In this tutorial, we’ll go all the way through the exciting process of designing a cartoon character from scratch to the finished piece! Join me and let’s see how we can enliven our rough sketch by transforming geometric shapes, applying gradients and using various tools and functions of the Draw Persona of Affinity Designer to make the process fun and easy! Let’s start!
By the end of this tutorial, you’ll create a fancy character in a dynamic pose and will be able to use these techniques and create unique vector characters from your sketches! If you need some inspiration for your future projects, head straight to GraphicRiver and discover the variety of vector characters available there!
1. How to Draw the Kid’s Head and Nose
First of all, we need a sketch. It can be a rough doodle scribbled on a piece of paper or a digital piece created in any CG software using a graphics tablet.
Here’s a sketch of a boy I’ve made beforehand. You can create your own or just download this one by clicking it with the right mouse button and choosing Save As.
Create a New Document of 800 x 600 px size and use the Place Image Tool to import your sketch and embed it in the canvas.
Select the sketch in the Layers panel and decrease its Opacity to 50%. Set the Blend Mode to Multiply, making the image semi-transparent. This way we’ll be able to see all the elements that we’ll be creating beneath the sketch.
Create a New Layer and drag it beneath the sketch layer.
Let’s start creating the head. Use the Ellipse Tool (M) to make a 130 x 120 px shape. Click the Convert to Curves button in the control toolbar on top in order to be able to modify the shape.
Select the left node using the Node Tool (A) and drag the node down, combining it with the extreme point of the boy’s cheek on the sketch.
Pull the node handle up, making the oval fit the lines of the sketch.
Let’s apply the gradient fill to our shape in order to add some volume to it. Select the shape, take the Fill Tool (G), and click and drag across the shape. Now we can edit the colors: either by selecting the circle sliders of the gradient fill and adjusting their colors in the Colour panel, or by playing with the settings of the Fill options window in the control toolbar on top. Open the Gradient Fill panel and click the sliders of the gradient bar to adjust the colors.
Make the bottom of the face slightly darker than the forehead.
Use the Ellipse Tool (M) to make an ear. Apply a Linear Fill to it, making the tip of the ear pink. Convert to Curves and deform the ear slightly, making it fit the sketch.
Let’s add details to the ear using the Pencil Tool (N). Make an arched stroke and set the Stroke color to brown in the Colour panel. Adjust the settings either from the control toolbar on top or from the Stroke panel, setting the Width value to 5 pt and the Controller to Pressure.
We can move the nodes of the stroke using the Node Tool (A) in order to make the line smooth.
Add another, shorter stroke, attaching it to the first one.
This is how the head base looks if we toggle the visibility of the sketch layer.
Now let’s draw a nose. Use the Pencil Tool (N) to make a funny arched drop-like shape. You can also use the Pen Tool (P) instead, which gives you more control over the nodes.
Fill the nose with a diagonal linear gradient from red to pink. Add a smaller drop-like shape on the tip of the nose and apply a lighter gradient to make a shiny highlight.
Make the sketch invisible and make sure that all the details and color fit each other properly.
2. How to Draw a Virtual Reality Headset
Use the Rounded Rectangle Tool (M) to make a 95 x 45 px shape filled with a dark gray linear gradient. We can adjust the Corner radius from the control toolbar on top before we Convert the shape to Curves (in order to make it editable).
Once the shape is converted, use the Node Tool (A) to add nodes and move the node handles, making the shape fit the perspective and combining the edges to the outlines of the sketch. Create a small arc at the nose-bridge area of the VR and place the boy's nose on top of the VR by selecting it and pressing Shift-Control-].
Now let’s add a glowing blue element on top of the VR headset. Use the Rounded Rectangle Tool (M) to make a 30 x 10 px shape and rotate it -15 degrees. Open the Effects panel (you can find it next to the Layers panel) and tick the Outer Glow checkbox. From here we can adjust the color of the glow and other parameters of this effect.
Convert the shape to Curves and make its right part slightly narrower to make it fit the perspective.
Let’s add details to the headset. Select it and click the Insert inside the selection button in the Insert Target panel. You can find it in the upper right corner of the control toolbar on top.
Now we can use either the geometric shapes or the drawing tools (the Pencil Tool (N) or the Pen Tool (P)) to add two rectangular stripes at the bottom and the top of the VR set.
Fill the top stripe with lighter gray color and the bottom one with darker gray color, making the headset more three-dimensional.
Continue using one of the drawing tools to depict the mouth by tracing the shape of the sketch. Fill it with white color for the teeth and add darker strokes on top, depicting the wrinkles of the skin.
Adjust the Width of the strokes, setting the parameter to 5.5 pt.
Let’s go back to the VR set and create its side element. Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to create a 20 x 40 px gray shape and Convert to Curves. Rearrange the objects, placing the rectangle beneath the VR set. Move the anchor points of the rectangle, making its right side wider.
Duplicate (Command-J) the rectangle and let’s turn it into a strap. First of all, let’s change the fill color. Copy (Command-C) the dark gray VR shape, and then select the rectangle and Edit > Paste Style, this way applying the dark gray gradient fill to the shape.
Now we can select and drag the top and bottom left nodes of the rectangle to the opposite side, turning the shape “inside out”.
Stretch the strap behind the ear. Place the ear and its elements on top of the strap (Shift-Command-]).
Let’s move on and create a hairdo. Draw out the silhouette, using our sketch as a guide, and apply a linear fill from red to brown. Use the Insert inside the selection function to draw some dark-brown lines inside the hair shape, depicting separate locks.
Finish off the boy’s face by speckling some freckles on his cheeks. Use the Ellipse Tool (M) while holding down Shift to make the circles even.
Create a rectangle of about 15 x 20 px size for the neck. Apply a linear fill, making the top of the shape slightly darker than the face. Convert it to Curves and move the nodes, making its bottom part narrower.
3. How to Draw the Body in Dynamic Pose
Take the Rectangle Tool (M) and let’s start designing the t-shirt! Make a 60 x 115 px rectangle and apply a bright-purple linear fill, darkening the bottom of the shape.
Convert to Curves, take the Node Tool (A), and let’s drag the nodes in opposite directions, sticking them to the shoulders and to the bottom edges of the t-shirt in our sketch.
Click and drag the side of the rectangle in order to bend its edge, making it fit the sketch.
Make the left, right and bottom edges of the rectangle arched so that it looks more cartoonish.
Create an additional node in the middle of the top edge and drag it up, to the neck of the character.
Now we’ll add the sleeves. Create a rectangle on the left side of the body and apply the same purple linear fill.
Convert to Curves and move the nodes, attaching the sleeve to the t-shirt.
We can turn on the Snapping function to make it easier to combine the nodes. This way we can align the nodes and see at what point they overlap.
Add the second sleeve, making all the elements fit each other.
Let’s draw the arms. Use the Pencil Tool (N) (or the Pen Tool (P)) to make an arched stroke.
Open the Stroke panel (or the Stroke menu in the control panel on top) and set the Width to 14 pt, making the line thick enough. Set the Cap to Round Cap.
Open the Pressure settings and adjust the graph to make the arm thicker at the shoulder and thinner at the wrist by moving the points of the graph as shown in the image below.
Now we’ll create a hand from a circle. Use the Ellipse Tool (L) to make a 22 x 21 px shape. Convert it to Curves and start modifying the shape, forming a palm. Hold down the Option key and use the Node Tool (A) in order to pull and move the handles of the node independently from each other.
Use the Pencil Tool (N) to draw a thumb. Make its gradient fill slightly lighter (especially at the top of the thumb) to separate it from the palm.
Use the Rounded Rectangle Tool (M) to create the fingers. Rotate them slightly and vary the length of each finger.
Let’s depict the motion controller in the boy’s hand. Start by making a 30 x 30 px pink circle using the Ellipse Tool (M).
Switch to the Rectangle Tool (M) and make a 45 x 12 px shape with the same dark gray linear fill as we have for the VR set.
Convert to Curves and reshape the rectangle, making a cylinder grip. Rearrange the object, placing the grip between the fingers and the palm in the Layers panel.
Duplicate (Control-J) the arm and use the Transforms function in the control panel on top to Flip Horizontal. Modify the copy to create the second arm and hand, holding the blue motion controller.
Let’s add the neckpiece to the t-shirt using the Insert Target function. Select the t-shirt and click the Insert inside the selection button. Use the Ellipse Tool (M) or the Pencil Tool (N) to make a small oval and fill it with skin color, making it match the neck of the character.
Now we’re moving on to the legs! Use the Rectangle Tool (M) to make a 30 x 155 px grayish-blue shape. Convert to Curves and move the points using the Node Tool (A). Bend the edges of the rectangle, making them fit the lines of the sketch.
Adjust the leg, making it look more cartoonish and flexible. Apply a linear gradient fill, darkening the bottom of the jeans.
Draw the second leg, following the lines of the sketch and, once you’re happy with its form, select both legs and apply the Add Operation from the control panel on top to merge both objects together.
Use the Insert inside the selection function to draw a rectangular hole on the left knee of our character.
4. How to Draw the Gumshoes
Now that the legs are ready, let’s move on and depict those gumshoes. Start by forming a sole from a 70 x 8 px light gray rectangle. Make a thinner and darker line across the sole.
Create another 70 x 8 px rectangle on top of the first one and fill it with dark gray color. Convert to Curves, take the Node Tool (A), add a node on the top edge, and drag it up.
Let’s form the toecap of the gumshoe. Duplicate (Command-J) the sole and make the rectangle shorter. Convert to Curves and bend its top edge up, making a large arch. Delete the bottom nodes or move them up, positioning the toecap in its place.
Use the Insert inside the selection function to draw a few arched notches inside the toecap. Add two loops for the shoestrings.
Duplicate (Command-J) and Flip Horizontal to create the opposite shoe.
Let’s add some more details to the jeans. Continue using the Pencil Tool (N) (or the Pen Tool (P)) to make a dark-blue 1 pt stroke for the pocket.
Make the line Dashed in the Stroke panel, and set the Dash value to 2 and the Gap value to 3, creating a stitch.
Add more strokes and stitches to the jeans, making them look more true to life.
Let's hide our sketch layer and check out the overall look of our character to see if every part is in the right place. We can add any minor details to our liking. For example, here I've added a flat target symbol to the boy's t-shirt. I've also placed a squashed ellipse beneath his feet, so that he stands flat on the ground.
5. How to Create a Background With Symbols
Now that our character is finished, let's make the whole composition look balanced by adding minor details to the background.
Create a New Layer and place it beneath all other layers in the Layers panel.
Create a large light-yellow rectangle. Convert it to Curves and move the top nodes in opposite directions, making the top part of the shape wider.
Use various custom shapes of Affinity Designer to fill the background with symbols. You can find all the fancy shapes in the same drop-down menu as the Triangle Tool. Note that every shape has its own settings and adjustments available in the control toolbar on top.
Set the Fill color of the shapes to none and the Stroke color to bright blue. Adjust the Width of the elements in the Stroke panel and make the outlines Dashed.
Awesome! Our Cartoon VR Kid Character Is Finished!
You’ve done a great job, my friends, and successfully created your cartoon character in Affinity Designer!
I hope you’ve enjoyed following this tutorial and learned some new tips and tricks that can help you to understand the principles of working with simple shapes and gradients in order to make the elements look dynamic and diverse.
Continue designing your own fancy characters and apply these techniques, turning your sketches into finished vector artworks!