In a new Illustrating KnowHow series, we take a closer look at character design. How do you make your heroes stand out from each other? This week, Niki Leonidou shares her tips and tricks for patterns and props. Scarves at the ready!

Character design has always been a tricky and challenging thing for me. Sometimes, I feel that I have the same hero repeating itself over and over again. Things that help me a lot are patterns and props, a hat, a pair of glasses, a vest or particular kind of shoes can change the character. Also, the way the hero wears a prop can indicate a lot. If a scarf is too tight on the neck, it can add insecurity or fear, if a scarf is loosely worn, it indicates a more adventurous personality. It's the same with other elements like shoes, clothes, etc. I do a lot of observation of people on the bus, on the street, in the supermarket. There are lots of interesting props and patterns that give character out there!

Scarves and Clothes

The rabbit in this illustration has a handkerchief by the neck. He is very adventurous, he always wants to have a good time and explore new things. He is a free spirit. The other character, the dragon, is quite hesitant when it comes to changes. So a vest for him, something more classic and conservative. Since he is all red, I went with something bright to make it stand out more.

Another element that gives character to this dragon is that he has some hearts on his body. He is supposed to be very kind and loving in the story so shapes of hearts here and there add to his features.

Dragon Stories, written by Marina Frageskidou, published by Pnoi editions, Athens 2019.

Look at the wolf here. He is also wearing a scarf. It is Christmas and he has the flu. He is ready to eat the three little pigs but instead, he decides to bring them a gift in the end. It is a Christmas story, so the patterns on the scarf indicate that.

Wolf Santa written by Giolanda Tsoroni, published by Savalas, Athens 2017.

Carrots – in hats!

In this illustration, the carrot encourages his friends to start exercising. He is wearing a hat and trainers, and these elements indicate he is fit. Also, his arms are built to show a bit of muscle. 

The Tomato that Wouldn't Fit written by Eleni Petroulaki, published by Minoas editions, Athens 2016.

A New Take on a Classic

A few months ago, I was commissioned to illustrate Little Red Riding Hood. One day, as I was taking my kids to school, I saw a girl wearing an interesting cap so I decided to use it for my hero.

Little Red Riding Hood written by Ioanna Babeta, published by Metaixmio editions, Athens 2019.
Props help me define a character. What kind of props they are, their patterns and colours, how the hero wears them – all of it – make them stand out and tell part of the story themselves! 

What props do you like to use? Have you an unintentional favourite? Do share this with me!


Niki Leonidou has been an illustrator since 2001 with more than 180 books with her work published worldwide, including Greece, the US and UK. Her picture book, Looking for Misty, both written and illustrated by her, was nominated for the Keycolours Award for Best Picture book Concept in Belgium, 2014. Find her on Twitter at @NikiLeonidou.


Eleanor Pender is Knowhow Editor. If there's something you'd like to know how to do, send your suggestions to


  1. Thank you for these lovely tips! The illustrator I work with and I already use scarves. They are gingham to reflect the French culture of the characters. The main one has a napkin around his neck because he always seems hungry! But you have inspired me to push the accessories / props idea further. Loved the muscular carrot! :)

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