29 January 2015

Tutorial - Chibi Basics I

Welcome, everyone, to my very first art tutorial!  Several months ago, around the time I started this blog, I put out a poll on my deviantART profile asking what subject I should cover in my inaugural lesson.  More votes were cast for "Chibi Basics" than any other option, so I started brainstorming.  Surprisingly, despite using the word 'basic', I came to realize chibis--my chibis anyway--are actually quite complex!  After some consideration, in order to keep the tutorial relatively simple, easy to follow, and true to its title, I decided to focus on one very specific thing: the process I generally use to draw a chibi.

There are many ways to draw a chibi, many types of chibi to draw, and many decisions & considerations involved when creating a chibi.  For this tutorial, I thought it simplest to focus on a human chibi that was not based on a real person (i.e. caricature) nor on a popular character (i.e. fan art).  With that in mind, I chose to draw my own character Mika, who, in a side note, I have imagined as my inner voice of strength (and when I fail at something, admonition) ever since I invented her.  Her visual design isn't very complex and her character quirks shouldn't interfere with the lesson so I hope you'll find her to be a pleasant teacher.

The following images and instructions were put together in a way that will hopefully allow you to draw along and create your own chibi as you read.  You don't have to draw along, of course--my writing here does not exclude readers who are simply interested in my process--but it could be fun!  If you do draw a chibi using this tutorial, please share, I would love to see it!  For study purposes, you are free to copy my drawing exactly, if it helps~  Now, on to the tutorial proper!

Tutorial: Chibi Basics I


Instructions for drawing a female human chibi character in a stationary pose.

Difficulty Level (Beginner, Easy, Intermediate, Advanced, Expert): 

Easy to Intermediate (Requires some familiarity with anime-style drawing.)

Tools & Supplies:

  • Graphite Pencil (mechanical with 0.5mm lead)
  • Rubber or Vinyl Eraser (the thinner the better)
  • White Paper (at least 4x6" or A6)
  • Digital Drawing Program


Step One: Circles

Basic Framing Circles

Draw two circles, one on top of the other.  The top circle should be large and very round.  Make the bottom circle smaller and more elliptical.

When drawing a chibi human, I always start with two circles, as pictured above.  The first--the larger, more round one--represents the giant chibi head, and the second--the smaller, more ovular one--represents the entire chibi body.  Because the head is much more important for a chibi than its body, I always draw the larger circle first.  When adding the smaller circle, I generally draw it at around 3/4 the size of the head (but I'll sometimes draw it larger or smaller than that, depending on the desired height or intended pose).

Tips for My Students:  When drawing these circles, it's important to use a light hand and attempt to get the circle down with as few strokes as possible.  It's ok to draw the circle several times over to get the desired size and shape--you can see above that I worked the lower circle a bit more than the upper one--but drawing as lightly as possible will make it easier to erase cleanly later (of course, when drawing digitally, we can simply draw on a separate layer).  Don't spend too much time trying to make the circles perfect; there will be plenty of opportunity for fine tuning as we progress.

By drawing these basic circles before anything else, I'm able to claim my space on the page, planning the pose and compositional placement of the chibi.  They help me determine if I'll have enough room for what I want to do, give me my first visual idea of how the character will look, and they're simple enough that erasing and redrawing, multiple times if necessary, won't ruin the paper (of course, some of these issues aren't as important when drawing digitally, but I still use the circles to begin visualizing the character).

Step Two: Outlines & Guidelines

Body and Head Outlined with Guidelines


Define the basic body structure and pose with rough outlines.  Add crosshair guidelines wherever necessary.  Don't add too much detail.

At this point, the chibi already starts to take on a recognizable shape.  Using the circles from Step One as a guide, I define the chibi's head, body, and pose.  For this tutorial, I drew the head in a three-quarters profile view where one ear shows on one side of the head while the indentations and protrusions from the brow and cheek are depicted on the other.  You may notice that I added crosshairs where the face should go.  This is a useful way to map out facial features and it's actually the first thing I do.  Using these guidelines allows me to pose the head and then draw the cranium, cheeks, jawline, and ears to match.

As for the body, since it will be less detailed and is overall less important than the head, I only used a single crosshair (I suppose that just makes it a hair? lol) for this particular chibi.  This crosshair indicates the direction the body will face and gives me a baseline to build around.  In constructing this chibi's body, I used several more oblong circles to map out the arms.  Sometimes, if the pose is unusual or the character's design more complex, I will define the hips, legs, chest, etc. with small circles, as well.  Here, though, I didn't find it necessary.

Tips for My Students:  When drawing the head, remember to place the face lower than you would for a more realistic character.  Giving chibis extra-large craniums really adds to the cute factor.  When drawing the body, remember to make the hips wider than the chest, since we're drawing a female chibi.  Also, do not give the hands too much definition; draw them simply as the smallest end of the tapering shape that makes up the arms.  For the feet, indicate their protrusion with a couple small, simple lines.  The chibi body gets smaller and less defined as one looks it over from top to bottom.

Step Three: Cleanup & Definition

Drawing Cleaned Up for Next Step

Erase guidelines and other marks that are no longer necessary.  Add definition to the female anatomy.

This simple step helps me because I have a hard time deciphering messy sketchwork, even though I'm the one who created it just minutes before.  If the drawing gets too overloaded with unnecessary lines, I not only get confused, I get frustrated.  So here I cleaned up a bit by erasing guidelines that I knew I would no longer need, especially in the tiny area that comprises the body.

The only thing I added here was a small curved line to indicate the other breast.

Tips for My Students:  Feel free to skip the erasing step if you don't feel it is useful for you.  We will have more cleanup opportunities later.  Also, don't try to clean up the entire drawing at this point.  Only erase enough to give yourself a clearer vision of the drawing as a whole.

Step Four: Facial Features

Facial Features Added

Draw the eyes, eyebrows, and the mouth.

This step seems simple, but it can be difficult to get right on the first try (as we will see later!).  When drawing the face, I always start with the eyes.  The crosshairs I drew a couple steps ago become the most useful at this point.  I line the eyes up along the horizontal crosshair, and try to place each eye the same distance away from the vertical crosshair.  Once the eyes are done, I add the eyebrows, spacing them evenly above each eye with the eyebrow ends reaching just a bit further than the eyes themselves, and finish with the mouth whose corners line up approximately with the eyes' pupils.  (In case you're wondering, I don't draw noses on my chibis.  I just think they look cuter without.)  For the expression, I decided on a mellow smile (a bit of a reflection of the way I was feeling at the time).  Now chibi Mika is starting to appear~

Step Five: Clothing

Clothing Added

Add clothing.  Erase obsoleted lines as necessary.

Now we're coming to some of the funnest parts of drawing chibis.  Adding clothing, whether it's predefined (as when drawing a caricature or fan art), or it's being pulled directly from imagination, is very entertaining because we get to make it so small and simple.  I suppose this is the same reason why I find baby versions of grown-up shoes so adorable and amusing, ha ha.

Anyway, in trying to keep with the "basic" theme of this tutorial, I gave chibi Mika a very simple outfit comprised of an A-line skirt, a ribbed sweater, and some boots.  As I drew these items, I erased lines that were no longer needed.  For instance, once the skirt was drawn, it had 'covered up' the thighs, so I erased those lines.  Again, this erasing process is simply the way I keep track of what I'm doing as the drawing develops and becomes more complex.

Tips for My Students:  When drawing your chibi's clothes, don't forget to consider the thickness of the fabric you're trying to depict (notice how the lines for the sweater, in my example above, sometimes bulge away from the lines that indicate the arms) and attempt to draw folds even though the chibi body is so small.  Including these details helps impart a realistic touch to an otherwise unrealistically proportioned character.  All good caricaturizations, including chibis, need a balance between exaggeration and familiarity.

Step Six: Hair

Hair Added

Draw the hair.  Use outlines and avoid adding too much detail just yet.  Again, erase obsoleted lines as necessary.

Arguably, drawing hair is an anime-inspired artist's favorite thing.  It's definitely one of my top favorites, anyway.  The organic, flowing shapes, the wild styles, the personality...it's so fun and creative!  Recently, I changed Mika's normal hairstyle.  When I first designed her, she had a buzz cut everywhere except her bangs and long queue.  As you can see here, I drew chibi Mika with her new style, which is mostly the same except the buzz has been replaced by a french braid.

As with the previous step, I erased any lines that were effectively rendered useless by the addition of the hair.

Tips for My Students:  When drawing a chibi's hair, always use the head as a reference for the length and volume.  Don't use the body as a comparison except when drawing long styles.  For example, when my character Mika is drawn with normal proportions, her side-bangs fall a little past her shoulders while her queue reaches down to the small of her back.  So, normally, her longest bangs are around 1.5 times the length of her head, while her queue is 2 or 3 times that length.  Now, when translating those proportions to a chibi and using the size of the head as a reference, the bangs still size up to about 1.5 times the length of the head, but the queue is much smaller.  This is because, although we want to make the hair match the head's proportions, Mika's queue, if it were 3 times the length of her chibi head, would end several centimeters below her feet, effectively forcing us to draw hair that drags along the floor (nasty) in order to maintain a proportional length.  With that in mind, I feel it's better to make the hair match the size of the head EXCEPT when it's so long that it would exceed the length of the body.

Step Seven: Details

Details Added Throughout Drawing

Add final details (individual strands of hair, folds, small accessories, blush marks, etc.).  Make final corrections as necessary.

This is the last drawing step in my chibi process.  At this point, I add remaining accessories and other character-defining visual traits, reevaluate and correct existing linework, and scrutinize the details so that I can finalize the drawing as a whole.  In the example above, I added individual strands to Mika's hair, drew in her monocle-sunglass (if there's a proper word for such an invention, I would love to know it!), erased and redrew one of her eyes as well as the hair at the crown of her head, added small details to her face (blush marks, eyelid creases, ear curves) and subtly changed and added to the clothing (especially the thickness of and wrinkles in her sweater).

This step, though it doesn't necessarily produce a distinctive visual change, is still one of the most important.  Adding small accessories, such as Mika's distinctive eyepiece, helps to bring out character.  Correcting unsatisfactory lines--for my biggest change, I added more distance between the eyes to make the whole face look cuter--prevents glaring mistakes from monopolizing the viewer's attention.  Focusing on details and making subtle changes ensures the drawing looks polished, even when left in a rough, sketchy state.

Step Eight: Cleanup

Unnecessary Lines Cleaned Up (Final Drawing)

Erase all unnecessary lines and clean up stray graphite (if working in physical media).

To be honest, I don't usually do this step.  Most of the time, I will follow the previous step with inking and coloring but for the sake of this tutorial, which is already ridiculously long for being called the "Basics", I decided to end the drawing with a simple cleanup step.  All I did was use an eraser to eliminate all the sketchy lines that were no longer needed so that the drawing was left looking crisp and complete.

Tips for My Students:  When erasing around super-small details, don't be afraid to erase and redraw lines that you actually wish to keep.  Sometimes, this is the only way to clean up an area satisfactorily.


And we're done!  I hope you had fun drawing your own Mika-style chibi (Mika both because the chibi I drew here was Mika and because my nickname is Mika) and/or that you found the exhibition and explanation of my chibi-making process to be interesting.  I very much welcome any questions you may have.  I would be more than happy to expound on any of the steps listed above.

Don't forget to share your chibis with me!  I want to see what you make!