Try This! - Watch People to Draw Characters

By Kelli Thrasher-Brooks:

Sketchbooks are a wonderful place to build your ideas, take notes & draw every single day. I love to get to know my characters, and I build their stories in my Moleskine Journals. They go everywhere with me so I can jot down new ideas or redraw different characters twenty more times until it feels like the right one is about to pop off the page. 

People watching is a good reference for different poses and character behavior. The current story that I am currently working on revolves around a grandfather & grandson. I look for people in the age range of my characters to observe their personalities and body movement & try to draw their different gestures. 

Fill a couple of pages in your sketchbook with several gesture sketches. You can observe people in public or on television. Then go back into one of those sketches and turn it into a specific character from your imagination. You’ll be surprised how the tall man stepping over a toy car can turn into a Giraffe balancing on Roller Skates. Or your quick sketch of a sweet elderly woman crossing the street could turn into Mother Hedgehog walking in the Garden. The possibilities are endless!!

Gesture Sketches
Click to Enlarge these Notebook Pages

Pencil Drawing
Click to Enlarge this Notebook Page

Final Artwork
Click to Enlarge this Piece

Try to not limit yourself when writing or drawing in your journal or sketchbook. It is a personal & a safe place to make mistakes and jot down all of your thoughts & ideas. You can be free without judgement or restrictions. If you are a little scared in the beginning to fill a clean page right away, just use sticky notes. This will let you move the ideas around or possibly to a different page before you fill a permanent space in your book.

I have limited myself in the past because nerves got in the way. Like I said before a book filled with ideas (good or bad) is still better… I don’t use as many stickies anymore, but this helped me become more comfortable and feel safe in my own sketchbook in the beginning. 

I was always worried that someone would look through my books and see all of the bad drawings. Now I leave them right next to a great drawing. You never know where the next great idea might come from… 

Once you feel more comfortable, you will be filling up pages before you know it!


Colors, textures, lines, patterns and characters play a large role in Kelli’s passion for creating picture books. Ideas for new stories come from everywhere and she is often inspired by her children. When she has a strong character concept she draws them over and over loosely with a lot of layers and emotion until they come to life. She paints many textures with her children and scans them in to add depth to her illustrations in Photoshop. When she draws with ink and watercolor pencils, she uses just a small amount of saliva and a Q-tip to blend the colors perfectly since water often makes them too muddy. It’s like every drawing has a personal piece of her life in it… literally!

Kelli attended the Art Institute of Philadelphia from 6pm-10pm every night and worked for ad agencies full time during the week to pay her way through college. After graduation, she jumped right into advertising & graphic design and has been in the field for over 17 years now.

Beginning in 2007, bedtime stories with her children enhanced her storytelling skills and appreciation for picture books all over again. Her children love to add on to the stories each night and color her custom coloring pages as well.

In 2009 she joined SCBWI and a new world opened her eyes. It was a home that she never realized that she was missing. It blended perfectly with her love of picture books, the desire to create stories and make a difference in lives.

You can find Kelli online here:
Website: www.kellithrasherbrooks.com
Twitter: @kthrasherbrooks
Blog: kellithrasherbrooks.blogspot.com

To go back to the list of all Try This! ideas, click HERE.
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