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Monday, November 7, 2016

Drawing and Painting Two Lips

Bouche De Lartigue, 2014
There are two ways of drawing all facial features--theoretically and observationally. Although this is mostly a discussion about drawing mouths, rather than a how-to lesson on drawing mouths, my first impulse is to say, learn the former, then try the latter; but whichever comes first (the chicken or the egg) there are problems. The mouth is arguably the most difficult feature of the face to draw, or at best, second only to the eyes (and then only because there are two of them). The mouth causes problems for the artist because it's almost constantly in motion as expressions change. Moreover, just behind those two lips are thirty-two teeth which are, pardon the expression, a whole other can of worms. Fortunately, even with the broadest, full-faced smile, seldom are all of them visible at the same time (below).

Yes, this is a painting. Did I mention, there's sometimes a tongue involved.
Theoretical lips step by step.
Add to that the fact that the mouth changes shape radic-ally as the viewpoint moves around the face, or the head turns its 180 degrees. For this reason alone, learning to draw the mouth theoretically, invol-ves, theoretically, learning to draw 180 slightly different mouths (below). Actually the viewpoint angles are much greater than that when all the various tilts of the head are taken into consideration. Of course, no one wants to go that far. However, in the absence of such a thorough theoretical grounding, what we often get are stereotypical mindsets which, while afford-ing structural understanding in drawing from life, also form the basis of bad habits such as imposing a symmetrical mouth on a head turned slightly to one side thus making such a rendering inaccurate. In effect, the brain interposes itself between the eye and the hand.
Seventeen sets of lips, three angles each--theoretical mouths.

By the same token there's a lot to be said for learning the complex muscle and dental structure that goes with the always popular "toothy" grin. Drawing a face, especially a mouth, from life involves a lot of trial and error...especially the latter. Thus both methods are quite valid and valuable, if the art student is conscious of the pitfalls of each. As an art instructor, I taught my middle-school students both methods; one day following a videotaped "how-to" presentation on front views and a second on side views. In addition they also drew one another's faces from life (observationally). Perhaps the best method in drawing mouths, or in fact, the entire face, is to work from high quality photos--in effect theoretical renderings, without so much the tendency to allow stereotypical mindsets to interfere.

From sketch to color. You might wish to switch to colored pencil
after the first step to avoid a lot of graphite in your color pigments.
As for painting the mouth, my advice is to segue from pencil drawing to high-grade colored pencil drawing to oil painting (in that order). The lips and teeth are, in fact, as much exercises in subtle shading as they are structural drawing. Colored pencil use simply involves their application at an early stage of the drawing once the basics are sketched, layering warm and cool colors (from lightest to the darkest) until the desired contrasts are achieved. Once the student artist is comfortable with dry color, it's a fairly modest step to move on to oils (below). And if you are intent upon learning to paint faces, by all means master oils before moving on to acrylics, or especially, watercolors.

Step by step color using oils.
Evolving expressions


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