View Full Version : Drawing Facial Expressions

05 May 2005, 11:02 AM
I have struggled most of my life to draw convincing facial expressions - esp when they are subtle. I think it is one thing to draw a facial expression from a photo ref, and 'get it', but to be able to nail down an expression at will without having a direct reference, is another story entirley (kinda like drawing a figure in any pose from any position, without using photo refs ).

For many years now I have been interested in the work of Dr. Paul Ekman - who developed FAQS (facial action coding system - a comprehensive method of acuately recognizing and analyzing facial expressions). His system has been used extensivley by law enforcement, lawyers, psyciatrists etc.
Here is a link to sample material (very dense - way too dense for me)

I have searched high and low for a approach to this material which would be more 'artist friendly'.

The closest I have come is in the form of Gary Faigins, "Artists complete Guide to Facial Expressions", which is a very good book and does actually use Dr. Ekmans research. Fagans approach is to analyse just what it is that makes facial expressions 'tick'.

I think the most useful section of the book is the quick summary at the back (I have included a sample page to give you an idea of its approach - I think its presentation here - given the context of the post - falls under fair usage - MODS - if you have a problem please remove!)

links to Faigins book:

Have any of you come across good reference material to learn to draw facial expressions? What is your approach to creating convincing facial expressions in you work?

(Beyond seeking out methods, I personally always keep a small mirror, and digital camera close at hand.)


05 May 2005, 11:30 AM
Very interesting stuff, Gord! Thanks for posting...:thumbsup:

05 May 2005, 11:47 AM
Very interesting stuff! Thanks for putting this up. I myself am struggling with anatomy, but the hardest thing for me is the facial expressions. I have yet to put a facial expression to paper (or monitor) that isn't emotionless or looking a little crazy..:)

At any rate, I have heard that the mirror is a very good reference for this area of drawing, but I'm also sure that Loomis's books will come up too. There is a link for the download of his stuff in the Art Discussion forum from when I was looking for such material.

Anyone else have other methods?

05 May 2005, 02:36 PM
I'd recommend the book Cartooning the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm. It discusses several aspects of facial expressions and allows for more realistic, as well as very cartoony approaches. Hamm discusses facial structure, he provides a "morgue" of different eyes, noses, mouths, eyebrows, etc. He even gets into body language. It's a pretty thorough study.

I've always drawn cartoony, so when I try drawing in a more realistic style (like for the Challenge) I lose expressiveness in my faces. It's like, "What do you mean I can't make eyes that big?" :scream: Anyway, I think Norman Rockwell is one of the best artists for capturing facial expressions. Try studying his work or find photos of expressive actors like Dustin Hoffman or Robin Williams. I've got a coffee table book of photos from Rolling Stone magazine that makes for a good reference.

06 June 2005, 07:47 AM
I don't see the Buccinator or the Zygomaticus minor in that chart at the top, is he saying they aren't used in any facial expressions?
Seems like a good book, I should get it.

06 June 2005, 07:57 PM
I don't see the Buccinator or the Zygomaticus minor in that chart at the top, is he saying they aren't used in any facial expressions?
Seems like a good book, I should get it.

I pulled out my Artistic Anatomy by Paul Richer, it seems that the Zygomaticus minor in Richers book is consistent with the middle branch of the 'levetor labii superiosis' in Faigins chart (item 3).

He has not included the Buccinator. I wonder if this is because the Buccinator is a deep layer muscle, and (appears?) to exert control over superficial muscles that are listed in the chart (4, 5, 7 and 9 ). Although the more I look at it the more I wonder - (good catch!).

Its still a good book though .


06 June 2005, 11:27 AM
This is exactly what I've been looking for, I just got done ordering this book, thanks for the thread

06 June 2005, 11:46 AM
i have no problem drawing faces and expressions without refrences given the time, however the things i find dificult is coloring whether digital or traditional and drawing hands and feet.

however i think i will look into this book.


06 June 2005, 12:49 AM
Hey, I have that book...

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