How to draw children

My journey in learning to draw children

I found it difficult to draw children for a long time. The child characters I created often looked wooden or unappealing or too adult. This presented a bit of a problem for me as an aspiring children’s book illustrator. Up until my MA I had mainly been interested in drawing glittery fairy characters who were always teenage or adult in appearance. It just hadn’t occurred to me that children generally enjoy to read stories featuring child characters!

There is obviously no single correct way to draw anything, but I’m definitely a lot happier with the way Isadora Moon and her friends look than I was with my earliest sketches of child characters. For today’s post then, I thought I’d write a bit about that journey and my top tips for how to draw children.

Isadora Moon by Harriet Muncaster
Isadora Moon is a child that I draw quite often…
Drawing from life

The number one tip I have always been told by tutors is: draw from life. If you want to improve your drawing skills, there is usually no better tip than this. When learning to draw children, this is easier said than done, particularly for a recent graduate in her early twenties. At that time I just didn’t know any young children. 

I used to go to a lot of life-drawing classes, but these of course were always adult models. I could find photographs online, but that’s not the same as drawing from reality. Besides, I was a bit dubious about Googling ‘pictures of children’. Luckily, some friends of my parents had children under five and were happy for me to come round and do some sketches. 

Early sketch of a child by Harriet Muncaster
Here’s an early attempt at drawing a child from life

I wasn’t that pleased with the results though. The sketches I produced were not very appealing. So I persevered and followed feedback and advice from my MA tutors. After a couple of months though, it just felt like I had hit a roadblock. I wasn’t getting anywhere. It began to feel like I just wasn’t cut out for drawing children and stick to drawing adults. I even wrote a blog post justifying why I didn’t need to be able to draw children.

Early sketch of a child pointing by Harriet Muncaster
The boy’s head is too small in this picture, making him look too adult.
Developing how I draw children

Really, I knew it was important for a children’s illustrator to know how to draw children, so I kept on working at it during my MA. I needed a project that would feature a child as a main character, but wasn’t a story I would be too precious about. This led me to develop a story idea called Casper and Jasper. Jasper was a very serious little boy who liked maths and astronomy and dressed in plain clothes. He didn’t laugh or run around very much. His dad, Casper, in contrast, was full of life and energy. He wore rainbow clothes and was always inventing things. Below you can see some of the early designs for Jasper. I actually went through four sketchbooks trying to get him to look appealing. In fact, the two sketches above are also early versions of Jasper!

Jasper character (MA work) by Harriet Muncaster
I created this character, called Jasper, for an MA project. You can see how he developed from scary-realistic face on the left to slightly more appealing on the right.

Here is a final image from the finished book of Casper putting Jasper to bed. I was just beginning to experiment with the 3D paper cut-out style I would use for my Witch’s Cat books. I’m still not one hundred percent pleased with how I was drawing Jasper, but I felt I had made progress from where I had started.

Casper and Jasper final image by Harriet Muncaster
A final image from my MA project ‘Casper and Jasper’
My turning point when learning to draw children

If you have ever studied art, you may be familiar with the idea of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ sources. A primary source is something you sketch from firsthand experience, such as drawing a model; a secondary source is using ideas from pictures or photographs created by other people. Both are equally important when trying to improve your own artistic skills. Since the former wasn’t really working for me, it felt like time to turn to the latter.

Isadora Moon by Harriet Muncaster
Exaggerated movements are really important for characterful drawings of children

I looked for established illustrators who drew child characters and studied how they did it. I was particularly interested in illustrators who would draw children in exaggerated poses that made them seem to leap off the page. As any parent can confirm, the thing about children is that they are full of energy. They rarely stand still. So to draw children in a convincing way, you have to convey some of this energy.

Using other illustrators’ work as a reference helped me to take a big leap forward with my child characters. Illustrators draw children in more dynamic poses than you would be able to get in real life. Something else I noticed from studying other illustrators is that they drew children’s heads larger than they really would be. I had been drawing them in more realistic proportions but it looked unappealing when translated to paper. 

If you are still struggling to draw children, then simplify

One day things suddenly just ‘clicked’! I randomly did a little sketch of a child wearing an animal onesie. I thought it looked really cute. More than that, the proportions looked right and it had something of that energy I was trying to capture. I think the reason it worked was that the child was wearing an animal suit and suddenly everything was simplified. I no longer had to worry about details like hair and clothes and even the neck! Keeping the face simple was something else that worked well too. This lead to a whole phase of my work in which I draw child characters in animal suits. It was an important step in my development of drawing children. 

child in a bat suit by Harriet Muncaster
Here is a child in a furry bat-suit from around 2011. I’m sure those wings look vaguely familiar…
child in Siamese cat costume by Harriet Muncaster
I draw this child in a Siamese cat outfit as part of a 3D illustration  I did whilst doing work experience at Egmont.

This phase would lead me to create my Witch’s Cat character and the story I am a Witch’s Cat for my MA final project. This went on to become my first published book, with Harper Collins US. 

early design sketches for I Am a Witch's Cat by Harriet Muncaster
These are some early sketches for my Witch’s Cat character

Having the child wearing an animal suit meant that I could just focus on the pose and the facial expression of the character which helped my drawing to become looser.

I am a Witch's Cat by Harriet Muncaster
Further development of the Witch’s Cat character
My summary of tips for how to draw children

As I said before, there’s no single right or perfect way to draw anything. I hope I’ll continue to get better at drawing characters, just like any artist who practises will. To summarise the tips I’ve learned from practising drawing child characters over the last six years, they would be:

  1. Draw from life – if you don’t have your own children then siblings, nieces, nephews, and family friends are a good place to start.
  2. Study other illustrators – find an illustrator who draws children in a very dynamic way and copy some of the poses. Draw them quickly without worrying about it being perfect. I found this a good way to start getting energy into my own drawings. Obviously keep these to yourself if they are direct copies! 
  3. Simplify – find ways to create the overall effect you want without needing to include all the detail. Giving masks, gloves or jumpsuits to your characters could help with this. 
  4. Check the proportions – when drawing child characters, making their heads big make them seem more child-like. Their faces will look much more appealing if the eyes are not too high up – about halfway down is ideal.
Later sketches of Isadora Moon by Harriet Muncaster
These are later sketches of Isadora Moon when I was finalising her character design

I would love to see any sketches of child characters you create. You can share them with me on my Facebook page.

If you would like to read more about my journey to creating Isadora Moon, you can read this blog post about her evolution from the mean and spiky Victoria Stitch into a sweet little vampire fairy schoolgirl

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2 Comments

  1. Bob Bliss

    October 2, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    I love reading all of your stuff!

  2. Isadora Moon in 3D illustration - Harriet Muncaster

    October 13, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    […] that second 3D illustration, then I left the technique again until the following spring. If you read last week’s post about how to draw children, you’ll be familiar with Casper and Jasper. I spent a lot of time developing the […]

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