How to draw a realistic eye in graphite [Timelapse & tutorial]
Eyes are fun, aren't they? I feel as though they have just the right amount of texture and detail, look great on their own and are captivating. I thought I would put together a time lapse and a tutorial on how I draw 'realistic' eyes. It's also a great subject to test how much you have progressed in 6 months or a year.
I've tried my best to do a (hopefully) good balance of time vs detail. Normally something with as much detail would take me a lot longer, however for the purpose of a time lapse / tutorial I thought it would be best to try and limit the time - this one took me 2 hours.
My biggest tip for drawing anything realistic (especially if you are a beginner) is to use a reference photo. You don't have to copy it 100%, however it definitely helps to see the tone, texture and light that you might otherwise miss. I always use reference photos for this reason!
The more you practice from reference photos, the more you will get an idea of how to draw and incorporate certain elements, making you better and more intuitive every drawing :)
Staedtler 2B, 4B, 8B Mars Lumograph graphite pencils, Staedtler Mars Lumograph Black pencil, Tombow Mono Zero eraser, paper stump, Staedtler eraser, tissue (see my favourites list)
Watch the timelapse
Read the Tutorial
Step 1: Use a reference
This is the lucky g(eye) I chose. Sorry about that pun...
Step 2: Sketch the outline of all shapes
Tools used: 2B pencil
At this stage, try and get the shape and lines the way you want them as this is what you will be building on. Step back and have a look at the shape as a whole and make sure it looks proportional and works together.
Also sketch in where you want the 'white' reflections and light. In mine, there is going to be one at the top of the pupil and in the inside corner of the eye.
Step 3: Lightly shade the areas that will be dark
Tools used: 2B pencil, tissue
This includes any shadows, creases etc. Keep it light at this stage (2B) so you can make any adjustments if necessary.
I always start light with a 2B pencil, go to the darkest shade of that pencil and then progress to the next one, e.g. 4B. I find if I use darker pencils (6B+) straight onto paper without a using the lighter pencil under it, it can come out a little grainy and not polished.
Use the side/edge of the pencil lead to shade in the dark areas and then smudge over with a tissue. Repeat this until you have a smooth base with a few solid lines.
Step 4: Go a shade darker, remove lines
Tools used: 4B pencil, tissue
Grab a 4B and start going over the areas you previously shaded. Smudge the area with a tissue so it looks smooth again and rinse and repeat! There will be a bit of repetition here, however it's all part of the process!
At this stage, I try to remove the remaining lines. As a rule, I generally avoid any 'solid lines'. Everything is a combination of light and dark and there are no lines or outlines in real life.
Step 5: Go black
Tools used: 8B pencil, tissue
Get out your 8B and fill in the areas you know are going to be dark (e.g. the pupil, the shadow from the eyelid and the eyelid crease). Don't press too hard at first, flesh it out and then go over it when you are sure.
It doesn't matter if your highlight areas get a little muddy at this point, they are easy to erase later.
Step 6: Texture and highlights
Tools used: Tombow Mono Zero Eraser, sharp 2B pencil
This is my favourite part! Grab either a sharpened 2B pencil or a light mechanical pencil and add a few tiny bumps and creases. Check your reference photo and see where this might be. For me, it was the bumps in the corner of the eye and creases in the eyelids and below the eye.
Use your pencil eraser to highlight, blend with a tissue and repeat. If you don't have one of these I highly recommend it, the Tombow eraser is amazing. I usually draw the base of the 'bump' as a little 'C' type shape (following the light) and then highlight the top. If it is a crease, I draw a light line and use the pencil eraser and follow under it in the highlight,
I find the 'smudge and repeat' process gives you a great amount of depth and makes the drawing look more realistic, particularly in detailed areas.
Step 7: Go darker... again
Tools used: 8B and 4B pencils, Tombow Mono Zero eraser
It should be coming together now. You will start to feel the light and shade really making your drawing pop. Go over the medium areas with an 8B and fill in the medium areas with a 4B. However, again, don't use the 8B on areas that won't be really dark as it will become grainy.
I added in a little highlight line on the bottom eyelid. Eyes are obviously a little 'wet' which makes them look shiny and reflective, so where the lid meets the eye would be where this would 'pool'.
Step 8: More texture, more shading
Tools used: All of them!
It's mostly just repetition from here (but in a fun way!). You should be getting the hang of how the light, tones and textures are working within your drawing, so work with it.
Keep lightening the light bits and darkening the dark bits until you have a good amount of contrast, smudge it all and then repeat.
Once you start to build up the layers, when you highlight again it will look even better against the darker base and have a more prominent effect.
Step 9: Check your shadows
Tools used: Tissue, 2B and 4B pencils
This is where I grabbed the tissue and smoothed out the edges and extended the shading a little more. It doesn't matter if its a little blotchy - so is skin!
Step 10: Final touches
Tools used: All of them!
I added more creases in the eyelid and around the eye, highlighted, blended, shaded and highlighted again. I also filled in a bit of the area where the eyebrow will go (the skin would be darker in this area due to the hair covering the skin).
Step back and make sure you are happy with all of the shading and highlights. Is there anywhere that looks too smooth or soft and needs a bit of texture? Could you add a bit of contrast anywhere?
Step 11: Check your details
Tools used: All of them!
This is the last step before we add in the top layer (the eyebrows and eyelashes). You generally can't erase after this so make sure you have all the lumps and bumps and light and shade down pat before you draw over it.
I sketched in the direction of the eyebrow (this is a good idea as you don't want to be going in blind when you've got an 8B in your hand!).
I also I added an extra reflection in the eyeball (see left side).
Step 12: Get hairy!
Tools used: 8B Staedtler Black
Add in the eyebrows and eyelashes. Make sure your pencil is very sharp for this one.
For the eyelashes
Try and be quite precise, and use quick medium pressure strokes. Remember, hairs are thicker at the base and end at a 'point', so try and use a flick type motion.
Do a single stroke for every hair and try not to make all of the eyelashes go in one direction. Don't go crazy, but give it a little bit of variation (maybe cross a few over). Grab a paper stump (or your finger) and gently smudge the lower lid where the lashes come out. In this particular image, the top eyelashes are pointing directly towards the camera - this means they will be drawn very short and slightly 'curled' as that is what you would see in real life.
For the brows
Again, draw a single line per hair. Eyebrow hairs sometimes go in different directions so take note of that. There will also be more dense areas of hair and also a few stragglers (unless they are perfect eyebrows). Smudge a bit in the denser areas and go over it again. Depending on the light source of your image, you may be able to use the pencil eraser to do some hairs.
You can touch up by shading in over 'hairy' areas (e.g. the corner of the eye where the eyelashes extend over) or adding a few 'dots' where the hairs come out of the bottom eyelid. If you do this one, smudge over it with a paper stump after so it's not too aggressive.
Thanks for taking a look at this tutorial! Hopefully it helped you and let me know if there are any other tutorials you would like to see!
Check out some of my other graphite and colour pieces: