Mona Lisa’s smile has captured the imagination of millions of viewers, showcasing the importance of the mouth in a work of fine art. After the eyes, the mouth is perhaps the most expressive feature of the face, and is fundamental to convey the feelings of the individual.
For more detailed guidance on accurately drawing expressive faces, check out the online class Drawing Facial Features with Gary Faigin, who goes into depth on the technical and structural elements behind perfectly drawn portraits.
Portrait of Charlotte by Sandrine Pelissier; oil dry brush technique
Follow these step-by-step instructions for drawing lips accurately:
Before going into the details of drawing the lips, here are a few tips to help with their placement on the face:
- The bottom lip is usually at the same height as the angle of the jaw.
- The outer corners of the closed mouth are in vertical line with the inner corner of the iris.
- The central line of the mouth, also called aperture, will be roughly situated at 1/3 of the distance between the bottom of the nose and the chin line.
Step 1: Drawing the aperture line
The first step is to draw the line of the aperture. It is not a straight line, so it’s important to pay attention to its specific curve.
To start, I drew three vertical lines: two for the width of the lips at each outside corner and one at the center line. As the head is tilted in this example, the center line is not in the middle but at about a 1/3 – 2/3 location. Very often that aperture line will be the darkest part of the mouth.
Note: There are a few differences when drawing male lips and female lips — the central line is often more defined on women’s lips that on men lips. Men lips tends also to be thinner with a less defined outline. For this example, I am drawing female lips.
Step 2: Placing the main masses
The upper lips can be divided into three masses and the lower lips into two masses. Here, I did roughly draw the masses of the lower and upper lips. The depression above the mouth is called the cupid bow.
Step 3 : Philtrum shade and placement of nodes
The crease between the upper lips and the nose is called the philtrum. Here, I am outlining the cast shadow on the philtrum.
I am also adding more details, such as the small depressions at the outside corners of the mouth, which are the nodes. I find that the best way to think about nodes is to think about a doughnut’s shape. Because the mouth is from a 3/4 view point, the node on the left side is in perspective.
Step 4: Lip creases
Step 5: Shading the lower lip
Still working on the shading; the lower lip did catch some cast shadow from the upper lip.
Step 6: Shading the upper lip
The top lip is usually a bit darker if the light source comes from the top because of the cast shadow. Here, my light source was on the left.
The edge of the upper lip is a flat area that will often catch the light — you see it on this drawing on the right side.
Step 7: Shadow under the lower lip
Most of the drawing was made with an HB pencil, but for the last stages of shading, I did use a 4B so I could make the dark areas darker and add more contrast. The shadow under the lower lip helps define the volume — that shadow is usually darkest at the center. Very often, the upper lip is overlapping the bottom lip and you can see it in the central part.