20 August 2000


YouCanDraw.com's Insiders Communique


In this issue: 

1) Re-introducing an age old technique: The drawing grid - using the 
lips and teeth as an example.


Hi Everybody!

A member recently hinted to me that she might be having a hard time drawing 
lips and teeth. Lips and teeth can be complicated and "motion" is the key 
word here. More so than any other part of the face the mouth moves. It's 
constantly changing when we talk, change expression, or even have a tiny 
mood change. The musculature around it, the teeth that you see, all the 
different lines and creases that come from all that moving around, they 
change and it gets complicated! So it's easy to get bogged down in the detail.

Anatomy: very briefly - because we've covered this before

The first thing to remember about the mouth is it's built on a 
cylinder: the lower set of teeth are set in a semi-circular pattern that 
match the shape of the upper row of teeth - which are set in the maxilla in 
a - guess what? semi-circular fashion. (Actually, both upper and lower teeth 
have horseshoe shape but the part that influences what you see and draw, 
i.e. the teeth at front of the mouth, they're arranged in a semi circle.) 
The lips wrap right over this understructure.

The Campbell's Soup Can

One way to think of the lips and teeth is if they were pasted up against 
a can of Campbell's soup the same way the red and white Campbell's wrapper 
is glued to the can. And this is probably another reason why they get so 
hard to draw: you have to deal with three full dimensions. 

There's a lot of curving on that cylinder too so you need to pay special 
attention to the subtle changes in perspective, proportion, and contouring. 
And just when you think you're getting that, you start noticing all the 
constantly changing shadows and highlights over the ever-changing lips. Now 
you got yourself a real headache! And this is the great trick of drawing: 
observing and capturing a resemblance of all that change, collapsing the 
three dimensions of real objects on to the two dimensions of drawing paper. 

So I don't think this member wanted another anatomy lesson*, or anything too 
long winded on what drawing is. But what I'd like to give her and you is a 
mini-refresher on a technique that helps make the complicated LESS 

The Drawing Grid 

Here's a technique you can utilize for managing complicated shapes. 
Allow me to re-introduce the drawing grid here. What's a drawing grid? It's 
just what it sounds like. It's a grid - a pattern of squares that you both 
view your subject through, and draw on. You have the exact same proportioned 
grid pattern duplicated on your drawing paper - the same pattern, square for 
square that's covering your original picture. 

This in effect breaks the larger, more complicated picture into smaller more 
manageable parts. You begin with one square, employ what you know about 
positive forms (i.e. the shape you're drawing), negative space (i.e. the 
shape of the area around the positive from), with what you know about shared 
edges and contours, you judge all the angle relationships within that 
square, and you squint at the areas of complicated shadows until you see a 
shape arise out of the mess of smaller, more subtle shapes and contours. 

Let me demonstrate. There's a series of 5 pictures below. (If you have one 
of the free email services, it's possible the pictures might get removed - 
not to worry, they'll soon be uploaded to the Insider's artist Loft.) Look 
at the pictures in the order they've arrived.

Picture 1: 

This a close up of lips and teeth. It's a fairly complicated picture at 
first glance. Lets do two things to it. First we'll add a grid overlay to it 
and second we'll collapse some of that detail into more abstract shapes. But 
go ahead, look at the first picture.

Picture 1

Picture 2: lip teeth and grid

OK, back? Now look at picture two - the gridded picture. Run your eye around 
the inside of each of the smaller boxes. Look at the middle box on the top 
row. Notice how the horizontal line coursed right through the big front 
tooth? Ask yourself how much of that square does that rounded shape of 
the tooth occupy? Look at the "negative space" of the gums. (They're 
considered "negative space" in this instance since they're "non-tooth" shapes. 
Thinking of them as "non-teeth" forges a little opening in your brain to 
think of the gums as a whole separate shape different from the teeth. You 
can do this perceptual switching around with any shape.) 


Picture 2

Look at shape of the tooth just to left of the BIG tooth - how wide is the 
little tooth in comparison to the big tooth? At what angle does the top line
of the little tooth intersect the big tooth? It kind of arches right into it, 
doesn't it? Now ask these same kinds of questions about all the rest of the 
shapes within that one small square. After that, work your way around the rest
of the squares. Tedious? Yes, but much more manageable than attacking the 
whole shape at once. (Remember the upside-down cowboy in lesson 3? He was 
broken up into nine smaller pictures. It's the exact same principle here.) 

Your assignment

Print out all the pictures. Picture number three is a grid of the exact same 
proportion as the grid you see over picture 2. If you choose to accept your 
mission, you're to redraw the lips and teeth inside the grid just as you see 
it in picture number two. Do this 4 or five times - you'll start seeing tooth 
and lip relationships as familiar and as less complicated. This happens any 
time you do lots of repetitious ground work - you start to recognize the 

Picture Three

Picture number four

In this picture, you'll see a version of the lips and teeth with all the 
extra shadow shapes collapsed into one color. This will be pretty close to 
what the very first picture of lips and teeth (picture 1), will look like if 
you squint. Try it - you'll see all that confusing detail disappear. In 
time, as you want to draw more detail, you just squint less and the detail 


Picture Four

Picture five - a lesson from skiing 

Picture number five is just a grid with less square - by using less squares, 
you're managing larger and larger areas of the picture at one time 
employing, building on all the skills you've been rehearsing, enlarging the 
"Gestalt" muscle (the fifth skill of drawing), in your brain where you 
almost look through the picture as you draw. You can eliminate the grid 
altogether in time. 

The "Graduated" Grid


This makes me recall a method ski instructors used some 
25 years ago - called the "Graduated Length Method" (or GLM). You started 
off on very short, easily controlled skis on very easy slopes and in period 
of a day or two, after you felt very confident on the shorties, you stepped 
up - i.e. graduated - to the next longer size. You did this 5 or 6 times 
until you worked your way up to full size skis. You'll know when you're 
ready to graduate. So go ahead and try drawing the same lips and teeth in 
the grid with the larger(and fewer), squares. 

No printer? No problem :-)

What, no printer? Here's a possibility: put some saran wrap right over your 
screen. Copy the grid pattern with a black magic marker. Now place or tape 
the saran wrap to a picture window in your house where there's lots of light 
coming through. Grab some thin paper (typing paper is usually just fine). 
Place that over the saran wrap and you'll instantly see you can trace the grid 
pattern with no problem. Even if your hand's a little shaky drawing the 
squares, the grid you draw will be close enough. Go back to your computer 
and draw the pictures as you see them. 

Going bonkers with grids 

Take any of the grids you've made or printed. Enlarge them 10%, 50%, 200% 
(at Kinko's or some place like that). They have the same proportions, so the 
final picture will look the same. You can use this approach on any problem 
shape you might be having. Blow up a picture of the problem part on a Xerox 
machine and draw on your own grid - just remember to make sure the grid you 
draw into matches the grid you have over the picture you're drawing. Of 
course, that's if you want to keep it realistic. You can distort the drawing 
grid any you want - and come up with some really crazy distortions.

Have fun with this! 

Note* Remember, you can go for all the detail you want later, but shoot for 
gleaning the overall shape. One way you can learn to recognize the "overall 
shape" is by drawing a whole gang of lips and teeth. Just pull out any 
anatomy book or see lesson 13 on lips and teeth and just start 
drawing them - over and over again.


Jeff K.

Kasbohm & Company's


Copyright, All rights reserved 1997

e-mail: jeffkaz@YouCanDraw