For the fourth part in our Know-How series on 'Character', illustrator Lana Le explains how she uses body language and composition to show emotion and relationships between figures in her artwork.

Drawing emotion is an important part of characterization and storytelling. It adds authenticity and helps the reader empathise with the character's situation. Both body language and facial expression help readers understand what the character is feeling.

When I draw emotions in my characters, I try to imagine I'm feeling that way too. How do I sit, stand or move my face when I'm happy, bored, or angry? For these sketches of a boy who has moved to a new home (above), I explored a few poses: his head is down, his arms crossed or hands tucked under his legs. I settled on the pose in the sketch below because I wanted him to look not only sad, but bored, suggesting that he doesn’t have any friends.

Composition is also a key element in communicating character, and plays a big part in reinforcing the character's emotions. This perspective makes the boy appear smaller, and his diminutive size in relation to the cat also suggests that he feels small, too.

The positioning of characters in relation to other elements in a scene also informs how readers interpret the image. Here, the cat is in the foreground, as though discovering the boy as he walks by and sharing that viewpoint with the reader.

In my sketch for The Ugly Duckling, the duckling is slightly detached from the others showing how he is ostracised in the story, or reflecting the way he feels about himself. I used an imaginary diamond shape to position the other ducks, leading the eye from the taller, elegant birds to the runty adoptee. It’s a visual suggestion that they’re a unit, but an unlikely family. Try experimenting with different compositions to create a scene that has direct emotional impact.

*Featured image: Lana Le


Lana Lê is an aspiring author and illustrator, currently working on a graphic memoir of her childhood Follow her on instagram.

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