How to turn photo into drawing: this may not be the most conventional way to do this, but it’s a valid one nevertheless! Using photo references to draw cartoons is something that every illustrator or cartoonist does to fast-track their character development.

how to turn photo into drawing

Commuter flight: Sacred Ibis “Executives” Take to the Skies!

How do I turn photo into drawing?

The process is simple:

  1. trace and copy from various references to analyse and understand the anatomy of my subject, and then
  2. test my understanding of the relative shapes and positions of the body components.

For example, in the video below I started out with a close-up of the sacred ibis head and traced it to get a feel for the size of its head versus the length of its beak and neck.

As I was planning a group of three ibises crossing the tarmac to a small commuter plane, drawing the birds from memory several times produced enough variations to end up with three slightly different ‘characters’ in the frame.

Then it was time to work on the body anatomy: how long is the body relative to the legs, how do I get the body shape correct and how does the tail attach? The way a bird’s legs bend offered some challenges of their own, and I also wanted to give the impression of each bird ‘marching to its own drumbeat’ rather than matching each other stride for stride, so I found several references in different positions.

Turn Photo into Drawing – Video Lesson

Watch the video lesson below to see the entire process in Photoshop, and follow along, or come up with a  project of your own. Of course you can do it with pencil and (tracing) paper just as easily, I just use Photoshop because it makes recording so simple from my computer screen :).


Interested in drawing your own cartoon characters from scratch??

I’d love to help!

Contact me to be considered for my 1:1 tutoring waiting list.
Da Vinci — my 6 month start-from-scratch cartooning class — begins again in August 2017. Click here for dates and costs, and to get on the waiting list.
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Showing 2 comments
  • Dick Kennedy

    Alison, do you also teach how to create personalities for the characters? Thanks.

    • Alison

      Hi Dick

      Yes, I do! Is that something you’re interested to learn? What specific aspects or challenges are you facing in creating personalities for your characters? Drop me a line, I’d love to hear more.

      (And thanks for your patience, waiting for this response. I’ve just got back to work following a holiday in Norway and putting my kids back into school after their long summer break. The joys of the Southern Hemisphere :D)

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