Before we start drawing animal eyes I would like to take a step back and look at a more familiar eye, that is, a human one. By understanding the shape and the anatomy of the human eye you will be able to apply this knowledge to animal eyes, making the necessary adjustments for each species. Most animals have a very similar eye structure, but we will also look at birds, reptiles and fish that have their own particular features when it comes to drawing their eyes.
Here is a little study I did of a human eye. You can download it for future reference or create your own which I strongly suggest as that will allow you to actually learn the anatomy better.
First let’s look at how not to draw the eye. Usually, we see children draw the eye as an almond shape with a circle in it. This gives us an eye symbol but it is flat and far from realistic.
See how flat that looks 🙂
Now, let’s take a look at the eye in ¾ view. Here you can see the steps I took to actually draw this eye. We will not be going into eyelashes at the moment as those are not so relevant anatomy-wise but instead will look at the shape.
First I start with a sphere. We have the light source on the top left and that creates a highlight on the sphere. Remember, that the eyeball is a moist sphere and we will see the curving form shadow on the bottom right here.
Now we can add the iris. In this case the eye is in ¾ view and the iris will not be a perfect circle due to perspective. Instead it will have a more oval shape. Take a look at this eyeball with the iris in it. Notice how big the iris actually is compared to the eyeball itself. It takes up almost ½ of the eyeball.
Then I add the upper lid. Just a side note, not everyone’s eyes will have the upper lid visible, people with asian heritage will have it hidden. But let’s return to our example eye, and pay attention here, this is very important to remember when drawing mammals, the upper lid has a thickness to it. See how it curls around the eyeball. As the light is coming from top left we will see the bottom part of the lid in shadow. This shadow will show us how thick the lid actually is.
The shape of the lid curves around the eyeball and as it curves away from the light source it will have its own form shadow and a highlight.
As we have this shape over our eyeball it will cast a shadow on it. This is why we usually see the cast shadow on the top portion of the eyeball when we have a light source shining from above, which is almost always.
Let’s look at this toddler’s eyes. We can clearly see the light coming from above and the shadow right under the upper lid.
In this photo the light is coming from bottom right and you can see that here it is the lower lid that casts the shadow.
You can observe the same thing by taking a flashlight and shining it from different angles at your own face in front of a mirror. You will see how the eyelids cast a shadow on it depending on the direction of the light.
But let’s get back to our drawing.
Now that we have a top lid, let’s add the bottom one. As we have the light shining from top left the bottom lid will be illuminated by it. You can see it catching light in this photo.
Now observe how the lower lid curves around the eyeball and then goes into the cheek. This curvature will give it a form shadow. Also, pay attention to the fact that the upper lid is kind of going over the bottom one and thus the outer corner of the eye will be in the upper lid’s cast shadow.
Let’s go back to our underlit eye for a secodn.
Here the light is coming from the bottom right and the lower lid is illuminated and has now shadow on it. So, once again, understanding the shape is very important to properly add light and shadow to the eye.
Now that we have our eyelids, we lack one more essential thing, the tear duct. We will see the corner of it in this ¾ view and as it is moist, it will also catch a highlight. Remember, the brightest highlight is always perpendicular to the light source.
Now we have our eye. Here on the left we can see the shape of the eye in ¾ view and in profile.
Let’s look at the statues as it is a lot easier to see the shapes.
But there is another important thing we need to know about it’s anatomy. Let’s look at this image of an eye in profile. The protective film over the iris is called a cornea. See how it protrudes from the eyeball?
Here is an anatomical representation of cornea.
It let’s the light through and thus creates a secondary highlight on the opposite side of the main highlight. That’s why we have a lighter area in the bottom part of the eye.
Here we see the light coming from the top left creating a highlight and going through the cornea on the bottom right, thus illuminating that part of the iris.
And one more thing to remember is that the highlight will curve with the shape of the eyeball and it will not be white. Yes, this might sound strange, but the highlight will reflect the surroundings and only a tiny portion of it might be bright white. The shape of the highlight will also reflect the light source, so if it is a window, it will reflect the shape of the window curved over the shape of the eyeball.
Here is a tip for those who want to practice drawing human eyes. It is a lot easier to start with sculptures. Michelangelo’s David is a great example of human anatomy and drawing the black and white studies will help you understand the anatomy better before going on to draw real human eyes.
Here is my study of David’s eye in charcoal.
No color, no distraction with eyelashes, just the basic anatomy of the eye. Here you can clearly see the way the eyeball curves and how the lids enclose it.