Ears, like so many human features, are easy after you know the trick, but confusing and difficult until you know how to draw them. Some artists trying to avoid drawing ears just cover the character’s ears with long hair, because short haired character will need ears drawn in details. Drawing a human ear accurately is important in most portraits. In fact, they come in many different shapes and bends that they’re pretty difficult to mess up. In this tutorial I’ll give you a step by step look at how to draw ears.
Ear Diagram Hand copy this line drawing of the ear seen directly from the side. The parts of the ear are labeled with their medical names, just for amusement and so that we can discuss them later. Notice how basic the two are when you break them down into their most important components? Ears must have: an outer edge, an inner edge and a hole leading to the ear drum. At the very least remember these basic lines when you draw ears. The lines are very similar to each other in shape and location, so this shouldn’t be difficult.
One thing that is difficult to remember in drawing the ear is that the shapes within the ear are always going to follow this pattern. The y-shaped bulge of the antihelix may be higher or lower, but it will be there. The little bulge of the antitragus will be there. These details are the same on all ears, but the exact placement and shape varies a lot from individual to individual.
The very first thing I start with is the outline. You’ll want to fit this onto your characters head in the best way possible, while remembering that the upper tip will generally align with the top of the eyes or bottom of the eyebrows.
Next draw the inner curve. Not much to say hear except that the lower edge of this arch sorta disappears into the center of the ear, and the top of this line shouldn’t connect with the outline.
In a realistic drawing instead of the outer line outline, there would be hair behind the ear to contrast texture and value. The shading at the edge of the ears and its internal shading is as soft as the shading on the nose, with some dark areas depending on lighting — but it will be gradual and tonal, not a hard outline. Because the ear casts a shadow on the hair, though, it is a place where outlines are less jarring than they are around a nose.
This is an ear seen from the side on a short haired person with squared off sideburns, but how it looks from in front is different. Not all of these detailed features are evident, and in some ways it’s simplified. In a 3/4 view portrait it will be angled but still closer to this side view ear than to the forward view.
The line you’re drawing here can take on any number of shapes, but I opted for something thinner. This horseshoe shape will form the outer ridge of the ear as well as the inner ridge of the center.
And that’s it! We’ve colored the drawing to help illustrate what all of the lines and ridges formed. So now you can see what a basic human ear looks like, complete with lobe, canal, and a lot of bump-y shapes running through the center forming peaks and valleys.
Notes: Small children’s ears are sometimes out of proportion, large because they can grow faster than the child’s head. Often small children’s ears stick straight out to the sides too, although some adults’ ears do this as well. How flat ears are to the side of the head will vary with the individual, but older people’s ears are usually flatter to the head than children’s.
When looking at the detailed diagram and drawing the detailed ear, keep in mind that the lines represent very soft lines of different values, shaded areas that move forward into highlight. Making ears more detailed than the expressive features of the face, mouth and eyes, will draw too much attention away from them and make the subject look funny. On the other hand, in a caricature, enlarging ears and exaggerating their shape and structures is a good way to give a laugh.
One of the best ways to deemphasize ears in any portrait is to pay attention to the value differences of the shading. If the darkest shadows in the ear are only one or two steps darker than the light parts of the ear, that is closer to accurate than if those shadows are exaggerated. Hair sets off the shape of the ear as a whole, so one value of highlighting and one value of shadowing are all that’s needed to make ears look good in a portrait.