The ability to draw cartoon facial features is a fundamental skill for any animator. Whether you are brand new to drawing faces or are an experienced cartoon artist that has been doing it for years, this is a skill that can always be improved. With the uses and implementations of simple shapes you can easily create a variety of different facial features and cartoon styles.
Understanding The Cartoon Style
We are able to pick up on very subtle facial expressions and features by simplifying the different parts of their face. The size of one’s eyes, for example, can help determine if that person is feeling happy, excited, or sad; The amount of lift under a person’s eyebrows can even show whether or not they are mad.
These expressions are key to the way a person communicates so it’s got to the point that we can read someone else’s face without truly understanding which parts of the face are being used to communicate that emotion.
We are exposed to adaptations to facial expressions every day, especially in the age of Snapchat, Instagram, and cartoon face filters.
Being able to understand these subtle and unconscious differences in facial expressions is key when planning out an animated character. Then, once understood, you can simplify these features so that they are recognizable by your audience.
features so that they are recognizable by your audience.
Cartoons are a mixture of different shapes that are put together. It’s not difficult as long as you focus on each of the shapes individually and break down the process step by step.
We’ve laid out a 7-step cartoon drawing tutorial to use when breaking down the construction of a cartoon face.
Step 1: Plan and Prepare
The first step when creating a cartoon character is to plan out exactly what this character will communicate through its expression. There are a couple of questions you should answer first during this stage, such as how you want the character to look, what expression you’d like it to have, what ethnicity it will be, whether it is going to be simple or complex.
It’s better to think of as many factors of the character as you can so that you can visualize exactly what that character will look like. It may be helpful to gather inspiration from other cartoon characters so that you can use some of their best attributes for your character.
Step 2: Drawing A Cartoon Head
Now it’s time to start sketching out the shape of the head. Based on your planning you’ve probably noticed the variety of head shapes to choose from such as short and round, or even long and skinny. Whatever shape you choose to use for your character, you can start with a circle to serve as the basic shape for the head.
The head shape can be a rough sketch so that you can continue to shape and mold the face as you progress with the drawing.
Step 3: Drawing Cartoon Eyes
Capturing the character’s eyes is a very important step because the eyes are the main part of their expression. In order to get the character’s eyes in the right place of a person’s face, you should sketch the vertical and horizontal dimension lines. For this, you want to carefully shape the eyes in the middle of the face.
If you find drawing eyes to be challenging, you can start by locating the pupils; but be mindful of the ratio between the two pupils. Don’t worry about not having elaborated eyes yet. Once you have all the facial features in place, you will have the chance to work on the details.
Step 4: Drawing A Cartoon Nose
Drawing the character’s nose is usually a case that the more simple the nose is, the better it looks on a cartoon. Unless the character’s nose is one of the more prominent aspects of the character’s overall appearance, you can usually get away with a more simplistic look. The only thing to keep in mind is to have a proper ratio between the eyes, nose, and mouth so that it does not look too crammed together.
Step 5: Shaping the Face
When shaping the face, you need to be mindful of your character to determine how to shape the head and jawline. For instance, if it’s a girl, you want to make the face more narrow and have the chin come to a bit of a point at the end; where drawing a boy requires that you make the face a bit bolder and focus more on the definition of the jawline.
It will be helpful to start to shave down the original sketching that you did for the head so that the face is not as circular as your sketch probably started as.
Step 6: Drawing A Cartoon Mouth
The mouth is another important part of the character’s expression, as it’s a key indicator of how the character is feeling. This is where you determine if you want the character to be smiling, frowning, yelling, nervous, or neutral. These various emotions are directly portrayed by the shape of the mouth.
If you would like to add lips to your character, keep in mind that if you are drawing a girl, it’s better to make the lip shape a bit more prominent than if you are drawing a guy.
Step 7: Drawing Cartoon Hair
Next, you will need to draw the hair of your cartoon character. In some cases, the character’s hair is a major part of their appearance. The hairstyle is a way to convey your character’s personality, style, or gender. It’s good to understand how your character would want their hair to look. The character’s hair should accent and compliment their overall appearance.
Step 8: Coloring
When it comes to coloring you can break this step down into three parts. The first part would be to layer the basic color throughout the image you plan to color. This may be the skin of your character.
The second part would be to color in the different parts of the character’s face on top of your basic layering.
Finally, you would add in all of the shadowing, textures, and final details to really bring your character to life.
Drawing Different Facial Expressions
Cartoon expressions are the most important part of your character drawing because this is where you can truly exaggerate the aspects of the character that you want to have stood out. If you want the character to have a wider nose you can make their nose cover half of their face; if you want them to have big eyes you can exaggerate that as well. Remember that you are making cartoon creations, so it is totally okay to have some larger-than-life characteristics. This is where you can truly get creative and have fun with your expressions.
One easy way to see examples of this is to see how many celebrities are portrayed in their characterchures.
Cartoon Face Examples
To help get your creative juices flowing, here are some examples of how people’s expressions are portrayed as cartoon characters.
In this example, it is obvious that the main characteristics being exaggerated are the subject’s eyes, glasses, and eyebrows. These, along with her mouth, are all being used to show that she is surprised, shocked, or has a good idea.
Here, Jay Leno is being exaggerated on a few of his most prominent facial features, which–most notably–includes his chin. This is a great example of how you can overly exaggerate one aspect of your character’s face so much so that it can take up a majority of the entire image.
In this example, Robert Pattinson has had his head shape distorted to show the thinness of his face, and his large hair is used to further accent this prominent feature of his.
Practice drawing your own facial expression pronouncing a, i, u, o, ae, m.
Resources & Exercises To Practice
Exercises to practice your cartoon drawing
The key thing about drawing cartoons is not only practicing but also trying a variety of cartoon styles. There are many different cartoon drawing exercises that popular artists use to help them improve their drawings that you can start doing as well. These include:
- Practice redrawing some of your favorite characters from movies, TV shows, and comics
- Draw real life images or people as cartoons using visual references
- Recreate drawings from a variety of artists so that you can test out different cartoon styles
- Turn basic shapes into detailed characters
- Cartoonize and personify inanimate objects (including foods, furniture, etc.)
Each of these exercises will help you get the hang of exaggerating the proper features and facial expressions so that you can portray your character the way you want.
The beautiful thing about art is that you can find a ton of useful resources to help you improve your skills. This includes a variety of books and websites. You can also watch many great videos to help you get on your way.
When you’re ready to bring your cartoons to life, there is no better way than by using Animation Desk to animate your characters and scenes. The tools in Animation Desk make it so easy to animate your character frame by frame to create one fluid video.
Creating cartoons is an ever-changing art form; and while the core principles have remained relatively the same for decades, the medium through which art is created and shared is much more fluid. Being able to really master the fundamentals of drawing cartoons will be an essential foundation that you need to create great art in a multitude of mediums. Like any type of art, the style in which you draw your cartoon characters is totally up to you…but just make sure you have fun doing it!