I paint with soft oil pastel on black canvas board.

Painting noses is difficult.

I feel the nose should be short, but it will increase the distance between the nose and the upper lip.

If I decrease the distance between nose and upper lip, it will make the nose too long. I tried to fatten the lip.

I'm totally stuck, does anyone have any advice?

enter image description here

2 Answers 2


To me the proportions look right. I think your problem is the contrast in color between the tip of the nose and the skin above the upper lip.

In your reference picture there is a very soft and gradual blend from nose to upper lip. The lightest color is on the very tip of the nose, where most of the light is reflected. The parts of the nose that physically point downwards lie in a soft shadow. At the same time the nose casts a soft shadow onto the skin below. Both parts have a very similar color. It's impossible to see exactly where the nose ends and the skin above the lip starts.

In your painting you painted the shadow below the nose, but all parts of the nose are very bright. That creates a sharp contrast and your eye is drawn to that specific point. Your brain cannot stop analyzing this point because of the sharp edges.

If you darken the underside of the nose, this contrast dissappears and your eyes are drawn to the brightest spot - which is now the eyes. The human brain fills in the information that the eyes don't see clearly and suddenly the nose has exactly the length the observer likes best.

The same effect can be observed in the famous Mona Lisa. All the contours are so soft and blended that each observer sees the image a little different. If you look at her eyes, you cannot see the lips clearly and your brain automatically fills in the missing information with "she's smiling". If you look at her lips, you suddenly realize that she isn't actually smiling, there's just a soft shadow pointing upwards where the corners of her mouth would be if the was smiling.

  • That's why I've been puzzled with the nose - its the area below it! Will re-work the area.
    – Marium
    May 27, 2020 at 11:16
  • IMO It will still look stylized, exaggerated in length... if you put your finger over the ball of the nose as it is now, what remains looks like the right size.
    – rebusB
    May 27, 2020 at 13:35
  • hmmmm @rebusB I try to draw and re-draw outline of nose and I still get this length, i.e. the one shown in the photo
    – Marium
    May 28, 2020 at 13:46

The nose may not be the problem, it may just be inheriting one.

Check the space between the eyes and the mouth. I find it is a common problem in my own drawing to make that distance too long and that looks like the problem here.

It sometimes helps to look at the composition with slightly unfocused eyes, then proportions that do not seem natural stand out. Doing that with this drawing and it seems the eyes appear a bit high in the face, or relative to them since the forehead looks ok, the jaw too low.

  • Yeah I do have to round-out the right side of her face - seems too angular. As for the eyes, well I'll see if I can re-do it at this stage.
    – Marium
    May 27, 2020 at 17:55
  • Its not the eyes so much as the proportions of the mouth and jaw relative to the upper part of face and the distance from the bottom of the eyes to the top of the mouth.
    – rebusB
    May 29, 2020 at 15:02

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