Faces showing emotions

An Easy Way to Draw Expressions

It can be quite simple to


Grab a sketchbook, the back of an envelope, any piece of paper. Better still a simple drawing app on your iPad, other tablet or phone, you’ll see why in a minute.

Whatever you’re drawing on or with, get something down. Draw a circle, two marks for eyes and another for a mouth.

We are wired to see faces and read what mood they’re in from the moment we are born. Our survival depends on it. However rough your scribble, not only will it be seen as a face. It will have an expression, even if it’s only bored.

The aim is now to change and intensify the mood of the face you have drawn. Do you want this face to look sadder or happier? How about angry, frightened or surprised?

Say your doodle looks happy, or you chose to draw a happy face. If you’re working on paper, draw another and make it look a little happier.

Could that face look even happier? Draw another. …And another, until you are satisfied your face has achieved the maximum in bliss.

If you’re drawing on a phone or tablet, make sure your drawing or painting app gives you layers. Try Sketchbook, Art Rage, Procreate (for iPad) or Painter Mobile (for Android).

In your chosen drawing or painting app, you’ll be able to draw eyes and mouth on their own layers above the basic face shape. This way you can alter the features without affecting the rest of the face. You can move, squeeze, redraw them until you get the best expression. Erase them from your original outline and get going with the fun.

Smiley - Smilier - Smiliest
Smiley – Smilier – Smiliest

You may find your creation is very like a smiley face. Whether or not you still use smileys or even like them, smileys can still throw some light on drawing facial expressions.

Now have a go at a Gloomy. (A sad smiley is rather a contradiction in terms so why not a Gloomy?)

Sad blue smiley cartoon
Blue Gloomy

Once you get started, you may find it difficult to stop!

Drawing facial expressions is both the easiest and the hardest form of art

Yes, almost any shape with two dots and a dash in roughly the right place will be seen as a face.

BUT once the face is seen, the artist’s easy ride comes to an abrupt end.

The minutest variation in a line can completely alter the character and expression of a face.

If you have ever tried painting a portrait, you will know that it only takes the tiniest dot of white in an eye to turn a lively gleam into a mad stare.

Finding the features that make the expression

You may find it’s the mouth that makes the difference when you’re starting to draw a facial expression. Sometimes it’s the eyes, or it could be the eyebrows. You may not think of eyebrows, but they are important. I am always intrigued by Gromit of Wallace and Gromit fame. Gromit uses his mouth to drink the odd mug of coffee, but that is about it. He never makes a sound. All the facial expression comes from his eyes and eyebrows – yet you can almost hear him think.


Published by

Valerie Beeby

We used to say 'Seeing is believing'. Now it's more like 'Believing is seeing'. We see what we expect to see. Look again and who knows. Does it really match what's actually there? ...I've always been fascinated by how our minds work. As a writer and artist, I'm particularly interested in new research into how we perceive this extraordinary world we live in, where things are not always what they seem.

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