Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Why do the Noses in My Portraits Look Like Inverted Spoons?

Painting portraits is considered to be the artist’s last frontier, but the beginner may make the mistake of paying insufficient attention to noses in favour of eyes and mouths because noses have the same skin colour as the rest of the face. Furthermore, the artist’s dilemma of dealing with the nose’s foreshortening effect may result in a nose that looks lopsided or having edges that don’t exist

Common Mistakes in Painting Noses

The most common error the beginner in portraiture and figure painting is delegating the nose as virtually invisible, in preference to the other facial features. When the portrait is finished, however, the artist may discover the importance of the nose, in that it holds the rest of the portrait together. The artist may make the mistake of thinking the eyes or the mouth is wrong, where in fact, the problem lies with the nose. The following practices should be avoided:

  • Painting the nose as a tubular form with two nostrils at the bottom
  • Illustrating the nose in a linear way and giving edges to the nose that don’t exist
  • Painting the nose as pointing to the viewer, whereas the rest of the face is at an angle
  • In an attempt to illustrate the nose’s extension when in foreshortening, illustrating the nose as side-on, despite the face facing the viewer, making the nose appear wonky
  • Painting the nose as central to the face, even though the face is at an angle, making it appear to be off-centre
  • Painting only the bottom of the nose, forgetting the bridge of the nose between the eyes
How to Paint Noses in Portraits

In order to get to grips with painting noses, the following exercises and practices will help:
  • Practice painting or drawing long objects in foreshortening, which means pointing straight at the viewer. A finger, a clothes peg or spoon would be ideal. This exercise help the artist override the temptation to illustrate the length of the object, even though it cannot be seen
  • Pay special attention to nostrils. Far from being two round holes, they can appear flattened, or tadpole-shaped. Nostrils are not always visible from certain angles.
  • The contours of the nose should never be illustrated in a linear way. The nose is often merely a series of vague and subtle patches of light and shadow
  • Take note of different nose shapes. They can be thin, tapered, conical or bulbous. An ideal nose doesn’t exist
  • Some noses have a slightly different hue to the rest of the face, particularly at the base
  • Pay special attention to the bridge of the nose between the eyes. Some artists make the mistake of thinking the eyes are wrong, where in fact the shadows around the bridge of the nose might need tweaking. Deep shadows often reside in this area if the light is oblique and can give the portrait expression
  • Resist falling into the trap of painting the nose as full on, where the rest of the face is at an angle
Paint Tips and Techniques for Noses

If the artist wishes to produce a portrait from a photograph, a clear and good quality image is essential. The facial features must not be bleached out by a flash or bright light. In fact, side-lit will bring out the contours of the face, particularly the nose. Never use lines to illustrate the nose, but abstract shapes in tone and colour. If the portrait is not working quite right, turning the photograph upside down and completing the painting upside down too, will help reboot the brain and see the image in a new way. Remember to turn the image the right way up again now and then, to make sure the portrait is working as planned.

Essential Art Materials for Nose Painting

Basic skin colours can be achieved from burnt sienna, burnt umber, permanent rose, ultramarine and white. However, other colours will often be seen on flesh. Because the nose is often the most reflective surface, it may exhibit highlights or reflections from neighbouring objects, such as clothes. The shadow beneath the nose is not always merely black, but can be neutrals and even greens. Good quality artist brushes such as Kolinsky sable sizes 0, 3 and 6 will suffice for portrait painting, including the nose.

Links Relating to Portraiture

Advice on brown pigments
Oil painting books on portraiture
Flesh tones in portraits
How to paint children from a photo
How to paint figures

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Hi John. Thanks for the vote. I plan to add more things here very soon.