Anatomy of the Human Body for ArtistsFigure Drawing FundamentalsPortrait Drawing FundamentalsArt of Caricature CourseStore Package Deals

How to Draw Eyes – Structure

September 13, 201213 Comments

So, I’m done with the loomis method for now and I’m going to move on to features. These tutorials will be based on things I learned from school, books, and through my own observation. In this lesson, we learn how to draw an eye.

Let’s start by going over some common terminology. The eye socket refers to the hole in the skull where the eyeball sits. The top edge of this hole has a ridge that’s called the brow ridge. The eyeball is covered by a top and bottom lid. At the inner side of the lids, there is a tear duct. The white portion of the eyeball is called the sclera. And the window to our soul is made up of the iris (which is the colored portion), the pupil (thats the black dot) and the cornea, which is a transparent cover shaped like a contact lense.
portrait eyes terminology


Now, all these little shapes make up the eye, but it’s important to first understand the simplified structure of the eye. These simplified forms should show through all the details. The brow ridge can be simplified into a block. The front plane represents the forehead, and the bottom plane is the roof of the socket. Of course, the eyeball is… a ball.
brow ridge placement eyes

angle of eyes socket
From the side you can see that the eyeball is deep inside the socket and the brow ridge acts as an awning to protect the sensitive eye from falling things like, rain, dust, asteroids, and bird poop…


When drawing the eyes, I start by finding their placement on the face. We already know that the face can be broken up into thirds. The brow ridge is represented by the top of the middle third. I like to find the keystone shape of the glabella, which is the space between the eyes, also known as the third eye. From there I’ll continue down the side of the nose to the bottom of the lid and back around to the brow ridge. Make sure to observe how far down the bottom of the lid is.

If the person isn’t looking up or down, but straight ahead, then generally the center of the eyes will be placed in the center of the face. Then, to find the horizontal position, I look for an angle from the wings of the nose to the tear duct. From the front view, this will usually be a straight line up. Of course, first you’d need to find the placement of the nose… which we’ll cover in another lesson. And as a general rule of thumb, this width of the eye is about the same as the distance between the eyes.

A common mistake is to make the eyes too big. But, this doesn’t really look good, does it? This is probably because we think of the eyes as more significant than the rest of the face, and so as a result we make them bigger. But this isn’t always the correct way to make something appear more significant.

Consider adding more contrast, sharper edges and more detailed shapes instead.

portrait how to draw eyes big

Now that we have the general forms, the placement and the size of the eyes established, let’s go a little deeper and explore each part individually.

sclera white of the eye


The sclera, or commonly called the white of the eye, is a sphere, and so it needs to be shaded like one. Even though it’s know as the white of the eye, a common mistake is to actually make it white. This will cause it to look flat. The part of the sclera that is visible through the opening in the lids usually has a soft gradation, which is enough to show its roundness.


Wrap around the eyeball, and so again it’s important to remember the simple spherical form underneath and how it affects the outer forms. Construct the shape of the top lid using 3 planes. The side planes and the top plane. For the bottom lid, I use 2 planes. Pay attention to the differences between all these angles and don’t draw fish-shaped or almond shaped eyes. They taste good, but they don’t look good. Typically the peaks of these planes, won’t be symmetrical. Look for a diagonal angle between the peaks.

Another factor that will change the shape of the lids is the cornea. Since it is a convex form, as the cornea moves it will push the lids out. Notice how the shape of the top lid changes as the eye moves.

Also, the lids have some thickness to them, so showing the bottom plane of the top lid and the top plane of the bottom lid is very important. If the light source is above the eye, as it usually is, the top lid will have a shadow underneath and the bottom lid will have a highlight on the top.
bottom and top planes of the eyelids

Also, from the side, the top lid sticks out further to protect what’s under, just like the brow ridge.

And the last thing about the lids, is the epicanthic fold. Some people will have this skin covering the entire top lid, other have the entire top lid visible, and some only a portion.

Tear Duct

A few important points about the tear duct. It’s usually lower than center. When a person turns far enough towards side view, the eyeball and cornea will cover the connection between the tear duct and lids. And so, you’ll see a little piece of the tear duct peaking from behind.

Iris and Cornea

The shape and angle of the iris is commonly overlooked. It will only be a perfect circle from front view. When the eye turns to the side, the shape becomes an oval. The further the iris is from center, the narrower the oval will become.

If the eyes looks to the side AND up or down, that oval will be angled. To find that angle, imagine a straight line from the center of the eyeball to the iris. The angle of the iris will be perpendicular.

Iris and cornea changing shape

The cornea sits right on top of the iris. It is convex and transparent, like a contact lense. The iris, which is the colored part is also convex (according to anatomical diagrams). BUT I like to draw it as if its concave. This gives the eyes a more life like effect.

This is important to know when you start shading. Imaging the light source coming from the top right. The iris, as a concave form, will be lit at the bottom left. The cornea, as a convex form, will have the opposite light pattern. It will be lit at the top right. Since the cornea is transparent, only the highlight will be visible. So, an easier way to remember all this is… The highlight on the cornea will be on the dark side of the iris.
highlight of the cornea


For the pupil, remember that its on the iris, not the cornea. In fact, the pupil is a hole in the iris that lets light in. The pupil dilates to let in more light and contracts to let in less light. So, when drawing the pupil from a side angle, be sure to draw it on the iris, not on the cornea.
pupil is a hole in the iris


The eyebrows sit on the brow ridge and peak towards the outer end. The outside ends tend to be lighter, thinner, and have less hair than the inside ends. The shape of the eyebrows varies from person to person. Men tend to have fuller and straighter types while women have thinner types that peak higher.
men and women eyebrows


The trick with eyelashes is to simplify them. I like to group them together into chunks and draw them as simple dark shapes. From the front, the dark shape of the lashes will merge with the dark shadow under the top lid.

If the lashes are long and curl up enough to be seen as individual lashes, still try to simplify them rather than drawing each lash. I like to draw them blurry as if they are out of focus. From the side, the shape is like a curly triangle.

portrait how to draw eyes eyelashes

Ready for more? Go to the next lesson for a step-by-step example of how to draw the eyes.


Thank you to everyone who sent in their photos. In this video: Erik Hedlund, Marcus Agoy Sand, Matt Starbuck, Michael Gomes Jr, Leah Augustine, Gleb Dmitriev, Sarai Galindo

Filed in: Portrait / HeadVideos

Comments (13)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. MInh Vu says:

    THank you so so much for your videos! they are really helpful for me and my friends! they are really inspiring. I hope you will come up with more video. I love to watch all of them. THanks and happy painting!

  2. ceratocone says:

    Wow, that’s what I was exploring for, what a stuff!

    present here at this website, thanks admin of this site.

  3. Joshua Taft says:

    The eyes were one of the features I had more difficulty with before I started learning from videos on youtube. While I’ve made some pretty good drawings, I like how these use simpler methods and are more anatomically correct, while using much simpler methods and shading then many of the other videos. Cant wait to try it out. Thanks!

  4. Quiromasaje says:

    Admiring the persistence you put into your website andd
    dwtailed information you provide. It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that
    isn’t the same old rehashed information. Fantastic
    read! I’ve saved your site andd I’m adding your RSS feeds to
    my Google account.

  5. Right here is the right web site for anybody who really wants to find out about this topic.

    You know so much its almost tough to argue with you (not
    that I personally would want to…HaHa). You certainly put a brand new spin on a topic which has been written about for
    years. Wonderful stuff, just wonderful!

  6. David Lewis says:

    When I show my students your eye structure video I tell them that the tear duct is actually the lacrimal caruncle and I give them a little more anatomical information about its function. I also emphasize that because it is a wet bump it still catches reflective light. My students like your videos and respond well to them.

  7. GayLynn Ribeira says:

    Stan, I have been enjoying your sight for the past six months and have never taken the time to say thank you. I studied illustration in college but still did not grasp a lot of the fundamentals of head and figure drawing. I have never had as many “aha!” moments as I have when watching these videos. The animations add so much to the learning experience. I have gone through your figure drawing series a few times and am now studying the portrait series. My study sessions are always a pleasure so thank you!

  8. Jose Cardenas says:

    Does anyone know any good books for reference on the eye?

  9. JEON Hwa-yeon says:

    HaHaHa ~

    With BIG EYE !!

    You look cute and pretty, like kid.

  10. j says:

    Was hoping for a tip or two on non-human or otherwise strange eyes, for example many Pokemon have very vague eyes with black sclera and very low contrast irii that I am having trouble giving expression or direction.

  11. Daisy says:

    Stan, your lessons are all so simple, easy to understand and most of all helpful! Thank you very, very much. More poser to you!

  12. human rights says:

    At this time I am going tto do my breakfast, once having my breakfast coming over again to read
    additional news.

Leave a Reply

Back to Top