Illustrating ‘How Old is Grandma’: Character Designs

How Old is Grandma? Character Design

‘How Old is Grandma?’ centers around two young boys, Kendall and Kayson, and their family, as they enjoy a fun day full of imaginative curiosity and humorous misunderstanding.  As the illustrator for this book, one of my first big tasks is to develop character designs for the main characters. These six family members will be featured throughout the book (and into future books in the upcoming series), so it was extremely important to have strong, appealing designs that would be consistent and fun.

The characters in the books are based on the real family of the author, Antoinette Simmonds, so she provided me with family photos for reference. Even though I had never met them, I was able to get a sense of the different family members’ personalities and clothing styles, in addition to their physical appearance.

How Old is Grandma? Sketch

After studying the reference photos, I would draw dozens of small sketches to explore different ways each character could be presented in a cartoon style. By trying lots of sketches, I can try out a variety of subtle differences. Small details like the size and spacing of the eyes, nose, and forehead, the angles of the jawline, or the slope of the shoulders, all contribute to the uniqueness of the character.

How Old is Grandma Characters 2

While I do my final artwork on a computer, I often do rough sketches on paper, using pencil and ink. It helps me focus on the one task and spend more time exploring. After doing enough sketches, I can choose the best elements of each and begin to draw cleaned-up final designs digitally.


How Old is Grandma Characters


How Old is Grandma? Final Characters

The last step is to explore the colors and the painting style. I wanted there to be variety in their clothing colors, but also for them to feel unified as a family. I chose a grouping of colors I felt would look good with their skin tones and stand out from the background, since much of the book takes place in the green outdoors. The painting style uses a mixture of flat colors, soft shading, and linework to create a look that borders between cartoonish and realistic.

Just like laying a strong foundation for a house, the character designs for a book are a crucial part of the process that allows the rest of the book to become the best it can be. We hope you enjoy reading it!

Ian Dale is the illustrator for ‘How Old is Grandma’ and other children’s publications. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, two young kids and a lovely white kitty. You can see more of his artwork online at

How Old is Grandma?