Drawing eyes is probably one of the first things beginners artists want to learn.
Most of the emotion when drawing faces comes from the eyes. So it’s important to understand and be able to draw eyes confidently.
You first need to know their basic shapes to learn how to draw eyes. And that’s exactly what we’re doing in this article.
You only need a pencil and your sketchbook to follow this step-by-step tutorial. Or, if you prefer to draw digitally, a computer and your favorite drawing software!
Table Of Contents
- 1 Locating The Eyes On The Face
- 2 Simple Steps To Drawing Eyes
- 3 Moving The Iris To The Sides
- 4 Drawing The Eyes Looking Up
- 5 Drawing The Eyes Looking Down
- 6 Drawing The Eyes Using A Reference Photo
- 7 Drawing The Eyebrows
- 8 Stylizing And Simplifying Shapes
- 9 Related Questions
Locating The Eyes On The Face
Before drawing eyes, it’s good to learn their location on the head. Generally speaking, the eyes appear almost at the center of the face.
If you look at someone, that’s probably the first feature you notice. Let’s take a look at a photo here:
As you can see, by creating a few lines to guide you, you can easily understand where the eyes go.
They’re not 100% in the center of the face, but they are almost there. If you divide the head into even more shapes or lines, you’ll also realize that each eye is horizontally centered on each side:
This is a good way to guide yourself. Of course, in the beginning, it will appear challenging to get their position right. But you’ll see that you also build muscle memory with some practice.
This means that positioning the eyes in the head will become very intuitive at some point, and you won’t need this many guidelines and shapes to help you.
A good exercise you can do is to fill up a few pages with just the head and where the eyes should be. Something very simple, using basic shapes such as circles for the eyes.
You can even try drawing these from different angles to start getting the hang of it.
Once you feel confident in these, you can start drawing eyes in more detail and depth!
And if you want a step-by-step tutorial on how to draw the head, we have a very in-depth tutorial filled with images for you to follow.
Simple Steps To Drawing Eyes
Step 1 – Drawing The Iris
Now that we know how to position the eyes in the head, it’s time to learn how to draw eyes! Eyes can be something quite challenging to get right.
Even though they look simple, they’re filled with details. For that reason, we’re going to divide it into several easy steps so it’s easier to understand the eye shape and how to draw them!
Let’s start with a simple circle for the iris.
This is your first step. This circle doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s hard to draw a perfect circle by hand, so don’t worry too much about it.
What matters is that it looks like a circle.
You can even fill a page or two with circles if you want. Try different sizes of circles even!
Take this opportunity and leave space between each circle so you can later transform all of those into eyes. This way, you already have a whole spread on your sketchbook or digital file to practice eyes.
Step 2 – Adding The Eyelids
After practicing drawing circles, it’s time to do the next step: drawing the eyelids.
Now, this is where most artists tend to make their first mistakes.
When we look at eyes at first glance, it looks like the eyelids are going around the circle of the eye.
However, we must remember that our eye shape is a ball, a sphere. It’s not a flat circle. If you look attentively in a mirror, you’ll notice the eyeball inside those eyelids.
So how do we draw that? Let’s keep things simple: Draw a curved line on top of the iris. This line can even slightly cross the circle of the iris.
To help you understand where the curved line begins and ends, you can draw a tilted line crossing the middle of the iris and use that as a guideline. Like this:
Now, draw another curved line for the bottom eyelid.
And with that, you have the most fundamental shapes needed to draw eyes! Right now, it looks too simplistic and without any details.
However, with one shape and two simple lines, you managed to draw an eye. Now, all we have to do is add more depth to it.
Step 3 – Adding The Pupil
The most basic shapes of our eye drawing are done. It’s time to add the pupil of the eye.
Go into your drawing and draw another smaller circle inside the iris.
This circle is usually right in the center of the iris. Of course, you can go in with a ruler and figure out the exact center.
But you don’t need to do this. Drawing is a very intuitive process and doesn’t need to be exact. Just look at the iris and discern more or less where the center is and draw the pupil!
If we draw eyes too mechanically, they lose their spontaneity and start looking a bit too flat. Something beginner artists worry about a lot is making things perfect.
However, this does not exist. Even in real life, no one’s face is 100% symmetrical and perfect. So you don’t need to worry about that either.
As long as it resembles a circle, more or less centered inside the iris, you’re doing well!
Step 4 – Adding The Eyelashes
Eyelashes are very chaotic, and that can make it harder to draw them. They seem to go everywhere.
Remember that when you draw eyelashes, they follow the same curved lines as the eyelids. I like to divide this into two parts.
First, along the top eyelid, draw a few strokes along that curve. Try to draw these lines slightly curved and have some space between them.
Now, you can add more strokes with a smaller height between each of those lines.
You can be a bit messy at this stage. These lines don’t need to be perfectly aligned. Eyelashes are messy and go all over the place, so let yourself go.
When you finish the upper eyelashes, you can do the same at the bottom. However, the bottom eyelashes are usually shorter.
With that in mind, draw shorter and fewer strokes for the bottom eyelashes along the lower eyelid. Like so:
There are many different solutions when it comes to drawing eyelashes. For example, you can keep them very simple and add more depth and details with soft shadows later.
If you want to draw eyes in a more cartoony style, you can also simplify the eyelash shapes a lot instead of doing individual strokes.
And a female eye drawing usually has longer and thicker eyelashes.
Step 5 – Drawing In The Details
Now that we have drawn the most important elements, it’s time to add some details. These little things we add at the end are all up to your preference.
For example, I prefer to leave the eyes with very minimal details. However, other artists like to be detailed and draw a more realistic eye.
So, instead of leaving your eye drawing as it is, you can add things like the tear duct, double eyelid, and even add texture to the iris!
Let’s start with the double eyelid. Right above the top eyelid, draw another curved line close to it.
Next, we choose one corner of the eye for the tear duct and round it up. Don’t forget that the tear duct is on the inner corner of the eye.
Now go a bit inside the eye and add another curved line. This adds a bit more depth to the eyeball. It should look similar to this:
Finally, for the texture of the iris, you can either do it by adding a soft shadow or drawing soft zig-zag lines that part from the pupil to the outline of the iris.
Our last step here is to darken the pupil since it is always darker than everything else in the eye!
With that, our eye is mostly done.
Step 6 – Adding Highlights
Besides shadows, one thing that always makes eyes stand out is highlights.
The eyes are extremely glossy, meaning light will always reflect in them.
We first have to decide which side the light is coming from. For this example, let’s say it comes from the left side.
Go into the iris and pupil and draw a smaller circle. When it comes to the eyes, the light will enter one side and exit the other.
So, on the opposite side, draw another smaller circle. Now erase everything inside those two circles, and your highlights are done!
If you’re doing this digitally, you can instead pick white as your color and draw the highlights on top of your drawing.
Instead of perfect circles, you can also try using ellipses or simple dashes for these. You can also keep it very minimalistic and draw just one highlight.
Again, it’s all a matter of experimentation and preferences. So try different things and see what you prefer!
Step 7 – Cleaning The Sketch With New Lines
You can leave your eye drawing as it is. However, you can review your sketch, clean everything up with new lines, and add any finishing touches you want.
If you’re doing this digitally, simply create a new layer on top of the sketch. Then bring the sketch opacity down a bit.
Enough that you can still see your previous lines, but so that it doesn’t interfere with your new drawing.
Go over every single line with confident strokes.
This is also the time to make any changes you think the drawing needs. If something is off, you can fix it now!
On the other hand, if you’re drawing eyes on a sketchbook with a pencil, you can slightly erase that sketch.
Then, with a pen or even another pencil, you can go over everything and fix what needs fixing.
With this last step, you successfully finished a realistic eye drawing!
Moving The Iris To The Sides
Now that you know how to draw eyes, it’s time to move things around a bit. Let’s start with the easiest situation: looking to the side.
When you’re drawing a portrait or a character, and you want them to look sideways, the way you draw eyes is very similar to what we’ve done so far.
The difference is how you draw the iris and pupil of the eye. Instead of being drawn in the center, these are moved to the side you want the character to look at.
So if you want the character to look to the right, draw them on the right side of the eye.
If the character looks to the left, move the iris and pupil to the left!
It’s good to have these things decided when you begin drawing the eyes since this way, you can draw the iris in its appropriate position right away.
Drawing The Eyes Looking Up
Drawing eyes looking up is a little different since you have to change the eye a little.
However, the changes are still quite minor! If you want your character to appear looking up, the iris and pupil move upwards.
Not only that, but if you mimic the movement, you’ll notice your eyes open a bit more when looking up. Especially the upper eyelid!
So, when drawing eyes looking up, make a bigger arched line for the upper eyelid.
As for the iris and the pupil, they disappear a bit under the upper eyelid. Not only that, but there’s also a big white gap between them and the lower eyelid.
You can exaggerate this motion as much as you want or like. Feel free to go beyond the limits of human anatomy even!
This way, you can know what works and what doesn’t. Not only that, but you might find new things about your art.
Drawing The Eyes Looking Down
Drawing a person looking down is more challenging. Here the shapes we use change a lot.
When you’re used to drawing eyes in a specific manner, such as open eyes, it’s a bit hard to change the process.
This is why drawing new things can be so frustrating at times! We learn a process and shapes for one thing, but then the subject might change slightly, and now you have to learn everything all over again.
Still, this is why it’s so useful to break every subject into simple lines and shapes!
The first thing we can do is draw an almost horizontal line. This will be our main guideline throughout the whole eye drawing.
Now instead of starting with the iris, let’s draw the bottom eyelid first. The same curve that we did before.
The iris goes a bit inside the upper lid when drawing eyes looking up. The same will happen here, but with the bottom eyelid.
So you can go ahead and draw both the iris and pupil looking down.
Now comes the trickiest part. We’ll draw our upper eyelid closing down. This means that our curved lines change a little here.
When drawing the upper eyelid closing down, we’ll have two different curves throughout it.
A wavy line, starting from the inner corner of the eye and ending on the other side, like this:
This wavy line can be as accentuated as you want. It might be very faint, making it look almost like an arch, or exaggerate the line.
It’s totally up to you and what you like.
But overall, these are the shapes and lines you’re looking for when drawing eyes looking down.
Another thing you can add is another curved line above the upper lid to give your eye drawing more depth.
This is the double lid that we drew before. However, this time, we can see more of it since the eye looks down and closes a bit.
We drew the basic outline of the eye here. However, you can now add all the details and depth you want, just like we did before!
Drawing The Eyes Using A Reference Photo
References are always a good tool when drawing eyes or any other subject.
Even if you already know how to draw eyes or people in general, a reference will help you not forget anything important or better understand what you’re drawing.
So one thing we always recommend in our drawing courses is to find a good reference photo and draw on top of it.
However, we’re not just tracing the outline of an image here. Instead, we focus on looking for easy shapes that can be used to draw eyes.
I’ve written a whole article on it, so you can find the Best Portrait Reference Websites right here.
Save a photo you like and open it in any drawing software. Lower the opacity of your image and then create a new layer on top of it.
Now, you can start finding basic shapes in the eyes. You can even make several drawings with different shapes and see what works for you!
For example, if you prefer to draw traditionally with paper graphite pencils, you can lower the image’s opacity and then print it.
Print the same image several times so you can experiment with shapes as much as possible.
By drawing on top of a photograph of eyes, you’ll have a more realistic look, and it will be easier to understand how to draw eyes.
So even if it’s helpful to learn from tutorials, always remember that reference photos are here to help you.
Any doubt, draw on top of a photograph and practice what you just learned!
Drawing The Eyebrows
Now that you know how to draw eyes, you might also want to add eyebrows.
The eyebrow stays close to the eye, so most people will also draw it when drawing an eye. It makes it look more complete.
Drawing an eyebrow is pretty simple, and you can add as many or fewer details as you want.
Let’s start with the shape. A little above the eye, draw a curved line. Now, go back to the starting point of the line you drew.
From there, draw a small vertical line going up.
Now all you have to do is connect the vertical line to the end of the curved line you drew.
With this, you have the basic outline of your eyebrow! Of course, you can change its shape and make it thicker or thinner. More rectangular or rounded.
If you look attentively, people have all types of eyebrows. And some even change them to fit their style better. So there are no strict rules when drawing eyebrows.
Now that you have the basic shapes of an eyebrow, you can add more detail.
For example, you can add short and quick strokes throughout this shape so the eyebrow appears more realistic.
On the other hand, if you want a simpler style, you can just fill that shape with a darker pencil or color, and you’re done!
And with that, your eye drawing looks more finalized and beautifully framed on your page.
Stylizing And Simplifying Shapes
The steps we have gone through are fundamental to understanding how to draw eyes.
Even if you want to draw something more stylized later on, it’s good first to take a good look at a realistic eye drawing and learn it.
Once you understand all those steps, you can break things into even simpler shapes and a more stylized look!
Cartoony eyes use basic shapes as their foundation, making them look cuter and friendlier.
I have written an entire article on How to Draw Cute Eyes here.
For example, you can use a circle for everything! Start by softly drawing a circle. Remember, it doesn’t need to be 100% perfect. Just resemble it.
We’ll erase some parts of this circle later, so keep that in mind.
Now, inside that circle, draw another smaller one. With just two shapes, we already have an eye!
Now let’s reinforce our eyelids. Draw a thicker stroke for the upper eyelid and a smaller, thinner one for the lower lid.
These lines are drawn over that bigger circle like this:
All you have to do now is erase the rest of the big circle lines that go beyond the eyelids.
As for eyelashes, you can either omit them or add two small strokes on both the upper and lower eyelid. Go ahead and add one or two highlights to the eye!
Instead of a perfect circle, you can use an oval shape. It would look something like this:
Just think of any basic shape and try to draw an eye out of it. A rectangle is another option, or even a trapezium shape!
You can tilt that rectangle to make it even more interesting. Then all you need to add is a circle for the iris and draw the eyelids.
The process is almost always the same. The only thing changing is the shapes. So play with those and see what you can come up with!
What pencil should I use to draw eyes?
Generally speaking, graphite pencils are easier to use and feel confident in. Since they range from soft to hard graphite, you can choose which one you prefer.
Something in the medium range, such as an HB pencil, is a good starter for example. However, when it comes to shading, softer graphite pencils might feel best for soft shadows.
We recommend getting a pack of graphite pencils, such as the Staedler 12 Pack. You can try different grades and decide what you like best!
On that note, check out my article on the best drawing materials so you can get everything you need to improve your art skills.
What drawing software should I use to draw eyes?
If you prefer to draw digitally instead of a pencil, any drawing software is good enough as long as you feel comfortable with it.
Clip Studio Paint is a good option, for example. If you’re using an iPad to draw, Procreate is easy software to learn and get used to!
However, if you’re not sure yet that digital art is for you or are on a budget, there are several free options filled with amazing features to start your journey.
You can check our article on the 16 Best Free Drawing Software For Beginner Artists. Chances are, you’ll find something that fits your needs and preferences!
And if you’re looking to learn figure drawing, here’s the best way to start.
Patricia Caldeira is the main writer here at Don Corgi. She's an art teacher with over 20.000 happy students across many platforms and courses!
Enjoy your stay and as always:
Keep on drawing!