Drawing Expressions

I’m going to show you an “easy” way to draw different facial expressions for your character.
This is very useful for people working on Visual Novels, for sprites and Event CGs equally.


- Software that allows you to use layers (scroll down to see how to do this traditionally)
- A small mirror 
- The picture of a skull (like this one: http://armandorampas.files.wordpress.com/2007/05/skull.jpg )
- Optional: a small sphere (pinball ball, foam ball or something like that)

Ok, so first draw your character FACELESS. I’m going to use a boring front-view character, but you can have them in any angle your’e comfortable with or any angle you actually need to draw them in.
Add a new layer and draw a neutral face for your character. 
Make a new layer and, looking at the skull picture, mark the teeth and the eye sockets.

Creepy! xD

Well, this will help us understand where the eyes and the mouth should be at all times. Because the eye sockets and the teeth don’t move around the face when you make expressions! Only the muscles do =P

Grab your small mirror, look at yourself and make some faces. smile, pout, get angry, get surprised, be unamused. Do you see how the different elements on your face move accordingly to create these expressions? Well, this is going to help us draw the expressions for the character =3

One thing we can’t see completely is the eye globe, though. We only get to see what the eyelids don’t cover, but the eye globe is bigger than that! It’s as big as the eyesockets on your skull picture, so keep that in mind!

The eye is a sphere inside the eyes sockets and it’s covered by the upper eyelid and the lower eyelid. So when you move the eyes up, down, to the side, to the corner, it’s your spherical eye globe moving! Keep this in mind when drawing eyes. If you have troubles picturing this, even with the small mirror, a good idea is to paint an eye on a small spherical object, like a pinball ball or a ball made of that packing material thing I just forgot the name of xD

Another thing to keep in mind, that you can see for yourself when you’re looking at the mirror: The upper jaw doesn’t move when we open our mouth, just the lower does! You can also move the lips and other facial muscles. When drawing expressions for sprites, people often cheats and leaves the jaw in place and just eat the chin’s space as they draw a more open mouth. I’m one of those lazy people, haha, but you can always draw the jaw separately if you want it to seem more realistic ^^

So! Once we know how the face works, we can start drawing facial expressions.

Make a new layer on top of everything, fill it with white and lower its opacity so you can see the contents under it. Now look at the mirror and try making the face you’re aiming for. What does it move on your face?
With a color different from the one you used on the lineart, sketch the face on a new layer on top.

On this face, I lowered the upper eyelids, raised the lower ones a bit and moved the eyebrows up. Also, she’s smiling. She has a weird face, doesn’t she? haha.
When drawing the eye, remember to not move the corners around! They’re supposed to stay in place, the eyelids only move up and down, not to the sides, so keep the corners of your eyes in line with the original ones.
Once your’e satisfied with your face,  you can ink it properly and hide the white layer, the original face and the skull parts. Tada!

Let’s see other examples:

Here I’m cheating with the mouth, see? xD
I’m using the sphere logic when drawing the irises using my red eye socket marks as the base for my sphere. It’s *no*t just moving the eyes down with the move tool! (thought that could work too if you’re too lazy).

Eyes closed! The first one has a natural and relaxed eyes closed expression, while the other is smiling. What’s the difference? Try smiling in front of the mirror! When I look at myself, I see my cheeks go up and push the lower eyelids up in a curve~
You can also try shutting your eyes in pain or fear and… well, you won’t see it, but the inner corners of your eyes will tend to point down a bit because of the eyebrows frowning , while the outer corners will go up because of your cheeks, so you’ ll have a slight variation from the closed-and-smiling one (sorry, I forgot to draw it “Orz).

Using this “method” and looking at yourself in the mirror (or at reference photos), you can draw different facial expressions for your character ^^


To do this traditionally, you need to have different pieces of paper: one for the base face, one for the “skull marks” and one for each face you’ll be drawing, and either a window  with a light source on the other side, a CRT monitor or TV or a light box/light table.
- Draw the faceless character on a piece of paper. 
- Flip it, put it against the light box so you can see what’s on the other side, and draw the neutral face on this side of the paper.
- Grab a new piece of paper and put it on top, still against the light box, and draw the skull marks over the face.
- Now put the skull marks paper flipped, then on top the faceless character (make sure the skull marks match the face on the other side of the paper), and now put a new piece of paper on top to draw your new face!

If you just need to draw one face over the original face, do the same but draw the skull marks lightly or with another color over the face on step 3. Then flip it and use the face and the skull marks as reference to draw your new face ^^