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