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Drawing Tip: The Ears Are Pivotal

These 2 drawing tips from my sketchbook are all about ear position and human head proportions. First, let’s look at the head in profile (side view):

The Position of the Ears in Profile (Side) View

As you can see, the ear is the pivot point and anchors the head to the neck column. Whether the head rotates upward or downward, the ear with remain in the same location and appears as the center of the rotation. My notes on the page are:

The distance from the forehead to the back of the head is the same as the distance from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin. The head, in side view, sits within a square. It’s also important to note that the hairline is lower than the top of the head. Hairlines vary from person to person.

The top of the ear attaches at the level of the brow. The top of the helix, which is the outermost rim of the ear, may sit higher than the brow line, depending on the individual.

The eyes are positioned halfway between the top of the head and the bottom of the chin. As a general rule, position the eyes based on the vertical center (equator) of the eye ball.

The attachment point of the ear lobe is level with the base of the nose.

The jaw ends at the base of the ear.

The head sits forward of the shoulders because the neck is angled. This is really important to note if you’re a beginner at drawing people. Most beginners tend to draw the neck as a vertical column, and also make it too thin.


Vertical Position of the Ears in Front View Shows Rotation

On this page I’ve sketched examples of what the ears do when the head is rotated or tilted. Here are the notes:

The axis of the ears is always perpendicular to the center axis of the face. When the head is tilted to the side, the ears remain aligned with each other but one is higher than the other.

As the head rotates upward and downward, the ears are clues to what the head is doing. If the person is looking straight, the ears are centered with the upper attachment at the brow line and the lower attachment at the base of the nose.

When the person looks up, the ears and chin align. The ears are lower than the face.

Looking downward, the ears are higher than the face.

When drawing likenesses, individuals vary. The idea for you as artist or illustrator is to compare the features of the person to the theory of anatomical proportions, and observe the differences between what you observe and what you know. In knowing where things are positioned and how they’re scaled in general, you are able to recognize the specific landmarks on the face and head you are drawing.

Since the head “leads” the rest of the body in movement and direction, it’s essential to develop strong skills here when drawing the human form.  Although it has its own proportions and landmarks, the head is the basis for proportioning the entire body. When you have the measurements of the head correct, you are able to keep correct proportions for the entire figure.

Drawing is all about communication. When we are able to communicate accurately, our work is more believable, even when we’re creating fantasy subjects or caricatures. So the understanding of human proportions and anatomy is necessary. It’s often in the details that a drawing looks out of proportion.


Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and principal of Alvalyn Creative, an independent consultancy providing brand strategy design and bespoke illustration for more than 30 years. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business school and podcast for creative freelancers. She teaches design and design practice on the college level with design schools and programs.