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Lesson 10: The Ear

Your Goal - Here's what you should be able to do after you complete this lesson's

1) Recognize the four major parts of the ear;

2) be able to draw those parts from memory - (it's really easy if you follow the instructions);

3) and lastly have a blast drawing all sorts of silly, crazy ears.

The approach I take is this: learn the features one by one. Learn to draw them from memory (you can do this in an hour!) Once you have the parts memorized, you can look at any ear - in R-mode - and simplify it's shapes instantly into a manageable, drawable, recognizable feature.

For an overview and easy access to all the links for Ears, click on the "Ear's Master Link Page" just below. You'll find links in the left hand column on all "Ear" pages for this reference too.

Click here for Ear's Master Link Page.


The ear. It's a pretty amazing piece of anatomy. It's shapes and contours perform 2 functions beautifully: sound production and protection. It can funnel and amplify Beethoven, Bach or the Beatles into the "auditory meatus" - the opening where sound is fed to the tympanic membrane (ear drum) where sound waves and "wrinkles" of air are turned into nerve impulses. Our brain interprets those signals and we hear them as music, sirens, or the garbage truck outside. And the ear protects the delicate instruments of the middle and inner ear.

Click here for ear animation

Compared to how it used to move, the 20th century ear performs dismally. In it's prehistoric days it could just about tie itself into a knot - yet it still has all sorts of tiny remnant muscles within it that our ancestors used to use to make it twist, cock, rotate, in general aim at anything that might be a threat or a meal. Please take a look at the diagram and familiarize yourself the different parts.

Simplified Anatomy of the Ear

Even this is a very simplified view of external ear anatomy. In fact, for our purposes - drawing caricatures - I think we can limit it to five parts, four of which have an underlying cartilage, (which we won't worry about), three of which we can draw:

1) The first drawable part: the Helix. This is the "question mark" shaped outer rim of the ear (if you're' drawing a left ear). It contains the rest of the ear, (the antihelix, concha, the meatus, etc.) It outlines the ear, that is, it marks the outermost margin of the ear, it defines the general shape of the ear. At the bottom of the helix is the ear lobe. If you relate the helix to a "question mark" you can see there's a similarity. (Note: think of the "dot" at the bottom of the question mark as the ear lobe.)

An outline of the Helix

Treat the lobe as the bottom part, the dot of the question mark.

2) The second drawable part: the Anti-helix. This is the "Y" shaped contour just inside the back rim of the helix. Some of my motorhead buddies say it reminds them of a souped-up cars expansion chambers, or exhaust pipes. (Note: the little "u-shaped" area at the top of the anti-helix, that is, at the top of the "Y", is generally shadowed.)

The Anti-Helix

3) the Tragus. The tragus is that little fleshy, slightly stiff piece of tissue that sticks out in front of the ear, or more accurately, just in front of the auditory meatus. It functions much like a mud flap on a semi-trailer - it keeps out bugs, cold blasts of air, water and branches, to name a few. We're not going to worry about it right now.

4) The third drawable part: the Shadow Area. This is the area around the auditory meatus and the concha. I group these two together (the meatus and the concha) since when you draw someone, all you really see is a dark area: a shadow. Later if you want, you can zoom in on the ear - or any of the features for that matter - and get as detailed as you like.( In time I'd like to get some detailed examples stored in the "Anatomy Lab" for your reference.)

The Shadow Area 
(Meatus and concha)

(The "concha" or "shell" is the area above the meatus and just below the top part of the anti-helix. It's really a curve of tissue that extends off the bottom bowl side of the antihelix and a loop of the helix. It's not marked in the diagram above.)

5) The Ear lobe. This is the little soft piece of rounded tissue that dangles off the bottom of the helix. I include it as part of the helix. God made it for displaying expensive jewelry, and if you live in L.A., it was meant to be pierced and set off with a goatee. (Especially if you're in the movie or music industry.)

The Really Simplified Ear for Caricature

So lets put those four parts - the helix, lobe, antihelix and shadow area - together. This is the completed ear:

A "Complete" Ear

Now let's do a slow motion "exploded view" of the three parts - much like the jigsaw puzzle sailboat example back in lesson four of the foundation lessons, (it's at the bottom of the page if you go there). If you guessed we're working up to a negative space drawing assignment you're exactly right. But not to worry, we'll do this a little at a time.

Review from memory the 4 parts... helix... anti-helix... shadow.... and lobe...try to picture them for a second before you look the next three diagrams. Done? Great!

Slightly Exploded View

Here's the "slightly exploded view" of the 4 parts of the ear (above). Actually in this picture it's 3 parts because I combine the helix and the lobe. (Again, name them out loud... "helix and lobe, antihelix, and shadow.")

A "more" exploded view

Imagine that you're moving the four parts together and then apart, and then together and then apart. Repeat this imagination exercise half a dozen times until you can see the anti-helix move into it's groove at the back of the helix, the shadow move back into it's slot between the anti-helix and the front part of the helix and the lobe attaching at the bottom of the helix.

Recall the jigsaw puzzle example. Do you remember how the borders of the different parts share lines? The different shapes within the compositions share lines; together they form a unity.

A quick review of the parts:

The Helix and Lobe

The Anti-Helix

The Shadow Area 
(Meatus and concha)

Time to do some drawing!

Go to part II of ears: Pure contour

Click for Ear's master link page

Different views of the ear:

Go to part II of ears: pure contour

Click for Ear's master link page

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e-mail: jeffkaz@YouCanDraw