How to Create Expressive Faces in Your Art

Drawing Expressive Faces | Mixed Media | Figure Drawing | Alex Powers | Artist Daily
Five of Us, 1996, mixed media painting with gouache, charcoal, pastel, and collage, 23 x 40. Collection The Franklin G. Burroughs-Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. All works by Alex Powers.

Express Yourself Through Art

When I was a kid, my mom always cut coupons on Sunday morning. I’d sit beside her and do the same. However, I’d flip through magazines and newspapers and cut out pictures I liked or lettering I thought was neat.

I never gave up my artsy coupon clipping habit because it’s a great way to pull inspirational images into my orbit. I can draw expressive faces by making composites of images that said what I wanted to say, or just use these images on their own as inspirations for my own drawing riffs.

Alex Powers and I are kindred spirits. The muses for his figure drawings and paintings are actually a mish-mash of his own snapshots, magazine photographs and newspaper tear outs, and even television images he draws.

However, Powers outpaces my “coupon” clipping in terms of creativity by also pulling from unusual sources, such as X-ray images of luggage from airport security monitors.

He takes his inspirations and often combines them with text that furthers the theme of the work or makes his ideas about the subject clear.

Drawing Expressive Faces | Mixed Media | Figure Drawing | Alex Powers | Artist Daily
New York Art, 2003, gouache, charcoal, pastel and collage drawing, 30 x 40.

5 Artful Tips for Dynamic Results

Almost always painting faces to convey his ideas, here are five pointers from Powers for drawing expressive faces:

  1. Render the figure nude or partially clothed. According to Powers, the body and face communicate much more than any costume can.
  2. Make eyes looking straight out of the painting or drawing.  This way, the eyes will follow the viewer as he or she walks back and forth in front of the art piece.
  3. Not everything is interesting. Powers doesn’t find the top of the head or flesh tones particularly intriguing. In fact, he often neglects to include the former; one stroke of local color is all he uses for the latter.
  4. Focus on what draws you in. Drawing expressive faces is all about finding the particular pull in every person’s mien, and capturing that in the art.
  5. Define one or two contours of the head. But try not to make those lines longer than other lines in the face to prevent the head from separating from the background. This way, all areas of the artwork take on power.
Drawing Expressive Faces | Mixed Media | Figure Drawing | Alex Powers | Artist Daily
Small Talk, 2000, gouache, charcoal, pastel, and collage drawing, 30 x 40. Collection Anne and Dr. Ronald Jarvis.

When it comes to creating expressive faces in mixed media, Powers’ methods are uniquely his own. Yet, I’ve learned so much from studying his process–much like I have by studying the approaches of Dina Wakley in her ArtistsNetwork.tv workshop, Expressive Faces: 10 Techniques for Mixed Media (video preview below).

In this instructional video, you can discover how to draw faces in in compositions filled with gesture, line and texture from an artist who still understands the power of visual lyricism. Enjoy!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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