How To Draw Facial Expressions
Emotions are what breath life to the faces that we draw. Without them, our drawings would be dead and flat.
In order to portray emotions convincingly, we must be familiar with the facial expressions that comprise them.
For decades, the expressions of human emotion has been the subject of study for psychologist Dr. Paul Ekman.
Dr. Ekman has discovered that there are six universal emotions that are common to all humans, regardless of race, gender, or culture. Furthermore, he has spent years decoding these emotions and breaking down their expressions into a series of muscle movements. He reported his findings in his book: Unmasking the Face.
This information is tremendously useful for the artist and in my attempt to learn how to draw the face, I’ve sought out Dr. Ekman’s books.
In this article, I’d like to share with you these six universal expressions and the traits that distinguish them. You can then apply this knowledge to your portrait drawings.
Emotions are typically conveyed through 2 or 3 facial areas such as the eyebrows, eyes, nose, or mouth.
When drawing the different facial expressions, you can control the intensity of the emotion shown by the number of facial areas that are involved. In general, the more areas involved, the more intense the emotion.
For example, if you wanted to show mild anger, you might only express it in the eyebrows while leaving the rest of the face neutral.
You can also blend multiple emotions by mixing the expressions. For example, you can blend anger with sadness by combining the angry brow with the frowning mouth. Certain emotions blend more naturally with others, so keep this in mind.
The 6 Universal Facial Expressions
Surprise: The eyebrows are raised, the eyes are opened wide, and the jaw drops open, parting the lips. The lifting of the eyebrows produces long horizontal wrinkles across the forehead (in extreme cases).
The important thing to remember about surprise is that the face is not tense; the upper and lower eyelids are relaxed and the mouth just hangs open without any tension. This will be important in distinguishing surprise from fear.
Fear: Similar to surprise, the brows are also lifted in fear. However unlike surprise, with fear, the inner corners of the brows are drawn together. This gives a more straightened appearance to the outer corners of the eyebrows.
In the fear brow there are usually horizontal wrinkles across the forehead, yet they are shorter than the ones shown in surprise. Instead, they are more concentrated in the middle.
Although both fear and surprise have widened eyes and opened mouths, the difference between the two comes down to tension. In fear, the lower eyelids are tensed and raised. While the mouth has tense lips and the corners are drawn back and down.
Disgust: The most important features of disgust are in the mouth and nose. Regarding the mouth, the upper lip is raised, while the lower lip may be raised or lowered.
The nose is wrinkled causing lines to appear on the sides and bridge of the nose. The more intense the disgust, the more these wrinkles will be apparent.
Anger: In anger, the eyebrows are drawn down and together. This is not to be confused with fear, where the brow are drawn together and up.
The best way to depict this is to add vertical wrinkles between the eyebrows. Without these wrinkles, the expression just won’t look right.
The eyes will also widen with the lower lid tensing. When this is combined with the lowering brows, it cause the eyes to look as if they are bulging. The nostril will flare. The mouth can either be pressed shut or opened with the teeth showing. In both cases, the lips will be tense.
Joy/Happiness: Joy is expressed though a smile or a laugh. The corners of the mouth are drawn back and up. This pushes the cheeks up and causes the eyes to appear smaller.
One very important feature of the smile is that there will be wrinkles at the corners of the eyes, also known as “crow’s feet”. The absent of these wrinkles are usually a very reliable sign that the smile is not genuine. This tiny detail will go along way to helping you make the drawing more realistic.
Sadness: The inner corners of the eyebrows are raised and may be drawn together. The inner corner of the upper eyelid is drawn up, and the lower eyelid may appear raised. The corners of the lips are drawn down, or the lips appear to tremble.If you combine your understanding of these 6 emotional expressions with a good knowledge of the facial muscles that lies underneath, you will go very far in mastering facial expressions.
If you wanna learn more about portrait drawing, check out my “Portrait Fundamentals Made Simple” course.
It’s a very beginner-friendly course that walks you through all the basics of portraiture, from constructing a basic head, facial proportions, drawing the features, and finally drawing a realistic portrait step-by-step.