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6 Tips for drawing eyes in the Semi-Realistic Art Style

Hey there, fellow artists! If you’ve been on a journey to master the art of drawing eyes in a semi-realistic art style, you’re in the right place.

After spending nearly a year learning to draw stylized portraits by studying the process of the contemporary masters of semi-realistic art like Eliza Ivanova and Loish, I have picked up 6 most useful tips for drawing semi-realistic eyes that I’d love to share with you. So let’s dive right in!

Tip 1 Simplify complex shapes.

Now, I know it sounds pretty obvious, but one of the toughest challenges I faced when transitioning from realistic to semi-realistic eye drawing was letting go of the need to replicate every detail from the reference.

Here are some things I try to simplify when drawing eyes from a photo reference:

  • Merge multiple lines for the upper eyelid, eyelashes, and skin folds into one or two bold lines.
  • Instead of painstakingly drawing each eyelash strand, create a broader line.
  • Opt for fluid gesture lines over obsessing about small variations in eyelid curvature.
  • Keep shadows and highlights on the eyeball simple, following the upper eyelid’s general shape.

Tip 2 Draw bigger eyes!

Drawing semi-realistic eyes isn’t just about the technique; it’s also about proportions. To give your sketches that semi-realistic flair, exaggerate the size of the eyes in relation to the rest of the face.

Aiming for four eye-widths across the face instead of the standard five is usually enough to suggest semi-realism.

Tip 3 Exaggerate the angle between the eye corners.

Changing the angle between the inner and outer corners of the eyes can dramatically affect the appearance of your eye sketches.

Usually, when you view a person from the front view, the outer corners are placed slightly higher than the tear ducts, although this angle is barely noticeable.

But here’s a tip I borrowed from Disney for drawing eyes on a feminine face; exaggerate this angle by positioning the outer corners of the eyes slightly further up relative to the tearducts and compliment it with a more pronounced arc of the lower eyelid to make your eye sketches more attractive and stylized.

Tip 4 Combine small organic shapes into bigger flowy clusters when shading

Achieving that semi-realistic look can often come down to how you render pencil shading.

Try to minimize transitions in values and aim for crisp shadows under the upper eyelids that contrast beautifully with clear highlights on the Sclera (that’s the white part of the eye, in case you were wondering).

Tip 5 Study other artists.

Study of a drawing by Loish
A practice study of a drawing by Loish I did last year.

If you’re new to semi-realism, don’t be shy about taking inspiration from fellow artists and even copying some of their artwork to study their art process.

Recreating semi-realistic eyes already drawn by other artists as opposed to drawing from photos of actual people can be incredibly helpful, especially if you’re used to drawing in a realistic style in the past.

Personally, I’m a huge fan of artists like Loish, Eliza Ivanova, and Lyendecker. Analyzing how they interpret and draw eyes loosely has been a game-changer for me.

P.S. If you’re curious about learning different art styles, I’ve got a separate post on 4 ways to study an art style, so make sure to check it out!

Tip 6 Practice and improve your understanding of basic anatomy

Study of a plaster cast of the eye of David by Michelangelo.

As the saying goes, “You need to know the rules to break them.” This rings especially true in art. To consistently draw stylized eyes in a semi-realistic style, you first need a solid grasp of the fundamentals.

Take time to understand eye structure, the supporting muscles, and the skull. It’ll make a world of difference in your art journey.

Here are some exercises to help you build your eye-drawing skills:

So there you have it, my top 6 tips for mastering semi-realistic eyes in your artwork. Remember, practice makes progress, so don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and keep refining your craft. Happy drawing!