Helping artists, illustrators and anyone interested in character development and picture book illustration

The Magic of Line and Gesture

I absolutely love this topic, as I find gesture is one of the most exciting things about illustrating a story. Whether it’s subtle and heartfelt or loud and expressive, gesture is what brings a character to life.

As an illustrator, non-verbal communication is essential to telling a character’s story, so understanding body language, gesture and emotion, and then knowing how to convert these feelings into lines on paper, is key to expressing or conveying information about a particular character or story.

My illustrations for ‘Possums Big Surprise.’

Using samples of my work, I’m going to show you what a difference line and gesture can make. I’ll share some tips that I use to bring more gesture and movement to my character drawings and then, I’ll share my favourite illustrators that hero line and gesture. And if thats not enough, I’ll also be giving a two month FREE link to Skillshare, with access to my latest class ‘Draw a Circus of Line & Gesture’.

My sketches for ‘Good Dog Hank’

Take for example my first attempt at drawing the illustration for ‘Nod the head, Tap the toe…’  for Phil Cummings story Boom Bah! Here, I was happy with the little chics bouncing around and dancing with the mice, but I wasn’t convinced about the mother hen…the composition was looking too ‘quiet’ and static. So, I decided to have another go … this time focusing on movement and gesture.

My first attempt at sketching the hen illustration for ‘Boom Bah!’

I decided to use exaggeration to make it very clear what the mother hen character was doing.
You can see how I dramatised the head-nodding, toe-tapping and wing flapping to capture the rhythm and movement of the story. The diagonal wing-span and the feathers exploding across the page, only add to the energy and movement of the illustration.

My hen sketch for ‘Boom Bah!’

So rather than drawing from photographic reference (the outside in), I prefer drawing characters from the inside out. To do this, I like to walk in my characters shoes. Meaning, placing myself in the same situation as the character in the story – their body posture, stance, gestures and facial expressions are all clues to how they are feeling and what they are trying to convey. And to actually feel what it feels like to re-enact their movement and situation really helps when it comes to drawing.

Because Boom Bah! is a loud, noisy, marching book for preschoolers, my intention was to transfer the high energy and enthusiasm of the young reader onto the characters in the story. Now, if you’re not ready to start marching around your living room to the beat of a drum, at least try to imagine what a pre-schooler would look (and feel) like if they where to playing and marching around to music.

My sketch for ‘Boom Bah!’

When it came time to illustrating my first watercolour illustration for Boom Bah!, I really wanted to focus on expressive line and gesture as this would bring a playful movement to the illustrations.

My first attempt

With a looming deadline my first illustration attempts for Boom Bah! where too tight and careful (see above…yikes!). So I decided to stop worrying about the end result and instead, enjoy the process. Dancing around my studio to Aretha Franklin was the first step to finding movement. I also found that standing instead of sitting, allowed for more movement in my arms. Drawing with gesture requires the careful balance between organised chaos. After much planning, it was time to let go and enjoy the spontaneity of each mark. The result is one of my favourite paintings. This simple illustration of mouse, hen, pig, cat and goat marching across the page, is a great example of line and gesture playing a key role.

My final illustration for ‘Boom Bah!’

I always find it helpful to see how other illustrators interpret line and gesture, so here, I’ve put together a selection of picture books that show a variety of styles that focus on gesture.

Top left, Emma Quay’s Rudie Nudie is a gorgeous use of gestural line and expressive body movement. Next we have, Freya Blackwood’s illustration (top right) from Margaret Wilds Harry and Hopper showing a bold use of line and movement. For a more realistic style, you can’t go past Shirley Hughe (above, centre) and her expressive ink line that always manages to capture the tender moments of her characters. Compare these to the whimsical style of Charlotte Voakes illustrations in Ginger Finds a Home (above, bottom right). They all have their unique style, but with the underlying theme is line and gesture.

Top left, we have Gregory Rogers and his playful character drawings in The Hero Of Little Street (top left), his cartoon-like drawings are full of movement and energy. Top right we have Emily Gravett’s heartfelt art in Monkey and Me. And of course you can’t discus line and gesture without mentioning Helen Oxenbury. Her illustrations in Micheal Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (bottom right), manage to capture real life family moments with a tender, considered line.

Isabelle Arsenault’s renderings in Jane, the Fox & Me (top left) are drawn with an eraser as much as a pencil and display a variation of line and pencil techniques. Isabelle depicts characters that are not always pretty, but are always beautifully authentic. Top right, Quentin Blake is a magician when it comes to line and gesture. Deceptively simple, he expresses feeling with every master stroke. The girl in the yellow dress (above centre) is one of Lisbeth Zwerger illustrations in The Wizard of Oz. Her soft, playful line always captures the essence of her characters. And finally, Armin Greder’s illustrations in Libby Gleeson’s Uncle David, is the perfect balance between child-like fantasy and artistic mastery.

Whether you’re drawing with a pencil, a brush, charcoal or a stick dipped in ink, keep in mind that the important thing is to know your character inside and out. Once you truly know them, you can then use body language and movement to express information about them and their story.

Drawing with gesture is what brings your characters to life.

My illustration from ‘The Grasshoppers Dance’ (Juliette MacIver, Scholastic)

If you want to try this out for yourself. I’ve published a new Skillshare class Body Works Part Three: Draw a Circus of Line and Gesture, where I take you step-by-step through the process of designing and drawing a picture book character from start to finish.

Following Body Works Part One: Draw a Circus of Characters and Body Works Part Two: Draw a Circus of Movement,

Body Works Part Three: Draw a Circus of Line & Gesture shows you how to develop a picture book character from ideas all the way through to finished art. Designed as a stand-alone class means that you can jump right in, without having to take part the previous two classes. However, I do recommend that beginners take all three classes.

As always, I offer loads of handy printables to help you transform your ideas into a character map reference of your picture book character. Then, using the character map, I show you the easiest way to bring your character to life, by placing them in multiple poses and drawing them with line and gesture.

Picture book characters are used to carry the plot, theme, mood, ideas and emotions of a story, but they don’t exist until we draw them. So, if you have an idea for a picture book character that you want to explore and develop, why not join me in class using this link.

You can also check out my other eleven picture book illustration classes with Skillshare, working your way from the bottom to the top strung together, my Skillshare classes are designed to take a complete beginner through the entire process of developing a character for a picture book. You can also join me on Instagram and follow me on Facebook for illustration inspiration and class updates. And if you subscribe to my blog, I post less than once a month, sharing any illustration information or inspiration to help you on your creative journey.

I hope your inspired to try your hand at drawing a picture book character using line and gesture! Bye for now 🙂

Nina x

Learn Simple Techniques to Bring your Characters to Life

I can’t tell you just how proud I am of my new Skillshare class, second in a three-part series, Body Works Part Two – Draw a Circus of Movement  has by far been the most challenging to date. A labour of love, in just over 50-minutes, I share simple techniques that are guaranteed bring your characters to life.

Drawing movement any using reference material.

Many illustrators struggle with this topic, but it’s something that my illustrations are recognised for and something that I LOVE to teach. There were many concepts to cover and each stage needing careful planning to deliver information in a simple and easy to digest manner. Techniques that (after years of practice) are second nature to me, have been thoughtfully unpacked in such a way that beginners and seasoned artists can give them a go.

Learn how and why illustrators use exaggeration.

In my latest Skillshare class, you’ll learn how to draw a wire frame of your characters front and side view, using the wire frames to explore body posture and forward motion.

Learn how to draw forward movement of the two legged kind.

I then show you a technique that I use a lot my picture book illustrations. How to apply poses found in any reference (photos, newspaper clippings or your own photographs) to your characters. I did a lot in my picture book Dinosaurs Love Cheese (by Jackie French, Harper Collins). Below is a pencil sketch of the famous Abbey Road walk and (a you-tube) to my quick time painting the Zebras are fond of flowers illustration.

The Beatles Abbey Road album cover inspired the illustration for the Zebra illustration in Dinosaurs Love Cheese.

An important part of bringing your characters to life, is understanding age appropriate movement. To create a successful character, they need to be believable, authentic and relatable to the (sometimes very) young reader. This is why in class, we dip into a selection of picture books to discuss the age of the characters and their movement, all the while creating an illustration using gesture and line.

Age appropriate movement

As an illustrator, non-verbal communication is key to telling a character’s story. So understanding body language is vital when it comes to expressing or conveying information about a particular character or story. In this class, we experiment with body language and exaggeration to bring personality and story to a character.

Learn how to use body language

You’ll have the opportunity to take this class from the comfort of your home, viewing the short video style lessons on your phone, tablet or computer. You’ll be able to look over my shoulder as I show you how to apply body language to a character, learning fundamentals that you can then apply to your own characters. In this particular lesson, I use simple shapes, line-of-action and gesture to create multiple character sketches then, overlaying the initial framework with more and more detail.

Learn how to use body language

In this lesson you’ll end up with a selection of character drawings to use in your Character Reference Sheet for a project, a portfolio piece or a project pitch.

Create a character reference sheet for your character

Bringing movement and gesture to your characters is guaranteed to take your illustrations to a whole new level, and if you master this, your work will be a welcomed treat to any publisher.

It’s taken me years (and more than a dozen picture books) to navigate my way through this tricky topic. What I offer in Body Works Part Two – Draw a Circus of Movement are some simple techniques that will bring your characters to life.

So if you have an idea for a character or a story, or you are working on a project and you’re looking for some support and guidance, why not join me in class. With Skillshare now offering two months free, there is no reason to put off your projects a minute longer.

I look forward to seeing more of you (and your characters) in class. Until then – keep drawing!

So you want to learn how to illustrate a picture book?

So you want to learn how to illustrate a picture book?

Well here’s your chance!

The classes that I’ve been producing on Skillshare this past year are a breakdown of the many processes that I use when developing characters for a picture book. From the things that I need to consider before starting work on a story, designing character, all the way through to deciding what illustration technique will be most suitable for the final artwork.

To make things easy for you, I’ve listed my classes in the sequence that I use when producing illustrations for a story. Work your way through, and you’ll be well on your way to producing your very first picture book publication. Skillshare are now offering a one-month FREE trial, so all you need to do, is click on the links below to join me in class.


‘101 Guide to Picture Books’ will give you the framework for everything you need to consider before starting work on a picture book.

101 Guide to Picture Book Illustration

‘Face Facts – a Beginners Guide to Drawing a Self Portrait’ is a chance to brush-up on the basics in face proportion, so that you can start illustrating characters with confidence.

Inês Mateus’ self portrait.

‘Face Shapes – Explore Character Using 9 Simple Shapes’ is the perfect kick-start to any character design.

Face Shapes Skillshare Class

‘101 Guide to Drawing Eyes’ allows you to hone in on your character, exploring the shape, size and the placement of the eyes, and seeing how these small tweaks can dramatically change age, look and style of your character.

101 Guide to Drawing Eyes

‘Emoji Me – the Art of Drawing Facial Expression’ walks you through the six basic emotions and then some. If you’re illustrating a story, this class is a must!

Emoji Me – The Art of Facial Expression

‘How to Draw the Head from Every Angle – Part One’ shares simple techniques that will help you draw yours character head every which way.

How to Draw the Head From Every Angle

‘How to Draw the Head from Every Angle – Part Two’ will save you hours and hours of mistakes and frustration. Making a mini-model of your character’s head, will not only help you understand character but it will also help you draw your character accurately and consistently while working on a picture book.

Polymere Clay Model

‘How to Draw the Head from Every Angle – Part Three’ walks you step-by-step through the process of drawing your characters head from every angle, creating valuable character reference.

Drawing a characters head from every angel

‘Draw a Circus of Characters – Exploring Body Shape and Body Proportion’ takes you through the process of drawing a set of characters for a story using three simple steps.

‘Illustration Masterclass – Exploring Technique and Style’ gives you the opportunity to experiment with a wide variety of illustration styles and techniques.

Illustration Techniques Master Class


I have some exciting new classes in the works, including my next class ‘Draw a Circus of Movement’ where you’ll learn how to bring your characters to life with movement and gesture. In this class, you’ll explore body posture, exaggeration, line-of-action and other techniques that will have your characters balancing, lifting, walking, skipping, running and leaping right off the page!

If you have an idea for a character or a picture book story, my classes offer the opportunity for anyone who has always wanted to illustrate a picture book, but needs guidance; for anyone who is in the process of illustrating a story but needs encouragement; or just for anyone who wants to draw and explore and see where it takes them. The lovely thing about these classes is that you can work at your own pace and in your own space, practicing new skills, all the while working on the bigger picture – your your picture book publication.

I look forward to seeing you in class and if you have any questions or even an idea for a future class, please drop me a line. I’m alway happy to help. – Nina

Create Your Own Velveteen Rabbit This Easter Weekend

Wishing you a very happy Easter! 

As an Easter illustration celebration, I’d like to offer you this FREE audio reading of The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams (read by Xe Sands). Since William Nicolson’s 1920 illustrations, many illustrators have risen to the challenge of illustrating the famous toy rabbit.

This Easter, why not try your hand at designing your very own Velveteen Rabbit?

Nina’s velveteen toy rabbit inspired drawings

In my latest Skillshare class The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration, picture book illustrations are used to inspire you own bunny art. In this 1 hour class, I walk you step-by-step through the process of how to draw real, anthropomorphic and toy rabbits.

The Bunnies in Books: Toy-Like lesson looks at the many different ways artists have illustrated The Velveteen Rabbit character across time. We use the picture book art as inspiration then dive into our own toy rabbit creations.

‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, by Margery Williams.

Take Maurice Sendak and his 1960’s version of The Velveteen Rabbit. Predating Where The Wild Things Are by three years, the charming duo-tone illustrations add a simple whimsical style to one of the most beloved rabbit stories of all time.

‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

In 1983 Micheal Hauge and his watercolour illustrations literally flood the page with moonlight and warmth, where he strikes a balance of intimacy and technical accomplishment.

‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, illustrated by Micheal Hauge

Monique Felix’s pastel rendition of The Velveteen Rabbit (illustrated in 1994) captures a soft haze and play on light.

‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, illustrated by Monique Felix

And finally, nearly a century later, in 2015 Japanese illustrator Komako Sakai brings a textural, gusty block print adaptation of The Velveteen Rabbit…and in my opinion the best version since Maurice Sendiks take in 1960.

‘The Velveteen Rabbit’, illustrated by Komako Sakai

A well as The Velveteen Rabbit, The Bunnies in Books: Toy-like lesson also discusses other toy rabbit characters, like the famous Miffy (by Dick Bruna), Knuffle Bunny (by Mo Willems), finishing the lesson off with The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane (by Kate Di Camillo).

‘The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane’, by Kate DiCamillo

So why not join me in class this Easter weekend. Enjoy the The Art of Bunnies in Books, create your own illustration gifts or even have a bunny-draw-off challenge with family and friends.

Wishing you a Happy Easter.

Nina 🙂

Use this link to get your FREE GIVEAWAY to The Art of Bunnies in Books – an Easter Illustration Celebration class.

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