Draw characters with a mix of emotions

Mixed character emotions

This crowd scene shows a full range of expressions

To show how to draw characters with mixed emotions I decided to draw a group of friends, who are gathered on a couch in front of a television to watch a horror film. The viewer won't actually see what's on the screen, and so this means that I can concentrate on developing the characters' different facial expressions, and not worry about what they’re actually watching.

I start by sketching mixed figure poses sitting on the couch. For the moment, I don't place too much attention on the anatomy and instead focus on the naturalness of their poses. When I'm relaxing at home my back is rarely straight, and my legs and arms are never folded – so why should my collection of characters be any different?

I place the television on the right because I anticipate that the painting will be seen from left to right, so that the viewer has plenty of time to take in the faces of the various characters.

Once I'm satisfied with their poses, I produce the final sketch and add various details to the environment: popcorn, a cat and a dog. I choose a night-time setting, because it fits well with the horror film choice.

Furthermore, the dark colours contrast nicely with the light that's coming from the television, and this will help me focus attention on the characters. I don't go into too much detail in the background because this could prove a distraction. Instead, I focus on their faces and paint their expressions.

01. Bored character

Mixed emotions

Tight, dropping features are a shortcut to looking bored

I paint the bored-looking character and I focus on her posture, which will communicate her state of mind. The character is holding her head with one hand. Her eyes must indicate disinterest, so I draw them half- closed and tight. A mouth with drooping corners is essential to show that whatever she's watching is not floating her boat.

02. Young couple

Mixed emotions

This couple's posture reveal their relationship

For the couple, I paint him sitting with his legs wide apart and calm facial expression. I paint his eyes open and mouth relaxed into a smile. But she's frightened and so I paint her huddled with her knees toward her chest and an arm holding on to his top. Her gaze must indicate anxiety, so I depict her hiding her head between her shoulders.

03. Concentrated viewers

Mixed emotions

Subtle tweaks make this man look engrossed rather than bored

Now I paint two characters who are interested in the film. The man is concentrating on the plot so I paint a neutral expression on his face but draw his torso bent toward the screen, as if he wants to see things more clearly. The woman is amused by the film so I paint her with a big smile, round out the cheeks and widen her eyes.

This article originally appeared in ImagineFX magazine issue 131.

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Sara Forlenza creates art for book covers, cards and RPGs. After many years using traditional media, she was introduced to the world of digital art.