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How to Draw Animal Eyes

Final product image
What You’ll Be Creating

They say the eyes are the mirror to the soul, and it’s not just true about humans. The eyes of animals, no matter how different, speak volumes about the creature’s personality and emotions. Because of this, it’s not so easy to draw eyes that look both realistic and alive, especially when you can’t use a reference. 

In this tutorial, I will show you one method of overcoming this problem by starting with a structure and ending with shading. You’ll learn how to draw an eye of a lion, a horse, and a lizard.

What You Will Need

You’ll need the following equipment in order to complete this tutorial:

  • some sheets of paper
  • HB pencil (hard)
  • 2B/3B pencil (medium)
  • 4B/5B pencil (soft)
  • 7B/8B pencil (very soft)
  • blending stump (optional)
  • eraser (preferably kneaded)
  • pencil sharpener
basic drawing tools

There are two things I’d like you to keep in mind before we start drawing. First, the bigger your drawing, the more details you can put in it. The epically realistic drawings you may have seen online are usually bigger than a common desk, so don’t worry if your smaller drawing doesn’t look like this—size really makes the difference here.

Second, most people use references for their realistic drawings. This lets them copy all the shades without having to guess them accurately, which leads to a stunning result. Drawing from structure, as in this tutorial, leads to more “sketchy” results, but at the same time you get more freedom about the pose and details you want to use.

1. How to Draw a Lion’s Eyes

Step 1

Before you start drawing the actual eyes, you need to create some space for them, some landmarks that will help you keep the proportions consistent. In the face of a lion, you can find a cross made from the brows and the nose/forehead. Sketch it using the correct perspective.

Keep these lines very light and subtle. I made mine dark for you to see them better, but yours should be almost invisible.

lion head drawing cross
start lion eyes with a cross

Step 2

Keep in mind that the eyeballs are not circles—they’re spheres. If you imagine a row of spheres being rotated, they gradually cover each other. This means the eyes look perfectly symmetrical only in the front view; in others, one of the eyes will seem closer to the middle.

eyes in perspective

Draw big eyeballs using this rule.

how to draw eyeballs in perspective

Step 3

Add the iris and the pupil to the eyeball. The irises can be placed anywhere near the center, as long as you follow the perspective and keep both irises the same. Lions don’t look around with just their eyes too much (they move their head instead), so don’t draw the iris too far away from the center.

iris pupil rotation
lion iris drawing

Keep the pupil exactly in the middle of the iris. It’s round, not slit, and it can get very big when it’s dark.

lion pupils round

Step 4

To draw the eyelids correctly, add a special guide line across the eye. It goes from the outer corner to the inner corner.

lion eye corners guide line
draw blion eyes guide lines

Step 5

Time for the eyelids now. First sketch the rim of the lower one. If you go over the nose with the guide line, you should achieve a nice rhythm for both eyes.

lower eyelid rim rotation
lower eyelid rim drawing

Step 6

Now the rim of the upper eyelid; keep in mind it’s not a flat line, but a rim of something that covers the round eye.

upper eyelid rim rotation
lion upper eyelid rim drawing

Step 7

Close the inner corner. Again, it’s not flat—it bends towards the side of the nose.

lion eye corner perspective
lion eye corner drawing

Step 8

Finish the shape of the upper eyelid.

lion upper eyelid rotation
lion upper eyelids drawing

Step 9

Finish the shape of the lower eyelid and a part of the upper one.

lion eye corner dark rotation
lion eyelid lower corner drawing
lion eye corner how to draw
lion eye corner in perspective

Step 10

Eyebrows are a very important part of the eyes, so we can’t ignore them. In lions, they start over the inner side of the upper eyelid, and go towards the forehead.

lion eyebrow rotation
lion eyebrow drawing

Step 11

Add more details to this area.

lion eye details rotation
lion eye details drawing

Step 12

Add the eyelashes. Even though cats have a lot of fur here, they have “true” eyelashes as well!

lion eyelashes in perspective
lion eyelashes drawing

Step 13

Outline a side of the eye, showing a suggestion of the eye-sockets.

lion eye bones perspective
lion eye bones drawing

Step 14

The structure is finished! Before you go any further, take a closer look at your sketch and see if everything looks right. This is the last moment to fix anything!

Take the HB pencil and gently fill the iris with pseudo “fibers” going radially in two rows. Leave a band on top for a shine, and press harder in the middle, to make the pupil dark.

lion eye shine

Step 15

Take your softest pencil and darken the pupil much more, along with the area around the eye.

lion dark pupil

Step 16

Take the medium pencil and add some shadow to the top of the iris. Keep the pencil sharp!

lion eye basic shading

Step 17

Use the same pencil to shade the eyelids’ corners.

lion eye eyelids shading

Darken it with the soft pencil.

lion eye corner detail

Step 18

Take the HB pencil again and draw some hairs around the eye. The direction matters! Don’t draw with the very tip of the pencil, but instead tilt it a little to make the “hairs” thick.

lion eyebrow drawing

Step 19

Take a well-sharpened medium pencil and add some detail to the fur. Draw the shadows between the hairs rather than the hairs themselves. You can learn more about this technique here:

lion eye detailed fur

Step 20

Keep adding the fur around the eyes with the HB pencil.

lion eye details

Step 21

Use the medium and soft pencil to add final details to the area.

how to draw lion eye

2. How to Draw a Horse’s Eye

Step 1

Horses have an even more distinct “cross” on their head than lions. Sketch it to create a base for the proportions.

horse head cross base for drawing
start drawing horse eyes
I didn’t include the whole length of the head here, but you need to be able to imagine the rest.

Step 2

Horses, like most prey animals, have eyes on the sides of their head rather than in the front. We can use this fact to establish a really nice set of guidelines: just sketch a “tube” across the head, and cut its ends diagonally towards the center.

horse eyes tube

Step 3

Place the eyeballs inside these eye-sockets.

horse eyeballs

Step 4

Add the iris and pupil. The pupil is horizontal and rectangular in shape, though it’s not always visible, because the iris is usually dark.

horse iris in perspective
horse pupil in perspective
horse pupil and iris

Step 5

Add a guide line across the eye.

horse eye guide line
horse guide line across the eye

Step 6

The characteristic gentle look of a horse’s eyes is created by the “heavy” eyelids. Sketch this drooping line to start shaping the eye.

horse eye in perspective

horse drooping eyelid

Step 7

Add the outline of the eyelids’ rims.

horse eyelid rims in perspective
horse eyelid rims drawing

Step 8

The corner of the eye is covered by the nictitating membrane. To place it correctly, just remember it goes down and towards the outer side of the eye.

horse nictitating membrane in perspective
horse what is nictitating membrane

Step 9

Finish the outline of the upper eyelid…

horse upper eyelid shape in perspective
horse upper eyelid shape drawing

Step 10

… and the lower one just after it.

horse lower eyelid in perspective
horse lower eyelid drawing

Step 11

The lower eyelid should be slightly bulging.

horse lower eyelid shape in perspective
horse lower eyelid shape drawing

Step 12

Add the eyelashes.

horse eyelashes in perspective
horse eyelashes drawing

Step 13

Add the bony landmarks around the eye (you can look at a horse’s skull to see these parts clearly).

horse forehead in perspective
horse forehead drawing
horse cheek in perspective
horse cheek drawing
horse temple in perspective
horse temple drawing

Step 14

Let’s shade it now! Take the HB pencil and gently add some value to the eye: make the pupil and the eyelids’ rims dark, and sketch the shine dots on the iris.

horse eye basic shading

Step 15

Take the medium pencil and darken the iris, leaving the shine parts brighter (the lower one darker than the top one). Draw shadows under the eyelashes, but don’t draw the eyelashes yet.

horse eye shine dot

Step 16

Take the soft pencil and darken the edge of the iris. Again, add some dark shadows between the eyelashes without adding any other details to them.

horse eye iris shading

Step 17

Take the softest pencil and darken the pupil heavily.

horse eye dark pupil

Step 18

Take the soft pencil again and shade the iris uniformly.

horse eye full iris shading

Step 19

Take the softest pencil and finish the shading. To make the shine on top more natural, smudge its sides and top with the blending stump.

horse eye realistic shine

Step 20

Shade the membrane in the corner.

horse eye membrane shading

Step 21

Use the medium and the soft pencils to add detail to the eyelids’ rims.

horse eyelid rims shading

Step 22

Take the HB pencil and shade the upper eyelid.

horse upper eyelid shading

Step 23

Take the soft pencil and accentuate the shadows here.

horse upper eyelid detailed shading

Step 24

Take the HB pencil and shade the area around the eye.

horse area around eye shading

Step 25

Use the blending stump to make the shading more uniform.

horse eye blending

Step 26

Take the medium brush and add more detail to the shading here, tilting it and using various directions to better show the three-dimensional form of the area.

horse eye shading with depth

Step 27

Take the soft brush and add one more level of such details.

horse eye one more level of details

Step 28

Gently blend these shadows with the blending stump.

horse eye blending shading

Step 29

Add the lower eyelashes and make the reflection in the eye more detailed by sketching a suggestion of a horizon in its lower part.

how to draw horse eye

3. How to Draw a Lizard’s Eye

Step 1

Lizards’ heads are all about these huge eyes, so we can sketch the proportions better by using a “double cross”.

lizard head proportions
lizard head drawing beginning

Step 2

Add the huge eye socket roughly between the arms of the cross.

lizard eye socket in perspective
lizard eye socket drawing

Step 3

Place the eyeball inside the eye socket.

lizard eyeball in perspective
lizard eyeball drawing

Step 4

Add the pupil…

lizard pupil in perspective
lizard pupil drawing

… and the iris. Lizards can have a variety of pupil shapes depending on the species, so use whatever you want!

lizard pupil shape in perspective
lizard pupil shape drawing

Step 5

Add the guide line across the eye.

lizard eye guide lines in perspective
lizard eye guide lines drawing

Step 6

Add the rim of the upper eyelid.

lizard upper eyelid in perspective
lizard upper eyelid drawing

Step 7

Add the lower eyelid as well.

lizard lower eyelid in perspective
lizard lower eyelid drawing

Step 8

The eyelids of lizards are usually thick and fleshy. To accentuate it, draw a “coil” around the eyelids’ rims.

lizard eyelid thickness in perspective
lizard eyelid thickness drawing

Step 9

Outline the eyelids as the coil suggests.

lizard detailed eyelids in persepctive
lizard detailed eyelids drawing

Step 10

Use a similar technique to draw the brows.

lizard eyebrows in perspective
lizard eyebrows drawing
lizard eyebrows finished in perspective
lizard eyebrows finished

Step 11

Add some wrinkles around the eye.

lizard eye wrinkles perspective
lizard eye wrinkles drawing
lizard detailed eye in perspective
lizard detailed eye drawing

Step 12

Take the HB pencil and outline the pupil, leaving an outline for the shine as well.

lizard pupil outline

Step 13

Take the softest pencil and fill the pupil with dark shading. You can leave the lower part slightly brighter.

lizard eye shine

Step 14

Take the HB pencil again and sketch some details on the iris. Lizards can have fantastic patterns inside their irises, so you can really let your imagination go wild here!

lizard iris pattern

Step 15

Use the medium and soft pencils to shade the iris and its details.

lizard detailed iris pattern

Step 16

You can use the eraser and the blending stump to create a reflected shine in the lower part of the eye.

lizard shiny eye drawing

Step 17

Take the HB pencil and outline the rims of the eyelids again, making sure you know their 3D form.

lizard 3d form of the eyelids

Step 18

Add small scales on the inner sides of the eyelids.

lizard small scales inner eyelid

Step 19

Add more scales, interlocking each row with the previous one.

lizard eyelids scales

Step 20

Take the medium pencil and shade the area between the scales.

lizard detailed scales

Step 21

Take the HB pencil and sketch the 3D form of the area around the eye. You should see exactly which parts are concave and which are convex.

lizard 3d form of the eye

Step 22

Add scales to this area, following the perspective of the surface.

lizard scales around the eye
lizard detailed scales around the eye

Step 23

Use the HB pencil to gently shade the whole area.

lizard eye shaded

Step 24

Use the medium pencil to add more detail to the shading.

lizard detailed eye shading

Step 25

Take the HB pencil and shade all the scales individually.

lizard scales shaded individually

Step 26

Take the medium brush and add more detail to the shading of the scales. You can learn more about this technique here:

how to draw lizard eye


You have drawn an eye of a lion, a horse, and a lizard! If you want to learn more about drawing these animals, you’ll love these tutorials:

If you want to continue learning about drawing with pencils, you may also like tutorials from this series:

how to draw realistic animal eyes