Have you ever been drawing a portrait and been discouraged because the teeth you drew look like Chiclets gum?

Yikes!

If you have dealt with this problem and are at your wits end wondering how to fix it, don’t worry! I am here to help and will be giving you some of the tips and techniques that I use to create realistic teeth in my portraits.

I hope that this tutorial will be helpful to you in your quest to learn how to improve your drawing skills!

Getting started, I want you to feel free to print and trace the image below.

If you’re using a laptop or computer, you can effectively trace directly over the laptop screen with a piece of tracing paper, then transfer to a drawing paper using graphite paper. You wouldn’t even need a printer in that case.  I have written a blog post on different methods of tracing that might also be helpful if you want to do it another way.

Once you have your outline started, I want you to look at the photo again. Look at the top of the teeth, the gum and lips area.  Do you see the shape of the gums over the teeth?  What do you see?

Here is an example of what your initial outline should look like once you’ve got it on paper.

Notice that I have drawn the outline VERY lightly so that it will be simple to erase if I need to.

I can always add darker lines at a later point:

The first thing I do is use a blending stump (which already has been covered in graphite on the tip) and use it to shade in areas such as the gums, and the lines in between the teeth.  In the photo below, I’m using an arrow to indicate where one of the lines in between the teeth is, since it’s so light you can barely see it.

…then the tongue…

…and the lips!  It’s almost too easy using the blending stump.

In case any of you aren’t familiar with blending stumps, getting graphite on the tip of it is simple.  All you need to do is use any pencil and scribble a dark spot on a separate piece of paper, then rub your blending stump over the dark spot to transfer the lead to the stump. Then it’s ready to use to create soft, subtle lines and shading in your drawings.

Look at the picture below. Look at how faint the lines are to separate the teeth.  Next, I go over the gums again and darken them and define the edges a bit more.

Notice that I do NOT draw bold lines in between the teeth with my pencil. The reason for this is that the teeth are close together, and are actually touching, and if you look at the reference picture you’ll see that you really don’t see any dark lines defining the teeth in this photo.  So be sure you do what you see in the picture.

Continually refer back to the reference photo and compare again and again as you go.

Also, be sure to pay close attention to the shape of the bottoms of the teeth. Notice how some teeth are sharper than others; some have flat bottoms and some have rounded bottoms.

Be sure to pay close attention to the shapes, angles, and lines as you draw.

Next, find the darkest spots in your drawing and fill them in, using a lot of pressure with your pencil to make it as dark as what you see in the picture.

By the way…Yes, that is a regular old Bic mechanical (.07 mm) pencil that I am using.  (It’s amazing what you can do with one of those, and they are so affordable!)

 

So you can see that I darkened the inside of the mouth on the left side, right under the tooth and around the tongue.  Next, I darken the middle of the tongue as I see it in the picture.

Don’t be afraid to use pressure and create these dark shadows…this is what will create the 3D realistic appearance you want!

Then I darken the rest of the darker spots and some of the more medium shaded spots.

Next, I use the blending stump again to blend all of the shaded spots till it’s smooth. And I don’t worry if I get outside of the lines.  Notice the gradient of dark to light from the left to right of the tongue.

Now, one mistake that many people make when drawing teeth (which is one reason their rendering of teeth can end up looking like white boxes) is that they assume (usually on a subconscious level) that teeth are flat squares with no texture.  This is because they are drawing what they believe a tooth looks like, instead of drawing what they are actually seeing.

In reality, teeth are all so unique; having many different shapes, sizes, and textures that we need to pay close attention to.

Having a drawing with teeth shaped incorrectly or in the wrong positions can drastically a persons’ appearance in a portrait.

No pressure, of course.  

So the next part is where I try to draw in the bottom row of teeth.

I would like for you to notice the angle of the lines in the top row of teeth- I’m using my blending stump to show you the direction the lines are pointed.

Comparing my drawing with the reference photo, I can see the lines from the bottom row are at a completely different angle.  Taking notice of this and drawing accordingly is important in making the teeth look realistic.

Now, most of the dividing lines of the teeth were nearly parallel to the dividing line of the middle tooth that I began with.  But on the right, you’ll see that some of the lines were completely horizontal where the teeth curve around the tongue.

Using my kneaded eraser, I begin lifting some of the highlights from the tongue.

I’ve also erased some highlights on the top lip.

Now I start detailing the bottoms of the teeth, paying close attention to the reference photo for guidance. I ask myself questions like, “How dark is the shadow under this tooth? How about that one?  How sharp is the bottom of the tooth? What is the shape of the bottom of the tooth? Is there even the tiniest of gaps in between the bottom of any of the teeth?” Be sure to ask yourself such questions, as it will help you to define each detail clearly.

I also use my blending stump to soften anything that looks rough and to define softer edges.

On the bottom set of teeth, I add lines to define the divides between the teeth.  Only on the bottom row of teeth, as they are more visible in the reference photo.  And I make the line between the lips and the bottom teeth more defined and visible but add a gradient effect from the line down over the lip so that the line itself isn’t noticeable.

All I need to do now is refine a little bit more and maybe add some highlights to the lips, teeth, and gums.

There’s really a lot more I could do to continue to improve the realistic effect, but at this point, you have hopefully gathered some information on how to create a more realistic set of teeth for yourself.

See how much this is improved from the initial drawing example?   What do you feel was wrong with the first drawing that was corrected in the second drawing?

Conclusion:

In order to avoid drawing teeth that look like a mouth full of Chiclets gum, remember that teeth are not flat or square; they have shape and texture. Constantly compare your drawing with a reference photo and make sure your angles are correct. Try not to draw harsh dividing lines between your teeth…a blending stump can be tremendously helpful in this case.

What are your thoughts?

Is there anything that I’ve left out? Leave your comments below and be sure to subscribe for more tips and tutorials!

Also- YOU can do this!!