Blog / 2023 / Painting the Teeth in a Portrait
July 31, 2023
This is Part 5 of a blog series dedicated to painting portraits, and, with yesterday’s post about the mouth, you’d be forgiven for thinking we’d moved on from that particular orifice, but you’d also be wrong.
Beyond the muscles of the face and set of the jaw, the mouth provides another challenge in the form of teeth. Too defined is too much, but not defined enough is also distracting, which is exactly why I avoided painting teeth when I made custom portraits early on in my career.
I consider both of these portraits successful in the teeth department, though my tactic was very different. At the time when I made Serena’s likeness, at the beginning of my career, my focus on capturing a dynamic image led me to make very movemented brush stokes, almost like the streaks used in comic book imagery and old-school cartoons to imply motion. This means I often made teeth look a bit fuzzy, which, when I describe it like that, seems obviously wrong, but which I think it makes a little more sense visually.
Yawatta’s portrait is the most recent one I’ve completed, and I’m especially pleased with her teeth. Like me, the subject has a gap, and I was excited to celebrate this special beauty trait! Because, though I don’t know what Yawatta’s journey with her teeth was, mine included some pretty extreme dental interventions: everything from the usual braces and retainers to the torture device known as a Herbst appliance, which filled my mouth so completely with metal and wires that I had trouble eating.
It’s hard to say what my face would look like without these early adjustments, but one thing I know for certain is that my adult teeth grew in gapped, and, once all the orthodontics were removed, they settled right back in the same position. I’m sure that wasn’t exactly a happy moment for my parents, AKA the people who’d paid for all the work, but I was pleased.
In France, what Yawatta and I have is called “les dents du bonheur” or “lucky teeth.” Though I don’t believe the spacing of my pearly whites has anything to do with all the luck I’ve had in my life, I appreciate that every time I brush my teeth I’m reminded of how fortunate I am.
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