Of all the facial features that exist, teeth have to rank as one of the most challenging to draw. First of all, each tooth seems to have its own special shape. Not to mention there are so many of them!
Teeth are very unique from one person to the next. The unique characteristics of teeth play a large part in shaping a person’s appearance. If you are trying to capture a strong likeness of a person, the way you portray that person’s teeth can make or break your portrait.
However, teeth were not always so difficult to draw. If you have ever drawn teeth as a child, they may have looked something like this:
This cartoonish version of teeth is how I remember drawing them many times as a child. Surely I am not the only one.
Ahh, the good ol’ days! If only we could still draw teeth this quickly and easily and have the same satisfaction we did back then.
Well, I am not saying we can get away with this as an adult trying to draw realistic teeth. What I will tell you is there is a way to use this childhood drawing to our advantage, as a shortcut.
This tutorial will show how to draw teeth for a person who is looking directly ahead and smiling. The childish drawing of teeth seen above can actually be used as helpful guidelines to get you started.
Again, just as individual teeth are unique, individual smiles are also unique. Some smiles, either naturally or purposefully, will show more teeth than others. Some smiles show the top and bottom teeth while other smiles barely reveal any bottom teeth at all.
The following reference photograph will serve as good practice since it is a natural-looking smile that reveals bottom teeth as well as the top teeth.
Identifying the Teeth to Be Drawn
When learning how to draw teeth, I found it very helpful to have an understanding of the different kinds of teeth in the mouth. The image below identifies the names of the teeth that are visible.
It is important to note the obvious: the bottom incisors are much smaller than the top. Therefore, this leaves a noticeable slant in the alignment of common teeth types from top to bottom. Although teeth have their own unique characteristics from person to person, the size generalizations seen here can be applied to almost anyone’s teeth.
How to Draw the Teeth
Now let’s see the steps necessary to draw teeth. The steps below will take you from how to draw light guidelines to drawing the top teeth, bottom teeth, and the back teeth and surrounding mouth.
Drawing the Childhood Shortcut
Although I am sure you can draw the childhood version of teeth with your eyes closed, I want to point out a couple of things that you will need to know for later. That’s why I will still walk you through the steps.
Begin by drawing the outline of the mouth. This will serve as a rough outline for the opening part of the lips later on.
Next draw a vertical line in the center and a curved horizontal line across. The vertical line will divide the right and left halves of the mouth. The curved line will separate the top and bottom teeth.
Draw three vertical lines on one side of the center line. Make sure the spacing is wider next to the center line so it can hold the central incisor. The other lines can have narrower spacing between them. For a more accurate likeness, pay close attention to the top row of teeth in your reference photo and try to match the spacing as closely as possible.
Repeat this process on the other side. Here is the childhood version of teeth that we will use as a shortcut to drawing teeth that look a little more “grown-up”.
Drawing the Top Teeth
These lines will be the guidelines that will help you to draw the top teeth. Begin by drawing the upper central incisors. You will mostly stay within the limits of the boxes. Curve the upper part of each tooth’s gum line.
Next draw the upper lateral incisors in a similar way. Also notice the rounded corners.
Draw the canines (or cuspids) for the top. Again, you are mostly staying within the boxes, but as you see below, you want to pay close attention to the reference photo of your subject. Most teeth are not the exact size, shape, or position as their counterparts. Draw each tooth as you see it as closely as you can to bring out that uniqueness and individuality.
Drawing the Bottom Teeth
The guidelines used for the top teeth will not really benefit us for the bottom teeth. If we drew the bottom teeth in the same manner as we did the top, we would have some very unnatural-looking human teeth!
Begin with the central incisors on the bottom. Again, teeth are not perfect, so the central line is not lined up exactly on the top and bottom for this person. Remember that these incisors are much smaller than the ones on top. I’d say that on average, these teeth are about one-half to two-thirds the width of their upper counterparts.
Repeat for the lateral incisors on the bottom. Remember that the curved outline on the bottom is the opening of the lower lip. This woman’s lower lip will be covering some of her lower teeth around the gum line. Below you can see that I am temporarily sketching in the gum line that will be hidden by the lip later.
Now draw the lower canines. Make sure you draw them at the proper angle in relation to the top canines.
Erase your guidelines. You should have the twelve most visible teeth from a forward-facing smile, as seen below.
When not using this technique, I tend to draw the lips first before drawing any teeth. However, lips would have gotten in the way of showing you the first part of the childhood shortcut. Before drawing any more teeth, draw the lips and surrounding mouth area.
Since the remaining teeth are curving toward the back of the mouth and partially hidden by each other and the lips, they are much easier to draw now that the lips are done. In my experience with drawing different smiles in this position, most often you can see from two to four teeth past the canines. In our example, you can see the two premolars (or bicuspids) and one of the molars on each side on the top. There are fewer visible on the bottom.
That concludes this tutorial on how to draw teeth using a popular childhood sketch as a shortcut! As always, you can go further. You can draw the various highlights on the teeth and gums. You can add more details and even shade your drawing. But remember, if are trying to capture the likeness of a person revealing a large smile in a photograph, it is absolutely crucial that you draw their teeth as closely as possible to how they appear in real life. Not doing so will hinder your efforts of an accurate portrayal, even if other parts of the face are drawn right. Keep this shortcut in mind when you want an easier way to draw teeth that works!