Draw and paint subtle emotions
John Stanko gets the most out of facial expressions.
Facial expressions can be one of the most powerful tools for any fantasy illustrator. A mantra often repeated in illustration is, “If you can paint hands and faces you can be successful,” but just painting pretty faces isn’t enough. You need to be able to capture subtle emotions to create believable characters that help tell a visual story. A well-painted facial expression can give a unique insight into a character’s personality. It can tell us if they’re determined, angry, sad, a bit crazy and so on. Just as great facial expressions can take a painting to the next level, a poor or illconsidered expression can ruin a piece of art just as easily. How many times have you seen a beautiful painting only to notice that the main character has a blank look, or worse, an shield maiden trying to look sexy in the middle of a battle? The facial expression should help advance the overall storytelling of the image. No matter how well a face is rendered, if it doesn’t fit the setting or tell the story, it won’t work. If it’s a battle then the character should look like they’re fighting, not posing for a photo.
In your next painting, take some time to ask yourself, “What’s this character thinking?” Then try to capture that look though facial expressions.