How do you differentiate expressions for characters like Mordecai, who seem to be more comfortable scowling than smiling. Whenever I try to draw characters like that, all their expressions start to look similar. How do you get across that?
I’ve likened expression drawing to acting before, and I think that pertains here too. Expressions concocted in a situational vacuum will tend to look vague or generic. Considering a character’s nature, their context and their motivations, as it were, the way an actor prepares for a performance, can make an expression much more specific, layered and nuanced. For instance, what you might, at a basic level, consider to be a ‘scowl’ is probably an aggregate of multiple feelings and expressions. I find it useful to ask myself questions about it while I’m drawing.
Is the scowl directed at another character? If so, perhaps it looks confrontational or aggressive. Maybe, combined with narrowed eyes, it’s also a threat? Maybe it’s less deliberate, like a reaction to something another character has just said or done. Is there disgust or disdain mixed in? Maybe it has levity, like a response to a bad joke. Perhaps the scowl is detached as if the character is just quietly thinking of something unpleasant. Maybe there’s something pensive or concerned in the look. Maybe there’s an air of casual arrogance or superiority about it…or disappointment..or boredom…or contempt…or maybe one brow has a quizzical tilt…or maybe the eyes are wide and intense. How pronounced is the expression? Does the situation call for some exaggerated facial contortion or is the expression a subtle one? Is the mouth drooping or is it drawn back into an active frown? Are the lips sneering, bearing teeth, or pursed like the character is holding back an expletive? How would this particular character perceive the situation - would they overreact or under-react? Are they considering the feelings beyond their own, partially reflecting the emotions of another character? Are they angered but sympathetic? Are they in a familiar, comfortable place, or are they discomfited while wearing their scowl? How would their posture be affected? How might the angle of their spine, neck and shoulders factor in? Are they wilted over like they’ve given up, tilting their head to one side like they aren’t quite sure what’s going on, or leaning back like they want to backpedal out of the room?
If you think it through - figure how to make the expression specific to its circumstances, tailor it to the character wearing it, calculate what other emotions factor in - you’ll find there are probably endless ways to draw a scowl. This also seems to be effective for really establishing a character’s personality and making them appear authentically engaged with their world - alive in it
Do you have any tips/guides for drawing expressions? Yours are always so emotive!
Well I don’t really have a method but I’ve gotten this question before so I figured out a nice way to explain it, i think. Ok so on the face the 3 main expressive elements are the eyebrows, the eyes and the mouth. They can take a lot of different shapes and each of them conveys a different expression.
You can start by drawing a few different shapes of eyebrows, eyes and mouths
And then you just kind of mix and match!
You can get like a hundred different expressions with just these few shapes, and it’s fun. And then to be more advanced you can include more stuff like the tilt of the head, the level of the shoulders, hand gestures and so on