Levator Labii Superioris The Openmouthed Sneer

Lips Drawing Step Step

Arched upper lip vs. the sneer. People with arched upper lips form an important minority group, like left-handers. The arch may be fairly high (A) or lower, with only a tiny gap between the lips. The center part is never more than one-third the length of the upper lip, and side angles are not steep. The lower lip line is flat. The sneer occurs when the center is elongated and side angles are steep (B). The lower lip is unaffected.

If the pull of the sneering muscle, levator labii superioris, is strong enough, the upper lip is lifted up from the lower, exposing the front teeth. The only other expression that fully exposes the front teeth is the smile, and the two can hardly be confused. What can be confused with the sneer, however, is the arched upper lip.

This (C) is a sneer created by the middle branch of the sneering muscle. Expressions are often asymmetrical; here pull is stronger on the right. Landmarks: deepened nasolabial fold, especially by nose (D); upper lip line with steep outer legs; little curl above lip center (E). A sneer may be so asymmetrical that one-half of the lip is totally relaxed, as in (F).

Levator Labii Superioris

The Sneer:

Levator Labii Superioris_

The open-mouthed sneer is actually part of many expressions. Besides its obvious role in the face of disgust, levator labii superioris helps square off the upper lip in the expression of anger and sadness. In the angry mouth, for example, the upper teeth are fully exposed, there's a deep fold alongside the nose, and the upper lip has a square-arch shape—sure signs the sneering muscle is active.

The upper teeth are exposed in the open-mouthed sneer. An extra pull separates the lips, but otherwise acts only on the upper lip, leaving the lower lip relaxed. An entire row of teeth are exposed, as opposed to just tips in the relaxed mouth. In fact, any expression where the full row of upper teeth are showing can only involve one of two muscles: either the sneering muscle or the smiling muscle, zygomatic major. Under most circumstances, the two different actions are unmistakable.

The Smile:

Zygomatic Major_

One can never say too much about the smile. The open-mouthed smile is perhaps the first expression most people attempt to draw. Rendering all those curved surfaces and edges so that they look right takes a fair amount of practice. Having a feeling for the perspective of curves helps, too, when it comes to rendering the smile from various angles.

When we smile with our mouth open, we subject the lower face to changes very similar to those seen wTith a closed-mouth smile. The muscular action involved, the contraction of the zygomatic major, is exactly the same. Why do we smile sometimes with teeth showing and sometimes without? Perhaps the closed-mouth smile is caused by a very slight contraction of the lip-tightener, orbicularis oris, and its relaxation allows the smile to open.

Of course, the wider the smile, the more likely the mouth is to open. And if laughter is involved, the jaw drops and space appears between the teeth. As the jaw drops in laughter, the main change in the smile is an increasingly vertical direction of the upward leg of the lower lip. Observe this on yourself and notice how stable the shapes are in all the other portions of the lips.

Drawing the Lips

The inner rim of the lips is the key to drawing the open-mouthed smile. In fact, the obvious way to begin to draw the smile is to start with the inner outline, and work outward. Keep in mind as you draw that the edge of the smile is curving sharply around the teeth and being drawn back into the face. The sense of elasticity and stretching, and of turning planes, gives a solid feeling to the smile.

From the front view, the inner edge of the smile is like the bow used in archery, with the upper lip the bowstring, the lower lip the bow. The upper lip tends to be as straight as it is because the muscular pull is at its level on the face. The lower lip, being farther from the direction of the pull, stretches outward and upward. All this angularity contrasts sharply with the oval form of the relaxed mouth.

The smiling upper lip itself becomes a simple shape: two parallel lines, tapering at either end. It's like a piece of red tape stretching around the curve of the teeth. It loses any wrinkles or inner plane turnings it may have had in the relaxed mouth.

The Teeth

The way the teeth show is important. A host of negative expressions—fear, anger, sadness—expose the lower teeth. A smile where we see lots of upper and lower teeth may well be a bit on the forced side. Be careful to not overdo the lines between the teeth. They're not nearly as dark as they look, and are best merely hinted at, not drawn in full.

The Smile in Its Surroundings

Both the laugh and the smile are stretched tightly around the barrellike form of the middle face, and both are framed by the nasolabial fold above and the rope-like "chinstrap" below. The net result is that the smile looks as if it were recessed into a thick, angled frame.

This sense of the smile turning within a frame can be expressed by attention to shadows. In fact, the shadow pattern of a smile is so recognizable it can be expressed with just simple black-and-white shapes, defining what faces up and what faces down.

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