How To Draw Ears

By Joe Catapano

Introduction

Out of all the parts of the human head, I think drawing the ear is one of my favorites. Now, off of a first reaction to that statement you might be thinking that I’m way off my rocker, but let me explain. I’ll bet by the end of this tutorial that I’ll convince you that the ear is secretly one of the most fun features to draw. 

So, let me start by backing my opinion. When you are learning to draw, you’ll find that not all subjects are at the same difficulty. Drawing a horse versus drawing a rock; the horse would be way more difficult to accurately depict. This is because of two things. First is that, horses haves specific structures and anything with a specific design or anatomy will be more complex than something, like a rock, which has a much less specific set of defining features. Second, is that because of the horses popularity in our society we are pretty accustomed to seeing them, which only places more burden on the artist to nail the structure. 

Now, what has this to do with drawing an ear?

Well, it just so happens that the ear is a perfect middle ground for an artist. It has a specific structure yet is forgiving enough to allow for easy self-expression with a large margin for error. This is t foundation for the ear being a great subject to draw. Additionally, we see ears all day long when we talk to one another, so the challenge to get the anatomy correct is still very apparent. Lastly, the ear is one part of the body that comes with accessories like earrings and fantasy modifications like elf style ears. Put simply, the ear is in the sweet spot for drawing.

Now that I went far out of my way to get you invested, let’s dive into the ear’s structure and anatomy. I promise it will get fun. 

Structure of The Ear

 

At first glance, the ear can be a little intimidating to study. There are a lot of folds and skin that seem to fit together in a random way. Truthfully, that’s exactly how I first viewed the structure of the ear; just a maze of cartilage. However, with the help of the many masters of anatomy combined with the Internet, one can easily find a more manageable arrangement of its parts. Below I’ve taken what I believe to be the best layman’s layout of the ears parts. 

Let me run through these and describe them a bit more. 

  • Rim - The outermost contour of the ear. It folds over on itself forming its shape.

  • “Y” Bump - This is a main part of the cartilage that wraps around following the rim’s contour. You will see later that it sticks out from the ear, as well.

  • Cavity - Right below the Y bump is this cavity that leads to the ear canal. When thinking of this part, I sometimes think of the crater that the Millennium Falcon flies into in The Empire Strikes Back. You know the one that has a space worm inside of it.

  • Nub - This little piece of triangular cartilage kind of half covers the ear canal. 

  • Lobe - This hanging piece of skin is the most recognizable. It is sometimes connected to the skin of the head, as well.

Landmarks

Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s look at a more useful diagram for artists. 

Above, we can see the location of the ear in its position on the head in the front and side views. Then on the right side is a more practical approach to remembering the different parts of the ear. 

The one part that is always in view no matter the perspective is the Hook shape, or as we named it before, the rim. As you can see it has a slight spiral effect. Be aware that where the hook part begins it also recedes deeper in  the cavity. 

Try to memorize where these parts fit as a whole. To help you try to picture the ear from this side view, imagine it resembling the spiral fanning of a seashell. There are many folds at the top section, and as they spiral around, they merge into one shape, the lobe.

Ears Have Volume

To really understand the ear, we of course can’t just look at the side view. We also need to be able to turn the ear in 3D space if we ever hope to reproduce it over and over on a comic page. 

Take a look at the Front view. Notice how the Y Bump looks.  It actually folds away from the bowl shape that makes up the main parts of the ear. This bump will sometimes actually protrude out farther than the rim does as shown here.  This is just one example of the many variations you can add or change to add individuality to your drawn ears. 

The best way to visualize and remember the relationship of this Y bump and the adjacent cavity is to view it as a landscape. The Y part is like a mountain and the ear canal cavity is like a valley next to it. Here, I’ve drawn them as a topographical map to further push this point.

Variations

Just like with all other parts of the head and body, each part will vary slightly between each individual person. Ear variations don’t fluctuate as much as eyes or noses but the general proportions will vary slightly. For example, some people’s ears have a very pronounced set of folds, while others may have a much more flat appearance. 

Here you should not only notice what changes between all of these examples but more importantly what is alike about them. If you take some time to look, you’ll see that the commonalities are really just the “Landmarks” that we’ve already touched upon. And here lies the beauty of drawing the ear. You see, it’s much more like a rock than a horse from the introduction example. As long as you follow just a few parameters, you can make an ear look correct. 

Here, I’ve also done a couple of examples that are more extreme. The top right of the graphic is a fantasy elf ear.  Notice how all the landmarks are still present but simply distorted to create new anatomy. The next example is another type of distortion. This time we’ve stretched a large ring to fit in the ear lobe piercing.

Stylization Techniques

This section will be very similar to other stylized tutorials because many of these same techniques are used broadly in all of comic book illustration. I have, however, used each technique in areas where I’ve noticed that they work particularly well on the ear anatomy. Let’s go through them.

1. This is a basic technique in comic books. It’s a spot black area. For the ear, use these spot black shadows to add depth, contrast, and style. How any one artist decides to mass the shadows together is all a part of your own style. 

2. Ears are generally round, but as we all know, in comic books we like to have sharp contours. So especially around the rim of the ear, use this technique to add strong block forms with straighter curves.

3. I like to call this one Fine Boundaries. It’s where an artist will show a change of value and form by adding a simple looping shape with a fine line. It doesn’t get shaded because the point itself is to show small value changes with only a couple of lines.

4. Here is the “repeating lines” technique. This technique is a great one to soften an edge. One or two extra lines will really give your forms some subtle volumetric detail. 

5. This line is possibly the most pure of all style choices because it strays far from mimicking reality. For the most part, placing a line like this is an interesting way to show a plane change or just to fill some empty space.

6. Fluid S curves! This one is very gestural. And any fluid lines like this will favor the drawing having a natural organic flavor over rigid accuracy. I find this one works best for the cavity and nub.

Let’s Draw One

Ok, let’s get our pencil to the page and draw our first ear together.

For positioning purposes, let’s start with this diagonal hockey stick of a line to represent the jaw that our ear will rest against. Simple.

Sketch in the contour of the ears shape. This will look like an earmuff cover. Don’t worry about being too exact. You can always edit your line as you go.

Great. Now, draw the shapes that will be the main ear cavity and the nub that guards it. I usually start detailing my ears this way because it is the part with the biggest value change.

Here, draw a curved line that runs parallel to the outer contour. This creates the rim. Notice how not all of my lines are completely curved. Additionally, draw a small curve that runs parallel to the cavity shape in Step 3.

In this step, we are completing the top portion of the Y Bump. It will take a few lines to complete. Make sure that the bottom line matches up with the contour to give the illusion of the bump overlapping the ear’s rim.

Lastly, let’s add the fun part. Add in some shadow and render lines to show where the folds have depth. We also add a small shadow to show that the ear is actually connected to the jaw line.

Excellent! You just completed an ear. It’s not the most glamorous part of the human head but getting it right will add a tremendous amount of realism to your characters. Plus, wasn’t it fun to draw something realistic yet you didn’t have to nail the anatomy perfectly? 

Before You Go

 

I just want to congratulate you again on completing this tutorial. Even if you only just read this far shows your commitment to learning and that is the first big step. Many folks won’t even get that far, so give somebody a high-five or something. Feel proud. 

Now for the next step... drawing everyday. Continual practice is the key to getting good at anything. You don’t always have to draw ears but if you focus on drawing a particular part of the body every week, you will start to see some improvements. Just try your best day in and day out. And most importantly have fun with it. This is just one game in the series of games that is life, so enjoy it.

We have many other step-by-step tutorials on HTDC.net and I encourage you to give them all a read.  Even if you know these subjects, it’s always a good idea to brush up.  Also, there is an ever-growing HTDC Community that will help you out with giving advice and feedback on your art. Don’t miss out. 

Lastly, if you’d like an art critique or want to just say hi, you can reach out to me directly on my site, https://joecatapanoart.com or on IG, https://Instagram.com/Catapanoart

Keep on drawing!

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