Top tips for drawing expressions! Part 5 – Gentle smile

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 a gentle smile, called “hohoemi” in Japanese. It’s a subtle kind of smile where the mouth doesn’t open too much, but the warm expression usually reaches the eyes. It’s the kind of smile that will put people at ease, like a proud parent smiling at their children.

Let’s learn how to draw this expression in our work!

A gentle smile

By having the character smile without opening their mouth or eyes too wide, we can show a more gentle, relaxed smile. This is a slightly different smile to when a character is super excited or laughing – it’s a less extreme emotion, but equally important to learn. This kind of gentle smile is warm and genuine, and we see it all over the character’s face – in their eyes and cheeks as well as their mouth. The character gently raises the outer corners of their mouth into a smile, which pushes up the cheeks and eyes too, and the eyes are squeezed upwards, so they aren’t as wide open as in a more excited expression. These narrowed eyes help to add to the relaxed, friendly nature of the smile.

Depending on how much the character is smiling, sometimes we see the eyes totally closed, and forming gentle upward-curving arches.

Front view

Point 1

Have you ever seen someone smiling without the smile really reaching their eyes? The most genuine, kind smiles tend to affect the whole face, so having the character narrow their eyes just a little makes for a kinder, more genuine smile!

Point 2

Making the mouth wider and not opening it too much will make for a relaxed, gentle smile. (A taller, narrower wide open mouth tends to show more extreme emotions like excitement or laughter, so we don’t use that here).

3/4 view

Side view

Low view

High view

Practical techniques

Point 1

Lowering the outer corner of the eye, and raising the bottom eyelid will give a loving, kind expression to the eyes.

Point 2

Another technique we often see in manga is having the character tilt their head whilst looking up with those kind, loving eyes. This head tilt really adds to the cuteness of the whole pose, and makes it softer and more friendly.

Here’s another type of smile we often see in young boy “shounen” characters, or friendly tomboyish girls. By showing the teeth in a grin, slightly raising the corners of the mouth, and giving the bottom eyelid this curved shape, we get this boyish, innocent, friendly expression.

There we have it! I hope these explanations and reference images will prove helpful to you in your work! Smiling is one of the most basic and most used expressions in manga and anime, so we’re sure you can put them to good use in your artwork. Good luck!

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Top tips for drawing expressions! Part 6 – Intense crying