How to Draw Eyes

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How to Draw an Eye - The Basics

The eye has been said to be "the window to the soul". When drawing a portrait of someone, it is clearly important to know how to draw eyes.  Sometimes we can look at just a person's eyes and know exactly who they are. 

The process is fairly straight-forward. After drawing out the basic contours, we'll gradually develop the tonal range of the eye. To create the representational effect that we're after, we'll gradually build up layered applications of graphite to develop the value and the texture.

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Patience With Graphite Pencils

If realism is your goal, then patience must be practiced. Just like other art-making mediums like colored pencils or pen and ink, graphite applications must be patiently layered and deliberately applied.

Textures develop through layered applications of graphite of varying hardness. Harder pencils, which produce lighter marks, are applied first. Softer pencils are applied on top, pushing values darker. If the softer pencils produce unwanted textures, then additional applications of harder graphite can be applied, working the material into the tooth or texture of the paper.

Materials For This Lesson

For this lesson, a series of graphite applications are patiently applied on smooth Bristol paper. This surface creates smoother transitions of value, but easily smears.

The Process of Drawing a Realistic Eye

We'll begin the drawing by lightly and loosely drawing the contour lines of the upper portion and lower portion of the shape of the eye, leaving open the location of the tear duct. We'll start with the "H" pencil with very little pressure. Within this shape, we'll draw the shape of the iris, pupil, and a shape for the strong highlight that overlaps the pupil slightly.

Drawing a realistic eye step one

Next, we'll begin the slow process of layering values, starting with the darkest values within the pupil. Care is taken to preserve the highlight as darker tones are developed. Within the iris, marks are made radiating from the center. While most of the darker marks are linear, a few form organic shapes. The outer and inner portions of the iris are developed with slightly darker values.

Darkening the pupil of the eye

While the "H" pencil lays the ground work, we'll need to start pushing the values darker. A slightly darker and softer "HB" pencil is applied to progressively darken the values in the pupil and the surrounding iris.

Drawing the iris around the pupil

A blending stump is gently used to soften the texture produced by the graphite applications. The blending stump is pulled in the same direction as the strokes made with the pencil to preserve the pattern of lines and shapes within the iris.

Using a blending stump to smooth pencil applications

After darkening the values of the pupil and iris a bit further with the softest graphite pencil, our attention now turns to the other areas within the eye. A gentle application of the "H" pencil is applied to the "white" of the eye on the right side. The tear duct is darkened, leaving hints of lighter value within.

Darkening the white of the eye

The underside of the eyelid is darkened and the crease above it is enhanced. The same process of layering graphite applications is followed - "H", "HB", and "General's Layout Pencil".

Drawing in the eyelid

A few visible wrinkles are added on the left side of the upper eyelid crease, before adding a light application of graphite on the skin below the eye. The textural development of the skin underneath begins by making small shapes, isolating subtle areas of lighter value.

Drawing in the texture for the skin

The contrast within the areas of skin texture is enhanced by progressively making the darker shapes a bit darker with applications made with the softer graphite pencils. As this happens, areas around the eye are also darkened.

Developing the values around the eye

The contrast in value is strengthened for the skin texture above the eye by applying darker pencil applications.

Drawing realistic skin texture

With most of the layered graphite applications in place, we can add the eyelashes. With a sharpened "HB" pencil, bold lines are pulled out from the skin. These lines mostly curve down and then up for the top eyelashes, with a few lashes bending in unpredictable ways. For the bottom lashes, the opposite is true. The lines are pulled upward and then down and are less concentrated than those found along the top lid.

Drawing eyelashes

Using the "H" pencil, a few indications of veins within the eye are added to complete the drawing.

Realistic pencil drawing of an eye

Tips on Drawing Eyes

1. Look at the eyes that you are trying to draw - I know- this tip seems pretty obvious. But many people try to draw what they think they see, rather than what they actually see.  Look at the shapes, lines and values and do your best to copy that info on your paper.  Don't think about drawing eyes, think about drawing shapes, lines, and values.

2. Remember that every eye is different - No two eyes will ever look the same.

3. Eyes are their own unique shape - Eyes are NOT ovals and eyes are NOT football shapes.  They have their own unique shape that you must recognize. (See tip #1)

4. Eyes have a full range of value - Most anything that you draw or paint should incorporate a full range of value.  Eyes are no different.  If you need to use a value scale to ensure that you have used a full range of value - then do it.  The darkest darks and the lightest lights should all be there.

How to Draw an Eye

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