Learn to Draw Cartoon Faces With Simple Shapes

Boy Drawing Cartoon Person
Teresa Short/Getty Images

Anyone can learn how to draw cartoon people with a ton of expression in their faces. It's just a matter of breaking it down into a few simple shapes that you already know how to draw.

In this tutorial, you will learn how to mix and match hair, features, and accessories to create your own unique cartoon characters. We'll guide you through the fundamentals of facial proportion, the basic shapes that give your character expression, and the simple lines that can take a face from happy to sad and angry to just plain cool.

Simple Lines and Shapes, That's It!

begin drawing cartoons with simple shapes
Shawn Encarnacion

Do you still think it's going to be too hard? Check out these simple shapes and practice copying a few.

Can you draw these basic shapes? Can you draw lines that are straight, slanted, curved, or curly? How about lines with simple angles? These are all you need to be able to create your own cartoon characters. So let's get started.

Grab a piece of paper and a pencil, and let's draw!

Face Proportions of a Cartoon Character

Face Proportions of a Cartoon Character
Shawn Encarnacion

Let's take a moment to think about proportion. Because we're drawing cartoons, we don't have to worry about it too much, but using some standard proportions will help your drawings look good.

The first thing we need to know is that faces are basically built on crossed lines that keep things fairly balanced from left to right and top to bottom. On the left is a typically proportioned face as in real life. On the right is a cartoon face. See how they're similar?

Notice that the eyes are about halfway down the face, the nose is another quarter of the way down, and the mouth is also another quarter of the way down from the nose. Keep these in mind and your cartoons will maintain a well-balanced face. 

Try drawing an oval and marking the guidelines in, to help you remember.

Faces Are Just a Bunch of Shapes

Cartoon Faces Are Shapes
Shawn Encarnacion

Cartoon characters are fun because you can change up so many shapes and sizes. Before we get to those possibilities, let's look at the elements that make up that basic head we saw a moment ago. This is kind of like math, but it's really fun math!

You can see that this math isn't too complicated if you add just a little at a time. Notice how each step is nothing more than adding a very simple shape, line, or curved line. With just five basic shapes, this guy has a complete face and that's really all we'll be doing as we move forward.

Shape Combinations Create Personality

Creating Personality in Cartoon Faces
Shawn Encarnacion

What makes a cartoon character different than a realistic drawing of a person? It's all about exaggeration and combinations. Simple shapes and sizes are mixed up to best represent the type of character you want to create.

The line in the cross that goes vertically is best left in the center, but the lines that go left-to-right can be raised and lowered. The shapes can change size too. As you can see, with each new combination our character takes on an entirely new personality.

Mix and Match Features

Mix and Match Cartoon Faces
Shawn Encarnacion

There are all kinds of combinations you can make. You can start by changing the shape of the head. Real life heads may be oval shaped, but cartoon heads can have many shapes, including squares, rectangles, and triangles. Try changing the shape of the noses too. Each shape gives a different look with a unique personality.

Funky Cartoon Hairstyles

Cartoon Hairstyles
Shawn Encarnacion

Now that you know the basics of drawing a cartoon character, we need to give them some style. These guys need hair and you are the stylist.

Your choice of lines and shapes is endless and they don't have to be complicated. Keep it simple, but use your imagination, too. A few curls, a spike, or a little length in the back, you can really add pizzazz to the drawing with this simple element.

Add Accessories and Facial Hair

Cartoon Accessories and Facial Hair
Shawn Encarnacion

Accessories and facial hair are usually made of simple shapes too. Notice how a mustache is just a dark semi-circle with a curved scallop pattern and the full beard is nothing more than coloring in the guy's entire chin. Sunglasses can be two squares or circles with a connecting line and ball cap is a set of three half-ovals.

The key to adding accessories is to simplify the shape. We're not going for realism, just the fundamental shape and that's why cartoons are so fun and easy to draw.

Giving a Girl Facial Features

Girl Cartoon Features
Shawn Encarnacion

What about female cartoon characters? They are made into different shapes much like the male characters. One big difference is in the eyes because girls often have big eyelashes. You'll also notice that these ladies have lips while the guys didn't.

The faces of female cartoon characters are often softer than the male faces. Notice the triangular face on the right. The bottom lines are curved and this helps her look more feminine. The same effect applies to the square-shaped face.

That Girl Needs Hair

Cartoon Girl Hairstyles
Shawn Encarnacion

Time to be the stylist for your cartoon girls. Just like with the guys, make new combos of hair and accessories for your female cartoon characters and feel free to give her a nose job. Try different hairstyles with one character until you have her just the way you like.

As you might expect, cartoon girls have more hair and more options for styling it. While it may look overwhelming, they're just a series of lines. Break down each style and try to replicate one line at a time while you practice. Also, remember that she is a cartoon, so the funkier her hair, the better.

Eyebrows for Expression

Cartoon Eyebrows
Shawn Encarnacion

Now to change expressions. This is mostly done by changing three things: eyebrows, eyelids, and the mouth.

First, let's look at what happens when we change up the eyebrows. Notice that the eyebrows are just a pair of simple lines curved or pointing in different ways. It's amazing how changing these lines completely transforms the character's expression. Happy, puzzled, angry, sad...it's all dependent on two lines!

Using Eyes and Mouths for Expression

Expressive Cartoon Features
Shawn Encarnacion

If you thought a lot was possible with the eyebrows, look at how cartoon eyes and mouths can dramatically change your character. Again, it's a matter of simple shapes that anyone can draw. By combining these basic elements in various ways, you can create all kinds of very different expressions.

Girls Can Be Expressive, Too

Cartoon Girl Faces
Shawn Encarnacion

Similar combinations of basic shapes work for your girl cartoon characters. With a single change of the eyes, she can go from surprised to cunning or from delighted to sly. Just like our faces tell people a lot about us, your cartoon's expression can speak volumes.

Practice on your own and see how many different expressions you can create with different combinations of simple eyebrows, eyes, and mouths.

The Cartoon Combos Are Endless

Cartoon Face Combinations
Shawn Encarnacion

For cartoon characters, the combinations are endless, just like the possibilities! Mix and match until you are comfortable making your own characters. With practice, you'll be combining simple shapes to create fun caricatures in just a few minutes. You can even practice with your family and friends, using them to inspire you and capture their personalities in full cartoon style.