Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Illustrator ~ character consistency

As much as a writer must carefully construct his characters, an illustrator needs to do the same.   Writers develop backgrounds for their heroes and villans, heroines and key players.  Illustrators do much of the same.

For any manuscript an illustrator is given, it is no surprise that images will keep popping into the artist’s head as the story unfolds.  As the process of developing the characters begins, specifics in the manuscript will guide the creating of each character.

Personalities emerge, physical traits may be mentioned and even particular clothing may be required.  Just as an illustrator would observe a model or still life the illustrator must become as familiar with the author’s characters as with his or her own family.

Even animals have their own personalities as dictated by the story being illustrated.
And by sketching many poses and expressions beforehand the degree of consistency is improved.

Keeping the character consistent once the general outline of who or what it is all about is extremely important.  It is not enough to simply put the same hair color or clothing on a character.  Great attention needs to be paid to the face and facial expressions.

The example below served as a guide in creating character consistency and emotion for two recent books.  It is only one small sample of several larger studies that I use in creating character consistency.

Other examples would include the whole figure in various poses and interacting with other characters.

This basic preliminary work takes time but serves the illustrator well.  Along the way there may be other emotions and interactions called for, but having a baseline to go by is a great help.

If you have access to a model for only a day I suggest taking many pictures of emotions, poses and interaction with objects. Keep the photos as a reference as you proceed with the assignment.

As the story grows and the characters develop within it, I like to keep adding to the character studies and keep them going until the work is completed.  

Sometimes illustrating a great picture book is like baking a cake. Once you have all the ingredients and you prepare your work carefully the finished product is worth the time and effort.  It brings joy to others, and satisfaction to the artist.


  1. Very interesting, Ginger. I enjoyed reading your post and studying your cute illustrations.


  2. Ginger, you bring such interesting information to us, whether artists or writers.


  3. SUCH a challenge, I think - it's not enough to be an excellent artist, as not all are capable of the kind of consistency you describe. I can't even draw a circle the same way twice! But I've also known talented (professional!) artists who don't make good illustrators for this very reason.

  4. Holly is right. A big difference between illustrators and artists, is the ability to follow a story, and remain consistent. A skill I have only recently been able to acceptably do.

    One drawing of a character is pretty easy, repeated drawings in various situations and poses takes a higher skill set.

    Great article, Ginger.

  5. This post was fun and informative. I love learning how others do their work.

    Ginger, the facial expressions are one of the things I love about your characters. BTW, the little girl in overalls would be perfect for a manuscript I have in the works, but I suppose she's already taken. *grin*

  6. Hi all, Thanks for the comments. It is important to maintain not only consistency but the author's vision. Beth, Molly is available. She was a study for a book that took a totally different direction *:)

  7. Aw, love the name Molly. I guess I'd better get busy finishing that manuscript so it's ready for submission! ;o)

  8. So much is involved in illustrations. I guess that's why "they" say "A picture is worth a thousand words." :)