Tutorial: Facial Expressions

We’re here to roll out two (2) drawing tutorials for you! For our first session on Tutorial Tuesday, I’m going to show you some basic Facial Expressions you can apply to your characters in your digital comics. Here we go!

There are many different facial expressions, but most of them come from 6 basic emotions we convey. They are ANGER, DISGUST, FEAR, SADNESS, SURPRISE and HAPPINESS. When you combine these emotions, you create more specific expressions. In this tutorial, I’ll show you the subtle differences in each emotion and how to build your faces accordingly. When drawing these emotions, take note of the 5 specific areas that you’ll need to adjust.


The emotion of anger is very easy to spot on a character’s face. The changes to the basic neutral-emotionless face are pointed out below.

1. The Eyes – The eye should be angled downward slightly, and the iris should touch both top and bottom. The bottom lid should have a prominent line to indicate intensity. The eyebrow should sweep towards the top lid as it approaches the nose. Depending on the angle of the brow, your level of anger will increase. A slight angle indicates mild anger, a steep angle (like 30-45 degrees) indicates incredible anger.

2. The Nose – The nostrils flare out slightly, causing the nose to appear wider. The position of the tip of the nose rises slightly from the neutral position, as the action of clenched teeth causes the cheeks to tighten and pull the muscles upwards.

3. The Mouth – An angry mouth is drawn with a curled top lip and a curled bottom lip that is a bit longer (like a smile) These curves are connected with two angled lines to complete the opening. The top and bottom rows of teeth are bared, and depending on the level of anger, can be clenched or left open.

4. The Brow – The forehead and brow are furrowed, with crease marks indicating strain.

5. The Cheeks – With the mouth open and teeth clenched, the cheek muscles tighten and pull upward, creating a definite crease from the wing of the nose.


Similar to anger, disgust causes the face to contort slightly but retain the same intense level of discomfort.

1. The Eyes – the eye should be built almost in the same manner as an angry eye, but the crease in the lower eyelid should connect with the bottom part of the eye. This will make the character appear like they are uncomfortable and wincing. The eyebrow should be raised slightly to indicate a slight amount of surprise.

2. The Nose – the position of the nose should rise slightly, as a disgusted face will wrinkle slightly and cause the nose to ‘turn upwards.’

3. The Mouth – A disgusted mouth is drawn like an exaggerated frown. The mouth should be open slightly, and the top row of teeth should be shown, or you can use a silhouette of the character’s tongue. The bottom lip should be curled upwards, as if the character was saying EWW! Finally, a crease for the chin should be made to indicate additional face wrinkling.

4. The Brow – In order to indicate the intensity of the disgust, the furrowed brow should resemble that of an angry person.

5. The Cheeks – The cheek muscles are pulled back even further in a disgusted face, as if the person is trying to back away from the confronted disgust. The crease lines extending from the nose should be sharper and at right angles or a hook shape.


Fear is an easy emotion to convey, similar to anger. Depending on the level of intensity in your facial features, you can go from a slightly spooked character, to one who is extremely terrified.

1. The Eyes – a character experiencing the emotion of fear often appears with wide eyes. Draw your eyes larger than normal in height, and center your iris & pupil in the space between the lids. Add a crease on the bottom lid that is in a frown shape to indicate intensity. The eyebrows should be slightly curved, but the angle should be reduced to less than what the angry example shows. Make sure the eyebrow touches the top eyelid. For increased terror, shrink the size of the pupil in the eye.

2. The Nose – The nose should be positioned in a neutral position, as the cheek muscles are pulling downward. The nostrils are at regular size.

3. The Mouth – The mouth shape should be drawn like an oversized frown. The mouth needs to be open, in order to convey a sense of shock. The bottom lip should curl upwards, and can even be drawn with slight waves to show quivering.

4. The Brow – The furrows in the brow are only slightly curved, but there are more of them and they are closer together. This shows worry and concern and adds to the intensity of the emotion.

5. The Cheeks – The crease that extends from the nose should curl downwards at a steeper angle, since the open mouth and jaw are pulling these muscles in that direction.


Sadness is a mixture of components from an angry face. The major differences appear in the eyes. The level of intensity is the same.

1. The Eyes – The eyes in a sad face should be shut. Depending on the level of sadness, you can have them shut tightly, causing wrinkles, or just closed. In this example, you can see three lines indicated a tightly shut eye. All three lines are curved with the center facing downwards. The three lines connect at one point. The bottom crease is the top part of the cheek, the middle line is the bottom lid crease, and the top line is the top lid and lashes of the eye. The eyebrow should be curved slightly, and angled – not as intense as an angry face, but more than a fearful one.

2. The Nose – Since the basic look of the face is similar in construction to an angry face, you can see the nose is set up in the same manner, pulled slightly downwards towards the mouth.

3. The Mouth – A sad individual who is crying will have their mouth open in the same shape as one who is angry. The teeth should be shown with a visible gap in between the top and bottom rows, as if the person is crying.

4. The Brow – Due to the intensity of the emotion, the furrowed brow and creases should resemble that of an angry face.

5. The Cheeks – Since the teeth are not clenched, the creases in the cheeks do not need to be as noticeable. The creases extend outwards from the nostril wing, and float over the corners of the mouth shape, arcing downwards.


The face of surprise is somewhat similar in construction to the face of fear, except with a few slight modifications to the mouth and eyebrows.

1. The Eyes – Similar to the eyes of fear, the surprised eyes are wider, the pupils are smaller, and the iris rests in the center of the eyeball. The difference resides in the eyebrow, which should be curled in an exaggerated fashion, with the starting and ending points set lower than the center of the arch.

2. The Nose – The nose should be pulled downward slightly, and there is no need to draw a crease for the bridge of the nose.

3. The Mouth – The mouth is similar in shape to the face of fear, but it does not extend as wide, and appears more circular in shape. The bottom lip should follow this smaller shape. Again, a slight wavy line could indicate trembling.

4. The Brow – The brow is also furrowed slightly, but with more lines that are closer together, indicating worry and concern.

5. The Cheeks – Since the jaw pulls down the cheeks, there are no crease lines extending from the nose.


Another easily recognizable emotion is happiness. This emotion is very easy to convey in drawn form, since the lines are very specific to that state.

1. The Eyes – The eyes are drawn normally, with a visible crease for the bottom eyelid (like a smile). The eyebrow should be drawn normally, with a slight curve, and should remain above the eye.

2. The Nose – The tip of the nose is raised slightly, as the muscles in the cheek pull upwards in a smile. The position of the nose rises slightly from the neutral position.

3. The Mouth – The easiest indicator of a happy face,  the mouth should be created as a large curve for the top lip, a smaller curve at the bottom lip, and two angled lines to connect the end points between the two lips. This bowl shape is the open happy mouth shape. You can add teeth or the silhouette of the characters tongue for additional detail, or a wide smile. The bottom lip should be full and curve upwards.

4. The Brow – Since there is no strain or worry, there is no need for brow lines. Placing brow lines on a happy face creates an evil or cruel look to your drawn face. Use this for your villains or vindictive characters.

5. The Cheeks – The smiling mouth causes the cheeks to push upwards, so the lines extending from the nostrils should curl upwards to create the bottom of the puffed cheeks.

There they are! Six (6) basic facial expressions for your character studies. Use these tips when you’re drawing digital comics, and watch your heroes and villains come to life. Experiment with a mixture of the 6 emotions above to create more complex facial expressions. Stay tuned for more tutorials on idrawdigital. Next up, a brief tutorial on drawing hands and feet!

3 thoughts on “Tutorial: Facial Expressions

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