Start Drawing Amazing Eyes!

Eyes have always been my absolute favorite thing to draw, and I tend to accentuate them in all of my artwork. They can also be one of the most difficult things to draw, and it takes a lot of practice to get them right. There are a lot of picky little details to pay attention to. When we begin drawing an eye how we “think” we should, without really observing an actual eye’s appearance as if we have never seen one before, we tend to end up with a drawing like below. Generic football shape, outlined individual eyelashes, harshly contrasting pupil and highlights, and those pesky little lines jutting out all around the center like a kid’s drawing of the sun. In reality, an eye’s darks and lights are much more subtle and blended, each person’s eye is a completely different shape, and unless we are drawing a huge zoomed-in eye filling an entire 18×24″ piece of paper, you wouldn’t actually see individual eyelashes. I’d like to share my tricks of the trade with you. Grab a piece of paper and follow along. It will be fun, I promise! Don’t worry about doing everything “perfect”, just enjoy sketching. Every artist does things slightly different, and the more you practice you may discover some of your own “tricks” that work for you.

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  1. Lightly outline the contour of the eye. Don’t just draw an oval with half circles above and below it. Pay attention to the exact curvature of the unique eye you are trying to draw (photo references are always good.) Is it wider on one side than the other? Does the eyelid dip down drastically or does it curve more gradually? Are the curves of the eye and eyelid soft and smooth, or more angular? Is the eyelid rounded or more flat on top? Is the fold under the eye parallel to the bottom eyelid, or does it droop diagonally? Sketch lightly, as you don’t want to see harsh outlines through your shading.
  2. Shade the outside perimeter of the eyeball. The darkest shading is always at the two corners of the eye, and gradually fades as you get closer to the iris. There will also be a deeper shadow underneath the eyelid since the lid overlaps our eyeball, blocking the light from reflecting as much up top.
  3. Shade around the iris, again with slightly deeper shading closer to the top eyelid. Even if you don’t explicitly see shadows near the iris in your photo reference, the white of our eyes are never really pure white, and you will get a much more realistic look if there is a gradual transition between the iris and the white of the eye, rather than going from fully colored in iris to stark, clean paper in the white of the eye. This step helps the iris look “settled” into the eyeball rather than looking as if it is “hovering” on top if it.
  4. Add your darkest shading on the top of the iris. This should be a shade darker than your darkest value that you used previously underneath the eyelid when you shaded the white of the eye. Think of a crescent moon facing downward, with the thickest shading up top, getting thinner and then altogether disappearing as it trails down around the edges of your circle shape.
  5. Add in your pupil and reflections. The reason we do this next is because we want to have the reflection areas mapped out before you get to shading the rest of your iris. You can go in with an eraser and add highlights by removing shading afterward, but this can be messy and end up smudging work you don’t wish to be smudged. I find it easier to just leave the highlights white to begin with. The location varies by light source if you are using a photo reference. Without a specific reference, it is safe to add two highlights, one on top and one on bottom at a diagonal to each other. Fill the pupil in dark black. This will be your darkest value.
  6. Shade around the pupil using the same value you used to shade your crescent moon around the top of the iris, one step lighter than black. Again, this anchors the pupil inside the iris so it doesn’t seem as if it is floating on top. This gradual gradation from dark to light makes the separate parts appear as a whole.
  7. Fill the remainder of the iris with a medium value. Again, we want all our value transitions to be gradual, so get a little lighter when you begin shading around the edges of your highlight areas.
  8. While we don’t want radial stripes circling the inside or our iris, we don’t want to smooth all the visual texture out of it either, as the striations of dark and light we see are part of the deep beauty of eyes. Literally “scribble” some slightly darker shading shooting out from the pupil in the two areas between our highlights. Again, please scribble though it may seem odd and scary; we don’t want neat, individual lines extending from the pupil.
  9. Add the tear duct by simply finishing the shading around your eyeball, cutting off the little teardrop shaped dip in the inner corner.
  10. Shade your eyelid! Shade the darkest in a thin line over the crease you originally outlined. Don’t just trace your line darker, shade by moving your pencil back and forth swiftly in short strokes over this line. Above this, shade a touch lighter to again make a gradual transition from dark shadow to white paper. Shade darkly also over the curved line directly above your eyeball, the edge of the eyelid. This will provide a foundation for the eyelashes, which we will add later. Shade along the bottom eyelid like this also.
  11. Shade the bottom crease under your eye. This is not a direct “fold” so it should be lighter than the shading for the eyelid since it is less in shadow. Shade deepest along the line you originally sketched, and shade lighter around this line on top and bottom. Extend the shading up to the outer corner of the eye to really show the skin curving. Add some light shading under the dark crease of the upper eyelid.
  12. We’re going to scribble again! Add some jagged shading pointing out from the top and bottom eyelid where the eyelashes will go, more so on top than on bottom. Do this in a medium value.
  13. Now, you can go over and add some individual curved darker lines sticking out to add some detail to your eyelash area. Don’t make them all the same length, and try to curve them – no straight lines poking out! Add a bunch overlapping each other using swift, light strokes with your pencil. They should be dense and close together.

These are not hard and fast “rules”, and once you’ve practiced the basic guidelines you can twist them to create entrancing eyes in your own unique artistic style, both realistic and more comic or stylized.

Speaking of eyes, I just designed a new pattern for Redbubble covered in glamorous eyeballs for your enjoyment. Check out all the cool new products featuring my digitally drawn pattern Mascara Tears here!

Feel free to throw a comment my way if you have any other drawing questions, I’m always open for giving tips. Any best practices other illustrators out there have found helpful? Don’t hesitate to share!

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Be My Eyes

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This newly finished mixed media piece, titled “Be My Eyes”, continues along a similar theme to my last piece. I love how it turned out, but I must admit this is one of the first works in awhile that was not buckets of fun throughout the entire process. I’m lucky in that I don’t get incredibly angry with my art much anymore. Like any relationship, if things aren’t working, I can say hey, I think we need to give each other some personal space, and leave it alone for awhile and work on something else. However, this one had a quickly approaching deadline for an all-area Michigan show I wanted to enter it into, so I didn’t have that luxury. It may be freaking gorgeous, but filling in all those detailed little butterflies was a chore. Like, I almost considered taking a break from working on art at one point to go clean my kitchen – that’s how bad it was. Cleaning my kitchen was a reprieve. What’s that about blood, sweat, and tears?

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After doing the basic outline lightly in pencil, I started filling in the figure from the top down. I broke my own guideline that I always give my students about starting with the background first, mainly because to be absolutely honest, I had no clue what to do with the background yet. The hair was so swirly, and fun, and free, and so the opposite of those technical, detailed little insects. I used prismacolor pencil for the face and skin, watercolor for everything else. I made some commitment to a background by dripping orange, gold, and magenta watercolor over it – similar colors to what were used in the hair. After this, my work of art temporarily looked like a 70s album cover. The photos don’t do it justice, the colors were BRIGHT.

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After that, I went back to ignoring the background because I still had no idea what to do with it, and finished the central figure. Rules in art really are just suggestions ;). I had known from the beginning that this piece required metallic gold somewhere, and the background now seemed just the place to put it. Huzzah to dulling all those bright Barbie Dreamhouse colors! I needed to break it up with some texture, so I used a crumpled paper towel to apply the first layer of gold, but it just didn’t do it. It was reminding me of a faux finish accent wall circa 1995. In a surprisingly impulsive move (Even in art, I am so not an impulsive person.), I squirted gobs of paint right on the background, and used a toothpick to marble the colors together. I have the technique down because of how many times I’ve made these nutella brownies. Seriously, same technique to marble the nutella and peanut butter. To lighten this now very dark background (Art is always such a Goldilocks situation.), I used white watercolor and added designs of blown up butterfly wing patterns over top. The finishing touch was the gluing the bunched lace over the dress, and voila!

The reason I’ve included this 100% honest rendition of this piece’s birthing process (including the part about my background being inspired by delicious baked goods) is because I’ve learned one thing from all the different students I work with, and it is this: They think artists always know what they are doing, have an exact plan in their head, and that their piece turns out just precisely how they imagined it in the end, and that real artists never get stuck or doubt what they are doing. This is absolutely not true. Everyone’s art looks completely wonky until it is all the way finished. It’s part of the process. When art is in progress, it’s awkward looking, we don’t always know what we are going to do next, and we don’t always enjoy every single step of the process. And that’s ok. If your art is easy, you probably aren’t pushing yourself enough, or being as creative as you could be.

I haven’t talked much about the meaning behind this piece, because I want to hear what you think. This image could definitely be open to innumerable interpretations, and that is one of the most fun things. What does it say to you?

Drawing Profiles and Roaring 20s Twisted Damsels

In both portrait drawing and portrait photography, the most dynamic of compositions often involve partial or full profiles, because profiles by nature create more interestingly shaped negative space around a figure. Profiles are also THE most dreaded type of portrait to draw. For years I shunned them after far too many failed attempts, my lovely subjects coming down with the dreaded gorilla-lips curse; that tragic moment when you end up with either too much or not enough space between the nose and chin to squeeze the lips into, and then there is the question of how far should the lips actually stick out anyway? Hence, we end up with the look of a monkey trying to blow a patron a kiss at the zoo… not good. I forced myself to peruse tutorials after finding far too many wonderful 1920s flapper photographs of kickass ladies I wanted to include in my compositions, all taken in profile! Coupling this with my own experimentation, I believe I have come up with some pretty solid methods to make drawing profiles easier. What works for one artist may not necessarily work for another and there are many different approaches, but I hope this gets you started.

*Some of the angled guidelines appear to be a bit different in the photo versus the drawing, but don’t be confused! The images got put into my scanner and they simply weren’t all lined up *perfectly* straight since the paper I used was too big and hung off the edges of the scanner to begin with. So, ignore any of these visual discrepancies as scanner error :)*

*The reason I don’t start with the classic “oval head shape* is because a profile tends to deviate from that roundness eventually anyway, and you will inevitably run out of room in the end and wind up trying to squash the mouth into that restricting beginning oval size and shape. Doing this, you will either not have enough room between the nose and mouth, or have a nonexistent chin. It’s much easier for me to get the features down first, and then use a measuring tool (I always go with the eye) to inform you in how high the forehead should rise, how far back the rest of the skull should extend, etc; everything kept in proportion to everything else.

This is the image we will be working from. You will notice the line running diagonally from nose to chin - this is a lifesaver! On every single face, no matter what the proportions, the end of the nose, lips, and chin will all touch a diagonal line drawn from nose to chin, the exact angle of this line may just vary. This will be a HUGE help to us later.

This is the image we will be working from. You will notice the line running diagonally from nose to chin – this is a lifesaver! On every single face, no matter what the proportions, the end of the nose, lips, and chin will all touch a diagonal line drawn from nose to chin, though the exact angle of this line will vary. This will be a HUGE help to us later.

Have you ever seen artists when drawing a still life or model lifting their pencil up, squinting at it, and then laying it against their paper? They are using their pencil as a guide to gauge the correct angle, and we can do that with a photo reference as well.  Lay your pencil against the angle of the forehead to gauge the angle start, and then move the pencil over to your paper and create that same angle.

Have you ever seen artists when drawing a still life or model lifting their pencil up, squinting at it, and then laying it back down against their paper? They are using their pencil as a guide to gauge the correct angle, and we can do that with a photo reference as well. Lay your pencil against the angle of the forehead, and then move the pencil over to your paper and create that same angle in a light pencil line.

Use the same pencil technique to gauge the under slope of the forehead as well as the angle of the nose. Round out the intersections of these 3 lines. Don't worry about the length of the nose yet, just make the line.

Use the same pencil technique to gauge the under slope of the forehead, as well as the angle of the nose. Round out the intersections of these 3 lines. Don’t worry about the length of the nose yet, just make the line.

Next, outline the eye relative to the size of the slope between the forehead and nose. This is important because the eye will be used as a handy measuring tool in the future. Don't worry about the unique shape of the model's eye right now, just make a rounded off triangle of proportionate size to the bridge of the nose.

Next, outline the eye relative to the size of the slope between the forehead and nose. This is important because the eye will be used as a handy measuring tool in the future. Don’t worry about the unique shape of the model’s eye right now, just make a rounded off triangle of proportionate size to the bridge of the nose.

Now, use the eye height to measure the length the nose should be. How many eye heights fit down the length of the nose? In this case it was 3. Mark off that end point. From that point, draw your diagonal line that will be a guide for the mouth and chin as well, using your pencil to gauge the angle from the photo.

Now, use the eye height to measure the length the nose should be. How many eye heights fit down the length of the nose? In this case it was 3. Mark off that end point. From that point, draw your diagonal line that will be a guide for the mouth and chin as well, using your pencil to gauge the angle from the photo.

There are many different techniques for this step, just check out pinterest. What I've found easiest is concentrating on the shape of the negative space created between the diagonal line and the facial features rather than the facial features themselves.

There are many different techniques for correctly outlining the shape of a portrait’s features in profile, just check out pinterest. What I’ve found easiest is almost ignoring the features and concentrating on the shape of the negative space created between the diagonal line and the facial features rather than the facial features themselves.

Concentrate on the 3 shapes of negative space created, between the nose and top lip, between the top and bottom lip, and between the bottom lip and chin, and draw them in. Definitely use your pencil to gauge the angles. Then, step back and compare what you have to the photo, note if anything doesn't look quite right, and touch up where need be.

Concentrate on the 3 shapes of negative space created, between the nose and top lip, between the top and bottom lip, and between the bottom lip and chin, and draw them in. Definitely use your pencil to gauge the angles. Then, step back and compare what you have to the photo, note if anything doesn’t look quite right, and touch up where need be. Also, use your pencil to gauge the angle of the chin. Draw the line on your paper, and round off where this new line intersects with the already existing diagonal.

Go ahead and add the iris, and the eylid and the arch of the eyebrow. Don't just draw a generic, upside down smile eyelid on top. Pay particular attention to the reference's unique eyelid shape. Also, add some detail to the nose. Note that the nostril ends at about where the lip curves out. Also, gauge the angle with your pencil of the front edge of the eye to the curve of the side of the nose. Draw that angle lightly on your paper. This will indicate where the curve should fall. Once again, don't just draw a parentheses - note the distinct shape of the reference's curve around the nostril - it's a little more straight. As you draw more potraits, you will find that noses (and eyes, and mouths for that matter) are literally like snowflakes - absolutely no two exactly alike.

Go ahead and add the iris, and the eyelid and the arch of the eyebrow. Don’t just draw a generic, upside down smile eyelid on top. Pay particular attention to the reference’s unique eyelid shape. Also, add some detail to the nose. Note that the nostril ends at about where the lip curves out. Also, gauge the angle with your pencil of the front edge of the eye to the curve of the side of the nose. Draw that angle lightly on your paper. This will indicate where the curve should fall. Once again, don’t just draw a parentheses – note the distinct shape of the reference’s curve around the nostril – it’s a little more straight. As you draw more portraits, you will find that noses (and eyes and mouths for that matter) are literally like snowflakes – absolutely no two exactly alike.

Measure how many eye lengths are between the top of the eye and the hairline. Make a mark for the hairline. Use your pencil to gauge the angle between the corner of the eye and where the chin line ends. Make a mark on your paper where the jaw line should end, and curve it up.  Now also know where to properly add the bottom of the ear. It should line up with the angle off the end of the jaw line. The bottom of the ear should always line up with the height of the mouth on a face.

Now measure how many eye lengths are between the top of the eye and the hairline. Make a mark for the hairline. Use your pencil to gauge the angle between the corner of the eye and where the chin line ends. Make a mark on your paper where the jaw line should end, and curve it up. Now you also know where to properly add the bottom of the ear. It should line up with the angle off the end of the jaw line. The bottom of the ear should always fall height wise lined up with the height of the mouth on a face.

Gauge the angle of the hairline with your pencil, and draw that diagonal in where you had your mark at the top of the forehead. Gauge the angle between where the hair drops down and the mouth. Mark that line lightly, and create the second curve for the hair.

Gauge the angle of the hairline with your pencil, and draw that diagonal in where you had your mark at the top of the forehead. Gauge the angle between where the hair drops down and the mouth. Mark that line lightly, and create the second curve for the hair.

Voila! You have a pretty good start to a profile. It still is going to take a TON of practice, but hopefully this advice will make the practice considerably less painful :).

Voila! You have a pretty good start to a profile. It still is going to take a TON of practice, but hopefully this advice will make the practice considerably less painful :).

I took on profiles in this new design for redbubble, the classic flapper with a twist. Check out those eyes! I am having fun designing more bizarre vintage characters, though I'm eventually going to have to go back to my large piece I'm trying to finish. But... not yet ;).

I took on profiles in this new design for redbubble, the classic flapper with a twist. Check out those eyes! I am having fun designing more bizarre vintage characters, though I’m eventually going to have to go back to my large piece I’m trying to finish. But… not yet ;). This snazzy lady’s available on bags, phone cases, even a duvet cover!