How To Draw Eyes

By Joe Catapano

Introduction

One of the most important features on the human figure is the face and more specific, the eyes.  Humans have eyes that have evolved specifically to be the focal point of our faces.  By having whites in our eyes, it makes it very easy to see a person’s expression, direction of vision, and if they are opened or closed.  Since we see faces everyday, the eyes have become so ingrained in everyday life that we are able to detect even the subtlest changes in their movement and emotion.  This, above all else, is the reason that eyes are tricky to draw.   The fact is, your viewers can spot errors within the drawings of faces and eyes, before anything else.

 

But don’t fear, eyes are actually very simple to draw and they follow the same rules as all the rest of anatomy and with some focused practice they will become a huge asset in your artistic fundamentals.  To understand how to draw them, we must first analyze their structure.  Let’s start there.

Basic Structure

 

Take a look at the diagram that I’ve drawn to show you the different parts of the eye.  I’ve simplified the anatomy to best show the forms present.

Here, notice how the general shape of the eye is not like the “almond-shaped” symbol that we see in children’s drawings and other graphics that represent eyes.  Eyes have a more parallelogram type of shape when viewed from the front.  Another thing to notice is that the upper lid is more maneuverable and thinner than the lower lid.  It’s lower counterpart is much more of a base and has a weighty shape to it.  Lastly, take note of how the eye socket surrounds the eye and eyelids. 

As you can see, the eyeball actually sits inside of the eye socket.  In fact, if you want to draw eyes well, there is a prerequisite for the knowledge of at least the basic forms of the skull.  If you are not confident with skull anatomy then I suggest taking some time and drawing skulls from different angles to help with understanding the placement of the eyes.  Depending on which angle you are viewing the head, the eyes may be obstructed by the skull.  Just visualize how the eyes sit inside the skull and it will help the process immensely.

 

Let’s take moment to talk about the differences between eyes from different racial backgrounds.  I don’t see this subject talked about too much and it is a fairly confusing topic.  Let’s go over the big differences between Eastern (Asian) and Western (Caucasian) eyes. 

Western

  • More rounded looking

  • Eyeballs sit deeper into the sockets

  • Lower lid has more give to the skin and can generally sag

  • Between the upper lid and the socket, there is a rounding and a crease

  • Tear duck opening is pronounced as it attaches to upper lid

 

 

Eastern

 

  • More angular looking

  • Eyes rest much shallower in the sockets

  • Lower lid’s skin is much tighter and shows the slope from the eye to cheek area

  • Upper lid does not have a rounding and instead remains flush as it meets tear duck area

Planes Of The Eyes

The planes of the eyes seem complex but as you read you’ll quickly notice that the forms are quite simple.  The eye itself can be rendered as a perfect sphere even though the shape is slightly oblong at the pupil.  The upper and lower lids protrude slightly out before angle back toward the socket.  The contour of the lids mold to the sphere shape but their folds can also be interpreted into planes that resemble the previously mentioned parallelogram shape.  I have labeled the parallelogram in purple and the lids divisions in green.

Join me in the next section to get an even deeper understanding of these planes as we start to draw these forms. 

Drawing The Eye

The way you need to think about the eyes, is as spheres.  The majority of the form is spherical and the way we even think about the eyelids relate this form.

The best way that I’ve heard it explained is to think of eyes as oranges.  No not whole oranges, but in sections.  Oranges are naturally separated into quadrants that can be peeled away.

Let’s visualize just one of these sections of orange.  As you can see, the slice of orange is rounded on the outside peel but angular on the inside.  This shape is exactly the basic form that we need to visualize when we think if eyes in 3D space. 

Now pretend that we add another orange slice next to the first and we skewer them together at the same angle and direction.  If you twist the skewer you would see the slices rotate up and down.  This is also exactly as our eyes move; in unison.  It may be a no brained but don’t ever draw your your pupils looking two different directions.

Pro Tip:  If you are having trouble getting a character’s pupils to align correctly (when you are drawing a character looking at the camera). Draw their eyes slightly cross-eyed and they will look correct even though it’s not.  I know it sounds like it won’t work but believe the many cartoonists out there who have used this technique and give it a try.

I suggest you start with at least visualizing this shape when drawing the eyes.  The peak of the upper lid is usually toward the inner part of the eye while the lower lid has a peak toward the outside.  In many versions of the planes of the eyes the upper lid can be sectioned into three divisions that seamlessly join with the planes of the skull. 

In the Front View we see both ends of the orange while from the side view you will only see one end of the orange.  The white area creates a tear shape when viewed from the side view. Remember to set the eyes to the proper depth within the eye socket when in a side view. 

Let’s apply the lids to a front and side view . The edges of the slice will act as the contour for the lids of our eyes. But instead of just drawing the lids with perfect curves we will draw them with an angular, asymmetrical approach. Take a look at this parallelogram. This will be the foundation of our interpretation of the lids.

Now let’s and some shadow and eye lashes. The lashes and shadow are usually simplified into the same black shadow shapes.  Also take note that the lashes while attached to the lids, they will point out from the center of the eye sphere.

Let’s talk the final touches.  Highlights.  Since the eyeball is actually wet, the specularity will be very high.  We need to had a reflection and highlight on the eyes.  Since eyes are really just balls you can look at all types of reference that mimic this form. 

That’s it everyone.  Those are the basic views, but now let’s do a couple more drawings that demonstrate how the orange slice, parallelogram and lash lighting techniques can be used in more complex perspective.  It’s still fairly simple if you have a strong grasp of the skull and follow the simple steps described here.  Let’s do this!

Different Angles

Step one is to start with that basic orange section.

Then add the folds that wrap around this sphere shape.  Don’t try to just figure this shape out on your own.  Find some reference of a photo of an eye at the same camera angle to help plot these folds.

Now draw in the pupil and iris.  You may even want to mark in the spots where there will be highlights and reflections.

Lastly, shade in the dark areas of the pupil and iris.  Also add some shadow and lashes to give the eye more volume.  These eyes are in extreme close up shots so I included some extra lashes but in a normal mid-shit of a character you will want to simplify these lashes.

Great!  These eyes are well drawn and all but I think we need to make some eyes with more of that comic style.  Here are some that I’ve drawn from photo reference but have simplified down for a comic style look.

 

Comic Book Style

When drawing comic books you will have to work very quickly so you need to start to find small shortcuts and your own style to help you along.  That will only come with a huge amount of practice.

Here’s few things to keep in mind as you journey forward with you comic book eye drawings:

  • Keep your lines angular with intentional line weights.

  • Imply subtle details with just drawing the shadow side of the lids and folds.

  • Simplify, simplify, simplify.

 

The best way to accomplish these tasks is to do multiple drawings.  Notice how there is a light blue line layer underneath the final lines.  In the underdrawing, I sketch out the skull eye socket with a sphere inside.  Then I sketched the lids and lashes, not worrying about style or execution of line.  Finally, I will lay down the finished pencil lines and shadows with a deliberate and simplified approach keeping the forms and lighting in mind the whole time.

Additional note on lashes and shadow:

In the world of comic art, eye lashes and lighting are mostly combined when rendering eyes in the penciling stage.  (If you don’t know the roles in the comic industry and are interested in learning how the whole process works, head over to the Beginner’s Guide to Drawing Comics).

 Generally the eye lashes are more prominent on the upper lid and they tend to point back toward the center of the eyeball.  That’s why in the front view there are more lashes visible in the corners of the eye.  Add to that the most common lighting scheme of light from above and the upper lid also gets a strong shadow.   And remember, depending if the eyes are eastern or western, you will have to adjust your shadows accordingly.

Final Thoughts

Well that’s it guys and gals.  It’s been a pleasure walking you through the structure and the process of drawing eyes.  They are possibly one of the first things people see when looking at a character so make sure that your best linework goes into this area of the drawing.  There are so many expressions in combination with the eyebrow that there will have to be an entirely different tutorial covering emotion and expression work.  To get good at drawing eyes, I suggest practicing by, first drawing the structured drawings in this tutorial and then looking up photo reference of eyes and drawing several hundred sets on your own.

Keep practicing consistently and your work will improve quickly.  It’s more important to draw everyday than to draw for an entire day only one day a week, so budget your time accordingly.  Every bad drawing, sketch or mistake will be easier to spot when a daily practice is in place.  Lastly, try to find yourself a mentor that can give you advice about your art and your approach.  There are many of us in the HTDC Community that are always willing to give a helping hand.  Feel free to send any questions to any of my social media links @catapanoart. 

Thanks for reading!

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