Learning how to draw a smile can be a more complicated task than anticipated. Indeed, facial expressions can be very complex. You can read a smile as being friendly while your colleague can read a different message. It's all a question of perception and context. Below are seven fun examples that demonstrate how a smile can be interpreted differently from various people.
Simple Subtle Smile
The first smile we are studying is a simple version that is not too exaggerated nor too hidden. It could be described as a polite smile giving to a stranger that cross your path. No teeth are visible and everything seems normal.
This one is definitely not that difficult to illustrate. A few lines are used to create both lips and a few basic colors are added inside both shapes. The upper lip is slightly more challenging to create than the bottom one. This facial expression is pretty common and can be used in multiple situations for those who are creating comic strips with basic cartoon characters.
A Larger Smile, But Still Subtle
This second version is also interesting. The smile is pretty similar to the previous one. Indeed, only lips are visible and all teeth are hidden. Once again, the mouth is closed and the emotion is still quite subtle. However, this time there are no doubts that the character is smiling.
A few simple lines were added on both sides of the smile to illustrate the cheeks. Both ends of the lips are also higher compared to the previous version. This character is definitely not laughing out loud, but he is certainly enjoying something. That's the fun aspect of creating subtle expressions ... they can mean a lot of things depending on who is reading your work.
A More Original Approach
This third version is also interesting. In this illustration, the right side of the illustration is slightly higher than the left part. Once again, the effect is quite subtle, but the meaning is even more mysterious.
Is the character happy? Suspicious? Filled with bad intentions? Of course, if this facial expression is used in a comic book, then the answer would be related to the context of the situation. This smile is definitely intriguing and could mean a lot of things when presented to an audience without any context. One thing is sure, it didn't take much to change the whole signification of a smile when comparing all previous versions to this one.
Exaggerating The Effect
This smile is pretty much the same one as the previous version. However, the lips are wider on both sides. While the previous smile was mysterious, intriguing and kind of suspicious, this one is definitely frightening.
It's hard not to conclude that this cartoon character is filled with bad intentions. It's funny how a smile can project happiness when drawn in a certain way and madness when filled with different properties. I'm not sure whether this character is good or evil, but I would probably be suspicious looking at a smile like this one. Now that we have studied smiles with closed mouth (and no teeth showing), let's try a different approach ...
A Wide Smile With An Open Mouth
This smile is a duplicate from the second version found above, only this time a few teeth are visible and the mouth is slightly opened. We can only see a small portion of the teeth, but the smile is still pretty convincing.
This smile could be made while the character is talking to someone. It could also be presented as a simple expression of joy. Since both eyebrows are straight, the character can also look slightly evil. Speaking of eyebrows, it was my intention all along to keep the same ones from one drawing to another. It's hard to compare smiles if other parts of the body like the eyes, the eyebrows or the jaw are modified.
More Teeth Showing, Bigger Smile
This version is also interesting. For the first time the tongue is visible. The smile is not larger than the previous one, but the mouth is wide open. This character really seems to be enjoying the current situation.
For the first time since we are studying these smiles, the upper lip is nearly touching the nose. In fact, the bottom part of the head is almost entirely covered by the mouth. Of course, this expression too can be confusing. Is the character really happy or just completely mad? It's hard to say without context. Only one last expression remaining and this one is visually even more impressive ...
Show Me Your Teeth
Once again, the size of the mouth is exactly the same as the previous version. This time, all teeth are visible. The tongue is hidden behind all teeth and this facial expression cannot be labeled as being subtle. It's simply too exaggerated.
As for the emotion depicted by this expression, it's hard to tell. The character is either extremely happy or nuts. A large smile with all teeth showing is quite impressive. Learning how to draw a smile that is effective also means making sure that all details are perfect. Indeed, all these examples are a good proof that you can have an emotion in mind, but still come up with something that doesn't reflect what you had in mind in the first place.
Learning how to draw a smile can be easy once you are familiar with the notion of context. Of course, getting the perfect facial expression can be challenging and might require a few adjustments. Indeed, it's not always easy to portray a subtle emotion using only a few basic lines. Have fun experimenting and don't hesitate to use references when needed. ;)
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