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The Eyes Have It

Eyes fascinate artists in general, as shown by the fact that most artists draw or paint a piece focusing on the human eye at some point in their career. The important role eyes play in capturing a subject simply cannot be overstated. An issue with the eyes distorts an entire portrait and severely impacts how much the drawing resembles the original subject. Eyes show emotions, and are often the first thing people focus on when viewing a portrait. Learning about the structure of the human eye can help you become more accurate in your portrait drawings.

First, remember that all eyes have the same basic characteristics, as seem in the image below.

The shape and size of eyes will vary from person to person. However, if you take all of these characteristics into account, you are well on your way to getting a realistic appearance in your drawings.

Notice in the picture the effect that highlights and shadows have on the eye. Eyes are moist, and highlights will develop where ever light hits that moisture. The brightest highlights occur on the ball of the eye, but there will also be highlights in the corner, along the lower lid, or in the white of the eye, depending on the light source. Highlights in the eye are a necessity because they give the eyes life and warmth. Even if the photo you use for reference doesn't have them, I would suggest drawing them in. You will be surprised at the difference.

Shadows are normally produced in the crease, under the upper and lower lash lines, and under the brow bone. Notice there are definite shadows in the white of the eye. These shadows are usually soft, but without those shadows, the eye will not have depth and will appear pasted on.


Eye without highlights.
Original Eye
Eye white without shadow.


The position of the eyeball will give the impression of different emotions. For example, if the eyeball is up, and more white shows below it, the person may appear sleepy, bored, or disinterested. When the eyeball is in the center, such as in the eye above, the person seems alert. If the eyeball is positioned downward, and more white shows above it, is gives the indication of surprise or fear. The eyelids of the subject will dictate how much of the whites show. Eyebrow position also indicates emotion, and should be rendered carefully to compliment the eye.





The shape of the eye will change dramatically depending on the position of your subjects head. However, you still need to consider all aspects of the eye, especially that eyes are curved and have depth. Also, the actual color of the eye should dictate how dark you render the eye with black and white mediums such as graphite or charcoal. Blue or green will be the lightest of the shades, with dark brown the darkest.



In the next article . . .


Now that you have an idea of the basic structure of the eye, it's time to try drawing it for yourself! The next article features a step-by-step Eye Drawing Tutorial.


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Next, follow the steps in the tutorial and learn to draw a basic eye. See Tutorial




All content and original art works © Nicole I. Hamilton.

Reproduction or use of any content or works without permission is strictly prohibited.

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