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
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
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.
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.
Draw big eyeballs using this rule.
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.
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.
To draw the eyelids correctly, add a special guide line across the eye. It goes from the outer corner to the inner corner.
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.
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.
Close the inner corner. Again, it’s not flat—it bends towards the side of the nose.
Finish the shape of the upper eyelid.
Finish the shape of the lower eyelid and a part of the upper one.
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.
Add more details to this area.
Add the eyelashes. Even though cats have a lot of fur here, they have “true” eyelashes as well!
Outline a side of the eye, showing a suggestion of the eye-sockets.
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.
Take your softest pencil and darken the pupil much more, along with the area around the eye.
Take the medium pencil and add some shadow to the top of the iris. Keep the pencil sharp!
Use the same pencil to shade the eyelids’ corners.
Darken it with the soft pencil.
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.
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:
Keep adding the fur around the eyes with the HB pencil.
Use the medium and soft pencil to add final details to the area.
2. How to Draw a Horse’s Eye
Horses have an even more distinct “cross” on their head than lions. Sketch it to create a base for the proportions.
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.
Place the eyeballs inside these eye-sockets.
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.
Add a guide line across the eye.
The characteristic gentle look of a horse’s eyes is created by the “heavy” eyelids. Sketch this drooping line to start shaping the eye.
Add the outline of the eyelids’ rims.
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.
Finish the outline of the upper eyelid…
… and the lower one just after it.
The lower eyelid should be slightly bulging.
Add the eyelashes.
Add the bony landmarks around the eye (you can look at a horse’s skull to see these parts clearly).
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.
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.
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.
Take the softest pencil and darken the pupil heavily.
Take the soft pencil again and shade the iris uniformly.
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.
Shade the membrane in the corner.
Use the medium and the soft pencils to add detail to the eyelids’ rims.
Take the HB pencil and shade the upper eyelid.
Take the soft pencil and accentuate the shadows here.
Take the HB pencil and shade the area around the eye.
Use the blending stump to make the shading more uniform.
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.
Take the soft brush and add one more level of such details.
Gently blend these shadows with the blending stump.
Add the lower eyelashes and make the reflection in the eye more detailed by sketching a suggestion of a horizon in its lower part.
3. How to Draw a Lizard’s Eye
Lizards’ heads are all about these huge eyes, so we can sketch the proportions better by using a “double cross”.
Add the huge eye socket roughly between the arms of the cross.
Place the eyeball inside the eye socket.
Add the pupil…
… and the iris. Lizards can have a variety of pupil shapes depending on the species, so use whatever you want!
Add the guide line across the eye.
Add the rim of the upper eyelid.
Add the lower eyelid as well.
The eyelids of lizards are usually thick and fleshy. To accentuate it, draw a “coil” around the eyelids’ rims.
Outline the eyelids as the coil suggests.
Use a similar technique to draw the brows.
Add some wrinkles around the eye.
Take the HB pencil and outline the pupil, leaving an outline for the shine as well.
Take the softest pencil and fill the pupil with dark shading. You can leave the lower part slightly brighter.
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!
Use the medium and soft pencils to shade the iris and its details.
You can use the eraser and the blending stump to create a reflected shine in the lower part of the eye.
Take the HB pencil and outline the rims of the eyelids again, making sure you know their 3D form.
Add small scales on the inner sides of the eyelids.
Add more scales, interlocking each row with the previous one.
Take the medium pencil and shade the area between the scales.
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.
Add scales to this area, following the perspective of the surface.
Use the HB pencil to gently shade the whole area.
Use the medium pencil to add more detail to the shading.
Take the HB pencil and shade all the scales individually.
Take the medium brush and add more detail to the shading of the scales. You can learn more about this technique here:
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:
DrawingHow to Draw Animals: Big Cats, Their Anatomy and Patterns
DrawingHow to Draw Animals: Horses, Their Anatomy and Poses
AnimalsHow to Draw a Roaring Lion Step by Step
DrawingHow to Draw a Horse Step by Step
If you want to continue learning about drawing with pencils, you may also like tutorials from this series: