Damsels in DISTRESS
THE KEY CONCEPT: When depicting the facial expression of Distress, 90% of the information is contained in 15% of the face - the rest of the face and the body goes along for the ride.
When courtroom artist Mona Shafer Edwards sketched her now-viral drawings of two Hollywood actresses facing charges in the recent college admissions scandal, she couldn’t help but emphasize the contrast in their public demeanor. Lori Loughlin, the higher-profile of the two, had been given one day to return to LA from a shoot in Canada, and she had obviously chosen to preen for her day in court. In Loughlin's sketch, she seems to glare at the court with crossed arms and impeccable hair. By contrast, Felicity Huffman had been arrested and handcuffed at dawn the same day she appeared in court. Huffman was facing less serious charges but, in her courtroom sketch, she appears both distressed and understandably disheveled.
As a facial expression expert, I ask:
Was it the put-together look and locked arms of Loughlin that made her look so tough? And, was it the scruffy hair and carelessly-buttoned blouse of Huffman that contributed to her hangdog look?
Eyebrows and eyes carry the bulk of the emotional message in anger and sadness, and the mouth reinforces the message of the eyes. The rest of the context – clothing, hair, body language – is nowhere near as powerful in expressing a state of mind. To prove my point, I have produced a new version of Loughlin, crinkling her brows in a distress pattern, and pouting her mouth. Suddenly Loughlin’s carefully groomed look and determined arms are beside the point – she’s vulnerable, and on the verge of tears, an actress in distress.
Figure 7. Huffman, author-modified courtroom sketch to make her facial expression defiant and angry.
I rest my case:
With drawings of people, like these courtroom sketches, most of what we see is simply an accessory – it’s what the artist does with the eyes and mouth that carries their emotional state, not the clothing, hair style, or posture.
CREDITS: Figures 1, 2, 3 & 5. Courtroom sketches of Lori Loughlin & Felicity Huffman copyright Mona Shafer Edwards; Figures 4, 6 & 7. Modified courtroom drawings by the author.