Character Design is a very, very hard subject to draw.
And there are many bad character design mistakes that (especially) beginner artists can do without noticing it.
So if you want to have the upper hand at the start, or even if you want to improve your current character designs, here are a few character design mistakes you should avoid.
Table Of Contents
- 1 1) Focusing On 1 Aspect Of Your Character
- 2 2) Having A Weak Character Silhouette
- 3 3) Starting Without References Or Moodboards
- 4 4) Copying A Design
- 5 5) Going Right Into Drawing
- 6 6) Stiff Poses And Boring Shapes
- 7 7) Choosing Similar Colors For The Design
- 8 8) Emotionless Characters And Expressions
- 9 9) Giving Up On Character Design
- 10 Related Questions
1) Focusing On 1 Aspect Of Your Character
Don’t focus on just 1 particular detail of your character design. Characters are not defined by just one trait.
For example, if you have an evil character, don’t overly focus on how bad they are at everything. Instead, give them a reason for being evil.
Show them in moments where they’re actually happy and generous.
This will give them more depth. Some characters can be just pure evil, but it’s nice to see other facets of them.
For example, what if your villain was into sewing? They make all their evil costumes.
This would add a different and new flair to your character.
Even if you want them to be pure evil, you can add other negative traits. Add a specific detail to the way they operate.
Give your viewers some hints about a backstory or your character’s personality.
When you focus too much on 1 aspect or detail of your character, it will make them feel flat and uninteresting.
However, showing some hints, even if they’re very subtle, will make people want to know more.
They’ll want to follow your character to discover more, or even create their own headcanons about them!
Don’t be afraid of taking your time to get to know your own characters.
You might not even discover everything about them right away.
With time, as you draw them and create a story for them, you’ll get to know your character better!
2) Having A Weak Character Silhouette
When drawing a character, you want to have a memorable character design.
And the best way to do this is by having a great character silhouette!
Remember the “Who’s That Pokemon?” part of the Pokemon Series?
It was usually pretty easy to find out which pokemon was in the silhouette! Why? Because it had great character designs!
When you have a bad character design, you won’t be able to understand what character it is by just seeing the silhouette.
So if you want to make sure your character design works well:
- Block out the silhouette of your character
- See if it’s still recognizable!
This will help you find out instantly if your character design has a weak silhouette or not.
3) Starting Without References Or Moodboards
This is a big character design mistake.
Don’t go blindly into drawing a fully fleshed-out character out of thin air!
Sure, sometimes inspiration strikes and you just need to get pencil to paper (or apple pencil to iPad, pen to tablet) and that’s completely fine.
A lot of my characters start as very rough sketches. Experimenting with different ideas.
But when I want to develop them some more, I will do some research, finding inspirational and visual material, so I can better understand how I want my character to be.
So, if you want to create an interesting and emotionally filled character (for example, for a new art project), consider doing a lot of research!
Before settling on a final idea, lookup for references about the kind of clothing you want your character to wear.
Search for alternative looks as well, so you can test and see what works best.
Lookup for hairstyles, places that inspire you and your character, other characters that could be similar to yours, and even colors!
There are lots out there to inspire you.
Even if many things can come from your imagination, it’s good to go find references similar to the ones you have in your head.
This way, it will be easier to draw those things!
The best way that I recommend you to do this is by finding good reference material and making a Mood Board!
This is basically a collage of images that are related to your character in some way.
It can be their aesthetic, the colors, the environments, clothes, people… In short, anything can be on your mood board!
What’s important is that it inspires you and will help you develop your character more.
So take your time and research good images to help you develop an interesting character design.
I also recommend getting good reference images for poses in the meantime, this way, you’ll be 100% ready to draw your character later on!
And once you got the character design down, be sure to keep it around as reference for later drawings! This will allow you to keep drawing your character consistently (here are a few more tips for this).
4) Copying A Design
This one seems to be a given, but I have to write it here.
Don’t copy a character design!
It’s fine to get inspired by professional artwork and to make fanart of your favorite characters.
If you want to show your love and respect for other artist’s work, then create as much fanart of their characters as you want.
Fanart is good for you and will help you improve as an artist!
What is not alright is to flat-out copy the specific designs of those characters.
For example, I really like Dragonball, it’s no secret, and I’ve drawn fanart of it many times.
But I wouldn’t create a character that looks exactly like Bulma.
Instead, I can take inspiration from her. I like her outfits, they’re very 80s/90s.
So what I can do is gather some of her looks, as well as other outfits from those years and use that inspiration to draw an outfit for my character.
Her hairstyles are iconic, so I could also pick them as reference/inspiration and try them out on my character.
Hairstyles, clothes, and other aspects don’t belong only to a character.
But it’s important to know the difference between taking inspiration from certain aspects of your favorite characters and just use everything from them in yours.
You want your character to belong to you and not to someone else. So keep these as an inspiration source.
5) Going Right Into Drawing
This mistake is closely related to the research part on point number 2.
It’s fine to draw and sketch characters all day, as I said before, it’s where the ideas first come in.
But if you’re going to make a fully fleshed-out character, I really recommend you to first write about them.
You don’t need to write a full book about your character nor have everything figured out, but it’s good to take your time, take notes and get to know your character.
I usually recommend creating a character sheet for them, or just save a page on your sketchbook to write up some things such as:
- Age (or at least the age group)
- Personality Traits
- Where are they/Where are they from
- Their Dreams/Goals
- Backstory (even if it’s something small)
- Notes (extra details about them like moles, tattoos, scars, do they own a pet, anything that you feel it’s important about your character and you don’t want to forget about)
These are some of the things I like to figure out about my character.
You can add more or less to your character sheet.
But you also don’t need to know everything about them right away.
Some things you might discover as you draw and create their story.
None of these things you write is set in stone either.
As you get to know your character more and more, you might change your mind about certain things or want to add more to them.
Writing them a bit before settling on a final design will just help you visualize your character a bit better.
This way, you’ll also know what kind of situations will you draw them in the future.
It’s exciting to sit down and start drawing right away, but try to take some time to write your character as well.
I found that this part can be really fun as well. It not only helps us make our character more interesting, but it will improve our creativity, storytelling, and drawing skills!
6) Stiff Poses And Boring Shapes
Sure, character design shapes can be squares, triangles, circles… But you don’t have to restrain yourself to these!
Try parallelograms, ellipses, hexagons! Use your creative juices to draw these into your character.
You don’t need to focus on only one kind of shape. Mix and match different shapes.
Think about your character.
After writing about them, you probably have a better idea of what kind of body they have.
Now, it’s time to experiment and see what shapes better fit them.
A very tall and slim character will probably be made out of long rectangles and have some triangles in the mix.
However, a tall but heavier character can have a mix of round and squared shapes.
Think about your character, how tall they are, what kind of physique they have, and try different things until you find the right shapes for them!
It’s a very simple and fun process that I really recommend going through.
Again, we just want to see the final result of our character.
But it’s important to see as many possibilities there are for them, so they look exactly how we want them to.
Also, work on your poses!
Look up as many pose references as you can, and see what fits your character best. One of the biggest character design mistakes you can make is just sticking to the first pose that comes to mind and not working on improving it.
Drawing Anatomy is hard, and there are many anatomy reference books that can help you with this! So don’t hesitate in searching and using these helpful drawing guides to avoid bad character design mistakes.
If you want to create a turnaround sheet for them (which you should), do focus on drawing simple standing poses in all possible views.
This is important so you have a reference on how your character looks, from any view: front, side, ¾, and back.
Whenever you draw them, you can go and check their turnaround sheet so you’re sure you’re not missing anything.
However, try out interesting and quirky poses whenever you’re drawing them. Again, think about your character.
Maybe your character tends to be very sad and depressed.
Then draw them in a way that reflects that part of them.
Very slanted and teary-eyed, maybe even curling into a ball.
A very quiet and introverted character will probably use very closed and passive poses as well.
On the other hand, if your character is super bubbly and energetic, go all out with energetic poses!
Push the limits of each pose until you have something really special.
Don’t be afraid to repeat them over and over until you’re happy with your results!
7) Choosing Similar Colors For The Design
Color theory is a BIG subject, but here’s a small tip: don’t use similar colors next to each other!
Unless you’re going for a very monotone style of drawing, keep some contrast between elements in your character designs.
In general, you want your character to pop up and be easily recognizable. And so having some contrast between your colors will achieve that goal.
It also depends on what kind of character you’re going for.
Are they the main character? Then that’s where you want your viewer to be looking most of the time.
So using stronger colors, that contrast well with each other, is a go.
However, if you’re drawing more of a secondary character, you can ease down on that contrast and vibrancy.
If you watch cartoons, you’ll notice this a lot.
It all depends on your own preferences as well. But even if you prefer to use dark or less saturated colors, it’s important to pay attention to the contrast between them, so your character colors won’t mix into each other.
I do recommend learning a bit of color theory so it’s easier to understand color and combine them.
But a good way to choose colors for your character is to use a Complementary Color Scheme.
It’s a very easy and simple color scheme and these combinations will always work out really well.
So if you’re just starting, practice some simple color palettes at first, study different color schemes or simply look up interesting color palettes online.
Remember, practice and experimentation are always key!
8) Emotionless Characters And Expressions
For other people to feel connected to your characters, you must avoid this bad character design mistake!
Characters need strong emotions and expressions.
This does not necessarily mean that your character needs to be super happy or super depressive all the time! It means that when your character feels something, it should show!
Your character must have believable expressions for the viewer!
When you draw a happy character like this: 😐 it serves no purpose!
So avoid this bad character design mistake at all costs when drawing your characters.
9) Giving Up On Character Design
This is the biggest character design mistake you can do!
If this is something you enjoy doing, never give up.
Mistakes happen and we’re always learning. They’re also very important so you can keep on growing as an artist.
So the trick here is to enjoy the whole process, even if you make a mistake or two.
And if you did, you can amend those.
Try again, keep on practicing and, above all, have fun!
You’re not failing every time you make a mistake. You’re learning.
Failure is when you give up. So keep creating your lovely characters and learning with them.
Remember that nothing is set in stone. Whatever you decide for your characters right now, can be changed later on. So… keep on drawing!
How do artists identify mistakes? It’s not easy identifying character design mistakes, especially if you’re staring at your design for hours on end. But with practice, research, and learning from your mistakes, you’ll more easily identify future mistakes!
What are the steps to design a character? There are many steps to design a character, from writing the backstory and traits, gesture drawing the pose, working on the silhouette, and much more. If you want to get a complete step-by-step guide, I recommend you to check our online drawing courses!
Patricia Caldeira is the main writer here at Don Corgi. She's an art teacher with over 20.000 happy students across many platforms and courses!
Enjoy your stay and as always:
Keep on drawing!