A character sketch is an abbreviated portrayal of a particular characteristic of people. The term originates in portraiture, where the character sketch is a common academic exercise. Following the translation of Theophrastus's Characters into English, a number of British and American painters attempted to illustrate the "types" of humanity. As late as William Hogarth, portraitists were doing studies of (in his case), Nine heads. The artist performing a character sketch attempts to capture an expression or gesture that goes beyond coincident actions and gets to the essence of the individual.
The character sketch entered into literature in the early English novel. As Pat Rogers notes, Henry Fielding, in book I, chapter 14 of Joseph Andrews,
invokes William Hogarth to create a character sketch of Mrs. Tow-wouse:
"Indeed, if Mrs. Tow-wouse had given no Utterance to the Sweetness of
her Temper, Nature had taken such Pains in her Countenance, that Hogarth
himself never gave more Expression to a Picture." In later literature, a
character sketch became a short story or narrative presented without
significant action or plot, as the purpose of the writing is solely to
present a character at his or her typical. Character sketches of this
sort are also frequently found in journalism and regionalist humor (e.g.
sketches of "Big John" or "the country rube" or "the wise Squire").
Each of these attempts to delineate what is believed to be a character
who epitomizes a type.
From this typological beginning, the character sketch has come to be
any portrait, graphic or written, that is an attempt to preserve the
character of an individual. In the graphic arts, character sketches may
later be assembled into a composition or simply collected together as a
visual diary. In prose and poetry, character sketches can likewise stand
alone or, more frequently, be assembled into narratives at a later