Drawing Emotions

Each new project an illustrator faces is different. But there’s something that remains constant in all of them, and it’s the need to transmit emotions and feelings that surround each element of a composition.

An emotion is a very intense feeling of joy or sadness derived from a fact, an idea or a memory. Emotions are intangible feelings, they are not quantifiable, nor are they material … they flow from various places.

So, how to draw them?

It may seem impossible, but there are methods that make an illustrator capable of transmitting if the subject of their work is happy, sad, tired, aggressive or anxious.

Depression Depression


Immersive feelings

To create an illustration that conveys emotion, feeling or creates a specific mood, we have to turn a two-dimensional drawing into an immersive piece.

Our goal is making this happening to those who see the drawing, so they can imagine themselves inside the scene, feel the character and become part of the story we want to tell.

I know it still seems impossible, and if you’re not an illustrator or don’t even draw for pleasure you will often ask yourself: how do I do it?

The illustrations we make at Sensa always try to empathize with the subject in the scene. It’s useful to ‘mimic’ the subject for a moment, to try putting ourselves under the skin and try to feel what they feel.

By feeling what we want to draw, with our own body expression, we’ll see everything we need to express it. Our attitude and our face will give us clues to capture the different emotions.


Getting inspired

This process starts long before you lift the pencil on the drawing board. Taking a look at the environment, everything that surrounds us, is vital to acquire the inspiration that’ll allow us to synthesize a certain emotion or a state of mind in a sketch.

When we talk about emotions or moods it’s inevitable to think about people.

As we have mentioned before, observing and studying the human behavior allows us to know our verbal and body language. As a result of this study, the ability to transfer what we see to our creation will take form.


The process

We start making a detailed sketch with paper and pencil.

Next, we move to the iPad, where we establish the bridge between analog and digital, which is the final format for our piece. There, we redraw the initial sketch to go step by step, eliminating elements and leaving only the essentials. The difficulty lies in being able to convey a feeling in a few strokes.

If we draw a face with a big smile it’s obvious that the illustration is talking about happiness.

What makes it a great composition is that you’re able to ‘guess’ that the character is happy without the need to see his face.

For example, if we look at the position of the head we can know if a person is sad, happy or relaxed. We don’t need to hear the tone of his voice, look for his smile or delve into his look.

The pose of his arms, the inclination of his trunk or the position of his legs also defines and describes the mood, the attitude and even the disposition of a person.

Relaxed vs depressed Relaxed vs depressed

But not only this, we must fine-tune the nuances very well because, as we see in the example, a few degrees of inclination in the head can mean either a depressed or a relaxed character.

Once this fundamental phase is over we’ll have achieved a pretty advanced drawing.


The final phase

The next and last phase is to move things into Illustrator, where we’ll draw the initial sketch and make the remaining adjustments that will result in the final piece.

Although it may seem otherwise, this is usually the slowest part of the whole process. Now it’s time to adjust strokes, create lines and clean shapes that tell us something.

Things that break a relationship Things that break a relationship

Illustrator also marks the time for another great feature of our illustration: color.

Color is a great tool to communicate and in many cases it’s the main channel for an illustration to speak to the public. Most of the times what we feel first coming from a drawing is color.

Together with the pose and body expression of the subjects, color and its treatment is fundamental.

Choosing the appropriate palette is key because of two reasons:

  1. Because we must choose the adequate colors to express the emotions we want to transmit.
  2. Because an attractive palette will draw the attention from the public.

Final thoughts

Observing what’s surrounding you, studying body language, making sketches until we find those strokes that express the feelings we look for, and choosing a beautiful color palette are the fundamental ingredients we use at Sensa to create emotional drawings.