This is the first in a series of five tutorials about painting the human face.

PhotoImpact 10  -  Can also be done on other versions.

Beginner & Intermediate

Oil Paintbrush; Charcoal Brush; Airbrush

Digital tablet and pen.  I use the Wacom Intuos3 4x5.  This tutorial can be done without it.  I have always indicated a range for the brush sizes, and if you are using a mouse, you will have to change the brush size frequently within that range to get the results you want.  If you have a tablet, use the largest setting indicated, and set it for size & transparency.


New image, 400 x 300; white background.

Airbrush, round, Size: 5-10; Transparency: 70; Soft Edge: 50
Hex #9B3326.  If you want to paint these lips as an object, also click "MODE" in your Attribute Bar.  There are reminders in each step. 

Using a mirror (or any person in your immediate grasp), draw the horizontal center line between the two lips you see.  If it doesn't come out right, UNDO, and try again.  It took me several tries, too!

When you have a centerline that pleases you, draw the upper lip.  This one took me even longer!  Remember also that nothing in nature is absolutely symmetrical.

And finally, draw the outline of the lower lips.  We are using a very neutral tone, and a soft airbrushed outline, just to serve as an indication of where to stop and start our painting.  These lines won't be very visible in the final painting.  Save your work.


It won't come as a surprise to you if I tell you that lips come in all shapes and sizes.  That means the lips demonstrated here are just one, unique set, and not some universal set of lips.  And your painting will most likely not look like mine, nor should it.  But some things should be said about lips in general, that will always make it easier for you to draw or paint them.

A- Upper lips are usually darker than lower lips, simply because light is usually coming from above, putting the bottom of the upper lip in shade, and reflecting light off the lower lip.

B- When the lips are closed, the meeting point of the two is usually darkest.

C- There is usually a small shadow directly under the lower lip.  But, as with all of these hints, not always.

D- One of the most widely misunderstood expressions to draw is the smile.  The mouth does not curve upward as in cartoons.  Two ligaments on either side of mouth pull the corners of the mouth straight back, and only slightly up.  It is important to note that the radius the mouth encircles is smaller than that of the rest of the face, since it surrounds only the teeth.  In effect. the corners of the mouth are pulled into the cheeks.  The cheeks are pushed out and up, giving the eyes the characteristic smile-squint.

E- Lips are not solid areas of color, but are broken up into many small planes divided by vertical folds.

And now, let's get started!


Oil Paintbrush, round, Size: 10; Transparency: 70;
Hex #A2140F.  [MODE] 

Darken the center divide between lips.  Save.


Oil Paintbrush, round, Size: 5-10; Transparency: 80
Hex #B51914.  [MODE]

Begin painting the darker areas of the lips, which are low on the upper and lower lips.  Paint them using vertical strokes, following the curve of the lips, as shown.  Begin at the outlines, and allow the lines to "die out" in the lower third of the lip.  Save your work. 


Gritty Charcoal; round, Size: 5-10; Transparency: 70
Hex #E32427.  [MODE]

Paint the lighter, redder areas of the lips, which are high on the upper and lower lips.  Paint them also with vertical strokes, following the curve of the lips.  Begin at the outlines, and allow the lines to "die out" in the  previous paint.  The actual meeting point is not important, since you will cover it in the next step.  Save.


Gritty Charcoal; round, Size: 5-10; Transparency: 70
Hex #F4C5BD.  [MODE]

Now paint the mid-level highlights on the center of the lower lip, using the same curved, vertical strokes.  Using very thin strokes, paint small highlights at the top curves of the upper lip.  I painted them on the left side of each "hump," indicating that the light is coming more from the left than directly overhead.  Save.


Gritty Charcoal; round, Size: 5-10; Transparency: 70
Hex #8E1D0E.  [MODE]

Beginning at the center line, make longer curved, vertical strokes upward, deepening the shadow of the upper lip.  This time, paint them at least to the midway point, or even higher if you wish.  Save.


Gritty Charcoal; round, Size: 5-10; Transparency: 85
Hex #FED5DD.  [MODE]

This is where we really give those lips form -- by adding the highlights that are present on the lower lip:  the brighter the light, the lighter and larger the highlight.  Also, wet or glossed lips will have very pronouned highlights, created by putting low tones directly adjacent to the highlights.  Does your upper lip need one?

When you apply these highlights, keep in mind the little planes that exist in-between the folds.  Sometimes they form squares or rectangles, and other ones form triangles. Wet your own lips and look at them carefully to get a sense of this feature.  Save.


Gritty Charcoal; round, Size: 3-10; Transparency: 85
Hex #710908.  [MODE]

And once again, it's time punch up those darks, again.  Paint them in from the center line stroking upwards, taking just a few of some very thin ones up further, to show those folds.  Keep the center line smooth.  Use this color to darken the mouth corners.  Also add a bit, here and there, to the very bottom edge of the lower lip at the center portion only.  Keep the lip edges very soft.  Save.


Gritty Charcoal; round, Size: 3-10; Transparency: 85
Hex #F9FFEF.  [MODE]

The final touch -- a few carefully spaced, very small high highlights on top of the original highlights.  These go only on the bottom lip.  You will notice that this color is not white, nor pink.  It's a very bright, light version of yellow-green, because the complement of red is experienced as a brighter color.  If you've been painting in MODE, select them all and, right-click, Merge as a Single Object.  Save.

You have finished your pair of lips!  I hope you enjoyed this tutorial, and will also try the other ones in this series.


Young ones, old ones, smiling ones, frowning ones, closed ones, open ones, sketchy ones, finished ones.

Note how much of a difference the features and topography of the face around the mouth make, to making the personality and identity pop off the page.  This tutorial was just about lips, but their setting is equally important.

If you want to improve your drawing and painting of the human face,  take a little sketchbook with you everywhere, look at your subjects closely, and sketch, sketch, sketch!


This seems like a good place to discuss the contours of the lips.  When deciding where to put those lip creases, and also the highlights and shaded areas, it is important to keep the contour lines in mind.  Since each pair of lips will have its own contours, there is no right and wrong.  Just know what they look like on your subject, and where the light is coming from, and you'll know where to put hightlghts and shade.

© 2007 Gisele Zeitler
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