Creating an eye drawing is pretty simple when you break the process down into steps. Although drawing an eye is simple, the results will look impressive due to all the details!
All you need are some drawing tools, like a pencil, a piece of paper and an eraser. It’s helpful to have a softer pencil for shading like a 6B as well as a harder pencil like a HB for drawing outlines. Follow the steps all the way through to learn how to shade realistically.
In this step-by-step tutorial, we’ll show you how to draw an eye using just a pencil.
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Measure Proportions and Create Guides
The first step is to measure the proportions of the eye, so I’m using an HB pencil and sketching lightly to create guides that I will later erase. I’m first drawing a diagonal line, that stretches from the inner corner of where the eye will be, to the corner of the outer edge of the eyeball. This diagonal line points at a pretty shallow angle, between 10 and 20 degrees. Make sure to position the line in the middle of your paper, to make an aesthetically pleasing composition.
Then, sketch a rough guide for where the outline of the iris will be. Notice where the iris is positioned relative to the diagonal guide line. The diagonal guide intersects the bottom quarter of the circle and the circle is positioned slightly over towards the left of the line. I’ve not drawn the top of the circle, because the eyelids will cross over that section.
Refine the Outline Drawing
When you’re happy with the positioning of your guides, draw in the pupil. Make sure the pupil is centred in the middle of the iris. I’m still sketching loosely and lightly so that I can easily erase any mistakes.
Then, outline the eyelid. Use the edges of the iris and the ends of the line as guides, and join the lines up, sketching light curves. I drew a light line underneath the iris to show where the bottom eyelid will go. There is a small gap between the bottom of the iris and the bottom lid. Join the lines up, from the right-hand side of the iris to the outer corner, connecting the circle to the end of the line. Repeat this process for the bottom of the eye, connecting the diagonal guide to the small line I drew to place where the bottom eyelid would be on each side.
To create a more comprehensive outline, I’m going to sketch in some of the other details of the eye, so when I come to shade it, I know exactly where everything will go. I’m adding in the small triangular shape on the side of the eye closest to the nose, the official name for it is the lacrimal caruncle. Then we need to draw the crease on the bottom eyelid and the crease on the top eyelid. Follow the curve of the eye to draw these accurately, the bottom lid should have a more shallow curve compared to the top lid. With a finished outline, I’m going to erase the initial diagonal guideline we first made.
Map Out Darkest Shadows
To start shading the values of the eye, I’m beginning with the HB pencil, to map out where the darkest sections will be with light shading. I will eventually go over these areas to deepen the darkest areas of the shadow, however, it’s best to first start with lighter and mid-tones, in case you need to erase sections later in the drawing process. I’m darkening the contour of the eye, so you can see the outline more clearly and establishing some light mid-tone values, to define the shadows of the inner corner of the eye and bottom lid.
Outline Highlights on Iris
To give the iris more definition, I’m going to outline where the highlights will appear so that I know to leave this section bare when I come to shade the iris. The reflected light in this eye appears as two rectangular shapes. One appears between the pupil and the top eyelid and the other to the left of the pupil. These reflected light shapes will appear distorted, as they curve to the form of the eyeball. So the tops of the reflected rectangles should appear smaller than the bottom. Draw these lightly, as you won’t need to see the outlines of these shapes in the finished drawing.
Draw Mid-Tones on the Eyelid
I’m continuing to map out where the lighter mid-tones of the drawing will be, by lightly shading underneath the eye. The shading doesn’t need to be perfect, as I will eventually blend this section out to make it look smoother. When drawing realistically, the key is to keep the beginning stages loose, light and open. That way, you can keep the edges between features soft and make iterations with ease. One tool that I find particularly useful in lifting midtone values, is a kneaded eraser. This will remove graphite from the paper gently, without damaging paper fibres. Kneaded erasers can provide a softer appearance when erasing compared to regular rubber erasers.
I’ve lifted the midtone values I drew with the kneaded eraser, to create separation between the lower lid margin and the skin underneath the bottom eyelid. The lower lid margin reflects light from the light source, which is coming from slightly above the position of the eye, which makes this area appear brighter than the planes angled away from the light source.
Shade Mid-Tones on the Eye
Next, I’m going to establish the midtones of the eyeball itself. Establishing mid-tone values across the whole area creates less separation between details, which will enable you to create softer edges and more realistic gradations between shadows and highlights when you come to add in more details. The corners of the eye are the darkest, so I’m going to apply a little more pressure in these areas. The white part of the eye, also called the sclera reflects the most light, alongside the lacrimal caruncle. So I’m focussing on shading the area where the white of the eye meets this inner pink triangle.
To create seamlessly smooth shading, I’m first shading with an HB pencil, then I blend it out with a paper stump. These stumps are inexpensive to get and you can find them in my list of drawing tools in the blog post linked in the description. However, you could also blend with a cotton cloth, a cotton bud or your finger.
To lift highlights on the eye, I’m lightly erasing with the kneaded eraser, to create more contrast in the shading. This process is one of shading, then refining the shaded areas, to make the gradient between dark and light appear smoother. With blending tools and an eraser, you can work on adding and lifting graphite to create the smooth texture of the eye.
Shade the Pupil
The next section of the eye that I’m going to work on is the pupil, so I’m quickly shading this with the HB pencil, to establish the shape and how it fits around the reflected light rectangle shape. I’m using the tripod grip and controlling the pencil tightly, shading with small circular motions around the edge of the circle to create a hard edge between the pupil and iris.
Shade Mid-Tones in the Iris
The iris is lighter in tone than the pupil, so I’m going to start establishing some of the mid-tones with his HB pencil, mapping out where the patterns in the iris appear. Because we want this eye to look as realistic as possible, we will include the intricate details of the fibres and the freckles in the iris. It’s these details that will really make the drawing stand out. We’ll move on to that later, but for now, I want to start creating definition in the eye, to sketch out the broader tones and value transitions.
The outer edges of the circle of the iris are much darker than the middle of the circle closer to the pupil. So I’m going to start by shading some mid-tone values in this area. When we come to shade over these with darker values with a softer pencil, the mid-tones will show beneath the shadow details, creating more variety and the illusion of detail. In the middle at the bottom of the iris, is a darker patch of melanin so I’m going to apply more pressure to represent that, then there are a couple more patches around the outer corner.
Shade Mid-Tones on Eyelids
I need to shade some of the lighter mid-tones that surround the eyelid, so I’m applying light pressure and blending with a paper stump. Because the light source is positioned slightly above the eye, the upper eyelid and the inner corner of the eyelid reflect light, so I’m shading these areas with lighter pressure.
We’re still at the stage of creating the mid-tones and I will eventually need to draw the eyelashes with a darker pencil, but in the meantime, I find it helpful to sketch out the position of the eyelashes. This way, they are easy to erase if I make a mistake in drawing them the first time and I can go over them with more confident, darker lines with a softer pencil.
Sketch Outlines of Eyelashes
The eyelashes taper at the end and are thicker at the base. They curve upwards pointing up and to the right away from the eye. The lashes look fairly organic, in terms of their spacing and placement. Some cluster together and some are angled slightly differently from the others. Remember, once these outlines are mapped out, you can go over them with more pressure, to refine their appearance near the end of the drawing.
I’m also going to sketch out where the bottom lashes will be. The bottom lashes are more sparsely placed and not as visible, so I’m going to create the impression of lashes by applying light pressure with an HB pencil around the bottom lid margin. These lashes vary in their directions more so than the top lashes. Start at the inner corner and taper your pencil lines from the lid margin, broadly towards the inner corner. As you come to draw the lashes in the middle of the lid, they change direction to point slightly to the right. Some of the lashes clump together and some are more spaced out. Again, don’t worry if you make a mistake, as you can go over these lines with a softer pencil and apply more pressure when you are certain of their arrangement.
Deepen Shadows in Iris
Realistic drawings have a range of values, from the brightest highlight to the darkest shadow. For this stage of the drawing, I’m using an 8b pencil and applying slightly firm pressure at the darkest edges of the iris. The key here is to be patient and work gradually, slowly building up the darkness with layers of graphite. You can skip this step if you like, but I want the iris to look detailed, so I’ve outlined some pattern shapes that surround the pupil. I drew what’s called a pigmented ring, which looks like a squiggly line surrounding the pupil. Then I shaded the section in between this ring and the pupil, with individual hatched strokes, that circle around the pupil to give more definition.
Because we drew the iris with our initial layer of mid-tones, those lighter mid-tone values are showing through, adding more realistic texture to the eye. To increase the contrast in the pigments in the eye, and to make it appear hyperrealistic, I’m using this precision eraser to lift some small highlight details in small line shapes, that circle around the eye. I’ve linked to the precision eraser I use in the drawing tools blog, but you could also use the edge of a regular eraser, or a kneaded eraser that you knead into a small point. I’m then going to selectively blend some of the transitions between the light and dark values in the iris, I’m making sure not to blend too much, as I want there to be variety between soft and hard edges. You can look at your drawing and decide if any sections need blending or not.
Shade the Darkest Values on the Eyelids
Establish the darkest values around the upper lash line and the crease of the top eyelid. You can apply some pressure with a softer pencil to create this. Follow the curvature of the lines you created earlier in the drawing, then I use a paper stump to blend out the mid-tones around the upper and bottom lids. With the 8B pencil, I’m going to increase the contrast of the tones on the eyeball lashes and eyelids. So I’m using the side of my pencil to make broad, even, sweeping marks and increasing the darkness of the shadow areas. I’m also going to draw in some very faint creases below the bottom lid, to detail the wrinkles around the eye. I’m blending these tones as I go so that the darker marks from the softer pencil blend into the mid-tones of the lighter underdrawing.
Finalise Eyelash Outlines
The lashes need to fit with the value range of the drawing, so I’m going over the outlines of the lashes I created earlier with my softer pencil. It’s easier to be confidently precise in making these darker marks when following the lighter outlines of the lashes I made as guides. I have also added the shadow of the upper eyelashes that block the light in the reflections in the iris, so I’m using the same method to make those marks darker with my softer pencil. The bottom lashes are easy to trace over so do this as one of the final steps.
Create Final Highlight Details
To finish the drawing, I’m using my precision eraser to lift some reflections in the eye. To make the skin appear more dewy, I’m creating small textures with the eraser on the upper lid and lower lid. Then, I want to create some reflections in the corner of the eye itself, near to where the tear duct is. These details all contribute to the overall realism of the piece.
Supplies you need to create an eye drawing
The only supplies you really need are graphite pencils (or charcoal pencils) paper and erasers. However there are some supplies that make the drawing process feel easier. A kneadable eraser will lift graphite from paper without damaging paper fibres and a Tombow eraser will help you to lift the smallest details.
You can use most kinds of paper with graphite pencils, however, thicker paper is more durable and will stand up to more erasing. A smooth paper will make more of your details stand out and an acid-free paper will last for years to come. Most artist grade papers are acid-free, it just means that you can keep your drawing—frame and hang it without worrying about paper yellowing over time. The best options for graphite drawing are Bristol Board, either the smooth or vellum varieties.
Graphite pencils range from hard to soft. Hard pencils (HB to 8H) are great for outlining, creating faint lines that are easy to erase and technical drawings. The softest pencil is a 8B or 12B. B is fairly soft, but 8B will provide a darker mark. Softer pencils are better for shading. Getting a few different graphite pencils, will allow you to create smoother, more consistent looking drawings.
If you’re interested in attempting to draw the head, try the Loomis Method or Reilly Abstraction approaches. They are both great ways of constructing a portrait completely from scratch. Or read up on how to draw a side profile portrait, to challenge yourself a bit!