Here’s a list of best character design books every artist should read and use.
They cover all aspects of character creation; anatomy, movement, expressions, clothes, style, uniqueness and more. Force yourself to improve by mastering or sharpening the skills you feel you might be missing to improve your character design.
The list is by no means objective (nor can any list be), it’s rather my personal favorites chosen during years of drawing (and improving). I believe that each of them is extremely useful and that’s why there’s no numbering. They don’t really all serve the same purpose and, therefore, can’t be graded that way. Feel free to leave feedback and comments below if you have any suggestions, questions, or if you feel that an essential book on character design is missing from the list.
Force: Character Design from Life Drawing
If I had to choose three books on character design, this would be one of them. Mike Matessi has managed to create a well-rounded textbook with easy to follow theoretical information and incredibly useful practical exercises which are meant to improve your character design skills. The book focuses on creating lifelike characters which the audience can relate to, and how to amplify force, movement, uniqueness and style of each individual character. Definitely a must read for any aspiring character designer (who wishes to go pro). Reviews and Prices
Character Design From the Ground Up
This book is a much needed insider’s view into professional character design. Kevin Crossley explains how character design works from start to finish, including which equipment and software is needed in the process (for games, film and illustration). Great for beginners, but perfect for intermediate/advanced animators and illustrators. Reviews and Prices
Cartooning: The Ultimate Character Design Book
This is a short introduction to cartoon character design. It’s not as generally applicable as the books mentioned above, but it’s still one of the most used textbooks for cartoon drawing. Another benefit is that a free digital version is available on Issuu for free browsing. I would definitely recommend it to any beginner comic book or manga artist and any beginner animator. The paperback edition of the books is available online.
Drawn to Life
This is an essential book for all visual artists, but it’s a must for character design. It’s a result of years of lectures by the legend of Disney animation Walt Stanchfield. It’s not strictly focused on character design, and the style (Disney) might not appeal to you, but don’t let that stop you from using it. If you get over the stereotypical drawings, the techniques used and shown inside are vital for becoming a good animator. Reviews and Prices
Sketching from the Imagination: Characters
(Coming back to the question: “If I had to choose just 3 books on character design…?) This would definitely be my number one pick, despite the fact that it’s really hard to make an objective ranking of these books because each serves an individual purpose. Not all of them are just general textbooks on character design. Sketching from the Imagination: Characters is probably also the most useful book any beginner can get a hold of, as well as any professional who’s stuck and feels uninspired. This wonderful book presents fifty artists and their conceptual process, sketches and ideas which lead to developing characters. Brilliant in every way! Reviews and Prices
Creative Character Design
A great book for developing practical drawing skills. It includer many character sheets packed with original characters and offers ideas on how to combine key characteristics when creating your own, as well as how to successfully use archetypes and design elements to your advantage. A very good read for animators and illustrators who wish to improve fast. Reviews and Prices
ZBrush Character Creation
This book perhaps shouldn’t be on this list, but I feel it deserves a spot. Game characters are becoming one of the biggest branches in character design, and more and more new artists are striving to get into the game design industry. ZBrush is the industry standard for game characters and this book is the best guide on how to begin grasping the basics of the software and the design process. If you want to become a game character creator it’s a must-have. Reviews and Prices
Human Anatomy for Artists: The Elements of Form
(Back to the question) This would be the third book I choose if I had to pick only three. Characters don’t necessarily have to be human-like at all, but mastering human anatomy is a prerequisite to any professional position which includes drawing, and it’s also something you have to know well, and keep on practicing forever if you wish to become a good character designer. No great artist became by doing abstract stuff (Piet Mondrian, for example, was illustrating nature magazines before starting to do his blue, yellow, red stripes and squares thing, which he became famous for). Master human anatomy and everything else will become a hundred times easier. Reviews and Prices
Character Costume Figure Drawing: Step-by-Step Drawing Methods for Theatre Costume Designers
As with anatomy, same goes for clothes, drapes, armor, rendering, shading, overlapping etc. You have to know the technical way of drawing clothing in order to be able to feel free when creating a character of your own. This is just another skill you have to and can learn by practicing. This book was not written for character designers, but I think it could be applied perfectly to those studying character design and all other specific drawing areas. A must-use book for practicing clothes, as well as for endless useful references it has. Reviews and Prices
Creating Characters With Personality
As the name states, one of the best character design books that focuses on creating recognizable personalities, and it does it very well. It’s very good in teaching you how to achieve uniqueness of character. A good, useful compendium of general knowledge and practical exercises to work through. Definitely a good read for those wishing to try out different techniques in character design. Reviews and Prices
Beginner’s Guide to Creating Manga Art: Learn to Draw, Color and Design Characters
The best book for beginners in drawing manga. Since the art form is very specific and unique, those starting could benefit from a book giving strict guidelines in manga-specific character design. It features numerous authors with varying individual styles which makes this book an indispensable tool for manga and anime character designers. Reviews and Prices
Designing Creatures and Characters: How to Build an Artist’s Portfolio for Video Games, Film, Animation and More
A title I was extremely excited to find and read. A well written practical guide on how to start in the game design industry (in others too, but the author focuses on game character design). If you are a nobody with no skills, this is the book you need. It will teach you how to create a plan, develop skills and create a portfolio which could be the start of your career. One of must-read character design books for aspiring designers and artists! Reviews and Prices
Beginner’s Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop: Characters
A very relevant book at the moment, since Photoshop is the industry standard for drawing and character design (at least during the first phase). A great introduction to character design which focuses on Photoshop specific processes and features. A great textbook worth having, no matter what your skill level is, with something new for everyone. It features artists from some of the world’s biggest studios, such as Marvel, Nintendo or Atomhawk. Reviews and Prices