The Eyes Have It

You knew it, didn’t you? It was inevitable that once I attended that pastel portrait workshop and treated myself to a set of soft pastel pencils, I would have to start doing more portraits. So, brace yourself. In coming weeks, I’m sure you’ll see a lot of weird-looking faces appearing here.

For my morning drawing practice, I got out those lovely new pencils and did a bit of practice on drawing eyes. I do think I’ve improved somewhat from my first attempts. You can see one of my early eyes — and read a few interesting facts about facial features here  in a post I wrote a little over two years ago.

The eyes I drew for our great-grandson are better, I think.

Framed Mason (2)This picture — from the pastel workshop — was taken after I framed the painting, so there are a few distracting reflections, but even so I think you can see that my eyes are getting better — at least in drawing.

If you browse a bit online, one thing you’ll find at every art tutorial site you visit is a lesson or demonstration on how to create a realistic eye — in pencil, ink, watercolor, pastel, charcoal, conte, acrylic, and oil. Did I miss any media?

It’s quite apparent that many artists struggle with drawing eyes, so I’m not alone.

I was originally taught to begin by drawing the basic outline shape of the eye. For me, that’s been a good starting point. That’s the method used by Darlene Nguyen in her tutorial on How to Draw a Realistic Eye. This was the approach we took at our pastel portrait workshop, as well.

But what shape should that eye be? A little research shows that there are six basic eye types. There are actually many more — as you well know if you play The Sims and use the Create-a-Sim game mechanics for facial features. I would venture to say that all those eye types are variations on these basic six eye shapes:

  • Almond
  • Round
  • Hooded
  • Upturned
  • Downturned
  • Monolid

Information on drawing these six types also comes from Darlene Nguyen’s tutorial site.

We’re all familiar with the almond — or somewhat oval — eye shape with its symmetry between the upper and lower curve. Note: This is not an ellipse, although it’s similar.


Typical Eye Shape (2)

Here — once again from Darlene Nguyen’s tutorials, is a look at the six shapes:

6 Shapes

But beginning with the basic shape may not be the best way. Although Nguyen starts with the outer shape in one tutorial, she reverts to the “eyeball” method in another and suggests starting by drawing a circle for the iris — the colored part of the eye.

Brown Eye DrawingFor me, this didn’t work too well when I tried it this morning, so I went back to my usual method and drew this eye.

In looking at this eye, I can see several things I can do differently next time. At least I did get a bit of  highlight on the iris.


NOTE: Always find something good in your drawing.

For me, the really tricky part in drawing eyes — well, there are two tricky parts. No, make that three:

  1. How do I draw realistic eyelashes on upper and lower lids?
  2. How do I draw a matched set of eyes?
  3. How do I get the right size, angle, and proportion when a face is looking away?

And then, there are Asian eyes, and many more tutorials on how to draw them, but I’ll save that drawing practice for a different day.

I do believe that it’s good for us to try different techniques and, when possible, to learn from as many different teachers as possible. Doing that may sound a bit confusing or overwhelming, but art is all about eventually finding our own way. Each teacher can offer valuable ideas and suggestions. It’s up to us to then take what works for us and put it all together to come up with a method that’s uniquely ours.

If you’d like to work on drawing eyes, here are a few more online tutorials that you might enjoy.

How to Draw an Eye – Instructables

How to Draw a Realistic Eye – Envato Tuts

Drawing the Eye – ArtyFactory

And, if you’d rather watch than read, you’ll find lots of video demonstrations on YouTube.

So, be watching for more eyes!


What approach to YOU use when drawing eyes?


  1. I love drawing eyes because they are the soul of the portrait! Here is a marvelous tutorial on how to draw eyes with pastels.

    Make sure to use the right surface ( pastel paper, watercolor paper with a background wash, board primed with gesso, or oil pastel paper).

    Liked by 1 person

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