Top tips for drawing expressions! Part 1 – joy and laughter

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In this series of lessons, we’re going to be introducing various ways to make your characters’ expressions look more attractive and “manga”-like!

This time, we’re going to be focusing on positive emotions like joy and laugher. These facial expressions are ones that can make people feel relaxed and safe when looking at them, and they’re great to learn to show your characters in a positive light. Everyone loves to see a smile, right??

So let’s learn how to use them in our work!


Happy & joyful expressions

When someone is having fun or feeling joy, at first they will often raise their eyebrows and widen their eyes, in an expression that’s quite close to surprise. After that, the expression might mellow out, and we’ll see a happy smile and flushed cheeks. Which part of this you choose to capture in your work is up to you, and will change the overall atmosphere of the work. In manga, we’ll often see the corners of the mouth raise in an innocent happy expression.

Front view

Point 1

The effect around the character gives the impression that the character is “radiating” happiness

Point 2

Lowering the corners of the eyes and raising the corners of the mouth will help create a fun, happy expression

3/4 view

Side view

Low view

High view

Practical techniques

Point 1

If you have the character’s body language fit with their expression, this will maximise the effect!

Point 2

A musical note symbol is often used to signify a character is having fun (it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re singing!)


Laughing out loud

In Japanese, laughing out loud suddenly or uncontrollably is called “bakusho” and literally means “laugh explosion”! This explosion of laughter is without a doubt one of the biggest shows of joy and happiness we can make. In manga, we often want to really emphasise emotions to add to the humour or enjoyability of the scene, so learning how to draw characters laughing so hard they can barely stand it, will be very useful!

In times like this, an important point is to use “upset eyebrows” – this might seem strange, but it’s actually needed so that we can show the character is trying and failing to control their laughter – they’re close to tears and getting short of breath… it’s almost painful but they just can’t stop!

Front view

Point 1

Here we see the “upset eyebrows”, and the character also has tears in their eyes. They’re laughing so hard they’re almost in pain!

Point 2

The mouth is open super wide, as big and wide as it will go

3/4 view

Side view

Low view

High view

Practical technique

Point 1

Giving the character red cheeks will emphasise how much they are exerting themselves with their laugher

Point 2

When the mouth is open really wide, it suggests a lack of control – the character might be trying to keep control of their expression, but just can’t keep their mouth shut for laughing!


There we have it! I hope these explanations, and all the various reference images will prove helpful to you in your work! We can’t wait to see you get creative with all different smiling and laughing poses. Enjoy!


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