Designing characters sounds like a dream job: Who wouldn’t want to illustrate and draw for a living? But it takes a massive amount of talent and skills in order for you to succeed in this highly desirable career path. In this feature article, you’ll discover the excellent character illustrations of California-based designer, illustrator and "action figure connoisseur" Christopher Lee.

On the left: Christopher Lee. On the right: “Scoundrels”.

Christopher Lee is an independent illustrator and graphic designer. He has worked on projects for uber-huge brands like Honda, Adobe, Disney, Nike, and Coke.

Lee has crafted and released his own vinyl toys, and has held the position of Art Director for a motion graphics studio and for a now-defunct magazine, before choosing to focus solely on his illustration career.

All of that at the age of 30.

Lee is constantly inspired by animated TV shows like Samurai Jack, The Mighty B!, Sym-Bionic Titan, and The Powerpuff Girls.

A geek at heart, he enjoys and jumps at the opportunity to work on projects related to toys, sci-fi, and video games.


His characteristic style is difficult to define. For a reason. “I don’t ever want to feel like I’m pigeon holing myself into one particular look so I’m always looking for new ways to keep the fire burning,” says Lee.

“I’m really all over the place depending on the mood I’m in. Evil beasts and Star Wars one day, cute characters and typography the next.”

Going Independent

A few years ago, Lee decided to make a life-altering career change. He left a highly coveted job as an art director for a motion graphics studio (Buck) to strike it on his own.

“It was probably one of the most important (and most difficult) choices I’ve ever had to make in my career,” Lee says.

“I had been battling with that decision for months; fighting anxiety and wondering if I could do it despite the constant assurance and support from my friends and colleagues.”

“I decided to leave because I was working myself to the bone. While at Buck (my previous full-time position), I was also freelancing at nearly the same rate. I would go to work during the day and then come home to work until I went to sleep.”

“I needed more balance in my life and that is when I made the decision to strike off on my own.”

For those of you thinking of quitting your day job, Lee shares this piece of advice: “If I hadn’t put in the time to establish an identity outside of my day job, I don’t think I would have experienced such a smooth transition.”

The Character Illustration Process

“Almost everything I do starts on paper,” says Lee.

“I still enjoy eraser dust, taping an extra piece of paper to my current one because I ran out of space, breaking lead, and just the whole experience of drawing traditionally.”

“When I go to color I use the typical programs of the trade: Illustrator for my vector work and Photoshop for my texturing/coloring (and sometimes a hybrid of both).”

“Happy Pony”

“Happy Pony”

He uses Wacom’s tablet-and-monitor-screen hybrid, Cintiq, to help speed up his workflow.

“Recently, I have found myself doing less work in Illustrator and finishing entire pieces in Photoshop (thanks to the Cintiq).”

“My past work has been very controlled and rigid. Using the Cintiq has allowed me to loosen up quite a bit and experiment more with different textures and inking methods. I can finish projects must faster than I have ever been able to in the past since I’m not working with the Pen tool. ”

Character Illustration Showcase

Here are a few of Christopher Lee’s character illustrations.


“The Warriors of Saturday Morning”

“Leonard Moite Character Designs”


“Mr. Villains Class of 1983″

“Monster, My Friend”

“Monster, My Friend”

“The Great Hunters”

“The Great Hunters”

“The Great Hunters”

“The Great Hunters”

“Happy Pony”

“Boxcar Racer”

For Bengay

“Cuties Clementine Oranges characters”

“Cuties Clementine Oranges characters”

Cuties Clementine Oranges characters”

“Foiled By Ice Cream”

Character designs for “Huggies Potty Dance”

Character designs for “Huggies Potty Dance”

“I Saw This and Thought of You Greeting Cards”

“I Saw This and Thought of You Greeting Cards”

“I Saw This and Thought of You Greeting Cards”

“I Saw This and Thought of You Greeting Cards”


“Nestea cactus Character Designs”


Did You Like Christopher Lee’s Work?

You can go to Christopher Lee’s portfolio site, The Beast is Back.

Buy prints of his work, as well as apparel and posters, at his online store called The Beast Shoppe.

You can find him on Twitter at @thebeast_isback and see what he’s currently working on at Dribbble.


Jacob Gube is the co-founder of Design Instruct. Join him on Twitter @sixrevisions