Making Faces, Part I: Drawing Facial Expressions (June 2012)

This project had everyone laughing, but there was also anger, surprise and fear! That’s because the kids were learning how to draw faces expressing a wide range of emotions.

Gustav Courbet, The Desperate Man
Louis Léopold Boilly, Thirty Five Expressions’
Frans Xaver Messerschmidt, The Vexed Man


We started by looked at a few examples of paintings and drawings depicting exaggerated facial expressions, including Gustav Courbet’s Self Portrait, The Desperate Man (c. 1843–1845), and an engraving of Thirty Five Expressions by Louis Léopold Boilly, a French eighteenth century painter who specialised in caricature.

However, the artist who most impressed the children was the Austrian-German sculptor, Frans Xaver Messerschmidt (1736-1783), whose incredible ‘character heads’ portray extreme emotions in extraordinarily contorted facial expressions.

Many of Messerschmidt’s amazing carved heads can be seen in the Belvedere Museum in Vienna, and are worth a look if you’re interested!


Making Faces

Each child took their turn as our ‘artist’s model’. It was quite a challenge for them to hold an expression – happy, sad, angry, scared, surprised, tired and ‘in pain’ – while everyone else sketched.

We observed how our faces change depending on our mood or feelings – particularly the shape and position of our eyes, eyebrows and mouth.

For example, when we’re surprised our mouth makes a round shape, our eyes open really wide, and our eyebrows are raised (see left).


The kids did their drawings in a simple, bound sketchbook that I had prepared for each child beforehand. Just like real artists, they could keep their drawings for future reference.

The drawings were to be used as preparatory sketches for the next Art Club, when the children would make their favourite drawing into a clay sculpture head.

Please look out for my next post – Making Faces, Part II – to see how their Messerschmidt -inspired sculptures turned out.

To see more pages from the children’s sketchbooks, click through the gallery at the bottom of the page.



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