How to draw a realistic eye

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2002
how to draw a realistic eye

Hello everyone, I am very excited to present you this week this incredible tutorial on how to draw a realistic eye using Photoshop.

One of the reasons I wanted to create this tutorial, besides the fact that learning how to draw an eye is constantly requested by many readers, is that I wanted to show how relatively simple is to achieve a realistic look without any special technique in Photoshop but only using simple brushes and a smart layer setup.

I also wanted to demystify the often misunderstood process of drawing and painting realistically in a digital drawing software. There’s no special skill required really, you just need a bit of patience and a few essential tools.

For this painting, I used my trusty Graphire Wacom tablet (which I will soon enough upgrade with one of the more professional Wacom Tablets). Owning one of these graphic tablets is essential if you are serious about drawing digitally and achieving a similar result to this tutorial without one is going to be tough (although doable).

I also set myself a very tight drawing time of two hours tops. With realistic rendering details are very important and you can spend literally hours upon hours refining and add smaller and smaller details but I wanted to show that you can keep it brief and still achieve an awesome result.

I think it’s time to begin 🙂

How to draw a realistic eye

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You can see my setup here, Photoshop on the left and the image I used as a reference on the right.

The whole idea behind achieving realism with this painting is to think in layers. Yes, building up the painting layer upon layer to manufacture the necessary complexity to create the illusion of realism.

So you start with the first layer, a simple drawing of the main lines that form the eye. Eye contour, eyelids and the iris and pupil. So far not too complicated.

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Now, create a layer underneath the sketch. We’ll be creating all the color layers underneath the sketch and we’ll eventually delete completely the sketch layer.

We want to start painting  from the back to front, so the eyelashes are in front of the skin wich is in front of the eye. So we’ll start painting from the eye.

Select a base, whitish color and with a soft brush with medium opacity start filling the space occupied by the white of the eye.

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Start painting in with the same, round brush the skin tones. Change the size of the brush to cover a larger area and work with a medium opacity so you’ll achieve a nice blending with the colors you pick.

To choose the colors, use the reference image as a guide. Please do not stress out. Try to be accurate but don;t stress out there’s always time to change theme later on. Actually the more colors the better, you’ll achieve a more realistic finish.

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Once you’ve laid out the skin tones, come back to the eye. Clean the eye socket and, as we did for the skin, lay in some color variation. Lay some yellows and browns into the mix to create a more natural look to the white.

Actually, if you study the picture really carefully you’ll see that the white is not really white. Try to recognize what colors make up the white and add them in. Again, no stress 🙂

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At this point, I used a little trick. I drew the little red blood vessels that populate the surface of the sclera (the white portion of the eye) and then covered them (not completely) with more of the base color to create the illusion that the vessels are just underneath the surface. Like on a real eye.

They are not very noticeable but they contribute to creating the illusion of a realistic eye.

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How to draw a realistic eye – the pupil

Let’s move on to the iris and pupil now. The same applies here. Color variation is the key to success. Creating the base for the iris I used several variations of blue from dark to light in the middle.
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Next step, draw the pupil with solid black. Be careful to use a brush with a bit of softness. The pupil is sharp (in terms of focus) but not completely.

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Now it’s where a bit of patience goes a long way and actually this process took quite a chunk of the two hours I set myself to complete this drawing.

Time to draw the filaments (these are actually muscle fibers that allow to enlarge or close the pupil) inside the iris. Again no trick here, just a little bit of patience and the right size brush.

Draw the fibers from the pupil outward until you have filled the whole area.

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On a separate layer draw a second, chunkier group of strands. Use the reference image for guidance.

Now, to introduce a bit of color variation on the filaments the trick is to create them on a separate layer and check the ‘lock transparency’ on that layer. This allows you to draw and paint on that layer only where you have already painted without worrying about the negative space in between.

Play with different variations of blue and opacity to achieve a result that looks satisfactory to you.

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On a separate layer paint the highlight with pure white.

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How to draw a realistic eye – the skin

Time to start working on the skin around the eye. Tho objective here is to try and match the colors in the reference image. There isn’t a simple way to explain this, however, try playing with lower brush opacities and laying colors on top of each other to achieve a good variation and to capture the hues in the reference image.

Can you see how, for example, eyelids tend to be redder than other areas, whilst the top of the eye tends to brown?

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Really, you need to examine the reference image really closely and see where color variations happen and try to replicate them paying attention to blend colors using low opacity brushes.

Also at this point, you could remove the sketch layer introduce detailed lines where needed using directly color.

For example, define the lower eyelid and the upper eyelid.
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White highlights happen where light catches on edges so they are very important to define edges. As you can see here I have used highlights to define the edges of the bottom eyelid.

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On a very top layer, it’s time to add the eyelashes. I am not super happy with how they turned out but I had to stay within the two-hour limit so all in all I think I did a decent job given the time.

The secret to creating the eyelashes is to use a pen tablet and a brush with sensitivity set to brush size. This allows to draw them naturally from the eyelid outward and releasing the pressure toward the end to make the very tip of the eyelash taper down.

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Draw them one by one and position them carefully. See how they come out of the painting and then up.

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Once the eyelashes are done you can paint on a separate layer the reflection of the eyelashes on the iris. It’s a small detail but very important to achieve that illusion of realism.

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See, this is looking rally good already (no pun intended!)

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I decided at this point that the skin needed even more color variation. Because I had painted it on a separate layer I could apply even more colors to it without disrupting the detailed work done on the eye so far.

The bottom right corner needed more yellow thrown in it as well as the bottom left corner.

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When it comes to realism, high contrast surface detail is key and here I had to figure a decent way to create the illusion of the surface skin texture.

I ended up creating a custom brush in Photoshop that allowed me to disperse on the surface speckle-like dots which I then further colored (using the lock transparency trick) using various intensities of white.

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Same thing for the texture on the upper eyelid. In this case, I added the speckle-like texture and I painted by hand horizontal white highlight lines to simulate the light caught by the micro-folds of the skin.

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How to draw a realistic eye – final touches

A few final touches to complete the painting and this tutorial on how to draw a realistic eye. I added, even more, highlights (and more intense) to the corner of the eye to emphasize it.

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To finish the eyelashes I simulated the out of focus effect of the very tip of the eyelashes on the reference image by blurring slightly the tips of the eyelashes in my painting.

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And this is the final result. I hope you enjoyed my tutorial on how to draw a realistic eye.

Please take the time to share (if you liked it) it with your friends and to comment in the comment section below. You can post your realistic eye painting and show me how it turned out! Or if you have any question about the process or just to say hi!

Or maybe why don’t you suggest what my next tutorial should be about?

Thanks for reading and till the next drawing tutorial!