Click on photos to enlarge.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Nose Drawing

In 1635, Anthony Van Dyck painted England's King Charles I from three critical angles as a means for the Italian sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, to carve a marble bust. If studying the old masters is the key to learning to draw and paint, this portrait is among the best choices a student might make.

Labeling the nasal anatomy..
As a portrait artist and one who has tried for some three or four decades to teach the drawing of facial anatomy, I can say without doubt, the most difficult feature for students to draw on any face seems to be the nose. There are several very good reasons for this. Perhaps first and foremost is that, for the most part, drawing is taught utilizing the tip of the pencil--line drawing. That's fine in many situations, but when it comes to drawing noses it's a sure detour to frustration. Except for the nostrils, what the artist really draws is not the nose itself but the shading and shadows created by the nose. As even an inexperienced artist knows, shading is best done with the side of the pencil lead (graphite, really) rather than the tip. Second, is the fact that, except in profile, the nose presents varying degrees of foreshortening, depending upon the angle. Foreshortening involves any bodily appendage aimed directly at the artist. When that occurs, all to often the student artist falls back on inappropriate visual stereotypes rather than what he or she actually sees. The nose is no exception. And third, the nose involves so many varying angles of lighting, (and thus shading) that there is no one formula for drawing it, unlike, mouths, eyes, moles, and zits.

As Andy Warhol's series depicting Marilyn Monroe demonstrates,
the old modern art dictum, "less is more" definitely applies to noses.
Here even lighting from above is the key factor.
Cecilia Gallerani, Leonardo da Vinci
When you really think about it, the nose is probably the least attractive facial feature. Take a look sometime at photos of your favorite movie stars, fashion model, teen demi-god, male or female, whatever. Almost without fail, the one facial feature they have in common is a relatively small, symmetrical, unobtrusive nose. By the same token, if a caricaturist wants to really debase his or her subject, an outlandish, or even slightly strange nose is a sure means of doing so. Thus, it may not seem important as compared to eyes or a nice, toothy smile, but drawing the nose in such a way as to make it "outstanding" can really screw up an otherwise well-done face. Look at the model's nose in Leonardo's portrait of Cecilia Gallerani. Because of his careful lighting and rendering, the fact that it's a bit on the long side goes largely unnoticed. Minimizing a nose is often a good idea. You might say that learning to draw noses is like the mid-term exam in face drawing.

Nose angles minus the complicating elements of shading or lighting.
Van Gogh's nose--prominent
but not obtrusive.
The two most critical elements in drawing noses are the viewing angles and the lighting angles. The chart above covers most of the viewing angles. One glance makes it easy to see why there is no single, iconic formula for drawing the nose, By the way, looking up your models nostrils is probably the least flattering angle. Try to avoid the top two rows of noses. Keep in mind too, this is a chart using line drawings, which only suggests the areas of shading which bring the nose to life. The chart below is much like the one above except it is devoted to some of the most common lighting angles without the use of a secondary light source to counteract the harshness (also the lack of drama drama) of single-source lighting. In general, it's often safest to leave the shaded area of the face (and thus the nose) on the side opposite that of the viewer. Notice, a nose lit from below seems quite unnatural and thus seldom attractive.
This is not a "how to" demonstration as to lighting a nose, only an illustration in chart form as to the critical factor lighting plays in drawing the nose. A secondary "fill" light opposite the mail light adds a more natural appearance.

Caravaggio Self-portrait, 1621.
Even lighting is quite flattering for
the aged and the ugly.
Now some nose tips. A large, unattractive nose can be minimized by lighting it evenly from both sides and above, then drawing it straight on from the front. That leaves only a relatively small shadow beneath the nose as seen in Caravaggio's self-portrait (right). The artist's nose is fairly short but also fairly broad and flat. Caravaggio makes the best (and least) of his least attractive feature. On the flip side, Jan Vermeer makes the most of his models eyes, nose, and mouth as a means of distracting the viewer from noticing that she has virtually nothing to offer in the way of eyebrows. Our attention is, instead, drawn to her other attractive facial features and the lovely, pale complexion of his Girl with a Pearl Earring (below) from 1665.

Girl with a Pearl Earring, 1665, Jan Vermeer.


No comments:

Post a Comment