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 to spur all of your cartoon drawing ideas.
Understanding The Cartoon Style
We can discern even the most subtle facial expressions and features through the simple technique of associating a specific shape with each part of the face. For instance, the size of one’s eyes can convey emotions like happiness, excitement, or sadness, while the degree of lift under the eyebrows can indicate anger.
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.
A cartoon face is a mixture of different shapes 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 face drawing tutorial to use when breaking down the construction of a cartoon face. Let’s embark on this journey and unleash your creative process!
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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, and whether it is going to be simple or complex. The most important thing 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, and 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 and collect some cartoon drawing ideas.
Step 2: Drawing A Cartoon Head
Start by selecting different head shapes that suit your character’s personality and style. Most commonly, a rounded shape works well for a friendly and approachable appearance. Once you have chosen a suitable head shape, focus on maintaining proper proportions. Remember that exaggeration is a key aspect of cartooning, so don’t be afraid to play with proportions to emphasize certain features or traits.
Whatever shape you choose to use for your character, you can start with a rounded shape like a circle or an oval to serve as the basic shape for the head. These guidelines will act as reference points for placing the eyes, nose, and mouth. Experiment with different sizes and placements until you achieve the desired look. With practice, you will become more adept at creating captivating cartoon characters by shaping their heads to match their unique personalities.
Step 3: Drawing Cartoon Eyes
In the process of drawing cartoon characters, mastering the art of creating expressive and captivating eyes is crucial. The eyes play a significant role in conveying emotions and bringing life to your characters. To begin, establish a step-by-step approach to drawing cartoon eyes. Start by sketching basic oval shapes for the eyes, ensuring that they are symmetrical and appropriately sized for the character’s face. Next, add vertical and horizontal guidelines to help position the eyes accurately within the facial structure. These guidelines act as reference points for placing the eyebrows and other facial features.
Now it’s time to infuse your cartoon eyes with personality and expression. Experiment with different shapes, sizes, and styles to achieve the desired effect. Play around with the size of the pupils, the curvature of the eyelids, and the spacing between the eyes to create a unique look for each character. Don’t forget to add the necessary details such as eyelashes, highlights, and reflections to make the eyes appear more lively and engaging. With practice, you’ll develop the ability to create captivating and expressive cartoon eyes that breathe life into your characters.
Step 4: Drawing A Cartoon Nose
The nose adds character and personality to your cartoon creations. Begin by visualizing the type of nose that suits your character’s style and traits. Cartoon noses can range from simple, minimalistic shapes to more exaggerated and humorous designs, but you can usually get away with a more simplistic look. Once you have decided on the nose style, position it accurately on the face, considering the proportions and overall facial structure.
To draw a cartoon nose, start by sketching basic shapes such as circles, triangles, or ovals. Play around with different sizes and angles to find the perfect fit for your character. Add subtle details such as nostrils or curved lines to enhance the nose’s appearance. Remember that cartoon noses can be simplified, so don’t be afraid to experiment and exaggerate certain features for added charm. Lastly, consider how the nose interacts with the mouth, as they are closely connected in expressing emotions and adding depth to your character’s facial expressions.
Step 5: Shaping the Face
Shaping the face is a crucial step that sets the foundation for the character’s overall appearance. Begin by visualizing the type of face you want your cartoon character to have. Consider the personality, age, and style you want to convey. Most importantly, you need to be mindful of your character to determine how to shape the head and jawline. For instance, if it’s a female character, you want to make the face more narrow and have the chin come to a bit of a point at the end; whereas drawing a boy requires that you make the face a bit bold and focus more on the definition of the jawline.
It will be helpful to start to shave down the original sketch that you did for the head so that the face is not as circular as your sketch probably started.
Step 6: Drawing A Cartoon Mouth
The mouth is another significant 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.
To begin, start by sketching a basic shape for the mouth, such as a curved line or a simple oval. Pay attention to the proportions and placement of the mouth within the face. Next, focus on adding details and defining the character’s expression. Experiment with different lip shapes and sizes to convey various emotions, from a wide smile to a subtle smirk or even a pout. 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. Consider the character’s personality and the mood of the scene you want to portray. Add curves or lines to indicate the creases and contours of the lips, enhancing the overall realism and appeal of the mouth.
Step 7: Drawing Cartoon Hair
Cartoon hair is where you bring your characters to life and add personality to their appearances. Start by visualizing the type of hair you want your character to have, considering factors such as style, texture, and length. Begin by sketching the basic shape of the hair, keeping in mind the character’s face shape and proportions.
Next, add the details that define the character’s hairstyle. Whether it’s wild and spiky, sleek and straight, or curly and voluminous, focus on capturing the essence of the hair through simple lines and shapes. Exaggerate certain features to add a touch of cartoonish charm, such as emphasizing the volume or creating unique patterns within the hair.
Consider the direction of the hair strands and the flow of the overall hairstyle. Add shading or hatching to create depth and dimension. Remember to maintain consistency throughout the character’s hair, paying attention to the style and texture you have established.
Step 8: Coloring
When it comes to coloring cartoon-style designs, 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 to stand 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.
Some easy ways to see examples of this are to see how many celebrities are portrayed in their characters or search for the help of Photoshop cartoon actions.
Cartoon Characters 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’s obvious that the person’s eyes, glasses, and eyebrows are being exaggerated to express a surprised expression. Along with her mouth, these features combine to convey a sense of astonishment, shock, or a sudden burst of creativity.
Here, Jay Leno is exaggerated a few of his most prominent facial features, which–most notably–include 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 comical depiction, the cartoon version of Robert Pattinson undergoes a whimsical transformation. His facial structure becomes the focal point as his head shape is humorously distorted to emphasize the thinness of his face. To add an extra layer of humor, his already voluminous hair takes on a larger-than-life persona, playfully accentuating this characteristic. This cartoon funny twist on his appearance brings out the comedic side of his unique features.
Practice drawing your own facial expressions pronouncing ‘a,’ ‘i,’ ‘u,’ ‘o,’ ‘ae,’ and ‘m’ can be a fun and insightful exercise. As you delve into the world of creating these unique sounds, pay attention to the subtle changes in your facial features.
Whether it’s the rounded form of your lips forming ‘o’ or the surprised expression when you enunciate ‘ae,’ you’ll notice that each sound brings out different nuances in your facial structure. This practice is not only beneficial for improving your pronunciation but can also be a valuable skill for artists exploring cartoon character animation. Experimenting with oval shapes and exaggerated expressions can lead to delightful and expressive character designs.
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
- Rendering real people as cartoons using visual references
- Recreate drawings from a variety of artists so that you can test out different cartoon styles
- Turn a basic cartoon shape 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.
It is also important to familiarize yourself with the 12 principles of animation, which are indispensable guidelines for crafting convincing and captivating cartoon characters with a distinct animation style. You can gain valuable insights by examining interviews with experienced cartoonists, such as Sandro Cleuzo’s interview on Animation Techniques and Skills.
Learning how to incorporate cartoon backgrounds into your drawings can also add vitality to your artwork. If you are brand new to drawing cartoon characters, don’t worry; many people use online tools to convert photos into cartoons before attempting to create their own hand-drawn pieces. 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!
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