Drawing kids involves a little understanding of human physiological development. The drawing below represents a fairly typical progression from infancy to adult. If you were drawing realistically, these proportions will serve you well as you try to represent believable characters at different ages.
Here are a few points to remember.
- The human head doesn’t really grow in size very much after birth. It starts large and grows a little bit to normal size.
- Although facial features such as the nose and ears may grow, the eyes start large and stay large.
- Meanwhile, across the rest of the body, the torso and legs both grow rather dramatically throughout childhood.
In comics, kids’ proportions have to be exaggerated somewhat. Otherwise, the nuances of physiological development might be lost on a reader — leading to ambiguous interpretations of small adults or large children.
As a result, when I draw children, I try to imagine a delayed growth. Heads stay larger for longer and torso/leg ratios remain somewhat compact right up until the teen years.
As you can see on the chart to the right, I try to hold the elongation of the legs back until just before the teen years. This keeps the characters small (and visually distinct from adults), while the head-to-body and eye-to-head proportions help communicate their relative ages.
In my estimation, there are four types of kids in cartooning: Teens, pre-teens, toddlers and babies. In other words, almost-adults, big kids, little kids, and babies. In my opinion, there’s just not a lot of reasons to make further distinctions for most applications. Obviously, you could tweak a pre-teen downward to get a little more nuanced elementary-school-age kid, but unless that’s crucial to your story, I think the reader is probably going to limit the identification more along the lines of big kid / little kid.
- Two heads tall.
- Most of the facial features sink towards the bottom of the face.
- No neck. Head sits on shoulders.
- Eyes are huge.
Toddlers (Little Kids)
- Three heads tall.
- Still no neck.
- Facial features still placed low on the skull.
- Eyes aren’t as exaggerated
Pre-Teens (Big Kids)
- Four heads tall.
- The neck starts to lift the head off the shoulders.
- This is basically a little kid with longer legs / an slightly elongated torso.
- An adult with a larger head and slightly bigger eyes..