What's in a Nose?

14 Aug 2012

I'm not telling you anything you don't already know when I say that successful portraiture is successful when the portrait artist, foremost, captures a likeness. Yes, I ardently believe that there has to be something more to the story—a sense of the subject's spirit or personality, or something interesting about the composition—but if you can't recognize the person in the portrait painting...that's an issue!

Portrait de Therese by Balthus, oil painting, 1939.
Portrait de Therese by Balthus, oil painting, 1939.
Portrait artists start with the building blocks of the face and gain the skill to depict those features, and then add their own artistic flavor. One anatomical feature of the face that has always intimidated me is the nose. How to do it justice?! Here are a few tips I've learned on how to depict the nose with a little more nose-how. I mean know-how! (Pure cheese, that one!)

Soft parts and a few strong lines. We all know that the nose has no bone to it, just hardened cartilage and fatty tissue. But that doesn't mean that there aren't strong lines to be found in this feature. The creases where the nostril meets the cheek; perhaps the dip where the nostrils meet at the tip of the nose; and the bridge of the nose can all be defined with stronger shadow or firmer lines. The nostrils themselves and the tip of the nose are where you'll typically go softer.   

Think round. When drawing the underlying structure of the nose, artists often use straight lines and angles, and that makes absolute sense to me. But in subsequent stages of a portrait painting don't forget the ball on the tip of the nose. Big or small, broad or narrow, this sphere shape needs to be made distinct with highlights and shadow, and should not be left to the straight lines and edges one starts with.

Portrait of a Man by Titian, oil painting, 1510-12.
Portrait of a Man by Titian,
oil painting, 1510-12.

A cliff that casts a shadow. I know no one wants to think of their nose as a cliff side, but the underside of the nose is usually cast in shadow, just like a jutting cliff casts a shadow on itself. Put that shadow in. It will immediately give a sense of mass to the nose.

Getting to the point where you can confidently paint a person—eyes, ears, mouth, and especially nose!—means dedication and, sure, a bit of trial and error. But we have a series of DVDs on portrait painting that are here to help you avoid many missteps and get right to the heart of skillfully painted portraits. These are practically full-length portraits in themselves! Learn alongside Burton Silverman with his Portrait of a Young Girl; with David Leffel as he guides us in all of his tried and true methods of Painting the Portrait in Oil; and with Judith Carducci as she showcases her skills in her DVD, Portrait Painting in Pastel, and teaches us what she knows. Enjoy!

P.S. The deadline for one of my favorite art competitions is fast approaching! Southwest Art's 2012 Artistic Excellence Competition is accepting entries until August 17th, and the competition is a great way for artists to gain visibility for their art...plus cash prizes and more! Sweetness!

And right now Artist Daily members get 10% off your entry fee. Sign up now and good luck!

Featured Products

Portrait of a Young Girl – “Jenny” in oil (DVD)

Availability: Out Of Stock
Price: $164.00


Discover nearly 4 hours with award-winning artist Burton Silverman--now you have the opportunity to learn portrait painting lessons from a master!


Painting the Portrait -- "Lewis" in Oil DVD

Availability: Out Of Stock
Price: $98.00


Enhance your portrait painting skills with an inside look to an expert how-to-oil-paint approach! In this must-have oil painting lesson, master artist David A. Leffel shares the important secrets of his acclaimed work.


Related Posts
+ Add a comment


ekquinn wrote
on 18 Aug 2012 10:26 PM

Courtney or local NM artists,

Where or how do you hire a female nude for drawing and painting? Is this legal outside of a class? Anyone know? Rates? Availability?