What does it take to learn to draw eyes convincingly and realistically?
As a follow-up to my step by step eye drawing tutorial, in this article I'll point out what I've noticed to be the six most common mistakes that detract from the realism and naturalism of an eye drawing.
(In a hurry? Download a PDF version of this guide here!)
Let me clarify – it’s not that eyes aren’t at all almond-shaped. The issue is that assuming that eyes are almond-shaped often leads to generic-looking drawings. If you have watched Lesson 2 of my Mini-Course, you know how important the specificity of shapes is to creating a likeness of your subject.
Eyes are no
exception! To learn to draw eyes convincingly, so that they look recognizably like those of our model,
we must pay attention to where specific angle changes occur. Look how distinctly unique all of these eye shapes are:
Simply ‘almond-shaped’? I think not! ‘Almond-shaped’ doesn’t do justice to the complexity of this feature.
The best way to avoid this pitfall is to begin your drawing with straight lines, with which you can indicate the specific angle changes that occur throughout the eye (as I do in my eye drawing tutorial).
The sclera, more commonly known as the ‘white of the eye’, is rarely completely white!
eyeball is a sphere, the sclera usually has a gradation and a range of values.
It is essential to notice and depict this range of values in order to create
the illusion that the eyeball is, indeed, spherical and dimensional. Take a
look at the many subtle value shifts present in the scleras of these eyes:
Even when the sclera looks white at first glance, upon closer observation you will begin to see differences in value. For example, in the eye above notice the gradual gradations from the lighter center of the eye, to a slight shadow towards both corners of the eye. There is also a slightly darker value just to the right of the iris, and a deep shadow cast by the eyelashes.
In other cases, one half of the sclera may be more evidently in shadow. However, even when this is the case, notice the gradations and value differences within the shadow area!
The upper and lower eyelids have a ‘thickness’. This gives them two important planes that we need to notice and depict in our drawings.
The upper eyelid has
a front plane and a bottom plane. The lower eyelid has a front plane and a top
plane. How much we see of these planes depends mostly on the position of the model’s
head (though factors such as the shape of the eye, age and the tautness of the
skin can play a role as well).
When observing an eye, it can be tricky to determine what it is that we’re seeing (not to mention to depict it accurately!) This is why we study its structure – so that we know what to look for when observing the eye, and are then able to ‘hint’ at its planes and features subtly in our drawings.
There are so many seductive details in an eye! Of course we all want to draw eyelashes, eyebrows and the beautiful, radiating fibres of an iris. However, these details will never make your drawing look realistic if you have not first successfully established a value structure.
‘Value structure’ refers to where the light, half-tone and shadow areas are on your subject, as depicted below. Watch Lesson 5 of my Mini-Course to learn how to establish an effective value structure in your drawing!
When drawing an eye, remember to work ‘from
general to specific’, and to first address the larger value relationships
before delving into the details.
Eyebrows and eyelashes are rarely evenly spaced and the same length.
To draw them
realistically, instead of drawing each hair individually, look for groupings
or shapes to simplify them into, as in the image below:
Then, add some stray strands where they are most noticeable, and voila! Notice that where there are several individual eyelashes (like the bottom set of eyelashes in the image above), they are not evenly spaced, are not the same length, do not face the same direction, and have various angle changes! They’re not perfect! Drawing them this way will add naturalism to your portrait.
Look at the variety of edge qualities in the eye below!
with the concept of edges? Watch Lesson 6 of my Mini-Course to learn all about this essential
A common mistake when drawing eyes is making all of the edges sharp. Finding your sharpest edges, softest edges, and different degrees of edge qualities between the two extremes is key to creating depth, dimension and realism in your eye drawing.
There you have it! The 6 most common mistakes when drawing eyes.
Ways to continue to learn to draw eyes:
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