Cartoon Sketching: Identifying emotions

My Action Sketching Blog discusses how cartoons (outlines) are used to draw difficult-to-see body motion. This blog, Cartoon Sketching, discusses how to create cartoons for use in comedy and fantasy.

The commonality between all funny and fantastic art is showing character emotion, be those characters realistic, abstract, crude, a life-form, or mechanical. That emotion is shown through a face of some type, usually depicted through the eyes, eyebrows, and mouth.

If you have not yet started cartooning, I recommend you study words that define emotions, such as in the list below:

Emotions and Perceptions: Admiration – Adoration – Aesthetic Appreciation – Amusement – Anxiety – Awe – Awkwardness – Boredom – Calmness – Confusion – Craving – Disgust – Empathetic pain – Entrancement – Envy – Excitement – Fear – Horror – Interest – Joy – Nostalgia – Romance – Sadness – Satisfaction – Sexual desire – Sympathy – Triumph

Next, make a series of simple facial drawings upon which you can test your emotion-depicting skills. Rather than laboring over character development, consider making one simple face, multiply it, then print it out for practice sessions. Here’s an example:

Creating emotions on cartoons - blank faces

Make several copies! Next, take a few copies, draw in eyeballs in every position possible.

Creating emotions on cartoons - blank faces with eyeballs

Analyze what each set of eyeballs tells you about the character in terms of emotion and intent. Label the drawings with your observations, and then duplicate these pages for the next step.

Draw eyebrows on your previously finished pages. Take time to reflect on how much eyebrows changed the meaning of each “face.”

Creating emotions on cartoons - blank faces with eyeballs and eyebrows

Duplicate of your eyeball-only faces and add mouths. Again notice how much you changed meaning.

Creating emotions on cartoons - blank faces with eyeballs, eyebrows, and mouths

Note that each element you randomly add changes the expression.

Depict Specific Emotions:

Next, start from scratch with plain eyeball-less faces and see how many drawings you can make for each emotion listed at the beginning of this article. As you draw, you’ll understand expressive patterns that you can use in your serious art as well as for your comic work.

Keep your drawings simple, but practice as much as possible. Ask friends to respond to your work by telling you what emotions they see in your drawings. The more they “get it,” the more confident you’ll become with your own drawing, observational, and expressive skills!

Creating emotions on cartoons - demonstration of a cartoon soliciting a response



This article was written by Karen Little as part of an ongoing series of blogs on Action Sketching. Published on January 10, 2020.

Reproduction of this article is free to non-commercial websites (or other media) with permission and attributes to and the article’s author.

All material on Littleviews (with noted exceptions) is copyrighted on the date of publication.

Questions? Ask Karen Little at

Please Support Our Mission:

We encourage people to participate in sketching, whether by themselves or in groups, knowing that what they sketch reveals the truth about form and motion.

Shop at our online store,, for originally designed merchandise.