What can 16 dissimilar sketches of lips tell you about how to draw lips?
Well, if you look at each one of the sketches in this article closely enough, it turns out that these lips have a lot to say.
One of the best ways to learn how to sketch lips is to carefully study a selection of lips that have already been sketched for you. If you carefully examine enough examples of the end result, you will start to notice some interesting similarities and differences that give you insight into the process leading up to the end result.
This article is not the usual step-by-step tutorial on how to sketch a pair of lips or even how to draw lips realistically. The goal of this post is to carefully analyze various sketches of lips. First, we will seek to describe the characteristics of the lips that are present in each sketch. Then, we will move on to compare and contrast those characteristics.
The sketches of lips you will find here are of many different styles. The first section looks at the first step of drawing lips (or anything else for that matter) – the initial line drawing. Then you will see how those lips change once they have some shading. Moving on from there, we will look at lip sketches that are rough and simple as well as detailed and thorough. You will notice pencil, pen and ink, and even colored and digital media. We will look at the lips of subtle smiles as well as larger, more open smiles showing teeth. You will also study the lips of a biting mouth as well as the lips of an open mouth.
By carefully studying these 16 sketches, you should get some insight as to what you want or don’t want to do when you sketch lips of your own. This insight will go a long way in showing you how to draw a mouth.
How a Simple Lips Drawing Might Look Before It Has Shading
To start things off, we will look at four examples of drawings of simple lips. Each simple lips drawing that follows is actually a line drawing before any tones are added for shading. Look for what each lip line drawing has in common with the others and what is different about each one.
In this first very simple drawing, you can see a rough outline of the lips of a person turned slightly to the right. There is a little indication of the white border that traces the upper lip. There is also an indication of shadow under the lower lip. This lip sketch has the vertical lines that are characteristic of lips in real life but often missing in many drawn lips. Additionally, you can see some oval-shaped areas that help place highlights on the lips.
This pair of lips belongs to a mouth that is facing forward and slightly open. As in the previous example, it shows the vertical lines, but in this case the lines are more subtle and only on the bottom lip where they are more prominent. There are two highlight spots on the lower lip. The line along the upper lip helps to signify a darker shadowy area where the lip curves inward.
Here we have another pair of lips belonging to a forward-facing mouth, but in this case the lips are closed. There are a few indications of the lips’ vertical lines on the top and bottom lip. Notice again in this lip line drawing that highlights and shadow areas are carefully placed to prepare for shading later on.
The sketch below is of a pair of lips belonging to a face that is looking slightly downward. For this reason, the top lip looks a bit more pronounced than the bottom lip. This lip sketch includes details placed in the corners of the mouth, which add to any expression (however little) the mouth may be giving.
Let’s now consider the four drawings we just saw in this section and see how they are alike. Since all four drawings are line drawings, they are at the beginning stages of a final piece of work. Each line drawing has careful placement of lip highlights on the bottom lip and shadow under the bottom lip.
As for differences, some have highlights on the top lip while others have shadow along the top lip. While each lip drawing has the vertical lines characteristic of all lips in real life, you will have to judge for yourself if it’s best to go with more detail or take the “less is more” approach and just subtly indicate them, as in the second example.
Lip Shading Characteristics
Now let’s take our simple sketches of lips from the last section and examine what they might look like with a little shading. For the most part, these rough sketches have graphite tones applied for shading that are not blended with a tortillion. Each lip shading example below will have the corresponding lip line drawing for comparison purposes.
The first example has some evidence of crosshatching, especially along a small part of the top lip and under the bottom lip. Notice how the tones are applied carefully around the highlighted areas to preserve them. There are darker tones where the lips meet, at the corners, and just under the bottom lip’s reflected light.
Remember how in the second example there was a guideline drawn for a shadow along the top lip? You can see below how that area is now filled in with darker tones. The lower lip is also darker along the bottom, below the highlights. Again, notice the reflected light along the edge of the lower lip. The shading for this sketch could be characterized as more hatching than crosshatching.
Vertical lip lines are preserved in this example without being too harsh or prominent. There are also a range of values present. Most of the lips’ surface area has a midtone value, while the highlights remain white and the corners have darker shadow areas.
This example has a similar base value of shading for the lips and the skin surrounding the lips. Since these lips are viewed slightly from above (since the face is tilted downward), there are some darker tones along the lower part of each lip and under the bottom lip. Darker tones also exist to better portray the medial cleft between the nose and upper lip (also known as the philtrum).
This final example does not have a line drawing preview like the others in this section, but I thought it still deserved some attention for some interesting lip shading characteristics. The graphite tones are also more blended together here.
The above sketch shows the lips slightly darker than the surrounding skin and the top lip slightly darker than the bottom. A good reason for this is that the bottom lip has more highlighted area. I also find it noteworthy that the highlight is broken up at various spots by the vertical lip lines, some soft lines and some sharper lines, for a more natural look.
As you see from the last few lip sketches, lips can be shaded a number of ways. Tones can be applied with hatching, crosshatching, or blended together. You should always preserve highlights by making darker tones around them, and you should keep the vertical lines of the lips implied on some level.
What Can Enhance a Subtle Smiling Lips Sketch
How can you pull off a sketch of smiling lips when the lips are not smiling a big smile? What if the smile is only a subtle smirk? The examples in the previous sections focused on only the lips. However, what creates the perception of a smile in a sketch or drawing is as much in the skin surrounding the lips than in the lips themselves. Now let’s look at three sketches of smiling lips and the characteristic details found around the lips that help us to better notice the smile.
This first sketch is a very rough line drawing sketch. It is of a subtly smiling mouth that is turned in a profile view. It has hatching lines to indicate shading on and around the lips. The lines on the skin directly above and below the lips help to give form to the protrusion of the lips. Look in the corner of the mouth, and you can see the dark line that serves as a fold in the skin when the cheek is just beginning to help form a smile.
This next example is much more detailed than the previous line sketch. Still, there are some commonalities. The crosshatch shading above the top lip helps to form the three-dimensional appearance of this part of the mouth, including the philtrum. The shading below the bottom lip helps to distinguish the space between the bottom lip and the chin. The difference in angles between the lines on the corners of the mouth, along with the dimple on the man’s left cheek, tell us that the man is smirking more on the left side of his face than the right side.
Here is another piece of work that is on the more detailed side of lip sketches. Even though this drawing does not have the vertical lines on the corners of the mouth that are noticeable in the previous two examples, you can still tell there is a slight smile with the subject. How so? Look at how the crosshatch shading implies sunken-in cheeks. Darker areas on either side of the mouth that do not touch the mouth help to achieve this appearance.
With these three examples, we learned that a smiling lips sketch can have more than just the details on the lips themselves to better portray that the lips are actually smiling. Just as important are the details on the areas of the face immediately surrounding the lips. Different subjects’ faces have different characteristics. Some people smile with dimples, some have sunken in cheeks when they smile, and everyone has variations in cheek lines that form in the corners of their mouths when they smile. Keeping these traits in mind when you sketch smiling lips will help to better enhance your sketches, too.
How Lips Can Look on a Smiling Mouth Sketch Showing Teeth
Next, we will take a look at two very different sketches of lips. Unlike the sketches in the last section, these lips are part of less subtle, more obvious smiles that also show the teeth.
This sketch is another rough line drawing sketch. It is a picture of a noticeable smile, viewed from the front. Since this is a much more noticeable smile than the smiles from the last section, you can see a sizeable portion of the subject’s teeth. There are some characteristics surrounding the lips that we noticed before as well, such as the cheek lines at the corners of the lips and shading to show protrusion of the lips.
Looking at the lips themselves, this line sketch has what resembles vertical hatch lines to indicate shading. There are fewer lines in the front, especially on the bottom lip where you can expect some highlighting. There are more lines near the corners, where the lips curve around the face and retreat toward the back.
This next mouth sketch is certainly not your traditional sketch by any means. You can tell it was created with the assistance of some sort of digital means. Possibly due to the type of software used and its capabilities, there is a slightly unnatural shape to the overall mouth, especially the way the top lip curves downward in the middle and how the corners curve upward. Nevertheless, there is some interesting shading going on that enhances the appearance of the lips and the overall mouth.
Look first at the lower lip and the range of values present. The values are much darker along the edges. Then there are some midtone values between the edges and the highlight in the middle.
Secondly, the creator of this sketch remembered something very important for a smiling mouth sketch that shows teeth. The lips cast a small shadow upon the teeth. You can see this shadow along the upper portions of the top teeth, the lower portions of the bottom teeth, and more shadow values present in the teeth that are farther back. This crucial detail was missing from the first, simpler example. The artist also remembered the dark shadow tones that the teeth should cast upon the tongue.
A Close Examination of a Biting Lip Sketch
This is a sketch of an open mouth where the teeth are biting down on the lower, right side of the lips. It is a pen and ink sketch with lots of crosshatching used for the shading.
What kind of pertinent characteristics should we gather from this example if we wanted to make a biting lip sketch of our own? First of all, the part of the lower lip that is bitten by the teeth is hidden behind those teeth. More importantly, there should be focus on where the teeth meet the lip. The teeth are pulling the skin of the lower lip, thus causing “folds” in the skin. In the drawing above, there are three teeth making contact with the lip. If you examine very closely, you will notice one of these fold lines coming from the center of each of the three teeth. You should also notice fold lines coming from between the teeth.
Other lip characteristics of this sketch are less about the biting part and more about what should be found in many other lip sketches. The lips consist of lighter tones where the light strikes them and darker tones surrounding the lighter areas and the corners of the mouth where the lips recede. You can also see reflected light along the bottom edge of the top lip.
The main thing to remember when making a biting lip sketch is to focus on the location of the bite and include the details on the lower lip that will make the appearance of the bite believable.
How Lips Can Complement Other Parts of an Open Mouth Sketch
Although this appears to be a rough sketch of an open mouth that might be considered an unfinished piece of work, it consists of more than one medium, and the entire piece (not shown in this excerpt) is done in what appears to be a similar, deliberate style by the artist.
Assuming this is a finished piece, the style suggests that the artist was not going for a realistic look. For example, the lips in the sketch have a heavy outline (perhaps in ink) that are not characteristic of natural-looking lips.
Even so, you can tell that the artist strived to include some three-dimensional elements on the lips themselves. There are two carefully placed highlights on the top lip and two more on the bottom. These highlights, along with the darker tones receding from the front of the lips to the corners of the mouth, help to convey the appearance of form and roundness in the lips.
So how does this three-dimensional feel of the lips complement the rest of the mouth sketch? It gives the sense that the lips are protruding forward, as they should if a mouth is opened wide. The lack of detail in the tongue and other more distant parts of the inside of the mouth help the lips to “stick out” even more (that is, become more noticeable).
What Can We Learn from These Sketches of Lips?
There is no question that there are many different ways to sketch lips. That is pretty obvious from what you have read and seen in this article. Just to recap some of the lip sketches we have studied, let’s look at them one more time. Below is a collection of the 16 lip sketches, grouped all together.
So what can be learned by comparing and contrasting these lips? How can we then apply or exclude details in our future sketches of lips?
First, we will take a look at a few commonalities. Consider these similarities as tips you should keep in mind when you sketch lips of your own:
- Always look for areas of highlight in the lips you sketch. In each of the sketches above, the highlighted areas of lips are a significant part of what gives the lips form and makes them appear more realistic. There seems to always be a highlighted area on the bottom lip. Almost always, and usually less significantly, there is a highlighted area on the top lip.
- Think carefully about where darker tones should be placed. The darker tones should complement the highlights. These darker tones and the highlights are separated by a gradual transition of shading. In each sketch, the darker tones can be found along the corners of the mouth and the center of the mouth where the two lips meet.
- Draw the outline for the lips in the same manner that they appear in real life. Each example we looked at has a general shape for the top and bottom lip that you are likely to find when looking at the lips of everyday people. All the lips have a natural, rounded curve along the bottom. With the small exception of the digital example, every lip sketch has the little dip along the top ridge directly below the nose.
Now, for a few noticeable differences between some of the sketches. You should also consider these differences as tips, but instead of including or excluding them in every drawing, you should consider whether or not you want to include them for each drawing on a case-by-case basis.
- Not every sketch of lips has or needs reflected light. In the first two sections of this article, every lip sketch has reflected light along the bottom edge of the lower lip. Some of the later examples are missing this reflected light. This can be based either on a matter of preference or simply a lack of its noticeable presence on the reference subject.
- Vertical lines or no vertical lines? In some of the sketches, the vertical lines that are present in real-life lips are obvious in the sketches. In a few of the other sketches, the vertical lines cannot really be seen or are subtle and more implied. Again, either can be acceptable depending on your reference, since these lines are sometimes more noticeable and other times less noticeable on the reference subject.
- Some sketches have details between and around the lips that enhance the sketch. Some of the sketches we viewed intentionally focused solely on the lips themselves. There were no surrounding skin tones or detail beyond the outer border of the lips. In these sketches, the lips were also closed. The other sketches showed the surrounding skin as an extension of the lips and mouth in general. This allowed the artists to add details that enhanced their drawings. For example, smile lines in the corners of the mouth add to the character and likeness of the subject. The same goes for those sketches that displayed opened mouths. Visible teeth and a visible portion of the tongue could complement a sketch that might seem more bland if it were just lips alone.
Bottom line, if you want to get better at drawing or sketching lips, take the time to closely study, compare, and contrast a variety of sketches of lips drawn by other artists. If you want to learn how to draw a mouth, looking at a multitude of examples and deciding what works in different styles and situations will do wonders for your artwork as you complete more and more sketches and drawings of your own.