Charcoal Eye Drawing In Minutes Even If You're A Newbie

Human eye drawing

Drawing eyes can be a challenge for even the most experienced artist. The shape and size of each eye vary from person to person, which means that there is no perfect way to draw them. 

To draw a realistic eye using charcoal, start with its form and consider the proportion. Next, develop the pupil by adding layers and values to the pupil and details to the eye's outer parts. Draw the eyelashes and the eyebrows. Lastly, blend and contour the whole eye.

In this blog post, we will provide tips on creating a realistic charcoal eye drawing in minutes, whether you are an expert or a novice!

How to Draw a Realistic Eye with Charcoal

A realistic charcoal drawing of an eye - Image by CityHighSchool

A realistic charcoal drawing of an eye - Image by CityHighSchool

What You'll Need

Step-by-Step Guide

1. Start with the eye form

For this tutorial, let us work on mastering an eye before moving to both eyes. Print an enlarged image of the eyes you want to replicate, then use it to reference the proportions of the eye and the eyebrows. 

Draw the eye using the same technique when making a portrait drawing by marking out the distance between the eyes. Sketch the outline of the eye using light strokes of the fine point of your newly-sharpened charcoal or graphite pencil.

Beginners may not take this step seriously. However, a professional artist always takes careful note that the foundation for a good portrait starts with a well-proportioned outline. The same principle goes when you draw eyes.

2. Develop the pupil

The pupil is the most expressive part of the portrait, so it is best to go slow and create subtle details that advanced artists and art students aim to achieve. 

Draw the pupil and the iris, then block the light and dark values. Use a soft charcoal pencil to develop the pupil, adding details in layers as you build it until you get the correct likeness.

Add highlights to the eye using a white charcoal pencil. Draw in the reflection and shadow you see on it. Techniques like this are the hardest for beginners unless you give special attention to shading. The iris is not much of an issue here since only a tiny part of it gets details.

3. Develop the outer parts of the eye

Follow the outer eye contour with soft charcoal and develop it gradually, adding tones, values, and highlights. Blend to soften the edges with a blending stump and adjust the light and darker areas.  

Begin by hatching around drawing, then blend it. Some artists use their fingers, but we find it best to rely on the blending stump or wrapping your favored finger with tissue or artist chamois. 

Shade around the eye and also on the sclera (the whitish part of the eye). Draw veins to make it more realistic.

4. Add eyelashes and eyebrows

Draw the eyelashes in layers, moving around the eye, adding more as you go around. Do the same to the eyebrows. Lightly sketch using your charcoal pencil, moving to slightly darker strokes during the process.

5. Blend and contour the whole eye

Add more highlights and darker values to give a realistic look to the eye. Add highlights and color accents to the eye, playing on the shadows and reflections you may have missed during the process.

Here is a video showing all the steps in action:

Expert Tips to Make a Realistic Eye

  • The eye has its unique nuances

Did you know that the face can fit approximately five eyes lined where the eyes should be? It also helps to identify the eye shape before drawing it to get the best angle. 

From there, you can know how to add other details as you work on the whole eye. Another tip worthy to note from a professional artist: the pupil takes up about 1/2 of the eye if the model is looking straight at you.

This knowledge is essential for novice artists who want to learn to draw the eye. There are 8 basic shapes of the eye - almond, upturned, hooded, monolid, downturned, protruding, deep-set, and round. Then there is the eyelid to consider. 

Some eyelids and the surrounding skin are too droopy, some are heavier under the eye, while others are not as pronounced, especially among Asians.

The eye itself shows emotion, therefore drawing the eye differs according to how they feel, making it even more enjoyable. No wonder dozens of lessons tackle this particular subject, but art students only begin to understand it when practicing their techniques. 

But overall, draw an eye following your gut without being too technical because it won't be art anymore if you overanalyze it.

  • The eye looks different when viewed from different angles

It is easier to draw an eye when the subject is looking forward. However, when the face is at an angle, the placement and see the eye changes. 

The tip is to remember the eye in its three-dimensional form. Therefore the eyelid follows that shape, especially when the person you're drawing is visible on his profile. 

Watch videos of people, giving more focus on the eye and see how the eye behaves in certain emotions and situations, focusing on the movement of the pupil and the iris. Consider the position of the head to draw the eye from that direction.

  • Emotions affect the size of the iris

Going back to the video you're watching with the eye in focus, you'll see that the iris (the darkest part of the eye) is not always visible, and emotions and light are vital to it. 

The iris looks dilated when the subject is dark, happy, aroused, or focusing on something from a distance. The opposite happens when the eye faces a bright light, is surprised, afraid, or looks at something up close.

  • Identify the direction of the light

As we have mentioned in the previous charcoal drawing tutorials, the direction from where the light comes from determines the tones and values of your eye. Depending on the model's position with the light source, the eyelids may cast a partial or complete shadow to the eye, giving it a darker value.

Remember to give the rest of the sclera some light value and not leave it an absolute white even if the rest of the eye is not in the shadows. This particular detail sets the advanced artists over newbies, giving the drawing a more realistic feel.

Conversely, the upper eyelid has the lightest value for your eye drawing because it receives the most light. The part of the eye just below the brow gets three or more values, the darkest being the part closest to the upper eyelid. The fold of skin below the lower eyelid is also dark with two or three values to it.

  • The left and right eyes are not identical

You may find it annoying if you don’t get to draw the other eye in the same way as the other. Newsflash: the eyes are never identical. So, don’t stress to duplicate the right and left eye perfectly because it will only end up freakish.

  • Know your model

To capture the eye realistically, know your model. There is something that differentiates the male eye from the female eye, even without considering the eyebrows, even if they have the same emotions. The male eye has a harder look to it, while the female eye tends to be softer.  

Try to understand the emotions of your model also. It helps to see yourself in the mirror, mimicking the expression so you can study how the eye responds to a specific stimulus.    

Charcoal Eye Drawing FAQ

How do you draw realistic eyebrows with charcoal?

The eyebrows are crucial for women, and you should not ignore them when drawing an eye. As with applying makeup, you don't draw the eyebrows in one straight light. Instead, you follow the contour of the eyebrow when adding hairs.

Start with a basic eyebrow form, then slowly fill it in layers with hair, following the hair's natural growth. Blend the first layer lightly, add more details with a charcoal pencil, then highlight with a kneaded eraser.

Don't make your eyebrow drawing too smooth, allowing some hairs to go out of the line to make it look more natural.

How do you fix charcoal drawings?

  1. Fixing a charcoal drawing is sealing it to prevent dusting, leaving the picture washed out and lighter. When adding a fixative to your charcoal drawing, remember the following:

  2. Work at a slight angle, going for 20-40°. If it is too deep, the aerosol spray applied to the charcoal drawing will be too concentrated.

  3. Don't get too much of the fixative stream in one go. It tends to blow over the charcoal dust, making your drawing more awful than when you started. It may also get your paper wet, causing it to warp.

  4. Apply the workable fixative from left to right, adding a light layer. Let it dry completely between layers.

  5. Add 4-5 layers of fixative, shifting the application direction, so you're going at right angles on the next layer.

How do you get your charcoal drawings ready for an exhibit?

After applying your fixatives, you are now ready to frame your artwork. The first thing you should know before you get a frame is to see the exhibit's purpose. 

For student exhibits where your primary purpose is to have your fellow art students and teachers critique your work, you can go for a simple frame without matting or even a poster board.

If you're going for professional exhibits, get a suitable frame and matting that will make your work pop out. However, don't go for an elaborate frame or too loud mats that will take the focus off your work. Its purpose is to protect your artwork, not obscure it.


We hope this guide has helped you draw a realistic eye using charcoal pencils. Whether you are an expert or novice artist, these tips should help get your drawing started! 

What did you think of our tips? Let us know by posting a comment below.

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