a wrinkle in time, part I: building characters with real story lines

The wrinkles on our skin are like words in a book: Each line tells a story. 

Wrinkles are more than just a product of aging; they are maps that guide us through an individual’s emotional history, genetic tendencies, and lifestyle habits.


Learning about wrinkles is useful for:

  • art
  • behavioral science
  • cosmetology
  • dermatology
  • plastic surgery
  • special effects makeup
  • and many other areas of study

Each field has its own motive for studying wrinkles, and as a consequence, each field has a unique contribution toward the overall understanding of wrinkle characteristics.

To gain a comprehensive understanding of wrinkle types and features, I pulled sources from cosmetology, dermatology, and plastic surgery journals. I leveraged these sources while examining portraits from photojournalist, Berke Arakli. I encourage everyone to venture into studies from other disciplines. Exploring information outside of your respective field will teach you more than you could ever learn from staying in your lane; it is enlightening.

WTF is a “wrinkle”?

While I was writing this piece, I started to question where to draw the line (lol) on what is considered a “wrinkle.” Funnily enough, 

The literature appears quite confusing because there is no consensus about the definition of such terms as wrinkle, rhytide, crinkle, crease, groove, line and furrow.

Despite the lack of consensus of what it means to be a “wrinkle,” I was able identify a few different wrinkle classifications. 

Dynamic and Static Wrinkles

There two are major types:

  • dynamic
  • Static

Dynamic Wrinkles

Dynamic wrinkles (also referred to as “dynamic expression lines”) are formed from repeated facial expressions. 

NOTE: There was also a discrepancy in the definition of “dynamic wrinkles.” Some sources claimed that dynamic wrinkles are only present during the formation of an expression but disappear once that expression is released. Other sources claimed that dynamic wrinkles referred to the formation of wrinkles over time caused by repeated expression movement. Due to the ambiguity in a definition consensus, I’m going to define dynamic wrinkles on my own terms.

Melinda’s dynamic wrinkle definition:
Dynamic wrinkles are wrinkles that appear on the face during expression-based movement. While they may begin as temporary lines (only existing during the expression), they often become permanently etched over time from repeated expression activation; thus, turning them into “static” wrinkles. The timing and depth of the etching will vary depending on a person’s skin type and lifestyle.


Static Wrinkles

Static wrinkles are wrinkles set in place on the skin with or without facial movement. They can be caused by: repeated expressions, gravitational forces, and loss of skin elasticity.

There are three subclasses of static wrinkles:

  • permanent elastotic creases
  • atrophic crinkling rhytids 
  • gravitational folds


During my philosophical journey into the semantics of the word “wrinkle,” I ended up learning way too much and realizing: This post will require a Part II. For Part I, I am going to focus on one class of wrinkles: dynamic wrinkles.


Dynamic Wrinkles for Dynamic and Static Characters

In art,  wrinkles should not be wasted as mere details used to make a character look real. Each line should be applied intentionally with mindful variations in depth.

For dynamic wrinkles in specific – because they are inherently caused by the expressions an individual makes repeatedly – they are especially pertinent to character stylization. You can use these lines to subtly illustrate a character’s personality. If you wish to create a character who is generally friendly and has lived a happy life, you may consider hammering in some cheek raiser and smile lines. If you want to create a kind but sad character, you may consider having  the same strong cheek raiser and smile lines as discussed for the friendly/happy character – but coupled with upper face wrinkle patterns reflective of sadness (i.e. wrinkles from inner brow raiser + brow lowerer).

By playing with dynamic wrinkle strengths and combinations, there are infinite ways to tell a character’s story – and that’s just covering the surface. (Pun intended.)

Examples From Berke Arakli’s Photojournalism

Berke Arakli is a Turkish photographer I’ve been following for years. He captures raw emotion in people from all walks of life. His editing style is very conducive to studying wrinkles, as Arakli often appears to amp up the sharpness and definition, further showcasing every fine detail in his portraits.

I have only chosen to review a couple of my favorite photos, but Arakli has many, many more amazing captures. Visit his page to view his full gallery.

The Warm Woman

Observe this woman’s beautiful face. She gives off a sense of warmth and kindness. Her dynamic expression lines are most prominent on her forehead, around her eyes, and along her mouth corners.

The Warm Woman‘s brow-based wrinkles are concentrated in the center of her forehead (blue lines). As the lines progress to the outer areas of her forehead (yellow lines), the wrinkle depth recedes. This pattern is similar to the wrinkle pattern for inner brow raiser (referred to as AU1 in the Facial Action Coding System). *** Inner brow raiser is an empathetic facial action, often used to express hope and understanding. When combined with brow furrowing muscles, it becomes a characteristic upper face expression for sadness. Since her brow furrow wrinkles (peach lines) seem relatively shallow in comparison, we can hypothesize her brow raising generally occurred without furrowing and was not a result of sadness.

The wrinkles around her eyes are indicative of repeated cheek raiser actions from orbicularis oculi contractions (lilac and dark pink lines) – especially the orbitalis section (the lilac lines) – as well as repeated lip corner pulling (light pink lines). Her eye and mouth wrinkle patterns show a history of joy.

The Warm Woman‘s inner brow raiserlike*** wrinkles combined with her eye and mouth joy lines work together to give her a warm, empathetic appearance.

I came across some research that explains the differences in wrinkle patterns for brow raising. While The Warm Woman‘s brow wrinkles are rounded and concentrated in the middle of her forehead (usually a sign of inner brow raiser), because the lines are quite long and span across a wide area on her forehead (not usually a sign of inner brow raiser), it is highly likely that she has a Type I frontalis muscle.

The Wise Man

Compare the differences between The Wise Man‘s brow wrinkle patterns and The Warm Woman‘s. The Wise Man’s brow wrinkles are fuller, with undulating humps*** and deeper lines on the outer parts of the forehead. Fuller lines are more typical of a full brow raise (both AU1 and AU2 occurring together). While full brow raising is an indicator of the surprise emotion, it is also a lot more common as a social expression to facilitate language and show engagement. Perhaps The Wise Man was a sociable person and an active listener.

Now observe The Wise Man‘s brow furrow wrinkles (red lines); they are deeper than The Warm Woman‘s. It seems The Wise Man may have spent more time knitting and lowering his brows. The furrow action is seen in anger; however, it is also extremely common when a person is confused, lost in thought, tired, unable to see, etc. Due to lack of visibility of The Wise Man’s lower face, we cannot use clues around his mouth to determine whether his brow furrowing was related to frequent displays of anger. #noshavenovember

Let’s assume he was a deep thinker – hence his name – “The Wise Man.”

As mentioned earlier, I came across some research that explains the differences in wrinkle patterns for brow raising. The Wise Man’s brow wrinkles span across his forehead with undulating peaks. He likes has a Type II frontalis muscle.

Closing Notes

As you can see, there are so many ways to paint a persona through subtle facial characteristics. Do not waste your wrinkles by applying them for the sake of realism. Apply them with purpose.

Other Notes

  1. While I focus on using wrinkles to extrapolate information and tell a story, I want to stress that dynamic wrinkles are no source of guaranteed knowledge. While someone may appear to have performed inner brow raiser throughout their life, such wrinkle patterns may also be a result of differences in facial morphology*** and genetics. My mother and I both have a tendency to raise our right outer brow. When either of us performs this action, it is usually not in the context of an emotional response; it is simply a quirk of our unique genetics.
  2. Stay tuned for Part II, where I will dive into even more wrinkle types!

2 thoughts on “a wrinkle in time, part I: building characters with real story lines

  1. Pingback: a wrinkle in time, part II: static forms – Face the FACS

  2. Pingback: faking aging in characters – Face the FACS

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