How to Draw a Nose

By braniac

Things Needed

  • Ebony pencil, Conte crayon or charcoal
  • Tortillon or stump (pointed cardboard blenders)
  • Kneaded eraser
  • White vinyl eraser
  • Workable matte fixative
  • Sketchbook or drawing paper
  • Grid ruler
Roman Nose in profile, drawn after a sketch by Leonardo da Vinci

Noses may be the toughest of all human features to draw realistically. There are plenty of effective cartoon noses, but how do you draw something that is all soft odd shaped shadows and juts out from the face? Drawing a nose is a good way to develop a deep understanding of light and shadow -- and very soft shading.

Medieval Man, showing placement of features and outlined nose.

Get ready to fill your sketchbook with many different noses. Not only is the nose a tough thing to draw, it looks different from different angles. It can mostly be seen by the shadows it casts. Outlining it is a sure way to make it look unreal, though stained glass windows and medieval Celtic artwork can make hard black outlines look good, it still isn't realistic.

First, let's do one of those Celtic style drawings with outlines so that you can see where the nose goes on the face and how big it is. Draw an egg shape. Give it two lines below it for a neck, occupying about two-thirds of the width at the widest part of the egg.

Use your grid ruler to find the exact middle of the egg, up and down. That's the line that the middle of the eyes will fall on, and eyes are a little under a quarter of the width of the head. One eye width will fall in between the eyes and another will fall on either side of the eye. The distance to the side of the head is a little narrower. Draw a pointed oval, draw another curve to be an eyelid above that, draw the iris as a small circle cut off by the eyelid and put the pupil in the middle of that. The eyes are placed, a little large. If they are exactly a fifth of the width of the head, they may be accurate. This varies a bit per person, some people are narrow headed and others round headed.

Halfway down from there to the chin is the tip of the nose. Do a small upturned circle in the center, where the underside of the tip of the nose is. This is the simplest type of cartoon nose for a full-front face and it's based on the idea of drawing the shadow of something rather than what it is.

Go halfway down from that to the chin and draw a slightly curved line, about from pupil to pupil. Mouths change expression, they widen and smile and frown, but generally they run from under one pupil to under the other. That's the line where the lips meet. Draw two lines up from the sides of the nose tip past the inside corners of the eyes. Curve them right and left to form eyebrows. Draw two little circles for nostrils on either side at the bottom of the nose, and draw his collar.

Give him medieval hair, thick bangs across his forehead and maybe some hair behind his ears. Medieval Man is done. This is how noses were drawn for centuries, and it still works for stained glass windows, cartoons and other types of art where strong outlines are meant to be filled with flat color.

Leonardo da Vinci's Nose, drawn after his self portrait by author

When in doubt, copy a genius. This delicately crosshatched nose is an old man's nose, seen in a 3/4 view. It is Leonardo da Vinci's nose, copied from one of his self portraits reasonably well. Check out art history books from the library, and copy noses by old masters, especially sketched noses.

This is one way to start to get a feel for what you can do with line toward shading. When you use outlines, sometimes crosshatching can make them disappear especially if the hatching is parallel. They just turn into soft tones. You can either try to copy Leonardo's beautiful curved-line hatching and crosshatching, or just shade the nose with soft light tonal layers in graphite. If you need lighter tones than the pencil can give you, rub the pointed tip of a tortillon or stump into heavily drawn pencil and then start drawing with that.

Shade as smoothly as you can. Use a kneaded eraser to lift areas that are too dark to make them light enough. Use a white vinyl eraser to completely clean up an unwanted mark. Take your time copying Leonardo's Nose. It's not an easy one, but it's full of detail -- old men's noses have creases and wrinkles and odd shapes to them that make them in some ways easier to draw. By paying attention to those details, you don't get lost in what you think is there -- visible nostrils.

Nose in Profile, drawn after Leonardo da Vinci

In profile, look at the exact line of the nose. It will be different for different people. This example is a big hooked Roman nose mostly in shadow, on a man who has a big brow ridge too, also copied from da Vinci's sketches. Look closely at where the shadows fall. When using photo references, compare them to these Leonardo sketches and ask yourself if the shadows fall the same way, or if the lighting was different for Leonardo's models?

I believe this one was wearing a large hat that might have shaded the front of his nose, or it would have been more highlighted at the exact front. The sketch cuts off like the brim of a hat crosses the man's head but hasn't been drawn yet. In the full sketch, the man's lips are curled up and he's shouting in rage, it's very emotional. So look at what the other muscles of the face do to the line under and around the nose, to the shadows around the nose. Emotion and expression can even change the shape of the nose itself -- have you seen someone flare his nostrils?

Nose of a young woman, full front, with upper lip, eye corners and eyebrow corners for placement reference

For a full-front nose, let's look at someone different -- a beautiful young woman who has a tiny nose stud for interest. Shading her nose as carefully as Leonardo shaded his models' noses, just defining the shape in soft values one step apart, she has a much more delicate nose. Her nostrils are smaller, unusually small. The middle of her nose is slightly broad.

I shaded her upper lip and the grooves on her upper lip that lead down from the nose, because these are important shadows to help define the nose and the features of any portrait. The lighting on this model is strongly from the right, so the shadowed side of her face on the left is all softly varying darks and the light side has some areas without shading at all. The corners of her eyes and eyebrows are placed for relative proportion and arrangement, and to explain where some of the shadows from the bridge of the nose are going.

A nose widens slightly or a lot as it goes up from the bridge of the nose to meet the eyebrows. There is usually an angled section that comes in to the width of the nose. There may or may not be a prominent bump right under that with a strong highlight. If there is, that's an aquiline nose.

Then it narrows again till it comes to the tip, which is a ball or block. Full front, the nostrils at the side are individual and they barely show at all -- this is why two sideways commas can do for nostrils in fashion design.

Let's look at a tip-tilted nose. All of the example noses so far come down at the end or are pretty straight. But what about children's noses and tip tilted noses? They're cute. Let's do one next.

Tip Tilted Nose with pronounced cheek showing bunched up by a smile.

Profile of a tip-tilted nose, with eyebrow and undetailed eyes for placement and proportion. Notice the line of the cheek is part of the shading for this nose. One reason noses are difficult is that the shadowing is usually no darker than it would be for cheekbones or creases or other soft facial features. Only the nostrils will show darker -- and that's only if the nose is tip-tilted or the person is leaning back.

Expression affects how the nose looks very much. The cheeks push forward over the cheekbones on this sketch because I drew a smile on the lips under the nose, a big wide smile that pushed the sides of the face up to bulge. A cheery smile can show even when it's not actually in the picture if you watch what happens to the rest of the face, eyes and cheeks do show the results of the expression.

Nose Step Six, seen from below, lit from below

Tip tilted nose seen from below, sketched to show nostril placement. Rough sketch, but this is the shape children's noses often take especially if they tilt their heads back.

Practice drawing noses from photos, but don't forget to draw your own nose from the mirror. Pay attention to the shadows on and around it. Notice that on Leonardo's sketches and some of mine, there is a little pale lighter edge on the wings of the nose, or on the tip, right within a shadow. This is reflected light. Strengthening it actually makes it look rounder and more three dimensional, you can also use it to distinguish the nose from the shadow under the nose if they're nearly the same depth of shadow.

Aquiline nose at an angle, cropped from a portrait the author drew

Aquiline nose with a mustache and part of an eye, cropped out of a portrait the author drew some time ago. Shading defines this nose completely, proportions are accurate to the person. Is your nose long or short, beaky or flat, wide or narrow? These are things you can discover drawing many people's noses. Try to fill several pages of your sketchbook with life sketches of other people's noses. It doesn't take long to draw just the nose. Use finger smudging and tortillon smudging to shade, and draw them by shading rather than using hard outlines. Use a dark background so that you don't even need an outline if it's in profile. Draw directly with a dirty tortillon rather than a pencil if it's hard to draw lightly enough to just draw it by shadows.

Tip

Shade with tortillons rather than directly with the pencil to get the lightest tones. Draw the shadows of the nose area instead of trying to draw the nose. If you turn the photo reference upside down and draw it upside down, you may get more accuracy. Try to match the values (how light or dark) of the shadows exactly, as well as the shapes. Don't draw in the nostrils except when you see them, don't show the whole nostril unless you see it. Draw the shapes that are there. Try gridding your photo reference to draw it, and make sure a couple of grid lines cross on the nose so that you draw value areas without regard to what they are while working on it. Grid and transfer method works great for noses. Fill a sketchbook with different features and with combinations of them. Shadows around noses can establish shape of cheeks, upper lip, eye sockets and eyebrows too.

Warning

Don't use hard outlines on a nose unless you want the stained glass look of step one. Lighten by pressing with a kneaded eraser if an area gets too dark.