Artist demonstration: how to draw an eye

Realistic eyes can bring a portrait to life but can be tricky to draw. Follow artist Robin-Lee Hall as she gives step-by-step instructions and top tips on how to draw an eye. She uses her knowledge of anatomy and artists’ techniques to take the mystery out of making a realistic drawing that is full of life. 


  • Hello I’m Robin-Lee Hall, and I’m an artist. I’m going to show you how to draw an eye.

    If you want to have a go at this as well, you will need paper, a soft pencil or charcoal, a putty rubber, a reference portrait or a mirror.

    I’m going to use this self-portrait by Anthony van Dyck as my reference. Van Dyck was one of the most important artists of the 17th century. He revolutionised portraiture in Britain.

    Everybody’s eyes are different. Basically, when you’re trying to draw an eye, it’s best to actually start with a circle. An eyeball is circular. We’re going to start off with drawing a circle.

    If you also think about an eye, it’s a 3D object that’s actually pushed through skin. So you can see the outline of the circle, or the eyeball pushing through the skin.

    So let’s think about that concept when we start to draw. And if you get a circle, not 100% right, it doesn’t really matter. You can always rub a few little bits out.

    You're just drawing it very, very lightly and don’t worry about it too much.

    The next thing I would draw would be the eyelids over the eyeball. Now try and remember that the eyelids are actually not flat, they actually have a thickness to them. Try and actually get that little bit of thickness that you get at the bottom of the eyelid. And sometimes that actually catches the light, so that’s quite important to try and get that in.

    Ok, next I’m going to draw the outline of the iris, which is the coloured part of the eye and the pupil, which is the black dot in the middle.

    Because Van Dyck is actually looking out of the corner of his eye, you can see that the iris is over to one side. So the next thing I'd probably add is a rough outline of the eyebrow.

    We know that eyebrows are made up of lots of little hairs, but actually I’m going to try and just draw the basic outline.

    The tone can go in later on and when I’m speaking about tone, I mean the shading.

    Ok, now I’m ready to do some shading. I’ve got the basic outline of the eye. So now it needs some sort of lights and darks.

    Now, looking at Van Dyck, the darkest darks are just above his eyelid. So I’m going to get a little bit of shading in there.

    Now, you don’t have to go as dark as you see it in the reference.

    Now, the very important thing about drawing realistically, is the light. It’s working out where the light is coming from. Now, in the Van Dyck self-portrait, the light’s actually coming from the top left-hand side. So the left-hand side of his face is quite light. The right-hand side is quite dark.

    Now is quite a good time to lightly rub out that circle.

    Now, I’m going to really go into the darks and try to make the darks really stand out.

    Ok, so now I’ve finished most of the shading, just take out some light and that just pulls out the light. And what it does when you’re drawing an eye, is it makes it come to life.

    So this is how I draw an eye.

    And the thing about drawing is the more you practice, the better you get.

    So just keep drawing and you’ll find that you really do improve day by day.

Learning objectives

  1. Explore artists’ creative practices and techniques.
  1. Make drawings from reference images.
  1. Gather inspiration from a variety of sources, including observations of human anatomy and painted portraits.

You will need

  • Paper
  • Soft pencil or charcoal
  • Reference portrait or mirror
  • Putty rubber
  • Pencil sharpener