Build a Character in Illustrator

  • Exploring Ideas

    This section explores the criteria "Explore the visual arts practices and styles as inspiration to develop a personal style, explore, express ideas, concepts and themes in art works(VCAVAE040)Explore how artists manipulate materials, techniques, technologies and processes to develop and express their intentions in art works (VCAVAE041)."

  • Finding Inspiration

    This section explores the criteria "Analyse and interpret artworks to explore the different forms of expression, intentions and viewpoints of artists and how they are viewed by audiences(VCAVAR045)Analyse, interpret and evaluate a range of visual artworks from different cultures, historical and contemporary contexts, including artworks by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to explore differing viewpoints (VCAVAR046)"

  • Types of drawing

    This section explores the criteria "Select and manipulate materials, techniques, and technologies and processes in a range of art forms to express ideas, concepts and themes (VCAVAV042)Conceptualise, plan and design art works that express ideas, concepts and artistic intentions (VCAVAV043)."

  • Exploring techniques

    This section explores the criteria "plan and make their art works in response to exploration of techniques, technologies and processes used in the work of other artists. They demonstrate the use of materials, techniques, processes, visual conventions and technologies to express ideas and convey meaning in their artworks."

  • Refining project

    This section explores all the criteria, reworking, reassessing, considering intent, concept and technique.

  • Final outcome and character backstory

    This section explores the criteria "Create, present, analyse and evaluate displays of artwork considering how ideas can be conveyed to an audience (VCAVAP044)."

VCD – Ideas and developing a character concept

Learning Intention: Develop a character using concept development tools
Success Criteria: Complete a mind map and a character sheet to help you develop your ideas, then complete the tutorial ‘Create a Cute Panda Bear’ in Illustrator

For this character development process, we are looking at developing a character using creative exploration and following a process, we will balance this with learning some technical skills in Illustrator. You can develop your project on paper using traditional techniques of drawing, ink, collage, painting, etc like this class here, and then bring it into Illustrator. Drawing with pen or pencil is highly recommended when doing any creative work. We will be exploring and using the elements of 2D art – line, colour, shape, texture, space and form.

Here’s two really great characters from Tim Burton’s film Frankenweenie, you can see each has a really individual back story and their shape, colour, texture, line and form reflects these characteristics.


So how do great characters like these get thought of? One way is to use concept development to try to visualise ideas we have and to deepen the breadth and depth of them. The first thing you can do is Mind mapping.

Mind mapping

Mind mapping is a great tool for exploring ideas. notes it “is a highly effective way of getting information in and out of your brain. Mind mapping is a creative and logical means of note-taking and note-making that literally “maps out” your ideas.”

Some people find mind mapping a bit challenging, but it’s worth persisting. It gets all of your ideas out and to try to collect all those ideas together. Here’s an example of one you might do for a character plan. I added in lots of characteristics about each character and did a few little sketches so I could get a good idea of what they might be like.

This mind map helped me explore lots of ideas and think about who it is I am creating. The idea I liked the most was an evil bunny. So now that I have the start of the character, I’ll look at some more ways to tease out ideas for how it might look and what it might be doing. You can start doing preliminary drawings too at this stage if you like.


Characters are great if they are memorable or endearing. They aren’t dependant on form, it can be animal, vegetable or mineral, an object or a human. They can be pretty much anything. Let your imagination run wild.


Interesting characters or people with interesting traits are everywhere.  They are your friends, relatives, people on public transport, from your imagination or from books.  They have diverse interests and outlooks and unique mannerisms, ways of speaking, families, histories, experiences, likes and dislikes.  Starting off your character or the traits of your character on someone you know can be useful, but its best to give the character its own space, it is your creation after all.  If you let it, it can take on a life of its own.


Characters that have depth are the most engaging, and the ones that keep you interested in what happens to them. In the film School of Rock, the main character, Dewey, is funny and endearing, you really care what happens to him and want him to succeed. He is a completely flawed, hopeless loveable character, and around him are other excellent characters that create tension in the story on screen. Dewey is not a boring stereo-typed character as some of the people in the band are that kick him out. Characters with more complexity are more believable and engage with their audience more, it is best to disarm and surprise your audience with a sensitive characterisation than bore them with a stereotype. For example a stereo-type would be a housewife, but an interesting character would be a housewife that is secretly an undercover agent. Putting contrast into the characters, like a tough guy that likes growing flowers, or looks after sick animals in his spare time.


Developing different ways your character speaks helps to identity them, as does the way they move and mannerisms – these can provide excellent ways to include complexity in your character without spelling it out in a literal way.  It can be the way they laugh, nervous toe tapping or sighing, mannerisms can be used as manifestations of the subtext of the character. Below are some questions to help you explore your character more. You don’t have to answer every single one of them, but the more that you do answer the better, this is your Character Development Sheet.

Outline for creating a character (copy these down in your visual diary and answer as many as you can, thinking about complexity and characteristic)

  1. name
  2. age
  3. address
  4. job
  5. home
  6. hobby
  7. reoccurring fantasy
  8. reoccurring nightmare
  9. mode of transport
  10. best friend
  11. favourite meal
  12. most important book
  13. favourite piece of music
  14. girl/boy friend
  15. phobia
  16. vanity point
  17. favourite article of clothing
  18. favourite color
  19. favourite relative
  20. distressing quirk of character
  21. favourite film
  22. impossible dream
  23. secret ambition
  24. outlook on life – optimist or pessimist


Great job!

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