There's one major difference between the mouth and the other features we've looked at. The nose and the eyes are built around a solid, fixed element anchored in place to the skull. The mouth, however, has no fixed attachment whatsoever. This, combined with the fact that there are a host of muscles specifically aimed at stretching and moving the mouth around, makes the mouth the most variable feature in the face. Learning it in repose is one thing; learning it in action is another. Most people who've just gotten out of art school still can't draw a smile because it changes the mouth's shape too much! One of the functions of this book, of course, is to address this very problem.
The extent to which the mouth is a continuation of its surroundings is easy to overlook because of its different color. As you can confirm by feeling your own face, the mouth doesn't so much interrupt the forms around it but continues them. The three-part curve of the region under the nose flows into the three-part curve of the upper lip; the lower lip is an extension of the shelf above the chin. These rounded forms are created by the rounded forms of the skull beneath—the curves of the teeth, upper jaw, and chin. So we'll look at the mouth in its region, not just by itself, continuously referring back to those skeletal shapes below.
Underneath the Nose_
A lot of "threes" crop up in dealing with the upper lip. There are three planes above the lip, and these flow into the three parts of the upper lip itself. In regard to proportion, the edge where the upper and lower lip meet—the line between the lips—is one-third of the distance between the base of nose and the chin.
The "threes" of the upper lip structure go back to our earliest beginnings. There is a stage in the development of the fetus where the skin above the mouth is actually divided into three unattached lobes. When these join at around eight weeks they still maintain something of their separate character.
The center lobe becomes the creased part; the outer two become angled planes alongside. We always sense the division between them.
The whole arrangement is something like a curtain with three large folds. The two outer folds start at the outer ends of the nose, and, widening as they descend, sweep down to the upper lip. The center plane faces directly forward and is split by a shallow groove, the filtrum. It may be deep and well marked, with soft ridges running along either edge, or it may be barely visible. In any case it disappears when the lip is stretched, as in a smile.
The portion of the skull underneath this area has a rounded form like a section of a parasol—curving from side to side, as well as sloping forward. The folds above the lip follow this general form. They slope forward as they part and curve from side to side; like the skull, they are flatter in the front— where the filtrum is—and more curved along the sides.
A crease often separates the cheeks from the upper lip. This is referred to by anatomists as the nasolabial fold. It runs downward, from the nose to the outer corner of the mouth. Although its deepening is a sign of age, it appears even on a young face when the mouth stretches in certain expressions, most particularly the smile. There is a natural tendency for folding at that point for two reasons: many facial muscles attach to the lip right along this line, and their pulling action leads to folding; and there's a fatty layer underneath the cheek that ends along the line.
The Upper Lip_
Technically, the upper lip includes the area all the way from the base of the nose to the line between the lips. The red lips are really just a well-defined turning under of the skin. The folded-in part has a different sort of skin from its surroundings; it's actually the outer edge of the lining from inside the mouth. It appears dark because there are more blood vessels close to the surface. In some expressions even more of the mouth lining is turned inside out, making the lips appear wider.
If you think about the mouth as just the thickness of the skin showing through the edges of a hole, then the mouth's relationship to its surroundings makes more sense. The peaks of the Cupid's bow shape of the upper lip, on the "hem" on the folds of the lip above, join the ridges of the filtrum. The dip of the bow lies below the fil-trum's groove. The bow's sloping legs follow the curving sides of the upper lip above.
The central notch-two wing arrangement is universal, regardless of particular lip shape. In rendering the upper lip, care should be taken to preserve its crisp, angular quality, the sense of form folding sharply under. Note that all the lip surfaces are subtly rounded, both from top to bottom and from side to side.
The Lower Lip_
The lower lip is usually fuller and softer as a form than the chiseled upper lip. It is composed of two rounded halves, each egglike and with a simple lower and upper outline. We don't usually see the upper margin, actually— it's covered by the upper lip. Its two-hill-and-valley shape is exposed when the mouth opens.
Underneath the lower lip and sitting on the chin is a rounded ledge, which is similar to those half bowl lighting fixtures you see on the walls in up-scale office lobbies. Feel it on your own face. The ledge has a hollow spot right in the middle where the lower lip overhangs the most and shadows almost always appear. But at the outer corners of the ledge the lower lip merges with it smoothly. I often challenge people in my classes to find the edge of the lip at this spot; you can't. There is a color change, but not a plane change. When drawing this area, artists should ask themselves, are we creating a border because we think there should be one, or because we see one? The lower lip is better left less-defined in these corners, especially when the corner is in shadow.
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