View Full Version : Stiff Upper Lip

09-14-2005, 08:01 PM
I hope this is the right place for this. I don't have a particular WIP, just a specific question. Whenever I do portraits, my people have a tendency to have stiff upper lips. Is there a secret to change this? Should I be making the lip darker or lighter on top or on bottom? Is it just shape? I usually try to fix it by just making the lip fuller, but that isn't the answer. It does make the lip appear less tight, but I also lose some likeness.

09-14-2005, 08:56 PM
Welcome to WetCanvas, Amy... I don't often do portraits, but there
are many here who do. Someone will be along who can give you some
pointers... I hope you'll post some of your work, we always like that...
You're going to love it here...

Jo in Georgia

09-15-2005, 03:17 PM
Hi Amy, welcome to the forum:wave:

I think your question would have been better in the Workshop, however, have you seen Genna's portraiture Classroom? (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=254280&highlight=Genna) I hope you find it helpful. Also see the homework thread (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=254284&highlight=Genna).


09-16-2005, 01:45 PM
Thank you both for your comments.
I appreciate the directions, Doug.

09-23-2005, 11:22 PM
Hi Amy,

As a student of portraiture myself I was intrigued by your question. I had a good look at your website - wonderful work by the way, especially on the Western series - and studied your portraits.

I then went and looked at my own portraits, some of which suffer the same "stiff upper lip syndrome" that yours do, and others that do not. By comparing, I think perhaps the secret lies in making the lips a bit more "supple". Make them a bit fuller (if it still stays true to the original photo) and don't use hard lines to outline them. I have also had a tendency to downsize the thickness of lips, and whenever I do that they look stiff. Also, if I make the lips all one color (very little variation in shadow/hilight) you get what I call an undesirable "illustrative" effect rather than a realistic one.

I did a few children recently in pastel, where the mouth areas turned out looking very natural, so I'll show them here so you can see what I mean with the above comments:

With this one, you don't really see the outline of the upper lip because most of the color is in the crease where the lips meet. But you know it's there. It's just a paler shade of pink. See what I mean by variation in color? Also, her lips are not symetrical, giving her a natural, almost "lop-sided" expression. The area between her lip and nose are also shaded to give shape and form, enhancing the expression and this helps the top lip to come forward toward the viewer.


With this one, see again the variation in color on that upper lip, which is quite full, and that shadow under her nose where that indent is. Subtle shading at the side of her mouth helps that top lip area to come out even more, as it would in real life.


I hope this helps you, and I am by no means an expert in this area. I have much to learn too. Thanks for the interesting question, finding a way to answer it helped me learn too! :)

09-24-2005, 05:16 PM
Great advice and helpful suggestions, Andrea! (In fact, I've given you a Mentor point for the day because that is the kind of thing that makes this such a great community.)

Thanks for asking such an interesting question, Amy. Look forward to seeing one of your portraits posted here in the Studio.


09-24-2005, 09:32 PM
Thank you very much, Andrea! That gives me much to incorporate in my next portrait. I really appreciate you sharing your expertise.

09-25-2005, 08:44 AM
Oh Wow, Andrea... I hadn't seen your second portrait! Fabulous... and exactly the kind of advice that can be applied to any medium... Thank you!

In the few portraits I've painted, I treat the lips as though they were a *muscle*... the colour in that upper lip blends gently into the skin tones creating a rolled edge...

I'm off you view your website, Amy...

{edit} Wow!!! Your website is fabulous! I had a blast!!!

09-25-2005, 03:23 PM
Your welcome.... and thank you too ladies. Wow - a mentor point! Don't think I've earned one of those before - thank you! :)

09-25-2005, 03:52 PM
Your welcome.... and thank you too ladies. Wow - a mentor point! Don't think I've earned one of those before - thank you! :)

I agree with the mentor point Andrea...a gem of instruction that makes going through threads a joy!

Nice website Amy! :wave:

09-29-2005, 01:22 PM
Thank you to all who have posted comments. I have been working on my stiff upper lips, and some day I will get it down perfect. The painting I am working on now, the children have big cheesy grins, so I am really struggling with it. But adding a bit more lip than the photo actually shows has helped. I guess I need to treat the lips as an entity of the face, instead of as a seperate entity as I seem view them. I am uploding my current project. As you can see again I have stiff upper lips, especailly on the oldest, but he is still a work in process. I have a bit more to do to his eyes too. http://www.wetcanvas.com/Community/images/29-Sep-2005/62991-Three_on_a_slide.jpg
Thank you again to everyone for all your help.

09-29-2005, 06:28 PM
Hi again Amy,

Yes they look stiff because you haven't put any detail on the upper lip. There should be some indication of the indent between lip and nose, even though they are smiling and the skin is pulled taut. With the older boy, you have made his nose just a bit too long which has made the upper lip area smaller than it should be. It may be too late to fix that, but you can still put some shading on that upper lip. Also, try to flesh out the top lip a bit on each person. There should be an indication of the bow on the upper lip line. It doesn't have to be much!

Forgive me for fiddling with your portriat, but it's easier to show you what I mean:

Here's yours (on the left) and "mine" side by side so you can see the difference where I've added some shadow and fleshed out the top lips just a wee bit:


Does that help any? :)

09-30-2005, 02:05 AM
One more thing to help you Amy, look at Artsymom's WIP of a mother and daughter. Half-way down the first page she shows examples of mouths! http://wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=288050 You can learn a lot by studying how she shades and hilights the area between top lip and nose - no "stiff upper lips" there! :)

09-30-2005, 02:05 PM
Andrea, thanks again for your help. I think I've got a little more of the shadow in there now. You can see the finished work in the thread "Three on a Slide". (http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=297856)
(I didn't want to use too much space by posting it here as well). I showed "Mom" and got her approval, which is good because I wanted to be done this weekend. I am headed to Sheridan WY for the Wyoming Watercolor Society's show and workshop. Thanks again to all for your help. Someday I will conquer this "stiff upper lip!"

09-30-2005, 03:51 PM
Okay, going to look now! :)