Eye tutorial

As promised a few weeks ago here is a bit of a step by step guide as to how I draw eyes. Everyone has a different process and this is just mine.  Hopefully someone finds something useful in it! Apologies if it’s a bit long!

Eyes get confusing so its best to start with a quick bit of eye anatomy to make sure I (and you) know what I am taking about! I find that knowing the different parts of the eye helps me make sense of what I am looking at when I sketch.


Step 1. Initial Sketch

I used an HB mechanical pencil with a very light pressure  to make the initial drawing. For this drawing each eye is about 5cm wide; giving me plenty of scope to incorporate a bit more detail than I normally do but not so big that it becomes overwhelming.

A couple of things to keep in mind;

  • the eye in its very basic form is an almond with a circle in it! however;
  • Whist the eyeball is a sphere part of it will be covered by the eyelid.  So what you see is three-quarter of a circle (like the green circle below) rather than a complete circle (the red one)
  • The eyeball does not float in space although it kinda looks damn sexy when it does (I’m looking at you “Hot Felon”).  I draw a lot of portraits where the sclera (eye white) is visible below the iris.  In Chinese medicine these ‘Sanpaku eyes’ are a sign of ill-health. If the sclera is visible above the iris you, it is a sign you are a psychotic murderer!
  • When sketching the eyebrows I like to use ‘feathered’ stroke rather than creating a block with straight edges. This saves you having to try to erase lines at a later stage and you can just incorporate these existing lines in to your final drawing for a more natural finish.

step 1 sketch_0001.jpg

Step 2. The Dark Stuff

I start with the darkest areas (the upper lash line and the crease) using a 3B or 4B.  Most of the drawings I do are models wearing eyeliner or fake lashes, therefore the upper lash line might be quite harsh and very dark particularly as it approaches the outer edge. If you are going for a more natural look make it softer with a less defined edge.

For the pupil I like to use a Staedtler Mars Lumograph black pencil to make them nice and black but you could use a 6B – 8B graphite pencil. Graphite tends to go a bit shiny and I prefer the matt look Lumographs or charcoal give.  Remember to leave a ‘catch light’/ reflective highlight, which will generally cover part of the pupil as well as the iris. Something to note regarding the size of pupils. Large pupils are considered more attractive. When happy or aroused, our pupils dilate, but when sad they contract. So if you want to draw a happy, horny, hot face = big pupils! 😉

Whilst I’ve got my dark pencils out I also draw the very edge of the outer rim of the iris; the limbal ring.  The more prominent (ie bigger and blacker) the limbal ring the more youthful and allegedly more attractive the eye! Who knew? Even weirder still, you can get contacts that make your limbal ring look bigger! And you can get ones to make your pupil look bigger!

Step 3. The Iris 

Now we are getting in to the nitty-gritty stuff. This is where most of the detail starts to happen and this is probably where my smaller drawings become limited.  First off, I thickened up the limbal ring.  The limbal is not an even thickness and darkness all the way around. In some areas it may be narrower and lighter.

3 limbal ring

I then start to fill in the iris drawing light strokes (a bit like bicycle spokes) radiating out from the pupil using an HB pencil. You might notice that there is a highlight on the lower half of the iris.  It’s not as bright as the catch light but there is generally a lighter area so be mindful of it and maybe go really light with your strokes here.  Something I discovered in the process of doing all these eye drawings was that while I have always drawn the iris as a series of spokes, in my last drawing I used a more of a “looping” action… and I really like the effect. (this is not the best photo but hopefully you get the idea)


At this point some artists might use a blender to smooth things out but personally this doesn’t work for me and I prefer to just keep adding more strokes.   The iris often has a darker band which surrounds the pupil. Using my HB I darkened this area making the ‘spokes’ uneven in length creating a wave-like edge.

4 iris wave

Next I widen and darken the limbal ring creating the same wave-like edge, still remembering to keep some areas light and thin.  The eyelid casts a shadow over the top portion of the eye, so I darkened this area with a 2B pencil.

5 iris

Now is the bit where I say “just continue to fill in the details” …..  ahhhggg!!



In my opinion there is no “formula”.  If you are following a set formula then all your eyes will look similar.  This was exactly the problem I was starting to have with my smaller portraits.  It’s only by looking and drawing lots of different eyes that you start to notice all the unique features of the iris.

I used both an HB and a 3B to add some strokes/spokes that extended all the way from the pupil out to the limbal and some only partway.  Sometimes I make them slightly more oval-shaped too rather than just a straight line. Some eyes will have little black or dark spots in them. Sometimes it’s helpful to put a few dark ‘W’ shapes on either the limbal or in the area close to the pupil to create a kind of shadow.  Often artists will use a kneaded eraser to lift some of the graphite and create subtle highlights as well. I don’t do this as I find it too fiddly when working at this scale.

6 iris

How much detail you can, or want, to incorporate really depends on how big your eye drawing is going to be.  If you are drawing a 10cm wide eye of course you can and need to do loads more detail than I am explaining here.

Back to my 3B pencil to really work on the shadow the eyelid casts over the top of the eye.  This shadow is super important and without it the eyes can look a bit one-dimensional.  At at this time I also noticed that the catch light was not exactly rectangular and I added in the “details” here.  Often this will be a reflection or a shadow cast by the eyelashes.  I would suggest if you were drawing something smaller to not bother adding any detail to the reflective highlights; just keep it white paper.  Otherwise you risk loosing the contrast and with it the catch light itself resulting in that dead eye look.

8 highlight

Step 4 – The Eyelid

I only shaded half of the eyelid as I wanted to incorporate some blue eyeshadow using colour pencils.  I used a B for the shadows and 3H for the lighter areas.  I also used the HB to soften the edges of the crease a little.

There is often a highlight at the inner corner of the eye, one under the brow bone and maybe one in the centre of the eyelid above the pupil.  I tend to leave these areas untouched, just white paper.

9B eyelid highligh.jpg

Step 5: Eyewhite 

The sclera (or eye white) is not white.  Basically the surface of the eye is curved so the inner and outer corners will be shadowed / darker.  Also the eyelid casts a shadow over the top portion on the eye (like it does over the iris) so this will be darker too.  Some of the shadow here may also be shadows cast by the eyelashes so you can make subtle duplicates of the eyelashes in the eye white.

Sometimes I think it can be more effective or dramatic to leave the sclera completely untouched or even make it artificially white with white paint or in Photoshop.  I guess it comes down whether you want to create something super realistic or more stylised. I tend to think I sit somewhere in the middle (maybe that’s just because I am not that good at getting all the detail realism requires!).

10 eyewhite

Step 5. Make up

I’m not going to say much about this as it’s just coloured skin!  One thing, as graphite and colour pencil have a tendency not to cooperate, I had to darken the crease with a Lumograph and darken the lash line area again.  I filled in the remaining areas of skin with my B and 3H pencils.

12 post makeup skin

Step 7. Eyelashes

The bane of my existence! Eyelashes can be pretty tricky. I think I always make them too fat, thick and a bit wobbly looking.  Thank goodness for fake lashes and mascara!  They are supposed to look fat and thick (maybe not wobbly)!

Some artists like to use a mechanical pencil for eyelashes but I tend to find I can create a more natural taper using a lead pencil by pressing firmly initially and then lifting off at the end.  Eyelashes curve down before they go up, a bit like the Nike swoosh shape! They are not straight little sticks.  The “swoosh” becomes more pronounced as you approach the centre of the eye.  Eyelashes are also thicker at the base/root.  Try to draw them different lengths, slightly different angles, and maybe have some that cross over.  Avoid making every eyelash exactly the same.

Bottom lashes tend to be more subtle and shorter.

13 eyelashes

Step 8. Eyebrows

Honestly eyebrows are harder than eyelashes!  I find eyebrows quite difficult to make them look natural rather than stuck on. Try not to make all the hairs go the same direction or be the same length.  The bottom hairs tend to go ‘up and out’ while the top hairs point downwards.  I draw these two areas first and then fill in the middle section.  Also the hairs get shorter as they approach the outer corner.  I also like to look at the eyebrows as an overall thing and notice which areas are thicker.  I then put more and darker strokes / hairs in these areas.

14 one eyebrow

15 both eyebrows

Well that’s it!  It’s a lot of information but hopefully someone will find something useful win it.  Doing these larger scale drawings and writing this step by step post certainly really helped me understand what I was doing and (I think) improve my “eyes”.


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