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Smithereens, Post No. 8: Expressions!

Posted on by Rebecca Green


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Smithereens: [smith -uh-reenz] Plural Noun. 1. Small pieces, bits.
Smithereens are tiny pieces, fragments of a larger thing. In this series of blog posts, I share small slivers of my process, thoughts on materials, and insights into the larger world of illustration.  

A couple of years ago when I dove into the publishing world, I learned quickly how little I knew about character development. Not only did I have to draw a character consistently, but also to individualize and understand their range of emotions. This is unfortunately not something I learned in school so it’s been an interesting journey to find a way to convey expressions in my characters. Because the lines are so simple and sparse, every little nuance or tick can drastically change the entire mood and emotion of the situation. For this reason, it usually takes drawing the characters 6 million times before I start to see their personalities come out. Once that’s done, I can play more with their emotions.
The most valuable tool I can use to understand and convey emotion, is to feel it myself. 

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I think we all tend to do this when drawing emotion. It really helps to 'act it out'. (Good thing we spend a lot of time drawing alone, since we'd look rather odd weeping or looking vengeful while working (although now that I'm thinking of it, those are emotions that come up while making art too!) When I need to find the best stance, facial expression, etc. for an illustration, I literally just act it out while paying attention to my own body's instinctive actions. When proud, my chin goes up. When nervous, I shrink. When eager, my eyes open and my body moves forward.

Last night when I was drawing these next studies, I asked my husband to act out these emotions and he almost exactly copied my postures! Now, we're two in billions, and all humans have different ways of feeling emotions. For some, proudness might be quieter, fear might be running instead of freezing, eager might still look timid. It's our responsibility as illustrators to understand the characters enough to be able to accurately portray not how we would feel, but how they would feel.  

Besides body posture and color, one of my favorite ways to portray expressions is in the eyes and eyebrows. You can have the simplest lines and still put so much emotion into a face. Below are some examples of what can be down in just a few strokes!

Now that I have the hang of creating basic characters and emotions, my goals have shifted and expanded. In the future, I'd love to vary my character shapes, adding personality into their build. I'd also love to add more movement in my work, showing emotion through lines and layout, rather than having all of the focus be inside the character. I want people to literally get swept up in the emotion. I don't want to make you weep, but I want to make you weep! Make sense? 

What tools have you found helpful in creating dynamic characters and expressions? What's the hardest part of portraying emotion in your work? 

Alright guys! I hope this weekend is filled with all the best emotions and expressions.
Happy Friday and Happy Expressing!