If you want to learn how to draw lips and a mouth without a reference, you need to understand their anatomical structure first. In this tutorial I will show you where the form of the mouth comes from, and how to draw lips in various shapes and views. After this, you’ll be able to draw realistic lips from scratch!
Because the mouth is not a separate element of the face, and it’s closely tied to the nose, I recommend you take a look at my How to Draw a Nose tutorial first.
1. Anatomy of the Lips and Mouth
To understand the construction of the lips and mouth, you need to understand their function first. Each row of teeth is covered with soft, muscular tissue. In the front, that tissue is curled out to better grasp food. This works for both lips. If you imagine it this way, you’ll have no problems with seeing the 3D form of the mouth!
Of course, this is just the basic shape of the mouth. Fortunately, the other details can be easily derived from it. Keep in mind that the roundness of the teeth is covered with the cheek and jaw muscles, so the mouth looks only slightly rounded in the front.
To get a better idea of all these forms, take a look in the mirror and try to identify them on your face. Don’t be afraid to be your own reference!
Here’s a quick cheat-sheet of the lips and mouth forms in all the basic views:
Interestingly, lips are usually pigmented differently than the rest of the mouth. They’re more pinkish, often much darker than white skin. The border of pigmentation follows the form of the upper lip, but the lower lip sometimes curls in such a way that the unpigmented part is included in its form.
For drawing, we can simplify all these forms into a few easily identifiable parts:
2. Different Lip Shapes
This simple structure is not set in stone, though. The lips have many different shapes, created just by changing the proportions of the elements slightly.
Traditionally, we talk about “masculine lips” and “feminine lips”. Masculine lips are thinner and less pronounced, and feminine lips are fuller, with darker pigmentation. This, however, is quite a simplification based more on a certain beauty standard than on reality. Artists often exaggerate the differences between sexes to make them clear even in simple styles, but don’t let that fool you—don’t ignore the vast variety of lip shapes within one sex and different races!
There are no “perfect lips”, default for all humans. Feel free to experiment with the proportions of the “three ovals” to make each of your characters unique.
In the profile view, you can see more differences than simply the size and width of the lips. Notice how they can curl and protrude differently.
3. Lips and Facial Expressions
Lips are very mobile—there are so many muscles in and around them that they’re able to change their shape in hundreds of ways. This makes them extremely expressive! Experiment with the position of the “nodes” (the balls in the corners of the mouth) to drag the corners of the lips up, down, and to the sides.
You can learn a lot about the mobility of your lips just by observing yourself in the mirror!
4. How to Draw Lips in the Front View
Traditionally, the ratio between the forehead, nose, and mouth is 1:1:1. This means you should leave space for “another nose” under it (keep in mind the ratio includes the height of the eyebrows, so it may be slightly longer than the nose).
Divide this height into thirds mentally, and then “squeeze” the middle third.
Outline the chin roughly. It should be slightly wider than the nose.
Make the shape of the chin more detailed.
Give the whole mouth a rough outline.
Add the muscles around the mouth. It will help you see the proportions better.
“Cut” the mouth.
Outline the lips in a basic way. The lower lip is usually bigger than the upper one, although it’s not true in every case.
Draw the three ovals:
Outline the shape of the upper part of the mouth.
Add the nodes right next to the cheeks.
Outline the lips.
Add the outline of the lips’ muscles. It’s not obligatory, but this will help you with shading!
With the guide lines finished, accentuate the lines you want visible.
Shade the mouth subtly to accentuate the forms.
Add more shades, taking the pigmentation into account.
5. How to Draw Lips in the Side View
Draw a line directly under the nose, making it slightly longer than its height (go back to the previous section if you want to learn why).
Just like in the previous section, mentally divide this line into thirds, and then squeeze the middle third to make it smaller.
Add the chin.
Outline the side of the mouth.
Add the cheek and jaw muscles, to have a better view of the whole mouth.
Add the curve of the mouth.
The corner of the mouth should droop slightly.
Add a rough outline of the lips. Make the lower one slightly larger.
Add the three ovals (in this view, just two!).
Draw the shape of the upper half of the mouth.
Add the node in the corner. If the cheeks are puffed or thick, they can cover the nose completely.
Outline the lips.
Add the details of the lips, if you want to shade them realistically.
After all the guide lines are done, accentuate the lines that you want to keep visible.
Shade the whole mouth subtly to accentuate its 3D form.
Finish the shading, remembering about the pigmentation of the lips.
6. How to Draw Lips in Perspective
Although it may seem complicated, drawing in perspective follows one simple rule: during the rotation between the views, one view turns into another view. So a perspective view will be simply a compromise between what we have learned before.
Prepare the nose and the line under it. Remember to keep this line behind the base of the nose, not just under its tip.
Just like before, divide this line into thirds and squeeze the middle third.
Add the chin. Remember about its 3D form!
Outline the mouth.
Add the cheeks. Notice how the cheek closer to us covers the mouth, and how the farther one is covered by the roundness of the mouth.
Add the roundness of the mouth.
Cut the mouth.
Add a rough outline of the lips, with the lower lip slightly larger than the upper one.
Add the three ovals.
Draw the shape of the upper part of the mouth.
Add the nodes. The farther one can be covered by the roundness of the mouth!
Outline the lips.
Add the details of the mouth—useful for shading!
The guide lines are done, so now you can add the final lines.
Shade the mouth subtly, revealing its 3D form.
Finish the shading and darken the lips.
7. How to Draw Lips in Different Styles
Of course, you don’t always have to draw lips this way. Depending on your intended style, you can safely ignore a lot of elements. In many cases, you can simply draw the characteristic curve coming from between the lips, and a suggestion of the shadow under the lower lip—that will be easily understandable, as long as you keep the other elements of the face simple as well.
If you want to learn how to draw cartoon lips, head to the tutorial below!