Painting the Mouth: Lessons from the Masters by Candace Bohannon

Painting the mouth isn’t generally the first thing we think of when considering the most expressive feature of a portrait. Eyes usually get top billing. But the expressive potential of the mouth isn’t to be ignored. The mouth conveys emotion, attitude and personality—not to mention age and physical conditions. Let’s check out a sampling of at how the masters went about painting the mouth to take full advantage of its expressive nature:

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PAINTING THE MOUTH: SIGNS OF AGING

Painting the Mouth: "Head of a Woman" by Michiel Sweerts, plus detail; digital images courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program | ArtistsNetwork.com

Head of a Woman (oil on panel, 19-15⁄16×14¾) by Michiel Sweerts, plus detail; digital images courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

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The first of our sampling is Head of a Woman (above) by Flemish artist Michiel Sweerts (1618–1664). The artist captured something endearing in the mouth of his subject. The woman’s lightly pressed lips fold inward, likely due to many missing teeth. The corners of her mouth are lifted in just such a way that we get the impression that this woman’s disposition as kindly and good natured. Notice how soft the edges of the lips are and how the dark line at the meeting of the lips is highly descriptive of the action of the mouth. We also see that the flesh surrounding the muzzle towards the bottom of the face becomes less saturated with color and reveals more cools than the area above the lips.

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PAINTING THE MOUTH: YAWNING

Painting the Mouth: Self-Portrait, Yawning by Joseph Ducreaux, plus detail; digital images courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program | ArtistsNetwork.com

Self-Portrait, Yawning (oil on canvas, 46-3⁄8×35¾) by Joseph Ducreaux, plus detail; digital images courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

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Next is Self-Portrait, Yawning (above) by Joseph Ducreaux (French; 1735–1802). This is a great example of painting the mouth yawning. The value of the lower set of teeth isn’t nearly as bright as the highlight on the lower lip or skin to the left of the mouth. This adds a sense of depth to this space. The teeth are cooler and more neutral in color than the lips, but they’re similar in color to the flesh in other areas of the face. The mouth is shadowy, but has no true blacks, so it doesn’t appear as a gaping hole.

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PAINTING THE MOUTH: FIRMLY SET LIPS

Painting the Mouth: Portrait of Marie-Louise Joubert, nee Poulletier de Perigny by François-Zavier Fabre, plus detail; digital images courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program | ArtistsNetwork.com

Portrait of Marie-Louise Joubert, nee Poulletier de Perigny (oil on canvas, 31-1⁄8×24-5⁄8) by François-Zavier Fabre, plus detail; digital images courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

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Now let’s look at Portrait of Marie-Louise Joubert, nee Poulletier de Perigny  (above) by François-Zavier Fabre (French, 1766–1837). The firm set of the closed mouth in gives a clue to the steadfast personality of the subject. The cool, shadowy upper lip helps accentuate the rich, warm lower lip. Subtle highlights along the lips’ edges accentuate the vermillion border and turn the cupid’s bow (double curve at top of upper lip) and philtrum (vertical depression from base of nose to upper lip). The shadowy side of the mouth blends softly, without interruption, into the surrounding flesh. This allows it to recede in space.

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PAINTING THE MOUTH: SOFT, FULL LIPS

Painting the Mouth: Portrait of Laurent-Nicholas de Joubert by François-Zavier Fabre, plus detail; digital images courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program | ArtistsNetwork.com

Portrait of Laurent-Nicholas de Joubert (oil on canvas, 31-3⁄8×25) by François-Zavier Fabre, plus detail; digital images courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

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Let’s look at another portrait by François-Zavier Fabre. He painted the lips in Portrait of Laurent-Nicholas de Joubert (above) with great attention to detail. Intricate placement of lights and darks conveys their fullness. The vermillion border is soft and smoky, creating a natural appearance. Highlights on the lower lip describe the curvature and plump bulge of flesh. The teeth are shadowy and softly defined within the mouth, painted in a fleshy color similar to that just below the shadow of the nose. The upturned attitude of the parted lips gives the sitter a pleasant countenance and suggests a jovial, outgoing personality.

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PAINTING THE MOUTH: PALE AND DEMURE

Painting the mouth: by Jacques-Louis David, plus detail; digital images courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program | ArtistsNetwork.com

Portrait of Suzanne Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau (oil on canvas, 23¾x19½) by Jacques-Louis David, plus detail; digital images courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

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Our final painting is Portrait of Suzanne Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau (above) by Jacques-Louis David (French, 1748–1825). This artist accentuated the tender femininity of his subject through pale pink lips and a smooth glowing face. Cool lavender shadows pool at the corners of the mouth and under the apex of the lower lip, while warm pinks and vermillion accentuate the vibrant center of the mouth. The soft edges and centerline have just a touch more drama toward the edges of the mouth, emphasizing the point where it turns inward. Overall this is a mild and tender mouth, conveying a feeling of sadness or quiet reservation.

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The post Painting the Mouth: Lessons from the Masters by Candace Bohannon appeared first on Artist's Network.

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maxmallie

I am obsessed with water colours and have been painting since I could hold my first brush, I have a huge passion for my own work and others, I love to teach and inspeier others. I'm a very proud Dad with 3 girls and amazing wife who shares my passion for painting.

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