The Wet Look - The First Steps to Drawing Eyes


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In the last lesson on eyes we talked about the various problems that artists run into when trying to draw eyes as realistic as possible. In this lesson, we will begin the drawing process. There are two things that you need to do in order to in order to get started. The first is to make sure you are using the right tools. If you have trouble finding the tools locally, or if you would simply like to help support this site, you can purchase the tools directly from my Shopping Center by clicking on the Pencil Portrait Supplies link in the upper left section of this page.

The next thing that you have to have is your initial sketch drawn on your paper. The first two images I am going to show you here are the original photograph and my initial sketch.

Step One - The Pupil

The first step is to draw in the pupil. Using your 2B pencil, color in the entire pupil area. Make sure you lay in a lot of graphite and create as dark of a tone as you possibly can. Don't worry if you can't get really dark. If it needs to be darker later on, you can use a softer lead pencil on top of the 2B. But that will be in the final stages of the drawing as finishing touches.

Important Note: Make sure that you do NOT color in the areas that will be the highlights. This is very important. Those highlights have to be left completely white in order to get that wet look that we are going for.

Step Two - The Iris
Before we start drawing in the iris, I want to talk a moment about a technique called hatching. We use the hatching technique when creating the iris. You start with your pencil on the paper and make a short sharp motion across the paper. The key to this is to lift your pencil off of the paper before you finish the stroke. The result is a nice line that tapers off into nothing.

This image illustrates both the correct and incorrect usage of hatching. Notice the first group of lines starts out solid and dark, but ends up fading to a nice point. This is what you are looking for. The second group of lines was done by stopping the pencil before lifting it from the paper. Notice that both ends of the line end suddenly and harshly. The third group of lines shows what happens if you try to join groups of hatched lines that are done incorrectly. Notice the dark band where the two join together. The last group shows how two groups of hatched lines join when they are done with the correct motion. Notice that the area where the two groups join is nice and smooth.

There are a few ways that artists traditionally shade the iris area of the eyes. All are legitimate techniques, but the one we are going for is the first one. Start at the outside edge of the iris and hatch inward toward the pupil. This will help to create the realism that we are looking for.

Ok, the first step in the iris is to create the initial lines of hatching. The human eye has many layers of lines that make up the iris. That means that you must draw many layers as well. Do NOT start out trying to draw the darkest areas of the iris. Start out light and create the darker areas by drawing many layers on top of each other. Take your time with this. This is a very important step and there is no need to rush it. Sit back and enjoy the feel of the pencil on the paper. Also realise that you can add more layers as you continue through this lesson. So, if you don't get it dark enough now, you can darken it later. When you are satisfied that you have it looking the way you want, go on to the next step.

Did anyone notice the mistake I made here? I will point it out later in the lesson.

Step Three - The Edge of the Iris

Every eye is different, of course, but most eyes have a distinct darkness along the outside edge of the iris. In this step, all I have done is create a dark ring that I will be pulling into the iris in the next steps. Remember, never press hard when drawing! If you want something darking, simply add more layers.

Step Four - Pulling in the Darkness

Using the same hatching technique that we used before we are simply pulling the darkness around the edge into the iris so that it does not look like such a hard ring in the middle of the eye.

Step Five - Blending to Create Depth

Using a tortillion as a blending tool, start blending the lines of the iris. Make sure that you follow the same direction as your pencil strokes. This will begin to create the depth of the eye that is contrasted by the bright white of the highlight. Once again, make sure that you leave the highlights completely untouched.

Step Six - The Inner Darkness

Along with the outer ring of darkness in the human eye, there is also an inner ring. If you look very closely at the original photograph you will see this area. You will also notice that it is not a uniform ring. In some areas it is closer to the pupil than in other areas.

Using your pencil, lightly hatch in layers until you have recreated that inner area as close as you can to the original photograph. Then use the Toritillion to blend it in with the rest of the lines of the iris.

Step Seven - Fixing the Mistake

Did you figure out the mistake I made yet? I left out a very important highlight. If you look at the outside edge of the eye on the left you will see that I have "drawn in" the highlights from the photograph. How did I draw them in? I am so glad you asked. I used an eraser. Actually, I used a battery operated eraser. It is very useful for drawing in highlights when using both graphite and colored pencil. Always remember the importance of highlights and do not skimp out. The closer you recreate those highlights the more realisic your drawing will look.

Step Eight - Drawing the White

As much as your brain wants to think it is white, the whites of the eyes aren't really white. They are just whiter than the rest of the eye. The true white is found in the reflections you see in the eyes. In order to get that highlight to look as white as possible, the whites of the eyes have to be darker.

In the image you see below, I barely allowed the pencil to touch the paper while laying in just a small amount of graphite. I then used the Toritillion to smooth the graphite and remove the lines. Note that I avoided the highlight areas and went in with a very sharp pencil to draw in some lines to represent the blood vessels in the eyes. Note: it is possible that I have made the whites a little too dark. But I will not know for sure until I get the rest of the image created. If need be, I can lighten them up later on.

Next Lesson:

We will focus on the edges of the eyelids and the corners of the eyes. Attention to detail in these areas is very important.