I want to paint a crea­ture with lay­ers of teeth, like a great white shark. Can you help?

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Justine Chang, US

An­swer

Mark replies

The key for paint­ing lay­ers of teeth is to give ex­tra depth to the crea­ture’s mouth, and then us­ing var­i­ous artis­tic tricks to sell the idea that the lines of teeth are be­hind each other.

The most ba­sic ap­proach that you can take is to make the teeth fur­ther in the mouth darker, be­cause the skull and jaw are cast­ing shad­ows on them. It’s tempt­ing to add high­lights to all the teeth, but un­less there’s a light shin­ing di­rectly into the mouth then only the first line of teeth will catch the light. Be care­ful when ap­ply­ing rim light­ing, and limit this to the teeth at the very front of the mouth.

Sec­ond, re­duce the sat­u­ra­tion in­side the mouth. Strongly sat­u­rated colours bring an ob­ject closer to the viewer, so by de­sat­u­rat­ing the in­side of the mouth you can cre­ate the illusion that some teeth are fur­ther away. You can achieve the same ef­fect by slightly chang­ing their size and adding fewer sur­face de­tails to the lines of teeth at the back.

The fi­nal and most im­por­tant art trick is to cre­ate over­lap­ping ob­jects, which in­stantly con­veys to the viewer that a par­tic­u­lar ob­ject or el­e­ment – in this case, very sharp teeth – is be­hind an­other. Fur­ther­more, you can add a lot of depth by clever po­si­tion­ing of the lines of the crea­ture’s teeth. Avoid paint­ing teeth that look too pre­cise in their size and place­ment, which will re­sult in an un­nat­u­ral look­ing set of gnash­ers!

You can achieve be­liev­able re­sults with your fan­tasy crea­tures, if you spend more time on your fo­cal ar­eas and paint them real­is­ti­cally. Adding ex­tra de­tails with proper shad­ows to the lines of teeth can help you to sell the idea that they’re lay­ered. With­out that the teeth would look flat.

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