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Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Drawing and Painting the Human Ear

It shouldn't make any difference, but some artists find they
do better drawing left (or right) ears better than their
opposite counterparts.
It occurred to me today, as I was pondering possible topics to discuss, that I'd run various "how-to" lessons on virtually every part of the human face...except for one. I've covered eyes, noses, heads, and hair. How could I have forgotten the human ear? I suppose the answer lies in the fact that ears are not, technically, part of the face but an addendum to the head, not to mention being very often covered by hair. Add to that, whether part of the face or the head, they may well be the least attractive feature the portrait artist has to deal with. And if all that wasn't problem enough, they might well be considered the most difficult portrait feature to draw, or at least to draw well. Why? Because even the slightest change in the angle of the head to the picture plane changes considerably the appearance of this "ugly" appendage.
I don't know how to make it any simpler--photos at top, line
drawings just above. (Though quite similar, the drawings are
not based upon the photos.)
Okay, let's take it step by step. First as we draw, let's learn the vocabulary. Start with the helix (outside limit of the ear), moving to the Helix Crux (top of the outer ear, then down to the lobe (we'll assume for now that people only have left ears). You'll end up with a mark loosely shaped like the number "9." The, in the second step we draw inside this partially enclosed space an outline separating the Antihelix from the Concha ending up with the sharp intertragic notch at the bottom and the anterior notch just above it. In Step three, you add a shorter line parallel to your first to delineate the outer rim of the ear. And finally, you place a "U" or perhaps "V" shaped line near the top to delineate the area known as the Helix Canal, followed by another line parallel to the line in Step 3, and that which outlines the Concha created in Step 2. Use the image below for reference.
Once you've mastered the side view of the ear, try drawing
next to it (using the same scale) the front and back of the ear
 (upper right).
Now you have some idea why it's so difficult to draw ears. Unlike virtually every other part of the head, once you get past the lobe, most artists don't even know what to call the other parts of the ear. The drawing below will help you in making the transition from a side view of the ear to the front view (or vice versa).
This skill is often quite difficult to master, especially when you add
in all the interval angles as the head rotates (below).
Line drawings are only a first step. Volumetric shading
demands nothing less than astute observation,
either from photos or life.
Though ears tend to share basic similarities, like virtually every other part of the head, individual differences vary widely. Just how differently these variations can be is suggested by the sixty different examples in the chart below. Like virtually every other area of art content, you learn to draw ears by drawing a LOT of ears. Unfortunately, this is a skill development exercise often neglected by would-be artist because, generally speaking, they are seldom called upon to draw and paint many ears (because of hair and head angles) as other parts of the head.

See what I mean about ears being unattractive (ugly).
Copyright, Jim Lane
A Jim Lane ear (child).
As if learning to draw ears wasn't difficult enough, an artist cannot even think about trying to paint a good ear without first having mastered the basic drawing skills involved. The concise little illustration below presents this transition from drawing to painting the ear in about as simple a manner as any I've ever seen. The chalk-to-paint method works fine for some artists, though I tend to work more traditionally, drawing with pencil on a white canvas, painting in the darkest shaded areas first then moving to the medium shades, before tying it all together with the lighter values (right).Be constantly aware of the range of contrasts. Caution, don't try this with acrylics--oils are much more forgiving. Inasmuch as ears involve only the various flesh tones and pigmentation chosen by the artist for the other parts of the face and head, the actual hues used will vary widely as illustrated by the sampling of ears seen below. I'm wondering if one of them once belonged to van Gogh.

The all-important transition from drawing to paint.
Most of the ears above use a fairly narrow
range of color values. I tend to prefer a mixture
of warm and cool tones--cool for the inner
ear and warmer as I move outward.

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