Drawing facial expressions

Rough ink portrait sketches.


Little changes - big effect

Drawing faces is an interesting challenge already - but drawing facial expressions is another step in portrait drawing: it's about changing little lines in the drawing in order to completely change the expression of a human face. 

The big question is: Which of these lines in the face should be changed?

Before we to draw facial expressions, we absolutely need to have a look at a face with a neutral expression so that we have a base to start from. It's the starting point for sketching expressions in a face, because this analysis enables us to better define the deviation from a "neutral expression" in the face.

You will find helpful guidelines for drawing a kind of "neutral face" HERE.

Based on the analysis of a "neutral face", that isn't showing any specific emotions, I am presenting you here 2 approaches, that are of help for me when sketching emotions:


When you look at reference photos, you can compare how the parts of the face are changing their position for specific expressions. Eyebrows are raised, eyes closed or wide open, ... as soon as you notice such a specific characteristic of a facial expression, draw it a several times - in a more and more exaggerated way.

This distills the emotions more and more and makes you familiar with its characteristics.


There aren't always reference pictures available. Or you spend our hours of hours searching for the perfect reference photo of the expression you want to draw. 

If you don’t find what you are looking for – simply be your own model and make a photo of the facial expression that you are aiming to draw. Or you have a look in the mirror. It does not necessarily have to be exactly the same expression. But it should answer your question, which parts of the face you should focus on and what lines in the face you should exaggerate.

By the way: the video here is part of my Skillshare Class - I am searching for an answer how to draw the cheeks when the mouth is puckered. Here's the link to the class, if you want to be with me in this analysis and see more:



My basis for these ink sketches is a rough and simple pencil draft to define the facial proportions of the face in an exaggerated way. When we compare this expression here with a neutral face - our basis for all facial expressions - you’ll see instantly the extreme position of the eyebrows. 


For increasing your awareness for all those special characteristics of facial expressions, it's about training the hand, which is easily feasible through repetition. When drawing the same face again and again, it’s about exaggerating the lines more and more and about testing out, which lines express the emotion the best.

Dive deeper into this fascinating topic. 

If you want to go one step further and learn more about facial expressions, I'd love to welcome you in my Skillshare Class "Sketching Emotions - How to draw facial expression roughly".

In this class we are focusing on facial expressions and how they change the human face. We are anaylising more in depth how emotions can be made visible in a portrait sketch. There are only some small changes in the face that can have a big effect on the overall expression of the portrait and tell a whole story about the person sketched.

At the end of this class you will know, which lines you need to draw to achieve a specific facial expression in a rough and sketchy style - a really great basis for realistic face drawings and a wonderful way to integrate emotions in your sketchbook.

Skillshare Class: Sketching Emotions

"A wonderful and well-explained class with all the fundamentals to get going with capturing expressions on your human's sketches, Barbara makes it look so easy to draw and I will for sure do many expressions on my sketchbook! Thank you so much!"

- Heidi, watercolor artist

"Fabulous class! Cool and interesting subject brought to us in a clear and helpful way. These are the classes I love the most, straight to the point with an engaging teacher that makes me want to try myself.

Thanks so much Barbara for this amazing class!"

- Aidi, artist

Barbara Baumann Illustration

About the Author

Hallo, I'm an illustrator and Skillshare teacher from Austria. After great experiences in the Marketing and Database sector, I finally realised that I simply need to follow my enthusiasm and fascination for drawing and illustrating.  

What fascinates me most, is this way to communicate without using any words. So expressive, so global. And this leads me to my second fascination about drawing: the exchange with others, with you! In my drawing courses I simply love to see the enormous developments of each participant - initiated by exchange and practice. That's what I like to do here, too. 

The idea for this blog comes from the bottom of my heart: to get you close to drawing and to show you that you too can draw #drawinggang  

It's all about learning to feel the drawing!

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