How to Draw Smiling Male Lips in 12 Steps

If learning how to draw male lips has eluded you thus far, don't beat yourself up over it, instead address the problem by taking a systematic approach. It might feel odd to treat art in such a clinical manner, but when you're attempting to draw something realistically that's proven challenging, approaching the problem differently is often beneficial. Drawing male lips is particularly challenging for many artists because they struggle to depict lips on a person while still maintaining their subject's masculinity. Drawing full, beautiful lips work well for many female portraits, but it doesn't work well when drawing male lips. So, what's the best way to master this often tricky subject?

Drawing Male Lips

You start by simplifying things, and accepting that this is something that you need help with. Anyone who ever thinks that they know everything and don't need to improve is going to fail. It doesn't matter if this person is an artist, doctor, or anything else, when you can't acknowledge your own shortcomings, and work to improve them, you'll never reach your goals. It can be hard to admit that you struggle with something, but that's the first step you'll need. After acknowledging that you need to work on a few things, you can start to learn how to draw human lips realistically.

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Why Draw Lips?

Drawing Male Lips Smiling
Drawing Male Lips Smiling

If you're trying to learn how to draw male lips, you may be wondering why it's essential to learn how to draw lips in the first place. Well, if you plan to draw portraits, and you want to be able to draw them realistically, then learning how to draw lips is a necessity. You may not like it, and it may be something you'll always find more challenging than other parts of the face, but it's something that you'll have to master.

The biggest challenge that artists that draw portraits face is the high standard that they have to meet. When you draw trees, landscapes, still life, or any other subject, there's a much larger margin for error that you work with. But, when you're drawing a human face, this is the most recognizable and familiar subject that you'll ever draw. If you make a mistake, people will notice.

It doesn't matter if the rest of the portrait is flawless. If there's a weak point, that's what people will focus their attention on. This course will teach you how to draw the individual features of the face in an anatomically correct way. Click here for more information: Portrait Drawing Course

If your weak point is drawing lips, then spend extra time practicing on them. Study their shapes, and most importantly, study the different shapes of lips on different people. Lips all have a similar basic shape, but there are subtle differences that set them apart. When comparing the differences between faces, it's the small details that make all the difference in the world. Once you spend enough time studying lips, learning how light affects them, and mastering how to add subtle lines and details, you can turn what was a weakness into a strength.

Drawing Equipment You Will Need

What kind of drawing equipment will you need while you're practicing drawing lips? That depends on what type of materials you usually work with. Even if you don't spend much time drawing with graphite when you're practicing using an old fashioned pencil and cheap sketching paper is your best option. It's quick, easy, and most importantly, it's not going to cost you a lot of money in supplies. One of the best investments you can make to help your artistic progression is a sketchbook. You can use newsprint if you want, the important thing is to have a sketchbook of some kind to work in. Why is this so important? It's important because it allows you to track your progress. As long as you date your sketches, you can compare where you were to see what kind of progress you've made.

Once you've spent enough time practicing and are ready to move on to the next step, you can start to use materials that you plan to do finished pieces with. If that's graphite, great, you've got a head start because you've already been working with graphite. If it's something else, that's fine too. The best thing you can do is spend some time using different mediums on different surfaces to find out what works best for you.

Practice Sketching The Shapes Of The Lips

The shape of each person's lips is going to be a little different. Some will be fatter, some thinner, some longer, some shorter. While the shapes are going to differ, the basic shape remains the same. The upper lip usually is smaller, it has an indentation in the middle, and it's usually in shadow because it's angled slightly downward. As an artist, the best thing you can do to master the shape of lips is to sketch them frequently. You don't have to go into great detail, in fact, you shouldn't go into detail. Focus on the shape, indicate highlights and shadows, and then move onto the next practice sketch.

How Male Lips Differ From Female Lips

When drawing male lips, there's a fine line that you'll have to walk where you depict the shape of the lips, but you don't allow them to dominate a portrait. When drawing a man, the lips should be depicted, but they shouldn't be as prominent as when you are drawing a woman. Male lips, like most other male features, tend to have a slightly more square appearance than their female counterparts. This isn't to say that this is true with all men, but it's true with most of them. When you're trying to draw a realistic portrait, it's essential that you accurately depict your subject's features and proportions. But, when you're drawing the lips on a man, it's okay to use a little artistic license to make them appear more masculine when necessary.

Practice Drawing The Form Of Smiling Lips

To draw realistic portraits, you are going to have to learn how to draw different emotions. When drawing the human face, there's no other feature that changes as much when different emotions are experienced as the mouth. The lips on your face are capable of assuming all manner of forms, and it's vital that you can draw all of them. One of the harder expressions to draw is happy faces with smiling lips. During a smile, the lips on a person curve upwards at the edges, the mouth elongates, and the upper and lower lip may appear thinner. You also have to take into account other changes in the face near the mouth that occur due to your subject's lips moving. The corners of the mouth will wrinkle, curve upward, and you may have dimples as well. The point is that drawing smiling lips is challenging, but as an artist, you should embrace that challenge!

Sketch The Symmetry Of The Mouth

With few exceptions, the mouth of a human being is mostly symmetrical. Now, there will be some imperfections, for example, teeth are often crooked, and there could be scars that cause the lips to have a different shape. But, for the most part, when drawing a mouth, attaining symmetry is essential. If you draw a mouth and it isn't symmetrical and try to draw a realistic portrait, then this is going to be a problem. How can you be sure that you're drawing a mouth symmetrically? When you're drawing it from straight, ahead, grid lines are beneficial. The other time you should use grid lines is to work from a photo, and you can't get a perfect likeness without using them. Gridlines here while employing the grid method can ensure that the mouth has perfect symmetry regardless of whatever angle you're looking at it from.

Drawing Full Lips

Lips, like every other feature on the human face, is going to vary from person to person. That means that the lips that you'll be drawing will vary from person to person as well. These subtle, little differences may not seem like much, but they can be the difference between having a portrait that has a great likeness to your subject, and one that doesn't look like them at all. One feature that you may have to draw on both men and women are full lips. When drawing full lips, make sure that you emphasize the fullness of them. How do you do that? You do it by using heavy shadows under the lip, and on the upper lip—the fuller the lip, the heavier the shadows that will appear below them.

Drawing Flat Lips

On the opposite end of the spectrum from full lips are flat lips. Flat lips are fairly common, and learning to draw them while not having them look completely flat can be challenging. When drawing flat lips, you should have the same shadows that full lips have, the only difference being that flat lips should cast a smaller shadow. The key to drawing any lips effectively is to take advantage of highlights and shadows to give your two dimensional drawing a three-dimensional feel.

Drawing And Sketching The Teeth

Teeth are a significant part of the mouth, and they are something that many artists struggle with. Should you draw each individual tooth? Or, would it be better to draw a basic indication of teeth by taking a more straightforward approach. The approach that you take depends on what type of portrait you are doing. Obviously, more realistic portraits should have more realistic depictions of teeth, and more abstract portraits should have simpler depictions of teeth. When drawing teeth, you must pay close attention to their size, shape, and relation. If you aren't careful when drawing teeth, they can dominate a portrait, and not in a good way.

One key point to remember is that the amount of a person's visible teeth at any given time is going to vary a great deal. When a person has a broad smile, you'll see most or all of their teeth, including the bottom of their teeth. Remember that when you're drawing teeth, they aren't flat. They also aren't perfectly shaped in most cases. Even people that have very nice teeth will have some imperfection in them in most cases. Make sure that you spot these imperfections and portray them. You don't want to focus on them because that would be highlighting a negative flaw, but if they're there, you need to show them.

The last thing to remember about drawing teeth is that they are three dimensional. They are affected by light and shadow, just like everything else. However, since teeth are inside of a person's mouth, the amount of light they get is usually considerably less than other objects you may be used to draw. But, since they are white, they should still be quite visible despite their limited exposure to light.

How To Apply Tone To The Top Lips

When drawing a mouth, it's important to remember that under most lighting conditions, the upper lip has more shadow. That is because the space of the lip causes a shadow to be cast over it. The bottom lip usually has much more light on it, probably contrary to what your instincts would tell you. However, once you spend enough time looking at different faces, you should notice that the upper lip is almost always darker than the bottom lip. Make sure that you shade the upper lip, and make sure that the darkest part of the upper lip is the bottom where it meets the bottom lip. In most situations, this should be a very dark area on the face. Read my post How to Draw Shadows on the Face.

Shade The Bottom Lips

While the upper lip has more shadow on it due to its shape, that's not to say that the bottom lip lacks shadows. When the light source comes from above, or even from above and the side. There will always be shadows on the bottom of the bottom lip. When rendering in these shadows, make sure that you follow the contour of the lip. The shape of a bottom lip is rounded, so you want shadows that follow this round shape. If you render in shadows in a straight line, it's not going to look right, and you already know that a mistake made when drawing a portrait is usually pretty glaring and obvious.

Apply Detail And Shading To The Teeth And Inner Mouth

When learning to draw the inside of the mouth, make sure that you remember that this is an area that's usually very heavily shadowed. It's almost like drawing the inside of a cave, but hopefully, it's a little more attractive than that. The level of darkness depends on the amount of light present, and how much of the teeth are showing. If a person is speaking and you can't see much of their teeth, then the rest of the interior of their mouth should be in heavy shadow, since very little light gets into that area.

Make sure that when you're drawing the interior part of a person's mouth, their teeth are the brightest thing in the area. Teeth are white or off white, and they naturally reflect more light than the rest of the interior of the mouth. When rendering shadows on them, it's better to do too little than too much. After all, you can always go back and darken them if necessary.

Blend And Highlight Areas Of Shadow And Tint

The lips on most people are slightly darker than the rest of the skin on their face. If you're working in color, they are also pinker than the rest of the face on most people. If you are working in color, you need to be careful to not overdo the pink hue that you see. It's often beneficial to do a base color of flesh, then add pink, then go back in and add flesh tones on top of the pink. Remember, our skin has multiple layers, so using multiple layers of color can give your drawing more depth.

If you're working in black and white, you don't have to worry about color shades, but what you do have to worry about are light and shadows. As a general rule of thumb, the upper lip has more shadows, and the bottom lip is lighter and has highlighted. Make sure that you show the shadows and highlights and make sure that you blend them together. There may be some sharp transitions in tone, but for the most part, lips should smoothly transition from dark areas to lighter ones. After you've finished rendering the lips in light and shadow, spend some time adding fine lines and details to give them a realistic and life-like texture.


Ian Walsh is the creator and author of and an Art teacher based in Merseyside in the United Kingdom. He holds a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in teaching Art and Design. He has been teaching Art for over 24 Years in different parts of the UK. When not teaching Ian spending his time developing this website and creating content for the improvedrawing channel.

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How to Draw Smiling Male Lips in 12 Steps