In large part, this has to do with the fact that the titanium white in clown makeup is whiter than your tooth enamel will ever be, even with the modern practice of tooth whitening becoming widespread. Additionally, teeth are a very human characteristic. Pair them with an exaggerated clown mouth, and they just don’t look right, and can even be a bit scary if they haven’t been whitened.
There are exceptions, of course. If a clown is wearing exaggerated false teeth (say to create a gap-toothed look or oversized teeth), the teeth then become part of the character and of course should be shown. Also, for characters wearing minimal “street” or European makeup, smiling with teeth can be perfectly acceptable.
Because teeth aren’t traditionally shown in a clown smile, designing the clown mouth is very important. Although the size will vary (smaller for White Face clowns, larger for Auguste and larger still for Tramp clowns), the clown mouth has some basic elements:
- The mouth can be red or black, on an Auguste or Tramp clown it is often inside a larger white “muzzle” area
- Apply paint to the lower lip, leaving at least one finger of chin showing – so the mouth doesn’t appear to be “sliding” off your face
- Avoid applying paint to the top lip, as it really doesn’t move in smiling and this look just creates a scary “watermelon” smile (exceptions are the tiny heard shaped lips that some white face clowns prefer).
- Apply circles at the corners of the mouth, or just a little outward of the corners. These circles can connect to the lower lip or not, depending how large you’ve made that lower lip (again, smaller is ok for white face clowns, more exaggerated for Hobos and Augustes).
- Keep the total mouth width no wider than the center of your eyes (for Tramps & Auguste clowns, the muzzle can extend onto the cheeks but keep it above the bottom of the chin). These circles can be even with the mouth line, or above, depending on the look your after (is your character happy go luck, or a bit down and out).
- Try different positions on each side of your face, and smile (lips together) in a mirror and practice different facial expressions to see how best to accentuate your natural features. Some tramp clowns forgo the mouth altogether, and have short, black, downward slanting lines at the corners of their mouth, all within a white muzzle.
- Try different looks until you feel your face fits the character you are creating.