How To Draw a Mouth
By Joe Catapano
A major part of drawing a face is accurately rendering the mouth. Since characters that are in comic books are frequently speaking, one of the main focus points for your readers will be your characters mouths. It’s only natural for us to look there, after focusing in on the eyes, of course, but because since we are used to it being the source of the sound, we find our attention going there.
Mouths are made up of several different shapes that are combined to create an infinite set of variations. This can get complex real quick. For this tutorial we will be focusing on only drawing a neutral mouth with a still expression. In a future tutorial we will cover the jaw, the muscles, and how they combine to form different expressions.
Before we start, I want to take the time for a couple of notes on the lips. These forms are a semi-rounded set up shapes that wrap around the face’s cylindrical form. For this reason, I find that the mouth is one of the harder elements to draw well. I urge you to take this tutorial slow and don’t be too hard on yourself if you have limited or no experience with drawing the mouth. With time and more understanding of how the volumes work, you will gain the finesse that it requires to draw it well. Let’s get started.
Structure Of The Mouth
Like most other things, it’s best to study and break a subject into smaller, more digestible parts. The mouth is no different.
When looking at this rather flat diagram of a mouth in front view, you can see that I have labeled the lips into 5 sections. They may or may not have names (I’m not sure), but it is more important to memorize the shapes and their relationships in this diagram.
When you draw a mouth, these different sections will come together and some parts may even need to be exaggerated or simplified. Before we move on, let’s note a couple more aspects of these shapes. First, notice how the shapes are wedged together. Even the curved, indent up above the lips lines right up to #2.
Secondly, take a look at the dimples represented by the egg shapes at the corners of the mouth. Those corners are usually in shadow and are great landmarks to help you shape the curvature of the lips.
Location And The Center Line
Underneath the skin is the skull and teeth. I have overlapped the lips on top of the drawing of the skull to show the general placement of the mouth. The corners of the mouth should line up vertically with the pupil of the eyes. Some lips may be less wide so you may pull that width to where it lines up with the inside third of the eyeball. The face is in general split into thirds vertically.
The sections are one from the hairline to the brow, then down to the base of the nose and then one more down to the chin. In between the base of the nose and the bottom the chin there is another area that is split in to thirds. This time the top division will line up with the middle of the mouth. The next division down lines up with the top of the chin.
Now, let me explain how the center line works for the lips. When drawing anything it goes without saying that drawing a center line is a good idea. The center line will help you visualize the volume of the object and not just a flat shape. Look at the blue center line that I’ve drawn for the lips.
In the front view, it seems like the lips are completely flat, but we know better. In the three quarter view the lips are shown to have a concave, wavy nature. Just like how wavy the horizontal opening of the mouth looks when closed, the center line vertically makes a wedged wave shape too. The top lip is mostly facing down, usually shadowed if lit from the top and the bottom lip is mostly facing up. This “S” curve helps to make the lips attractive.
Planes of The Lips
As I just mentioned, the lips have a mountain / valley wedge type of relationship. The top and bottom lips have a peak and naturally they create planes. Above the lips is a plane that slants back toward the nose, which will catch light from above. While the top lip is slanted down, the bottom lip reverses and faces up. This means that in an average top lit scene, the area above the lips is lit, the upper lip is in shadow, the bottom lip is lit, and below the bottom lip is in shadow. Just like a mountain range: peak, valley, peak, and valley.
With those basics down let’s put the pen to the page and I’ll show you a step-by-step process of drawing the lips.
To start, you have to set up a cylindrical grid. The denture sphere (the area of the mouth) is round and so starting with a cylinder is a good way to begin with that curvature in mind. The wedge of the cylinder that is drawn should be about a third of the whole. Draw in this cylinder type grid lightly because it is only meant to be a guide for laying down the final lines.
To complete our guide we need to sketch in the center line like in the Location and the Center line section. Simply follow my lead with the peak/valley type of curved line. With more time drawing lips you will get a better idea of why this step is important. Again, draw this line lightly.
Now, we start the real pencil work of the mouth (draw with full pressure). Just like with any cartoon, draw in just the middle line. Make sure you have this line match up with valley in the center line from step 2. I’ve also indicated the puffy centerpiece of lip (labeled in the first diagram as #2). It strayed from my original center line that I drew in the last step, but that’s ok. Art is a lot of give and take.
Excellent! In many forms of art in cartoons and animation, the mouth could stop here. We’ve drawn enough to indicate the mouth well. For a more modern comics look, we will need to delineate the lips more. Draw in the top part of the upper lip. It can be completed in a few strokes.
It looks more like a mouth already. Now, draw in the bottom lip. Remember front the structural diagram that the lower lip is split into two parts. See how I overlap the two strokes for the bottom lip. This indicates these two separate forms.
To finalize this drawing, we will add some shadow and line weight. Since the light is from above, draw the shadow underneath the lips and in the corners of the mouth. Don’t forget to do hatching to indicate the gradation of the shadow to light.
With that drawn, let’s explore some differences between people’s mouths.
Male vs Female
When you draw your comics, it is important to have a clear distinction between your male and female characters. One vital way to do this, especially in the close ups, is with the lips. Men and women’s lips are very much the same feature, however we will exaggerate the attributes of each to make your characters look distinct and expressive. Here are the unique qualities between the two:
-Thinner than a woman
-A more flat appearance in side view
-The planes appear sharper
-The corners are generally wider than a woman.
-Fuller than a man
-The planes are subtler
-The bottom lip recedes more in side view.
Symbols And Angles
When we are children, the first things we learn to draw are symbols. Symbols are iconic representations of the objects in the real world. They work as representations but they really don’t resemble how the actual object looks like in reality. So say goodbye to that McDonald’s smile and the emoticon type expressions. Instead here are a couple of shapes that actually will help you draw more believable mouths.
The first of the good symbols looks like a bird flying away. That’s because the upper lip naturally has this parallel wing type shape. Whenever you draw a closed mouth remember this shape and it will get you started in the right direction. The second symbol is a variation of this. I think it looks more like at the Bat Symbol from DC Comics. If you are drawing a more full set of lips, than this shape might be a better reference point for you.
Now on to drawing the mouth in a bird’s eye and a worm’s eye view. These two angles will give a more dramatic look to your faces so it is important to practice this often. Looking up at the mouth will show that the upper lip has a more exaggerated curve and you will be able to see much more of the underside of the upper lip.
The high angle looking down on a mouth is quite the opposite. The upper lip is drawn more flat and where the corners of the mouth seem higher than before. In this angle the bottom lip is very visible while the majority of the upper lip is hidden.
Tips And Tricks
With comic books, artists have a looming pressure to work quickly, so like many of the other tutorials, here are a few tips and tricks to render mouths so you can meet your deadlines.
Use strong highlights and heavy blacks to represent shiny lipstick.
Shade the entire top lip to quickly create a mouth that is simplified and expressive.
Drawing a mouth that is slightly curved can give a more natural look.
Shade the corners of the upper lip to show dimension in less harsh lighting scenarios.
When in side view, try to find ways to draw the opposite side of the mouth for more believability.
Use hatching, feathering and solid blacks to give your lips volume and form.
Excellent! You just got a crash course in drawing the mouth.
As you can tell, the mouth is a tricky set of forms that will take time for you to master. Subtleties are a huge factor when it comes to this draftsmanship. And we haven’t even dived into learning about all the different types of expressions and facial muscles. For now just practice drawing the mouth at a relatively still, rest position. As always, look up reference of many different types of lips and discover your own methods of trying to represent them in your own art. Have fun with it.
This is only a part of a series of tutorials so be sure to check out the other tutorials on how to draw the eyes and nose, as well. The face works as a whole and while breaking them apart for study is a good idea, you should also draw faces as complete portraits. After all, that is the end goal when you finally get into drawing some comic pages.
So keep on drawing faces as much as you can.
Even though it may not seem like it at first, in retrospect, every drawing that you commit to paper is filling up an imaginary progress meter on the road to mastery. It’s just like in a role playing game; every step that you take is pushing you forward even if you can’t feel it immediately. As long as you don’t quit and you put in the time regularly, there is no question that one day you will gain proficiency.
I really enjoy helping the up-and-comers and aspiring artists so feel free to contact me at my instagram @catapanoart: https://www.instagram.com/catapanoart/, if you would like a critique or if you just wanna say hi. Also, jump in and be apart of the How To Draw Comics community. There are dozens of talented artists who are willing to give you a hand if you are bold enough to ask.
Thank you for joining me for this tutorial. Keep on drawing!