What is the purpose of a character sheet?
To help others draw your character.
To help others imagine your character when they read about them in prose.
POINT OUT DEFINING FEATURES
Labels everywhere might look a little unnecessary to some people, but when you think about it, it really isn't. In a lot of cases, your character's reference sheet is the first and only piece of your art a trade friend or commission artist has ever seen. They have no way of knowing all the feet or noses or hands you draw aren't like John Doe's.
Please keep your style in mind.
Sometimes a person's art is so stylized that it's hard to tell what features are deliberate. I'm lookin' at you, anime. It's great to be confident in your art skills, but not everybody reads 'wolf' the same way you do. Put what species your character is on the sheet.
Suggested information to highlight:
Age (not only numerical but terms such as child, teen, young adult, adult, etc...)
Facial features (not everyone has the same face)
Sex and gender (they're not the same and can have a huge impact on body shape and body language)
Species or Race
Colors* (hair, eyes, skin)
*Note on colors:
A lot of artists include swatches in their sheets. This singles out colors that might be confined to small areas (eyes, tattoos) so that the artist can cleanly eye-dropper them. Or just eyeball them. Describing the colors as well can't hurt. Not everyone has 'peach' skin or the same shade of blue eye. One person might see black as dark gray.
WHAT IMAGES TO USE?
Generally ref sheets have at least one full-body image of the character. Some people add multiple angles to show off a character's features like battle scars or fur patterns.
If your character has features that are important but may be a little too small to point out on your character's main pose, including detailed close-ups of things like jewelry, teeth, scars, and eyes are a big help to artists.
A few expressions the character often makes can be a god-send in communicating how your character emotes.
A simple silhouette of the 'average joe' in comparison to your character is great if you don't want to spend time explaining feet, inches, or hands (in the case of horses, dragons, and other big beasties).
Your character doing their job.
Your character in a pose that shows other artists how your character moves.
Your character displaying a talent.
WHAT ABOUT CLOTHES?
A ref sheet only has so much room on it. Your character doesn't wear the same outfit every single day (unless it's a uniform) but try to pick a good general set of clothes to draw them in for the main pose. If you have room, feel free to include alternate outfits.
If you do not have room, you can include notes such as, “Loves summer dresses.” or “Hates shorts.” Keep it simple.
In the case of deviantArt or other gallery sites, you can always add links to your character's alternate clothes in the artist's comments/ image description.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER FORMS?
Ch-ch-changes! Some characters can shape shift! Just like with the alternate costumes, if you have room, add your character's alternate forms and point out details about them. If you do not have room, include NOTES about said forms and include links to them in the artist's comment/ image description.
Bonus: Draw or explain what your character looks like when they shape shift. It's really helpful!
WORDS WORDS WORDS
I've talked a lot about what PICTURES should go on a ref sheet, but not a whole lot about the words. That's because, in my opinion, a reff sheet doesn't need many words on it. Labels and short explanations are great, but your character's ref is not where their back story belongs.
That belongs in the artist's comments below along with their favorite foods, songs, and a description of their personality (though it helps to try and bring their personality through in the poses and expressions on the image above).
It's 3:49 am and I'm running out of things to say. I'll just make a list of other things to keep in mind.
Stay away from ultra fancy fonts. Nobody can read them. Stop it.
Go easy on the background/brushes when decorating your sheet. People need to be able to clearly see your character and the notes about them. It's supposed to be a visual aid, not a bling .gif.
Be careful of clutter! If you're running out of space, try to go vertical! People are more inclined to scroll up and down than side to side. Not everyone has widescreen monitors. Going vertical also makes it less necessary to have to zoom in to read everything.
Two or three small sheets are better than one enormous sheet that takes ten minuets to load on dial up. ;-; THINK OF THE DIAL UP USERS.
Thank you for reading and good night!