Comic Talk, Tips and Tricks

Facial Expressions
freefall_drift at 7:40AM, July 12, 2007
posts: 260
joined: 6-19-2007
Hi all,
I was drawing my characters and making faces at the monitor and trying imagine what they looked like to draw them. It kind of works. but I want to do better.

There was a poster that's been around forever, of a grid of cartoon faces, showing a whole series of expressions. I tried to find it, but without success. Does anyone have a link to that they can send me? it's like this, but more complex

I did a quick search, I see Scott McCloud's covering this a bit. Another reason to get his next book.

This is kind of interesting.
Computer Generated Prototypes of Facial Expressions of Emotions

How do you all figure out what the right facial expression is for your characters?
What kind of reference do you all use?
- Ian
Freefall Drift - A sci fi space opera of a starship's mission of stopping the Endless Kings.
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:31PM
StaceyMontgomery at 11:08AM, July 12, 2007
posts: 520
joined: 4-7-2007
Im a big fan of this book by gary Faigin:

Artists Complete Guide Facial Expression
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:55PM
Blackmoon at 12:47PM, July 12, 2007
posts: 60
joined: 2-24-2006
Well, you really have to know a character.

The basic process for determining which expression to use, I suppose would be:
1. Create an event (somebody says something, or something happens, etc.)
2. The character in question reacts to that event with an emotion (at this stage, a basic emotion, like happy, sad, angry, etc.)
3. Refine the emotion (is it overjoyed happiness? fuming with anger, or just put off? slightly depressed, or moved to tears?)
4. Reconsider; maybe you chose the right emotion, but it's not the best expression to convey how they feel inside.

My Example:
1. Let's have two characters, Dick and Jane. Say they were married for many years, but suddenly, Dick divorces Jane.
2. Jane is upset by that.
3. To be more specific, she is on the verge of tears (squinting, lip quivering, eyebrows lowered, etc.)
4. But then again- she's sad, but maybe she doesn't want to show that to Dick. Maybe she wants him to think she's fine with it, when it's killing her on the inside. In that case, we might decide to revise, and have her halfheartedly smile, but still manage to convey that inner pain with just her eyes and her eyebrows. Now, we have a realistic emotion on our hands, and the situation will be that much more believable.

Keep in mind, step 4 is just a guideline. There's no need to use it EVERY time; you might hit the nail on the head the first time around. And besides, it takes a lot of practice to be able to show one emotion with the mouth, and show a completely different one with the eyes, as far as art goes. (I would know! I mean, jeez, I managed to show emotions with a guy who doesn't even have a face in my comics.)

Hope that helps!
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:23AM
shadowmagi at 12:56PM, July 22, 2007
posts: 99
joined: 12-13-2006
It's true. Conveying a character's emotions is just that. You're trying to show what they're feeling on the inside, as shown by what's on their face. One of the things I love most when drawing a character is drawing their face, because even for straightforward emotions like anger and happiness there is a huge variety of expressions.
The biggest problem, I find, is determining what your character is feeling. Despair, determination, confidence, depressed, tired, alert, annoyed, embarassed, exasperated, distraught, pride, gushing, ragingly pissed off, etc

The best thing to do, really, is to determine a simplified emotion (happy, angry, sad), and contort the character's face thusly. (depending on how extreme that feeling is. :) )

More commentary than actual advice, I know xD sorry! lol

(i like feedback~!)
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:32PM
deletedbyrequest03 at 10:26PM, July 22, 2007
posts: 815
joined: 8-13-2006
How do you all figure out what the right facial expression is for your characters?
What kind of reference do you all use?
- Ian

For the first question:
I actually draw certain facial expressions on certain characters… Such as one of my main characters, which is always angry… There's different levels of anger to draw.

I'll give you an example:

Alright… The first one is a normal face. Nothing special.

The second one is an “I don't know what the heck you're trying to say”. It's basically a confused angry look.

The third one is a shocked angry look. He's basically just finding his girlfriend kissing another guy and saying, “how dare she cheat on me?!” (not included in the story)

The fourth one is a normal angry look. Probably the least angry here. But he's still mad. It's like “I can't believe I spent all of my money without realizing it”. Yeah.

The next one is a “HOW COULD YOU” angry. Like an angsty emo phrase, like “no one understands me!” or “gaaaaaaaah my tux is ruined and my girlfriend will never forgive me!!! Wah! (Go cry me a lake.)

Uh, the last one is a revengeful look. More like a murderous look. ”Aw. You made me drop my last quarter. Payback time. Seriously." Yeah.

Well, under all of the anger are angry eyes. As you can see, his eyebrows are going south (which is never a good thing) and he's almost looking up at you in anger. The space between his eyes are scrambled up (because of his eyebrows) and he's kinda squinting.

So, there's a lot of expressions. Also, look through old magazines. They always have nifty things. Oh, old magazines! You never let us down!!! :D

I'd be glad to help you some more if you want. I'm bored anyway (if you can tell). *tear*

And as for referances, I don't use any. I dunno. Expressions haven't given me any trouble. At least, I don't think… (dun dun DUN)

This year, school's full of BS!!!
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:05PM
kytri at 11:34PM, July 22, 2007
posts: 62
joined: 1-8-2006
I've been told that I do good facial expressions. I don't really use references or anything though.
I use a sort of inverted approach for drawing expressions. Instead of thinking X expression goes with Y emotion, I think:
-What is the situation?
-What does the character know about the situation? (they may be missing information, or have a false belief about it)
-What does the character think about it?
-Who else is around and what sort of face does the character want to present to them? (people are going to behave differently if they know someone is watching, especially if they have a particular image they want others to see)
Once I've got a good picture of what the character is thinking and feeling I decide what sort of face he or she makes. I also try to incorporate things like body language in with facial expressions. This way, hopefully, I end up with a more nuanced performances from the characters and a better illusion of real people with thoughts and feelings.
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:24PM
Memmy at 1:35AM, Aug. 9, 2007
posts: 184
joined: 4-30-2007
What everyone suggested so far is good. If you're having a problem with drawing the expressions that you're aiming for(ie, you dont know how its suppose to look like). Remember that body language goes with facial expressions. Without it, you're leaving out half of what you're trying to show.

Scott McCloud and Gary Faigin are both awesome. There's other book that I have… “Facial Expressions a Visual Refernece for Artist” by Mark Simon. It doesnt quite show you how to, but it gives some great pointers and has tons of photgraph references of at least 25 diffrent expressions.

Then again, you can always use a mirror and act in front of it.. Or use image searches on search engines. lol
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:59PM
spacehamster at 3:58AM, Aug. 9, 2007
posts: 504
joined: 8-3-2007
Then again, you can always use a mirror and act in front of it.. O

That's what I do. I have a mirror right next to my drawing table for that purpose as well as for using myself for anatomy reference and for checking for symmetry mistakes by holding stuff up in front of it as I'm drawing. I can't imagine working without a mirror.

As for facial expressions, personally, I find the most difficult part is to still get your characters' likenesses right with different facial expressions - especially females because you have less to work with and it's very easy to cross over into making them look ugly or manly if you overdo it.

I'm just now drawing a sequence that has my female lead going through all kinds of emotions like self-doubt, despair and anger, so I have to do these fairly extreme facial expressions practically every panel and make sure she's still herself… it's pretty tough.
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:50PM
Runosonta at 8:52AM, Aug. 9, 2007
posts: 176
joined: 7-23-2007
I've never been able to draw similar features with different expressions. At least not easily… that's way I'm using it as a “style” - while the comic has a more serious tone, I draw almost realistic faces. Humour turns to manga-ish cartoon, action to “serious manga-ish faces”, coffee breaks to whatever happens to please me at the moment.

I know it's kinda confusing, but works for me.

last edited on July 14, 2011 3:12PM
PIT_FACE at 2:02PM, Aug. 9, 2007
posts: 2,574
joined: 4-21-2007
gotta admit, i don't very my expresions as much as i probably should, a lot of it is just seeing certain characters a certain way, but i do wanna experiement with it more, hey, is there a bigger version of the Scott McCloud facial study? that ones kinda hard to pick out. interested in it. thanks for sharing man.
last edited on July 14, 2011 2:44PM

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