Kelly Light: Drawing on what you know. Drawing on who you know. Drawing out the character….through drawing.

kelly lightWhen I was little my life was filled with characters. I brushed my teeth in the morning with the Snoopy electric toothbrush before enjoying a treat from the Snoopy Snow Cone Machine while drawing and sharpening my pencil with my Snoopy Dog House electric pencil sharpener while seeing my Mom pack my Peanuts lunchbox and fill my Snoopy Thermos with the red cup on top.

I would wander downstairs where the TV was, don my mouse ears, personalized t shirt and big button that proclaimed I was a member of the 1975 incarnation of the Mickey Mouse Club.

After school, I would lose myself in laughter watching Bugs Bunny in all of the Looney Tunes.

How crazy is it that I wound up drawing each of them for their respective companies’ licensed properties? I came to my former career as a character artist armed with an intimate knowledge of who each of these characters are.

The big three: Bugs, Mickey, Snoopy.

Bugs – the smart ass, the Dean Martin of cartoon characters, cool, calm and snarky

Mickey – the eternal optimist, good guy, pal to all

Snoopy – the Renaissance man, the bon vivant, the eccentric, the unexpected dog about town

Each have clear, distinct personalities. Characters you know better than you know most people.

Characters that happen to be drawings.

Let me type that again….. Drawings.

Drawn in such a way that you need only see them and you can hear their voices.

I don’t have to show you them. You know them so well, you can see them in your head.

They feel real to us.

This is what I do. This is what I draw. This is who I am and why I find myself fortunate to be making many children’s books. The book market finally met me at my place – character driven work.

My bio reads that I was “Schooled on Saturday morning cartoons and Sunday Funny Pages…”  – you now know, that’s the truth.  What is also the truth is that, it took me weeks just to write my bio. It takes me a long time to write – anything.

I have a confession to make. The book that is coming out next month, “Louise Loves Art” only had one line written down for a year.

But I had hundreds of pages drawn.  I had sheets and sheets of character development and spread after spread drawn and re-drawn.

But only one line of text.

“I love art, it’s my imagination on the outside.”  That’s the line. It’s a good line. It’s the first line of the book. It’s the tag line, the quotable line, the mantra and the mission statement.

louise loves art


It’s also how I write. I get my imagination out on paper. By drawing. Character first.

When I think of a character, I snap into the role of “Casting Director”. That’s how I think of a book, it’s a production… a movie in my head. I am a one woman film crew, director, producer, writer, cinematographer, set designer, costume designer, editor and casting director.

I start by going through all of the people I know, personally and I also think of celebrities. I watch old movies. I think of archetypes. I google and make pages of “audition” casting call sheets. I collect head shots and bios.

Who do I see in this role? I ask myself, “What gender? What animal? What age? How do I see this character? Are they small? Are they round? Are they huge? Are they angular? Are they soft? What do they like to wear?(costume matters -just like with people, not everyone wears a bow tie or hats. Some women can’t wear heels- others live in them. This is part of who they are) What would be in their bedroom? (I like that question a lot when you are creating kid characters)What does their world look like? What are the character traits that you can give them visually, that give clues to who the character is- internally.


Back to the big three. Bugs is long and lean, like his voice sounds. Stretched way beyond bunny proportions. That way he can be slouchy with a posture always weighted on one hip…casually leaning…that posture says “I am easy going and you are not gonna rock my dream boat….ehhh What’s up Doc?”

Mickey, is round. Built upon circles. Three circles and a bean, circles in his hands and and in his feet. The way he’s drawn just makes you happy. He is pleasantly designed on purpose for the most likability.

Snoopy, most of the time, his eyes are closed. He is above it all. He’s drawn with body shape of a real dog but his face is all sideways glance, all knowing. It never surprises us that he can fly a plane or be a tennis pro, ice skate or pull together a Thanksgiving meal on a ping pong table.

This is a way to help “DRAW” out who your character is. Draw who you think they are. Create your character, your actor. Draw how they feel when you think of them. Start drawing expressions, reactions, emotions before you ever write a word. Know who they are then when you put them into your story, you already know how they will react. What upsets them? What thrills them? What phobia or quirk do they have? Give them their personality. Make them real to you and they will feel more real to your reader.

kelly6Here’s Louise:

Louise is a 7 year old girl. She loves to draw. She is consumed with the need to create and share her drawings. She wears comfy clothes with an arty flair. She is not clothing obsessed but she wants the world to know she is an artist. She cuts her own bangs. She cuts her little brother’s bangs. Her hair is the kind of straight, shiny bobbed hair that allows her ears to pop through. In her bedroom she has an old metal bed with a popcorn chenille bedspread. Her world is old fashioned. Handmade. She draws – which is the basis of all art. It’s the act of craft – so her world feels crafted- craftsman influenced. She wears big, red, glasses that slip down and around and go crooked on her face.  She needs them to see every line, every curve. Her glasses are the device to make her “seeing” noticeable. Artists are observers of life all around them. So I gave Louise a lot of traits to be noticed by kids. How she holds a pencil. How she sticks her tongue out when she’s drawing. All of this is to make her feel real to them so they feel like they know her.

louise loves art

A lot of this goes on in my head and on my paper and may never make it into the book. It was time well spent since the Louise books have been turned into a series. I have other characters for her to meet in school art class, other little artists. I will go through this process with each character I come up with.  When I finally get to the point where I am ready to write the words, all I have to do is look at them and I hear their voices.

louise loves art

I am giving a few character design workshops at SCBWI’s this year. It is so much fun to talk about all of this that two hours fly right by. I could talk about cartoon characters forever..but this post has to end somewhere. I was messaging back and forth with author Tara Lazar not long ago and I told her how the writing has been harder for me and she was saying how she can’t draw a straight line. I said, I suppose, it’s all a matter of the muscles you flex the most. “Tara, You are an author, I am a “drawthor”.”  I hope all of you writers try to draw character sheets as well as the illustrators here in Summer School. I believe everyone can draw and if you are doing it for yourself- just let go and have fun. No art director or editor is going to see these.

“Louise Loves Art” comes out Sept 9!! I am off on a book tour across the country. Chicago, Kansas City, Houston, San Francisco, Philly and in NYC. If you are in any of the towns I am visiting, please come say hi!! You can check the dates on my website soon :

Kelly Light grew up down the shore surrounded by giant roadside dinosaurs, cotton candy colors and skee ball sounds. Schooled on Saturday morning cartoons and Sunday Funny pages, she picked up a pencil and started drawing and never stopped. Now living in New York, She is the author and illustrator of the picture book Louise Loves Art coming out 9/9/14 as well as the illustrator of the two chapter books series, The Quirks and Elvis and the Underdogs, the upcoming Don’t Blink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Just Add Glitter by Angela DiTerlizzi. Find her on the web at

Kelly is giving away a fine print from : “Louise Loves Art”. It is the image with the line “I love art…” !  Leave a comment to be eligible to win. 🙂

Registered for Summer School? Check out Kelly’s drawing exercise in the exercise book.

Not registered for Kidlit Summer School yet? No worries! Click here to REGISTER.

*And don’t forget the #30mdare tonight at 9:00 pm EST!


155 comments on “Kelly Light: Drawing on what you know. Drawing on who you know. Drawing out the character….through drawing.

  1. furfilled says:

    Thanks for the post. There’s something about the act of drawing lines on paper that gets a different part of the brain working, so this is great advice for illustrators and non-illustrators alike. (Love your work too!)


  2. Talia says:

    I had so much fun doing this exercise! I’ve always secretly wished I could illustrate so this was a treat…Thank you!


  3. S Marie says:

    So excited for this book to come out! Your character sheets are bursting with Louise’s personality!


  4. kelight says:

    Hi All! I am just back from a dream trip to Hawaii. whole I was gone I tried to stay offline but I peeked in and saw some of your great comments and responses. I am so happy that so many of you are going to try to draw as part of your character building process. I do hope you post some of it on the facebook page so I can see…. For our eyes only. thank you so much for all of your well wishes and congratulations on the book release. I am gearing up for a month away for the tour. It is a humbling life moment…the overwhelming gratitude I feel that this has happened at this point of my life…I can’t even express. I wish you all happy creating!!!,

    Liked by 1 person

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