Drawing Line Art Eyes

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This article is about drawing line art eyes, everything from a minimalistic style to realistic line art, and including examples of various expressions.

So I’ve been practicing with my graphic tablet for about two months now and I’m starting to get comfortable with it.  However, I’ve noticed that the limited drawing area of the basic Intuos tablet sometimes makes drawing difficult.  For lack of a better way to put it, my hand movements feel “pinched” and tense, which can make it harder to draw smooth lines as you may notice below.  But, I am improving with practice.   Since I’m sort of starting over (learning to draw digitally), I thought it would be a good idea to go back to some basics.  For the last couple of weeks I’ve been practicing drawing eyes.  Drawing eyes can be a challenge for beginning artists, but they’re key to good character art.   The eyes can be very expressive and are really important in showing a character’s emotion.  Because of that it is important to think about how the eyes can show expression by themselves and practice drawing them.  In line art there are also many different drawing styles and in this article I’m going to focus on just six that I find useful.  They are…

  • Minimalistic
  • Simplistic
  • Western Comic
  • Anime / Manga
  • Chibi
  • Semi-Realistic

Most of these categories are arbitrary labels I came up with though anime and chibi styles are pretty well defined as specific styles.  The rest are labels I came up with or borrowed for styles that, so far as I’m aware, don’t really have specific names.  There’s also some overlap between western comic and semi-realistic.  I split them up in ways I found useful for defining differences in style and level of detail, which I’ll discuss below.  I’ll leave it to art professors to argue about whether my definitions are “artistically accurate”.

For each “style” below I’ve picked six emotions to show, first a neutral or expressionless form as a base example and then, happy, angry, surprised, brooding and finally sad expressions.  There are many others that could be drawn and if you’re an aspiring artist I would encourage you to practice drawing as many as you can think of in whatever styles you might use (I went with six because that was what fit on the sheet I intended to do for this article).  Drawing them this way forces you to think about the expression of each emotion, how it should look and how you want to approach drawing that.  Practicing it will help you define your own style and make it easier and faster for you to draw the expressions later, whether you do it as a hobby or professionally.

Minimalistic

This is by far the simplest style to draw and I don’t use it very much.  Its basically what you see in Charlie Brown / Peanuts cartoons or maybe emoticons and “smiley faces”.   There’s not much to it and you have few elements to work with in showing emotion.  The eye is a dot or a slit, eyebrows are a simple line and there’s generally not much else.  The eyeball is rarely indicated, at most by a short curved line sometimes in surprised or sad expressions.

minimalistic eyes

Simplistic

This style is also easy to draw but has more detail and is common in many cartoons, for example you’ll see variations of it in Family Guy or the Simpsons.  The eye is usually a round circle with the pupil drawn as a dot, there’s no iris drawn.  Eyebrows are simple lines, there’s not much else to it.   The style has its uses but I’m not overly fond of it, I like a bit more detail in what I draw and see.

simplistic eyes

Western Comic

Although there is a lot of variation within this “style”, generally what it has in common is the eye shape is more defined and starts to gain some realism.  The iris and pupil are well defined.  The eyebrow may be a simple line (as I’ve done it here) or it could be more of a defined shape.  There are sometimes highlights added to the eye (which I’ve included) and in close ups of the face the iris might have some additional detail (which I didn’t include).   What I’ve drawn is a more masculine eye, but when drawing women the eye tends to be somewhat more narrow and “cat like”.

western comic eyes

Anime

Anime or manga styles are similar to the western comic style and there’s also some variations possible.  Some of the things I’ve noticed is that the eye tends to be more “impressionistic”.  For example often only the top and lower eyelids are drawn to give the impression of the eye shape but the sides are not enclosed.  The eyes tend to be a bit more feminine, even with men’s eyes, and some impression of eyelashes are usually included.  The eyebrows are more likely to be a drawn shape and some get very stylized.  Anime also often makes more use of eye highlights and are more likely to include more detail in the shading of the iris.  Personally, I find the anime style a bit easier and quicker to draw than the western comic style.

anime eyes

Chibi

This could be argued to be a subset of anime / manga, which I suppose it is; but its also very distinctive.   Chibi can be translated as child or child-like and the eyes often give a child-like impression.  The style is sometimes used for characters that are supposed to be innocent, and it works for that.  I can’t help but think “puppy dog eyes” when I see it though.  Drawing chibi eyes is all about exaggeration, they are impossibly large (and so not at all realistic) and tend to be very expressive.   Chibi style eyes are often drawn with more and larger “eye bling”, those “bubbles” that help indicate the eyes are shiny and reflective.  In my own practice I discovered the size and placement of these can help convey expressions.  So for happy or surprised I make them larger.   Sad eyes are larger but more droopy.  Angry eyes have smaller reflections.   I actually found them fun to draw.  My history in art has been more with realism, so chibi is very different for me but it can be a lot of fun playing with the expressions.

chibi eyes

Semi-Realistic

I call this semi-realistic because it begins to add some realistic details but doesn’t try to be absolutely realistic.  Some of these can be too subtle for most comic art, but can work in a graphic novel or as more detailed concept art.  Drawing is similar to western comic but the eye shape is more natural and less angular.  The iris gains some detail and the pupil is more realistic.  Light crease lines hint at the shape of the eyelids and eyeball.  There may be an abstract impression of the tear duct.  The top of the eyebrow shape becomes “fuzzy” indicating hair, again in an abstracted way.  Adding reflective “bubble” highlights to the eye is optional.  One thing that I noticed is how easily the details are lost if the eye is scaled down.  I’d use this for concept art where I need to make a fairly accurate representation of the eye.

semi-realistic eyes

And here’s the whole style sheet.

eye style sheet

Tips and Notes

  • Use construction lines to help guide you.  I like to set them up on their own layer under my main drawing layer at about 30% opacity, but above a white background.   For semi-realistic and realistic eyes I like to add circles to represent the position of the eyeball.
  • Layers are your friend and one of the big advantages of drawing digitally, try creating a “rough in” layer over your construction layer and do a quick, messy concept sketch to work out the general shape you want.  Reduce the opacity and use it as an additional reference as you draw your final version on a layer above that.
  • Sometimes several shorter lines can be easier to draw than one long line.  If you find you’re having trouble drawing a circle, try drawing it as two halves or even each quarter.
  • Try zooming in or out if you have difficulty.  With a smaller tablet, zooming in can help match the screen size to the tablet size which can make drawing easier.
  • Use your history to undo mistakes quickly and redraw lines.
  • Learn to use the lasso tool to grab and adjust portions of the drawing.  The lasso tool is very useful for many things and I find I use it quite a lot.
  • Practice, practice, practice.  The more you draw something the better you get at it and the more natural it becomes.  Do practice exercises as often as you have time for and don’t worry about mistakes, let yourself enjoy the process of learning.
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment.  Trying out different ways of doing things helps you develop your own style.  It can also be a lot of fun.

For those looking for more help in how to draw eyes, you might find the following links to videos by Jazza (Josiah Brooks) useful.

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