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Pencil Portrait Drawing—Muscles That Build the Smile

By Remi Engels, guest blogger

A smile is the result of happiness. It lifts and extends the bottom of the face and the uplifted cheeks will often crease the skin just below the eyes, creating the so-called “crow’s feet.”

To recognize the makings of a smile in its numerous manifestations we must first appreciate the underlying anatomy. Below we list the three essential muscles that contribute to a smile:

The Zygomaticus Major  is the main “muscle of happiness”. This stretched out muscle starts at the front area of the Zygomatic Arch (cheek bone) and inserts into the node.

When the zygomaticus major contracts it bulges and lifts the cheek while further extending the Nasolabial Furrow or smile-line.

The Malaris lies on top of the zygomaticus major and is a long, ribbon-like deep-seated muscle. It begins at the temple and inserts into and forms the bottom half of the smile-line.

The malaris is the cheek muscle. It draws up the cheek in an outward and backwards direction making it swell and giving it the puffed cheek look.

The Buccinator quadrilateral muscle forms the “cheek pad”. It initiates on the back, inside of the jaw and inserts into the “nodes” of the mouth.

When smiling, the buccinator shrinks thus drawing at the nodes and extend the mouth.

As the mouth is widened and heaved by both the zygomaticus major and buccinator the lips are stretched and flattened. So is the chin. The philtrum is shortened and the nostrils flare to some extent.

Below are still other minor muscles that add to the smile:

The Risorius is a curious muscle because not everyone has one. Some people only have a risorius on one side of the face. Others have a large, expansive triangular shaped one.

The Risorius originates in the tissue of the Masseter (whose action is employed largely for chewing) and attaches to the node of the mouth.

The risorius subtly pulls the node backwards and up. Its effect is mainly observed in gentle smiles.

Incisivus Labii Superioris and Inferioris Superioris—The superioris does the lifting. These narrow, band-like muscles begin just above the incisor tooth area and also attach to the node.

When fully shrunk, a puckering up of the lips (a kiss) is produced.

The Levator Labii Superioris is a thin, quadrilateral muscle whose effect on the smile is to some extent limited.

However, the higher part of this muscle contributes to the volume of the cheek and the smile-line.

Over the three significant muscles goes the most complicated of all the facial muscles, the Orbicularis Oris which operates throughout a large range of movements and expressions.

During a smile the lower eyelids are also pressed upwards. This is a consequence of a secondary action where the Orbicularis Oculi (the muscle of the eye socket) shrinks.

The smile-line is deepened as it is simultaneously drawn and pushed upwards and outwards. It is best to understate the sharp fold of the nasolabial furrow otherwise the smile will deteriorate into a grimace.

As the node of the mouth is drawn out and upwards the skin is gathered into subtle vertical ridges.

The interstice of the mouth curves upward, expanding and flattening the lips while shortening the philtrum. The nostrils of the nose also broaden as they are drawn outwards.

The top portion of the nasolabial furrow is created by a slender, 3-part muscle called the Levator Labii Superioris Alaeque Nasi. This is the muscle that creates wrinkles in the nose during sniffing.

The parts of this muscle are the furrow part which inserts into the upper part of the nasolabial furrow; the alar section which inserts under and behind the wing of the nose (Alae Nasi); and the lip portion which inserts continuously into the ridge just above the top lip and to the philtrum.

When rendering the nasolabial furrow be careful not to over-do it. A subtle suggestion is all that is needed. Otherwise your lovely smile will quickly degenerate into a scowl.

With this we have detailed and discussed the most significant muscles that are involved in the smile. This should put you on the correct path for appreciating the anatomy of the smile.

Do you want to learn the secrets of pencil portrait drawing? Download my brand new free pencil portrait drawing course here: pencil portrait course.

Remi Engels is a pencil portrait artist and oil painter and skilled drawing teacher. See his work at graphite pencil portraits.

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