Part II: Short section on Teeth

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Lesson 13: Lips and Teeth

Mic Jagger Close-up

1. The Lips

(New Stuff! 
-- make sure you check out this page in the "From the Top" section of the Archives: Drawing the Mouth and Lips

The lips are the most flexible and changeable part of the face. And being so flexible, they're sometimes difficult to draw. Still the idea in this lesson, as in all the lessons ion the this section, is to see through to the essential shape that is identifiable in everybody's lips. Whether laughing, gaping, or kissing, the main parts of the lips can be recognized.

By also recognizing the bony structure behind the visible anatomy you'll understand why Mic Jagger has such a toothy grin and full lips. (When I say "visible anatomy" I mean the surface and masses you see when your eyes first strike the outermost parts of a persons face - the parts covered by skin ) .

Study of the lips and nose

"Taped on a tin can"

Describing the Lips

How can we describe the lips? Well, lets just start with what we can see: The upper lip is wider than the lower lip. It's usually a little more prominent than the lower lip - though that's no hard and fast rule. They're deep red to pink to almost beige in color. They're soft and wet and "pulpy". If you squint your eyes you can make out an oval of sorts formed by the the lips below.

A close-up of the lips

Some authors like to approach the lips as part of stacked cylinders like you see in this very next illustration below. And why cylinders? Very good question. Mostly because the lips are strapped over the cylindrical shape of the bone behind them. This bone is called the "Maxilla". It's the upper jaw. (The lower jaw is called the mandible.) I'm going to try to convince you soon of that cylindrical shape.

"Stacked Cylinders"


2. The Bony Underpinnings

I'm sure you remember seeing those little jaw-sets at the dentist office - you know, the ones with the little spring at the corners of the mouth? (The dentist pulls them out right after he gets done scolding you about how you don't take care of your teeth "you're gonna have holes in your head"....well he scolds me anyway. Then he pulls out the brush and says "always brush towards the middle"...You gotta know what I'm talking about. Anyway, if you get the opportunity to get your hands on one of those for just a second, open it up. Look at the shape of the upper set of teeth. They'll look something like this:

The circular shape of the 
teeth and Maxilla

As you know, the lips are placed right over the teeth and maxilla. (Well you know this now if you didn't before) And since these are cylindrical in shape, (teeth and maxilla) the lips have that "taped around a tin can appearance". At least, that's how I want you to think of them in this lesson. Here's a better look at the actual bony structure:

The lower half of the skull

Here we're zeroing in on the maxilla - the roughly cylindrical bone containing the upper row of teeth - with an illustration highlighting the maxilla and teeth:

Zeroing in on the maxilla 
and teeth

And here's an old woodcut (copyright free by the way) that shows the same idea but in a more expansive context and viewed from underneath:

Can you identify the maxilla?

How about here?

"Blocked" masses of the head

In this illustration I've "blocked" all the major masses of the head (a la George Bridgeman style). In other words, I've abstracted them into basic geometric shapes. As you can see, the maxilla - the bone that contains the upper teeth, the base of the nose, forms the upper half of the inside of the mouth, houses a few of the sinuses and nasal septum - is represented as a cylinder, just like you've been seeing all along here.

(Let this illustration serve as an introduction to abstracting the other shapes of the head. Not to worry, you'll be getting lots of practice drawing the head like this in the upcoming section.)

3. Back to Lips 101

Picture A

So, when we get back to this picture, with the two wedges one over the other, you can see why the lips are drawn with a "cylinder" in mind. (Because they wrap around the maxilla. A little repetition goes a long way.) Also look at the "Blocked" illustration above and you can see again how an abstracted cylinder represents the maxilla accurately.

Now if all you were doing, was drawing a picture like "Picture A" above, you could more convincingly capture that 3-d cylindrical effect by curling or rounding the right and left edges of each section, i.e. by smoothly hooking them at their extreme ends - at their margins. In this picture I've sketched a little close-up of what I mean:

Getting that 3-d effect: 
curling the edges

Note the wedging of the 
middle of the upper lip

The first move in chiseling out lips in this illustration (just above) is to add a little "V"- shaped wrinkle to the upper lip: this is the precursor to the middle lobe of the upper lip.

Let's "morph" the lips a little more from the wedge-like configuration to get more real looking lips:

Enhancing the lips even more

Here (above) a little more "plumping" has been added to the middle of the upper lip and a "figure 8" like shape has been drawn into the lower lip.

Back to getting that "3-d" effect : in straight-on pictures of lips, the 3-d, cylindrical effect isn't so noticeable, but when you get into three-quarter views, this effect becomes much more important. Like this:

A Straight-on front view

Three-Quarter View

4. Getting into more detail: The Upper Lip

Lets break down the rather formless double wedge shape (like you see in the "Getting that 3-d effect" illustration above) into something, more recognizable an manageable.

The upper lip is broken up into three parts -

  • the central "v" - shaped part (with little side wings) highlighted in light blue in here:

Middle lobe of the upper lip

  • and two "cornucopia" shaped pieces, i.e. the two lateral lobes at the side (well roughly cornucopia-shaped. It helps me remember their shape):

Side lobes of the upper lip


Side view of the upper lip

In this side view you can see a different view of the sections of the upper lip. I've highlighted them in red in the following 2 pictures

Middle wedge or lobe

Side lobe

Go back to the original side view picture above ("Side view of upper lip"- just one illustration up) and see if you can't mentally color in the different parts of the lips.

The lower margin of the middle lobe of the upper lip wedges into the top of the lower lip. On it's middle top side, the upper lip is indented. This indentation on the top is the termination of the "philtrum" - the little canal shaped thing running from the bottom of the nose to the top of the lip.

Quite often the philtrum is wet on little kids and provides a secondary source of hydration. (Sorry, bad joke.) In plain vernacular English, the philtrum has been called the various things like "booger canal" - I only mention that because I want you to know what I'm talking about. (If this lowers the level of these lessons, let me know and I'll remove this. If you have additional slang you'd like to contribute, email me.)

5. The Lower Lip

The lower lip is made up of - again - three lobes - the middle part being the largest. The upper lip settles into the central groove of the middle lobe of the lower lip. Here's a lower lip with the middle lobe highlighted:

Middle lobe of lower lip highlighted

Here's a three quarter view

By default, you can see the shape of the side lobes in this three- quarter view picture above. (They aren't shaded and they're part of the lower lip.)

Side lobes highlighted

Here the side lobes of the lower lip have been shaded. Compare this picture and the one directly above. It's a little arbitrary where "side" and "middle" lobe start and stop, but if you look at enough lips you'll begin to distinguish the two.

Lower lip middle lobe and "figure 8"

To me the middle lobe of the lower lip reminds me of a horizontal "figure 8". So try thinking of a sideways figure "8" when you look at the lower lip.

We could go on and on in any of these lessons, but I think you now have a firm foundation in recognizing the parts of the lips and more than enough to learn in drawing them.

5. Quick review of the lips:

  • Both lips have three parts: one middle lobe and two side lobes.

  • The three lobes of the upper lobe are approximately equal in width with the middle lobe being the thickest, i.e. the plumpest.

  • The middle lobe of the upper lip is "V-shaped"

  • the middle lobe of the lower lip dominates the lower lip; it's got something of a "figure 8"-on-it's-side shape.

Your Assignments

And, as is customary now, you'll approach each lesson using Betty Edwards well-gleaned tools for shifting you directly into the artistic mode of your very own brain.

Do you recall the different methods you've been using to access "R-mode" (the artistic mode of the brain)? If you need to look anything up for review's sake, here's a very quick listing:

1. Pure Contour

2. Modified Pure Contour

3. Upside-Down Drawing

5. Negative Space Drawing

6. Vase/face drawings

A note on the links in this section. All of the links here (blue underlined text) are links to a previous section you've probably seen several times - especially if you've been doing all the exercises one by one. A quick glance will probably be enough to refresh your memory.

So, going through each of these methods,
here's what I want you to draw

(you'll be drawing from the samples below the assignment - scroll down and you'll see them; also remember all the references you need should be in the links just above: )

Pre-drawing warm-up. Upside down drawing . Use this.

First Drawing. A pure contour drawing of illustration 1.

Second Drawing. A modified contour drawing of illustration 2.

Third Drawing. A negative space drawing of illustration 3 (Remember to draw the picture inside a Format - Look midway down the first page and you'll see "What's a format?".)

Fourth drawing. Do a "vase/face" drawing of illustration 3 and illustration 5. (i.e., you'll be drawing lips "face to face").

Sixth drawing. Draw illustration 1 ten more times using modified contour. (Looking back and forth between the screen and your paper)

Seventh drawing. Do ten drawings of illustration 1 from memory.

Fantastic! By now you should have the shape of the lips - if not memorized - almost memorized. Take a break. Pat yourself on the back and when you feel re-energized, go to the section on teeth. (It's short.)

Short section on Teeth

Assorted views of the mouth and lips






Use these 5 illustrations for your drawings in this assignment.

So here's the overall plan: we're going to start beneath the skin and move our way out. From pupil to tarsal plate, to lids and lashes: a quick anatomic overview.

Short section on Teeth

Lessons Library

Here's some final views of the lips:

Can you visualize the "maxilla"?


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