How To Draw Cartoons for Beginners

How To Draw Cartoons for Beginners

Cartoons have a long history. From cartoon strips in the newspaper to quirky television shows, you’ve likely enjoyed the entertainment of a cartoon at one time or another. In general, cartoons are created to convey a message or point out a type of irony. With a broad potential audience, cartoons can span from depicting the dry humor of political or social topics to exaggerating the often relatable aspects of daily life. Additionally, cartoons are often used in effective marketing campaigns and advertising techniques.

With enough practice and a clear grasp of the basics of drawing skills, you can make simple caricatures, outlines, and shapes into quality cartoons. If your goal is to branch out into cartoon drawing, you’ve come to the right place.

This article will review the basics of cartoon drawing, discuss today’s most common drawing styles, and take you through a step-by-step guide with drawing tips for creating a cartoon face. By the end of the article, you’ll have the tools to begin creating a unique and captivating cartoon story on your own!

Cartoon drawing basics

From Snoopy and Tintin to Calvin and Hobbes, most cartoon designs combine a clever understanding of behavior and personality with artistic finesse to create unique and memorable characters.

With simple shapes, clever use of light and shadows, and an understanding of perspective, you can also create a unique cartoon character that is alluring and embodies a specific style. Let’s look at these key drawing ideas that could help you create your own distinctive cartoon characters.

Simple shapes

Understanding basic shapes is fundamental to drawing cartoon characters. Perhaps surprisingly, many objects and body styles can be broken down into geometric shapes that you can use to make cartoons. With simple squares, triangles, circles, and ovals, you can build entire characters that possess personalities and have the ability to express complex emotions.

Simple shape

Circles and ovals come in handy when drawing faces, eyes, mouths, and hands. These shapes convey softness and innocence and are typically used to frame the faces of young characters or children. Squares and rectangles are often used to frame faces for strong characters. They are also used to draw hands, torsos, and eyebrows. Lastly, triangles are used to draw noses, mouths, eyebrows, and feet.

You can create many kinds of cartoons using a combination of these shapes. It’s important to remember that different shapes convey different meanings to the viewer. The idea that shapes can have a psychological impact and generate feelings is called shape psychology and can be a handy tool for a cartoonist. This means that a character’s body, posture, and stance can convey more about the character’s personality and state of mind than even their facial expression.

In the film “Up,” for example, the character Carl is a grumpy old man who doesn’t like to go out much. He has a solid, squarish face that complements his stubborn and static personality.

Light and shadows

Understanding light and shadows helps turn two-dimensional shapes into three-dimensional drawings that seem to jump off the page. Simple 2D drawings lie flat on a page and have only two surfaces: length and breadth.

In contrast, 3D drawings represent length, breadth, and height. In a three-dimensional object, part of its edges are hidden to give an architectural view of the object. For example, cylinders, cubes, and pyramids are 3D shapes with hidden edges and sides.

Using light and shadow can help give your drawings a three-dimensional look. These two factors are the difference between drawing a flat circle and drawing a basketball that looks like it could be picked up off the page.

Drawing tutorials will teach you that you must decide where the light source is in relation to the object you’re drawing. If an apple is sitting on a table, is the light coming in through the window or is it falling from the bulb hanging above? In either case, the light will reflect off the apple in a way that highlights one part of the fruit while leaving another part in relative darkness. If the light is harsh, it might even create a shadow.

Knowledge of light and shadow and how to use them in your drawings is critical to giving your art depth and realism.

Light and shadow

Perspective

Perspective in the field of art is used to draw three-dimensional scenes on a two-dimensional medium like paper.

Perspective represents the spatial point of view you want to display in your drawing. This includes the vantage point and angle you give your cartoons on the page. It determines the spatial relationship between different characters and objects on the page and dictates the size of every element you draw.

For example, if you’re drawing a scene as viewed from outside a window, your drawing will represent the scene exactly from the space and angle you occupy and your relation to other characters in the scene.

The second way in which perspective works is that to the human eye, straight lines going away into the distance appear to converge at some point on the horizon. You might have noticed this as you drive down a long and straight road; the sides of the road seem to come together at a vanishing point.

An understanding of these rules of perspective can help your art appear three-dimensional. For example, let’s say your perspective is that of looking at a group of kids in a playing field. Everything and everyone farther away will be much smaller than people and items near to the viewer, and the field will appear as though there is a vanishing point in the distance.

It’s important to keep elements of the human perspective in mind when learning to draw cartoons. As with light and shadows, perspective helps give drawings a three-dimensional appearance, elevating them to the next level.

Perspective

Drawing styles

All cartoons are different. Even a cursory glance at cartoons through the last few decades will show you that every artist has a different style of depicting their stories.

Let’s look at some popular cartoon drawing styles.

Classic/noodle style

Classic is the old-school way of drawing cartoons and is often drawn in black and white. If you remember early versions of Mickey Mouse or Betty Boop, you’re already familiar with this style.

Also known as the “Fleischer style” after the animation studio that helped develop memorable characters like Koko the Clown and Popeye, this style features bigger heads and shorter bodies drawn in clean ink outlines. Moreover, the characters’ bodies are never fully straight and seem to move as if they have no bones in their bodies (hence the name “noodle style”).

Classic style

Modern

This is a more current style of drawing cartoons prominent in the television and digital space. The main features of this style are bold outlines, geometric shapes, and dominant colors.

Most cartoon programs on animation TV channels are drawn in this style. This is because simple shapes and colors save time and money.

Examples include shows like “The Powerpuff Girls” and “Dexter’s Laboratory.” Both cartoons have characters drawn in simple outlines and filled with colors that pop. The Powerpuff Girls have basic, round eyes and simple upward “U” shapes for mouths, for example.

Modern

Realistic

This is an unusual style of drawing cartoons. It attempts to represent reality in the cartoon format. This means the cartoonist doesn’t alter or add flourish to a character’s shape or color, but rather renders the character’s look with as much detail as possible.

While other styles attempt to simplify, this style favors realistic depictions of characters and settings. The cartoon drawing in the show “Archer” best illustrates this style. For example, Archer’s face and body are drawn in a lot of detail, even featuring wrinkles and textural detail on his clothes.

Realistic

Manga

The popular Japanese cartoon drawing style, manga, is mostly found in serialized comics, graphic novels, and anime television shows. The manga drawing style developed in the late nineteenth century and features characters drawn with large and expressive eyes, long legs, small mouths, distinctive hair, and lean bodies, often depicted in black and white.

This style is usually well detailed and attempts to render human qualities and movements into the art. Popular examples include “Dragon Ball” and “Hellsing.” Dragon Ball is the second-most best-selling manga of all time, featuring characters with innocent and big eyes and muscular bodies.

Manga

Minimalist

This type of drawing keeps stylizing to an absolute minimum and attempts to convey meaning and stories through simplistic line drawings. Vector art, based on mathematical formulas, is often used to aid in creating cartoon characters. This style is typically characterized by straight lines, geometric shapes, pastel colors, and disproportionate and unrealistic limbs. The immensely popular xkcd comics are drawn in a minimalist style with basic stick figures.

This drawing style can usually be seen in video games, since simple artwork can quickly convert into animation. A great example of minimalist cartoon drawing is the video game Thomas Was Alone, which uses block figures to deliver clever dialogue.

Minimalist

Example: How to draw a cartoon face step-by-step

After understanding these basics, you can begin to draw your first cartoon face! Grab a sharpened pencil, an eraser, and a blank sheet of paper.

We will start this drawing lesson with an outline of the face shape and proceed to draw the eyes, nose, mouth, and hair. Your first attempt at cartoon drawing will likely not be perfect, but you’ll improve with time and practice.

Step 1: Start with the face shape

  • To create the face shape, draw a balloon-like shape rather than a perfect circle. It's OK if you don’t get it right on the first attempt. Keep doodling and try again until you’re happy with your shape.
  • Lightly draw two lines across both axes of the face so they intersect in the center.
  • Next, alter the shape of the jaw under the circle so it looks more natural. You can make the jawline sharper or the chin pointier by experimenting with your drawing.

Tip: Start by using the pencil lightly. Darken the outline once you think you have the shape you want. Erase any extra lines you used for reference.

This is the base on which we’ll now add other features.

Start with face shape

Step 2: Draw the eyes

  • Place the eyes on either side of the vertical axis, equidistant to each other. Additionally, they should sit on the horizontal line. Based on the drawing style you choose, you can decide what shape to give the eyes and how much detail you want to add.
  • Next, add the pupils by using a white colored pencil or by erasing a part of the cartoon eyes where you want the pupils. Experiment with placing the pupils in different parts of the eyeball to see how this changes the character’s expression. The placement of the pupils, in conjunction with the shape of the eyebrows, allows characters to emote.
  • The eyebrows and eyelashes come next. Consider what expression you want your character to have on their face. For example, if you want them to look surprised, the eyebrows will have to be raised and placed higher above the eyes. If you’re drawing a female character, you could exaggerate the length of her eyelashes if it works for your character.
Face drawing

Step 3: Add in the nose

  • Place the nose on the vertical axis, slightly lower than the eyes.
  • The nose has three parts: the bridge, the ball, and the nostrils. You’ll need to draw two bracket-like shapes coming down between the eyebrows.
  • Curve the two bracket shapes inward and draw a small circle at the tip of the nose.
  • The nose’s lower width should equal the distance between the inside corners of the eyes.
  • Last, use a darker pencil to draw small lines curved downward on either side of the circle to form the nostrils.
  • A cartoon nose, however, does not always need so much detail. You can always draw a simple line, a triangle, or a small circle where the nose is supposed to be.
Add nose

Step 4: Draw the mouth

  • Place the mouth halfway between the bottom of the nose and the chin.
  • Ensure that the central vertical axis equally partitions the mouth.
  • The mouth should be as wide as the space between the two irises.
  • You’ll need to pick a mouth shape based on the expression you want your character to convey. For example, if the character is happy, you would want to show a slight smile; if they’re laughing, the mouth will have to be drawn into a grin or laugh.
  • You can also think about dimples, wrinkles around the mouth, and teeth. These features are important to convey age, mood, and style.  

Tip: When drawing a minimalist cartoon, you don’t need to add too much detail to the mouth—especially when drawing children’s mouths. A slanted, curved, or straight line is enough to convey mood and feeling.

Draw the mouth

Step 5: Add some hair

  • Next, draw the cartoon’s hairline. Usually, the hairline is halfway between the browline and the top of the head.
  • The hairline is simply a line that separates the top of one’s head from the browline.
  • Add the hair, which can extend slightly over the shape of the head. How you draw the hair depends on the hairstyle you want to give your character. For example, if your character is a young boy, you might want to give him floppy hair that falls across his forehead. Similarly, you might give a female character longer hair with bangs.
  • If you’re planning to draw long hair (especially on a woman’s face), you should add volume to the hair so it doesn’t fall flat. You can do this by drawing interconnected curved lines that meet in jagged points. These will look like locks of hair.
  • If not covered by the hair, draw ears with the upper tips on the same plane as the cartoon’s eyes. To draw a cartoon ear, start with an elongated semicircular shape on either side of the head. You can draw a spiral shape within the semicircle to give some detail to the ear.

Tip: An easy way to get out of having to draw ears is to give your character long hair. Have the hair fall on either side of the head to cover the area where you’re supposed to draw ears.

Add some hair

Create different types of cartoons

The world of cartoons is a wild and open field! Animate and inanimate objects alike can be turned into wacky and interesting personalities.

One of the best examples of creating an entire world of cartoon characters is “Beauty and the Beast.” It's a master class in thinking about men, women, children, animals, cups, clocks, and teapots as cartoon characters!

In this section, we’ll talk about how to draw different types of cartoons.

Different genders

  • Men. Male cartoon characters may have muscular, lean, or pot-bellied bodies, depending on the personalities they embody. Homer Simpson, a lazy, gluttonous man, is drawn with a substantial belly. On the other hand, Johnny Bravo is drawn with a small head but a well-built body because he’s a character obsessed with his looks.
  • Women. Female characters can sometimes be drawn with elegant facial features. Their eyelashes are exaggerated or their long hair is highlighted to emphasize their femininity. For example, Disney princesses are often drawn with symmetrical faces. However, cartoon depictions represent women of every kind. Kim Possible, Wanda from “The Fairly OddParents,” and Velma from “Scooby-Doo” are examples of animated characters who are strong, fierce, quiet, intelligent, and ready to take over the world with their unique styles. Be sure to consider gender stereotypes when drawing your characters.
  • Gender-nonconforming. Over the years, artists have created many cartoon characters who don’t fit male-female binary definition. Double Trouble on the TV show “​​She-Ra and the Princesses of Power,” for example, is a nonbinary cartoon character. Such characters embody the idea of gender fluidity and don’t present any stereotypical gendered features.
Different genders

Different ages

  • Babies. Cartoon babies usually have big, innocent eyes, large heads, and small bodies. They’re often given a little tuft of hair and are left wearing only diapers. Examples include Jack-Jack in “The Incredibles” and Tommy Pickles in “Rugrats.”
  • Young adults. Young characters are created based on the story’s genre. Many manga and anime characters are young adults going on adventures and learning life lessons as they go along. Japanese fantasy and sci-fi comics like “Dragon Ball Z'' have young adult characters that are drawn to be extremely muscular and fit.
  • Golden years. When drawing an elderly cartoon character, you may want to emphasize their age by highlighting their white hair, wrinkles, or the use of a cane or walker. Think of Carl Fredricksen, the old man from the film “Up.”
Different ages

Different facial expressions

Another way to make your character unique is to give them a wide range of expressions. Facial expressions can help you tell stories that explore different emotions.

For example, if your character is angry, draw their mouth into a scowl and eyebrows slanted downward into a frown. If they’re sad, draw tears running down the face and change the eyes and mouth to reflect that emotion. A confused character would have raised eyebrows and quizzical eyes.

Different facial expressions

Different species

There’s such a vast animal and bird kingdom out there that the possibilities to create quirky cartoon characters around them are endless. From talking fish to dancing hippos, you can really let your imagination run wild.

Let’s say you wanted to draw a cartoon cat. Here’s how you could do it:

  1. Draw a circle that you will use to build the cat’s face.
  2. Add too simple circles for the cat’s eyes and draw long lashes.
  3. Draw a large triangle for its nose and add three whiskers extending out of the empty space on either side of the nose.
  4. From under the nose, draw a curve going down and then up on the left, then do the same on the right side. The mouth should look like a “w.”
  5. At the top of the face, draw two curved triangles that will be the cat’s ears.
  6. Under the face, draw a cylindrical shape. This will make up the body of the cat.
  7. From the middle of the cylindrical shape, draw two arms with paws at the end.
  8. On either side of the cylindrical shape, draw two more semicircles for the other two paws.
  9. Add a tail on the right side of the cat’s back.
Different species

Now you have an outline of your first cat cartoon!

Different species 1

Get started as a cartoonist with Upwork

If you’re a cartoonist who can weave magic with your pencils, Upwork is where you need to be. With numerous potential clients looking for freelance cartoonists to work on their projects, you can find interesting work in no time! Search through our marketplace of cartoon-style jobs available and get in touch with the employers whose work you’d like to bid on.

On the other hand, if you’re looking to hire a professional cartoonist, simply browse through the profiles of dozens of artists specializing in cartoons and choose one whose aesthetic sense matches yours!

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How To Draw Cartoons for Beginners
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