic proportions so they still read as that animal. Even if you exaggerate things, you have to exaggerate the right things. For example, this little squat animal that I drew at the top doesn't really look like a horse because its body is thicker and its legs are short so it wouldn't quite read as a horse. I mean, it might. There's ways that you can sort of cheat it and be super creative, but generally, this is a really helpful thing to consider. Another thing you really want to try to do is to avoid tangents. Tangents are what happens when two or more shapes touch in a way that is visually bothersome. The example I have on the right, her bang is coming down and it looks like it's almost glued to her nose and lips and chin. It's not clear exactly what's happening in the drawing. If the bang was drawn further out from her face, it would be easier to read as being behind her face and not being stuck to her in some awkward way. These things are just little things you have to try to look out for and it will become easier to catch them the more you practice. The Golden ratio or the golden mean, is used not just in fine art but also in character design and architecture and all sorts of things. The main thing you have to think about, try not to stress so much about the spiral and all that stuff. I think the main thing to really consider is the 1-1.61 ratio and using that ratio throughout your designs will automatically help them be more appealing. I don't know why that is, it just is, and a lot of designers do this, sometimes not even consciously, but it can be helpful. For example, if we go back to these designs, from the top of Dug's head to his neck, it's about 1 and from his neck to his feet its about 1.6 and I think it's the same for the Red Panda character as well. If we go back here, horses are a perfect example of this. From the horse's back to their stomach and from their stomach to their hooves, it's about 1:1.6. This doesn't just happen in architecture and man made design. It also happens in nature and here's a couple of examples of that ratio being used in my own work. I don't remember thinking about it when I was drawing, but that's how it turned out and it makes far more interesting, appealing designs. You can take that further and use that in the spacing of all of the elements within the main body. That's just another thing to consider when you're designing. 4. Using Reference: First of all, using reference is not cheating. I want to stress this a lot because there seems to be a sort of attitude a lot of places online, that using reference or using too much reference or whatever is cheating, but that is incorrect. Most great artists use it and you don't grow as an artist without it. You have to use reference for every animal you draw, unless you've already drawn a certain animal over and over because how else are you going to learn how to draw the animal? You need to look at pictures of an animal or go to a zoo to learn how to draw it. You have to learn to draw the figure of each animal, just like you have to learn to draw the human figure. Not only can you draw from reference, but you can draw right over it. I'm not saying that you should trace it exactly, render it fully, and then claim it as an original work, unless it's a photo you took yourself and your point is to draw realistically, of course, but that's another thing altogether. Anyway, what you should do is use it as a practice tool. Draw through your shapes, learn the proportions...Essentially, by analyzing your reference photos and doing sketch after sketch of them and drawing directly over it, you're taking notes and teaching your hand the motions and gaining muscle memory. Then that's when you start to push and exaggerate your designs. As you can see here, I was drawing directly over the rhino over and over, just learning it. Then I drew a realistic rhino from just looking at the reference, then I lowered the opacity, created another layer and drew right over the top of it and this time I focused more on pushing my design and exaggerating my shapes. I did this until I came up with a design that I liked. I find that having the first initial rough sketch, the realistic sketch, helps me just have a basis for my designing. It helps me stick to those basic shapes, but from that guideline, I can exaggerate, or I find it easier to at least. If you don't use reference to learn the proportions and construction of an animal, how they sit and move, et cetera, then you won't be able to push your designs in a satisfying way that makes sense. In other words, it's harder to exaggerate when you don't already understand the construction of the animal. Once you understand the construction of an animal, it's easier to caricature it. This is what I ended up with. I'm not sure if I would have been able to reach this point if it weren't for the use of the reference. Use it to aid you in your designing. There's nothing wrong with that. 5. Practice Exercise: Another exercise I do is to, like I said before, choose an artist and try to draw an animal in that artist's style. I've chosen Charles Harper, and I'm going to try to draw this buffalo in his style, or the buffalo face at least. I'm using geometric shapes and I'm taking cues from how he textured his work, all the little lines he used, and all that good stuff. That's a really fun exercise and a good way to challenge yourself. 6. Sketching and Designing Your Character: At last we have come to the main demonstration portion of the class. Your project is to design and illustrate an animal character of your choosing. You don't have to do a hyena unless you want to, feel free. Ultimately, it's your choice whatever animal you decide to design from. First you'll want to gather reference for your animal and do some practice thumbnail sketches. Breakdown the size and space between each section and stick to those basic proportions. These should be simple, quick proportion and construction studies. This gives you the information you need to move on to more detailed developed designs. Once you've done that, move on to less generic designs and create as much variety as you can. You may want to stick to the first design that you draw, but I really encourage you to explore as many different possibilities for one character as you can. You might find something surprising that you like. One thing you can do before you start that can be helpful, is to jot down the traits of the character you want to create. What is its personality? What's the attitude you want to portray? Etc. This will all inform how you decide to give expression to your character and the body language that your character will have. These are all the designs that I ended up with. I like some more than others. This guy's fine. I don't hate it or anything, but he's a little generic, I guess. Not very pushed or exaggerated in any way, so I'm going to go with one of the other more odd designs, if you will. I like these guys because they're odd. I might end up coloring them in the future. For this guy here I was consciously trying to design with the golden mean in mind. I like this guy on the bottom right. He's got a really cool expression. But, ultimately, I'm going to go with this guy on the top. And he was the last one I did. Really try to push your designs and do more than one, because if I hadn't kept going, I wouldn't have gotten to my ultimate choice. Also, your designs don't have be quite this detailed and developed at this stage. This is just how I work. I can't help editing as I go and refining things as I go even when I'm in the initial development stage. But if you tend to do quicker, more rough sketches and you don't want to refine your designs until you've picked one that you really like, then please do that. This is just how I work, so don't feel obligated to be as detailed as all of my designs are at this point. Because I really probably shouldn't do that. I would save myself a lot of time. But what can you do? 7. Blocking In Color Using The Pen Tool and Radial Gradient Tool: Before we move on to rendering the hyena, I want to show you another coloring method that I like to use, which is to build my initial shapes with the Pen tool. The Pen tool and shapes and paths made with the Pen tool are a lot easier to work with and edit in Illustrator than they are in Photoshop because there's just a few more tools that you can use that make things easier. But I'm going to be demonstrating in Photoshop how I do this just to show you another way that you can do it, but if you prefer to work in Illustrator, you could always make sure that all of your paths are on separate layers and then export it as a Photoshop document and then use those clean shapes in Photoshop. Just so you know that is an option that you have. Matt Kaufenberg, apologies if I am pronouncing that wrong. Anyway, he demonstrates this wonderfully in his class, 'Character Illustration from Concept to Final Artwork' on Skillshare, so you should definitely check that out. I linked to it under the Projects & Resources tab already. You'll need to use the Pen tool, which is on the toolbar above the Text tool. Then you want to go to your Layers panel and then right next to it there's Channels and Paths, and you want to click on Paths. You'll make a new path layer just like you make a new layer in the Layers panel, and that becomes Path 1. I'm going to start by drawing the main part of the rhinos body. The Pen tool is a little difficult, particularly in Photoshop. It just takes some getting used to it really. The more you use it, the more you understand how to manipulate things. I'm skipping the horn because that's going to be a separate shape. Because of how this is already angled, it comes out wonky and we don't want that, so I'm just going to Command Z to backspace that, and then to break this point, all you do is hold down Alt (or Opt) and click it. That brings up the convert anchor point tool. There's a little arrow that shows up to indicate this right next to the Pen tool. You can also hold down Alt to edit the individual bars as well. Sometimes the angle of the path works so you don't need to break it every single time. Again, hold down Alt and click to break it. Hold down Alt and click to break it. Just in case it's not clear, when I'm clicking to create a new point, I'm clicking, holding down and dragging to create the anchor bars or whatever they're called. [laughs] I can't remember what the tool is called. Whatever, these bars that help you change the shape of the path. Wow, that's perfect. Doesn't always work out. I'm just going to draw up to here because I don't want this foot to be in the first shape that I'm making. Once you get to the final point, a little circle comes up and you just click, or click and drag to change the shape if you need to, and then you have your curve. Over here you can rename your path. I'm naming mine RHINO BODY. And you'll always have that path. What you can do with this later is right-click > Make Selection and just click Okay. It now has that selection in there so you can always make that and fill it in later. That's just a really useful thing to know how to do in general. I'm just going to continue to make some shapes with the Pen tool, including the other foot, the horns, ears, nostril and eye. That's probably all I'll need. Then I'll show you what I do with all of those paths and selections that I've made. Now I've got all of my paths created, and you want to make sure to put each new path on a new path layer. What I'm going to do is select the rhino body, and you can either click this little drop-down menu and hit Make Selection, or just right-click on it and hit Make Selection. You can change the settings, but I don't need to at this point so I'm just going to click Okay. Now what you can do is go to your Layers panel, create a new layer and get the Paint Bucket tool, which is under the Eraser tool, or you can hit G on your keyboard. I've got some colors up here that I've already selected from these photographs so I'm just going to get my eyedropper, select my mid tone, reselect the Paint Bucket tool and fill in that selection. Now I'm going to make another selection, hit the FOOT layer, right-click > Make Selection > hit Okay. Make sure I have another layer in the Layers panel, select my color, hit G again for the Paint Bucket tool and fill it in. Since I want his foot to be behind the main body I'm just going to move it down. Then you can hit Command or Control D to deselect your selection and just continue filling things in until you've got your main colors. It's probably helpful to name these as you go. Once you've done that and you've got all your shapes, I like to put the sketch layer on top so I can see all the details that I want to incorporate and you can turn the opacity down a bit. I just have one more fun technique to show you and it's a shading technique that I use. I'm going to select the rhino body layer and I'm going to lock it. When you lock it, it means you can only color onto the pixels that have color on them. Then I'm going to take the Lasso tool and I'm going to shade the stomach. I'm going to draw freehand where I want that to go. Where it goes off of the drawing, it doesn't really matter because, again, I can't draw over that part because my layer is locked. Then I'm going to use the Radial Gradient tool to color this. I demonstrated how you can set up your radial gradient tool in another tutorial I did so I'm going to go ahead and play that. So the Linear Gradient tool can be found by clicking G on your keyboard or going down to where the Paint Bucket tool usually is. It usually looks like this. You just click and hold and then it brings up little drop-down menu and you click the gradient tool. Then it has all of these options up here in the top left most of which I think are pretty useless. I certainly don't use them myself. There's the Linear Gradient which is the default and then the Radial Gradient which is what we're going to use for this. I actually have this setup already for myself. What we need is a Foreground to Transparent gradient, and in your defaults it doesn't have it so I'm going to show you how you can make that. What you need to do is double-click on the actual box itself and it brings up the Gradient Editor, and it's got all these in here. You're going to want to make a new one. I have it named Foreground to Transparent, but I'm just going to click on one of these other ones to show you how to make one. You'll have something like this and basically what you need to do is, change the title: Foreground to Transparent. We want it to be a solid gradient and then the smoothness at 100. The sliders on the top control the opacity while the sliders on the bottom control the color, so you just click on the first one and you can keep it at 100, click on the second and drop it down to zero percent opacity. We have this smooth color to transparent gradient. Then you're going to want to click on this box and change the color, put the drop-down menu to foreground, which means it will always be whatever color is in the foreground of your color picker. Then you can't really see it here, but there is a bit of green happening because this color is still set to green, so what you want to do with this one is also change it to the foreground color and then it will just smoothly go from whatever the foreground color is at 100 percent down to zero percent opacity. Oh and it changed my name, so make sure that you have that named to wherever you want. Also if you just want to delete some of these, I think you just click Option, yes. You click Option, and you can just click on them and get rid of them. Since I never use them I'm just going to go ahead and delete them, and then click Okay. Now you have that in your gradients, which is exactly what you need. I have a darker color selected and my radial gradient selected. It creates a circle. Here's an example. We'll just undo that. How I use it here is I go from outside the selection and draw a line up into this selection, and it makes this beautiful, smooth gradient. I clicked Command H to toggle off the selection line. I'm also turning off the sketch layer so I can see it a little better. I really like to use the Radial Gradient tool. I think it's really nice for more atmospheric pieces, and you can use it for cool lighting and such. If you wanted the selection that you made to be more perfect and clean, you could always go to your Paths and make a path with the Pen tool, and that way the selection wouldn't be at all messy. I'm not going to bother showing you all of the steps of how I rendered this rhino, because a lot of it's similar to what I'm going to show you in the next video with the hyena character. 8. Rendering In Photoshop: Now I've got my final design all cleaned up and ready to go. I have a color palette up here, just a basic color palette. I'll probably end up changing it or adding to it, but that's what I have for now, and you want to make a new layer for the color. One quick way to fill in the base color that I like to do sometimes is to select your sketch layer, select the outside with the magic wand tool and select the Inverse by clicking Shift Command I, or going to Select and Inverse and make sure you go back to the new layer you just made. Select the Paint Bucket by clicking G, or it's right here on the toolbar beneath the Eraser button. Then you'll want to fill in your selection. I like to turn the sketch layer off and then go over this. It always turns out somewhat pixelated and choppy edged, so I like to go over the rough spots and smooth them out, and pick a nice brush with a good edge. Since I want this piece to look hand-drawn, I've chosen one of my pencil style brushes. Sometimes I turn the sketch layer back on and turn down the opacity and then smooth it out. This still takes less time than coloring it all in by hand, for me at least. That's why I do it this way. I've got some pictures of hyenas on my iPad and I'm looking at them for coloring reference. Just so you know I'm not going completely from memory here. I just didn't want to put them up on the screen so I could have plenty of room for drawing. Yeah, I am looking at pictures like this for the spotted quality and color reference and such. I'm naming this layer BASE COLOR. I'm just going to really quickly block in some colors. I'm not going to think too hard about it, or I'm going to try not to think too hard about it. I'm going to click this button because that locks the layer, which makes it so that basically you can only color over something that's already been colored. You can't color over transparency. That way I don't have to worry about coloring outside of the lines. One cool thing you can do is to select the Lasso tool by hitting L or clicking here and draw over where you want to add color. Then you can hold down Shift and draw again to add onto your Lasso selection. Then I can color in those selections without worrying about coloring over the part of the arm I don't want to color. For most of the shading in this, I'm using this really awesome custom texture brush that I found, and I've been using on practically everything. I've linked to it under the Projects & Resources tab. It's this soft cross-hatching brush, and I think it's free but you can donate and I recommend doing that because the creator deserves some compensation for such an awesome brush. I use it all the time and it's wonderful. What I'm doing here is, first I locked the sketch layer, then I clicked the darker brown and recolored it so that it gels better with my other colors. I also like to draw any shape elements with the Lasso tool. Here I drew the fur on his chest, and this forces me to not be so precious with my drawing, in a way. Because when I'm not thinking about it too hard, I often come up with some good shapes. Sometimes, you know, but that's the beauty of digital art. It's really easy to just go back and redo it. To subtract from your selection you hold down Alt (or Opt). It's Shift to add to it and Alt/Opt to subtract from it. I'm smoothing out this edge by erasing it with a soft edged texture brush at a lower opacity, and then coloring it back in with the same texture brush. I had a lot of fun drawing the spots in like this. I wasn't planning on doing it like this, but I think it worked out. I put the spots on a separate layer because I wanted to be able to easily edit them. I wanted to darken the spots, so I just duplicated the layer by by hitting Command J. I forgot to mention before that when I'm using the Radial Gradient tool, I usually have it at a lower opacity, anywhere between 10% to 30%. 30% is usually what I have it set to. You can actually just really easily change the opacity by hitting 3 on your keyboard, which will bring it to 30 and 2 will bring it to 20, etc. So I noticed while looking at this reference that spotted hyenas have eyebrows, or at least they have little patches of white above their eyes. So I'm just adding that element. Here, I locked my base color layer and then I chose a soft edged brush. I'm just highlighting the edges of the ears. I'm hitting the left and right bracket keys [ ] to change the brush size. At this point, I'm starting to add some details. I like to duplicate and save my layers periodically. So I can always go back to earlier versions if I need to. I made a group folder earlier and just titled it COPIES, so I'm just going to drag this duplicated layer into that folder. Here I'm making this selection and then hitting Select and Inverse, so that I'm only able to add color to everything but the tail. I noticed that I was getting some of the gradient on the tail before, so I basically just made it so that I don't have to make a selection around the entire body. I just select around the tail and then click Inverse. If you want to make a path out of a selection, instead of making a selection out of a path... So if you just draw in with the lasso like this, you can go to your Paths and click this button down here, and it makes it into a new Path Selection. That way you have that path saved for later if you want to revisit it in the future. You never know what you might want to revisit. I kind of wish I'd done it with the chest fur and the eyebrows just because it would make it a little bit easier to edit in the future if I could re-select that exact path. Just so you know, that's an option for you. Here I'm adding a bit of warmth throughout because my colors were feeling a bit off. It's hard to see. It's a really subtle change, but it makes a difference. I'm using a texture brush here to add more spotting. I decided to put the extra texture on a separate layer so that it'll be easier to edit. There's all this excess stuff along the edge. An easy way to get rid of it is to just go to your BASE COLOR layer, use the Magic Wand tool and select the outside and hit Delete. I have this paper texture that I want to put over the top. I'm just going to drag it over into my main doc and rotate it. You want to make sure it's at the top of your Layers panel, which mine is. Adjust the scale so it's covering the entire drawing. Then up here above the layers, there's this drop-down menu with blending modes. You just want to experiment with these. My favorite ones to use are Multiply, Overlay, and Soft Light, but they're all worth exploring and seeing what works best. I like to lower the opacity pretty low because I want the texture to be really subtle. It's a very minute difference, but I think it helps to tie the whole color palette together. What I always like to do with digital paintings is to add Adjustment layers. Your Adjustment layers are above your Layers panel. There's a little button on the bottom here also, which is what I use most of the time. I most often use Levels, Brightness/Contrast Hue/Saturation, and sometimes Vibrance. But as with Blending Modes, it's really valuable to just explore all of the different adjustments and see what you like best. There's really no right or wrong way to go about doing it. You just play around with the settings and see what works. I'm using Brightness/Contrast to bump the contrast up a bit. If you want to add an adjustment layer to just one layer, you just select that layer and add an adjustment, and it'll automatically add it above that layer. Then just hold down Alt or Opt and click between the two layers and a little arrow pointing down will show up. Then it will only affect that layer. As you can see, it's only affecting the spots here. Now, I'm playing around with Hue/Saturation. You can get some really wild colors with this. If I wanted to make an Andy Warhol-esque series of hyenas, these are the tools to use. [laughs] But since I don't necessarily want to do that, I'm just adjusting it slightly to make it a little bit warmer. Again, it's a really, really slight adjustment, but it makes a difference to me at least. [laughs] So this is what it looks like without the adjustment layers and with them. It's quite a dramatic difference. I never ever skip this step because it can seriously just make or break your drawing. I really wish that there was some magical Adjustment layer thing that you could apply to traditional drawings. But alas there is not. [laughs] If you want to save it as a PNG with a transparent background, but you've brought in textures and manipulated them with the blending modes, the textures will show up if you get rid of the background color layer. But there's a really simple solution to this. All you got to do is either go to your lines, or your BASE COLOR would probably work best, and select the outside with the Magic Wand, re-click the TEXTURE layer, and then delete. Since they're so subtle, you can barely see them. You can check your edges, but I've never really had an issue with them showing up, so that usually works for me every time. One last thing I did that I forgot to film was I locked my lines layer or my SKETCH layer and then I drew over all the lines with different colors. The lines are lighter by the ears and they're lighter down here by the white on the tail. Then they're a little bit browner everywhere else than it was before, a little lighter. I think it's just adds a really nice quality if you're using lines. It's just one extra little touch that adds to it that I like to do. So there you go. I really hope you found this tutorial useful. I tried to include random things that I haven't seen in a bunch of tutorials. Hopefully, those things work for you and are as helpful as I find them. Thank you so much for watching and I hope you have a lot of fun with your own designs. 9. Closing Thoughts: This class really only touches the surface of what you can learn when it comes to character design, which is why I called it a crash course. If you want to learn more, I highly, highly recommend checking out Daniel Arriaga's class 'Characters for Animated Film and Stephen Silver's classes, 'Fundamentals of Character Design' and 'Advanced Character Design' on and, which I've linked to under the Projects & Resources tab. And of course, all of the wonderful character design classes on Skillshare. I've taken quite a few myself and I've never had any bad luck with them. I want to leave you with one more nugget of wisdom that I learned, which is that from now on, when you're practicing and feeling frustrated, ask yourself, what have I gained today? Instead of focusing on what you might have hated in your drawings, focus on the fact that you've practiced and gained something from it. On that note, I wish you the best of luck, and I can't wait to see what animal characters you create!