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Drawing Faces Part 2: Anatomy of the Eye

Hello everyone. So, I was all set up to continue the complimentary lesson on drawing the face when I got very caught up on the eyes, so that’s what I’m going to talk about.

The eyes are the window to the soul. At least that’s what people say. They are absolutely the root of our expressive capabilities, so I will spend more than one post explaining what I know about the eyes. I’ll start with the shapes and parts of the eyes, then roll into eye types based on ethnicity, then into expression. Please forgive me if I do not retain this order of operations. I get excited about things and go off on tangents.

Mother's Day Portrait                  Paula Painting

So, first things first. The structure of the eye. I’m going to keep it simple and work with the visible parts of the eye and its immediate underlying structures. The eyeball is a sphere that is roughly the size of a ping-pong ball. You may be tempted to draw it as a perfectly smooth sphere, but this isn’t quite accurate. There is a bump on the surface of the eye, just over the Iris and Pupil, called the Anterior Chamber. This is a pocket of liquid known as Aqueous Humor (a water based solution) which in turn is covered by the Cornea. If you wear contact lenses, that’s where they go.

The terminology isn’t important, just know that the eye has a transparent bump on its surface. Underneath the Cornea lie the Iris and the Pupil. There are actually other structures at work, but they aren’t visible, so I’ll skip them. The Iris and Pupil make the part of they eyeball they are on flat, but the Cornea rounds it out again. When drawing the shadows on the eye, these structures become more apparent.

Eyeball Parts

The white of the eye is known as the Sclera. This part is translucent and covers a network of veins and arteries called the Chorioid. When someone’s eyes appear to be bloodshot, that’s those veins making an appearance. Again, don’t worry too much about the terminology. I’m just giving you a source for all the things you may have seen before but didn’t know what they were called.

Eyeball Front

When drawing the eye, it’s important to know that the Iris takes up about one third of the eye width while the Pupil varies in size depending on how bright your subject’s surroundings are. If it is dark, the Pupils will dilate (or grow bigger), while bright light will make them contract (or grow smaller). Whatever its size, the Pupil sits directly in the middle of the Iris. This is important because as the eye looks in different directions, placing the Pupil in the wrong spot will make the eye look wrong.


The eyeball sits in the eye socket or the Orbital bone. When you look at a skeleton, you’ll see that this area is shaped kind of like a rounded off, asymmetrical rectangle. This shape will be important later, so take note. Inside the Orbit, beneath and surrounding the eyeball is fat. Different people have different amounts of this fat in their eyes, which give shape to the surrounding skin. People who appear to have “sunken eyes” have less fat around their eyeballs than everyone else.

Eye Socket

Protecting the eye from the world at large are the eyelids or the Superior Tarsus (upper lid) and Inferior Tarsus (lower lid), thick pieces of tissue that lie beneath the skin covering the eye. These stretch across the eye surface and are held in place by the Lateral and Medial Palpebral ligaments. These ligaments are most visible at the corners of the eye and combined with the eyelids, give us the almond-ish shape we recognize and associate with the eye. The Superior Tarsus is larger than the Inferior Tarsus (hence the name) and doesn’t actually cover the entire upper portion of the eyeball. Anyone who has seen an nine-year-old flip his eyelid inside out can attest to this. I mention this because where this ends and the Orbital bone begin create that fold just above the eyelashes when the eye is open. If you look at the inside corner of the eye, you will see the Lacrimal Sac. This makes a kind of rounded, sideways v shape in the corner and will make for a very convincing eye drawing.


Whew! That got more technical than I thought it would, but thanks for sticking with me. Let’s put it all together now. Start with the shape of the eye socket and the eyeball. These will help you establish the limits of the eyelids on the sides. Place the Iris and Pupil in the center. Now sketch in the lines for the lids and the Lacrimal sac, forming them around the eyeball. Be sure to cut off a small portion of the iris at the top, but leave the entire pupil visible. The reason is, if you show the whole Iris, the drawing will have a very surprised look about it.

Although the upper lid has thickness, you don’t really see it because that part is facing downward. It does, however appear as a thick line, usually the thickest, darkest line on the face. Do draw the thickness of the lower lid, however, making sure to place the eyelashes on the bottommost part of that thickness. Next comes the crease that is created by the upper lid interacting with the orbital bone. Draw that in just above the upper lid line and eyelashes.

Line Drawn Eye

Now comes the fun part – shading. The eyeball is spherical, so shade it so that you show its curvature. The iris itself is flat, but the cornea adds an additional curve above it. Because the cornea is clear, its curvature is depicted with highlight rather than shadow. The upper lid of the eye and eyelashes cast a shadow on the eyeball, so darken it slightly. The Lacrimal Sac is in shadow and has a pinkish, so it should be shaded slightly darker than the edges of the eyeball when you are working in gray scale. Keep in mind that this area has its own curves and bumps, so be sure to indicate that with your shading.

Finished Eye

Please post a comment below and let me know what you think of these lessons.

For the previous lesson, click HERE.