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Approaching the Ear with 
Pure Contour Drawing


There's three reasons you're doing this:


  1. You need to place all your attention on the ear. You need to be focused. Everything you have to know for this lesson is right there on the screen in front of you.

  2. You're looking away from the paper for a purpose - so you don't see what you're drawing.

  3. You need to keep building on the skills you started learning in the foundation lessons - so you can flip in and out of R-mode (or your "right brain", or the "Artistic Mode") at will.

Why keep your eyes off the drawing paper and on the screen? If you look, you start judging. If you start judging your drawing, if you start saying "that's not how ears are drawn!", you get pulled right back into L-mode. You'll reference the symbolic ears you've got stored in your brain. You won't be looking at the ear on the screen.


And we're not after a perfect likeness of the ear


We're not after a perfect reproduction. We're after something much richer here. You need only draw what you see. Nothing else. It's a pretty simple idea, but there is lots of old learning to let go of here. Relax. If you draw what you see, there's no way to do this lesson wrong. Many have commented that this was the most fascinating step in their drawing lessons.

Focus your attention on the ear you're drawing

Stay focused on the ear. Keep your attention nailed to the ear you're drawing. Picture yourself facing away from the drawing paper. If you have to look at your drawing paper, you're forgiven ahead of time. Now get back to the ear (remember, it's on the computer screen). Every time you look at your drawing, you get tugged into L-mode...I'm getting redundant...I know you're going to be great at just observing the ear and drawing it.

Expect to fall deep into R-mode. (And again, that is the goal of this approach.)

The ear you'll be drawing


You will need:


Time: 20 minutes

Materials: Paper, pencil, tape

Goal: To get re-immersed in R-mode. If you recall from the foundation lessons, pure contour drawing (lessons 4) will launch you deep into the non-logical, non-linear, space, depth and distance-aware right brain.

Take a look at the Pure Contour Ear examples before you start.

Then read through the lessons before you actually start drawing.

This will take 15 to 20 minutes, so start your timer once you've started drawing.


Step 1


Find a quiet place where you won't be disturbed and set your timers for 20 minutes, (longer if possible). A timer relieves you of the burden of worrying about a time: an L-mode function. If time isn't an issue, great!


Step 2


Get a piece of paper and tape it down to the table or desk or any hard surface you're drawing on. It's not important what direction it's in, just place it so you feel comfortable. You don't want it slipping around under your drawing hand. That gets irritating.


Step 3


In this exercise, the ear in the illustration below is going to be the object of study. In fact, you'll be drawing the three parts of the ear by drawing the ear as a whole.

The three main drawable parts: 1) the helix and lobe, 2) the antihelix, and the 3) "shadow area". You'll be drawing those parts one by one in the next exercise - Ears: Modified Contour - and things will begin to speed up. By breaking it down piece by simple piece, you'll become quite familiar with the ear. Eventually you'll get a "gestalt" and you'll see these parts in everybody's ear!

Get yourself seated so that your drawing hand, the one holding the pencil, is lined up and ready to draw on the paper. That is, it's on the paper ready to go.

Now, facing the computer, with your drawing hand on the paper, turn the rest of yourself around, away from the paper as far as you comfortably can.

If you're short on space, try this: get a big paper shopping bag and put your drawing paper INSIDE it! Tent the top of the bag a little so you can move your pencil and drawing hand freely - so the eraser end of the pencil doesn't catch on the inside top of the bag.

Turn yourself away from the paper - 
do not look at your drawing!

Pretend Leonardo is looking at a picture of an ear in his right hand, or he's staring at the ear picture on his computer screen - he's not looking at his drawing paper. (This illustration is from the original section on pure contour where you drew your hand.)

You too will be drawing the ear without seeing what you're drawing. (Because you're turned away from the drawing paper with your attention focused on the ear on your computer screen.)


Step 4


Two things to do in this step.

First. In this position, turned away from the drawing paper, Look at the ear - pick a part, any part to start with. You could start with the helix, the lobe, anyplace- but try not to name it. In pure contour drawing you want to focus on just the lines before your eyes. Just look at the lines each part is composed of. Pick a spot, a line, an edge to start.

All the shapes and edges of the ear have a unity. Like the jigsaw example in lesson 4, all the edges, contours, and folds, all the "topography" of the ear fits together. It has a unity to it.

Second. Simultaneously, put your pencil tip on the drawing paper. Put it well within the border of the paper - you want lots of room to move around in once you get started, and you'll avoid writing on your desk.

(I've included some of the text from the Pure Contour exercise in the foundation lessons. This should refresh your memory:

Remember, an edge is any shared line: in this case, pick an edge of your hand (or ear in this case). You'll be be perceiving the skin that forms the surface of your hand and the air around it. The two, the air and the skin of your hand, form an edge. Wrinkles, skin folds, nails, and open spaces, like the "O" between your thumb and index finger when you make the "OK" sign, all form edges. I tell people to start with the tip of their thumb if they're finding it hard to start. And if you do start with your thumb, and you're stuck at the nail edge, try to draw the edge around the nail. Your brain doesn't have any name for this, so it'll be easier to keep L-mode out and thus easier to draw.)


Step 5


Keep a Snails Pace. Ever watch a snail move? I guess you can say they take their time. Ask yourself "how would it feel to move that slow?" With that picture in mind, move your eyes along the edge of your hand. Creep along like a snail, millimeter by millimeter. Zoom in on the edge you've started with.

At the same time, start recording everything you see, as you see it, with the pencil on the drawing paper. Record every tiny variation, fold, and ripple you observe. You'll find that as you get more and more into this, you'll see more and more.

You are the reporter and your job is to record everything you see as you see it. Every variation and detail - gently record it. If you only complete 1/2 of the ear in 20 minutes, that's perfectly ok.

Move your pencil in time with your eyes: if your eyes move a nanometer, your pencil moves a nanometer. If your eye zags 43 degrees to the left, so does your pencil. Eyes and pencil move the same distances together. Imagine they are linked directly and everything that's registered by your eyes is instantaneously registered in your hand at the drawing paper. It's as if they were the same recording apparatus.

In your mind, picture an imaginary finger touching the actual edges you're seeing. Feel that edge. Eyes see and fingers touch together. Draw them as you "feel" and see them. Everything is moving in sync: eyes, imaginary finger, and pencil. Everything that needs to be seen is right there in front of you. No need to reference anything.


Step 6


Again, avoid the urge to turn around and look at your drawing. Just keep plugging, tiny variation by tiny variation, what you see being recorded as you see it. You might find yourself sensing you're drawing from the outside going in for some things, and from the inside going out for other things. This is fine. Be aware of it. As focused as you are on tiny swells, sweeps, waves and crinkles, you'll be aware at some level of the ear as a whole. Keep marching.

Don't be concerned with how your drawing will turn out. That's not what we're concerned with. In the coming lessons, there will lots of practice to do that. Right now the task is to just let your eyes track and your pencil record the complex contours in front of your eyes.

By going one little piece at a time, you'll master seeing things just as they are. What you'll learn to do in this exercise is at the core of seeing as an artist. You are seeing as an artist. You are becoming an artist.


Step 7


Just like the first time you did this you might feel conflict, anger, even a panic. This will pass. What you're feeling again is your left brain protesting, old beliefs that say you can't do this start popping back, "I'm not an artist" you might hear from somewhere. (I go through this every time I take a 2-3 week break from drawing!) Old L-mode, an old part of you might be threatened by this ability. L-mode has to give up some control, it's dominance. That can be scary.

Keep moving. Persist. You'll work right through this chatter advancing tiny bit by tiny bit. The negativity will dissipate, the volume will disappear. Just keep recording everything as you see as you see it.

You'll drop deep into R-mode without even knowing it. You'll find yourself deeply involved with what you're seeing. Words and sentences, thinking will disappear. A certain contentment will take the place of the conflict you were feeling. It might start feeling as if you can see deeper and deeper into your hand, that you've scanning detail like an electron microscope. Just let it happen. You won't be aware of sound or music.

There is nothing to fear. You're just relearning how to use a natural part of your brain that's been dormant for years if not decades. Look at it like this: you're recording a visual account of your perceptions.


One last point


When you turn to look at your drawings, do not allow yourself to get critical of what you've drawn. The assignment was not to draw a perfect likeness of an ear - it was to shift you profoundly back into R-mode. You don't criticize an infant because it can only walk 2 steps before it falls, right? So give yourself the same room. I applaud you for making the effort. You will get this!


Go to modified contour

Click for Ear's master link page


If you're feeling adventurous, do a pure contour drawing of a right ear:

Trouble getting into it? Try this:

  1. Get a big brown paper grocery bag or shopping bag. Crinlkle it all up, crush it up, squish it between your hands. Now unravel it, tent it up.

  2. Put your drawing paper inside of it.

  3. Put your drawing hand inside the bag in just like you were ready to start drawing. (Because you are getting ready to draw!)

  4. Now look closely at the top of the bag. See all the interesting angles and wrinkles? Just like you did in the original pure contour drawing of your hand, draw those little lines. Let your eyes follow each little line at a snails pace, following each contour and crease like a locomotive follows its track. Go very S - l- o - w .

  5. With each movement of your eye along the contour, make the exact same move with your drawing hand and pencil on the drawing paper. It's as if your eyes and hand were part of one connected machine: eyes move, hand and pencil move. Eyes move a little to the left along a crease, hand makes the same movement on the paper.

  6. Do this for 10-15 minutes.


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