How to Draw Facial Expressions
Hello and welcome here!
I am excited to get into this series on exploring facial expressions and teach you some basic skills that you can use when learning how to draw facial expressions.
But before we begin, my very BEST advice is to…
Use. Reference. Photos.
Every single time.
Using a reference photo series, like this one of Zooey Deschanel below, is a fun way to explore different expressions in one person.
I love using reference photo series for facial expressions before it helps you to see what different expressions look like on the same person.
And using reference photos when you are learning how to draw facial expressions can really help!
I always use a reference when I am wanting a specific facial expression.
If you need some help getting inspired, I have a great board on Pinterest called Facial Expression Inspiration that should be able to help.
Now let’s jump into the tutorial!
12 Facial Expressions to Learn to Draw
Let’s go over some facial expressions, and learn some tips for drawing them!
For this tutorial, I won’t be doing a step-by-step, showing you how to draw faces, but more just talking about the expressions, and how to best convey them.
Another thing to remember when learning to draw facial expressions is to really look at your reference, and see what emotion you are wanting your audience to feel when they look at your drawing.
Remember that as we go through the lesson!
Let’s start with a happy, smiling face.
Notice that the bottom of the eye is curved upwards.
Her eyebrows are relaxed, and she has an easy smile.
For some of the photos below, I have applied colored arrows or linework so that you can see the curve of the expression clearly.
When someone is smiling, the bottom of the eye will straighten or curve upward. This is because the cheek muscles are engaged and push the eyes up.
And we all know when we are happy, we wear a smile 🙂
-Closed Mouth Version
Here is another example of a happy character, this time with a closed mouth.
You can see that she is still smiling, and her eyes are still tilted upward, rounded on the top and bottom.
You can use the same reference lines in this picture as the last.
Open mouth shock
I’m sure everyone remembers why Phoebe looks so shocked in this drawing below!
When drawing a shocked facial expression, the eyebrows will be up, eyes will be wide, and most likely, the jaw will be dropped.
You can use lots of big circles when sketching out this kind of facial expression!
Anger or Annoyance
Zendaya just has so many great facial expressions and a really good annoyed face, so I sketched her for this one.
This is a kind of flat expression.
You can imagine the straight lines between her eyebrows, the tops of the eyes, and the line of the mouth.
When someone is angry or really annoyed (and they are not yelling or crying) their facial expressions will become flat.
Her is another example that I found on Pinterest:
The main thing I am noticing is that the eyebrows are knit together and flat to the top of the eyes.
I think this is a good expression to use if you want to get across that your character is mad, upset, frustrated, or disgusted, without having them screaming or crying.
This expression points up in the center.
The biggest thing about sad expressions is that the outer corners of the eyes droop,
and the center edges of the eyes and eyebrows drift upwards.
You can see what I mean in the image below where I have used purple arrows to show the angles.
I love Monica’s wry smile in this picture!
When drawing a smirk like this one, I usually draw one of the eyebrows cocked.
Another thing you will notice is that the left corner of her mouth is upturned slightly, and it’s the same side as the raised brow.
Here is another example (not my drawing, this is from Legend of Korra) of a smirk.
This is the same thing with the eyebrows, one is cocked, but this time, the mouth is tilted to the opposite side and the mouth is open.
This may be one you don’t think of much when you look up how to draw facial expressions, but the kissy-face is a fun expression to learn to draw.
Usually when drawing this expression, I will draw the face and then really focus on how the mouth looks.
Drawing a small circle to starts is a good way to find how round you want the lips.
The picture below is Olivia Holt doing this same expression.
Because the lips are puckered, the cheeks seem to sink in. Using bold lines (like in the picture above) is a style choice, and can emphasize the kissing face gesture.
It’s always up to the artist though!
Yelling or Disgust
Let’s look at a yelling posture or expression of disgust.
Here we can see that the mouth of the character is open wide, and her eyebrows are down and knit together.
The eyebrows are one key factor to any facial expression, and down and together will usually mean the character is displeased in some way.
In the photo below, you can see that Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) has a shocked and disgusted look on her face. You could also use this same expression for someone arguing.
Let’s chat about how to draw a worried facial expression.
Let’s look at the angles of the features…
This time, the eyebrows are knit together and up.
In the picture below, we can see that when someone is worried their eyebrows are arched up and scrunched together in the middle,
as well as the corners of the mouth pointing down.
The bottoms of the eyes don’t change much, but I would say that with a worried expression I like to draw my character’s eyes open wide, instead of scrunched or narrowed.
Crying is probably one of the most difficult expressions to draw because the face is so contorted when crying.
The eyes are narrowed or closed,
the corners of the mouth are pointed down, or the character’s mouth will be open when sobbing.
We can see in this illustration that there are tears forming in the corners of her eyes, her eyebrows are knit together, and her eyes are squeezing closed.
This is an advanced expression to master drawing, and we will dive more into that one in a full tutorial soon.
For this expression, every line will be flat.
She looks very bored, with no real expression on her face.
The lines of the face are all very flat, the expression is flat.
The eyes are narrowed slightly, eyelids almost drooping.
Eyebrows are flat and neutral.
In the picture below, you can imagine the same kinds of lines.
Someone who is determined will have a smile to show it!
Seriously, most determination faces have a slight smile, and I think that’s pretty cool.
The look on her face is determination.
Eyebrows down, a smile on her face.
You could also arch one of the eyebrows to give your character a determined, cocky look!
Drawing a laughing face is one of the most fun expressions!
Laughing characters will almost always have their mouths wide open, and eyes closed.
Notice how her eyebrows pinch upwards in the middle, similar to a worried expression.
You can tell that she’s happy though!
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Thank you for reading about how to draw facial expressions!
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Learn this next:
How to Draw Eyes for Beginners
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Hi there! My name is Leah, and I am going to help you learn how to draw, and take your pictures to the next level. I have college-level experience with form drawing and multiple art classes under my belt that have helped me create these tutorials. Let's learn how to draw together!