How to Draw Eyes: Step by Step Realistic Eye Drawing Tutorial

by Apr 8, 2019Pencil Drawings2 comments

Drawing eyes can be frustrating.

There’s a lot going on in there. After all, they are one of the most complex body parts.

Upper lid, lower lid, eyeball. Add skin, some texture, highlights, shadows… Not to mention that muddle happening in the iris, right? Even if you finally master the skill of eye drawing, you still have to add eyelashes and eyebrows, and that’s a whole nother kettle of fish.

Don’t worry – I am here to help you with all the issues you may encounter while creating a detailed eye sketch.

How do you draw eyes – most important tips

  • Always start with an overall sketch of the eye in order to avoid disproportions.
  • Never press your pencil too hard. Use light strokes, so that you can erase them later. The most common mistake in eye drawing is using thick dark lines in places where there should be a soft, gradual transition between shades.
  • Remember – the eye is a three-dimensional object. It sits deep in the eye socket. Establish a light source and don’t be afraid to really darken the shadows to articulate its roundness.
  • When drawing the eye, use the whole gamut of shades. This is the only way to make a pencil drawing pop. In the eye, the black has to be defined by the shade of the pupil and the white – by the brightness of the light reflection on the eyeball.
  • Eyes vary in shape, size, and color. If you really want to learn to draw eyes, look at them more often. Take a mirror and study your own face! You’ll be surprised by how many new things you notice each time.

How to draw a realistic eye

Realistic drawing isn’t THAT hard. It doesn’t even take as much practice as one would think.

What you actually need to become a realism artist is patience. Realism is not about skill – it’s about attention to detail. If you take your time to notice all the tiniest shapes and all different shades, you’ll become a realism artist next month.

As it turns out, the ability to see details and shapes in our surroundings varies between people. That’s the beauty of us humans – we’re all different.

My solution to this is giving you the easiest way to start (or continue) your drawing journey. In this tutorial, I am going to use a photo reference and a grid. It’s not cheating and it definitely DOES NOT make you a bad artist.

Seeking instructions for a specific part of the eye? Skip to one of these steps:

 

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Before you start drawing

Three quick things you need to do before we get to drawing:

 

  1. Choose a reference photo

Here is the reference picture I’ll be using. I chose this one because the eye in it is wide open and you can see the entire iris which makes explaining some steps easier. If you want, you can choose your own photo and follow my directions.

 

  1. Apply the grid (if you choose to use it)

I divided my picture into smaller parts in Photoshop. You can do the same in MS Paint. Or check out a free app that’ll do that for you – download one from here.

If you’re adding the grid to your own photo, don’t use too many lines. We don’t want the picture to be unreadable. If you have problems with the sketch later, cut a problematic square with an additional line.

 

If you’re drawing with me, open this image in a new tab so you’re able to return to it whenever you need without scrolling back to this part.

 

  1. Collect all the necessary tools

Here is a list of tools I used:

  • Good quality paper

If you’re here to practice, feel free to use your sketchbook. If you’re creating a legitimate drawing I recommend working with better quality paper. I use Strathmore Bristol Smooth paper for most of my drawings. It’s very popular among pencil artists. And affordable!

  • 4B and 6B pencil

My favorite pencils are Faber Castell Goldfaber 1221. What I like about them the most is that I have around 50 of them and not a single one ever broke. I keep dropping them, they keep keeping their leads in 😉

  • Mechanical pencil with a 2B lead

That’s the one I use most often. I could create a whole drawing with it, but I think it’s smarter to use softer pencils mentioned above for shading. So we’ll use a mechanical pencil for details.

  • Blending stumps

For blending, of course.

  • Makeup brush

Another tool I use to blend. It works wonders with bright shades, where the stump could cause too much smudging. I use a makeup brush instead of a paintbrush because it’s softer.

  • Kneaded eraser

The most important thing in every pencil artist’s toolset. Use it for erasing, shading, highlighting, you name it. This eraser can be molded into any shape. It picks graphite off the paper, in layers, without leaving any mess. I recommend getting a couple of those, as you’ll use them often and they’ll get dirty pretty quick.

  • Pen or pencil eraser

I have both. Pencil eraser for its convenience and pen eraser for the finest lines.

 

Now, to the actual tutorial!

 

How to draw eyes step by step

  1. Sketch a simple eye outline

Sketch out all the basic shapes. Then, with lighter strokes, mark the outline of more prominent shadows you’re able to notice at this point.

I started with the pupil and continued adding shapes around it.

How to sketch eyes using grid – proper order

  1. Pupil
  2. Iris
  3. Light reflection
  4. General eye outline
  5. Inner corner elements
  6. Crease
  7. Waterlines (eyelid rims)
  8. More prominent shadows and wrinkles
  9. Eyebrow
  10. Line connecting the outer corner with the brow

Hover your mouse over the picture or tap it to see the numbers.

Remember that the pupil and the iris should be circles. Be sure to look at them from a slightly different angle and see if they’re more or less round. Another thing to have in mind is that the pupil should be right in the center of the iris.

Now, with every eye comes a spot of reflected light. The shape of it is defined by the light source, like a lamp or a window (in our case it’s a window). It’s common to notice multiple highlights in your model’s eye. I usually choose to ignore them – one bigger spot is enough – it makes the eye pop and keeps the drawing clean. You’ll achieve the best results if the reflection cuts into the pupil, so it’s half there and half on the iris.

As far as waterlines are concerned, keep in mind that they get thinner closer to the inner eye corner. Visibility of the upper waterline depends on the angle from which we look at the eye.

Last but not least: be careful with lines that span across multiple squares. After you’ve drawn the contour in each square, look at the whole line again and smooth it out.


Pro tip: When drawing using a grid, always remember to check what that grid has made you do. Draw in particular squares separately to ensure good proportions. Then look at the whole picture and check if the shapes look decent, if they connect smoothly and whether or not you need to move things around a little.


 

  1. Fill the pupil

 

First, you may want to roll your kneaded eraser on the drawing a couple of times to make the sketch less visible. I left it as is so you can see it better.

The darkness of the pupil will define the contrast of our drawing. Fill it in properly, using a soft pencil (at least 4B). Add layers until you achieve a shade the closest to black.

If the highlight on your eye spills onto the pupil, keep that area white! It will be impossible to erase it later without any graphite residue showing.

 

  1. Accentuate the iris

In the next couple of steps, I’m going to show you how to draw an iris.

First, fill in the whole iris. Tilt your pencil slightly to keep the strokes soft, like on the right side of the picture below.

Leave the light reflection white. It’s the second factor defining the contrast. Make it the brightest element of your eye drawing.

Using a much darker shade, define an outline of the iris. Make that line pretty thick.

If you’re drawing a different eye, in which the lids cover some part of the iris, leave that part unfilled.

 

  1. Blend the iris

Before any blending, make sure that you’ve erased gridlines around the iris. We need that area to be clean because we’ll not only blend the inside, but also the outer edge of the iris. If we don’t erase these lines, they’ll stay visible and trying to erase them later will destroy our perfect blend. Use a blending stump to smooth the inside of the iris. I like to blend in the opposite direction to that of the pencil strokes. The truth is I usually end up blending all over the place, so don’t think of it as a rule. The last step here is smudging that dark circle on the outside of the iris we’ve made before. Use the tip of a stump to do that, keeping it slightly tilted.
Pro tip: Using your stumps’ tips is the quickest way to ruin them. However, I do own that one stump that’s already had enough and I can damage it a little bit more. So should you.
First, dilute the dark circle towards the pupil. Then, smooth out the outer edge. If you look at any eye, you’ll notice that the border between the iris and the sclera is soft rather than sharp.  
  1. Fill the iris with some basic lines

If your goal is to create a hyperrealistic eye drawing, the next 4 steps are crucial – we’ll draw a detailed iris. If you feel like it’s too much, that’s okay. Even without these details, your drawing will look impressive. All these odds and sods may also be redundant if you’re creating a portrait or a whole person sketch, where you won’t be able to see such tiny details anyway. If so, feel free to skip to step number 9. Otherwise, draw a wiggly circle around the pupil. This ring usually separates different colors, shades or structures in the iris. Next, add a couple of straight lines around the pupil. They should start right in the center of the pupil and end at the iris edge (hover over the image). Make sure the distance between them is irregular – the whole iris is quite a mess and we want to make it as disordered as possible.
Pro tip: Use a pencil that’s a bit worn out so the lines have some thickness.
    1. Add dark spots and more lines

    Condense the lines: toss in some shorter ones – beginning or ending at the wiggly inner circle.

    Add a few double lines that look like orange vesicles (or teardrops). You can fill them in or not.

    Finally, fill in a couple of areas created by the net of lines.

    (Hover over the image to see what I mean)

     

    1. Erase bright spots

    Look at the reference picture and examine the iris structure again. Can you see all the brighter parts? We’re going to rub them out. How cool is that? It’s my favorite part of a drawing process – actually drawing with an eraser.
    Pro tip: Use an eraser in the form of a pencil, or an eraser pen, to rub out little details precisely.
    As you can see, I erased a part of a wiggly ring, as well as some lines and larger areas. A lot of them, actually. Do whatever you want here. I insist. Have some fun. It’s really satisfying to let go while erasing!  
    1. Add even more detail

    It’s time to have some fun again.

    Add more “orange vesicles”, black or white. Erase some more lines. This time make them even whiter. Feel free to connect a couple of lines so they create little veiny structures.

    Fix the contrast and add more depth by darkening some areas.

    Finish with erasing the big white light reflection properly, making sure it’s clean and has sharp edges (it has to be the whitest part of the eye drawing)

     

    1. Fill in the darker half of the sclera

    Good news – we’re back to simpler things!The iris parts the eye in the middle. One of the halves is usually darker than the other, depending on the direction of light.

    I like to draw whatever’s on the left first because I’m right-handed and I don’t want to smudge my drawing. That’s why we’re starting with the darker, left part – it’s not some important rule established by Da Vinci, no.

    Tilt the pencil and fill in the sclera.

    The light source is on the right, so the left corner will obviously be darker.

     

    1. Blend it and refine the dark edges

    Take your stump and blend what you’ve just drawn. Begin with the brighter parts and continue towards the dark corner. This way you avoid dragging graphite residue to the areas that don’t need it.

    Keep in mind that you’re currently shading a ball. Think of how the shadows and lights behave on round objects. If you find it hard to imagine, I highly recommend reading this article on how to shade. It’ll help you understand how light behaves.

    Don’t forget to refine the outline of the eye, where the lids cast a small shadow on the eyeball. Blend it too, especially the lower one. The upper one is not a big deal at this moment – later we’ll be covering it with more shadow.

     

    1. Draw the eye corner elements

    This is an easy step – just draw what you see in your picture. Usually, the eye corner is just a triangle, sometimes it’s divided into two chunks.

    Blend it and add some white spots with an eraser, so that it looks wet.

     

    1. Fill in the second half of the sclera

    Fill this part with light pressure. Add a bit more shadow in the corner (ball shading!).

    As you can see in our picture, lashes can cast shadows on the eyeball. Include them in your eye drawing by throwing in a few darker lines with a worn out pencil.

    Start them at the upper edge of the eye outline. Make their length irregular, so the shadow looks realistic. Remembering the three-dimensional shape of the eye, curve these strokes slightly in line with the roundness of the eyeball (hover your mouse over the image)

     

    1. Blend it with a clean stump

    Blend what you’ve just drawn with a clean stump. Do not use the one you smudged the darker part with!

    The cast shadows should be blended in the same manner as they were drawn – with strokes starting at the upper lid. Make sure to lower the pressure on a stump as you go away from the lid, so the transition from a shadow to a white-ish sclera is smooth.

     

    1. Correct the outline

    Draw a dark line separating the upper lid from the eyeball connecting it with the one we’ve made in step 10.

    Then, do the same at the bottom lid but with a lighter tone – there’s more light reaching this part of the eye.

    Use an eraser to break that bottom line with some white, just like I did. The eye is wet and it usually reflects some light there.

     

    1. Correct the contrast in the eye

    Last step before we proceed to draw the eyelids:

    Look at your picture from a distance and see if it needs any fixes. Add more shadows/highlights where you think the drawing could use more contrast.

    I made the shadows on the left side more prominent to increase depth on my drawing. I also added a shadow below the upper lid. If you hover over the image, you should see a photo from step 14 overlaying the current progress – use that to see the changes I applied.

     

    1. Shade eyelid rims

    Let’s begin with erasing the outer line on the lower rim almost completely with a kneaded eraser. Leaving it visible is the number one mistake in realistic eye drawing. After you’ve done that fill it with a light shade.

    Next, fill the upper rim with a darker tone than the lower one. The transition between both shades in the outer corner isn’t very smooth – as soon as the light hits the lower lid it becomes brighter than the upper one.

    You can probably see that I also added some delicate strokes below the lower rim.


    Pro tip: Before I blend a border between two shades, I like to have both of them drawn – adding the second shade later may result in some strokes going outside that border and ruining the already smooth area of the shade number one.


      1. Blend the rims

      Smooth out both lines, starting with a brighter one. Add some tone variation on the lower rim, like a bit of reflection in the outer corner.

       

      1. Shade the upper lid and a brow ridge

      First step here – erase the gridlines that cover the upper lid area. I didn’t and you can see them showing from under the graphite layer. It’s usually possible to blend them with the rest of the image, but sometimes they do stay visible. So don’t follow my example here. Erase the hell out of them.

      Next, refine the crease line – make it really dark and rather thick.

      Fill the whole area the way I did. Start in the inner corner and finish at the line connecting the crease with the brow. Remember to wear out and tilt your pencil for that.

      Looking at our reference photo you’ll see that you should make the left side a bit darker. Same with the area above the crease-brow line. Follow my sketch along with the shadows you can see in the original picture.

      Let’s also begin shading the crease. You should add a gradual dark shade below the crease on the left and above it on the right. Look at the picture to see where the switch actually happens.

       

      1. Blend the area above the eye

      Blend everything with a stump and a brush if you have one.


      Pro tip: Using a soft brush (preferably a makeup brush) can help you achieve better results than a blending stump, especially with bright shades.


       

      Cross the eyebrow line a bit, so that in the next steps you’re able to smooth the transition between these areas.

       

      1. Refine shadows and highlights

      Simply look at your drawing and decide whether it needs more contrast. I drew more shadows in the crease area (added one under the crease on the right side and darkened the rest of them)

      I also used my kneaded eraser to create a highlight on top of the brow ridge.

       

      1. Shade the space between the eye and the nose

      Just like in step 19, let’s erase the gridlines first.

      Then, cover the whole area evenly.

      Add another layer to darken the shadow next to the base of the nose.

       

      1. Connect it with the upper lid

      This is the first part that actually contains the edge of our eye drawing. While blending it, don’t forget to fade it out properly to the left side.

      Another thing to remember is to cross the eyebrow outline again.

      Connect this part of the skin with the one we’ve drawn previously so the shading is even throughout the whole upper lid.

       

      1. Add layers below the eye

      Again, erase unnecessary gridlines.

      Add a few dots on the lower rim line, so that you can still see where it should be, even after you blend the lower lid area. Don’t worry about their visibility – we’ll grow eyelashes out of them later!

      Fill the remaining skin with gentle strokes. Continue adding layers in the areas that need more shade. Play with some cross-hatching here o ensure better coverage – change the direction of strokes in each layer by 90 degrees.

       

      1. Blend the lower lid

      Blend everything. As always, begin with lighter tones.

      I used a brush to blend the fair skin at the bottom of the drawing and stumps for all the darker shades.

       

      1. Add more depth

      Per usual, look at your eye drawing and see if you should enhance the contrast, aka darken the shadows.

      You can also draw a couple of wrinkles in this step. Use gentle strokes to make the finest of lines.

       

      1. Smooth everything out

      If you’ve added new layers, use a stump to blend them into the rest of the drawing.

      Transitions between shades of the skin should be subtle and soft, so caress them with your brush. Take that same brush – now you have some graphite residue on it – and blend out the edges of your drawing.

       

      1. Introduce skin texture with highlights

      This is another step you can skip if you’re creating a less realistic piece. If so, jump to step 30.

      See all those tiny wrinkles in the eye corner? It’s drawing with eraser time again!

      I used my eraser pen for that – it’s super thin and does a great job with lines.

      First, draw some lines and spots in the eye corner, then move to the skin on the lower lid.

      This texture may look complicated, but I created it by simply stroking the area in one direction first, and adding some random lines later (preferably in the opposite direction). The goal is to create a pattern that kinda looks like skin cells – a net of tiny lozenges and triangles.

      While I had the eraser in my hand, I also added some highlights around the waterline and on the eyeball.

       

      1. Add a pop of contrast

      Considering that all the wrinkles and texture are indentations in the skin, you should pair each highlight with a shadow. Do it with a worn out pencil or with a tip of a blending stump.

      The light source is on the upper right, so all the notches should have a shadow on top or on the right.

      I overlayed this picture with the one from the previous step to help you see the changes I applied.

       

      1. Add veins

      While we’re at the details, let’s add some veins on the eyeball.

      Draw a few irregular lines varying in shade. They have to be really thin, so use a rather sharp pencil. Just don’t push it too hard. We want them to be subtle so they don’t overshadow the iris. It’s an eye drawing, not a cardiovascular system drawing, wink, wink.

       

      1. Fill the brow

      Erase the rest of the grid.

      Shade the forehead (tilt the pencil, cross-hatch)

      Next, fill the eyebrow with hairs. We’ll blend them next, so you don’t have to be precise yet. Sharp pencil, bold strokes. To see the direction of the hairs better hover over the image.

      If you’re using a different reference picture where the brow is brighter, you may want to make your strokes softer. Even a subtle change in the shape or color of the brow can change the face entirely.

       

      1. Blend for (almost) the last time

      Blend the skin on the forehead first. As you can see, I was a little too sloppy with my cross-hatching, and now the strokes are pretty visible. Feel free to do a better job than I did 🙂 I managed to fix it later with a brush but why go to so much trouble.

      Next, blend the eyebrow so that it’s smooth but still has some texture. That’s a trick I use to create enough thickness without having to draw every single hair.

      If you’re drawing a thinner or brighter eyebrow, your blending should be more gentle than the one I did on my eye drawing.

       

      1. Draw eyebrow hair

      Now we’re going to have more fun with the hair.

      Start with the left side of the brow. Notice that these hairs grow almost upwards. They turn to the side above the inner corner of the eye. At the end they turn downwards where they also become shorter than the ones we drew in the middle.

       

      1. Sculpt the brow bone

      By sculpting I mean… adding more shadows, yes! Above the eyebrow, as well as below it. To do that, I dabbed my brush in a patch of graphite residue I made on another piece of paper and transferred it onto my drawing.

      Per usual, hover your mouse over the image to see the changes I applied.

      You should be able to see that I also added a subtle layer of graphite on the skin texture/wrinkles under the eye to make them softer.

       

      1. Add lashes

      Where you start is crucial to the eyelashes drawing process. They should always grow from the outer line of the lid rim, never from the middle of it!

      Look at how the shape of the lashes changes on the eye outline. You may want to look at this eyelashes drawing tutorial to understand that part of an eye drawing better.

      Placing them irregularly is a key to draw realistic eyelashes.

      Don’t forget to add a couple of reflections – use a pen eraser to add some white strokes in the lashes.

       

      1. Apply more skin texture

      As a final touch, let’s add more skin texture.

      Do it with a tip of a blending stump (darker spots) and a pen eraser (white spots). Just bump them into the surface of your eye drawing. This way you’ll create pores and tiny skin reflections. Just be gentle with the dark spots, if you make them too dark, the skin will end up looking dirty.

      Et voilà! Your realistic eye drawing is done!

      I hope you enjoyed my step by step eye drawing tutorial

      That was my guide on how to draw eyes from a quick eye sketch to a realistic eye drawing.

      If you feel like something was too complicated or not explained clearly enough, leave a comment – I want to make these lessons as helpful and fun as possible.

      Do you have any questions about how to draw eyes? What other tutorials would you like to see here? Let me know!

      Nothing would make me happier than seeing your finished drawing made with this guide. Don’t hesitate to attach your masterpiece to a comment!

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