Art Lessons with Lianne

Drawing eyes

In this tutorial, I'm using the very beautiful Kate Winslet as my model. I drew this portrait of her back in 2005 when I was really getting to grips with graphite as a medium. 

Step 1. Optimise the reference photo.


To practice drawing eyes you will need to find a high resolution image where all details can be clearly seen. This image is part of a really good eye reference. Her eyes are the main focus of the photo... everything else is centered around them.


If you are using a colour reference I recommend changing it to greyscale, to give you a better idea of the values and how it will look in graphite. If your reference doesn't look good in black and white then neither will your drawing.


Adjust the brightness, contrast and mid-tones to your liking. i personally like pretty dark low key drawings with good contrast and strong mid-tones.

Step 2. Begin the outline.


The only tools I use at this stage are 0.3mm mechanical pencil with HB leads (0.5MM is also fine) and a basic eraser. I like a putty eraser.

Make sure you stick as closely to the reference as possible. You can use a drawing grid if preferred. you will have plenty of time later for artistic license. The proportions are THE MOST important thing to get right, especially when the person you are drawing is well known! if the proportions are wrong, the whole drawing will look wrong. If you are unsure about any parts, try holding your drawing up to a mirror, this will help you look at it with new eyes and see where there may be issues.

Step 3. Begin Shading.


For this stage you will need your HB mechanical pencil, an F pencil, Cotton wool tips, an electric eraser and a putty eraser.

I have started to shade the eyes very lightly... Using an F and 2B pencil (the scan makes it look darker than it is) Remember with eyes that the whites of the eyes are never truly white and highlights make the eyes come alive. I like to leave highlights clear from the start but you can pick out any smudges with the electric eraser. Use the cotton wool bud to blend the shading on the whites. You can use a little imagination when drawing the iris. Eyelashes are random and not straight and orderly. If you can see a lower lid make sure you draw it! this is a part a lot of beginners overlook.

Step 4. Work on the Mid-tones and add depth.


You now need to use a 4B pencil and the item that looks like a pen is actually an eraser in the shape of a pencil... brilliant for bringing out eyelashes and individual hairs. I also use another mechanical pencil with softer leads.

In this step I have spent a lot of time adding depth to the darkest areas with a 4B pencil, i have enhanced the mid-tones with my 2B and started adding tiny details with the eraser and 2B. You will be able to see these better in the final version of the drawing. You can see here that the irises aren't completely white, the highlight over the right iris is slightly shaded. 


Step 5. Build up the setting.


Use exactly the same tools as the previous step. I get almost all of my drawing equipment on Amazon Prime where it is very affordable.

When I draw eyes, they nearly always look cartoony until I put them in context. When you add the shading and highlights around the eye, you will see it suddenly pop into life as demonstrated on Kate's eye above. Pay close attention to your reference, this is where most of the detail is. A lot of photos are photoshopped these days, I avoid drawing these references as they end up looking flat. If there is not much detail in the reference then add some... creases in the eyelids, wet highlights on the lower lid, highlights and shadows of pores, bags under the eyes (even the most beautiful of women have texture to their skin. Spend time on this step as it makes a huge difference.


Once again, you won't need any new tools. This little selection will do the job perfectly. I'm constantly using a cotton ear bud to blend out the graphite.

Repeat step 5 on the other eye. If you are right handed then it is actually better to draw from left to right and start with the other eye. It reduces the risk of smudging your work with your wrist. In any case, always make sure that if you need to rest your wrist on your work that there is a piece of paper between you and your art. This also stops oils from your skin affecting the way graphite is absorbed into the paper.

Step 6. Balance it out

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