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Expressing emotions through cartoons.

In my high school Art I course, I encourage students to experiment with basic cartooning techniques. Because it's a very non-threatening style, I use it early in the course.

Creating Original Characters

First of all, I try to help students move beyond using characters created by someone other than themselves. Many students can easily create characters from their imagination. For others, I provide a handout filled with sample cartoon noses, eyes, mouths, etc. to choose from, mixing and matching to create at least five original characters.

After they have filled their 9 x 12" (23 x 31 cm) drawing paper with several characters, they are instructed to choose the one they like best and go on to the second part of the project.

Using the character they invented, they are to draw that character's face sixteen times with sixteen different expressions. It can be very challenging to draw a character several times and have it look like the same character every time.

Books like Cartooning the Head and Figure by Jack Hamm are an excellent resource. As a model learner, I have created an example of my own in which I invented my own character and did this part of the assignment myself. As the students begin to attempt drawing their own characters, I guide them by pointing out the devices cartoonists use to represent various emotions.

Drawing a Humorous Scene

Of course, not everyone is ready to start turning out gag panel cartoons or comic strips but most are usually confident enough to draw a cartoon scene that is humorous.

For the last part of the assignment they are instructed to choose one of the sixteen expressive faces they drew and draw a whole cartoon scene that explains that emotion. For example, if their character has an angry expression, they are to use other characters, backgrounds, and details that explain why that character is angry.



Create artworks that use organizational principles and functions to solve specific visual arts problems.


Hamm, Jack. Cartooning the Head and Figure. New York: Berkley, 1983.

Sarnoff, Bob. Cartoons and Comics. Worcester, MA: Davis Publications, Inc., 1988.

Andrew Wales is an art teacher at Athens Area High School in Athens, Pennsylvania.
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Title Annotation:high-school art
Author:Wales, Andrew
Publication:School Arts
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 1, 1997
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