7 Tips for drawing realistic eyes

By Nicole Tinkham
7 Tips for drawing realistic eyes
Image found on Flickr.com/creativecommons by jeneyepher

Drawing facial features does not come easy and based on what we’ve been hearing from various artists, drawing realistic eyes is the biggest challenge. We aren’t saying that these following 7 tips will transform your skills overnight. As with anything drawing eyes takes time, practice, and loads of patience. What this blog can do is provide the basics to help you get started and understand how to successfully draw eyes. Here’s exactly what you need to do starting with rule #1, drawing what you see!

1.    Draw what you see!

Before we get into the nitty gritty of drawing realistic eyes, remember the golden rule: Draw what you see! When we think of eye shape, we often think of a football with a large circle in the middle. At the same time, we know that if we were to draw these simple shapes without much detail, it wouldn’t look much like an eye at all (realistically, anyway). Take a picture of your own eye up close and really examine it before you get started. Notice the shape, placement of the pupil and iris, how the eyelashes are shaped, the pattern in the iris, and shading.

2.    The basic outline

Start with drawing the outline of the eye. It doesn’t have to be super detailed but be sure to have the shape down. You also want nice light lines so you don’t have a hard outline when the drawing is complete. When drawing the outline, remember the spacing rule: There should be one eye length between the two eyes and 5 eye lengths across the face. Keeping this in mind will help with placement and size.

Important! The eye is asymmetrical. The upper and lower lash lines will be different so look back at your reference photo carefully.

When placing the iris, remember that the upper eyelid will cover it slightly. In other words, the entire iris shouldn’t fit within the white of the eye. The lower part of the iris should rest on or slightly below the lower eyelid.

3.    Filling in the pupil

The pupil will be a dark area of the eye but we advise against pressing really hard with your pencil as it makes it extremely difficult to erase it if you need to. Instead, fill it in with layers. Lightly fill in the area and then go over it with a blending stick and repeat until you’re happy with it.

4.    Shading the iris

We want to start shading the iris very lightly. In fact we won’t be using our pencils directly on the iris at this point. Grab a scrap piece of paper and scribble on the paper to lay down as much graphite as you can. Using your blending stick, pick up some of that graphite and use the blending stick to shade the iris. This produces super light shading, just what we want.

5.    Adding detail

To produce the lines in the iris, use a mechanical pencil. This works wonders to achieve detail on a small scale. They should be drawn quick and random. Be sure to leave a little space between the pupil and the iris lines. At this point, you also want to draw in the highlights. In the following steps it’s important to keep those highlight areas graphite free.

The next step is lightly filling in this space around the pupil. Blend over this area so the dark graphite of the pupil blends in with this outer ring. Take your blending stick and starting from the center of the pupil, drag it outward blending those tiny lines for a smooth look.

Using your kneaded eraser, form a pointed tip and remove some areas in the iris for highlights. Don’t go overboard here! However, if you do you can always correct it by using your blending stick to cover the extra highlights. When creating highlights with a kneaded eraser, be sure to use different areas of the eraser after picking up graphite otherwise you’ll have a difficult time pulling more graphite.

Outline the iris and the outer ring of the pupil and then blend the outlines to soften the look. Go back into those highlights you created earlier and darken around them to make them really stand out.

Keep adding highlights and blending until you get the look you want.

6.    Shading the whites

When shading the whites of the eye, you’ll want to start with very soft shading. We’ll be using the same method we used to initially shade the iris with the blending stick.

Also shade the fold that’s under the eyebrow and above the eyelash.

With a hard pencil, lightly draw in blood vessels running from the corners of the eye. Little details like this make your eye look much more realistic. Go over the white of the eye with a blending stick.

7.    The eyelashes

It’s important when drawing in the upper eyelashes to really look at their angle. They won’t be perfectly straight especially the outer lashes. Take a picture of your own eye and examine the lashes. Draw them as you see them. Be sure to draw them last as they overlap other areas. A small detail to keep in mind is the reflection on the eyelashes in the highlight of the iris.

Lower lashes should be lighter and remember to look at your reference photo for their placement and shape with these as well!

There is a lot of detail that goes into drawing realistic eyes but don’t let that overwhelm you. Remember to take it one step at a time and draw what you see. The best way to improve is to practice often! We recommend carrying a sketchbook around with you. Any chance you get even if only 5 minutes you should be sketching away on any area you feel you could improve in. Please don’t give up if you don’t get it perfectly the first time! It’s not supposed to be easy but you will get better. Keep on drawing!

Tell us, which facial feature do you struggle with the most? Leave us a COMMENT below!

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