Risorius Muscle


sculpted muscles on a skull by karen t taylor, highlighting the risorius muscle

A sculpted depiction of the risorius muscle, highlighted in orange clay.

Origin: the fascia (thin sheath of tissue that encloses a muscle) over the masseter muscle

Insertion: the corner of the mouth, blending with orbicularis oris.

The job of the risorius muscle is to pull the corner of the mouth straight back.  We regularly use it for grinning. The image above is from one of my sculpture workshops and highlights the risorius muscle in orange.

I have always enjoyed teaching facial anatomy in my workshops and love the idea of demystifying things for artists.  I’ve developed simplified ways of teaching facial musculature both in drawing and in sculpture.  In class, we unravel this somewhat complex material using a hands-on, easy-to-understand approach.  I like to include facial photos of how the muscles actually work because I believe this really aids in understanding them.

I love the way this photo of jazz great Dizzy Gillespie reveals the placement of risorius  across his amazing cheek structure.

photo of trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie which shows the risorius muscle in his cheek

Dizzy Gillespie showing his risorius muscle


As trumpeter Gillespie fully distends his cheeks with air, we can clearly see the linear horizontal depression created by the risorius muscle.  The fibers of  risorius seem to hold in place as the air-filled cheeks rise above and below the muscle.


American Artist Drawing

Images from article in American Artist Drawing magazine about Karen T. Taylor

I was very fortunate to be the subject of an article that appeared in American Artist: Drawing magazine.  This piece was done by New York writer Edith Zimmerman and appeared in the Summer, 2006 issue.  The title is “Understanding Faces From the Inside Out”.

Here’s the full article.

Houston Chronicle

Image of Karen T. Taylor's article in the Houston Chronicle

In 2004, I was interviewed for the Houston Chronicle by reporter Evan Moore for an article that appeared in the Sunday supplement magazine called “Texas”.  Mr. Moore had a genuine interest in the field of forensic art which resulted in a story that helped to bring positive attention to the field at large.  Interviews of this type provide the opportunity to alert members of the general public about the benefits of this work.  It also helps citizens to understand the unique efforts made by law enforcement personnel for the sake of public safety.

Here’s a link to the complete article.

Survival of the Prettiest

discovery-channel-logo1Over the years, I have drawn literally thousands of faces of criminals in my role as a forensic artist. Until this project came along, I had never really given the concept of idealized beauty much thought.

Sketch I prepared like a police composite sketch, based on the verbal description of Dr. Nancy Etcoff

Sketch I prepared like a police composite sketch, based on the verbal description of Dr. Nancy Etcoff

Then, I was contacted by renowned cognitive psychologist and researcher Dr. Nancy Etcoff, a professor of neuropsychology at Harvard Medical School.  She indicated that she had read the discussions of facial proportion in my textbook Forensic Art and Illustration.  She asked that I draw the face of “idealized female beauty” based on her verbal description, much like a police composite sketch.  This idealized face of “beauty” was done for a television feature production entitled Survival of the Prettiest based on Dr. Etcoff’s book of the same name.  California-based Termite Art Productions developed the hour-long program for the Discovery Channel.

Dr. Etcoff giving a description to forensic artist karen t taylor of the idealized face of female beauty


Dr. Etcoff and I conferred on camera to arrive at this universal “template face” of beauty in conjunction with Etcoff’s belief that physical attraction is innate and biologically-based rather than learned behavior.



Cover of the book Survival of the Prettiest by Dr. Nancy Etcoff

There are many fascinating concepts conveyed in Dr. Etcoff’s book concerning our societal perceptions of attractiveness and their implications.  Some quotes I find particularly significant include:

“When abused children under court protection were studied in California and Massachusetts, it turned out that a disproportionate number of them were unattractive.”

“Good-looking adults are more likely to get away with anything from shoplifting to cheating on exams to committing serious crimes.”

Though my only requested task was the black and white “template” sketch, I grabbed some sheets of transparent paper and did an experiment.  I placed sheets of drawing vellum over the “ideal” template and did very generalized portraits of several famous female faces.  In each case, the face seemed to perfectly fit the template, even when I used beauties of differing ancestries.  I did sketches that roughly represented Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Halle Berry, Lucy Liu and Vanessa Williams.  Dr. Etcoff felt that these sketches further emphasized her concepts about a universally held idea of beauty and they were included as part of the television production.

generalized sketches of the faces of five women considered to be beautiful by Karen T. Taylor

Generalized sketches of the faces of five women considered to be beautiful, who all fit the template

Here is an animation of the celebrity faces over the template.

animation by Karen T. Taylor of classic beauty faces and proportions, elizabeth taylor, marilyn monroe, halle berry, lucy lii, vanessa williams

Facial template I created that fits the classic beauties Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Halle Berry, Lucy Lui and Vanessa Williams