How to Draw Caricatures: Noses

September 1st, 2009 | Posted in Tutorials

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This series of “How to Draw Caricatures” tutorials are a just a small taste of a larger and much more in-depth book I wrote called The Mad Art of Caricature! The book is 175 full-color pages, lavishly illustrated and contains greatly expanded explanations of the concepts presented in these tutorials, as well and a great deal of additional material on caricaturing other facial features, posture, hands, expression and more, techniques on drawing from live models, doing caricature for freeplace illustration and for MAD Magazine. This is a must have book for anyone interested in caricature, cartooning or humorous illustration. You can order it online here.

Part Five: Drawing Noses

In this next (and long delayed) installment of my “How to Draw Caricatures” series of tutorials we will examine the ever popular and often abused nose.

I think the most common feature that gets exaggerated in a caricature is the nose. Many people actually think the definition of caricature is a drawing with a big nose. What is it about the nose that makes it such a ripe target for exaggeration, so often picked on (pardon the pun) that even the layman notices? Simply put, the nose is the most obnoxious of features. It sits in the very center of the face. It is a very vertical feature when compared to the horizontal nature of the eyes and mouth. It sticks out radically from the plane of the face, much more in relief than any of the other features. It’s so prominent that it’s all too often used as a de-facto way to “exaggerate” the face. The fact is that the nose is like any other feature… its perceived relationship with the other features determines the extent and direction of the exaggeration. Many people have small, button noses that need to be made smaller by way of exaggeration. In some cases the end of the nose may rest close in between the eyes, and in others it’s very far way down the face. Some people have big, honking schnozzes that need to be stretched. In short, despite its prominence the nose is no different that the other features… it must be exaggerated and drawn in the manner the feature itself calls for.

The Anatomy of a Nose

Anatomy of a Nose

The nose is a combination of bone and cartilage made up of various parts that while unique in appearance and relationship in the individual nonetheless, as in any feature, are the same in all people. Starting from the top, the area between the eyebrows is called the glabella. The area directly between the eyes is the root or bridge. The area extending from the root down towards the end of the nose is called the lateral surfaces. The end or “ball” of the nose is called the apex. The two “wings” of the nose, the areas that define the outside of the bottom of the nose and the outside of the nostrils are called the ala. The septum is the area that connects the apex to the face and separates the two nostrils, which are the cavities that open into the interior of the nose and the nasal passages. The alar furrow is the crease made by the separation of the ala and the cheek muscles. The nose “grows” out of the brow, and is connected at the top of the feature by the brow ridge and at the bottom, to the lips/mouth by the philtrum and the nasolabial furrow. The upper part of the nose, including the brow, glabella and root is bone… the “root” or bridge protrudes from the brow of the skull and then ends about 1/4 to 1/3 of the way down the nose itself. After that the nose is all cartilage and soft tissue. Because cartilage continues to grow throughout your life, your nose continues to grow and will alter shape as you age (ears are the same way). That is why many older people have larger noses, and why drawing a larger nose on someone makes them look older in the drawing.

Seeing the Nose Shape

Sam Viviano, acclaimed caricaturist and art director for MAD Magazine, once offered an explanation of how sometimes your reference can “lie” to you about your subject that uses the nose as an example, and that I now relay all the time to artists to describe the challenges involved with making accurate observations of this feature. Back in the 80’s there was a movie called “Roxanne” starring Steve Martin and Darryl Hannah. It was a modern retelling of “Cyrano de Bergerac”, with Martin in the Cyrano role. In Martin’s first scene he’s in a conversation with his face looking directly into the camera for several minutes. He looks normal. Then he turns to the side, and you see he has an incredibly long, Pinnochio-like nose. From straight on, it was impossible to see. That describes in a nutshell the difficulty of both observing and drawing the nose from a straight on, full face view both from photo reference or from life. The nose has no real edges between the root and the nostrils… it’s all curves and fleshy tissue. Foreshortening perspective and the lack of hard edges can fool the eye into not seeing the nose as it really is. This is easily remedied. When working from photo reference make sure you have adequate examples of the subject from many different angles so you have ample opportunity to see the nose from various viewpoints. Even if you are basing your caricature on a specific photo, it ALWAYS helps to have examples of different angles of the face so you can avoid being fooled by the “Roxanne Effect”. If you are working from life, ask the subject to turn to the side once so you can see their profile. Seeing the nose from both the front and the side will give you the whole story. Another complication of seeing and drawing the nose is how radically it can change with the angle of the head position. Of course all the features change with the head angle… but the nose’s high degree of relief from the plane of the face makes it the most susceptible to change. A person who’s head is tilted backward shows much more nostril, the apex is higher than the back of the nostrils, the septum is visible and the nose appears shorter. If the head is tilted forward, the apex drops below the back of the nose, the nostrils disappear, the nose seems longer and the space between the mouth and nose smaller. 3/4 views create even more variations on the shape. All this can make observing the nose and it’s shape(s) challenging but understanding the nose well will help make accurate observations. Because the nose doesn’t have any hard edges, especially between the root and bottom, I treat those two elements like bookends and fill the rest of the nose in between. The root and the nose bottom (including the ala, nostrils, apex and septum) have more definition than the softer edges of the nose’s lateral surfaces, which makes them easier to see and draw.

From straight on, the nose is a basic triangle and in most cases narrower at the root than at the bottom. There are exceptions to everything of course, but that’s a good generalization to begin making your observations. Actually some observations and choices about the nose should already have been made back when we looked at the overall face and the T-Shape, so these more specific observations are just building on our more general ones.

I look at three different “measurements” or relationships of the nose to understand it’s shape:

First, I look at the width of the root or bridge of the nose compared to the overall nose shape. It is usually narrower than the width of the bottom of the nose, but if it’s close to the same width the overall effect is a thick nose and I might want to exaggerate that. Some people have a very narrow root, looking like there is a pencil under their skin between their eyes. Others might have a wide root, with that thick nose look.

Next I look at the lower nose, and make comparisons between it and the rest of the face. Consider the relationship between the lower nose and the eyes. There is distance of course, although after our T-shape observations earlier we should have a fair idea of that relationship. How about the width? Where does the outside of the ala lie compared to the eyes? In classic proportion, the lower nose is one eye distance wide, making it’s edges even with the inside corners of the eyes. Is there a reason (or opportunity) to change this? If the nose seems wide, making it wider than the inside corners of the eyes makes for an effective exaggeration. If you observed earlier the face itself is wide and you drew the eyes far apart accordingly, then just drawing the nose width even with the inside eye corners will give you a wide nose.

The final relationship is the space between those “bookends”, i.e. the root to the lower nose. Again, this is part of that crucial T-shape I keep referring to, and much of what we do with the nose is predicated on that T-shape. Bear in mind that the distance you draw the nose from the eyes will affect the perception of the width of the nose itself. A nose drawn closer to the eyes will appear wider than one drawn far away from the eyes, even if the actual width of the nose drawn is the same.

As with any feature, simplification of the shape is the key to not only drawing accurately, but being able to more easily exaggerate the shape. Try to forget about all the wrinkles, freckles and other distractions of the nose. Imagine the basic shape that is created by the three measurements I mentioned above. Here are four different noses, each with a distinct shape, represented by the geometric shape next to it. The details of the nose are drawn within this shape. using this simplified shape we can more easily exaggerate it and simply plug in those details as they relate to your exaggerated shape.





I mentioned earlier that the angle of the head will make a big difference in how the nose is perceived and drawn. The nose has an angle of it’s own as well. Even from directly straight on, the apex of the nose rests at some angle to the back of the nose. While that angle can be of any increment, I’ve found it helpful to classify the one into one of three basic categories in terms of angle. This helps with observation as well as giving us a chance to exaggerate this angle if we feel it’s warranted. The three angles are pretty simple: Upturned, straight-on and down-turned.


An upturned nose is one were the apex is higher than the rear of the nose, where the septum meets the maxilla (area of bone between the teeth and the nose). You can see most or all of the nostrils with the upturned nose, and the maxilla area is totally visible and often looking large in area. Lots of kids have this type of nose.

The straight-on nose is when the apex is even with the rear of the nose, and is sticking straight out at the viewer. The septum is only visible slightly as it’s seen curving back under the nose to the maxilla. Some nostril is seen, usually as just a slit or narrow oval of darkness under and to each side of the apex.

The down-turned nose is where the apex is lower than the rest of the nose. The nostrils are not visible at all, nor is the septum. The apex often comes close to the upper lip, and some of the maxilla area is covered by the end of the nose. Many elderly people have this type of nose.

Identifying one of these three angles as relating to our specific nose and using it as a general guideline will help us make decisions and observations.

Drawing the Nose

Explaining specifically how to draw the nose is complicated as the different angles and variations of even a single nose with respect to head angle, rotation and drawing style makes for a lot of variables. Therefore in the interest of simplicity I am going to stick with a front view (which is the most difficult to do anyway) and explain how I would approach drawing a nose in a live caricature in my line style. Actually for you live caricaturists this step by step might be more useful than a lot of general drawing tips. For those who are working in different styles of rendering and drawing either live or in a studio, get from it what you can.

I draw live caricatures (and inked ones in MAD and other freelance jobs) with lines. The trouble with that is lines define edges, and the nose has very little in the way of edges, especially from the difficult straight-on angle. Lines are harsh things that demand definitions and are uncompromising. If I draw the side of the nose in line, it looks flat, if I leave the lines out, it looks undefined and shapeless. The trick is to make the nose look like it protrudes from the face, but have it still retain the rounded feel of a nose. There is a way to do this: using line weight variation and my secret weapon… I cheat.

That’s right. When I draw a straight on caricature, I cheat the nose slightly to to a 3/4 angle. In this way, combined with lighter line weights to define the area between the root and the apex, I can create the suggestion of a 3-D nose that is well connected to the face without a lot of rendering. The key is to establish a strong root and nostril/ala/apex area, then connect the two together and to the rest of the face.

We’ve got our eyes drawn already

1. Start with the root– When drawing live I work from the eyes down and then outward with each face, so I begin by drawing the root structure between the eyes. This is accomplished using 4 lines, the distance between which is that root measurement we observed before. The inside two lines define the upper edges of the root that connect with the brow. This area is thin skin stretched over the nasal bone, and has a more defined and stronger edge to it than the rest of the nose. The brow also tends to throw some shadows in here, which adds to the definition of the edges. I use fairly sharp lines here but not very bold. They curve coming down from the brow area and then start heading toward the apex, but taper quickly away to nothing. These lines define the upper plane of the root, connecting it to the brow and into the lateral surfaces.

The two sets of lines that define the root

The second set of lines bookends the inner lines just drawn. These represent the tops of the lateral surface, or the fleshy area of the sides of the nose leading into the cheeks on either side. The top edge of this line roughly coincides with the eye socket bone. These lines also usually define an area that is darker, directly underneath the thin light skin beneath the eye, which tends to catch the light. These lines start close to the inside line, but then curve away to suggest an oval as it tapers away about 1/3 into the eye width.

Some lines for shading

I often add a few simple shadow, light shading lines between the lines to add some shadow and depth on both sides. I will also occasionally add some light parallel horizontal lines across the root to establish some of the protrusion of the brow.

2. Next I move to the bottom of the nose– This is where that overall shape, the T-shape and all those earlier observations about the general face shape and decisions for exaggeration really come into play. In the studio I’d be sketching in the overall shape first and then drawing the lower nose within it, but drawing live I have not that luxury. I start by defining the length and width of the entire nose by drawing the ala on each side. These lines can be stronger as they have definite edges, albeit curved and rounded ones.

Drawing the ala lines defining the nose shape.

3. Draw the nostrils and septum (if visible)- In the case of a down-turned nose, you can draw one line from ala to ala, with the apex in the center of the line. The nostrils are the darkest lines of the nose. There is usually some separation between these lines, although the septum can be drawn as connecting he two nostrils.

Nostrils/septum distinctly separate

4. Draw the apex- This is tricky. there are no real lines to define it. Some apexes are round, some are oval. Others are boxy or triangular or even separate shapes split by a crease (the butt nose!). Looking at that profile again would help at this point. The lower half of the apex is the most defined, as the edge of the shadow from under the nose creates a more obvious plane. If the nose is straight-on or down-turned, you can draw a solid line for the bottom of the apex. Just remember you are using these lines to define the shape of the end of the nose, so if it’s a round apex than use a rounded line. If it’s square, use a straight line. I usually add some simple shading lines here, helping to define what might be a highlight at the end of the apex. The upper part of the apex is trickier. I usually just draw some very thin lines here, often two basically parallel ones that suggest the top of that apex shape without making it too harsh. The top and bottom apex lines can be further strengthened by the addition of side lines, but the apex would need to be a very strong and defined shape to do that.

Delicate lines “suggest” the rounded apex shape

5. Connect the root and apex of the nose- Here’s where the cheating comes in. I draw one line longer and more defined than the other side. This is a slight cheat to a 3/4 view that I incorporate into the straight on view I am drawing. It’s a subtle cheat, and will help the nose seem more substantial. There are much lighter lines, and must taper and fade away as they approach the apex. They should APPEAR to be heading for either side of the apex at the end of the nose, but disappear on their way there.


6. Connect the nose to the rest of the face– Draw the alar and nasolabial furrow lines (lines that extend from the top of each ala to wrap around the corners of the mouth) so that you tie in the bottom of the nose to the rest of the face. Working live I save these lines until after I have drawn the mouth itself. The root is connected to the brow by those first lines we drew. Connecting the nose into the brings it into the whole.



This is just one method of drawing the nose, from a specific angle and using a specific technique. Drawing the nose (and the face for that matter) from a straight-on is less interesting and effective as drawing it from some variation of a 3/4 view, but sometimes you need a straight on shot and that’s it. Especially when working live, most people like being drawn as they see themselves daily… from straight-on. In the studio, however, more interesting angles make for more interesting drawings, and it’s much easier to draw the nose from anything but a straight-on view. A profile is even easier. I will often decide to draw a given face at a 3/4 angle specifically because the subject has a great nose that needs that angle. Here we learned a simplified anatomy of the nose, suggested some categories of different nose types to look for and some key areas of the nose to make observations of to help grasp the shape of the nose itself and then to simplify it to aid exaggeration. We also took a page from the live caricaturist’s handbook to learn how to draw an effective straight-on nose in a live, line based style.

The nose is the literal center of the face, but not necessarily the center of the the caricature. It’s too easy and lazy to resort to abusing the nose with every caricature. Take a good look at your subject, decide what makes that face unique and put the attention and exaggeration on those features. If it’s the nose, then it’s the nose. As with any feature, always remember it;s the RELATIONSHIP it has with it’s neighboring features that is the crux of a good caricature, not the exaggeration of a single feature.

Here are some interesting noses from past sketch of the week and various other sources for you to look at and see what observations I made and exaggerations I decided on:

This “How to Draw Caricatures” tutorial and others of the same series on this website are part of a complete book on drawing caricatures live and in illustration, entitled The Mad Art of Caricature!


  1. George Cook says:

    This is cool! Thank you for finding the time to post this.

  2. brian daly m.d. says:

    as always Tom, magnificent tutorial. I think I’ll go over to the ear,nose and throat surgeons O.R. and practice with the ole sketch book!!!!!!. All joking aside though, when is that book coming out???????????? thanks again

  3. Chandan says:

    when is your book likely to come out. eagerly waiting.

    Chandan (India)

  4. john says:

    great tutorial

  5. Thanks a lot for sharing this Tom,
    this great tutorials are very helpful ,
    Like Brian says :when is that book coming out???????????? ,
    with respect,

  6. Cody Garcia says:

    YES! Thanks Tom!

  7. DGV says:

    Thank you very much for this tutorial!! (And for the others, of course, jeje).

    In my opinion (after reading a lot of books about this matter), it is the best way to learn how to draw caricatures. Thanks again.

    Is there any posibilitie to publish this tutorials in a book? It would be so cool!!


  8. taborda says:

    thanks tom!!!

  9. Jos?© Andr?©s Aristizabal says:


    Muchas, muchas gracias desde Colombia.

    Con estos expectaculares tutoriales, he aprendido mucho y todos mis amigos estan muy felices al poder dibujarlos.

    De nuevo muchas gracias.

  10. Zal says:

    Great tutorial! I enjoy reading them as caricature art is something i do in my spare time, so leasrning tips on how to improve is always great.

  11. Chandan says:

    Is there a chance that your book on caricatures will be released before this christmas.

  12. Tom says:

    Everybody- The book is in the works and I plan on having it in print by late in the spring…

  13. Chandan says:

    Thanks Tom… hailing from Ind, I have no clue when your late spring might be. Can you please specify it in months from now…. Also I hope that adequate thought has been given to make it available across the world. You make many fans all over the world who would be willing to purchase your book.

  14. Faboun'e says:

    Love taht … great learn ..!! thanks

    Maybe a French Version.. ? I wish

  15. brian benson says:

    thanks for all the tutorials in this series. When the book comes out any chance of adding a DVD with it? How about buying advanced copies?

  16. Tom says:

    Thanks for all the enthusiasm about the book.

    My plan is to have it in print by May. It will be in English only (sorry). No plans for a DVD but that is a possibility later.

    I will announce advance orders once the book is actually in the printing process, which should be sometime in February. I have no idea of the price yet as that depends on things like printing and shipping costs, number of pages, type of binding, etc.

  17. DGV says:

    Amazing! Very good news…

  18. Corbett says:

    At this rate we’ll NEVER get to the EARLOBE!

    Another well written exposition, Tom.
    You should write a book about this stuff!


  19. Bob Seal says:

    Wonderful info in these tutorials, Tom.

    I’d be interested in the book too!

  20. maddy bluhm says:

    i promise i will buy your book!! XD i just cant waittt

  21. Great tutorial (as well as the others)! Thanks for taking time out of your busy life to help us that love to do caricatures. Hope your arm is healing well.


  22. alec fleshman says:

    ton thanks for all the lessons im trying to get in to some good art collages and your helping me out alot.

  23. Symeon Leriou says:

    Greetings from Greece…….
    Incredible tutorials Tom!!!! Where’s that caricature book anyway ???? Still writing the prologue ???? (just kidding!!!)

  24. Soulma says:

    Awesome…thank you for sharing, Tom. I immediately practiced the anatomy of nose drawing in my sketchbook. I have always been intrigued by caricatures…


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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