How to create something scary–visually
How to create a scary visual effect in your artwork...what makes a drawing scary? Here are some tricks to make that happen.

Do you want to know how to draw a scary drawing? Well, what makes art visually scary? As humans, we seek comfort in the familiar. Our brains are designed to notice when something is “off.” Therefore, whenever we encounter something truly foreign to what we may perceive as “natural,” we automatically begin to feel uncomfortable, even scared.

I always tell my children that if there is something that scares them, they should learn more about it. Whether that scary thing is their classmate’s odd habits, or the structure of the roaches that crawl in the walls, challenging ourselves to understand the nature of something that is different is a key way to make it less scary.

So, if you are trying to create something that is visually scary, whether fine art or Spooky Season Marketing imagery, the best way to go about it is to create something that will make your viewer uncomfortable by its very oddness, its very differentness if you will. Here are some tricks to make that happen.

How to draw visually scary art in 3 easy steps

Unnatural Distortion

An easy way to create a scary feeling of “wrongness” in your drawing is to take an ordinary object and distort it in an unnatural way. Think of the abnormally long fingers of the creepypasta Slenderman or Nosferatu. Our minds recognize when something is mostly normal, but just a little bit off, so that we can recognize the wolf in sheep’s clothing, so to speak.

Removing or changing facial features

Pivoting off of the distortion concept, you can easily draw something scary by removing parts of an object, or putting them somewhere where they usually wouldn’t be found. For instance, consider the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth, or the Doctor Who episode “The Idiot’s Lantern.” In each of these instances, the artists have removed pieces of the characters’ faces, placed them elsewhere, or entirely erased them. It makes for some pretty creepy feels.

Disparate meshing

Finally, meshing two disparate things together really rubs us the wrong way as humans. We’re uncomfortable when we see the discarded clones of Ripley in Alien: Resurrection. Or when we see the spliced together side show gaffs of carnivals long past. The classic drawing art party game Exquisite Corpse creates a scary result by default because contributors don’t have enough visual clues to what the previous person has drawn. It reminds us of the age-old warning not to play God. Not to make new life. Not to Frankenstein things together lest we get a monster.

Combine these 3 drawing concepts to create visually scary art

Throw these three principles together. Then, add some teeth, some smoke, and some other classically scary items, and you have yourself a frightening image.

Sweet dreams!

More articles