Jul 10, 2021

Figure Drawing: Understanding the structures and anatomy of the ear

A drawing of the ear.
Ears can be challenging to draw because there is so much happening with all the shapes we see within an ear that it can get a little confusing. Ears are surprisingly complex forms. On top of this complexity, everybody’s ear looks a little different. The shapes we see within an ear differ from person to person just enough that we can get tripped up by what we see. How can we make it easier to draw ears? One thing we can do is learn about ear anatomy. If we understand the ear anatomy, we can interpret the shapes we see within the ear, using an understanding of that anatomy to guide us. Doing this makes it easier for us to identify the relevant structures and organize the shapes more readily as we draw an ear. Today, we will look at the ear anatomy to see how these structures combine to form an ear.

The Ear Anatomy

The anatomical structures that shape the ear are the Helix, Antihelix, Concha, Earlobe, Tragus, and Antitragus.
The structures of the ear as seen from different views.

Simple Forms

To help us identify and understand the ear anatomy, we can simplify each part into a more basic or simple form. By stripping away the nuances and details of each structure within individual ears, we can find the universal characteristics of ears. 

Once we can identify these universal characteristics of the anatomical structures, we can organize the shapes we draw around that anatomy. 

In the image below, we can see three drawings of an ear. 
I drew the illustration on the left based on the sketch to the right of it. I drew on top of this sketch to finish the drawing. This sketch was my initial sketch to set up the illustration. 

This initial sketch is of a generic ear.  I drew the structures as generalized forms based on the anatomy without worrying too much about the intricacies of an individual ear. 

Because I drew the ear anatomy as simple forms, I could interpret and organize the contours based on that anatomy. Doing this allows me to size, position, and shape the ear more easily.  I can then go back and work on the more unique details on top of that sketch.

We can simplify the structures of the ear anatomy to better see the structures.

The Individual Structures

Let's look at each structure individually.
The helix  
The helix is the ridge that forms the outer shape of the upper part of the ear. The helix is a folded or rolled form that starts just above the ear canal, creates a U-shaped curve, and ends just above the earlobe in the back of the ear.
The antihelix  

The antihelix is a somewhat Y-shaped structure. An antihelix is a cylindrical form that curves in a slight u-shape for most of the structure. It then splits into two smaller forms right before it tucks into the top of the ear under the helix, creating a small pocket at the top of the antihelix. 

The bottom of the antihelix rests just above the earlobe. 

We can see that the antihelix in the form connecting the concha (base of the ear) to the rest of the upper ear. It is a transitional form between the concha and helix.

Along with the helix, the antihelix is a prominent structure of the upper part of the ear. The antihelix can be challenging to draw as it looks different as seen from a variety of angles. But if we think of it as a cylinder sitting between the helix and earlobe, we will have a better grasp of the general form of that structure. From there, we can work out the contours to fit the shapes of the individual ear.

The concha  

The concha is a structure that forms the base that all the other parts of the ear sit on. This structure connects the ear to the head. The concha provides the support needed to push the rest of the ear away from the skull.

The concha is a cup-shaped structure that creates the pocket or space between the antihelix and the ear canal. 

The concha sets up how far the ear angles away from the head. The larger the concha, the further away the rest of the ear sits from the side of the head.

The earlobe  

We are likely the most familiar with the earlobe. It is one of the forms we learn about when we are young. The earlobe is the soft bottom part of the ear. It is a part of the ear not formed by cartilage. 
The tragus  

The tragus is a small structure that sits at the front of the ear, covering the canal just a bit. It can be a flat rectangular form or something with a more triangular shape.

When we look at this part of the ear, we see two structures that form the flap above the ear canal. We see a combination of the tragus and a muscle attached to it. This muscle gives this area a slightly softer look.  The cartilage creating the tragus defines the shape or silhouette of this part of the ear. The muscle that sits on top of the tragus rounds or curves the surface contours a little.
The antitragus  
The antitragus is a small bump that sits on the concha. It rests at the bottom of the antihelix and just above the earlobe. Just like the area formed by the tragus, two structures shape this part of the ear.  These two structures are the antitragus and the muscle the attaches to it.  The cartilage of the antitragus forms the ridge pointing towards the ear canal. The muscle shapes the surface contours of the form as we look towards the back of the ear.

This structure varies widely in how prominent it is on the ear but is critical to draw as it helps shape the ridge pocket of the ear.

Style and Forms

We do not need to draw each structure. How we draw the ears and what to include are determined by our goals for our drawing. We often stylize our drawings. This stylization may allow for some reinterpretation of those forms. 

Our understanding of how these forms come together plays a vital role in stylizing the drawing of an ear.

To illustrate this, let us look at an ear drawn in three different styles.  I used the simple forms sketch we see above as the base for each drawing.
This first drawing is an illustration of a realistic ear. So drawing all the forms is a necessity. 
The example in the center is of a more simplified style of the ear. This example might be something we see in animation or comics. Though we are still illustrating all the ear parts, we did not draw all the smaller curves and contours. To make this ear look like a believable ear, we should know where each structure belongs, along with each's size and shape.

This last example of an illustrated ear simplifies things a bit more. This time, I am not showing or suggesting all the structures found within the ear. Yet, knowing where those forms belong helps us shape and size this ear. Though I am not drawing some parts, it still looks like an ear as all the elements illustrated are all in the right spots. 


Hopefully, this helps you draw ears. I suggest you study and examine many ears to see if you can find the structures we just learned. 

Enjoy drawing ears! If you have any questions about drawing ears please feel free to ask.