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Portrait Drawing for the Ultimate Beginner: The Eyes

Updated on May 8, 2014

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 measured by an eye length. Simply put, when drawing the eyes draw three in a row then erase the eye in the middle. See the next example:

As you’ve examined, the eye in the center is lightly drawn to show you the space between the eyes.
As you’ve examined, the eye in the center is lightly drawn to show you the space between the eyes.

Below is a step-by-step example of how to draw the front view of the eye:

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. Using the guidelines, draw two more circles inside that circle (medium & small). Add 1-2 smaller circles alongside the pupil (this indicates eye sparkle).

B. Lightly erase the guidelines & lightly fill in the iris & the pupil with your pencil. The iris can be any shade of gray indicating any eye color you choose. Color the pupil black. Leave the smaller circles white.

C. Draw the eye shape of your choice around the eyeball and pupil. I chose the almond-shape. Remember to draw the inner lid and the caruncle. The caruncle should start at a third from the bottom of the iris.

D. Begin lightly erasing the guidelines & the parts outside of the eye you’ve drawn with your block eraser. Lightly fill in the rest of the eye using the #3 or #4 shades on the grayscale. (FYI- The eyeball should never be white). Add the fine lines of the iris using your kneaded eraser. Notice the red arrows--these indicate the curvature of the eye.

E. Start developing tones of light & dark by using the value scale and then blend using your tortillions. Remember to create a shadow from the top eyelid onto the eyeball, which adds dimension. Eyelashes are optional at this point. We will elaborate more on that later in the lesson.

Below is an alternative lesson to shading in the eye:

A. Follow the same step as above.

B. Next, color the center circle black & leave the smallest circle white. Draw short lines around the pupil as though you are drawing sunrays. Do the same within the border of the iris as indicated. As also mentioned above, the shade of gray indicates the eye color.

C. Follow the same step as above.

D. Follow the same step as above and instead blend the lines inside the iris using your tortillion.

E. Follow the same step as above. In addition add more dimension to the iris by using your kneaded eraser to lift tones- adding highlights & redefining the sparkle to the eye.

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. (This step is optional) Begin drawing a horizon line. Next, draw a vertical line directly down the center of the horizon line. This will be used as a guide. It doesn’t matter how long the lines are.

B. Next, draw three circles slightly overlapping each other. Keep in mind the more the circles overlap each other the more the face is turned.

C. Erase the lines and the middle circle.

D. Draw a line horizontally through the center of both circles. Afterwards divide the circles vertically into three parts. Attach a curved dotted line to the first vertical line.

E. Erase the vertical lines from each circle.

F. Draw two circles (medium & small) inside each circle at the intersecting lines indicating the iris and the pupil—don’t forget to add an extra circle for the eye sparkle.

G. Now erase the horizontal lines from the eyes. Lightly fill in the entire circle with shade #4. Next color the iris & pupil, leaving the eye sparkle white. Now draw the eye shape of your choice over the iris & pupil. (FYI- The ‘eyeball’ will show more on one side depending on the angle & direction of the eyes).

H. Erase the entire area around the eye.

I. Draw the eyelids (top & bottom) and other details. Develop tones of light & dark by using the value scale and your tortillions creating depth &dimension. Continue building tones until you get the look you’re happy with.

♦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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