You’re about to learn once and for all how to draw realistic eyes. All you need to do are 5 steps. You can apply this 5 step method to any eye. After these five steps, we’ll shade the drawing to make it look realistic.
The most important thing when drawing realistic eyes is to have a reference picture. So keep one near you at all times. Let’s start!
1. Draw your bounding box to map out placement
As with any drawing method I teach, like how to draw any flower, for example, we always start with sketching a bounding box. This is basically mapping out the placement of your subject.
Drawing a bounding box allows you to:
- Not run out of paper
- You’ll map out where on your paper your subject will be
- Guestimate the relative size of all the components of your subject
- Because you know the limits of the size of your subject you can roughly guess how big parts of your drawing must be
In other words: The one and only function of this step is to plan where everything goes.
So, quickly sketch out an eye. This does NOT need to be accurate at all. As long as you mark where you want your eye to begin and end, you’re fine.
Here’s what the bounding box of my eye looks like:
Since I have not yet paid attention to exact ratios, most likely my final sketch will have different sizes. But at least now I know roughly where each component goes.
2. Draw the iris
Draw the iris according to your reference. We draw this part first because it will be our measuring tool for the rest of our drawing. This means that everything we draw next will be measured and relative to our drawn iris.
This also means that we use the iris in our reference picture to measure. Let me explain in step 4.
3. Draw the pupil and its highlight
Let’s now draw the pupil. Look at your reference and think to yourself, how much of the iris does the pupil cover?
Here’s a tip: imagine the iris being a full circle. Now create a dot in the middle of fthat circle. Size up that dot to be the same size as your reference picture’s pupil and you’ll have the correct placement.
4. Draw the whites of the eye
Now we draw the whites of the eye using our iris as a measuring device. Look at your reference and measure how many irisis long the right size of the whites of the eye are.
Since it’s less than 1 iris big, use half of the iris like pictured below.
In my reference, the whites of the eye on the right side were half an iris plus a little bit. Then I measured the iris that I drew myself and used that unit (half an iris plus a little bit) to draw the right side of the whites of the eye. I then did the same steps but to the left side of the whites of the eye.
5. Draw the eyelids and lashes
Next, we draw the eyelids. What a lot of people forget is that eyelids have some thickness to them. That’s why you need to draw an edge. Look at your reference, measure and draw the upper and lower lid + their thickness.
Now we draw the lashes. I included them in this step because they follow the shape of the eyelid. So for that, you can draw a line that is similar to the shape of the lid but it’s generally higher. The lashes on the inner corner tend to be shorter (so closer to the edge). Follow your reference.
To not get overwhelmed with drawing all of the lashes focus on the direction of each lash. Just draw one of them (for now) to represent a whole bunch. Then, go over them to add some more still following your reference. Lastly, you fill in the gaps by drawing some extra random lashes.
Do the exact same thing for the lower lashes.
…And this is how you draw an eye. I know I know, we haven’t started shading yet. But shading you can do with any art medium and style so I classify it as something separate. With the sketch we have right now we can go in many directions.
Depending on what medium I use I draw the lashes in different stages. Usually, I draw them last, after shading so I can easily shade the upper lid. But for the sake of explaining how to draw them, I included them in step 5.
Let’s start shading and rendering our eye drawing!
6. Start by laying down a base color and adding simple shadows
First lay down a base color in one value. From this point, we can go up in value or down. Next, we shade the iris roughly. All we want to do is map out the darks and our lights. Here you can read an elaborate tutorial on how to draw an iris.
Let’s do the whites of the eye as well.
An easy technique I like to use is hatching. Instead of laying down a flat color for the shadows, I draw small lines which I later smudge out. This technique works both digitally and when working with graphite pencils:
7. Lay down the shading of the eyelids
Start with the upper eyelid. Use the hatching technique to draw the shadows or go straight in with a flat color. Use your reference.
After you’re done do the same for your bottom eyelid.
Keep working around the eye until you are satisfied.
8. OPTIONAL add skin texture
If you are working on paper you can skip this step as the paper and medium you use might have texture and will show through.
If you work digitally you can use skin texture brushes. I use the 102 pack for high realism which I use every single day. Seriously, browse through my Instagram. Not a single painting was done without these brushes! Even my stylized ones.
Just keep in mind that size matters.
If you are drawing very small don’t draw texture as it will look way too big relative to the size of your eye. The bigger you draw your eye the more details (textures) are visible!
9. Draw the lashes
Now it’s time for the lashes!
Draw them the exact same how I told you before. Just make sure to make them wispy. And here’s a tip: make some of the ends and roots very light in value. This is a game-changer. Trust me!
10. Add final details
Go over your entire drawing again and look for things you can fix. I usually do this step the day after. Sometimes it’s best to take a break and not look at your drawing for a few hours.
After that, you come back to it with a fresh look and see what your drawing lacks. Some highlights? Extra texture? This is the time to add it!
Now you’re done!
How does it feel to have a finished realistic eye drawing?
How to draw eyes from a front view
If you want to draw eyes from a front view this is how:
- Draw a bounding box of where you want the eyes to sit. In this case, you’ll probably want to use horizontal ovals.
- The spacing between eyes is one eye apart so draw an extra circle in the middle
- Start drawing the eyes using the tutorial in this article. Work symmetrically to match up both eyes at first
- If you work digitally you can use symmetry but after you’re done make sure to turn off symmetry and manually make minor changes according to your reference because no eye is identical to the other one
- If you work analog (with pencils for example) you can draw guidelines to match up both eyes.
Always use your reference to determine the exact placement.
How do you draw an eye for beginners?
If you are a beginner when it comes to drawing eyes, here’s what I recommend:
Get a reference picture. Drawing realistic eyes (anything realistic really) you need a reference picture. All professionals use reference pictures to make sure they can get every detail as realistic as possible.
In fact, if you don’t use a ref picture in art school you’ll get an ear full. Trust me!
Use your very own reference picture and follow the steps described in this article. But apply it to your photo. You’ll see that drawing an eye becomes a lot easier.
I hope this step by step tutorial was helpful. If you have any questions or want feedback, use the comment section below! If you want to receive articles like these in your mailbox you can Sign up for my monthly art letter.
See you next week,