How to Turn Your Plainly-Drawn Lips into Realistic Lips


When you draw lips, do they look like these?

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In this video and post, we will see one way to turn a simple outline of lips into a more realistic drawing. Of course, not all lips have the characteristic traits that I will use in this drawing. Use this post for guidance, but use a reference photo for whatever lips you choose to draw to make your lips match your subject.

Add Details to Your Lip Line Drawing

The first step is to add details to your lips to make your line drawing look more realistic. I chose to use a mechanical pencil with 2B graphite lead for this drawing.

Begin by drawing a little outline that borders just above the top and below the bottom lip (if the subject you are drawing has this trait).

You will also want to draw some of the grooves that are apparent on the lips. Most of these are vertical, but most lips have some horizontal ones visible if you look close enough.

This is also a good time to sketch in where shadows and highlights will go.  For this subject, there is a prominent shadow between the bottom lip and the chin. There is another where the lips meet. For the highlights, I drew small individual shapes between the grooves rather than one large highlight.

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Create a Tone Drawing with Dark and Light Values

I usually begin by filling in the darkest values. In this case, that would be between the lips and under them.

Then from where the lips meet and the outer edges of the lips, start working in the lighter values that fall between the grooves and the highlights. Mostly, I used a hatching technique that also followed the contours of the lips.

Do not forget to also put some shading on some of the skin surrounding the lips.

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Blend the Tones Together

Now is the time to begin blending all of that graphite to reach a new level of realism! Once again, I typically start with the darkest values.

Use a tortillon and blend the shadow area under the lip. This will allow you to use leftover graphite on the tortillon to create other skin tones outside of the shadow on the chin area. You can also finish blending the tones above the top lip as well.

Next, beginning with where the lips touch, blend from dark to light and move your tortillon in a way that follows the natural curvature and contours along the lips. Work around some of the areas meant to be highlights.

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Add in the Finishing Touches

It is always a good idea to go back and better define any shadows or highlights, as well as draw in additional details, after the blending step. The amount of detail you add is up to you. This drawing really didn’t need too much after the last step, but I did want to touch up a few places.

Basically, my goal was to make apparent more of the subtle grooves that run along the lips, both vertically and horizontally (although less obvious). I brought out highlights with a kneaded eraser and drew lines with my pencil.

In hindsight (and this is my inner critic speaking, which is a healthy thing for an artist to have!), to make these lines more subtle like they are in real life, it may have been better to use a lighter lead (like a 2H) or just the residue on the tortillon.

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Still, I achieved my goal of creating a drawing of lips that look much more realistic than the outline at the beginning of this post.

If you want to do the same, remember the four basic steps I used here: a line drawing that places shadows and highlights, shading in the tones, blending the tones, and adding final details.

Remember, the level of realism you want to achieve is completely up to you. I could have stopped after any one of these four steps and had a “completed” realistic drawing. Or, I could have continued adding even more layers of detail for a more realistic effect.

So give this a try, and YOU decide when you are ready to call it finished. How realistic can you make your lip drawing?


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