Drawing Facial Expressions: Step-by-Step Guide
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. Start with a basic face outline
  2. Draw the eyes
  3. Shape the eyebrows
  4. Sketch the nose
  5. Craft the mouth
  6. Add facial marks
  7. Shading and details
  8. Drawing different emotions
  9. Practicing variations
  10. Final touches

Interested in capturing the human emotion in your artwork? You're not alone. The ability to draw a person's face with distinct expressions is a skill that many artists aspire to master. It's like having a secret language, a way to communicate feelings and moods without uttering a single word. So, let's start this journey together with our step-by-step guide to drawing facial expressions. Ready to give it a shot? Let's start at the beginning - the basic face outline.

Start with a basic face outline

The foundation of every great piece of art is a solid sketch. And for us, that means starting with a simple face outline. This will be the framework upon which we'll create our expressive masterpiece.

  1. Draw a circle: This is the top part of the head. Make sure it's not too perfect; a slightly oval shape is more like a real head.
  2. Add a jawline: Draw two lines coming down from the circle to create the jaw. This is where you can add character - a sharper jawline can give a more stern appearance, while a softer one can make the face look gentle.
  3. Sketch the face cross: Imagine a line running vertically down the middle of the face, and another one horizontally where the eyes will go. This will guide you when you're placing the eyes, nose, and mouth.
  4. Mark the ear positions: Draw two lines on the sides of the head, between the eye line and the bottom of the circle, to show where the ears will go.

And there you have it - a simple face outline! This is the canvas on which we will learn how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions. It might seem basic, but remember, every great piece of art started with simple lines and shapes. Now that we have our face outline, we're ready to add the features that will make our drawing come to life.

Draw the eyes

Eyes are often called the windows to the soul for a reason. They are a key element in how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions. When you sketch the eyes, keep in mind they're more than just simple circles or almonds. Let's break it down:

  1. Start with the shape: Draw two oval shapes on the horizontal face line you made earlier. Leave some space between them - usually, the width of one eye fits in between.
  2. Add the iris and pupil: Sketch a smaller circle within each eye for the iris, and an even smaller one for the pupil. Remember, the size and position of these elements can greatly impact the expression. A larger pupil can indicate surprise or fear, while a pupil positioned to the side can create a sly or suspicious look.
  3. Draw the eyelids: Add lines above and below each eye to represent the eyelids. This will give depth to the eyes and provide a base for the eyelashes.
  4. Sketch the eyelashes: Draw short, curved lines along the upper eyelid for the eyelashes. Try to keep them natural and not too dramatic, unless your character calls for it!

Now, look at the eyes you've just drawn. They already seem to have a life of their own, don't they? But we're not done yet. Remember, we're learning how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions, and the next step is crucial - the eyebrows.

Shape the eyebrows

Who knew eyebrows could be so expressive, right? Well, they are! They're a major player in how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions. So, let's get those brows on point:

  1. Positioning: Start by drawing two lines above each eye. They should be roughly parallel to the upper eyelid. This will give you the basic position and size of the eyebrows.
  2. Define the shape: Now, it's time to give those brows a shape. Are they thin or thick? Straight or arched? Remember, the shape of the eyebrows can significantly influence the expression of your character. Arched eyebrows can express surprise or fear, while straight eyebrows can suggest a more serious or stern look.
  3. Fill in the brows: Fill in the shape with short, diagonal strokes to mimic the appearance of hair. Make sure to follow the direction of the hair growth which is typically from the inner corner outwards.

There you have it! You've just added a whole new level of expressiveness to your face sketch. But, we're not stopping here. Next up, we're going to shape that nose!

Sketch the nose

With the eyebrows done, let's move down the face a bit. It's time to sketch the nose. The nose might just be the most underrated feature when it comes to drawing a person's face with distinct expressions. But it plays a key role in giving the face its shape and character. So, let's do this:

  1. Draw the bridge: Starting at the inner corner of the eye, sketch two lines that angle down towards the center of the face. These lines form the bridge of the nose.
  2. Add the nostrils: At the end of the lines you just drew, add small circles or ovals for the nostrils. The size and shape of these can greatly impact the overall look of the nose, so take your time with this step.
  3. Outline the nose: Draw a line around the nostrils to form the tip of the nose. This should be a soft curve that connects the nostrils and the bridge. This line should be lighter and less defined than the rest of the nose to suggest a softer transition between the nose and the face.
  4. Add some shading: Add a bit of shading under the nose and around the nostrils to give the nose some depth and dimension.

And just like that, you've sketched a nose! Next, we'll tackle the mouth to continue our quest on how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions. Ready? Let's go!

Craft the mouth

Now that we've got the nose in place, let's move a little down and craft the mouth. The mouth is a vital feature in capturing the expression of a person's face. A slight change in the mouth's shape can depict a whole range of emotions - from happiness to sadness, from surprise to anger. So, let's learn how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions by crafting the perfect mouth.

  1. Draw a simple line: Start by drawing a simple line to represent the lips' separation. This line will serve as the basis for the mouth's shape and will help you maintain symmetry.
  2. Sketch the upper lip: Above the line you just drew, sketch the shape of the upper lip. Remember, it's not a straight line but rather a subtle wave-like curve.
  3. Draw the lower lip: Below the initial line, draw a wider, more pronounced curve for the lower lip. The lower lip is usually fuller than the upper one. However, variations are always there, and that's what makes each face unique.
  4. Add depth: Add some faint lines on the lips to give them depth and dimension. These lines should follow the lips' natural curves and be darker towards the edges to suggest a sense of depth.

And voila! You've crafted a mouth! Remember, the shape and size of the mouth can drastically change the expression on a face. So, don't hesitate to experiment and practice different mouth shapes as you learn how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions.

Add facial marks

Okay, we're making excellent progress! But a face isn't complete without its unique facial marks. These marks could be anything from a freckle and mole to a wrinkle or scar. They add character to a face and make your drawing more realistic. Let's discover how these marks can help you draw a person's face with distinct expressions.

  1. Identify the marks: Pay close attention to the person's face you're drawing. Does it have any distinct marks like freckles, moles, or scars? If so, mark their locations lightly on your drawing.
  2. Sketch the marks: Once you've marked their locations, it's time to sketch these facial marks. The key here is subtlety. Unless the mark is a prominent feature on the face, it should not overpower the other facial features.
  3. Add wrinkles: Wrinkles are another type of facial mark that can add a lot to the expression of a face. The lines around the eyes, mouth, and forehead can show whether a person is smiling, frowning, or surprised. Sketch these lines lightly to maintain a natural look.

Adding facial marks might seem like a minor step, but it's these subtle details that make a drawing come alive. It's all part of learning how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions. So, keep practicing, and soon you'll master this step too.

Shading and details

Now that we've added facial marks, it's time to bring depth and dimension to our drawing. How do we do that? By adding shading and details! These elements will help us create a person's face that is not just expressive but also realistic.

  1. Shading the face: Shading helps to give depth to a flat sketch. You start by identifying the light source in your sketch. Once you have that down, add shadows in areas that are away from the light. Remember, the closer to the light source, the lighter the shading, and vice versa.
  2. Detailing the eyes: The eyes are often said to be windows to the soul, and they play a huge role in expressing emotions. Add details such as the pupils, the reflections, and even the eyelashes. These small details can make a big difference in how expressive your drawing is.
  3. Defining the lips: The shape of the mouth can convey a lot about a person's expression. Add depth by shading the corners of the mouth and highlighting the center of the lower lip. This will give the illusion of full, three-dimensional lips.

Shading and detailing might seem like small steps, but they hold the key to learning how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions. Hang in there, because we're about to move on to the exciting part—drawing different emotions!

Drawing different emotions

Alright, now comes the fun part—expressing emotions! This is where you get to add personality and life to your drawing. Here, we'll cover a few basic emotions to help you understand how facial features change with each one.

  1. Happy: When a person is happy, their eyes often crinkle at the corners, and their mouth turns upwards into a smile. Don't forget to add some laugh lines around the mouth and eyes!
  2. Sad: In contrast, when a person is sad, their eyebrows are slightly raised in the center, creating a furrowed look. The corners of their mouth may turn downwards, too.
  3. Surprised: To show surprise, draw the eyes wide, with the eyebrows raised high above them. The mouth can be open in a small "O" shape.
  4. Angry: For an angry expression, draw the eyebrows slanted downwards towards the center of the face. The eyes might narrow, and the mouth can be a tight straight line.

Remember, less is more when it comes to drawing emotions. Subtle changes can make a big difference. So, don't overdo the features. Experiment with different combinations of eyes, eyebrows, and mouth positions to capture a range of emotions accurately. This practice will make you better at understanding how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions.

Practicing variations

Once you can draw a person's face with basic expressions, it's time to take things up a notch. How about adding a little diversity to your drawings? Let's explore how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions but with variations.

  1. Different ages: A child's face isn't just a smaller version of an adult face. Kids have larger foreheads, bigger eyes, and smaller noses. On the other hand, as people age, wrinkles appear, and features become more pronounced. By practicing these variations, you can bring a broader range of characters to life.
  2. Unique features: Not all faces are the same, so why should your drawings be? Try practicing with different eye shapes, nose sizes, or lip thicknesses. Add freckles, glasses, or birthmarks to make your characters more unique.
  3. Various angles: Faces aren't always viewed head-on. Practice drawing faces from different perspectives—like profile view, three-quarters view, or looking up/down. This will give your drawings a more dynamic and realistic feel.

Remember, the key to mastering how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions is practice. Don't be afraid to make mistakes—each one is a step closer to creating the perfect expression. Keep sketching, keep learning, and most importantly, keep enjoying the process!

Final touches

Great job on getting this far! Now that you've mastered how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions, it's time to add those all-important final touches. These are the small details that will make your drawing come alive.

  1. Highlights and Shadows: Light can dramatically change the mood of your drawing. Add highlights to the parts of the face that light hits directly, like the forehead, nose, and cheekbones. Shadows, on the other hand, go in areas where light doesn't reach, like under the nose and beneath the lower lip.
  2. Hair: Hair frames the face and can also express a lot about a character's personality. Wavy, straight, short, long, messy, or neat—the possibilities are endless. Remember, hair has volume, so don't forget to add some shadows and highlights here too.
  3. Clothing: The clothes your character wears can add context to who they are. Is your character a businessperson, a superhero, a student? Their outfit can tell us that.

And there you have it! You've just learned how to draw a person's face with distinct expressions. Keep in mind that every artist has their unique style, and that's what makes art so fascinating. So, don't be afraid to experiment and make your drawings truly your own.

If you enjoyed our step-by-step guide on drawing facial expressions and want to take your character design skills to the next level, we highly recommend checking out Rory Duke Stewart's workshop, 'Drawing Compelling Expressions in Character Design.' This workshop will provide you with expert techniques and tips to help you create dynamic and captivating expressions for your characters.