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Digital Subscriptions > The Artist > December 19 > Lips


Kathy Barker continues her series on portraiture by taking you through the basics of painting lips – including what to look for in terms of shape, colours and teeth

John Singer Sargent (1856–1925) famously defined a portrait as ‘A likeness in which there is something wrong about the mouth.’ The mouth is probably one of the most expressive features of the face. I think lips can be one of the most challenging features because the mouth is a little more complex in structure and it’s easy to make lips too harsh or to suggest the wrong expression.

Lip colours and shapes

Use a brown or mix one from your red and black, keep it thin using a little turps and paint/draw the shape of your top lip. Alternatively, you can begin with the line produced from the meeting of top and bottom lip. Make sure you judge the distance to the base of the nose either visually or by comparative measurement. Top lips are usually a little darker than the bottom lip, which initially is just defined by the shadow running beneath the bottom lip. See how the top lip can be filled in with the brush whilst drawing. There are no drawn outside edges – the margin of the upper and lower lips is known as the vermilion border. In fact, when you study the outer edging of the lips, it’s lighter in value and contrasts with the lighter skin tone. The darkest line will be where the lips meet, which can be accentuated at some later point.

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About The Artist

Welcome to our December issue. This month consultant editor and acclaimed professional artist David Curtis reveals his approach to painting a recent portrait of his son, while Kathy Barker explains what to look for when painting lips in the second of her series on portraiture in oils. Amanda Hyatt shows how to simplify complex interiors and Paul Weaver advises on the colours to use and mix to create atmospheric greys to capture winter scenes in watercolour. Newcomers to pastel will enjoy the first in Robert Brindley's new three-part series on pastel techniques and landscape demonstration, Soraya French and Robert Dutton suggest myriad creative ideas for working in mixed media to paint flowers and expressive landscapes and Geoff Hunt and Michele Del Campo share how they work up a painting in the studio in different media and very different ways. Cover artist Bob Brandt shows why pattern is so important, while Richard Pikesley, Paul Brown, Charles Williams and Paul Talbot-Greaves all share their ideas to inspire your artistic development. Enjoy your painting with The Artist this month!