Lately it’s become more apparent to me that there are multiple artists out there who will draw several different characters, be they their own or belonging to someone else, and fail to make any sort of facial differentiation between any of them. Myself and many others call this little dilemma “sameface”. Basically, not one character has any sort of unique features to tell one apart from the other. It’s especially noticeable in artists who began developing their art style by mimicking the anime style of drawing faces. Because of this, many artists, myself included, would utilize something more immediately obvious and recognizable to distinguish one character from another: hair.
Hairstyle in a simplified anime-based style is perhaps the easiest way to tell two characters apart. You can easily take two bean shapes, give them dot eyes and then just toss some hair on them and the viewer can immediately realize, “Hey, it’s Cloud Strife and Sephiroth!” I see this all the time, everywhere, but I won’t call anyone out on it. I will treat everyone reading this post as equals, and merely point out a few ways to avoid sameface.
For the purpose of this demonstration, we will be focusing only on the head of the character. And so as not to offend anyone else by using their characters, I will be providing examples using my own original characters. Here’s a doodle I did of just a few of them.
While I’ve had these characters for a few years now, their hairstyles have easily become a part of who they are, despite a few subtle changes as my own style of drawing has evolved. Each character has her own unique way of styling her hair, to be sure, and they even have a few accessories, jewelry and piercings, different from one another. It sets them apart from each other visually without really saying a whole lot. But what would happen if we got rid of their hair? AND their accessories?
They’re still very different from one another! No two characters have the same facial features, and that’s a very good sign. It’s important to keep in mind that there is more to building a character than building on the obvious. Every character artist should take time to play with the length and shape of the head, different styles and sizes of the eyes, noses of various shapes and sizes, among other things. These features can also determine how expressive a character can be. The two ladies on top, for example, are contrasts to one another, where one is calm and collected, and the other has a much wilder side. And the two younger girls on the bottom also contrast, where one is perky and childlike, and the other is subdued and brooding.
It’s best to utilize different facial features that will suit a character’s personality to allow them to better express who they are. Maybe your character has a sweet tooth? They probably eat a lot of candy and ice cream. In that case, they just might be a bit on the chubby side. Or maybe they’re the kind of person who can eat whatever they want, whenever they want, and never show an ounce of weight. The comically trim and fit character who can get away with it all guilt free. They probably have a slender face to go along with that great body of theirs!
A few of you may be feeling that your characters do have similar faces to one another, and perhaps you don’t want to change the way they look. Maybe they’re already as handsome or as pretty as you want them to be. Does changing their features necessarily mean making them uglier? Of course not!! All you need to do is find a way to make your character look pretty in a whole new way! Even if your character has chubby cheeks, a pointy chin, or a masculine jaw, it doesn’t stop them from being both identifiable as well as attractive.
But of course, these characters were drawn in black and white, so another factor we’ve neglected up until now is color scheme. Can a character be as recognizable after we suck the color out of them? I’ll introduce you to another character of mine with some unique features all her own, and show you how we can work with her.
Large, sharp red eyes, a wide grin, lots of jewelry, dark skin and platinum blonde hair. Already this character has a lot to say about herself. But can she continue to say it in black and white? Sure she can, we already saw earlier that a character can say a lot about themselves through their appearance alone. But what if instead of just blasting her with greyscale, we also change her entire wardrobe?
Okay so maybe I did cheat a tad with the little bit of hair that we can still see. But most everything else has been obscured. Her nose and mouth are hidden behind a decorated veil, making them more difficult to see. She isn’t even showing off her trademark grin anymore! And all of her other accessories, her jewelry and her feathers, have been taken away from her. What remains? Her eyes. From the shape of her eyes and the unique twist on her eyebrows, we can still tell that these two characters are meant to be one and the same. The eyes are countless times more expressive than a hairstyle, and should never be ignored in favor of matching them to look like those of your favorite anime heroine.
The most important thing when working with your characters is to have fun drawing them, whether they’re your own or not. And you just might be surprised how much fun it is to make one character look completely different from another. They take on a new level of depth, a certain “humanity” all their own. And all the different features make them a lot more fun to draw in the first place!! I hope everyone can continue to enjoy drawing, and not be afraid to experiment with their styles. The best way to improve is to keep on playing with your skills, and to keep on having fun!