How to draw a character at different ages

Illustrator Ilya Kuvshinov reveals how to age comic characters and keep them recogniseable.

aging main image

The most difficult aspect of this challenge is achieving a balance between character recognition and visible age-related changes. In other words, the character's appearance has to alter while remaining recognisably themselves.

For art mediums whose main focus is the story, such as comics or films, the recognition element is slightly more important, so I usually sacrifice significant changes in the style and appearance of a character's ageing process, in favour of added viewer recognition.

The best way to deal with changes in appearance of the character is to base them on their back story. But in addition to taking a character story arc into account, such as those that affect their appearance and demeanour – for example, the death of a loved one or going to war – there are also changes that affects humans physically as they grow up.

aging child proportion

Proportion is the first thing to catch a viewer's attention in determining a character’s age

These can include going through puberty, which can turn younger, benign characters insolent, angry or rebellious; and increased physical activity without the associated coordination, resulting in minor physical injuries during childhood. A change in a character's social status can also affect their appearance. In summary, try to take a holistic approach to your character designs – your audience will hopefully appreciate you going the extra mile.

01. Adolescence

aging step 1

I usually start with the middle stage, which is often adolescence. Consider thin, long limbs, dissatisfaction, a grumpy expression, as well as personal preferences in clothing as the character can afford 
to buy things for himself. From the adolescent stage, you can easily turn your character to a child or adult.

02. Creating an infant

aging step 2

When the character's a child, eye shape and eyebrow thickness are about the same, but ear and nose size are altered. I don't change his hairstyle, in favour of recognition. The character smiles and enjoys a care-free childhood. His parents buy him oversized clothes and he's less concerned about his appearance.

03. Adulthood

aging step 3

My teen becomes an adult. Shoulders and chest broaden, he's taller, has shorter hair and facial proportions change subtly. My character wears a jacket and exudes confidence, but his pose exhibits frivolity from his teens. Glasses and beard might depict changes linked to age and status. But this character won't like that!

Words: Ilya Kuvshinov

Ilya Kuvshinov is a Russian freelance illustrator and comic artist who's currently living in Yokohama, Japan. He's a fan of capturing the female form in his art. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 124.

Like this? Try these...