Drawing Tips from a Children's Illustrator

Children's illustrator Frank Rodgers
Tagged: Illustration

I’ve presented hundreds of talks on my work as a children’s author and illustrator over the years to both children and adults at schools, libraries and book festivals. An important part of these talks was drawing at a flip chart to show audiences how I created my various characters. This was very popular. I discovered that people of all ages just love to watch an artist draw!

Thinking back on those experiences, I thought it might be really worthwhile to create and present a whole series of free illustration classes on YouTube so that anyone could access them - children or adults.

So… the idea for ‘Cartoon Art School’ was born. An extensive series which would cover all aspects of cartoon-style illustration: the deceptively simple and wide-ranging style of illustration which you see everywhere - on tv, in movies, in magazines, in comics, in video games and, of course, in children’s books.

The first six episodes (now live on YouTube!) are sequential and cover the basics of creating characters - how to draw faces, expressions and figures.

Here are some handy drawing tips from each of those episodes.


Once you’ve drawn an oval shape for the head, put in vertical and horizontal guide-lines to help position the eyes, nose and mouth. The eye guide line should be drawn just above the centre of the oval. For all sketching use a soft pencil such as a 2B or 3B... and remember to use a light touch so that the guide-lines can be erased easily!


The eyebrows are very important! Always check to see what the eyebrows are doing when you try out any expression in a mirror!


To get the proportions correct on the basic figure shape of an adult, make sure that the head-length divides into the whole body length about seven times. (ie the figure should be just over seven heads high) Of course, these proportions don’t really matter when you’re drawing a cartoon-style character where exaggeration is the name of the game!

Body language

To get the body shape to suit the facial expression, try acting out the feeling or emotion you want to draw in a mirror. This should bring out your inner thespian!

Action Figures

Notice the angle of the body when it’s in action. Take running, for instance: the sprinter’s body leans forward at a more acute angle than that of the jogger who runs in an almost upright position. Check out photos of sportspeople and dancers to see just how flexible the human body can be in action!

Young Characters

The rule here is to make the head bigger in proportion to the body. For example, a toddler would be about five heads tall. In cartoon-style illustration a bigger head usually creates a younger-looking, cuter character!


After these first six episodes the ‘classes’ come in groups where I’ll be demonstrating how to imagine and create characters from various fiction genres such as fantasy, adventure, history, sci/fi etc. There will also be classes on drawing, colouring and illustration techniques, cartoon strips and cartoon effects, animals, backgrounds, layouts and ideas on storyboarding and story creation. Whew! There’s a lot coming - with new tutorials every week - and I’m so looking forward to producing it all!

Frank Rodgers

Frank Rodgers has written and illustrated over seventy books for children - picture books, story books, plays, non-fiction and novels - and has illustrated over thirty by other authors.

Published widely around the world, his children’s stories have been broadcast on radio and TV, appeared on award short-lists and Book Trust’s ‘Best Books of the Year’ lists. His ‘Witch’s Dog’, ‘Robodog’ and ‘Pirate Penguins’ series for developing readers are best-sellers for Puffin. For more information on Frank and his books, check out his website.