The Nose

Becoming a Professional Fashion Designer

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It's hard to say too much about the eye; when it comes to the nose, people lose interest a little more quickly. In fact, this lack of excitement over the nose is carried to an extreme in fashion illustration. It's not unusual for fashion illustrators to omit the nose entirely, leaving the more fashionable mouth and eyes to carry on without it. Even when included, the fashion nose is often little more than a flick of the brush.

I won't argue that the nose is of much account in facial expression. Though lots of expressions drastically affect the nose tip—smiling and sneering immediately come to mind—we do not really react to the nose in those faces but merely note its presence and its contribution to the total effect. (Actually the sneering nose, at times, does seem to be an important part of the expression.)

The very fact that the nose has so little to do with our emotional response to a face ultimately makes it easier to draw than an eye. There is less of a tendency to see it conceptually or symbolically, more ease in drawing it as just another form. There are two main problems people seem to have with the rendering of the nose: constructing the wings and the tip and making the nose appear to come out from the face. These problems are particularly severe in the front view, where the wings and tip are most foreshortened and the projection of the nose is subtle.

The nose tip might be even easier to draw if it was a bit more well defined. At least the eyes offer obvious lines that can be copied, like the line of the upper lid and the line around the iris. The nose tip, however, doesn't present us with any clear-cut boundaries (except in the profile), and we can only render it by determining those boundaries ourselves. And since the boundaries are rounded, their expression must be tonal, not linear: shading rather than lines.

Another Geometrical Model

When it comes to shading, nothing helps us see where tonal changes must occur like having a clear sense of planes. The nose has four main planes. Each plane is quite flat, and together they form a long, wedge-shaped block, shaped like a flat-sided brick chimney that narrows as it rises. In the upper portion of the nose, where the bones of the nasal socket dominate, the simplified planes of the tapered block serve quite well as a sort of template for rendering. We've already seen how the sides of the nasal bone make a flat, sharp turning with the front. At those edges, and the other major edges of the block, we look for the value changes that will establish the nose volume. If the light is coming from the side, for example, one of the side walls will always be in shadow, one will always be lit. The block helps us organize our seeing of the actual nose.

About halfway down the nose, the simple bony planes give way to the more complex planes of the nasal cartilage. The cartilage makes the tip of the nose tricky to get right. Cartilage is a stiff but pliable substance—it is also found in the ear—and it varies greatly from person to person. It is the cartilage—not the bone—that makes every nose so distinct.

But before we get into the details of the nose tip, look at it again in terms of the simple block. If you see through the interesting detail, underneath it all is essentially the form we've illustrated: the end of a block. The wings and the rounded tip are just little bumps on the large form; they're not large enough or defined enough to change the overall plane movement. If the flat side plane of the nose block is in shadow, for example, the wing and the side of the tip on that side will be in shadow too. The details follow the mass.

Constructing the Tip_

A simplified construction for the nose builds on the block form, with separate pieces for the septum, wings, and ball. The ball is seen as a sort of shallow dome added to the end of the block; the wings as two little wedge-blocks; and the septum as a flat, slightly folded plane underneath the tip. Shapes that are particularly boxy and angular are helpful when trying to render an area that is often a bit vague. In fact, I suggest looking carefully at sculpted and drawn heads to note how artists often make the nose tip an extra bit chiseled and angular to give it a more solid presence.

Note that the nostrils are entirely contained in downward facing planes. Beginners tend to cut them out of the sides of the nose—a major anatomical faux pas.

Human Facial Planes

The nose has four major planes. Get a clear sense of them in your mind, especially the bottom plane (A), which is the hardest to recognize. The underlying form of the nose is a tapering prism. The top plane, the front of the nose, is the narrowest part (B). It turns sharply into the much wider side planes. With lighting from above and to the left, the right side plane and the bottom plane are in shadow; the top plane is brightly lit.

The African mask uses the same block form for the nose. When artists stylize the nose, the prism is frequently used; it's so close to the natural form that it seems an obvious choice.

Images Facial Expressions


Tip Tilted Nose




The tip of the nose is the most complicated part to draw. It's composed of several separate forms, all built around the underlying tapered block (shown here with the light coming from the upper right).

Underneath the nose tip is the septum, a ridge of cartilage that connects the nose to the upper lip. A simple way to visualize the septum is as the covers of an opened book, with the flat spine connecting the two tilted sides (C). The septum covers the center part of the underside of the nose and contains part of the nostril opening (bottom).


The wings can be thought of as two wedges, like wood-splitting blocks, added to the prism alongside the tip. Though they are rounded off in life, they retain their wedge shape. The nostrils fall partly on the underplane of the wedge, partly on the underplane of the septum; avoid digging them out of the side of the nose (as in illustration on p. 36).

Nose Drops

The nose tip is rounded at the very end but is flattish along the sides. It's not exactly a ball; it's more like a curve in shallow relief, as if the large end of an egg had been cut off (A). When that shape is added to the box, it merges smoothly with the ridge coming from above (B, right) but drops off sharply on either side and below.

Drawing Nose

A. Below the level of the orbit, the side plane of the nose begins to swell out. The base of the nose is widest where the bone meets the cartilage. The form is gently rounded, like the section of an egg. The transition from top to side is much sharper than from side to face.

B. Shadow sharply defines the far side of the nose. The near side is not in shadow, but, as light is more to the front than side, the side plane is slightly grayed down. No matter what direction the light is from, if there is only one main source, every major plane will have a different value.

C. The tip is usually the location of a sharp highlight, one of the brightest on the face.

D. The nostril looks down, not sideways. Near edge of the nostril is sharper than the far edge, which is closer to the face.

E. Far nostril just shows beyond the tip; as the head turns, it disappears completely, well before profile position is reached.

A. At the point where the bone meets the cartilage, look for a change in direction and/or a bump. From here to the tip is all cartilage.

B. This is a break where the cartilage of the tip meets cartilage of the shaft. There is almost always a slight change in direction—the tip curves out more.

C. The septum starts here: curved piece, separating two nostrils and making the transition to the upper lip.

D. The wing is mostly fat, not cartilage, giving it a softer contour, softer edges.

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100 Fashion Tips

100 Fashion Tips

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