Mouthing Off

As I delve deeper into the webcomic weeds and further from simple illustrations, I’ve been raising my personal artistic standards. One thing I’ve been working on a lot lately is the expressiveness of my characters. Their physical faces are made to be somewhat movable, but they still tend to be a bit stiff. I’ve tried to crochet expressive mouths but I’ve never been able to get any that don’t look, frankly, horrifying.

So I thought instead of making stitched mouths I’d try my hand at digitally rendering them. This is the tale of my first attempts at digitally adding mouths.

The original

Here’s a detail from the original photograph:

In this scene, Aeronwy is speaking angrily to Marisand. The original is okay. Her eyes convey anger but her mouth looks a little weird. Could I digitally enhance things to increase her angriness?

(Also, I pinned her mouth in position so I’ll have to hide the pin.)

Interior and teeth

I kept her original mouth, cleaned up her lips a bit, darkened the inside of her mouth, and added teeth. It’s better, but still pretty far from where I want it to be.

Flat cartoon mouth

My next thought was to start with a cartoon mouth to use as a template, so I found one on the web and pasted it on:

While this clearly isn’t acceptable, it does actually convey anger. Maybe I’m onto something?

I drew over the cartoon mouth with various yarn stamps and pattern fills so it looked more like part of Aeronwy’s face:

It conveys my intent: she looks more like she’s angrily talking. But it looks too flat, too much like it’s drawn on rather than part of her face.

3-D cartoon mouth

I went back to the web and grabbed a different mouth, one that had a more three-dimensional look:

By the way, this one came from Girl Genius, an excellent webcomic (this page, to be exact). Again, it conveys the intent of angrily talking. If you squint hard enough it almost looks natural!

More work painting over it with yarn patterns:

It just doesn’t look right. Too toothy, for one.

From scratch

Beginning to lose hope, I made one more attempt in this vein and drew the whole thing from scratch:

Again, it looks okay but too flat and too drawn.


I went back to the drawing board or, rather, stepped away from the drawing board and went back to the original concept of enhancing the existing mouth with a collage of digital features and yarn patterns.

This time I enlarged her mouth to better fit her face, thinned her lips, adjusted the angle and position, and shifted the perspective. Her teeth and tongue are patterns clipped from other photos of crochet. This one looks by far the best, like it’s actually in her face instead of on her face.

I added a few shading effects here and there to help other parts of her face come out a bit: shadows around her eye and a crease at the corner of her mouth.

You can see this one in action in Reckless Careening.

It’s still not perfect, but it’s definitely an improvement. I’ll keep at it and let you know what else I come up with to make it even better!