How to Draw Ears, a Detailed Step-by-Step Guide

Gvaat’s drawing the ear – studies

A proper drawing of the ear is often neglected by artists. The ear takes little part in facial expression and is often blocked out of view by hair. However, drawing the ear properly provides for completeness to your drawing as well as demonstrates a higher level of artistic knowledge and skill.

In this tutorial we will go over a two-step approach to learning to draw ears well, and then we will go through my drawing of an ear, step-by-step.

For those of you looking for a short answer on how to draw the ear, here is my summary:

To draw an ear, first, break down the form of an ear into basic anatomical features, then create a proportionate structure, then starting with the outline of the helix, begin to place features, and draw in the anti-helix, the tragus, and anti-tragus sections.

Two step approach for drawing the ear

We will use a two-step approach to breaking down the ear in an effort to make it easier to draw. I, for one, always had problems drawing ears. Once I applied this two-step approach to learning to draw the ear, my drawings improved significantly.

You can see my results in the ear drawings I made for this tutorial. Here is what I did, and what I recommend you do to start drawing ears well:

Step one to learning to drawing the ear:

First, let’s become familiar with the main features and landmarks of the ear. There are six in total to keep in mind, four of which are the main cartilage sections and have opposing names (example: helix and anti-helix) and therefore are easy to remember.

We will go over each one together below.

Step two to learning to draw the ear:

Once you are familiar with the landmarks generally (and you will be, by the end of this tutorial), it is time to look at reference and identify these landmarks on as many different ears as possible.

Ears vary greatly by person. There are small ears and large, more curved and less curved, and each landmark will have different shapes from one person to another.

However, in general all of the landmarks we will discuss will be present and are easily identifiable.

In one way, ears are like chairs. There are many kinds of chairs, but all have the four legs and a place to rest on. Same with ears, each specific feature of an ear can change in shape and design, but each feature will still be there, waiting to be identified properly and indicated in your drawing.

It is good to see the variation in reference. This process will help identify what resembles an ear generally, which in turn will help us draw the ear properly.

After seeing variation in features, pay attention to the shape of each feature. We need to learn the actual physical masses of each landmark.

Things like: what curves in, and what curves out, which section folds into which other section, what is located closer to the head, and what part is further out.

All of this is important. The best way to learn is to observe in real life from different angles. Or take pictures from different angles and learn from that.

Don’t learn to draw the ear from just one example of an ear. There is enough variation that when you see another example it may be difficult to figure out what-is-what at first. I suggest looking at least three different references to learn.

That’s it. Now it’s time to draw. Draw many ears, draw at different angles, and notice how the shapes change when the angle changes. The changes in shape will, I have no doubt, surprise you, as they surprised me.

As always, let’s go over both of these steps together!

Ear anatomy for drawing

Although ears vary widely, like other areas of the body, they have certain definite areas. We need to remember only six anatomical features of the ear to draw it well.

  1. The Ear Lobe
  2. The Helix
  3. The Anti-Helix
  4. The Targus
  5. The Anti-Targus
  6. The Concha

The Lobe, or Lobule

Lobule – anatomy of the ear for drawing. Studies by Gvaat

The lobe is an appended fatty tissue at the bottom of the ear. It changes greatly from person to person, from an area that is larger and looks like a flap, to one that is reseeding into the mass of the ear and connecting to the head in a swift curve.

This is one feature of the ear, and probably one you already knew about, five more to go.

It is important to note that four of the main cartilages of the ear that we will study for drawing the ear are raised off the surface of the ear. They in essence, appear on the surface as elevated bumps or flaps.

Let’s look at them now:

Helix

Helix – anatomy of the ear for drawing. Studies by Gvaat

The helix is the prominent outer rim of the ear. Note the shape and also note that at the top it is further away from the head. The helix moves closer to the head as it descends into the ear lobe.

Anti-helix

The anti-helix is a visible part of the inner ear (still external ear, since we are only looking at the visible masses for drawing) that largely follows the helix in its curvature.

You can think of the anti-helix as a form of a curved mountain ridge.

Anti-helix – anatomy of the ear for drawing. Studies by Gvaat

As its ridge moves towards the top, it flattens, then splits into two. This top part of the anti-helix tucks in under the helix.

The bottom section moves downward and eventually morphs into the anti-tragus.

Tragus

Tragus – anatomy of an ear for drawing. Studies by Gvaat

The tragus is the flap-like piece of cartilage that protects the ear canal from the front of the ear.

Anti-tragus

Anti-tragus – anatomy of an ear for drawing. Studies by Gvaat

The anti-tragus, true to its name, sits across or opposing the tragus at the bottom of the ear.

Concha

Concha – anatomy of an ear for drawing. Studies by Gvaat

The concha is the ‘bottom of the bowl’ of the ear. Surrounded by the anti-helix, the tragus, and the anti-tragus.

The concha is the area that the helix divides as it moves down into the bowl of the ear.

The helix divides the concha it into two parts (cymba and cavum). The names of these two sections are not important for drawing. However, it is essential to remember that those areas are there and that the helix does not just stop at the outer rim, but does indeed descend down into the concha.

Proportions of the ear for drawing

The ear can be divided into three equal sections from top to bottom. This will provide for continuity of proportions in drawing the ear, regardless of angle (when accounting for perspective and foreshortening).

I don’t focus on proportions in my tutorials often, because I believe that as you keep drawing, your sense of proportion will improve, and will eventually become second nature to your drawing process. When things are off, you will know it instantly.

At first, however, it is a good idea to measure out proportions. Therefore, here are very basic guidelines to keep in mind, when applied to a drawing, they should yield an ear . . . that looks like an ear.

You can see on the diagram above, if we draw a line at the top of the helix, then another where anti-helix wedges into the front of the ear, and then another line right through the anti-tragus, and finally a line at the end of the lobe, we can divide the ear into something resembling three equal parts.

Another way to think about these proportion guides is to mark the top and bottom of the concha with two lines, as well as mark the top and bottom of the ear with two more lines, thus yielding the same result.

Physical features of the ear

Now that we covered anatomy and proportion, let’s take a moment to observe the ear from different angles and make notes on physical features.

Same ear at different angles. Studies by Gvaat
  • The lower part of the ear is closer to the face than the upper part.
  • At the ear, the jaw steps away from the rest of the head just a bit, creating a surface dip that is filled by the bowl of the ear
  • From the front view, the ears slope inward from above
  • The ear is shaped like a bowl, with the rim (helix) tucked in.
  • The ear canal opening protected in front by a flap known as the tragus.
Drawing an ear – backview. Study by Gvaat

Drawing the Ear, Step-by-Step

Let’s now go over drawing the ear, with the knowledge that we gained so far.

I definitely felt like it got much easier as soon as I reviewed the anatomical features involved, and began to identify the landmarks in different examples, as well as studied the shapes of those anatomical features.

From outline to render – Gvaat’s study.

Here is a process video of the step-by-step ear drawings that you will find below.

How to Draw an Ear – Step-by-Step 1

I started this drawing by blocking in the helix outline. At this early stage, I began to gauge proportions and angles.

With the helix blocked in, I marked down where I thought the tragus and anti-tragus envelop the section leading up to the ear canal.

The location of the tragus and the helix, basically dictate the rest of the ear drawing in this example.

In this step, I identified the remaining features, the width of the helix and the location of the anti helix.

To provide a little bit of depth to this ear drawing, I began to shade in areas that are receding and are hidden from the light.

In this step, I began to identify the darker darks in the concha area, as well as the terminator at the ear lobe. (For more on shading, light and shadows, visit my tutorial at this link.)

At this step, I focused on shading-in the anti-helix as it ascends to the top of the ear. Since the light is coming from the top in this example, I know that some of it will be in the shadow, covered by the helix arching over it.

This is true since the helix at the apex (top of the ear) stands out further from the head, creating a cast shadow that lands on the top part of the anti-helix.

More shading in this step to indicate the areas of light verses shadow.

Final drawing. In this step, I tried to tidy-up the outline, focusing on a readable silhouette.

How to Draw an Ear – Step-by-Step 2

Let’s look at one more step-by-step example of an ear drawing. In this initial step, I outlined all prominent features: the helix, the anti-helix, tragus, and the anti-tragus.

Next, I focused on the shape of the ear, and further defined the outline, as well as began to shade-in the areas in the shadow.

Cast shadows created by the helix are defined as they fall on the anti-helix at the top. Some areas of the anti-helix remain lit due to its shape. (It is shaped liked a mountain ridge).

In this step, I further separated the light side from the shadow side, in an effort to show some depth in the drawing.

I added more separation between light and dark, and further separating the dark areas between the darks and the darkest darks.

In this final render, I refocus on defining the shape of the lobe which shifts planes from the anti-tragus, as well as further detailing the shadow sections of the drawing.

Let’s summarize what we covered together: we first discussed the two-step approach to drawing ears: (1) learning the anatomical features involved and (2) observing and learning the shapes by drawing. We then took a hands-on approach to this method, by going over the anatomy and going over the drawing process together.

I hope you found my drawing guide on how to draw ears helpful. If so, It is now time to put your new knowledge to use, and draw some ears on your own!

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