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Fundamentals of Expressive Character Design

Wouter Tulp
9 Lessons (7h 10m)
9 Week(s)
English French Portuguese

Two Ways to Learn


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  1. Watch Video Lessons at Your Own Pace
  2. Assignments Included
  3. Peer Feedback
  4. Switch Courses as Often as You Like
  5. Access to all Schoolism Webinars included

LIVE Classes

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  1. Watch Video Lessons with a Planned Curriculum
  2. Scheduled Assignments with Deadlines
  3. Personalized Paint-Overs and Real-Time Feedback From The Instructors
  4. Watch Video Lessons and Peer Feedback as Often as You'd Like
  5. Ability to Contact Instructor with Questions
  6. Digital Certificate of Completion
  7. Weekly Class Meetings LIVE on Zoom
  8. Access to all Schoolism Webinars included

Course Description

Character designers are able to visually communicate so much about a character’s personality through designs that are expressive, gestural, and full of life. This course focuses on the fundamentals needed to create expressive characters and will provide you with a skill set with which you are able to create volume, dynamics and expressiveness to your character designs. 

The three main topics we’ll focus on throughout the course are shape, volume and gesture, which are the main techniques we’ll use to bring our characters to life, but we will also cover topics like how shapes can affect the dynamics of a design, fundamentals of perspective, understanding 3D space on a 2D surface, and basic body construction. Shape, volume and gesture are analyzed in separate exercises, so we’ll spend ample time on each topic individually to ensure we develop a clear understanding of how these principles work. Along the way, we’ll start combining them to bring simple objects and, ultimately, our characters to life!

➡︎ For the ‘Critiqued Sessions’, students will meet up with Wouter Tulp LIVE once per week on Wednesdays at 7am PT / 10am ET.

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Drawing Tablet

Lesson Plan

We’ll begin our first lesson with one of the fundamental topics of this course: shapes. Focusing primarily on static shapes vs. dynamic shapes, we will discuss the appropriate use of parallel lines, 90° angles, and symmetry in static shapes and, conversely, the lack of parallel lines, asymmetry, and emphasized curves of dynamic shapes. I will demonstrate several examples of each so that you will be able to begin incorporating the use of shapes into your designs.

Being familiar with gesture drawing will help you immensely when designing expressive characters because gesture defines how all shapes are affected. In this lesson, we will go over the principles of gesture, how to simplify gestures into 2D drawings, which parts of gestures that are leading the action and which ones are following the action, stretch vs. compression, how to give your gestures and shapes consistent volume, and the difference between hard and soft materials.

This lesson will give you an understanding of the principles for creating depth and dimensionality in your designs. We’ll do this by focusing on how to use overlaps, perspective, vanishing points, and volume. Using shapes like cubes, pyramids, and cylinders, we will practice placing objects at an equal distance at different volumes to create the illusion of space on a 2D surface.

In this lesson, we will be designing ribbons in space, both static and dynamic, and adding gesture to the ribbon. We will also be practicing rotating cylinders in space, how to add gesture to tube designs, how to draw intersecting shapes, and how to change the scale of shapes simply.

Understanding how separate objects relate in space and being able to place shapes in a way that makes an illustration more understandable is a skill all character designers utilize in their work, so in this lesson we will be strengthening our understanding shapes and how they can affect a composition by drawing simple objects from different angles and rotating boxes in relationship to each other, as well as a brief introduction to basic body construction and proportions.

Now that we’ve talked about adding gesture to 2D drawings and supplemented that with our lessons on shapes, scale, and understanding how objects interact in space, we will now move on to applying gesture to 3D objects. We’ll be combining much of what we’ve learned in the past lessons, such as shape, volume, and gesture, to do exercises that will push gesture even further by applying it to combined shapes.

This lesson will dive deeper into the topic of body construction that we started in Lesson 5. I will demonstrate basic body construction based on the mannequin doll as we practice fitting a character into the right perspective, how to draw the full body from different angles, and how to apply gesture to the full body so that we can really start making our characters as expressive as possible.

Body language is incredibly important when designing expressive characters, but so is the expression of a character’s face. In this lesson, we will be applying the principles of shape, volume, and gesture to facial expressions as we explore adding gesture to the head, neck, and facial features. We will then practice applying principles of facial expression to humans, animals and creatures.

For our final lesson, we’ll be bringing everything we’ve learned so far together and applying all of the principles we’ve learned to our character designs. I’ll do a brief recap of the previous lessons before jumping into a demonstration of how I apply the principles to all sorts of character designs.


Wouter Tulp

Wouter Tulp is a freelance character designer based in the Netherlands. He is known for his versatility as an illustrator, having illustrated over a hundred children's books, as well as caricatures and editorial illustrations in high-circulation newspapers and magazines.