Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci
“I have a really difficult time trying to draw noses. How can I learn to draw them?”
People tell me all the time that that they can’t draw _______________. If you’re having an issue drawing a specific subject, it’s because you are thinking too much about the end product and on achieving a convincing likeness. Instead, you need to be focusing on the basics of drawing that will get you there.
Approach drawing every subject the same way. (read this article I wrote on gesture drawing for drawing tips) Many people think that each subject demands a strategy specific to that subject only, when really your strategy for every subject should be fundamentally the same. I would draw a rabbit using the same strategy as I would if I were drawing a lemon or a bicycle.
The next time you sit down to draw a nose, forget that you’re drawing a nose. Instead, look at the nose as an abstract series of forms that you’re observing, and don’t let yourself get distracted by how it looks as you draw.
Drawing by Albrecht Durer
I was a portrait painter for a few years after I finished my undergraduate degree. I used to put unnecessary pressure on myself to achieve a perfect likeness, which of course was hugely problematic because that’s the whole point of being a portrait painter. I would worry and stress the whole time as I was painting about the outcome of the finished piece. Naturally, this was counter productive, as the more I worried the less and less of a likeness I was able to create. Once I started to block out my mental concerns of achieving a likeness, and started to focus exclusively on seeing abstract forms and relationships in the face, the painting immediately got better.
Remember that the nose is just one small component of a head, and that for a nose to work, it has to fit in with and relate to everything else on the head. The classic mistake I see everywhere with portraits is people starting out by drawing the eyes, nose, and mouth. The problem with this approach is that there is absolutely nothing structural about the eyes, nose, and mouth. The eyes are soft squishy spheres, the nose is cartilage, and the mouth is just soft tissue. Instead, structural forms like the forehead, the brow, the cheek bones, the jaw bone, and the chin are what need to be addressed first in a portrait. Once these structural forms are established, drawing in the eyes, nose, and mouth should be like dropping the cherry on the sundae.
Pen drawing by Michelangelo
The reason why portraits are so challenging for many people is because they carry significant psychological baggage. We see faces all the time, and they are one of the primary forms of visual communication between humans. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t be judgmental of the way someone draws a pear the way you would with a portrait. With a portrait, anyone can always tell when something is a little “off”, even if they can’t point out exactly where the problem is.
Finally, I think that noses are funny looking forms to begin. Look at these wonderful grotesque portraits by Leonardo da Vinci below, certainly the noses in this drawing are exaggerated, but even the most average nose is a strange form. If you accept that, noses will be easier to deal with in your drawings.
Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci
This charcoal drawing tutorial I did on the Art Prof Youtube channel shows the entire process of creating a portrait drawing in charcoal from direct observation (see below) I wrote this article which provides detailed explanations of the numerous tools needed to make charcoal drawings.
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Ask the Art Prof Live was a weekly live video broadcast on my Facebook page where I provided professional advice for art students and professional artists. Ask the Art Prof began as a written column in 2013 and was featured in the Huffington Post from 2013-2015. See the full archive of columns here. I discussed being an artist today, art technique & materials, work strategies for artists, career advice, teaching art, and more.
Video Critique Program
I offer 30 minute video critiques on 8-20 artworks for professional artists working on a body of artwork, and for students working on a portfolio for college admission. Watch sample video critiques and get more info here.
Youtube Playlist: Video Critiques on Art School Admissions Portfolios
Youtube Playlist: How to Draw a Portrait with Charcoal and Cross-Hatching
Youtube Playlist: Crit Quickies, 1 min. critiques on artworks