How To Draw Noses
By Joe Catapano
In general, a person’s head shape is a big contributing factor that differentiates one person from another. The head shape is defined by the big masses of the head, such as the denture sphere, jaw, and the brow. However, for about half of the possible viewing angles, the nose is just as an important part of the silhouette and overall head shape as these masses. This means that the nose holds a large role in differentiating character’s faces. That’s a big reason to focus on studying this part of the face. Today, we will learn about how to draw a nose and understand how to effectively render them for comics.
First off, this tutorial will break down the structure of our nose anatomy. Then, I'll elaborate on how we can view the nose in 3D space by simplifying the anatomy into planes. Afterward, I’ll walk you through drawing the nose in a commonly used three-quarter view. Lastly, we will explore simplifying the shapes of the nose to be used effectively in comic book art. That’s it, let's get started.
Basic Structure of The Nose
When you break down a nose into its main components, there are 4 parts that an artist should take into consideration. Reference the diagram below to further understand these sections.
In green, is the upper cartilage that makes up part of the bridge of the nose. The upper part of the bridge is the nasal bone and depending on how far this nasal bone sticks out will determine how much of an arch this nose may have. Next, is the sides of the upper cartilage in purple and the lower cartilage in blue. The lower cartilage is pretty much the ball of the nose while the upper cartilage shapes the width of the nose. Last, is the wings, the part that houses the nostrils. The wings are soft cartilage that folds out from the lower cartilage.
This front view of the head highlights where the nose is located. The head is generally split into thirds, where the top section is from the hairline down to the brow line, and the bottom section is from the base of the nose down to the chin. The nose will fill the middle section. The diagram shows this middle section as blue. As long as you keep to these proportions, your characters' faces will look correct.
Simplified Nose Planes
When sketching anything it is wise to first block it in with simple shapes. The most efficient way to do this block-in is to draw a simple polygonal volume that is made up of a few trapezoids.
This volume describes a noses most basic planes: the bridge, the two sides (ignoring the wings as details for the moment), and the bottom side. You can see how easy it is to visualize a nose in 3D space when the shape is so simple; that's the point of this whole process. I've also shown how you can draw this simplified shape as they apply to different widths and shapes.
As an aside, this simplification process is the first objective when trying to draw ANY object. In fact, I suggest you take time to simplify everyday objects down to their simplest planes and sketch them out for practice.
Complex Nose Planes
The more complicated planes describe the sides if the nose. When viewed from the front the nose almost resembles a vase. The sides protrude out in the middle and form the body of the upper parts. The base of the nose is also wider where the wings are. These planes should be used to figure out the three-dimensionality when blocking in and lighting your portraits. Also, notice how the lower cartilage is curved when looking in the side view and meets the surface of the face lower than where the nostrils do.
Note: When the artist refers to the base of the nose, they are referring to the height line of the nostrils, not the middle cartilage.
With those bases covered let’s run through actually drawing a nose.
Drawing The Nose
To draw a nose, you need a point of reference so to properly position it. These first two steps are our points of reference, and should be drawn in in lightly so to not muddy up your final lines. In the comic book industry, most artists will begin with a light sketch, and then erase it away when it comes to adding the final lines.
First, draw a couple of eye sockets that are connected by a shape that most artists call the Keystone. This keystone is very important to drawing the head in general so you should get used to starting with this shape.
Next, draw at the base of the keystone a simplified block-in (shown in the simple planes section). Make sure that the top of this block-in shape meets up with the keystone.
Now's the time where you may want to lightly erase away some of these sketch lines as I have here.
Now to draw the final lines. To start, let’s draw the bridge of the nose. Draw a curved line where the keystone meets the bridge of the nose and then draw two angular lines that come almost to a point showing some of the upper cartilage beneath the skin.
Great! Now, draw the top plane of the lower cartilage. Remember that this section has a seam in the middle so we will imply that anatomy by drawing a short line at the bottom.
From this point, draw in the lower curved bottom plane and the two wings. The far side wing is blocked by the main mass of the nose in this particular view but you should still draw it peeking out a bit to give the nose a volumetric look.
Lastly, let's give it some weight by shadowing the face underneath the ball of the nose and nostrils. In comics, our art hinges on this little bit of shadow so try imagining how the light would lay across the face to get your efforts' worth from these simple shadows.
Side Angle of The Nose
Seeing the nose from the side is actually the easiest of positions to draw. However, there are some factors to consider when drawing the nose at profile. First, is how arched is the bridge of the nose. In three-quarter view the bridge of the nose can somewhat be made out, but it is clearly shown in the side view. Secondly, is that each part of the nose is clearly a different distance from the face. Where the nasal bone meets the brow at the top is closest to the face while the ball of the nose is the farthest. Analyze from photo reference how far or near different noses are from the face and plot them out for study as I have in this section. Every face is different so get studying.
Here are a few angles that may be a bit tougher to visualize at first, but with a bit of sketching, I'm confident that you can get these views to look great.
This angle is when there is a camera mounted up high and the viewer is looking ”down” at the subject. A nose viewed at this angle will look pretty flat without a good cast shadow so be sure to render carefully.
When the viewer is looking from below the nose, the most apparent part will be the nostrils and the lower cartilage. Shadowing the underneath side of the nose can be tricky because the underside usually gets a little bounce light from the face. A good rule of thumb is to use a little rim lighting to help shape the underside of the nose. The nostrils can be tough to get to look at aesthetically pleasing, but don’t sweat, there are some simplification tricks that I will go through in the next section that will help. Lastly, the bridge of the nose will be foreshortened so use reference to get a better idea of how far to push that length.
Back 3/4 Angle
When trying to draw a nose viewed from behind I highly suggest you use some reference. Since we rarely pay attention to these angles, what is natural might not be accurate. Be sure to study where the nose aligns with the rest of the face when drawing from this angle. The alignment to the face is more important than the actual line work used.
Simplify for Comics
In comics, we have to draw many figures and faces in an accurate and effective way. Many artists over the years have used ”comic style” simplification techniques to pull this off. I've included the basic ones here.
I will run through the application of each one of these techniques but it is ultimately up to you to find when and where to use these tricks in your own art. Note: These names are arbitrary; I’ve made them up so to easily discuss them.
The contour of any drawing is really just the outline. So this first technique is one used in all of comic art. In fact, it's one of the big staples; we are just applying it to noses. Here, we are smoothing out some of the bumps in the contour that would normally be drawn in an anatomical drawing of a nose. In this example, I've used a total of five or six lines to draw the whole nose. You will be surprised at how far you can simplify something down and still get the idea across.
A few artists that use this technique: Jim Lee, Jorge Jimenez, Stuart Immonen, (just about everyone).
This technique is used to accentuate the bridge of the nose. Normally, you would only want to use line work to show the areas of high contrast and to separate out different objects. With this technique, you will break that rule to show the top plane of the nose clearly and indirectly delineate its shape.
A few artists that use this technique: Alvin Lee, Joe Madureira, Jerome Opeña
This is a technique that contradicts the fundamentals of traditional drawing in the fine arts. Here, we use line work to shape the areas of the nose that are highlighted by the light source. These areas are the brightest and yet we are still using hard lines to show these values. Weird, but effective! Again, this indirectly helps to delineate the shape of the more without using contours.
A few artists that use this technique: J. Scott Campbell, Kenneth Rocafort, Siya Oum
This technique is a stylistic choice to only draw the ball of the cartilage section of the nose. It is usually separated with a hard line where the upper and lower cartilage. If plotted on the face in an accurate way, this a great way to just draw the important parts of the nose.
A few artists that use this technique: Michael Turner, Greg Capullo, Paolo Pantalena
This style is a great way to represent realism while still having a graphic flair in your work. Because our eyes naturally see values easily, our brains will fill in the gaps when viewing an image that is only shown with shadows. If you want to add more realism to your work try using some of this technique in your art.
A few artists that use this technique: John Byrne, Frank Miller
This technique is used quite a bit in the eastern styles of comics. While some artists utilize this technique in American comics; manga and manga-inspired work tend to simplify the nose and the under shadow to great stylistic effect. Keep in mind that this effect is great one for an up-angle shot.
A few artists that use this technique: Katshihiro Otomo, Joe Madureira, Bengus
Just like most things, to get great at drawing a specific subject, all it takes is knowledge and practice. Just by reading through this tutorial, you’ve got a great starting point for the knowledge part. Now, it’s time for the practice.
To really get comfortable with drawing noses, you’ll need to practice drawing from life. Draw the whole face as best you can and pay attention to the nose. Afterward, a great exercise will be to practice simplifying noses into a comic style form. Combine whatever techniques you prefer together and try to get a simplification that you really like. Keep practicing these rendering techniques and soon they will become second nature. The most important thing here is repetition. Experimenting with all kinds of techniques is the key to finding your way.
So what did you think of drawing noses? They come in so many different shapes that they can be a lot to study. I hope by breaking down some of the broader concepts I made it easier to see that drawing a nose can be really fun. This is not the end-all-be-all of nose anatomy so I suggest that you get these books for further study:
Keep mind that drawing from life is a great way to draw well, but drawing studies of your favorite artists will also prove advantageous. These professionals that you see draw your favorite books have been drawing for years and you can always pick up a trick or too by mimicking their art. Just don’t get carried away… you don’t want to become a clone of another artist.
I thoroughly enjoyed setting up this tutorial for you all. I actually wish that I had a resource like this one when I was first starting out.
Remember to constantly keep learning and pushing yourself; before you know it you will even start to impress yourself with what you can do. All it takes is a commitment to deliberately practice drawing everyday and the persistence to never quit.
Be sure to check back here for more step-by-step anatomy tutorials.
Keep on drawing.
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