Designing characters using grids in Affinity Designer

Grids are quite often used for UX and Graphic Design, because of the precision required on this kind of fields, where having everything lined up and balanced across your Artboard is a must. But, grids can also be used for other less everyday tasks such as drawing simple characters and other subject matters.

Affinity Designer has a beautiful set of tools that can help us pull out nice looking and balanced drawings very quickly.

Create a 3072×3072 document.

Go to the top menu and select View > Grid and Snapping Axis

Tick the Show Grid checkbox (in case you haven’t yet), then select Advanced Mode. In the grid spacing input, type 256 px. You can choose any number you please, I chose 256 px because I find this is a nice spacing size and makes easier to calculate the number of units I want on my Artboard. I created a 3072 px wide document because I wanted to have a grid with 12 sub-divisions (256*12 = 3072).

This part is not that important actually, but if you want to keep a clean and symmetric composition from the very beginning, you should think about how many divisions you want to work with. Ok, enough of boring numbers, let’s put our hands to work.

Creating an stylish toucan bird

Using a Rectangle, draw 2 simple shapes, these ones will define the overall shape of our toucan. For better precision, select the Snapping Manager option from the View menu and activate grid snapping.

Using the Corner Tool, select the top-right corner of our main rectangle and reshape it to form our toucan’s head.

Use a bigger radius for the lower body. Try to keep even measurements when transforming these corners to maintain a nice and even looking across your illustration.

Adjust the beak’s top-left corner, and now we have the general shape of our toucan’s solved. I always recommend using bold and simple shapes to define the overall looking of whatever we’re drawing.

Creating details

Build intricate illustrations by increasing the level of details of your grid. This way you’ll make sure all elements will always be balanced within the composition grid.

Keep building up our toucan’s design. The advantage of working with a grid is that you can always go back and resize or reposition your elements.

Use clipping objects when needed, to save time working too complicated shapes. If you want to learn more about clipping masks in Affinity Designer, you can check out this other tutorial.

You can search for references if you want to be more accurate and add variety to your design. I would only recommend not being too literal when using photo references.

These type of illustrations should be interpretations more than actual depictions of our subject matter.
You can keep building up details by adding new simple shapes and fitting them into the grid.
Now, to have a better context of the whole design, let’s add a background. Notice how dense our grid looks when zoomed out. This is why I use to keep changing my grid’s sub-divisions all the time. When working on the original composition, I use a 1 sub-division grid and increase this number depending on the detail level I want for the part I’m working on at the moment.
I.E., I felt that my toucan’s eye looked too small, so to keep its size coherent with the rest of the composition, I incremented my sub-division levels to 3.
I do the same with the rest of the details.
Having a grid, not only helps you keep your objects in order, but makes you more thoughtful about balance and composition.
As I mentioned before, you can always reposition and change your design elements at any time, using the same grid as a reference. I love this method because it opens a lot to experimentation.

And this is basically it, as you can see I added a very simple texture in the background using more rectangles, nothing too complicated, I just needed to give some interest and depth to it.

Hope you had fun creating this cute, toucan. I encourage you to try building other animals yourself. If you’re not very experienced, I recommend you start with simple ones, such as a monkey face, a cat, another bird based on this one, etc. Increase the difficulty level as you get more used to this method, which never gets old.

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