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Cartoon Facial Expressions

Rahul Thadani Mar 14, 2020
An important way to communicate through just a gesture is the use of facial expressions. Even cartoon characters require a unique and accurate depiction of expressions to portray a certain emotion. This is easier said than done, as achieving this requires a strong balance between all the features on the character's face.
For any aspiring cartoonist, the expressions are the most important part of any drawing. Without these, it would be impossible to conjure up the characterization of various scenes and moods, as the rest of the body is just a replica of the original blueprint, with only a few changes in the movements.
To trace/convert the expressions onto paper is the hardest part, and this is where the cartoonist rakes in money and credibility.
The key difference while sketching any cartoon expressions are the eyebrows of the character. Then comes the eyes, mouth, and other features of the face. Without any significant or visible change in the eyebrows, all the facial expressions would look similar.
When characterizing various emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, perplexity, disappointment, surprise, etc., a small and simple change in the brow-line would complete the cartoon's expressions.
For a cartoonist or an artist, portraying the expressions can be achieved very easily by changing the shape, size, and synchronizing the relationship of various features on the face.

Different Types of Facial Expressions

When you are looking to draw various emotions, you have to add a slightly amusing side to the look of your character. The twist of the mouth and the angle of the eyebrows should not only accurately depict the look you wish to portray, but it should also be funny at the same time.
Needless to say, one needs a natural flair for drawing such emotions, and this is something that can be further improved with a lot of practice. Here are some examples of what you can do in order to illustrate particular emotions on the faces of your drawn characters.


It is an expression that always cheers everyone around, and is globally recognized. It depicts various kinds of positive temperaments/moods, like enjoyment, pleasure, satisfaction, friendliness, etc.
➚ Bright, shiny and wide eyes
➚ Slightly raised but relaxed eyebrows
➚ Lip corners pulled back in a raised oblique manner (a wide smile)


This expression should be depicted by bringing out the fun that one is having. For example, like when you are pulling a prank on someone else.
➚ An eye closed, like a wink, will give that perfect expression of mischievousness
➚ The eyebrows are curved upwards
➚ A big smile with the tongue poking out is perfect the expression of being naughty


Usually, the surprised expression is exaggerated. The drawing needs to bring out the impact of the 'surprise-element' on the facial expression.
➚ Eyes wide open and stretched
➚ Eyebrows arched and raised in a curved manner
➚ Jaws dropped and mouth open in the shape of an 'O'
An expression of surprise can be of two types - a good or a bad one. If it is a good-surprised expression, then accordingly the eyes and the lips would have a slight smiling effect.


While sketching a scared cartoon character, a cartoonist has to be very careful about getting the expressions right. A slight change in the eyebrow and lips can lead to a totally different emotion altogether.
➚ Eyes are wide, tensed and attentive
➚ Raised eyebrows pulled together even though the inner side of the eyebrows are drawn upwards
➚ Mouth wide open and center of the lower lip curled upwards


It is an expression which is totally opposite to happiness, and depicts negative moods, like when you lose something very precious, or if you are disappointed.
➚ Upper eyelids are slightly droopy
➚ Eyebrows relaxed but curved in a downward direction
➚ Corners of the lips pulled down, making the lower jaw appear droopy


This is one expression in which all parts of the face contribute equally towards the overall look, to show a sign of disorientation or confusion.
➚ Eyes should preferably be big with both the eyeballs facing inwards, like a cock-eyed look
➚ Small eyebrows curving upwards will give the ultimate look of confusion
➚ A wide zig-zag mouth will portray the character being utterly confused and lost


This expression needs to portray mean thoughts running through the mind, especially through the eyes and mouth. It should portray an 'evil grin'.
➚ Eyes should have a naughty sparkle in them
➚ Eyebrows should both be slightly different, with one straighter and the other one curved upwards to depict an evil thought running through the mind
➚ Mouth should have a naughty grin look, and also seem to move to one side of the face


This expression can depict various messages about an enemy, aggression, attack, etc. The feeling of anger needs to be clearly visible on the face.
➚ Tensed and focused eyes
➚ Eyebrows in a distinct V-shape, partially shadowing the eyes
➚ Mouth is slightly open to show the teeth grinding (extremely furious), or sometimes, lips wrinkled inwards slightly in a tight manner


This is an expression that is the result of something disliked or repelled. This one is quite different than the other expressions, mainly with the eyes being closed in disgust.
➚ Eyes are closed and curved slightly upwards
➚ Eyebrows sketched down with a slight V-shape
➚ The mouth over here is closed and becomes small, to depict the amount of disgust being experienced

Importance of the Eyes and Eyebrows

They both are simply the most expressive parts of a funny cartoon face, and almost every emotion can be replicated through the proper illustration on a set of eyes and eyebrows. Even without drawing the rest of the face, both these can give an accurate depiction of different expressions.
By changing the shape and the angle of the eyebrows, the perfect look can be completed, and adding the rest of the face and the body is a mere formality. The variation in the size of the eyeballs will also play an important part in the look, and thus, it should not be overlooked.
To get a further insight about the various ways to shape and sketch the eyes for simple cartoon expressions, you could observe an actual person's eyes when he is displaying the emotions that you wish to capture.
Soon, you will start drawing these cartoon expressions on your own, as the memory of the expression will get stored in your mind, and the desired look will come out naturally.
Practice this many times in order to achieve perfection, and for this purpose, you must carry a small sketch pad with you at all times. Whenever you notice the shape and size of the eyes for a particular emotion, you should attempt to draw it on your pad.
You can only teach yourself to get the right expression of a character by practicing the various looks and emotions as soon as you notice them.
All other cartoon expressions can also be depicted in this manner, and once you see a live illustration of each emotion, it becomes very simple to draw them yourself. Each emotion has its own distinct mannerism, and this can only be mastered with a considerable amount of research and by keeping your hand in practice.