Character Portrait Drawing Process – a Step by Step Demonstration

A collection of images from different stages of my process.I thought it might be beneficial to create a post to show folks the details behind how I go about doing character portraits. It’s surprising how different the process can be among other artists. Add to that the fact that many folks have never purchased custom artwork before. I figure this might help potential clients be informed.

tl;dr – I will draw things for you to the best of my ability. Out of respect for my time, please make any/all change requests early in the process so I’m not wasting time drawing things that don’t make you happy.

Character Drawing Process Step 1 – The Request

So you want to get a character portrait done huh? Great! First, you have to let me know. The best way to do that is using my contact form.

Not sure what to ask for? Check out my post on How to Get What You Want from Your Character Portrait Commission – a Guide for Customers it will help you ask for what you want and help me to provide it.

This is the description I received for the character I’m using as a sample for this post:

The initial description I received from the client.

The initial description I received from the client.

Character Drawing Process Step 2 – Thumbnails

Sample thumbnails of the character / pose.This is the stage where I accept the job. If you don’t receive thumbnails from me, I have not yet accepted the job, and you should not send any money. I’ll create some thumbnails for your approval. Please keep in mind is that these will be very rough. Our primary intent is to make sure that we’re on the same page. I want to make sure the pose is right and that the composition suits you. That said, please feel free to make any change requests as early on as possible.

I generally don’t mind making changes at this stage or even one stage later (the rough sketch) but the later in the process, the longer it takes to make changes and the more difficult it is to do. Changes too late in the process may force me to charge additional fees. It’s for the reason that I’m creating this post – I want to prevent that as best I can.

Once you have replied with a thumbnail that you like, you must pay for the full cost of the portrait. I charge so little that partial payments are not sufficient. I need to know that you’re not just doing this on a whim and will forget about me, the work, and the payment because something else has captured your focus. No further work will be started until payment has been received.

Rough SketchCharacter Drawing Process Step 3 – Rough Sketch

After you’ve selected a thumbnail, I draw up a rough sketch based on that thumbnail. I refine the pose and start to add equipment and details. It’s still not a finished image by a long shot, but it’s a good way to give you solid feel for where I’m headed with your drawing. It’s a great way to make sure we’re still on the same page and give you another opportunity to offer feedback and change requests.

This is the last convenient place to make changes to the image. Future changes are of course possible, but I may charge more to make them.

Character Drawing Process Step 4 – Inks

Once you have approved the rough sketch, I move on to the ‘inking’ stage. This will result in a refined black and white drawing I will send you. It will have all the details of the finished linework and thus show all the elements of the finished piece with the exception of tone, color, and any ‘special effects’ (like magic spells etc).

This stage too gets an approval from you. This is your chance to make sure that I didn’t forget something that you asked for. If I did, I will, of course, make those changes with no additional charge to you.

color flatsCharacter Drawing Process Step 5 – Color Flats

Here I add some base ‘flats’ color to the digital inks. It’s important to note that the colors may not be close to the colors of the final image. They’re primarily a tool for me in the rendering process. I use them to select major areas that will be worked together. Essentially, this is another ‘efficiency’ thing that digital work allows me. Despite the fact that the colors may feel ‘off’ to clients, I will often still send a sample at this stage because it’s an exciting element for most clients when the color finally begins and it gives them at least some idea where I’m heading with the color scheme.

Take note, however, how much the colors in this sample differ from what the color looks like in the next stage – the finished image.

Yuu the Pixie Druid - the finished image.Character Drawing Process Step 6 – Finished Image

After the finished inks have received your approval, I dive into the rendering process. Color, tone, and any special effects will be added to the image and the final piece will be emailed to you.

Minor tweaks may still be made to colors and things at this point, but keep in mind that additional charges may be required if the changes are extensive or at my discretion.

Character Drawing Process – Miscellaneous 

Generally: Obviously, I want to make you happy. I like to do that, and as an added bonus it helps to make clients into repeat clients. That’s my overriding premise: Under Promise / Over Deliver.

Reference Images Etc: I’m happy to receive images from you if you want your image to be based on something that already exists. Your character looks like that famous rock star and you really like the expression they have in this picture? Feel free to send it. Obviously, I’m not legally able to reproduce a copyrighted image exactly, but I am happy to have one influence my drawing. The more rare some element of your request is, the better it would be to have a reference image. A good place to look for reference images is Google Image Search if you don’t already have something in mind. With all of that said, reference images are not required – I’m happy to make something up.

Additional Charges: It’s uncommon, but not unheard off that I would require any additional charges. My comments to that effect above are to protect myself from folks I like to call ‘change-a-holics’. They generally don’t mean anything bad by changing their mind / approach frequently, but there’s no reasonable way for me to set my prices based on “They may change their mind and make me re-do work a lot.”