Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to draw an ear

When drawing portraits my work goes through many stages of development.  Producing high definition portraits can take many hours of work.

In this blog entry I show you the various stages of producing a simple ear.  Note that this is NOT high definition and my portrait work would be to much greater detail.

I have assumed you understand how to use Photoshop and layers, brushes etc.  If you are a complete novice then you may still find this tutorial useful.  If you would like to see a tutorial for complete beginners then please feel free to contact me via my website at or leave a comment at the end of the tutorial and I will get back to you.

You can click on each of the images below to see a larger version.

The first thing to do is to produce an outline sketch of an ear.  Many artists use a source image but I find that I do not need to do this anymore.  If you are just a beginner then I would recommend finding a good source image and using it as the basis of your painting.

There are various methods available to help you get the image proportions correct.  You could simply trace over the source image (I don't think this will help you long term but it is a start).  Another method is to divide the image into a grid and draw what you see in each square.  Most drawing programs come with a grid option so it should be fairly easy to set up.

No matter which method you use just be patient and ensure you get this very important stage correct.

This stage is all about proportions.  Your drawing will probably look like a child has drawn it...that's OK.

I usually like to add a base colour and as you can see I have chosen a mid-tone grey colour.

I also increased the contrast on my line sketch so that I could see it above the base colour.

This simple drawing of the ear will not require many layers but it is a good idea to become comfortable with your drawing layers.

My sketch layer always sits on top and is locked.

I now lay down some block shading colours.

This is very similar to the underpainting stage when painting in oils on canvas.

All I am doing is identifying the dark and light regions and shading them accordingly.

I use a hard brush and 100% opacity to start and then switch to a softer brush.

The ear should now look as if it is starting to take some form although it will still look very rough.

Do not be discouraged at this stage if it looks as if your 5 year old daughter can draw better than will soon come together!

During this stage I reduce the opacity and flow of my brush and just start to define some more areas of the ear by selecting more grey tones between the shadows and highlights.

I have also added some shading around the ear just to make it look as if it is on the side of a face.

Again, the image will still look extremely rough.

At this stage I have 3 layers:

 - my background layer
 - my shading layer
 - my sketch layer

I have now hidden my sketch layer as I have enough definition of the ear from the first few steps so see a clearly defined ear.

Some artists will leave their sketch layer and some will even merge it into their shading layer and paint over it.

Since I am only producing a simple ear and I am not worried about its likeness to a client's ear I just removed the sketch layer.

STEPS 6 - 9
Over the next hour or so (it all depends on the quality you want) it is time to start refining the shading and definition of the ear.

I tend to use a soft brush with a low opacity and flow.  The settings will vary depending on how much of a blend between shades I require.

This process can be quite time consuming, especially if you want quite a smooth blend between the various shades you have used.

Some artists like to see the brush strokes in their work but I add texturing in later stages so I prefer to work on the painting until it is fairly smooth and has been blended to a good standard.

Since this is just an example tutorial I have only spent about 15 minutes on it.

This is reaching a stage of fairly good blending between the shades and I am happy enough to stop here.

If this was for a full HD portrait for a client then I would be continuing with the blending and softening of the transitions between the shading.

Once you are happy with you ear then move on to the next step which is colouring.

The colouring process is extremely simple now that the shading has been completed.

Add a new layer on top of your shading layer and set the blend mode to colour.

Now select a suitable skin colour to use as the base layer and begin to colour.

The next few stages involve adding depth to the colour.

Add a new layer and set the blend mode to multiply.  Now paint over the areas of the ear you want to have a deeper colour.

Add a new layer and set the blend mode to overlay and add some highlight areas.

Feel free to keep adding more layers until you are happy.

Adjust the opacity of the layers as required.

I have added a few small blood vessels running through the ear.  You may need to click on the image to the left to see these fine details.

I added a new layer on the top and selected a hard 1 pixel brush with a deep red colour and painted in the fine details.

Adjust the opacity of your brush or the layer or even erase with a soft eraser if you add too many or if they are too obvious.

I then added a few fine hairs.

Add a new layer and select a hard brush with an off-white colour and begin to paint in your fine hairs.

You may need to adjust the brush settings or use a soft eraser with low opacity to remove a few of the more obvious hairs.

I have not painted this ear in much detail and have completed it fairly quickly and with no client reference.  I also added a quick bit of hair and skin texture to the face but not in any usual detail.

My High Definition Portraits are completed to a much higher level of detail but, for the sake of this tutorial, I have kept the process fairly simple.

Please feel free to contact me via my website at or leave a comment below and I will get back to you.

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