Cultural Character Prompts

How to develop a character design through culture.

Hello, folks!

This week I'm going to discuss the cultural character prompt found in the pages of "How to Draw Black People". For those who don't know, a character prompt is a list of questions or a set of criteria used to create an original character. Character prompts are mainly used for brainstorming and practice. The cultural character prompt I created was designed to help artists develop the desired culture for a character:

1. What is the character’s gender?

2. What is the character’s race?

3. What is the character’s sexuality?

4. How old is the character?

5. Does this character belong to the dominant or oppressed culture within their world?

6. How does the world view your character’s culture?

7. How does this character feel about their place in the world?

8. Does this character have any physiological or mental differences from most of the world?

9. What is the character’s view of spirituality?

10. What is this character’s expertise?

11. Where is the character from?

12. What is the character’s value?

So, let's see this character prompt in action.

I sat down with my friend Lovdia and asked her the 12 questions from the prompt. I allowed her to choose the genre and the time period, pretty much the setting. here are her answers: 1. cis woman

2. Black

3. Hetero

4. Adult

5. Neither dominant or oppressed

6. Positively

7. Confined

8. Anxiety (mental difference) viewed negatively; Hair, viewed positively; eyes view positively; boobs, viewed negatively, small, indifference

9. Agnostic

10. Confidence/art

11. Bowie, MD

12. Honesty

It's important to note that the character I am outlining isn't intended to be a replica of Lovdia but instead a characterization of her answers. If I wanted to make a character that looked like her, all I would have to do is reference a photo. That said, the next step is to look at the answers and distill what is and is not visually valuable to the character's design.

One of the things I talk about in HTDBP is seeing a character design as a form of storytelling. Instead of words or a series of pictures, character designs are stories told through:

  • Posture/pose

  • Shape language

  • Color palette

  • Costume

When I asked Lovdia these questions I also asked her to consider the importance of each answer to herself so I could determine which of her responses needed to be included in the design. (If this were a character for a story the answers to these questions would in the narrative itself but for the sake of this demo, I'm relying solely on Lovdia's answers)

There are a lot of different ways to define setting so I narrowed things down to time period and genre. Lovdia chose the 17th century for a time period and horror as a genre and I'm not gonna lie, that kinda threw me for a loop. I've never done anything like what she was proposing but I like the challenge.

Knowing what the setting is I can think about the four concepts (Pose, Shape language, color palette, and costume) and I can also eliminate things that I don't need to emphasize. 1. Woman

2. Black

3. Neither dominant or oppressed

4. Positively

5. Confined

6. Anxiety (mental difference) viewed negatively; Hair, viewed positively; eyes view positively; boobs, viewed negatively, small, indifference

7. Confidence/art

8. Honesty

The point is to have a wide range of information to choose from. I chose these as the 8 things I thought would be most important.

Shape language and Pose

The basic shapes I start with are round and cylindrical. I was going for bird cage-like shapes to help give off the confined feeling, Lovdia described. From there I rough out the pose and the first ideas for the costume.


When I rendered the sketch I focused on the costuming. I consider everything from facial expression to props a part of a character's costume. The pose also plays a part but I either know the pose I want at this stage or I don't want to know (the fun sometimes is figuring things out).

Color Palette

Lovdia said honesty was her biggest defining value so when it came time to choose colors I started with a light blue because it's a color often associated with honesty. From there I went on to choose the skin tone and the hue of my light source. I gave the character a dark skin tone which means I to be sure to include hues with values that can keep the contrast balance intact. I also must consider the genre, which is horror, so I wanted to keep it a bit spooky and suspenseful.

Finishing up

I decided to take a more painterly approach because I wanted to paint one of those beautiful 17th-century dresses and put my own spin on it. I kept the hues of the dress relatively cool while making the skin warm which creates the kind of separation I was hoping for between the skin, the hair and the dress, contrast-wise.

I threw together a quick background to help bring home the spookiness and imply some sense of danger and I'm quite happy with how it turned out. What do you think? Better yet would you like to have a character design like this one done by me? If so let me know in the comments.