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How to Draw Lips – Anatomy and Structure

October 10, 201216 Comments

In the last lesson you learned about the nose and how to draw it step by step. Now it’s time to look at lips! Lips are very expressive. Many muscles working together to pull on various parts of the lips. Also it’s the only feature that involves bone movement.

Basic Forms

the tooth cylinder that fits right between the nose and chin, can be simplified into a bloated tuna can. By bloated I just mean that the wall of the cylinder curves out rather than being flat. This comes into play when looking at the lips from any angle other than straight on. The bloated tuna can affects the surface forms of the lips. The center line of the lips gets pushed outward and when viewed from top or bottom, the lips wrap around the cylinder. Notice that from this angle, the corners of the lips are actually lower than the bottom of the bottom lip.
comparing the forms of the lips to tuna can
Try to avoid drawing the lips on a flat surface.

Major Planes

The major planes of the lips
The major planes of the lips are very simple. They are very much like a staircase of 3 steps from the chin to the base of the nose. In fact, if you look at the head from profile, the entire front of the face is like a staircase. The major planes alternate from top plane to bottom plane.

step by step major planes of the face values
When drawing from a front view, this staircase is usually indicated by alternating dark and light shapes.


Let’s go over a little bit of anatomy. The red portion of the lips and the part directly above and below is called the orbicularis oris.

anatomy showing off the lips obicularis oris

simplifying the lips based on facial anatomy
It originates at the corners of the lips called the nodes. These nodes are visible as ‘bumps’ since so many muscles meet and overlap here. In this simplified diagram you can see that there are a lot of muscles that attach around the orbicularis oris and pull on it to form various expressions.

The orbicularis oris can also tighten to form an ‘O’, or to blow a kiss.

The lips attach to the tooth cylinder at the base of the nose and the top of the chin.

drawing the minor forms of the lips

Minor Forms

The top lip has three forms and the bottom lip has two. Think of these forms as squishy little pillows. The rounded form in the middle of the top lip (called the tubercle) is shaped like a heart and wedges between the two forms of the bottom lip. When looking at the lips from an angle, these forms overlap each other adding depth. When drawing a foreshortened object, I always look for overlapping lines to show a form is in front of another.

Overlapping forms are indicated by T intersections. The lower left overlaps the tubercle, the tubercle overlaps the lower right, the lower right overlaps the top right, and the top right overlaps the far corner.

The local value of the red portion is different from the local value of the skin. The relationship depends on the race of the person. With darker skin, the lip could be lighter, and with lighter skin, the lip could be darker. If the person is wearing lipstick, that would change the local value of the lips.
comparing dry and wet lips

Because the lips have a bit of moisture, the highlight will appear brighter and sharper than the highlights on the skin. Unless of course, the skin is also wet…

When shading the lips, pay attention to the minor planes changes of both the top lip and bottom lip. The darkest tones will usually be around the crease, corners and core shadows at the top of the top lip and bottom of the bottom lip. Each of the squishy pillows will have subtle tones indicating their volumes.

dark and light upper lip gradation
This upper region of the lips usually has a gradation revealing the rounded ‘tuna-can’ shaped tooth cylinder underneath. In the middle of the upper lip region is the philtrum, a concave depression composed of two planes. The darker plane of the philtrum will be on the opposite side of the dark on the overall upper lip region.

The edge of the upper lip has a small ridge, or top plane that sometimes catches light. I try to play down this effect and avoid drawing a white outline. This could look like a milk mustache.

The ridge that borders the bottom lip is steep in the middle and softer on the outsides. The lower lip region has two pillars that angle inward toward the top. Together these two pillars form an arch under the bottom lip, which is often in shadow since it faces downward.

two pillars under bottom lip drawing

volume of the nodes drawing
At the corners of the lips, there are bumps where many of the muscles connect. The volume of the nodes is similar to a bean. When shading, make sure to think of it as a rounded form that pinches inward. The roundness of the bean creates a soft edge at the outside and top. The pinch creates a sharp edge at the inside and bottom.

Think you absorbed all the information? Good! Move onto the next lesson where I cover how to draw the lips step by step.

Filed in: Portrait / HeadVideos

Comments (16)

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  1. Susan B. says:

    yea! another winner. thanks tons. this REALLY is helpful. susan

  2. Carmen Agreda says:

    Awesome video! my favorite part when you blow a kiss lol
    Thanks so much I’m so happy!!! I can’t Believe that Mr Proko use my pic
    Thanks Mr Proko

  3. Sylviane says:

    Your videos are stunning, anfd I am glad to share with other people.

  4. Shama says:

    Hey Stan,

    Your videos are great – rarely do books or videos go into so much detail! I have just recently started painting and sketching again and these videos are a great help! Thanks!

  5. Terrific job.. straight forward, informative and fun. I will watch these again and again.

  6. Tom says:

    Hi Stan,

    Great job on the videos–as usual. I look forward to more! Thank you!

    PS. You look good with lipsticks 🙂

  7. Zsofia says:

    Loved the bloated tuna can 🙂
    Started to watch your videos, really like them as I was only drawing bodies before…I never could get the faces right… I think I really lacked this information here!

  8. vhutson says:

    Great videos. I’m going to direct my drawing students to your site. Thanks for sharing your knowledge and skills.

    I especially enjoyed the portion of your eye video where you had the large eyes! I’m actually going to show that one in my class.

  9. Darren Wall says:

    Your tutorials are outstanding in terms of the information and delivery method. Your illustration of the key info is very useful. I have already promoted your site to the whole of my student cohort on the BSc (Hons) Computer Animation and Special Effects Course at Leeds Met University (UK). We look forward to any future posts.

    Darren Wall
    Course Leader
    BSc (Hons) Computer Animation and Special Effects

  10. animation says:

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you
    relied on the video to make your point. You definitely know what youre talking about, why
    waste your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something enlightening to read?

  11. Maya says:

    Dude you’re awesome! I’ve just shared this with many other amateur artists same as me lol. and NO keep doing videos there are already way too many texty tutorials around which are boring obviously.

  12. Liz says:

    Hey! I’m getting a lot out of your tutorials and think they’re really great, but I would take out this line: “The relationship depends on the race of the person. With darker skin, the lip could be lighter, and with lighter skin, the lip could be darker.” Lip value in relation to skin tone is not dependent on the skin color. People with light skin can naturally have a range of lip values, as can people with dark skin, in relation to the tone of the rest of their skin. I don’t think you intend to make sweeping generalizations, so thought I’d give you my 2 cents. Otherwise, I love your work and am a huge fan of yours.

  13. Lyndsey says:

    Genius. This is amazing and so helpful! Thanks!

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