How to Draw People for Visual Note-Taking

Struggling with how to draw people?

Drawing people for your visual notes or illustrations can be one of the toughest elements to master. But it doesn’t have to be! Even the simplest drawings of people can add so much character to your work, as well as help demonstrate complex concepts or add tone and emotion.


how to draw people for visual notes


Why not just draw “generic” people for visual notes?

Drawing diverse people is an important element of our work. Why? Visual notes are often drawn and used for an audience. This means many different people see the notes and use them to remember what was covered in a meeting, speech, or presentation. When representing images of people, it is important for those images to reflect the diversity of the people looking at them.

People relate to visuals that represent themselves. We can’t represent every single, unique person out there in a single visual note. But by actively showing a wide range of characters, the more people can connect to the content of your visuals.


This illustration for Teens Grow Greens references actual teens from their program–because specificity in illustration makes drawings more interesting, and it means viewers of the illustration actually get to connect with the faces of the program!


So how do I draw diverse people?

There are many ways to represent diversity. People come in all different shapes, colors, and sizes. This means artists can play around with a combination of just that. We can also represent a variety of abilities, show different family structures, and explore what someone representing a certain profession looks like. And the best part? We can work to dismantle harmful stereotypes by representing all people equally.


Illustration with lots of people


The simplest way to draw diverse people: stick figures!

People can be drawn in characters as simple as stick figures, or as complex as a portrait. Let’s start off with stick figures. Stick figures are very quick and easy icons to draw in visual notes, and very versatile across subjects. They also help to represent more complex ideas. Sharing, collaboration, teamwork, care, the list could go on. Stick figures are essential elements of a visual note-taker’s visual library.


Stick figures in a visual note


Upgrade your stick figures to show diversity! To start a more developed figure, draw a shape. Then, add another, smaller shape above the original to represent the head. (Heads don’t have to all be circles, either). Then, all you have to do then is add limbs, which can also show movement.


Stick figure broken down by parts

Simple lines, circles, squares, and triangles can help you achieve drawings something as complex as a wheelchair in a stick figure form. Try drawing a lot of different combinations of these “stick” figures. You will see just how diverse such a simple image can be.


Variety of figures represented

Drawing diverse faces

Now let’s take it one step further and draw some diverse faces. Since it is important to draw quickly while taking visual notes, a great way to start drawing faces is to use simple and quick shapes for the head. It helps to have a few colors on hand to get started. Colors can be representative of actual skin tones (make sure you research actual people if you decide to do this), or stylized colors like we’ve shown below. You can begin by drawing a few different shapes with the colors, similar to how you drew the bodies for stick figures.

Color blobs used for faces

Another way to think of it is by drawing little beans in different colors, and if you want you can even add a little bump on the side for an ear. These are all different faces, so they are all slightly different shapes. Adding facial features and expressions is where you can really explore diversity. It’s not only the shape of the eyes, nose, mouth, and other facial features that make someone unique, it’s also the placement of them and proportion between features.


Diverse characters from an illustration


A great tool that will help in your exploration of diverse characters is by looking at photos. Look up some of your favorite celebrities, for example, and notice what proportions and features make their face unique. Think about what things people might wear on or around their face. Look at what their hairstyle might be, and if they have any facial hair. Here are some examples, but you can spend a lot of time coming up with your own:


Colored blobs turned into people

What about the rest of the body?

Let’s explore creating full-body diverse characters. While they are more complex than stick figures, the same principles around shape apply. Now that you have tried out some faces and the shape of the stick figures, we can combine elements from both to build a full-body diverse character library.

Using a color, as you did for the faces, draw a shape for the body. It is similar to the stick figure first step. Next, add another shape for the head. Now add limbs just as you would for a stick figure, but this time you will fill out the arms and legs a little bit more. Think of them as four rectangles, but you can add bends where the elbows and knees are. You can also exaggerate the shapes and adjust them how you would like.

Different body types drawn according to shapes

Now you can use other colors and/or black to start filling in clothes, hair, and facial features. Once you get comfortable with the shapes you can even try doing a sketch in pencil, and then going over it in black before coloring it in. This makes adding outfits or different colors a bit easier.

Pencil stick figure to full human pencil stick figure to full human

Don’t forget to try representing people of different abilities, ages, colors, genders, religions, and all of the other ways we can be unique individuals. Specificity is a great way to narrow down all of the possibilities. Challenge yourself to draw everyone on the board representing a variety of diverse characteristics. For example, if you have already drawn a blue person who is shaped like a circle and has a prosthetic leg, try drawing the next person as orange with a square-shaped body and a tall frame.



Finally, build your diverse character library

Visual note-takers have to draw fast–which can often result in artists defaulting to generic characters that they’ve drawn their entire careers. To combat this, work on developing a library of characters in your sketchbook using the principles we outlined above. Having a wide range of people that you can draw quickly will add priceless value to your skillset, and allow your audience to more deeply connect with your work.

For more information on why we draw diversity in visual note-taking, check out this post!