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. wendyhe1 says:

    Infectious art and character! Thanks for sharing your wisdom with all of us!


  2. How wonderful and inspiring! I need to do a lot more noodling and doodling for fun.


  3. Christy Mihaly says:

    What an interesting glimpse into the mind of an artist! Thank you, as a non-drawther author, I loved hearing about how a different kind of writer works. I like the idea of thinking about what is in my characters’ rooms. And your art is wonderful. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very enjoyable post. Taking some art classes is on my super long and perpetually growing list of “to do’s,” but it’s one I’m really looking forward to. Thanks!


  5. Kelly, enjoyed the post! Off to grab my sketch pad in hope of guiding my character to her true self 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Louise sounds like an especially interesting girl. Congratulations on your soon-to-be-released book! No one has ever before told me I can draw (for good reason). I’m going to throughly enjoy trying.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. jmvandenberg says:

    I draw really bad stick figures, but I like to use the online avatar programs to design my characters. These snapshots often help me see my characters so I can write them better. I think you definitely have the right job for you. Louise is a great character.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I find it so fascinating what goes on behind the scenes with art and how much never makes it into the book. I guess it’s the equivalent to revising a scene and scraping portions of text or maybe even the entire scene, but it’s interesting considering the flip side with the art. And that one line IS pretty spectacular.


  9. Wow. The energy! So contagious. What else can I say other than ready to draw, draw, draw.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Jeanne Ryan says:

    I love all the little details and insights in this post. In decades of seeing him, I’d never thought about how Snoopy’s eyes are closed so often. Louise Loves Art looks like so much fun–wish you were touring Seattle. Congrats!


  11. I am not an illustrator–AT ALL! But this post was SUPER helpful. Not only was it enjoyable to view all of your Louise art,, but the tips you gave made me start drawing my characters in my head and thinking about what their “living space” would look like! Thanks so much for the tips 🙂


  12. abuckles says:

    It was great to look at character development from an artist’s perspective!

    I can’t draw at all but I’m definitely trying this!


  13. Sandee Abern says:

    This was an amazing post. I honestly did get a great deal from it…great ideas. And I love Louise, especially her bangs!


  14. Sharon Giltrow says:

    Wowwee stupendous post I wish I could draw maybe I just need practice off to buy a sketchbook I love Louise and know my daughter will too – she loves to draw and I will definetly be buying the book


  15. yetteejo says:

    I love this. I’m going to get my pencil sharpened and give it a go.


  16. I am an illustrator and super inspired by this post! LOVE Louise! Can’t wait to buy your book and read it to my little girls (who are artists too)!


  17. Lisa says:

    I love Louise’s bedroom. Thanks for sharing this much.


  18. Carrie Brown says:

    Picture books would be nothing without the voice of the illustrations! I admire that you can do both, Kelly! I can’t wait to read Louise Loves Art. One of my favorite picture books is art-themed, too- Tom Lichtenheld’s Bridget’s Beret. He’s a master of illustration voice, in my opinion. The practice of looking at illustrations to weigh how much voice comes right from the art is a great suggestion. Thanks! I look forward to knowing Louise because she adds a special relationship component with her brother. Sweet sibling relationship books capture my heart. Best wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Great advice. I’m in Alison Hertz’s Doodle Day group on fb and love to doodle and draw!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Yvonne Mes says:

    Awesome post! I love the term ‘drawthor’ combining language and art to create characters. Perfect!


  21. Pia Garneau says:

    What a wonderful perspective from an illustrator. I love your approach. Amazing how you get images in your head and the voice comes naturally after that. I have doodled here and there and I am inspired to doodle more. Oh and I just bought The Quirks from the bookstore recently. Looks like a fun read.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Dawn Young says:

    Kelly, thanks for sharing. I can’t draw but I certainly try. I find that sketching out a character reveals so much about personality.
    Your work is spectacular. I’m looking forward to reading Louise Loves Art.


  23. linnshekinah says:

    Thanks for sharing. Great tips. Draw what you know, who you know. Similar to write what we know, who we know by drawing from our experiences. Another perspective of creating beliveable realistic characters.


  24. ssuehler says:

    I am as about artistic as a water buffalo, but I’ll try. Louise is adorable, I could use some of her confidence. And at age 58, I still quote Snoopy!

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Brook Gideon says:

    Kelly, your post and my husband’s b-day falling on the same day, made for a good one! Great info, took lots of notes! And I too had that electric toothbrush, it had a wire that connected it to the doghouse! Imagine, a wire! lol How did we not get electrocuted??? Great post, thanks as always!

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Kelly,
    Louise is a great character, one you have brought to life through mega drawings. I loved hearing your life experiences too. I hope you have your own biography for kids one day. Maybe Tara can write it.


  27. I’m one of those “non-draw-ers,” so I’ve learned to create pinterest boards for my characters and their worlds. Louise looks super fun!

    Liked by 1 person

  28. kateywrites says:

    I love that line…and the art for Louise! I wish I could draw better than I do ( my kids especially wish my horses and ponies didn’t look so much like dinosaurs!) but these are drawing tips I can really use. Thank you and congrats! Can’t wait to meet Louise.

    Liked by 1 person

  29. Dawn says:

    Snoopy is also one of my favorites! I’ll pick up a pencil, but even my stick figures are bad. Louise looks like she has so much personality! Thanks for sharing.


  30. Lynn Alpert says:

    Thanks for a great post, Kelly!


  31. Loved reading that you thought of yourself as a drawthor! Perfect. Your drawings are wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. In this post I hear the artist so glad to share, bursting for the chance, because you want so much for others to succeed too. I thank you for that, Kelly!

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Kelly, this is a fantastic post! I wanted to start drawing my characters, but thought I had to wait until I finished my PB. Now I don’t. Louise looks like a wonderful character. I’ll be sure to check out your book. 🙂


  34. Vijaya says:

    I love all your sketches. So vibrant!


  35. Talia says:

    Thank you for this. I see my characters in pictures in my head but never thought to actually draw them. I guess I just think of myself as a writer, not an illustrator, but I’m going to try this. It makes so much sense!


  36. Lauri Meyers says:

    It would be a fun exercise to go through all those drawings and put words by them. Like when she finds her masterpiece ruined – exasperated, frustrated, furious, enraged, gad-zoinked, panicked, distraught, upset – each one of her facial expressions says something just a little different.


  37. Danielle says:

    Wow! This totally changed how I see one of my MCs for my PB! Thank you so much!


  38. What an inspiring post! I’m always straddling that line between my artist self and my writer self, but guiltily wanting to stay on the artist side more. Now I see why….and it’s OK! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  39. Carella Herberger says:

    What an inspiring post! I’m always straddling that line between my artist self and my writer self, but guiltily wanting to stay on the artist side more. Now I see why….and it’s OK! Thanks!
    (Posted above logged in for my website, oops.)

    Liked by 1 person

  40. Oh boy, oh boy, I am so glad I went back through classes to realize now, after reading it, that I didn’t miss your post, Kelly! I only saw this cover somewhere just the other day and fell in love with
    Louise and now your art! I’m a Loony Tunes freak so that probbly has a lot to do with a lot. Would die to have your print, and much success with the series! :0)


  41. Deborah says:

    I don’t really draw but I am able to pull things out of magazines and catalogs that can describe a character. Hopefully that will help me hear them talk to me! Thanks so much for the lecture.


  42. Debbie Austin says:

    I love Louise already! I cannot draw very well, but I’m going to try to make some character sketches. Thanks for this very fun post!


  43. Kimberly says:

    I love Louise’s description of art, imagination on the outside! Seriously love it!!


  44. Amy D says:

    Love this post, and LOVE Louise. Thanks so much, Kelly.


  45. Juliana Lee says:

    I love your bio line, I was “Schooled on Saturday morning cartoons and Sunday Funny Pages…” Long before 24/7 cartoons on dedicated stations, I too was schooled on Saturday morning cartoons and Sunday Funny Pages. And when I see them 50 years later, I am transported back to the living room floor, their voices and antics clear in my head! This is what I want for my readers too.


  46. Charlotte says:

    Drawing out the character through drawing-what an inspirational post, Kelly. It is a joy to see the world through your eyes. Thank you for sharing your world with us!


  47. Heartmelt for Louise.

    Please don’t consider this comment for the artwork gift as it’s a post to show appreciation to Kelly Light & for perfect attendance records in KLSS.
    I think the artwork should go to an actual artist in our group.

    But I love to doodle always have & this will inspire me to face doodle the moods of my MC as the exercise sheet asks. Thank you for your openess & sharing about challenges in writing word after word.

    So FUN to hear these juicy art process details from an animator of Snoopy, Mickey & Bugs. Such a grand tradition you follow – brava! as, earlier on, there weren’t many women animators, yes?

    I love books about children’s books’ artists & have one about Disney art outtakes: The Disney That Never Was.

    Will look for your chapter books you illustrated, your SCBWI workshops & fabulous debut p.b., LOUISE LOVES ART.




  48. helennhill says:

    Kelly! I thoroughly enjoyed your workshop at the SCWBI conference last year and I am thrilled for your success- Louise is alive and brilliant!


  49. theitaliancob says:

    Best post yet for me, charactertastic, love it, love the art, love, love, love!


  50. sardyhar says:

    My art skills are not strong, but you make a persuasive argument for sketching/visualizing your characters in order to get better acquainted with them. So I will give your method a try. Thanks!


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