We live in a world of different races, religions, shapes, sizes, sexes, identity, age and colour. There is no ‘one look’, ‘one family’ or ‘one person’ that can accurately represent everyone. Diversity is exciting and engaging and we want to make sure that what we’re drawing, is the reality of what we’re living.
At Sketch Videos we make a point of representing diversity wherever we can. We don’t assume a voice is male or female—we ask. We talk about who best can tell the story, and try to think outside the stereotype and cliché.
Our talented illustrator Robin Cave is especially good at drawing diverse groups of people so we asked him for some tips of his trade.
Lately I’ve been called on to do several projects with an emphasis on racial diversity.
I do find talking about racial stereotypes a pretty uncomfortable subject in these times of global racial tensions, and in my drawings I am really just striving for more inclusion. I think that most people are probably a mix of races and sometimes the drawings don’t end up being particularly one sort or another but that is OK because that’s life.
Singling out a few stereotypical features might seem a bit racist, but it does work to bring some diversity to your drawings.
I remember seeing a cabinet at the museum that had four sculpted heads in it from the 19th century, there was an African, Asian, White and South American (Mayan) represented. It was from a time when Phrenology was all the rage and lots of head measuring was being done (which we all now know is a bunch of baloney). It was at least useful in showing the very distinct differences in human head shapes.
It can be quite tricky to represent diversity when you are trying to use as few lines as possible in your drawing. I sometimes find it hard to draw a distinctly Asian character, especially in a business situation. I don’t want to end up with just a line for each eye, so it takes a bit of work to get the right balance.
Clothes are a good way to add diversity, for instance a Muslim woman wearing a Hijab is something that is easy to add to a group. Specific hair can also be an easy solution. Of course, a little shading in the right place can do a lot to help define a face or skin colour. I try to mainly keep it in three shades of grey rather than get into the rainbow of actual skin colours.
My general approach is to get onto Google Images and immerse myself in the required look, then draw a few heads and try and work out what specifics are important and maybe emphasise these a little more, kind of like a subtle racial caricature. It can be easy to go too far and end up with a completely racially stereotyped caricature so you might need to tone it back. It’s really just a case of getting the right balance.
Matt is Chief Doodler at Sketch Group. He has contributed to several books on visual thinking, most recently The World of Visual Facilitation.