Drawing the mouth, lips, and teeth
is no mystery


Drawing the mouth, lips and teeth can be as simple as drawing
one or two lines like in a cartoon rendering or as complicated
as a landscape engineering class.

The keys to drawing a likeness of the mouth and lips are the same as drawing anything else: know the basics of drawing and know a little bit about what you're trying to draw.

Let's dive right in

If you're coming from the Drawing Noses page this'll work great because there's a wonderful piece of anatomy that segues us right down to the mouth and lips: it's called the nasal philtrum. And it splits the lip into halves (it's also an "embryonic marker" of where the two halves of your body glued themselves together when you were just forming in your mother's womb. It's a miracle how perfectly the body's halves come together.)

Pointing out the "nasal philtrum"


The philtrum is also a sort of viaduct that leads to the upper lip. And in so doing it courses it's way over the apron of the upper lip. What's the apron of the upper lip? It's the tissue that spans the spread of real estate between the two "naso-labial" folds.

"Naso" is of course short for nose and "labial" is Latin for "that which refers to the lip". (Pardon the hoity toity sounding talk there but do check out these two new pieces of anatomy in the next pictures)

The area shaded in red is the apron of the upper lip. Can you also spot the philtrum? Note how it's part of the apron of the upper lip


Here's a picture pointing out the naso-labial folds. Can you see how they "hem in" the apron of the upper lip? Check it out in the picture on the left in this little text box below:

Pointing out the naso-labial folds - find these on all the
pictures on this page :-) Go for it! And where's that
"philtrum" again?

The naso-labial folds are the two lines that run down the sides of the mouth. They start right there along side the nose and run down to almost the chin - (and right past the chin as you get into older age). Here they are again:

Back to the "apron of the upper lip"

But we began this conversation talking about the apron of the upper lip - which is really the slope, the sheet of skin between the nose and upper lip and it drapes the underlying bones, the gums, and the tissue that support the upper row of teeth as well as the upper teeth themselves (this bone is called the maxilla to be exact).

The blue shading demonstrates the bony under-
pinnings of the middle of the face: mainly the
. The nose, the lips, and the apron
of the upper lip curtain the maxilla and
mold to it's contours.


Ever changing anatomy

So as you travel your way over this expanse (the apron of the upper lip) you see a change of the type of tissue as you transition onto the actual lips. This border - the "vermilion border" aptly named since the lips have a vermilion, satin texture to them - marks the the change from apron of the lip to actual lip. (At a cellular level, the actual cell types change.)

The transition from skin to lip is an actual change in the
kind of tissue your body magically creates


The lips

Lips can be one of the toughest parts of the face to draw. Why? Because they change so dang much! Watch when someone talks, laughs, thinks - and observe the maelstrom of changes that take place there as every little change in emotion and attention of the owner is reflected right there.

Hypnotist's watch

Side Bar

I knew a hypnotist once and he taught me to look for all the subtle "micro" changes and micro-expressions a face will rumble through but going through different thoughts the way you thumb through a book or file.

Try this: ask a friend or a loved one to close their eyes and ask them to think about -- and just think about and re-experience (no need for them to answer anything out loud) -- have them think about for example, their last quarrel with their boss or a recent conflict.

Or have them relive the moment the first time they told their spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend they were madly in love with them, or ask how they feel about the state of world politics. Then just watch for teeny tiny almost imperceptible changes in their expression. You might see twitches more than anything else - and twitches in all sorts of different parts of the face from forehead to chin. If you see a twitch ask them what that was about. But they don't have to answer you if they don't want to - and let them know that "no need to answer this if you don't want to, but what was that?" :-).

What does this have to do with drawing the mouth? Everything and nothing: you get to heighten your powers of observation - which is the point of learning to draw and you get to know your friend better. Make sure you tell them what you're looking for and reciprocate).


Who or what controls the lips?

So what accounts for all those wild shapes and gyrations the lips go through? It's the muscles intrinsic to the lips (like the orbicularis oris) that allows you to purse your lips and it's the extrinsic muscles of facial expression that pull on them like the hands that pull on the game piece of Ouija board. Except that the game piece in this case - the lips - can be pulled and stretched in all sorts of different directions at the same time.

The majority of the muscles of facial expression
are attached attached directly or indirectly to
the to the tissue and skin surrounding the
mouth and lips

(You can see all those muscles and how
they work in the YouCanDraw.com book)


What more to the lips ?

What else makes up the lips? OK you have two lips. You've got upper and you've got lower lips. The upper lip is made up of three parts: a middle section that's home to that little "v"-shaped dip right in the middle (right where the philtrum ends). This dip in the center of the upper lip is also called "Cupid's Bow". The other two parts are the left and right "wings" of the upper lip. You can check out both in these next two pictures:

Cupid's bow (in blue)

Cupid's bow (in blue) and the two side wings of
the upper lip (in red)

The lower lip

The lower lip in general is pulpier and sometimes has a figure 8 look to it. Sometimes the vermilion border curves right through the middle of that figure of eight shape. Be on the look out for that.

Imagining the figure-8 shape hid within the lower lip

As you rotate the lip to a side view you can see the line that demarcates upper from lower lip as well as the nasal philtrum. (Remember, skill number one is looking for lines and edges that separate distinct shapes and elements of any composition). Jump on down to the next picture, squint and trace right on your screen, the shape of this wedge (the picture has the blue pointer finger pointing out the philtrum).

You can also see the line that demarcates the "vermilion" of the lip from the chin. (What do you call this line again? Right! - the vermilion border :-).


The side view: In this side view you
can see Cupid's Bow, the left wing
of the upper lip as well as a profile
of the lower lip. And what might
that blue pointer finger be
pointing at? Did you say the
nasal philtrum? Nice job :-)


A significant shadow: the one beneath the lower lip

Under the pulp of the underside of the lower lip is a significant shadow - (it's regular facial skin - it's not the vermilion stuff). Check out this next picture and try to identify all the anatomy we've discussed on this page so far:

  • the naso-labial folds,
  • the apron of the upper lip,
  • the nasal philtrum,
  • Cupid's Bow,
  • the "figure of 8" of the lower lip,
  • and the shadow beneath the lower lip


See if you can't name all the different drawable
shapes and anatomy in this picture


The shadows of the mouth and lips

Let's revisit the above picture and see if we can't uncover some shadow patterns around the mouth and lips. In normal light (if there's any such thing), the light is generally coming from above. So the strongest shadows are cast downward. Of course, if the light is coming a bit from the side, it'll influence the direction of the shadow as well.

That being said, the main shadows are on 1) the underside of the upper lip, (the upper lip is almost always dark), 2) the naso-labial folds - especially as you approach the actual margin of the fold (i.e. as you get closer and closer to the cheeks) and 3) at the corners of the mouth. There are several other shadows too (and you can see them listed in great detail and explanation in Lesson 15 of the YouCanDraw.com e-book).


Revisiting two old tricks

No need to memorize them - all the different shadow areas that is. Steady observation will reveal them everytime. In fact, you have two tricks up your sleeve at all times whenever you're confronted with what appears to be an overly complicated picture. These tricks allow you to shrink "way too much detail" into manageable, drawable shapes.

And what are these two tricks? You've seen them before in other lessons at this info site. They're these two: closing one eye and squinting. Closing one eye is great for collapsing live, 3-d models into 2-dimensional shapes you can easily draw. Squinting shrinks all that detail and variation of tone, shades, and highlights down to drawable entities. Like this:


The picture on the left is the simplified version of the picture on the right. How's it simplified? All
those hundreds of different shades of gray have been collapsed down to four grays plus white.
this: squint until the shadow shapes in each picture start looking almost exactly the same.
Ask yourself - while squinting - if the shadow shapes really don't look more drawable now
that they're identifiable shapes. (They should be :-)


Take a closer look at the "4 shades of gray plus white" picture. Yes there's
still a fair amount of detail, but it's manageable when compared to the
original. And there's quite a bit more face here than just the lips. In
fact it's almost the whole lower third of the face.


Another thing to remember is this: the lips are basically rounded. In fact the lower lip is almost tubular in shape. And so it's intrinsic shadows and highlights (the highlights and shadows on the lips themselves) follow the same patterning as they would on a tube or cylinder. Check out the lower lip in this picture to see what I mean - (it's like tubular dude:-):


Note the tube-like shape and shadowing of the lower lip. Note also:
the upper lip is most often hid in shadow.


And lastly, there's the lines within the lips. These are like the elastic folds you see in those hair binders people use to hold their hair in a pony tail (at least that's the first example that comes to my mind). They can look like this:


A close-up study of the vertical lines within the list: this is caused by the accordion-like elasticity of the lips. That is, the lips have a very pliable rubber-like stretch and shrink property to them. They want to shrink as far as the other musculature of facial expression will allow them. That was mouthful!


The teeth

Lastly, when drawing the mouth, you got teeth to contend with too. And they're pretty simple. You don't have to worry about a whole mouthful of teeth when you draw. In fact most the time all you have to worry about is just a few teeth of the upper jaw and 2-6 in the lower jaw (an adult has 32 teeth).

Want to see some informative dentistry pages?

Get the lowdown on your teeth while you're there - as well as seeing how graphics of teeth are handled there too. Check it out:



The main shape of each tooth ranges from rectangular (like you see in the "two front teeth") to the cuboid shape of the molars - which you rarely see in most people's smiles. The other noteworthy thing to mention is this: the teeth are strung linearly (i.e. in a row) along a curved foundation. This curve - or ellipse - reflects the curved shape of the bones the teeth originate from (i.e., from the maxilla above and from the in mandible below.)


The blue lines denote the curve the teeth follow: they actually just
follow the curve of the bone they're anchored in. Go and look at
the teeth in other pictures at this site and see if you can't see
this curve. Check it out it out in your own teeth and in
those of the people around you too.


To represent the gums you can draw little "v" shapes right at the edge where two teeth are side by side. These "v"s are right at the bottom ends of an upside down "U" shape that cross each actual tooth. Like these:


Drawing the gums is usually as simple
as drawing a "V" shape at the tops of
the upper teeth and an inverted "v"
for the lower lips.


Sometimes you can get away with just drawing an outline of the overall tooth shapes without drawing the lines that separate each separate tooth like in this picture of Prince Charles (note the implied ellipse shape hid in these teeth - especially in the upper row):


And here's a close up of those same royal teeth. Note also in this next picture the shape of the shadows around the teeth. Recognizing these shapes, actually "negative shapes" will help you draw the teeth (and we discussed positive forms and negative shapes on this page - if you go to this page, scroll down to the yellow box near the top and click on "The Second Skill" to see more about "positive forms and negative spaces"). Here's that close-up of those royal teeth


View the blackened area around the teeth as a separate shape -
look at it until it suddenly appears as a totally unique shape.
This is a review of "positive forms and negative space" you
can see at the drawing basics page.


One more set of celebrity choppers


OK. You've gone through all sorts of detail again to understand some rather advanced ideas and concepts about the teeth. But they really aren't that complicated since drawing them can all be reduced to the five skills of drawing. The great art teacher Robert Beverly Hale said you'll draw with a whole lot more depth if you see beyond what meets the eyes, that is if you really understand what's there and why it's there. And I'm trying to give you an inkling of what that might mean in these pages.


How would a cartoonist draw the mouth, lips and teeth?

Want to see how a cartoonist might handle all this detail? Let's look at a couple cartoons - and after that, it's your turn to draw! :-) In this first trio of cartoons, you can see the lips and teeth have been handled with a minimum of detail. In fact, other than for the teeth in the cartoon face on the left, the mouth shapes have been handled entirely with one or two lines. And the amazing thing? We can still interpret the picture:

Note how with just a few lines cartoons accomplish recognizable features - in this case focus your attention on the mouth and lips.

In this next trio of pictures, we step up one level of detail. The lips are actually outlined on the two women. And really look close at the example in the center: the man. Why? Note how the lower lip isn't even drawn: it's inferred by the outline of the upper lip and the shadow shape beneath it. Pretty neat, don't you think?


Compare this trio of cartoon pictures with the trio above - note how the lips are treated in both.


Here's that middle picture blown up a little bit. Look at the rest of the features too - namely the eyes and nose. Look how a feeling of depth, that three-D feel can be accomplished by drawing just shadows:


Note how much information can be expressed with
just a little bit of shadowing.


Now compare this cartoonish "shadow-only" face with this next double picture (you saw this picture above):


Compare this more complicated picture with the picture just above and try to realize that the
levels of detail are what make it seem more complicated - that all the detail can be broken
down into shapes just like the picture above.

Also note - again - how all that detail on the picture on the right is collapsed into the "shadow-shape-intensive" picture on the left. Then try squinting and see if you can't imagine the picture on the left reduced to just one shade of gray - like the cartoon looking guy just above.


One last thing: time to draw!

OK. Guess what time it is? Yep, it's time to draw! And ya know what? You can do it, I have no doubt. We're going to use gridded samples like you've seen at all the other pages. So go for it. Click on the button just below the picture - it's linked to a printable gridded practice sample.


Your Drawing assignment #1 - Click on the
picture above.

Click here to see these lips with a grid:


Here's a slightly more complicated version of mouth, lips, teeth, etc. You get to do the same with this: draw a duplicate in the empty grid. Go for it! :-)


This is a miniature of the second mouth
and lip drawing


Click here to see this second set of mouth and lips (with an empty grid of course):


Then do this one - but let's do it with a twist. Print out the page first and draw it exactly as you see it - with the "top" at the top of your paper. When you're done, flip it over. You'll be surprised. Can you figure out which picture on this page it belongs to?


Click here to see these lips with a grid:



Wrapping it up

OK! You've done a great job working your way through all this information, did you try the drawing exercises? Go back to the Drawing Basics and Drawing Basics II page for more lessons on the foundations of drawing - everything on this page builds upon that.

Like to learn more about drawing the other parts of the face? Check out these links:

Drawing the eyes
Drawing the nose
Drawing the ears
Drawing the shapes of the head and hair

Watch here for a whole bunch more great drawing information links too :-)

Like these lessons? If you'd like to learn even more and get all sorts of rehearsal at drawing the mouth, lips and teeth (and just about everything else about drawing faces), and have all sorts of fun doing it, check out this e-book - the most complete guide to drawing faces and caricatures even if you've never drawn before - at www.YouCanDraw.com