They say that the eyes are the window of the soul, but as British actor John Thaw famously said, “watch the mouth, it reveals what the eyes try to hide.” The way our mouths and lips move can transmit thousands of different messages to the people around us. So, if you are learning how to draw faces or improve your portrait drawings, understanding all the elements of a mouth will bring an added level of depth to your creations. 

In this tutorial, we will cover how to draw a mouth step by step, starting by getting to know the structure of the mouth and lips. Once you have the basics, we’ll show you how to draw a smile and how to draw a sad mouth. Ready to get started? 

Here’s what you will need:

  • Drawing pencils (you can use a regular graphite HB pencil, or switch between a 2H for sketching and a 2B for shading and outlines)
  • Drawing paper or a sketchbook
  • An eraser
  • Reference photos of mouths for practice

Drawing a Mouth for Beginners

The Basics of Mouth Drawing 

There are 42 muscles in the face, and about 10 of them are involved in the movement of the lips and mouth, helping us eat, speak, smile, kiss, whistle, and pucker our lips, as well as communicate our feelings and mood. When it comes to making a mouth drawing, understanding how these muscles work can be extremely helpful when you need to decide how to depict a specific emotion.

Many of the muscles in the face converge on the mouth area. 
Many of the muscles in the face converge on the mouth area. 

It’s also important to note that mouths and lips come in all different shapes and sizes. In fact, lips are unique like fingerprints! You will never find two people with identical lip impressions. However, when you are learning how to draw a mouth, you can follow certain general guidelines and adapt them to each of your drawings. 

Positioning the Mouth

When you draw a mouth, it will usually be interacting with other facial features, so we’ll start by determining where to position the mouth relative to these elements. 

As a general rule, the mouth is two eyes wide, and the corners of the lips are located directly underneath the center of the eyes. Even though it’s not too noticeable from the front, the mouth rounds around the face following the natural curvature of the teeth. This is good to keep in mind when learning how to draw lips from different angles or adding volume to your lips sketch through shading. 

A useful trick is to draw two diagonal lines going out from the septum down to the corners of the chin, which will help you position the frontal plane of the mouth and know where the planes start to curve. 

There are some simple tricks for positioning the mouth in your portrait drawings.
There are some simple tricks for positioning the mouth in your portrait drawings.

Understand the Shape of the Lips

Just like everything else about the human body, the variety of the lips is endless, but the basic shapes and anatomy are typically the same. You can learn how to draw lips by understanding how these shapes interact with each other. 

Lips can be broken down into five rounded forms. There’s a heart-shaped protrusion at the center of the upper lip, called the tubercle, followed by two oval-like forms on the side, and the lower lip is made up of two slightly larger and rounder oval forms. Usually, the top lip will be more angular and the bottom lip will be rounder. The bottom lip will also tend to be a bit bigger compared to the top. 

Lips can be broken down into five basic forms.
Lips can be broken down into five basic forms.

The junction where the darker color of the mouth meets the surrounding skin is known as the Vermilion Border. The reason why our lips are darker than the rest of our skin is because of the blood vessels underneath the thin, translucent skin of the lips. The Vermilion Border is usually well-defined in the upper lip and the center of the bottom lip, and a little less so in the outer areas of the bottom lip. 

The V shape of the top lip is known as the Cupid’s bow. The philtrum is the area just above, connecting the cupid’s bow and the tip of the nose. 

A diagram of the mouth area by Skillshare instructor Melissa De Nobrega.
A diagram of the mouth area by Skillshare instructor Melissa De Nobrega.

Finally, we have the bean-shaped nodes at the corners of the lips, which are most prominent when the person is smiling slightly. The nodes pinch in at the corner of the lips, creating a shadow area there and a lighter tone along the outer area. When relaxed, they could be very subtle, and depending on the lighting or angle, they may not be visible at all. In drawings, they’re a nice little detail that adds to the realism of your lips sketch.

The nodes help to soften the corner of the lips and we can depict them as little shadows or small markings. 
The nodes help to soften the corner of the lips and we can depict them as little shadows or small markings. 

How to Draw a Mouth: An Overview

Let’s see how all of these shapes come together in a mouth drawing. 

You can easily make a mouth sketch using some basic shapes.
You can easily make a mouth sketch using some basic shapes.

First off, the heart-shaped form at the center creates an upward curve at the top and bottom of the upper lip.

The upper lip line is known as the Cupid’s bow. 
The upper lip line is known as the Cupid’s bow. 

At the top, the lines curve down before leveling out and connecting to the nodes at the bottom. The shape of this line at the top is what gives the Cupid’s bow its name.

Add some slight curves to the crease between the lips for a more realistic look.
Add some slight curves to the crease between the lips for a more realistic look.

At the bottom of the top lip, the lines will go straight across, slope down slightly, and then level out again to connect to the corners.

The Vermilion border fades towards the corners of the mouth. 
The Vermilion border fades towards the corners of the mouth. 

The lower lip will have a slight downward curve at the middle before rounding up to connect to the upper lip. Notice how the lines fade out as they approach the corners and don’t actually make contact. As we mentioned earlier, the Vermilion Border in this area is less well-defined. When you are drawing lips, you will mostly be using tone rather than line. 

Level Up Your Portrait Drawing Skills

Portrait Drawing Fundamentals – How to Draw Realistic Heads and Faces.

How to Sketch Lips in 5 Steps

Now that you know the basic shapes and parts of the lips, you can move on to your first lips sketch. Instead of just outlining the lips with the contour line, we will show you how to draw a mouth step by step using shading and volume.

Step 1: Draw the Center Line

First, draw two dots, which will represent the corners of the mouth. Then, connect those dots with a line. This will be the crease where the lips meet. 

Start your lips sketch with a single line. 
Start your lips sketch with a single line. 

Step 2: Add Shading

Using light pressure or your 2H pencil, put a tone over the whole area where the lips will be. This will be the color of the lips.

Add tone before outlining the lips. 
Add tone before outlining the lips. 

Step 3: Define the Cupid’s Bow

Define the V shape of the cupid’s bow at the top and the shadow under the center of the bottom lip using your 2B pencil or a darker mark. 

Use a darker tone to add shadow at the top and bottom of the lips. 
Use a darker tone to add shadow at the top and bottom of the lips. 

Step 4: Shade the Top Lip

Use a darker tone to shade the top lip, making sure the crease between the lips is the darkest area. This technique will help you draw more realistic looking lips than you can create by simply sketching a contour line. 

Using a 2B pencil you can add shading and detail to your lips sketch.
Using a 2B pencil you can add shading and detail to your lips sketch.

Step 5: Add Detail

You can finish your lips sketch by adding detail as you please, using the basic shapes you learned in the first part of this article to decide where to place your lights and shadows. 

An academic drawing diagram of the lips by Skillshare instructor Andrey Samarin
An academic drawing diagram of the lips by Skillshare instructor Andrey Samarin

How to Draw a Smile 

Now that you’ve learned how to draw a mouth and how to draw lips, it’s time to learn how to easily turn your mouth drawing into a smile with just a slight touch. Smiles can display as very subtle smirks or as open mouth drawings. Here, you will learn how to draw a closed mouth smile. 

Step 1: Draw the Upper Lip

Draw the top line of the upper lip following the Cupid’s bow shape, remembering to curve out at both ends for the corners of the mouth. 

In a smile drawing, the ends of the Cupid’s bow angle slightly upwards. 
In a smile drawing, the ends of the Cupid’s bow angle slightly upwards. 

Step 2: Draw the Center Line

Draw the bottom line of the upper lip as before, but this time, make sure to lift the corners of the line into a slight smile. Then, add two small marks or shading to the corners of the lips to signify the nodes. They will immediately add life to your smile drawing. 

The simplest way to depict a smile is to lift the corners of the mouth and to add marks for the nodes.
The simplest way to depict a smile is to lift the corners of the mouth and to add marks for the nodes.

Step 3: Add the Line for the Bottom Lip

Finally, add the line for the bottom lip, stopping just before the area on the bottom sides of the mouth just like you did in the last drawing. That’s it! You now have a closed mouth smile, which you can use as the base for the rest of your drawing. 

Finally, add shading at the bottom lip for your finished smile drawing.
Finally, add shading at the bottom lip for your finished smile drawing.

 How to Draw a Sad Mouth 

To draw a sad mouth, use the same guidelines you have learned throughout this tutorial. When people are sad, the mouth can be either open or closed, and sometimes people will convey sadness with a relaxed mouth. Oftentimes the outer corners will be stretched outward or downwards into a frown; so the points of tension that you want to keep in mind for sadness will be the corners of the mouth. 

Rendering a sad expression has a lot to do with the points of tension in the face.
Rendering a sad expression has a lot to do with the points of tension in the face.

Learn How to Draw Faces in a Cartoon Style

Drawing Faces: A Beginner’s Guide.