Drawing something from a reference is one thing, but if you want to draw from memory/imagination, you must really understand the topic beforehand. In this tutorial I will tell you everything you need to know about a human nose: how its anatomy can be simplified to forms and lines, and how to draw it in every view and style without a reference.
1. The Anatomy of a Human Nose
The nose consists of three parts: bone, cartilage, and connective tissue. Its upper half is all made of bone, an integral part of the skull:
The lower half is more complex and consists of:
Alar cartilage (the ball of the nose)
Lateral and septal cartilage
The ala (the wings of the nose made of connective tissue)
The nostrils (notice they’re made of two parts: the hole in the ball and in the wings)
The philtrum (the groove connecting the nose with the lips)
All these elements can be turned into a 3D form:
Once you understand what this form looks like, you can rotate it and reshape it to create a nose from imagination.
But it’s still not easy to remember! Let’s simplify it to something easier to draw:
The ball of the nose can be drawn as a sphere.
The wings can be drawn as two smaller spheres.
The septum can be drawn as a small sphere below the ball, behind it, and between the nostrils.
The bridge can be drawn in two parts, to symbolically separate the bone from the cartilage.
The tip of the nose is the upper part of the ball. You don’t always need to draw it, but it should be accentuated with shading. A great place to put some shine on!
The sides of the nose should blend with the rest of the face, but the shading should gently reveal their shape.
The root can be drawn as a “bent fan”.
2. Nose Shapes
This was a general “recipe” for a nose. But noses vary a lot among people! For example, we can talk about a “masculine” and a “feminine” nose. Traditionally, males are drawn with big, wide, roughly chiseled noses, and females with small, smooth, gentle ones.
However, this difference is mostly an artistic exaggeration (based on beauty standards and used to differentiate the “beautiful, feminine” characters from the “rough, masculine” ones) —both males and females can have various nose shapes that have nothing to do with their sex. It’s not unusual for a woman to have her father’s nose!
If you look at a nose in profile, there are lots of ways you can arrange the elements to create a nose. It can be pointing up or down, round or pointed, straight or humpy. There is not one perfect shape, “default” to all humans!
Noses can also differ in front view. Both the ball and the nostrils can have various sizes and proportions. Also, the nostrils can appear wide or tiny. Because the shape of a nose is mainly genetic, various ethnicities can have their own characteristic shape. Experimenting with the nose shape will therefore help you create unique characters, with a story hidden in their faces (you can make certain characters look related, or show their affiliation to a clan or tribe).
3. How to Draw a Nose in the Side View
First, sketch the general shape of the nose as you imagine it. This will help you get an idea about the proportions of the elements you’ll need to draw later.
Draw the ball in the front according to the shape you want to achieve.
Draw the circle for the wing. Adjust its size to your vision.
Draw the tiny circle for the septum. It should be placed slightly below the ball, at the back.
Draw the nostril. Remember the two parts of it!
Outline the bottom of the nose all the way down to the philtrum. “Cut” the upper part of the nose to create the root, and divide the rest roughly into halves.
Outline the bridge and the tip.
Draw the sides of the nose.
Add the details.
Draw the final lines and shade it, if you want to.
4. How to Draw a Nose in the Front View
Sketch the general shape, adjusting the length and width of your imagined nose.
Add the ball at the bottom.
Sketch the circular wings.
Add the small circle for the septum.
Outline the nostrils. Remember that they’re 3D—they bend towards the front.
“Cut off” the upper part of the nose to define the root. Mark the border between the two halves of the nose, too.
Outline the bridge.
Outline the sides.
Add the details.
Finish the drawing.
5. How to Draw a Nose in Perspective
Although drawing in perspective is considered difficult, there’s actually one rule you need to remember here: rotation from side to front creates an intermediate state between them. So you need to draw all the elements as a transition between one state and the other.
Sketch the general shape of the nose. It should be an intermediate shape between the side and the front, depending on the angle of rotation.
Draw the ball. Notice it’s almost on the side, but not really.
Draw the circular wings. In the side view, they would cover each other. In the front view, there would be a distance between them. Here we have a compromise between these two states.
Add the septum. It still needs to be under the ball, behind it, and between the wings.
Sketch the outline of the nostrils. Remember the 3D shape!
Draw a line along the nose, accentuating its 3D form. “Cut off” the top to create the root, and mark the middle of the bridge.
Draw the bridge.
Draw the sides.
Add the details.
Finish the nose.
6. Nose Styles
Drawing the nose in styles different than realism is pretty straightforward—you simply need to replace shading with lines. You can also ignore almost everything besides the ball, the wings, and the outline of the bridge. The simpler your style, the more elements you can safely ignore.
In cartoon styles, you can exaggerate visible elements of the nose. If the nose is pointed, you can make it almost sharp, if it’s small, you can make it tiny, and so on. This will let you accentuate the difference between the characters and will make drawing them easier.
In manga style, noses are almost non-existent, symbolic, which directly follows the simplification of other facial features (a detailed nose would bring attention to them being unrealistic). The simpler the variation of manga, the simpler the nose, with chibi being the extreme—no need to draw a nose at all!