In this tutorial, we will cover how to draw anime mouths and lips with varying expressions. By the end of this tutorial, you should be able to draw anime mouths that are sad, happy, open, closed, screaming, and so on!
This tutorial is part of an ongoing series of Anime tutorials on gvaat.com, for more tutorials focused on anime and manga, follow this link. For those of you looking for a quick summary of how to draw anime and manga mouths, here’s it is:
To draw anime and manga mouths and lips, first identify the emotion you are trying to convey, as it will decide the shape you are going to draw. Then, start with identifying the centerline of the face, and placement and angle of the mouth. Finally, draw the mouth or lips by looking at examples (there are a few in this tutorial) and reference.
Finally, before we get started, this tutorial assumes two prerequisites. First, you should be fairly well aware of how to draw a realistic mouth or lips (something that I cover in detail in a tutorial found here), and second, you should have a basic understanding of perspective. I covered perspective in-depth in the tutorial on drawing vehicles. You can find it at this link. Can you follow along with the examples in this tutorial and draw anime mouths and lips without the prerequisites? Sure, but you will get better drawings by completing the prerequisites first.
Without further ado, let’s get to drawing anime and manga mouths, lips and expressions!
Drawing anime mouths – how to draw the mouth open
Drawing anime mouths is a lot about being able to summarize something complex into something incredibly and efficiently simple. At its core, anime and manga art is grounded in realism, simplifying it to its most basic elements, and providing flare through artistic license and stylization, visual design, and visual narrative.
Drawing anything anime requires careful and patient observation of reality, and then the careful transition of such observation to something that is representative of the spirit of anime and manga art.
Drawing anime mouths and lips is extra difficult, because the subject matter changes shape as it opens and closes, and exists in a variety of examples, all of which serve to buttress the impact of the overall character design.
So how do we learn to draw anime and manga mouths and lips? How do we learn to draw something that changes based on the angle, based on the character, based on the expression? There are, after all, so many variables!
If you really want to learn how to draw anime mouths and lips in a way that is reflective of the best of anime and manga art out there, my current best recommendation is to learn to draw through sheer brute force.
That is to say, create hundreds of drawings referenced from anime and manga, as well as real life. Then invent your own drawings from memory and imagination. Compare the two stacks to see what you could invent better, and then reflect back on studying each design element in all the interactions that you have drawn.
After drawing hundreds of mouths you will begin to pick up on certain similarities that keep coming up over and over again. In this tutorial, I will share what I’ve learned after drawing many anime mouths and lips. Further, we will together take the exact approach I outlined above: we will look at many, many drawings and evaluate the subtle details that are used to compose the essence of good anime drawing.
Drawing anime mouths – teeth showing
Regardless if the character is very excited in laughter or is just speaking loudly, drawings of anime mouths wide open seem to always be presented with teeth showing. Whether it is the upper teeth or lower teeth really depends on the perspective and angle at which the character is presented to the viewer.
Usually, if we are looking at a character from above, (where the character is below us), their bottom teeth will be showing. When we are looking at the character from below (where the character is above us), their upper teeth will be showing. I also found out that in most anime that I reference for this tutorial, if we seem to be looking at the character straight on at about eye level, the upper teeth will be showing and not the lower teeth.
Drawing anime mouth – perspective and tilt/angle
The angle, of course, depends not only on our position relative to the character but also on the tilt of the head of the character. We could see the bottom teeth of the character even if we are located below their position when they tilt their head towards us.
Sorting this out requires basic understanding of perspective. If you’re lacking the understanding of perspective and angles it may be difficult to properly place the angle of the mouth. I published a tutorial on drawing vehicles in perspective that can help you acquire basic knowledge of perspective for any type of drawing, you can access it at the following link.
In the instance of the image right above, we are looking at the character from above.
Their head is below us, and as they open their mouth, the lower teeth come into view. Further, the shape of the teeth a simplified. In a sense that no weight or shape is provided to the row of lower teeth. Instead, they are simplified by a swift round curvy white mass.
In this example, we’re looking at the mouth from below, and so the upper teeth are presented to us since they are now positioned in our field of view.
A lot of this has to do with anatomy as well. For example, in the image right above, we’re looking at the subject at about eye level and only the upper teeth are presented.
Try opening your jaw really wide in front of a mirror, you are likely to see your upper teeth and much less so your lower teeth. Your lower teeth will be covered by your lower lip at least partially.
Anime drawings of mouths and lips take into account real-life anatomy to show us a stylized expression of our world. The fact that upper teeth are more visible with a jaw wide open is reflected in anime and manga drawings and art, just like many other small but important subtleties that help us understand the human form.
The tongue is also always visible in a wide-open anime mouth drawing. It is usually represented as a section or a top portion of a ball moving out of view into the mouth – check out the example right above.
Drawing anime mouth, – profile view, anime mouth from the side
Now let’s take a look at drawing anime mouths from the profile view or the side view. This is why perspective is so important in drawing complex forms from different views, precisely because the mouth looks very different in profile than it does in the three-quarters view or front view.
Scroll through some of the examples below to get a feel for drawing the side view.
Notice again how the tongue is represented in the example above. Like a small part of a ball peaking out from under the cheek into our view.
In the example above, notice also how the upper teeth are more visible than the lower when the mouth is open. Note that divisions between the teeth are rarely drawn, if at all. A simple white stripe is in place to represent a row of teeth.
In the example right above, we see more of the lower lip than the upper lip. Specifically, we see the top plane of the lower lip, helping us place the viewpoint from which we are observing the scene. It is clear that the character’s head is below our viewpoint. This is so because if it was above us, we would see the bottom plane of a top lip instead.
Understanding which planes of the form will become visible depending on the viewpoint is key in drawing anime mouths. This is a skill you can gain over time, so don’t be too hard on yourself if your first or second set of drawings does not look exactly how you’d like. However, make sure you are constantly improving, even if the improvement is marginal. A marginal improvement over time equals to huge gains in skill.
Notice that almost in all instances, the upper lip hangs over the lower lip, and the lower lip is set back compared to the upper lip.
Notice also, that the line that creates the outline of the mouth is mainly responsible for defining the expression. We see this in the above two examples where the lips are drawn in a very similar fashion, yet the expressions are very different. There is either tension or anger in the second expression that is absent from the one above it.
This means that paying careful attention to the design of the lines creating the opening of the mouth, is going to be important in your ability to define expressions when drawing anime mouths.
Drawing anime mouth and lips – lips closed
Drawing a closed mouth in anime and manga is all about suggestive lines. Instead of creating details for the outline of the mouth, or creating a sharp division between the lips, we’re going to create suggestive lines indicative of the anatomy of the lips, and let the viewer infer the shape from the suggestions we make.
This distinction is so important, that we should go over it again:
Instead of drawing all the details comprising the mouth and lips, we will communicate only the very basic information through suggestive lines, and let the viewer infer the rest of the expression.
Although it appears that perhaps this is easier to do than to draw a mouth in a very detailed way, actually it is not easy. It isn’t easy because you have to convince the viewer with a very limited ability to communicate – just a few marks on the page.
This in turn means that precision and subtlety in where these marks are placed are extremely important to drawing anime lips. In fact, it is clear that all mangaka are capable of drawing realistic lips with precise detail, as it appears to be a prerequisite for proper placement of suggestive lines in the stylized and simplified version.
So how do we learn exactly where to place marks to create a convincing drawing of anime lips? My answer remains the same as it was at the beginning of this tutorial – brute force.
We must draw hundreds (and perhaps many more) lips from reference to acquire the comfort in placing the marks in a precise way, in a way that will communicate the expression with control, subtlety, and eventually mastery.
Pay careful attention to the few brushstrokes that form the perception of lips on paper. Note that in some cases the upper edge of the upper lip is omitted entirely as you see in the examples above. However, you can still read the expression from the simple drawing, given that you as the viewer are left to fill in the missing information.
Some expressions will require asymmetry. This asymmetry will likely be presented in the lower lip. Like most stylization in anime, this is grounded in reality, it is easier to move your lower lip side to side than the upper lip thereby creating a more asymmetrical shape with the lower portion of your mouth.
Notice also that there are a range of styles with an anime and manga art, ranging from somewhat realistic to extremely stylized. At a very basic level, lips can be drawn with one line as an example above.
Notice in the above example, the break in the line, indicating the soft surface of the lips as the upper lip overlaps the lower.
Above is an example of how an older person’s mouth could be portrayed in anime drawing, with additional detail at the sides of the mouth or the bottom of the mouth.
In anime, the general rule is that the older the character the more lines it will take to define them.
By studying the examples in this tutorial, and making your own drawings of anime and manga lips and mouths you will overtime acquire the skills necessary to draw anime expressions well.
One of the reasons I only drew the lips and not the entire face of a character for this tutorial is that I wanted to isolate the subtleties that go into drawing anime mouths and lips on a canvas. Isolating specific features to learn to draw them is a big advantage, but don’t forget to integrate the subject matter back into a larger image in your practice.
Lips slightly parted like in the example above, can be a sign of attraction, or that a character is on the verge of saying something important. See if you can spot this in your favorite anime, pause the frame and try to learn from it!
Identifying the center vertical line of the mouth or lips is very important to a good drawing in anime and manga or really in any drawing. Knowing the location of the center will help with the placement of the foreshortened portion of the drawing. In the drawing right above, the line horizontal dividing the lips is shorter on the left than it is on the right because the subject matter is presented in a foreshortened angle. Foreshortening becomes evident and must be properly drawn in faces especially in three-quarters view. To learn about foreshortening, visit my perspective tutorial at this link.
Drawing anime mouth, – mouth partially open
There are certain instances that show up very often in anime and manga, where the character is speaking, or smiling or showing distaste in a situation, and the character’s mouth is half-open. A similar drawing of a mouth is used in all of these varying situations.
In these instances, artists can show lots of emotion through the corners of the mouth, but no teeth are visible at all.
In the above examples, the dip created by the area between the lower lip and the chin is indicated by a single mark. If you place your index finger on your lower lip, and slide it down slowly to your chin, halfway through you will notice that your finger moves inward before moving outward towards the end of the chin. This dip in anatomy is represented here with one mark.
Try to study from the examples below, and try to identify what kind of character this expression could belong to. Can you draw in the rest of the face of the character just by looking at the mouth drawing? This could be a good exercise in invention of facial features.
In the example above, let’s identify the tilt of the head and location of the mouth. In the example on the right, we can see that the head is tilted slightly to the left. We can infer this just from the drawing of the mouth.
It also appears that indication mark for the dip above the chin is more prevalent in male than female anime characters. The male faces seem to be represented to be more angular, providing the mark indicating the dip shows a change in the plane.
In anime and manga, most partly open or wide open drawings of a mouth will create obtuse angles at the left and right edges of the mouth.
Carefully observe how these obtuse angles change based on the expression.
Edges of the mouth will help define the expression, curving upward with a smile, and sloping downward with a frown. In almost all examples where teeth are clearly visible, however, these corners become obtuse and rounded.
Drawing anime mouths, – screaming, angry, or exerting effort
Many expressions of the mouth in anime are often interchangeable with others. As an example, above are screaming and angry drawings of a mouth as well at mouths showing exertion. It is often hard to pinpoint the expression exactly without other cues – or other facial features for context. While this could seem confusing, it actually works well for the artist.
We only need to learn so many expressions to be able to draw them all. Learn to draw the ones above and you can then draw an anime character expressing anger, or one exerting physical force. You will notice, however, that the difference between those two expressions is likely to be shown in other facial features.
There are some similarities we need to be aware of.
Notice how the majority of these have rounded corners and a line indicating a break between the teeth.
Notice also that the line indicating the separation of the upper and lower teeth is zig-zagged. This type of line indicates some overlap of the jaw when the teeth are clenched together.
How to draw anime mouths, final thoughts
We went over many drawings of many anime lips and mouths. We also discussed how understanding the expression you want to draw is important to drawing anime mouths. We also talked about understanding perspective, angles at which you are drawing, and also understanding the different planes of the lips – you have to know the shape of something before you can draw it convincingly.
Drawing facial features, especially the mouth is difficult. My advice is to draw many from good reference. Draw many, then take a pause and try to analyze various repeating elements from one drawing to another, similar to how we analyzed elements of each drawing in this tutorial.
After you complete a round of reflecting on what you have drawn already, get back to drawing more samples from reference with new found knowledge.
Repeating this practice will vastly improve your drawings of anime lips and mouths over time. It will also help significantly if you continue the practice of drawing daily. Something like drawing anime mouths and lips is best learned by producing a large volume of drawing. Make hundreds of drawings and you will see improvement.
This tutorial is part of an ongoing series of anime tutorials on gvaat.com, for more tutorials of the anime and manga sort, follow this link.
To learn how to keep your drawing habit daily, check out my article on how to draw every day, you can find it here. As always, you can leave me feedback at this link. Now it is your turn to draw. Good luck with your anime drawings!