Learn to Draw Eyes (Convincingly!)
by Avoiding These 6 Most Common Mistakes

Learn to draw eyes: 6 most common eye drawing mistakes

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!)

Mistake 1:
Assuming that eyes are a generic almond shape (and drawing them that way!)

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:

Distinct eye shapes of different people and examples of how to draw them
Distinct eye shapes of different people and examples of how to draw themLearn to draw eyes convincingly by paying attention to the specificity of each individual eye shape

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).

Free Video Course on Essential Drawing Concepts
Throughout this article I refer to essential drawing concepts and stages of the drawing process. Learn about these in my free video course to get the most out of this lesson!

Mistake 2: Leaving the 'white of the eye' completely white

The sclera, more commonly known as the ‘white of the eye’, is rarely completely white!

Because the 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:

Photo of a womans eye pointing out the gradations and value differences in the sclera, or the white of the eye, that are important when drawing a realistic eye

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.

Photo of a womans eye pointing out the gradations and value differences in the sclera, or the white of the eye, that are important when drawing a realistic eyeLearn to draw eyes convincingly by noticing the subtle value changes within the sclera

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!

Mistake 3: Not noticing the 'thickness' of the upper and lower eyelids (not creating a front and top plane)

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.

Mistake 4: Drawing details before establishing the value structure

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.

Mistake 5: Not grouping eyelashes and eyebrows (and spacing eyelashes too evenly!)

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:

Three eyes with illustrations showing how to effectively simplify eyebrows and eyelashes in an eye drawing

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.

(Check out my tutorial on drawing realistic eyebrows here!)

Mistake 6: Making all the edges sharp/not varying the edge quality throughout your drawing

Look at the variety of edge qualities in the eye below!

(Unfamiliar with the concept of edges? Watch Lesson 6 of my Mini-Course to learn all about this essential drawing concept.)

Two images of a female eye indicating the sharpest and softest edges to draw the eye with depth and dimension

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:

  • Take a look at your latest eye drawing, go through this list (you can download it below!), and see if there are any improvements you can make

  • Check out my eye drawing tutorial, download the reference photo and draw along with me

  • View this tutorial on drawing realistic eyebrows (there are eye drawing tips there, too!)

  • Brand new to eye drawing, and portrait drawing? Bargue drawing can be a great way to warm up to it! Check out my Bargue Drawing Level 1 course here.

  • For further eye-drawing instruction, stay tuned for an upcoming, in-depth course on the subject!

Downloadable Resources:

Happy Drawing,

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