How to draw a nose on my son. And other uncanny valley questions
October 16, 2020 11:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm making a book illustrated in paper cut-out style (i.e. it looks like shapes cut out of paper and glued onto the page). All is going ok except for making a recognizable picture of my son. I'm willing to do a little bit of drawing on the paper shape to make features but I don't know how. He has no nose. Please help me. Illustration and photo here.

So as you know, I've been working on my drawing and you may have guessed I've also been figuring out Adobe Illustrator. This is mostly traced with a tiny bit of drawing.

1. Can you think of a way to draw a nose on my son? It need not (and probably won't be) paper cut out. I've tried just a line in a darker version of the skin tone tracing the shape of his nose and it doesn't work.

1a. SHoudl I maybe go into photoshop, isolate the face adn add it as a layer in illustrator with some blend mode to let it show through a little and not look too photo-graph like?

1b. I'm open to the possibility that I won't be able to do this and maybe I could get someone on etsy to do some simple line-drawn features that look like my son and fit the style. But if I did that I'd want either a few versions or something I'd be able to edit so he could have different expressions on different pages. Do you think I could "order" a side view and front view and a few different mouth-shapes?

2. How's the head size? And the angle. He needs a neck, right? I just figured a neck will be easy once I get a face so I didn't worry about it.

3. General tips on doing this in illustrator? Particulalry interested in any critique or advice re: my use of drop-shadow to make the paper cut out effect. Should I change the settings?
posted by If only I had a penguin... to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So the example you picked is a three-quarter profile - if you pull up reference art, you can see where the block of shadow is and can abstract it out a little better. This reference (which is helpfully a similar level of detail) has a sort of squiggle of shadow *under* the nose to define the shape rather than trying to shade the bridge.
posted by restless_nomad at 11:25 AM on October 16

Yeah, the part of his nose that stands out to me in that image is the lower part — the nostril and the curve of skin next to it. I agree with restless_nomad's suggestion, and I'd add that a U-shaped nose like this might also work in a simple, cartoony style.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:36 AM on October 16 [2 favorites]

Have you tried just using the two dark lines from the photo that define his one nostril? That'd be consistent with the other features you've used, I think. I don't actually think a neck is strictly speaking necessary if he's going to be bundled up like that throughout the story, but one thing that strikes me currently is that his head looks pretty "adult" in silhouette with that cheekbone and the amount of hair. The photo has maybe 1:3 hair:face but the illustration is closer to 1:2. I think I'd try rounding it out and making it a tiny bit bigger, then moving it down so it nestles into the coat collar more.
posted by teremala at 11:36 AM on October 16 [1 favorite]

(There are also a lot of stylized/cartoony art styles where people just don't have noses. If I saw that illustration I wouldn't be like OH MY GOD WHERE IS THAT POOR CHILD'S NOSE, I'd just figure that was your style.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:38 AM on October 16 [11 favorites]

Looks cute! You could try a few options:

- restless_nomad's suggestion, which could be a small squiggle that suggests the nose and nostrils, a triangle that would look more abstracted, or two dots as two individual nostrils
- a very slightly different colored block for the whole nose, but that would maybe be more abstract than the style you are going with
- a block for the whole nose that is exact the same color as the face with the paper shadow being the only distinguishing indication that it is there. The difficult thing is that in this particular case, the light source is in the wrong direction for this to be where a shadow would best define the nose.
- you could also shade the whole right side of the face to define the shape of the face. If you are interested in getting a little more 3D style in the coloring, looking at tutorials for cellshading might help

But yeah, I think restless_nomad's suggestion is a good one.
posted by past unusual at 11:39 AM on October 16

Those eyebrows are super heavy, you might want to use a lighter brown for them.

For the nose I would mostly suggest an upside-down ? without the dot.

You could also draw a couple shapes that are just the shadow under the nose, and maybe a darker one for the nostril, but I think the simplicity of the "actual cut paper" look you're going for would be better served with a simple line.

As to the paper-cut look, the one big thing to think about IMHO is texture. I usually like to add texture by making a layer at the top of the stack with a big rectangle in a solid color, then apply the Mezzotint effect and make it 10-30% opaque with the Hard or Soft Light blending mode. You could also drop in scanned paper texture instead of the mezzotinted rectangle.

Also maybe play with the shadow distance on the tiny shapes on the face, the shadows are floating away from the actual objects casting them and look like they're hovering over the drawing instead of glued down. Really you might want to make the facial features bigger than the actual kid, the rest of the drawing is pretty cartoony and having these realistic proportions on the face is kind of in the uncanny valley.

You also might wanna change the color on the house, I would push it a little towards purple and less saturated - this will put it off in the distance a bit and make it stop fighting for focus with the kid's clothes. You could also do this by putting a translucent blue shape (same blue as the sky) over it all and below the ground, this is super easy to do if you have multiple layers for everything. (Which I heartily recommend, my own Illustrator practice usually involves at the *very* least a separate layer for every major element of the image.)

A bit of the Roughen effect might help create a paper-cut look too.
posted by egypturnash at 12:31 PM on October 16 [2 favorites]

Look at the nose in the photo-- it doesn't stand out much at all. So you want very, very subtle. Honestly with that drawing style you could get away with no nose. (The dog doesn't have a mouth and looks fine.)

Try drawing a little ( shape to indicate the outline of the nose.

Or, if you want more paper-cut style, draw a nose with no outline, the same color as his face. Then add a drop shadow such that it only shadows the far side of his face. Yes, opposite all the other shadows. Cartoons often follow different rules from realistic drawings, and one is that we expect cartoon noses to indicate the shape of the nose, even if in a photo the main shadow is along the nostrils.
posted by zompist at 8:36 PM on October 16

Since he has an upturned nose, I might do something like this:
Simple underside-of-nose shape; color sampled from skin tone; blend mode Color Burn; opacity 70%
posted by D.Billy at 5:48 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]

I have found through many years of art and painting, that the best way to handle the nose is often the simplest. If you do anything more than the sketchiest of indications, often the painting will become All About The Nose. (Ears are the same.)

Forgive my lines' wibbliness as I'm at work using a trackball right now, but I'd suggest a very simple slightly curves line just indicating the presence of the underside of the nose, something like this. If you feel it's not quite right, add a quick indication of the curve of the bridge of the nose up between the eyes.
posted by telophase at 11:56 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

How about a simple shape in a contrasting color, like a villager from Animal Crossing?
posted by xedrik at 7:45 AM on October 18

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