The Art Of Creating Character

Nina with two of the books she has illustrated

On the fourth and final day of this years SCBWI Australia & NZ Conference programme I attended as illustrator masterclass with the lovely Nina Rycroft. I don’t have many notes for this class, the reason being that it was very hands-on, which is exactly what you want when it is a practical class. She demonstrated the following:


  • how she presents her work (sample pieces) to publishers
  • what a ‘tear sheet’ is (something I had never heard of)
  • how she draws the first thumbnails for the whole story concept
  • the various stages she goes through to get to the final piece
  • if your animal characters move from left to right this helps the children read the book in the correct direction
  • do not paint any detail where the fold of the page will be
  • don’t particularly illustrate in order of the story
  • mark out the ‘crop marks’ and ‘fold marks’


  • consider where the text will go
  • left hand text should generally be higher than right hand/page text so children scan the words in the correct direction
Each picture book is an accumulation of lots of sketches, practise and hard work.
One of the areas I requested Nina to cover along with other class participants is that of anthropomorphic techniques. (Anthropomorphic = ascribing human traits to non-human things. Think of the clock and teacups in Beauty & the Beast). Generally I am a realistic drawer/painter. I can draw what I see but have a lot of trouble doing it from imagination. So this was a great lesson for me. Here are some of my examples:
The dancer

Nina is a big believer in acting out what it is you are trying to draw. So if you are drawing a dancer, stand, move, dance in the position you are trying to illustrate. feel where the weight is. How is the body balanced? Feel as well as  observe.

Close up of dancer’s face
Practising facial expressions

Move your face into the expression you are trying to draw. then try to convey this with amnimal faces.

Happy, sad and angry pigs.

I learnt so much from this masterclass and Nina was a great teacher. Now all I need to do is practise and find my own style!

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4 thoughts on “The Art Of Creating Character

  1. Impressive! Did Nina say anything about people made of circles and rectangles with 3 fingers on each hand and sticks for hair? Hmmm. Probably not. As a person who draws like a 5-year old, your artwork is mind-blowing! Good luck with it.

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