September 27, 2016

Character Design Tutorial by Miranda Yeo

Some time ago we asked our community through social media polls what they would like to learn from the pros and the answer was crystal clear! Now, character designer and illustrator Miranda Yeo offered to create a five part tutorial series specially for us!

Read the step by step guide below and watch the walkthrough videos to quickly better your skills in sketching, refining, lining, coloring and adding the perfect finishing touches.

We hope you enjoy it!

Part 1 - Sketches

• Start off with a 4000x400px canvas. You can always size up or down at any time later.
• Then create a new layer.
• Sketch out some rough ideas.
• If you´re not sure what pose you want to work with, we recommend to come up with a bunch of different poses, and choose your favourite.
• Try to keep the sketches loose, you can work out the details once you settle on a specific sketch.


- Work with the Navigator open. It allows you to see your entire canvas even while you´re zoomed in. To enable it, Window -> Navigator.
- To move quickly around the canvas, hold down the space bar and click and drag.

You can watch the walkthrough video here.

Now it´s time to choose a sketch and work on refining it!

Part 2 - Refining

• Before we get started, now might be a good time to look at the key bindings.
• You can set different actions to whatever keyboard key you want. For example: set Flip Canvas to CTRL + W so you can easily check whether your art looks as disired when mirrored.
• You can change up your key bindings at any time once you get more comfortable.
• Lower the opacity on the sketch layer so that you can draw on top.
• Create a new layer.
• When refining a sketch, try to keep the original idea in tact while working out the details.
• Try to keep these sketches fairly loose so that when it´s time to trace the lines, it won´t be so stiff.
• You can use the Lasso Tool to grab parts of the sketch and CTRL+X to delete them.

About the Cintiq Companion 2

To create this tutorial series, Miranda worked on our Cintiq Companion 2. She mentions: "You can draw anywhere with it since it is it´s own little computer. When I´m not at my desk using a desktop, I have the Cintiq Companion express keys set to: Undo (CTRL+Z), Select All (CTRL+A), Cut (CTRL+X)."


While drawing, flip the canvas regularly to make sure the art looks good even when mirrored.

You can watch the tutorial video here.

Now it is time to start lining!

Part 3 - Lining

• Lower the opacity of your sketch layer and create a new layer for the line art.
• Erase and redraw lines as many times as needed before getting something you´re happy with. It helps to use the shortcut Undo (CTRL+Z) for this.
• Lining is usually one of the longest steps because of all the drawing, but can be very enjoyable and relaxing.
• When doing long sweeping lines, it´s usually best to do this while zoomed out.
• Create a new layer for adding accessories like a flower headpiece, so that it will be easier to erase the hair lines underneath. You can use this method with any lines that will interfere with other lines.
• We recommend to merge the two line layers together, but you can keep them seperated if you prefer.To merge a layer with the one below it, use CTRL + E.
• To finish up, now is a good time to name your layers.
• And since we no longer need the rough sketch layer, you can delete it.


- Erase and redraw lines as many times as needed.
- Create multiple strokes. For example: one stroke for the forehead and another for the nose. Then erase the tail in the middle. This method can work better than trying to do it all in one single stroke.
- It helps to use Undo (CTRL + Z) until you get that perfect line.
- Zoom out when doing long sweeping lines.

Now it is time to add colour!

You can watch the walkthrough video here.

Part 4 - Colour

• To put down your base colour, use the Magic Wand Tool to select the area outside of your lines.
• Use Select > Inverse so that the area inside your lines is now selected.
• Create a new layer. Place this layer below your line layer.
• On this base colour layer, click "Lock Transparant Pixels"Now you´ll only be able to colour on top of your base colour.
• Her sleeves are going to be transparant, so let´s make a new layer for them.
• Set the layer mode to Lighten so that her arms are visible under the sleeves.
• Use the Lasso Tool to select the hair. Fill in this area using the Paint Bucket.
• Press CTRL + U for th Hue/ Saturation adjuster.You can use this tool to quickly see different colour combinations.
• To add shadows, create a new layer above your base colour layer.Right Click on this layer, and "Create Clipping Mask"
• Now you´ll be working on a new layer but only colouring on top of your original base layer.
• To keep things simple, you can use magenta for the shadows.This one colour will affect the entire colour layer beneath, rather than shading each area with it´s own shadow colour.Red works well with warmer toned colours and Blues work well with cooler tones.
• Once you have your shadows down, set a layer to Multiply and adjust the opacity.
• You can use the same technique for adding highlights. Created a new layer and choose yellow as the highlight.
• Set this layer to Overlay.
• Lock the "Transparant Pixels" on the line layer and then change the colour from black to something a bit lighter.
• To finish up, add some sparkles on a new layer.
• Then add a blur effect to the sparkles by going to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.


- Use the Hue/ Saturation Tool to quickly see different colour combinations. You can activate it by pressing CTRL + U.
- To keep it simple when adding shadows and highlights, create a new layer above your base colour layer > right Click on this layer and "Create Clipping Mask". Now you´ll be working on a new layer but only colouring on top of your original base layer. 
For shadows: red works well with warmer toned colours and blues work well with cooler tones. For highlighs you can use a yellow colour.

Now for some final adjustments, and then we´re done.

You can watch the walkthrough video here.

Part 5 - Finishing Touches

• To add a gradient effect, create a new layer and place it above your colour layers.Keep it within your "Clipping Mask" chain.
• Left Click and hold while using the Paint Bucket tool.This will allow you to switch to the Gradient Tool.
• Switch the preset from "Foreground to Background" to "Foreground to Transparent". This allows you to create a "Colour to Transparent" gradient over your image.
• Play with the different Layer Modes until you find an effect you are happy with.
• You can use Lighten and you can adjust the Opacity to make the effect more subtle.
• Now, add a grainy texture effect by adding a Noise Filter to a solid colour layer.
• Again, adjust the Layer Mode and Opacity as desired.This creates a subtle grainy look.
• Lastly, create a white outline around the line art.
• And create a new layer below all of the other layers. 
• Then change your brush to whatever colour you´d like the outline to be.
• To create the outline, go to Edit > Stroke and adjust the Width of your outline.
• Erase any bits of the outline you don´t like.
• Finally, use the Crop tool to crop your image if you desire.

You can watch the walkthrough video here.

About Miranda Yeo

Miranda is currently working as a freelance character designer and living in Ontario, Canada. She loves cute and adventure things, and also mermaids.
Clients Include: Nickelodeon, Nick Jr, Disney Jr, 9story Entertainment, Corus, DHX Vancouver.

If you would like to know more about Miranda Yeo´s work, you can follow her on:

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