How to draw groups of people and crowds

20 tips by leading illustrators, who reveal their techniques for making crowds of people look interesting, eye-catching and easy to 'read'.


Crowd drawing tips: Composition

The main challenge of creating crowd scenes is to be able to think specifically yet globally. You have to think about even the tiniest detail, yet you still have to think how it fits into the overall picture - in every aspect from colors to composition.

Since my illustration style is flat, it can be hard for me to find the focal point [when composing a piece] - so instead of looking for it, I just [draw what comes naturally] and it is always comes out that my works look like a pattern. 

Putri Febriana (Indonesia)

Firstly, you have to decide how your want your image to look and who it’s for. If the readership is mainly business and finance, you don’t want something mind bogglingly difficult to decipher the concept, because in my experience this demographic like their concepts simple and on a plate.

On the other hand, some readerships love deep, thoughtful concepts in their illustrations. Leaving the concept fairly loose can lend your image open to interpretation.

John Holcroft (UK)


This piece was created for a series of Slate magazine articles. The concept was to create a crowded illustration for the series overview and then crop relevant details for each article. In this case almost every action was suggested by the client, and it was a little dizzying trying to piece them all together into one big picture. I'm used to going the other way around, letting the crowd naturally grow outward

Mouni Feddag (UK)

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All my work is sketched in blue pencil, then hand-drawn/inked in black-and-white layers with a light-box, scanned, then assembled and coloured digitally in order to keep every single bit of colour editable. The technical challenge for this image was handling many layers, because of the perspective and overlapping elements.

Mouni Feddag (UK)


Creating a good composition arrangement is one of the keys to making your illustrations look unique and different.

The colour palette also has an important role. Play and experiment with it - and try to create a palette that's not exactly the same as it is in reality. This will create a nice 'twist' in the final result.

Do not underestimate the power and usefulness of ideas that come up during your working process.  Sometimes [great things] will comes to you when you are in the middle of doing your work. Just be with yourself and get fun with your work.

Putri Febriana (Indonesia)


To create a great piece of crowd illustration takes a lot of practice and perseverance to get right. Sometimes you have to attempt it again and again.

The use of many reference sources also plays an important role. For Crossing the street on a rainy day, I was inspired by the daily life of busy people who cross and meet at a large scale of intersection at the same time on a rainy day. I imagined how all the colours would meet and blend together for that short moment, since they all have a different background, age, gender and business - but they all destined to meet at one specific time.

Putri Febriana (Indonesia)

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I usually start doing the first step just like any other artist, finding an idea. The next step is doing some brainstorming in my sketchbook, doodling some random sketches - before scannning my sketch and working digitally.

For Crossing the street on a rainy day, I wanted to show a crowd from an aerial view - to see everyone doing their own business while gathered at one intersection - so I collected a lot of reference material about how we look while holding an umbrella.

Putri Febriana (Indonesia)


I work instinctively and I like to compose my images with simple shapes, with a few lines doing something that looks simple by the limited range of colour, no shadow and a subtle background.

Taking a playful and joyful approach I create interactions between the characters using a variety of different poses and postures, bringing the crowd to life.

Virginie Morgand (France)


Think first in terms of composition and colour. You have to think of something repetitive in a crowd and draw the scene as an irregular pattern.

I draw people as a number of shapes, flowing on a flat background. A good balance between shapes, colour contrasts and level of detail is essential. Think also about balance between empty space and areas full of elements.

Virginie Morgand (France)

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Feel free to choose the colours as children would, it doesn’t need to reflect reality. For instance the skin of a character can be blue or red! To start, I often use primary colours as a base, and then by superimposing them with a certain density, I create more colours.

Virginie Morgand (France)


When the London Transport Museum commissioned me for doing a collection of four posters, I had to represent an ethnic mix of people of different ages, styles, and sexuality – but I had to use the limited colour range of the underground lines.

This was challenging because colours have to match together, but I was really free to do my own composition and create characters how I wanted – so it worked.

Virginie Morgand (France)


Illustrators need to be mindful of composition in order to keep the drawn elements spaced out evenly so that the eye moves through it consistently and no one part of the drawing jumps out more than any other. This is especially important when creating large repeating patterns of people. 

Leah Goren (UK)

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Be mindful not to get bored. Add details to make characters that keep you interested.

Mouni Feddag (UK)


Crowd drawing tips: Creative process

The illustrations I create have a style that is consistent in colour, tone and feel. Whether working on a commissioned piece or a self promo, the process is the same (except self promos allow more freedom that you don’t get with most commissioned work).

Firstly, before I connect pencil to paper, I have to think about my subject matter and ask myself what I want this image to convey. Is it negative or positive? is it literal or metaphoric? When I am happy with the direction I’m going in I can start to brainstorm ideas. Brainstorming can be writing down connective words or images that conjure inspiration. Soon ideas come fast and sketches become more polished.

John Holcroft (UK)


Every illustrator will have their own style and way of working; techniques are developed either by trial and error or by pure accident. I work in Photoshop, Illustrator and Corel Painter. Working digitally has saved me time and has made life easier over the last 15 years.

Using a mixture of scanned in work on paper and digital imagery can bring some great results. Taking photos and putting them through filters can make an image interesting.

Corel Painter allows you to experiment with mediums like: pastel, acrylic, ink, watercolour, collage and many more. The good thing about working digitally is the ease in trying new techniques by warping, pixelating, blurring – the sky is the limit.

John Holcroft (UK)

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I spend only a little time on my initial sketches, which are often very rough and not very well drawn. Then I make colour tests with markers on top of it.

Occasionally I cut papers of semi-transparent colours that I assemble to create compositions and ranges of interesting colours. Then I scan the draft, which I like most and I redraw directly in Photoshop with a graphics tablet before going straight to colour digitally. I always have test paper lying around as I do a lot of screen printing, sometimes I scan some sheets of paper and integrate them into my work with adds a little charm.

Virginie Morgand (France)


Crowd drawing tips: Working from observation

For drawing a crowd or group of people well, always consider the human form very carefully. I try to understand the structure of the human body, and I check many times whether a portrait that I draw reflects a natural movement of the body. I think it is necessary to create a story to depict the group of people / crowd within the image, for example they love each other, they are siblings etc. This creates tension and atmosphere.

Nimura Daisuke (JAP)


For Summertime, I was inspired by women on the beach of Barcelona and Bali, which I combined with my fondness of fashion in the Summer season.

Initially I start by thinking about what the occasion or moment will be, and the story behind the image. What will the illustrations tell us? Once ideas are flowing, the process is pretty parallel. During this process there are so many great ideas comes up just like that, I call them “happy accidents”.

Putri Febriana (Indonesia)

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I work with a lot of geometric shapes, breaking down ideas from a simple square, triangle, or circle shape. I love pastel colour palettes, then I just mix it all with the main idea. For example, in the Rainy Day piece, I used a cheerful coluor to make the busy people idea stand out even it is in a rainy moment.

Putri Febriana (Indonesia)


For this commuting image I had to convey people looking miserable, dressed in work attire with a dull backdrop. The man in the spotty suit needs to stand out in a colourful suit, however the colours still need to be washed out a little because the environment needs to look humdrum. The characters represent real people in a busy metropolis – so it was important to depict different races, ages and sexes.

Whilst its useful to plan and know roughly what you want to achieve, you may find during the sketch stage that it goes in another direction, so it’s useful to trust your instincts and let your work go where it needs to go. When deciding on colour I used to sketch them down in thumbnail form, but nowadays I have developed a nose for deciding on the pallet.

John Holcroft (UK)