My Journey in Painting Dog Noses
I’m a professional pet portrait artist, and I’d like to share with you what I know about dog noses.
They’re a hugely important feature in a dog’s face, and fall into that unfortunate category of things that are familiar enough we know when they’re wrong, but complicated enough that they’re really hard to get right. Like hands. Fortunately, we can skip hand because we’re drawing dogs (whew)!
But dog noses can give you a run for your money. In this post I’m going to break them down into their most basic structure so you can see what’s going on and learn how to paint those dog noses like a pro.
In the Beginning, We All Drew Triangles
When I first started drawing dogs, the noses were easy.
BAM! Triangle. Job done.
But eventually that wasn’t enough detail for me. Getting into shading, both on paper and eventually on canvas, meant I needed to understand the 3D form of the dog’s nose.
So then what?
Getting Ready to Paint a Dog's Nose: The Basic Shape
Maybe a 3D triangle? A couple nostril dots? Getting reeeally detailed with a fancy line up the middle? Still pretty simple, but now definitely biology and not geometry.
When I’m painting dog noses, these basic planes are super helpful for understanding the broad strokes of where light will hit and where I’ll need to put shadows.
But while these shapes work in an illustrative or cartooney setting, they’re just not enough when the goal is realism.
What's Really Going On: How to Paint a Realistic Dog Nose
To get realist, we need to deepen our understanding of the organ in question.
A dog’s nose is an olfactory powerhouse built to maximize the amount of surface area exposed to the air. All the better to smell you with, my dear.
But how do we translate that convoluted surface into a drawing?
Let’s break it down:
Dog noses aren’t really triangles with holes in them, they’re a series of folds.
When I draw or paint them, I find it easier to think of them in their entirety, and keep in mind how that weird side flap (called the Alar Fold) curves around and connects back to the fuzzy snout part, so that I don’t get lost.
Draw a Dog's Nose from the Side and From the Front
Do a bunch of drawings of a bunch of dog noses from the side and front, and you’ll be surprised at all the shapes you see. No circles here!
To get your hand familiar with the real shapes, try printing a few photos and just tracing them. This is a great way to stop your brain from interfering with what’s really going on by distracting you with what you think ought to be there.
From the front, the dog’s nostrils aren’t circles. The fold continues inward, creating a kind of checkmark shape, or a kidney.
So our nosey triangle is really more like this shape:
Now You Know How to Paint a Dog's Nose!
Alar’s fold curves into the nostril, flaring out farther than the base of the nose pad below. There are sometimes more wrinkles and folds, depending on the dog, but this basic shape repeats itself across all ages and breeds.
Understanding these repeating patterns will help you nail your paintings of dog noses from the front and side (and top and bottom!)