Drawing the nose involves understanding some simple anatomy. The nose is a complex form and knowing basic anatomy and structure of the nose is an absolute requirement.
The good news is that you do not need to know every single anatomical detail to draw the nose well.
To draw the nose, start with good reference, identifying the angle of the head, observe and simplify the nose to a basic shape, then visualize and draw the simplified shape, and finally add details to your drawing.
We will cover all the important parts you do need to know and even how to remember them in an easy way.
Let’s go over drawing the nose with the following steps:
- Understand simple anatomy of the nose
- Find good reference to draw the nose
- Observe and simplify the shape of the nose
- Visualize the nose on canvas
- Draw the nose – step-by-step
- Draw the nose – step-by-step in three-quarter view
Step 1 – Understanding simple anatomy to draw the nose
When I say simple anatomy I mean simplified anatomy, just enough for the artist to communicate the essence of what they’re drawing.
Visible parts of the nose
Let’s first examine the visible parts of the nose and then talk about what’s underneath.
When drawing the body you need to know what’s underneath, (the muscle, skeletal structure, and joints) to understand what you’re drawing at the surface.
It’s no different with the nose.
Visible parts of the nose consist of the root, the bridge, the tip, the wings (2X), the nostrils (2X), and the septum. I know that Anatomy might sound intimidating at times but it is not so bad with the visible parts of the nose. It is just eight things we have to draw, two of which appear twice:
- Wings (2X)
- Nostrils (2X)
Let’s talk about the septum, since it’s really important when trying to draw a nose that looks like a nose.
From the tip, the septum turns down and underneath and runs all the way to the upper lip, it is surrounded by either side with nostrils. The septum attaches to the upper lip, much thinner than it started at the bottom of the tip of the nose, and it attaches with a downward curve. Note that the septum hangs lower at the bottom than the wings of the nose. By doing so, it creates 3 distinct planes at the very bottom surface of the nose. The septum plane, and the two planes surrounding it, which include the nostrils, and the depth of the wings of the nose.
How to best remember the visible parts of the nose
To help organize the structure in your mind, and to more easily remember the different parts, let’s separate these into two groups:
If you draw an imaginary line with your index finger from the top of your nose at the forehead in between the eyes to the very tip of your nose, you have covered the root, the bridge and the tip. That’s our first group.
Our second group is everything that happens underneath and to the sides, the wings the nostrils and the septum.
So the next time you need to remember all parts of the nose to draw, just remember to draw an imaginary line with your index finger from the root of your nose at the forehead through the bridge to the tip. Then, once your index finger is at the bottom of the nose, remember that the wings, nostrils and the septum is the second group. It is an easy way to remember. Try it.
Okay, now we know the visible parts of the nose.
Bone and cartilage of the nose
Before we get to draw, let’s quickly look what’s underneath, because it’s going to help us in drawing the nose. You won’t know that it helps you until you know what’s underneath, and begin to draw the nose yourself. A bit of anatomy knowledge will take you a long way in making a good drawing.
Underneath the nose is two things, bone, and cartilage, (the wings of the nose are mostly fat, but for our purposes, it will make no difference and we can just count them as skin).
There are just 4 parts we need to know for simple anatomy, 1 bone, and 3 cartilage areas.
The bone is appropriately named the nasal bone. This nasal bone consists of two symmetrical parts, which form the origin of the nose. It fuses the nose to the rest of the skull by the way of the frontal bone (at the root) at the top, and maxilla at the sides.
If you are here learning to draw, you are probably a visual learner like me, so check out the illustration of the skull I made below.
The nasal bone extends less than half of the length of the nose. The rest of the nose is cartilage.
For simple anatomy, we only need to concern ourselves with three cartilage sections. To help us learn these areas, I made this diagram:
The upper lateral cartilage, which together with the nasal bone supports the bridge of the nose, and the lower lateral cartilage (also known as the major alar cartilage) which helps support the tip of the nose and ends as the wings start to extend to each side of the nose.
Keep in mind when drawing the tip of the nose that it has a whole different section of cartilage underneath it, different from the bridge. In most people, the tip of the nose stands out from the bridge.
The third cartilage section is called the septal cartilage, which supports the septum. We already talked about the septum in detail. It is important to know its form to draw the nose well. If you don’t get the septum right, the nose won’t look quite right.
That is it for anatomy. Step 1 complete. It wasn’t that bad, right?! Let me know in the comments.
Step 2 – Find good reference
Why use reference
I know that when you’re learning to draw, you want to be able to draw everything from your imagination. This is a great skill to aspire to. You should know however, that artist who can create amazing drawings from their imagination have spent thousands of hours drawing from reference.
If you are just learning to draw the nose, drawing from imagination will not work at first.
Find good reference and draw from it many times, and you will see your drawings improve on their own. Use the reference as a guide to the reality you are trying to represent on paper. You can even just look at your own nose in the mirror if you want to use it for reference.
Studying from life
To draw anything resembling our physical world, we must understand the object’s form. The best way to do this is to study from life. When you study from life, you have the advantage to walk around the object and observe it from different angles. So ask a friend to sit for you while you study their nose and make some drawings of it, or you can even just look at your own nose in the mirror or use your phone’s camera.
Step 3 – Observe and simplify
So at this point, we have a basic understanding of the anatomy of the nose, and you should have in front of you a few really good photographic references of the nose. Or, as I mentioned above, you can also look at your nose in the mirror, or ask a friend to sit still for you as you try to draw their nose.
Basic planes of the nose.
As you look at the reference, let’s simplify the nose into four very basic planes. We will call these the bottom plane, the side planes, and the bridge plane.
(By the way, from studying the anatomy of the septum above, we already know that the bottom plane is divided into three smaller planes, the plane of the septum, and the planes of the nostrils and the width of the wings.)
For this step, however, let’s just count these four large planes.
- Bottom plane
- Left side plane
- Right side plane
- Bridge plane
Look at the reference you’ve collected and either draw over them or in your head imagine how you would draw these four major plains. (Bottom of the nose, the sides, and the bridge plane).
Notice how the planes change as the angles change from one reference image to another. By doing this exercise, we get a good sense of how the nose extends out from the rest of the face.
Imagine simplified lines and shapes on top of the complex form you are looking at. You can try to retrace or draw the simplified form on top of the image you are looking at in your mind or on paper.
Why simplify the form?
The nose is a complex three-dimensional form and is notoriously difficult to draw. There are too many nuances.
By simplifying the form we make it easier to get the main shapes drawn correctly. We can then use the simplified drawing as a foundation and add details to.
It’s important to complete this simplification step in your mind as you are looking at reference.
Step 4 – Visualize Drawing the Nose
Top performers in many fields often say that they visualized success as a means of achieving it. I see this repeated everywhere because it actually works. We will leverage this technique for drawing the nose. Now that you have a simplified form in your mind from looking at reference, look at your canvas and visualize the simplified form’s placement, angles, shapes, lines as they will appear on paper.
This is probably the most difficult part of this guide. It takes a lot of focus and patience not to start drawing right away. But be patient, and I promise it will pay off in big dividends when you begin to draw.
As you look at good reference and at your blank piece of paper, try to redraw the simplified shapes you imagined in the last step. See the nose appear on paper before you start to draw. Map out the basic shapes, and walk your mind through the drawing step by step. (I will walk you through the step by step drawing in the next section). If you feel like you made a mistake, it is much easier to erase in your mind than on paper.
Step 5 – Finally, Let’s Draw the Nose !
It is time to start drawing the nose.
If you completed the previous steps in this guide, you now have a good understanding of the anatomy of the nose and its basic form. You are also able to simplify the form of the nose in your mind when looking at reference, and you can imagine and visualize the form as it appears on paper before you begin to draw. You also have some good picture references of the nose in front of you.
In this section, let’s look at how I painted this nose step by step. We will use a digital drawing I made in Procreate, but same concepts apply regardless of the medium you are using.
If you are following along in Procreate, I used the Sketching HB Pencil, the Painting Flat Brush and a Blender (also painting flat brush), all at default settings.
Note that before following along, it’s very important to read the anatomy section of this post. You should also be able to visualize a very simplified box-like version of the nose to understand where the planes of the nose turn.
When the basic drawing of the nose is finished, you can add detail to the form if you like. In adding detail you can work on getting the form back to its original complex state that we found in real life. Remember how we simplified the form before drawing it on paper, the detail that is added later can help make the nose look more realistic.
You can look at the reference and build on top of what you already have on your paper to add all the little details that we let go of when we worked on simplifying the form in step three. But of course you don’t have to add much detail, you can instead stylize the nose to whatever art style suits you.
Hope this helps you draw the nose! However, I think it would be helpful to go through drawing the nose again at a different angle. So let’s draw the nose in three-quarter view step by step! It will be a good summary of what we have learned so far.
Drawing the nose in three-quarter view (drawing the nose from the side)
Let’s quickly review anatomy first:
Remember, 8 visible parts, and underneath, three main cartilage sections and one bone – the nasal bone.
Okay, now that we reviewed the anatomy, let’s draw the nose step-by-step in three-quarter view.
If you are new to terms like, highlight, midtones, and core shadow, check out this post before following along: Learn to Draw, Fundamentals of Light and Form
I hope this post helps you draw the nose! It is time to put what you learned into practice!