Introduction: Draw Manga Characters

A short introduction
I've been drawing pictures for as long as I've been able to hold a crayon in my hand. Therefore, I sometimes take for granted just how easy this is for me and just how frustrating this task may be for others. Don't worry though ... I'm here to help.

Contrary to popular belief, the skill of drawing isn't a talent that has been bestowed upon a select few of us. I firmly believe that each and every one of us is capable of drawing an image. We all draw ... be it the mindless scribbling of stick figures on a scrap of paper while talking on the phone or putting a considerable investment of time into something more polished which would be worthy of a frame and a place to hang on the wall.

How to draw
From my own experiences, I've discovered that the best way to learn how to draw is to ignore the concept of drawing lines to create your image. Instead you should focus on the shapes that make up the basic structure of the object that you plan to draw. For example: a table in it's most simplest form is a box. Draw a box and you have the beginnings of a drawing of a table.

This idea may be a little difficult to grasp in text and especially if your current skill level is not much more than "on the phone doodler". So over the course of the next few steps I'm going to show you exactly what I'm talking about. Let's get started!

Step 1: What You'll Need

We're going to be drawing a manga character during this instructable for no particular reason other than it fits into the Burning Questions: Round 7 contest rules. So, I've collected a few items of interest below that we'll need to create our drawing. Starting at the top left and going clockwise we have 1) a bowling pin, 2) a bowling ball, 3) a small collection of checks, arrows and pointy things, 4) circles of various sizes, 5) a bright pink sea urchin and 6) the capital letter "M".

Keep in mind that, unlike other instructables, you do not need the actual physical representations of the items listed above. These are just visual elements that you will keep in mind while creating your drawing. As for actual physical items that are needed for this instructable, you'll need something to draw with and something to draw on. I find that a pencil (with an erasure) and a piece of paper are suitable for most drawing exercises.

Step 2: Enough Talk! Draw!

I could go on endlessly about theories and practices of drawing, but it's much easier if we just get to it. Starting in the center of your page, draw a bowling ball. It's basically a circle with 3 other circles (or ovals) positioned within. Don't worry about the quality of your line, this is just the foundation of our manga character which will be erased in future steps. The important thing is to get a good sized circle here that is in the center of your page horizontally and just slightly higher than center vertically.

See! You're drawing already! Wasn't that easy?

Step 3: More on the Theme of Bowling

OK, so now we're going to be building up our shape some more so that it begins to look like something other than a bowling ball. It was a fine bowling ball, but we're drawing a manga character, remember?

Next we add our bowling pin. However, we're going to have to be a little bit creative here with this step. Imagine what our bowling pin would look like if it were a child sized version of itself. It would be short and maybe a little more pudgy around the neck. Good! Now draw that image at a -45 degree angle to vertical as shown below.

Looks like you just picked up that spare. Good job!

Step 4: For Future Reference

Now we're going to do a little forethought. Make a visual reference of where the arrow is pointing in the illustration below. It'll be important in a later step of this instructable. You can make a small mark here if you'd like but it's not critical to be precise with this drawing. Sometimes a happy accident can add that extra "something special" to your drawing.

Step 5: Using the Other End of Your Pencil

Now we'll flip our pencil over and use the soft part to do some erasing. As wonderful as our little bowling picture is turning out, we're drawing a manga character. So, we can get rid of the finger holes on the bowling ball plus every part of the bowling ball that has been intersected by our bowling pin.

In other words, erase all parts that are red in the image below.

Step 6: All That Work for Nothing?

Now get rid of the right half of the bowling pin.

I know you're probably thinking, "Hey! Wait a minute! That was a mighty fine drawing of a bowling ba ... oh, right! We're drawing a manga character! Nevermind." ... and you'd be correct.

This will all make sense in just a couple more steps. Hang in there, you're doing fine.

Step 7: Remember Step 4?

We're getting into some more advanced things now and within a few steps this whole thing will start to make sense to you (I promise). We're going to be doing some simple curves now to help further define the shape of our manga character's head.

Starting at the top of the remaining portion of the bowling pin, draw a nice and gentle arc that comes around to the point that I wanted you to remember in step 4. I've included the arrow in the image below to refresh your memory. Now make a second curve that starts at the bottom of the remaining portion of the bowling pin and moves upwards towards the same point (that I wanted you to remember in step 4).

NOTE: I apologize if the red is confusing below. This is not an erasure step (as earlier red lines were). You are drawing new lines on this step. I just felt that these lines needed to be highlighted in some way. Therefore, they are red.

Step 8: What Happened to Our Bowling Ball and Pin?

At this point you can get rid of all that remains of our bowling ball. You're done with the sports imagery and you should now have a 3/4 profile of a bald human-ish head. I say "human-ish" because manga characters aren't typically the model of perfection when it comes to the human anatomy. So, if you're looking at your image and it looks kind of freakish ... don't panic. This is normal and I doubt that you could make many mistakes up to this point.

If for some reason you don't agree with me, it would be perfectly acceptable to throw your image away (eh ... I mean "throw it in the recycling bin") and restart over at step 2. Practice until you've come to a point where you think it sort of looks like a head. Then you can confidently continue onto the next steps where we'll be adding some human-ish features to our human-ish head.

Step 9: Marking Positions for Facial Features

Before we start adding facial features we have to make sure that we are placing them in the correct place or else our character is going be less manga inspired and more Picasso influenced. Artistic anatomy books demonstrating the techniques of facial construction will provide a more detailed explanation of the steps to follow. However, for the purpose of creating cartoon or manga characters, we can afford to simplify this to just a few steps.

This step may not make much sense if you're just following along and aren't quite sure what our head is supposed to look like when it's finished. It's OK to skip ahead to take a look at our head when it's more developed. I'll wait for you to return ...

Alright, are you ready to continue? Good!

Let's imagine that we just threw a really sharp piece of paper at our head shape and it perfectly separated it in two halves along the vertical axis. If we trace our head shape where the paper intersects we'll have our first guide line. Now imagine that we're just sadistic enough to do it again but this time separating the human-ish head shape horizontally. This will be our second guide line. We will perform this sick, twisted and brutal method on our bald human-ish head shape one last time to find our 3/4 vertical guideline. After completing these torturous instructions you should have three guidelines drawn on the surface of your human-ish head shape that will make it very easy to place some facial features correctly.

Step 10: Making a Point

I'm not sure what the deal is here, but a common representation of a nose on manga characters is something very small, pointy and could probably put your eye out if used improperly. So please proceed with caution and take all necessary safety precautions.

Having said this, let's visualize our collection of small checks, arrows and pointy things then select one that best suits your character. Imagining a line that goes from cheekbone to cheekbone, place your sharp pointy nose on the vertical center of our human-ish head shape so that it rests on this imaginary cheekbone guideline.

I like using something that is a sort of a crossbreed between the check mark (top left) and the broken triangle (bottom right) for my nose. You can use just about anything that you want. Just make sure that it rests on the vertical center line and is in the area of the cheekbone line (you can actually go higher or lower if you prefer).

Step 11: Here's the Really Challenging Part

If you've made it this far give yourself a heart-felt pat on the back. You should completely understand what I was saying in the beginning about form vs. line. If you make it past the next couple of steps ... you'll want to go out and celebrate. These are the most challenging (some would say "frustrating") parts of this instructable. But don't give up! Remember what we've done up until this part and you should do fine.

First thing we want to do is get our collection of circles out and take a good look at them. Notice how they can be compressed in different directions to create ovals. Notice how they can be stretched and condensed into other various sizes. Circles (and parts of circles) are very powerful items to use in your drawings. Which is good because we'll be drawing the eyes next. And as the saying goes ... eyes are the window to the soul! If we mess this up, our manga character will be a lifeless abomination. We don't want that!

Using a separate piece of paper, practice using your circles (and parts of circles) to make some eyes. Try different styles or copy them from one of your favorite comic books. After you've drawn 5 - 10 different sets of eyes you'll probably be ready to move back to your human-ish head shape and go for broke. There is no wrong type of eye for your manga character but stylistically speaking the eyes are generally very large for the head (in some cases nearly 1/3 the height of the head).

Using the vertical guidelines that we drew earlier as reference points we can draw our eyes on our human-ish head shape right along the horizontal guideline. Place each eye between the center and 3/4 lines (although we only drew one, we know that there should be another on the other side of the head approximately in the same area as our profile line). That compressed area between the center line and the left side of the face is called foreshortening. You can fit an eye in there if you adjust accordingly for this effect (which means ... scrunch it).

Note in my drawing how I've reduced the width of the character's right eye (on our left) to adjust for the foreshortening. Also, both eyes reach each edge of the vertical guidelines yet there is enough space between the eyes to indicate the bridge of the nose.

Go ahead and draw your eyes when you are confident with the style that you've chosen. Go ahead and give the character some eye brows as well.

Step 12: Giving It Some Bite

While you have your circles still out and you've just completed some gorgeous looking eyes, keep that flow going and apply the same principles to creating your character's mouth. You should pay attention to the center line and keep your mouth in close proximity to this guide. However you are free to push the mouth side to side or up and down for expression. Remember that the mouth is very flexible and can form an infinite number of shapes to express emotions or to form words.

Even though you are unable to create sound with a static image, the shape of the mouth can subconsciously plant the sound of a word in the viewer's head. Look at the heads below and see if you agree that the sounds "AAAAAA", "FFFFFF", "OOOOOO" and "EEEEEE" are well represented. This subliminal effect can be very powerful in communicating the current state of mind that your character is in. For example: suppose your character was just struck in the head with a baseball. You'd want to either open the mouth wide to indicate that he is screaming or have him biting forcefully on a lip to indicate he's trying to suppress his pain.

The mouth is the second most expressive part of the human-ish head shape (with the eyes taking the top spot). So, you see why I said earlier that these are the most difficult and frustrating parts of making your manga character. If you've finished sketching in the mouth and eyes feel free to adjust and refine the lines around the face. We're pretty much done here and you're manga character should be expressing quite a bit of emotion and character at this point. Go out and celebrate if you wish, but do come back as I'll be showing you how you can polish this drawing even more in the next couple of steps.

Step 13: Gentlemen, Lend Me Your Ears!

Keep working those circles (and parts of circles) to craft a pair of ears for your character. If you want to give your character really long hair, you can probably skip this step entirely. However, for those who are adding ears, let's cover just a couple of things.

Ears on a human are typically inline with the corner of the eye (i.e. if you drag your finger from the corner of your eye towards your ear, you'll most likely poke yourself right in that hole that goes into your skull). You're welcome to follow this anatomical design when constructing your manga character head but as I said earlier, manga characters aren't typically the model of perfection when it comes to the human anatomy. I like to drop the ear below eye level which gives more emphasis to the character's eyes in relation to the rest of the features of the face.

You can also skimp on a lot of the details of the ear if you prefer. A simple "C" shape can be suitable for your character if you desire. We can simplify here because (like the nose) the ears are one of the least expressive features of the face. Noone will notice what the ears are doing when they have to compete with the more expressive eyes and mouth.

Step 14: Slice, Dice, Fillet and Puree!

Hair. Ugh! What a nightmare of sharp angles and pointy things to shame all would be tiny, sharp and pointy manga character noses. Here's all you need to know about drawing hair in the manga style ... make it pointy!

Beyond that, it doesn't really matter where you go with it. Hair in the manga genre seems to defy the laws of gravity, can take on a life all it's own and must (for some unknown reason) be either black, white or neon colored on any primary character.

Go crazy! You can do no wrong here. Seriously.

Step 15: Done?!?

Believe it or not, we're done with this instructable. If you've made it to this step and haven't given up then you can confidently say that you have drawn a manga character. You have learned how to identify shapes and forms which make up the underlying structure of your manga character's head. You've used your collection of circles (and parts of circles) to construct the details of our character's facial features. You have refined and clarified your shapes with sharper lines and removal of all muckier parts. Plus you've learned a thing or two about expressing emotions with your character.

The purpose of the instuctable was to show you how to draw a manga character and at this point we have a foundation for the development of an unlimited number of characters. Congratulations!

Finish your character with any details that you see fit, show it to your friends and revel in the glory of having learned how to draw a manga character! If you are still struggling with drawing shapes don't give up and keep on practicing. It took me many years to learn to draw. It would be foolish for anyone to expect that you could equal my abilities (says I, modestly) by following a 15 step tutorial. However, you should have the basics down from which you can build upon.

I hope you have enjoyed this instructable and had some fun while learning to draw. This was my first instructable and I certainly enjoyed writing it (plus creating each of the accompanying images).

Burning Questions: Round 7

First Prize in the
Burning Questions: Round 7