How to Paint Lips

Written by brandon getty
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How to Paint Lips
Painting a realistic set of lips requires attention to shadow and dimension. (lips image by Alex Motrenko from

You've been working hard on a portrait and everything looks great: the eyes, nose and jawline are all realistically formed and coloured. Only one unfinished feature remains--the lips. While drawing and outlining the shape of a subject's lips may be simple, adding dimension to them requires a bit more subtlety. With careful attention to skin tone, highlights and shadows, you'll be able to put the finishing touches on your portrait.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Pencil
  • Paint (skin tones, red and white)
  • Canvas
  • Artist's palette
  • Plastic cup
  • Small paintbrushes

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  1. 1

    Prepare your work area. Squeeze small dabs of each paint colour onto the palette and place it within easy reach of your canvas. Fill the small plastic cup with fresh water and place your brushes in it.

  2. 2

    Draw the outline of the upper and lower lips with a pencil, paying careful attention to how they are oriented. For example if the subject's face is turned slightly, the position of the lips should correspond.

  3. 3

    Look carefully at the grooved meeting point of the lips. Draw the meeting line accurately, so that it complements the shape of the upper and lower lips.

  4. 4

    Apply a base colour to the inside of the lips. To achieve an accurate base, mix the subject's skin tone with a few dabs of red and white paint.

  5. 5

    Paint the shadowed areas of the lips using light horizontal strokes. In most lighting conditions the upper lip just above the meeting point tends to be lined with shadow. The corners of the mouth and bottom curve of the lower lip are also slightly shadowed. Mix a dark tone with the base colour to create an accurate match.

  6. 6

    Add highlights to the lips. The middle of the bottom lip protrudes slightly, causing it to be the most highlighted portion of the mouth. Lighten the base colour using a significant amount of white paint and apply it to the bottom lip in small vertical strokes. The top tips of the upper lip can also be slightly highlighted.

  7. 7

    Perform any finishing touches. Several possible touches include the light grooves from the nostrils to the outsides of the mouth, a slight shadow below the lower lip and above the chin, or a beauty mark if desired.

  8. 8

    Allow the paint to dry overnight before hanging or transporting your canvas.

Tips and warnings

  • Keep in mind that lips are not composed of one solid colour, but a variety of different yet complementary tones. Do not be afraid to mix colours or experiment with tonal range while painting your set of lips.
  • Any type of paint (watercolour, acrylic, oil-based) can be used in the steps above. All materials required can be found at your local art supply store.

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