Ears can be pointy, jug-like, shell-like, have large or small lobes. These little nuances are important as they help you, the artist, to achieve a likeness of your sitter. You seldom paint an ear in isolation, of course, but you do relate it to the shape of the head as a whole.


When viewed straight-on, the top of the ear more or less aligns with the brow ridge, and the bottom of the ear or lobe is usually on the same horizontal line as the base of the nose. This will vary slightly depending on who you are painting – ear cartilage doesn’t stop growing and ear lobes become elongated with age.

The position is similar in a profile view but the lobes often drop a little lower than the base of the nose and the top of ears may mark-up around the eye line rather than the brow. The ears when in profile start at the halfway measurement based from the tip of the nose to the back of the head.

Ears can also reinforce the angle or tilt of a head. For example, when a person has their head tilted down, the ear alignment will rise above the brow; when the head is tilted up, the ears will align much lower than the usual base of the nose line.

Mixes for skin colours

First prepare your canvas by toning it with a mix of some yellow ochre or raw umber with a touch of ivory black, diluted with a little turpentine. You can brush this on, or even spread it on with a rag or cloth and wipe back – you should have a translucent ground. Note that if you make an oil-based ground using white your subsequent colours and painting will deaden and sink in a chalky way. The reason for painting on a neutral-coloured toned canvas is that it is much easier to judge the values of light and dark; it is hard to decipher the value on a highlight, for instance, when it competes with the white background of the canvas.

I use titanium white or warm white, which is a bit softer, yellow ochre, cadmium red light or the more expensive vermilion and ivory black.