How to paint the perfect scream

Top comic book artist Frazer Irving shares his top tips on capturing a truly terrified screeching face.

scream main image

This is pretty subjective, as all artists have their own ways of depicting screams – all the way from Edvard Munch to Jack Kirby. The types of scream can vary a great deal as well and, as an artist, you need to know the differences between a scream 
of fear as opposed to a scream of anger 
or perhaps of pain.

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It's not uncommon for a lazy artist to 
use the wrong expression for an illustration and cause much confusion in the reader, especially in comics. What I'll do here is take you through the process of how I constructed an angry scream for a comic which was all about the scream and the power behind it.

To do this I employed standard drawing techniques next to graphic elements, in much the same way that Munch used swirls to enhance his Scream painting. Remember though that even the most detailed-looking image is really still composed of the most basic elements, so the trick is to identify which aspects of the face convey the idea most effectively.

01. Back to basics

scream sketch

I started out with a rather basic sketch. This drawing is loose and rough in order to effectively capture and reflect the raw energy that's needed to drive the rest of the art. I always find that the initial stage of a drawing – whatever the tone, style or subject matter – provides the fuel for the final image, and so you mustn't hold back at all at this point if you want to capture that scream.

02. Add layers

scream 2

As per my normal method, I've traced the sketch onto a new layer. These lines refine the basic shape and the main features, framing the mouth with a beard and making sure that it reads as simply as possible. A lot of the raw energy from the original sketch is lost at this stage because of the simplicity of the black line, but this will all return as we progress to the final piece.

03. Shadow and Detail

scream 3

The next stage in the process is to block in some shadows on the subject's face. Extreme, dramatic lighting can be an incredibly valuable tool when you're trying to create a particular mood, and is especially useful when defining dramatic lines on the face. Here, I've chosen to use a side lighting in order to imply the conflict of emotion within 
the character.

04. Definition

scream 4

Wrinkles stemming out from the eyes are very important, and here I've exaggerated the lines on the forehead a little in order to enhance the anguish, as well 
as darkening the bridge of 
the nose to show the tension. These features capture the basics of the scream and, after this, all you need is the right colour and a background to 
set it off perfectly.

Artist's secret: Flip check tip

scream tip

Every artist leans to one side. Use the Edit>Transform>Flip Horizontal to flip your drawing and check that the lean isn't too extreme. A little's fine but you can spot major errors this way.

Words: Frazer Irving

Top comic artist Frazer spends lots of time drawing horrid-looking things on his Wacom Cintiq. He has worked for 2000 AD and DC Comics. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 42.

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