Artist demonstration: how to draw a mouth

Do you find mouths difficult to draw? Artist Robin-Lee Hall takes the frustration out of drawing a realistic mouth, step by step. She talks about observation skills, and demonstrates how she structures a drawing of a mouth, then adds detail and shading. She explains how to make the drawing realistic through an understanding of anatomy and perspective, and with the help of some reference images.


  • Hello, I’m Robin-Lee Hall and I’m an artist. And I’m going to show you how to draw a mouth.

    If you want to have a go at this as well, you will need paper, a soft pencil or charcoal, a putty rubber, a reference portrait or a mirror.

    I’m going to use this self-portrait of Anna Zinkeisen as my reference. Anna was born in Scotland and she specialised in portraits, still life and murals.

    Everybody's mouth is different. Let’s take a look at the mouth and you can see here I’ve got this skull, but it doesn't look quite right. Because in fact mouths go around the teeth and when we’re drawing, that’s what we really want to create. We don’t want a flat mouth, we want a three-dimensional mouth.

    I usually start with structure lines and actually if you look at Anna’s face, you can see that it's not full face. One side of the lips will be a little bit narrower than the other side of the lips. So I’m just going to get that centre line in there like that.

    And in fact if you go from corner of mouth, to corner of mouth, you’ll find that it isn't a straight line, it’s actually slightly at an angle to allow for the perspective.

    Just get where the end of the mouth finishes, so that’s one side that I can see and I can see more of that side than that side, so I’m actually going to make that side of the mouth, a little bit shorter.

    So we’re actually going to start with the bow of the lips, which is actually that little bit there on your upper lip. And then it’s a little bit like drawing a wave after that. So you’ve got the sweep down, to where I've marked the end of the mouth and then the sweep down on the other side, which is a little bit shorter.

    In this particular painting, Anna’s mouth where the lips actually meet, it curves upwards, it's not a straight line. Trying to bear in mind that again I'm seeing more of one side than the other. I want to try and get that curve. But that centre line is kind of giving me a guide.

    Now I make lots of mistakes. I might alter this, I'm not sure but I’ve always got to get something down first.

    When we look at this portrait of Anna, her mouth is actually slightly open, so I’m going to try and suggest, where I can see the opening of the mouth. And I’m also going to suggest a little bit of shape.

    The mouth is actually very important because it very much conveys the emotion of the sitter.

    Ok, now I’m going to do a little bit of shading. You’ll find the upper lip is quite dark and the lower lip is light. Now I’ve got to a stage where I need to rub out my structure lines.

    Very rarely do you see teeth in portraits and in fact, from an artist point of view, teeth are really quite hard to draw.

    I’m going to show you a way of putting those teeth in, but very faintly. And at the moment it doesn’t look like I’m doing very much, but I’m actually just taking out a little bit and I want them to be sort of just a suggestion of teeth, so I’m going to go back into that and just sort of define the teeth a little bit.

    See what I’ve done, I’ve got a little bit of smudging there just to suggest a very, very slight sort of smile. It starts to look like a mouth and a face, as opposed to a floating mouth.

    See, I’m using my finger quite a lot to smudge things and soften things around the mouth.

    This is how I draw mouth. And you’ll find that actually by working on the shading, the mouth will start to come out and look three dimensional.

    Just keep drawing and you’ll find that you really do improve.

Learning objectives

  1. Explore artists’ creative practices and techniques.
  1. Make drawings from reference images.
  1. Gather inspiration from a variety of sources, including observations of human anatomy and painted portraits.

You will need

  • Paper
  • Soft pencil or charcoal
  • Reference portrait or mirror
  • Putty rubber
  • Pencil sharpener