The Corner Of The Mouth

As anyone who has ever picked up a pencil knows, the expression of the face is based on the corner of the eyes and the corners of the mouth. —E. F. Gombrich, The Story of Art.

The above statement is really more misleading than helpful. The corners of the mouth do change in most facial expressions, but so does the line between the lips, the shape of the lips, the cheeks, and the chin. None of these things change by themselves— they're all connected. Taken together, a set of changes occur that we recognize as an expression.

Creases around the Corner

The "corner of the mouth" is an interesting location. The spot where the line between the lips ends is a veritable Times Square for facial muscles— more of them converge on that one point than anywhere else on the face.

As we age, the crease at the mouth corner tends to lengthen and deepen, scoured into the face by the repetitive movements of the mouth. Eventually, it may join with another fold created by mouth movements, the commissural fold—a vertical wrinkle that brackets the mouth and chin like parentheses. It's located right at the point where the chin turns from front plane to side. It takes over where the nose-to-mouth fold leaves off; sometimes the two folds connect, and then one long curving fold extends from nose to chin. Together, the mouth-corner crease and the commissural fold can make an upside down L-shape continuing the mouth line.

By themselves, none of these folds will make a mouth smile or frown, and in fact can be confused with the creases that are created by expression. But as long as the lips and LBL and cheeks are in their relaxed form, the mouth as a whole will look relaxed. In your drawings, note where the LBL, which is so important in expression, ends and where the creases around the mouth begin. Usually there is a sharp break in direction between mouth and crease that helps clarify things. Whenever possible, avoid working from photographs. These details are always much clearer when you use a model.

The corner of the mouth receives a dense concentration of facial muscles. As a result, it's one of the more sensitive areas of the face in terms of our ability to precisely control its movement. In any stretching movement of the mouth, it's one of the first things to show a change.

Crease Mouth

Here is a relaxed mouth (top), contrasted with the same mouth in the first stage of a smile. A little angled crease (A) appears as the lip end is pulled deeper into the face. The pull is stronger on the opposite side and the crease is deeper. This is the face of a seventeen-year-old; with time, the crease becomes a permanent one, with slightly softer edges.

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