1. Design & Illustration
  2. Digital Painting

How to Paint a Realistic Ear in Adobe Photoshop

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Human anatomy can be pretty intimidating. But you can conquer your fear by tackling different parts of the human body in small digital painting studies.

In this quick tip, learn how to paint a realistic ear using Adobe Photoshop and a graphics tablet.

1. Sketch the Ear

Step 1

First things first, make sure you grab a reference with a nice clear shot of an ear. Here I'll be using this ear reference from Envato Market. Since I like the idea of this ear facing the opposite direction, I flip my reference by going to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.

Ear Stock Photo Reference for Drawing

Step 2

Now use a Hard Round Brush to sketch the ear.

Break it down into simpler shapes if you need to, and try your best to create a clear sketch with all of the correct anatomical features.

Drawing and Sketching a Human Ear
Break down the ear into small "C" shapes to help you understand the anatomy.

Here is the final sketch.

Sketching an Ear in Adobe Photoshop

2. Paint the Base Colors

On a separate layer, paint a natural tan base color using a Hard Round Brush with 100% Hardness.

Now let's get rid of that harsh black sketch. First change the Layer Blend Mode of the sketch to Soft Light, and then set it as a Clipping Mask.

Painting an Ears Base Color

3. Paint the Shadows

Step 1

To avoid picking colors manually, just clip a New Layer and set it to Multiply. Select the tan color already on the canvas using the Eyedropper Tool (I) so that it becomes the new Foreground Color.

Begin painting the shadows for the inside and outside of the ear using a Soft Round Brush. Because the original color is multiplied, it'll appear darker for the perfect shadow.

Shading an Ear with Shadow

Step 2

Deepen the shadows by using the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick up the darker brown that was created during the first round of shadow.

Shading Darker Shadows

4. Create Realistic Skin Colors

It makes me very unhappy when the colors are off. Notice how the original colors look totally different from the reference?

Fix this problem easily by setting a layer to Overlay, and then use the same natural color to create more warmth.

Painting Realistic Ear Colors in Photoshop

Now the colors look so much better!

5. Paint the Highlights

The easiest way to immediately step up the realism in any piece is to paint highlights. Just like before, set a New Layer to Overlay. This time, use the color white to paint soft highlights all over the ear.

Painting Ear Highlights

Pay attention to the reference to notice changes in the ear's bone structure as well as the general lighting setup. Any area that appears as though it's jutting out towards you should receive a nice highlight.

Highlighting an Ear in Photoshop
Make sure the study shows the correct position of the light source from the upper left corner.

6. Create Realistic Texture

Creating realistic skin texture is very simple. Select the Chalk Brush from the Brush Presets panel. If you like experimenting with brushes, I recommend you pick a nice grainy brush from this Grunge set.

Photoshop Preset Chalk Brush

Paint a dark tan texture all over the ear. Soften any harsh areas with the Eraser Tool (E).

Realistic Ear Textures in Photoshop

Then set a New Layer to Overlay and paint warmer textures onto the areas that naturally flush due to blood circulation.

Painting Warm Realistic Skin in Photoshop

Lastly, create a third layer of texture with white. This will help represent the pores.

Painting Skin Pores with White Texture

7. Clean Up the Painting

Step 1

As we draw closer to the completion of this study, we'll need some background color. Select the background layer and Right-click to go to the Blending Options. Create a Gradient Overlay of dark gray to light gray colors with the following settings:

  • Blend Mode: Normal
  • Style: Radial
  • Opacity: 100%
  • Angle: 90 Degrees
  • Scale: 100%
Set a Foreground Graidient Background in Photoshop

Here's the new background for this study.

Painting a Background with Gradient Overlay

Step 2

Continue to refine your painting by blending out the skin with a Soft Round Brush. Then use a Hard Round Brush with 100% Hardness and 100% Opacity to make sure your edges are perfect.

Smooth Skin Texture with Soft Paint Brushes

Don't be afraid to correct the anatomy by shaving off parts of the ear. And to make the ear appear more 3D, paint a soft gray shadow beneath it.

Painting Shadow underneath the Ear
Make sure that the new shadow underneath the ear follows the direction of the light source.

If it seems as though the texture appears harsh at any time, simply smooth out the skin with a Soft Round Brush.

And for even more realism, study the small hairs from the reference and try to emulate them with tiny white strokes to show that this study could easily be the real thing!  When you're finished, the final study will look like this.

How to Paint and Draw Realistic Ears Art by Melody Nieves

See! That wasn't so bad!

Now It's Your Turn!

Small exercises like this help to improve your digital painting skills dramatically. By taking on these anatomy studies as challenges, you'll work your way up to remarkable realism.

Have fun trying out this exercise, and apply these same techniques to other areas of the human anatomy. And for more digital painting tips, check out these tutorials below:

Looking for something to help kick start your next project?
Envato Market has a range of items for sale to help get you started.