Demo: Character Costume & Props


Illustrating Characters and the Stories They Tell


Lesson Info

Demo: Character Costume & Props

I think I'm gonna sketch out when she finds... When she finds her stuffed animal in the snow and she's so happy. 'Cause I want her to be happy. How that will feel, what that might look like. And, again, it's helpful to start with an overall shape before you get to noodly. I love drawing faces so I always go to the face first. It's sort of my go to... Thing, but if I get too locked into the face, then I forget about the overall shape and that's never a good idea. I want to remember that cool hood she's wearing. And how would this character hug her beloved toy. What would her body gesture look like? She's super happy. So again, all that I'm doing now, what the students are doing, is they're getting to know their character, king characters. And by doing that, they're doing two things. They're making them more believable and they're eliciting the story space. So... It's not only, I think, a good exercise, and this is not only something that only people who feel like they can draw well can ...

do, anyone can do this. Anyone at home can take these shadow shapes and do this exercise because we have story in us. I have not worked with any person who isn't capable of telling a narrative tale with the shadow shapes, whether they're in kindergarten or they're teachers or they're art students, it's not about the quality, even, of the drawing at this point, it doesn't matter how good the drawing is. It's about how well you're accessing a story that's meaningful to you. And you may not even know why it's meaningful to you. It doesn't really matter why, you can think about it later. Why did I dream about that, why do I think about that? It's just the fact that you do and that's what matters most. I'm gonna draw my little character here and you can only see part of its face. Here's its little eye ball, wait I want to change that. I also try not to erase too much, be too critical or judgmental of a drawing when I'm at the sketch stage. You gotta let it just flow. You can erase later. So I'm just trying to draw a little, a little box doll. That she found, I think it has a little chubby belly. And sometimes, too, when I'm trying to draw a doll. I make it look too real, (laughs) and it doesn't look like a doll any more. So thinking about how things really look again, when I get to a point where I really want things to be more convincing, that's when I go to my resources and start to look at reference material and stuff like that. But at this stage, this is the rif stage, you don't worry too much about references, unless you really feel panicked and you're like, "I really want to know what that looks like." Then go ahead and look. Now here, and you'll notice that her tail is of course, is happy. So it's up, it's not any longer in the downward pose, flying, she's super happy. So her tail is a source of expression, just like, some of the students are working on drawings, they're using elements of the body form to tell about the character's personality, use everything you can. Anything you can that clues the viewer in, is a really helpful thing. The other thing I want to mention about drawing and sketching it doesn't matter who you are, if I've not drawn in a couple of weeks because I've been, I teach a lot. I teach at RISD, I'm doing what I'm doing now, if I've stepped away from drawing, I can feel super rusty and be like, "I can't do this. "I don't know how to draw anymore, I stink." It's just like the voices that run through our heads. It doesn't matter whether you've done it a lot or a little, it's kind of a common human thing. So the first thing I do when I'm hearing my voice in my head telling me that, is I just pick up the pencil and start to draw and say, "alright, move past this." On the airplane I did some sketches just to get ready for what we'd be doing here, to loosen up, and to feel a little bit more confident. But I'm convinced that creativity is held back by that little fear voice that says that you can't do this, you can't do that thing. And you can't shut it down, you can't pretend it doesn't exist, it's there. You have to kind of talk to it. And this I'm taking right from a fabulous book by Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote "Eat, Pray, Love" and the book is called "Big Magic." And one of the things she says, which I found really helpful was, and this is for anybody who wants to engage in their creativity, she said we have to walk with the fear, because it's gonna be there, you cannot ignore it. It's gonna be a part of being a creative person you have to take risks, and that can be terrifying. She says, just walk with it and talk to your fear and say, "Hey, okay, this may turn out badly, "this may really stink, but I'm gonna give it a shot anyway. "Will you work with me?" And it may sound weird to say you're talking to yourself, the fearful part of yourself. But I think that it helps to acknowledge that we all experience that. And that it's okay if something doesn't turn out really well or you have to try it a few times. We have to accept that that's just a part of, especially a part of creative space or any endeavor that's new where you haven't done something before. But when you try it and it starts to work out, it's so... It's affirming and it feels really good and so I try to encourage people and like, "Try it, even if you're not sure how it's going to turn out, "give it a shot." There, I'm feeling good about her little, hey, I want some color too. Shades for the little doll that she found, she's really happy. Maybe the smile should be broader. Yeah, she's super happy and I'm doing the eyes like, I'm just imagining in my mind how the eye would look if you, close your eyes and like, "Yes, I found my doll in the snow." There, I'm just probably gonna grab some color. Take a peak at what everybody's doing. Yeah, okay. Now I have to think about color too and symbolism and what color these things should be. Oh my gosh, does he have hair on his arms? So he's like a little hair suit. He's kind of hairy, kind of sweaty. (laughs) But he's sweet. But he's really sweet. I like the contrast, he's a little glom, he's a little sweaty, but he's a good soul. He's a jolly guy. I love it, I feel like I'd love to see them, even just leaning in, some kind of a space which will kind of hold them together. It's also, in terms of drawing, a horizontal connector that holds those two vertical shapes together so it's good to think about where they might be standing. But I love it, it's great. Good, you're using color. He's a little sweet. Oh, can you turn this around? I just gotta see-- Yeah, go for it. How this looks. Oh my gosh, this little boy. Oh, I love it. It's funny, oh, he's thinking. He's thinking about it. He's remembering. A happier time, I don't know. Not to go nihilistic or anything but you know. Yeah, no, well this is the thing, it's like you don't even know where it comes from. And it doesn't even matter where it comes from. It's gonna come out, it has to come out. And it's telling you what to do, which is a strange sensation and I don't know how that works, I have no idea. But I don't wanna think too hard about the magic and just let it keep going, keep going, keep going. Yeah and I love bringing color to this, with the color of his hair, what would this tell us about him? And his shoes and maybe place them too, in a space, just like where they are. Oh good, they're playing, awesome. She looks a little like I'm not sure. (laughs) And oh, he's sitting, oh, this is fabulous. Maybe where they are. Yeah, I think I need to start drawing environment a little bit more. It helps to connect, again, you have vertical characters, when you have something that connects them horizontally, it doesn't have to be perfectly horizontal, it could be tilted, what have you. But that helps to hold the picture together. So I would do that.

Class Description

This class will teach you how to draw characters as a way to develop stories. Instructor Mary Jane Begin is an award-winning illustrator and author of children’s picture books, a Rhode Island School of Design graduate and professor in the Illustration Department. Mary Jane explains the importance of narrative in all creative fields, and how to develop them.

In this class she covers: 
  • The key elements of story creation: working from the inside out, letting intuition flow, working with limitations
  • Seeking out prompts to springboard story
  • The elements of Character development

Mary Jane will give you a prompt to jump start story and demonstrate how to develop it. You’ll learn about the fundamental human response to a particular character style, and how to make decisions that elicit story.


LIse Brown

I didn’t pay enough attention to the description so was surprised by the focus of the class — but in a definitely good way. As a member of SCBWI, I’ve learned a lot about illustrating characters by going to conferences and participating in our active local group. Most of the instruction I’ve received, as I suspect is also the case with most formal instruction, has been from the point of view of being given a character from a story to illustrate. This class covers creating a story based on the characters you draw, placing the drawing first and finding the story as you work. Of course there is overlap in the two approaches — overlap that emphasizes important steps. The creativity process is demonstrated clearly and in depth here in a gently encouraging way. However, while I, like the instructor, believe that everyone can be creative, I also question whether this approach would work for all illustrators: not all have time to write the stories that go with the characters they create, as ours is usually a business driven by clients who already have a story and characters. I’m not saying that this would not be a valuable class for them, just mentioning the different take on the subject. I had expected more of the usual angle of how to create a page of character sketches for your portfolio or how to develop the illustration of a character from a manuscript. Though help with these topics is partially covered in the progress of the class, they are not the main focus. All-in-all, the different approach is to the credit of the class — encouraging and expanding a student’s horizons. Also, plenty of little gems are thrown in during the lecture and demos, from techniques to the psychology of creativity. The instructor is competent, clear, and pleasant. She conveyed a lot of information that I didn’t realize until I was thinking about it later. One note: the titles for the breakdown of the demo are not exactly accurate, The demo is of the instructor creating one character as she draws. I understand that the producers wanted to segment it, but really it’s one continuous process, and some of the titles for those lessons are misleading.

Lynne Perkins

Amazing lecture! Everything an illustrator learns in art school covered! Thank you for sharing. I miss the imput and critiques I experienced during my college years and this class brought to mind so many enjoyable memories. The advice was given in a generous and kind, inspiring way!

Aimee Nicola

Such a great class! MJ is really inspiring and encouraging. I've never known how to approach drawing characters, but now I feel much more capable....hoping to one day write and draw my own children's book!