In this lesson, we’ll be focusing our attention on the ear. Ears are so strange and much more complex than we give them credit for! In order to sculpt realistic looking ears, we’ll discuss their anatomy a bit with you.
Here are the topics we’ll be discussing:
We expect that each exercise in this lesson will take about one hour to complete, though this may vary from student to student depending on your individual pace. Take your time, don’t rush, and if you need to stop you can. If you have more than an hour to spare, then work as long as you feel comfortable!
Exercise One: Watch The 15-Minute Video
Exercise 1 consists of watching the video then reading the text below. We like you to do this before you start sculpting so you get an idea of what’s entailed and what to expect when you do pick up your clay and tools. After you’ve watched the video and read the text, we can move on to sculpting the ear!
Remember that we recommend students (particularly non-English speakers and those with hearing challenges) watch the videos with the closed captions turned on. For information on YouTube’s Closed Captioning, see this post here.
Anatomy of the Ear
The ear has a basic shape like a 9, but there’s a lot going on within that shape. Unlike the nose and eye that we’ve just finished sculpting, the ear has no bones that help to create its shape. Rather, the entire outer ear is made of cartilage, fat (the earlobe), and obviously—skin.
To begin with, it’s helpful to have a photo of the ear for reference while you’re sculpting. Here is one with some technical terms for you to download and print:
To download, right click the picture with your mouse and choose to save the photo. Then you can print it from your computer.
Ears are attached to the head in the front, so they slope down closer to the head towards the direction of the face. The backside of the ear (closest to the back of your head) is lifted up and away from the head, partially in thanks to a part of your skull called the mastoid process.
Take your hand right now and feel behind your ear. That bump behind your ear that disappears near your neck is your mastoid process. The way that it juts out from the skull helps to give the ear its lift.
Looking at the ear from the backside (remember—sculptures are three-dimensional!) you’ll notice that the concha creates a little bowl shape on the back of the ear that attaches it to the head.
On some people this is small and the ears don’t stick out much—on other people, it may be quite significant, causing the ears to “stick out” more. This particular part of the ear adds a lot to the character of the person you are sculpting.
The top of the ear is completely liberated from the head, while the bottom of the ear, or earlobe, may still be attached. Whether or not your earlobe is attached to your head is a matter of genetics—nothing else!
This person can tuck their hair behind their ear because the top is not attached to the rest of the head.
Inside the ear are a bunch of soft folds that can look intimidating, but here are some easy ways to remember:
The indent between the two prongs of the y-shape is called the fossa. In the video, Kent says, “I’ve learned from my experience with anatomy that ‘fossa’ means ‘indent’—that must be Greek or something. I’m pretty sure that’s what that means.” Well, Kent—we looked it up and you’re pretty darned close! Fossa is a Latin word meaning “ditch” or “trench” and in referring to anatomy, a hollow or depressed area. Well done, Kent!
Remembering these two basic shapes will help you to form the basic raised elements of the ear.
In the previous lessons, I’ve suggested that you have a mirror to look for reference as you’re sculpting. It’s difficult, though, to see your own ear in a mirror, which is why I have suggested that you print out a photo instead. Of course, if your mirror is handy and you’d like to use it, by all means—go for it!
Begin by taking your 2” ball of clay and make a general ear shape. In the video, Kent is working on a left ear, so it may be helpful for you to also make a left ear so you can copy his moves along the way. Attach the back side of your clay to your board so it doesn’t slide around while you’re working on it.
Using your fingers, form that basic 9 shape we talked about earlier to create the helix. As Kent says in the video, don’t worry about the back or underside of the ear yet—just make sure the front looks good first and we’ll take on the back later.
Get out your tools and start shaping the concha (the hole that tunnels into your inner ear) near the front side of the ear. It’s essentially a backwards C-shape, curving towards the face side of the ear. Next, Kent is using his tool to create the fossa (or “indent”), which is the shape between our Y that we talked about earlier.
Using your tool, scrape out clay in small amounts to make deep enough indents for your concha and fossa. Remember that these are pretty deep holes! The concha runs all the way inside your head, so don’t be shy about removing clay. Obviously you don’t want to make a hole that exposes your board underneath, but feel free to create some relatively deep indents. If you’ve done our drawing course, then you’ll know that value helps to create mass and depth. The same works with sculpting—the deeper the hole you create, the darker the shadow is going to be in it. The darker the shadow, the darker the value, the more mass it appears to have. So don’t be shy!
Continue refining the details on the inside of the ear as Kent does in the video. One thing that’s different about the ear than the other two features we’ve already sculpted is that it’s much more of a subtractive process than an additive process. For example, when we were sculpting the eye, we made the form of the skull, then added a half sphere and later added more flattened logs. By continuing to add more and more clay, we were working with in an additive process. With the ear, we start out with a 2” ball of clay and continue scraping clay out until we get the desired forms inside the ear. This is a subtractive method.
Once you are happy with the forms inside your ear, you can use your fingers to smooth out the clay and get rid of any tool marks. If you’re using paint thinner, then dip your soft brush into a small amount of the paint thinner and brush it over your clay to further smooth out the sculpture.
Exercise Two: Sculpting The Ear!
2” ball of plastiline clay
Photo of the ear (at the beginning of this lesson)
Soft paintbrush and paint thinner (optional)
This time as you watch the video, sculpt along with Kent to make your own ear.
After you’ve done that, your sculpture is finished! How did your ear turn out? Send us a photo using our submission form here.
See how other students did with the ear in the student gallery!
Key Lesson Learning: You’ve learned about the anatomy of the ear and its two basic shapes , and sculpted your first ear.
In the next lesson, we’ll learn how to sculpt our final facial feature…the mouth!