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Portrait Drawing for the Ultimate Beginner: The Eyes

Updated on May 28, 2019

After drawing the face, the eyes should be next. As you’ve observed in lesson one, the shape of the eye resembles a circle. It is the eyeball that is the shape of the circle, but adding the other elements such as the eyelids, iris, etc. will make it look more like an eye. To make the eyes more realistic you have to make it 3 dimensional (i.e., sphere). You do this by adding light and dark shades & then blending those shades.

There are many different eye shapes. They can be distinguished by genes and/or nationality. The above diagram shows a few examples of these shapes. The droopy eyes are down turned. They are smaller in the inner corner, but bigger in the outer corner and you can see more of the sclera. The shape of this eye resembles a teardrop. The prominent eyes are bigger with larger eyelids. This eye is rounder in shape. Almond-shaped eyes are in the shape of almonds. These eyes are more standard and are typically used when showing how to draw the eye. Eyes with hooded lids are usually smaller in shape. Most individuals of Asian decent have hooded eyelids.

Anatomy of the eye

Take a moment to study and examine the eye before proceeding with the next portion of the lesson.

Eye space is very important. Some eyes are close-set (i.e., closer together) or wide-set (i.e., further apart). Typically, the distance between the eyes is an eye-width apart. Simply put, when drawing the eyes draw three in a row (the middle one should be drawn lightly) then erase the eye in the middle. If drawing close-set eyes, slightly overlap them and for wide-set eyes draw a small space between each eye. View the examples below:

General eye width
General eye width
Close-set eye width
Close-set eye width
Wide-set eye width
Wide-set eye width

Below is a step-by-step tutorial of how to draw the pupil:

A. Start with drawing a circle. Next, draw a vertical & a horizontal line in the center of the circle. The lines will help measure the correct proportions.

*Refer to the above tutorial on the pupil, if necessary, for the next two steps*

B. Using the guidelines, draw two more circles inside that circle (medium & small). The numbered sections are to help you draw the circles one segment at a time if needed. Add 1-2 smaller circles anywhere alongside the pupil (this indicates eye sparkle). You will notice I placed the smallest circle in the upper left corner, but the choice is yours.

C. Begin shading in the iris and pupil. You can shade in the pupil as light or dark as you please. The smallest circle should be left white or you may color in the entire pupil and just erase the smaller circle.

D. Draw the outline of the eye—you may draw the eye as big or small as you want. Use the guidelines and the red arrows to help you along. The top lid should slightly cover the top of the pupil and the caruncle (inner corner of the eye) should be drawn outside of the circle.

E. Erase the circle and the guidelines.

F. Draw the top eyelid by following the same line as the top border of the eye.Start developing tones of light & dark by using the value scale.

G. Start blending using your blending tools and eraser. Remember to create a cast shadow from the top eyelid onto the eyeball/sclera, which adds dimension. The sclera (or whites of the eye) should not be left white, but the second lightest shade on the grayscale (#4). You may add eyelashes if you choose, however we will elaborate more on that later in the lesson. For the left eye follow the same instructions, but draw it in the opposite direction or mirror image.

When drawing the side of the eye the angle changes and you can only see one eye at a time. The shape resembles a triangle and the upper lid protrudes the lower lid.

A. Start with drawing a circle. Draw a dot as close to the center of the circle as you can. If it’s not perfect, it’s okay!

B. Next, draw a V shape from the center dot off to the side. The V should slightly extend outside of the circle.

C. Draw the eyelids.

D. Begin erasing the dot and the circle outside the parameters of the eye. Color in the entire eye with the reflected light shade of gray (#4 on the grayscale).

E. Draw the iris & the pupil. Keep in mind, the pupil does not touch the edge of the iris.

F. Start developing more tones of light & dark by using the value scale and then blend using your tortillion. Also, use your kneaded eraser to ‘lift’ the tones to get lighter shades & add dimension.

The ¾ view of the eye will be the last step in this lesson. This step will be the most challenging as well as the other facial features in this view. Before you begin this step, you have to learn a little bit about perspective drawing.

If you want your drawings to look more 3 dimensional, you can use this method. In perspective drawing you have what’s called a ‘point of interest’. A point of interest is where the vanishing point is going to be. You can also have more than one point of interest. The further away your lines are from the point of interest, the more they vanish.

Another element of perspective drawing is foreshortening. When an object is directed toward you, it creates an optical illusion making the object appear shorter than what it actually is. Below is an example of perspective drawings with one POI.

Let’s begin our first perspective drawing. We will begin with ¾ view of the eyes:

A. Draw three circles slightly overlapping each other, drawing the middle circle lightly. Overlapping the circles indicate the angle of the face. (FYI- The eye will show more on one side depending on the angle & direction of the eyes).

B. Erase middle circle.

C. Draw a line horizontally through the center of both circles. Next, draw a vertical line about one-third at the right of the circle.

D. Draw two oval/eliptical shapes (medium & small) inside each circle at the intersecting lines indicating the iris and the pupil.

E. Follow the red arrows to guide you in drawing the outline of the eyes. It doesn’t matter where you start. At a three-quarter view, each eye will have a different shape unlike the front view where both eyes are the same overall shape.

F. Erase everything outside the outline of the eyes.

G. Draw the eyelids, making them as thin or wide as you like. Also, draw a smaller circle between the iris & pupil. This will be the reflected light or 'eye sparkle.'

H. Next, begin developing shades & tones. The iris can be any shade you please. You may even shade in the entire iris black (#1 on the grayscale).

I. Begin blending using your blending tools creating depth & dimension. Continue building tones until you get the look you’re happy with. You have the option of drawing eyelids, but you can also skip this step.

♦Key Points to Remember

-When drawing the eye, start with a circle eventually creating a sphere.

-Remember, the eyes are an eye width apart in front view.

-Perspective drawing gives your art a more 3-Dimensional look.

- In ¾ view eyes are less than an eye width apart. Slightly overlap your circles.

- In ¾ view the ‘whites’ of the eyes will show more on one side.

-Have patience

-Don’t be hard on yourself & have fun!

-Keep practicing! It will make you a better artist.


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