How to Draw an Eye Realistically (Part 1 of 4)

The eye….probably the most fascinating facial feature there is to draw.

The eye definitely has a unique complexity to it that other facial features lack. That’s not to say that drawing a nose, mouth, or ear is all that easy for a beginning artist. Still you have to admit, the human eye is intriguing enough to make it both a challenging and fun drawing subject.

This post will be the first in a four-part tutorial. Throughout the series, we will see how to draw an eye in a realistic manner.

This first lesson will be focused on what could very well be the most important part of any realistic drawing…the initial line drawing.

All you need for today’s lesson is a sheet of drawing paper (two-ply bristol board will yield the best results), a 2B pencil, a kneaded eraser, and a compass for drawing circles.

Are you ready? Let’s see how to make a detailed line drawing of an eye that will lend itself to making a much more detailed, realistic drawing of the eye later on!

Drawing the Eye’s Outline

As always, it is helpful to have a reference photograph to guide your drawing. Here is the eye photograph we will use to help with this drawing tutorial.

By Laitr Keiows (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
By Laitr Keiows (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons
First, draw the almond-shaped outline of the eye that is formed by the upper and lower eyelid. This outline will encompass the white part of the eye. Since this eye drawing happens to be that of a person’s left eye, don’t forget to draw the inner corner tear duct area on the right side of the eye (your left). I’m talking about that little triangular pink nodule, the lacrimal caruncle (for those of you dying to know the actual name of it).

how to draw an eye 0101 outline and duct

Placing the Iris, Pupil, and Highlight

Next, lightly and carefully sketch circles for where the iris and pupil should be. Most of the time when you observe an eye looking straight ahead, you will notice the top and bottom of the iris slightly hidden behind the eyelids. The pupil should be visible in its entirety and centered on the iris.

how to draw an eye 0102 iris pupil sketch

Ideally, the iris and pupil should be as circular as possible. For most drawings, I use a circle template to trace over these sketched circles, resulting in more perfectly-formed circles. In a drawing such as this, where the eye itself is the subject and inhabits a space the size of the whole paper, a circle template isn’t going to cut it. Instead, I used a standard drawing compass for this example. Notice that the new circles are not perfectly atop the sketched ones, but that’s okay. The important thing to remember is to keep the same center for both circles. Take extra caution with the sharp point of your compass so as to not poke a big, nasty hole in your drawing paper!

how to draw an eye 0103 iris pupil perfect circle

Now for the highlight. Most of the eye highlights I see and draw are circular. However, highlights come in varying shapes, sizes, and quantities. For this drawing, let’s use one fairly large, square-shaped highlight that overlaps the iris and pupil.

how to draw an eye 0104 highlight

Drawing the Eyelids

Drawing the eyelids should be pretty straightforward. Draw the upper and lower eyelids by indicating them with lines as seen in the image below. Notice how the drawn lines above and below the eye compliment it with the same curvature.

One of the best things you can do to add realism to your eyelids is to not forget the rim around the white of the eye. This rim serves as the upper plane of the lower eyelid and the lower plane of the upper eyelid. All too often, beginning artists overlook this one simple detail. Don’t make the same mistake!

how to draw an eye 0105 eyelids

Adding Final Touches to Your Line Drawing

When I know I want to use a line drawing to create a detailed, realistic pencil drawing with shading, I like to use the line drawing to help me plan for where my shadows and highlights will go.

Begin with the white part of the eye. Remember that the eyeball is largely spherical in shape, so a few well-placed shadows will create this effect. The upper eyelid will place a cast shadow onto the eye directly below the lid. Sketch a rim around the outer and inner iris to plan for variations in color. You can even place some tiny highlights and teardrops in the inner corner of the eye.

how to draw an eye 0106 eyeball shadows

Repeat this process of planning for shadows and highlights on the skin surrounding the eye. You can see shadows where skin folds and overlaps. You can see lighter skin (subtle highlights) on curved areas that are closer to the light.

how to draw an eye 0107 eyelid shadows

This will give you a detailed line drawing of an eye. Look out for the next post (Part 2 of this series), where we will shade the eye with the first layer of graphite tones.

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