Would you like to learn how to draw realistic eyes?
In this drawing tutorial, I will explain exactly how I draw realistic eyes.
In this post, I will share with you:
- My favorite art supplies
- Art supplies needed for this tutorial
- The different parts of the eye
- How to draw the eye accurately
- How to add depth to the eye.
- Essential tips to make make your drawings pop off the drawing surface
- Watch the entire drawing on video at the end of this post.
Drawing eyes is one of my favorite things to draw in humans and animals.
The eyes are the windows to the souls and what brings life to an animal or human.
The eyes tell a story. You can almost tell what a person is thinking just by the expression of their eyes and in my opinion, should be the main focus of the portrait you are drawing.
Every artist has different styles and techniques which make their artwork unique.
Learning how other artists tackle their drawings will help you to be a better artist and help you to find your unique voice.
Before we get started here is a list of all the drawing supplies I have in my studio:
I purchase all of my art supplies from Blicks.com. They have great prices, free shipping if you spend a certain amount, and ship items quickly.
- Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Board Pads 9″ x 12″ Smooth
- Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Board Pads 9″ x 12″ Velum
Shading Pencils Set
- General’s Factis Magic Black Eraser
- Tombow Mono Zero Refillable Eraser
- Prismacolor Kneaded Rubber Erasers
- Alvin Dry Cleaning Pad
What You Will Need For This Drawing Tutorial:
- Reference image (The reference I am using for this eye drawing tutorial is courtesy of Pixabay.)
A Set of Tombow Mono Professional Drawing Pencils or your favorite graphite drawing pencils.
Pencil grades needed for this tutorial:
Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Board Pads 9″ x 12″ Velum or your favorite drawing paper.
I recommend practicing on a drawing surface you will be using for your final drawing.
Over the years I have tried multiple brands of drawing paper. For my drawing style, Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Board Pads 9″ x 12″ Velum is the best. I use this paper for all of my commission drawings and original drawings.
Erasers needed for this tutorial:
Blending Tools needed for this tutorial
Blending tools are optional. The majority of my drawings are done with graphite and erasers. I create soft value changes by adding multiple layers of graphite on the drawing surfaces. I will, however, use blending tools for softening lines.
Step 1 – Draw The Shape Of The Eye
The first step of an eye-drawing is to sketch the contour (shape) of the eye lightly on the drawing surface.
There are several different drawing techniques you can use to draw the shape of an eye.
- Sketch the eye freehand
- Use the grid method
- Trace the eye with graphite tracing paper
- Use a lightbox
Drawing the contour of a subject accurately is an essential step in a realistic drawing.
You can shade the eye perfectly, but if the proportions of the eyes are incorrect, the finished drawing will look off.
If you want to draw realistic eyes, the proportions have to be accurate.
I use the grid method for all my realism drawings.
I know many artists who trace the subject on the drawing surface or use a projector.
One of the problems I have encountered with tracing the subject is that the line traced on the drawing surface will be difficult to erase. The dark line will create a problem when you start to blend in the values.
If you are not familiar with the grid method you can watch how I use the grid method step by step in a tutorial I have on TableWise of you can purchase the video tutorial.
- How To Draw Realistic Drawings – TableWise (Monthly Fee – Try it free for 30 days)
- Purchase Video Tutorial – Watch as many times as you wish.
Eye drawing tips:
- Use an H2 pencil and sketch the shape of the eye lightly so you can remove and blend the lines easier.
- Make sure the proportions of the eye drawing is correct
- Use a reference image. (The reference I am using for this eye drawing tutorial is courtesy of Pixabay.)
Pixabay is a vibrant community of creatives, sharing copyright-free images and videos. All contents are released under the Pixabay License, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist – even for commercial purposes. (Source: Pixabay)
Step 2 – Add Graphite To The Darkest Areas
Now that you have the eye sketched lightly on the drawing surface it is time to add graphite to the darkest areas of the eye.
The values you add to the eye will make the drawing have a three-dimensional illusion.
Begin by studying the reference image and identify where the darkest values are.
- The pupil is the black circular opening in the iris that lets the light in. The pupil will be the darkest part of the eye.
- The iris is the color is the colored part of the eye and will have several different values.
- The Sclera is the white of the eye. Even though the sclera is the white part of the eye it is not a true white. There will be smooth values that you will want to identify.
- Observe the dark shadows that the eyelids create.
Start by adding graphite to the pupil with a 2H pencil by using light lines that overlap each other.
Why start with the pupil.
The reason I start with the pupil is that it is the darkest area of the eye.
The values I add after the pupil will be determined by how dark the pupil is.
Make sure that there are no spaces between your lines. You want to have an even layer of graphite.
Conditioning the paper with a 2H pencil will prevent the finished drawing from having “white dots”.
Using a harder lead allows you to add graphite to the valleys of the “tooth” of the paper.
Notice in the image above how a 2B pencil leaves a lot of white dotes and the one that started with a 2H pencil has no white dots.
A paper’s tooth describes the surface feel of paper. Generally, the more tooth a paper has, the rougher it feels. You could easily exchange the term for the words, “texture,” or “smoothness.” In general, charcoal artists prefer paper with a rougher texture, as the charcoal adheres better to unsmooth surfaces. (Source: Nitram
Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Board Pads 9″ x 12″ Velum has a lot of texture which allows you to add multiple layers of graphite.
This drawing shows you an example of how smooth value changes create a realistic drawing.
Do not rush the drawing process.
Take your time and add values slowly.
Some artists get impatient and use a softer lead to draw the darker values just to speed up the drawing process.
A softer lead will draw a darker line but there will be a lot of white spots that will be noticeable because the soft lead does not reach the bottom of the valleys of the “tooth” of the paper.
The white imperfections will make your drawing not look as realistic.
Take the time to condition the paper with a harder lead.
After you have conditioned the drawing surface you can continue to add value to different areas by drawing over the conditioned areas with softer leads.
The final drawing will be well worth the extra steps you will be taking.
Step Three – Continue Adding Value To The Iris And Sclera
The two things you need to focus on when you are drawing realistic drawings are the proportions of the subject and the values.
If you do not get both the proportions of the subject and the values correct, your finished drawing will look off.
Values are how light or dark something is.
The lightest area of a subject is where is light is directly hitting the surface.
The darkest area is where light is not hitting the subject.
For more information on shading visit – The Elements Of Shading.
Start by adding graphite to the darkest areas of the iris and sclera with a sharp 2H pencil.
The reason I always start with the darkest area first is that all of the other values will be determined by how dark my darkest dark is.
Notice in the images above I am working from dark to light. I continue to add value to the darkest areas and gradually use less graphite for the lighter sections.
It is important not to go too dark at first.
Doing so will make the drawing process more difficult because everything will have to be adjusted accordingly.
Use the pupil as a guide to how dark you are drawing the iris and sclera.
Remember that it is easier to add value than it is to take value off. You can always make the drawing darker as you go along by adding more graphite to the areas you want darker.
Step 4 – Add Depth To The Iris
Now that you have a solid foundation of where the darkest values are, it is time to add depth to the iris.
To start, add some more value to the pupil.
The pupil is going to be the darkest area of the drawing.
Observe the soft value changes in the pupil.
Notice that the pupil in your reference image is not one solid color. There are darker areas and lighter areas of the pupil.
Add value to the iris slowly. Identify there the highlight is on the iris and do not add too much graphite to that section.
Work from the darkest areas first.
Next, you will want to draw the dark spokes to the iris.
Notice how the spokes are shaped on your reference image.
They are not all uniform and there is a slight curve that follows the contour of the eye.
Lighten areas by tapping off graphite with a kneaded eraser and your Tombo eraser.
Continue adding and removing graphite until everything looks smooth.
Notice how the iris has a three-dimensional illusion because of the different values.
Step 5 – Add Value To The Skin Around The Eye
Every line that you draw on paper will look either lighter or darker depending on the value next to the line.
Adding value to the skin at this point will help you to see if you need to make any adjustments to eye drawing.
Start by adding value to the skin the same way you did with the eye.
Start with a 2H pencil and condition the paper.
Work from the darkest section and draw towards the lightest part.
Always study your reference image and continue to look at it while you are adding the value.
If you need to make an area darker use a softer lead like an HB or 2B pencil after you conditioned the area with the 2H pencil.
Continue this process until you are satisfied with the values. The next step will be to draw in the eyelashes.
Notice how the eye looks lighter now that you have added graphite to the skin.
Draw The Eyelashes
The last step is to add in the eyelashes.
Hair, eyelashes, and fur is a challenge for many artists.
The thing to remember when you are drawing eyelashes is that a line does not create an eyelash.
An eyelash is a cylinder, not a line.
Observe your drawing reference and observe where the darkest values are around the eyelashes. They will not be a solid color. There will always be a soft value change due to how light is reacting to them.
The eyelashes are soft in the reference I used for this eye. I focused on where the eyelashes started and the shadow to create the illusion of eyelashes.
Eye Drawing Completed
I am often asked when is a drawing completed?
There is no simple answer to this question.
The advice I give is to put the drawing away for a day and go back to it with fresh eyes.
Often times I will go back to a drawing and see some areas I want to adjust.
When you are completely satisfied with the outcome than your work is done and it is time for you to sign your artwork.
Draw Realistic Eye Tips
- Use high-quality art materials
- Keep your pencil sharp
- Do not touch your drawing surface
- Always refer to your reference image
- Add layers of graphite slowly
- Work from dark to light
- Lighten areas with an eraser
- Only use blending tools for the finishing touches
- Do not rush the process