The eye is both the most important feature and the most difficult one to draw. Students fuss over the rendering of the eye in their drawings, and they're right: a poorly drawn eye will make an otherwise tolerable portrait look amateurish. Why does the eye present such a challenge?

Part of the problem is psychological. We are so engrossed in our preconceptions of the eye that we tend to draw from an idea rather than what we actually see. We conceive of the eye as important, so we draw it too large; we think of the eye as symmetrical and flat, and so it appears in drawings.

Part of the problem is more mundane. Under usual circumstances— say, in a drawing class—we're simply too far from the eye to see very much detail. To make matters worse, the eye is the part of the face most often in shadow, further hiding the forms. But watch two people drawing the same model from the same distance and learn a valuable lesson. The more-experienced artist will draw on a mental image of the eye to make up for the limited amount actually visible, not unlike the way a computer "enhances" a photograph from a distant planetary probe, filling in what's left out, making educated guesses. The less-experienced person can only draw what is visible, with no help from the experienced imagination. The results will show the difference. A good rendering of the eye, then, is based on a combination of prior knowledge and direct observation.

Starting with the Sphere_

Here's one of the main things that prior knowledge will tell you: the eye is round, not flat! Imagine cutting a small slit into a piece of soft leather cloth, then holding the cloth tight over a table tennis ball. The cloth will mold itself over the ball, and the slits will curve around it like lines of latitude on a globe. The eyeball is in fact an exact duplicate of the table tennis ball in size and shape, and the cloth acts like the eyelids, molding around the ball.

From most views, and on most faces, the ball of the eye makes itself felt: in the curving path of the lid rims as they arc from corner to corner; in the fullness of the lids themselves; and in the way light plays over the whole, revealing the roundness of the lids and the exposed eyeball.

Try looking at your own eye in a mirror as you move your head back and forth and up and down; you'll notice that the eyelids always stay pressed tight against the eye and follow its curves no matter how it moves. Raise your eyebrows as high as you can and look at the upper lid—the ball underneath becomes vividly apparent. Gently feel your eye and the surfaces around it for the limits of ball and bone.

If you want to master the drawing of the eye, grab a ball from your closet, set it on a table in good side lighting (one well-defined shadow zone, one well-defined zone of light), and draw it until it looks round. (You'll know when you've succeeded.) You have to be able to shade such a sphere before you can shade an eye.

Going beyond the Mass Conceptions_

The first part of going beyond the symbolic eye is observing its roundness; the second part is getting beyond symmetry. A well-drawn eye shouldn't look like it could be turned upside down and work just as well. The upper and lower eyelids, and the border they make along the eye, are quite different from each other. The inner half of the eye is shaped differently from the outer.

Fortunately, there.are some predict able ways that the eye is irregular in it's shape.The eye's not horizontal:The inner corner of the eye is situated a little lower down the face than the outer corner. This arrangement has practical value: tears, which are constantly moistening the eye's surface, move downward to their drain, the little red gland in the inner corner. So just like in a bathtub, the drain in the inner eye corner is located at the lowest point of the eye.

Though the lids are both arched, they do not get to the peak of their arcs at the same point. The upper lid rises sharply from the inner corner, curving more slowly down to the outer (it's not as far down); the lower lid is very flat at first, dipping low further to the outside. The high point of the upper lid and the low point of the lower are diagonally across from each other.

The Iris and Pupil_

The colored portion of the eye, the iris, is centered around a circular opening, the pupil. Even if the iris is partly hidden, the pupil must be in the middle of the entire, and not just the visible, circle.

When you draw the iris, be sure to judge its real size relative to the eye-whites surrounding it; there is a tendency to draw it much too large. A good rule is that the iris, in the adult eye, is always about one-third the width of the entire eye opening. One problem with making it too big is that you give whomever you've drawn an infantile look; babies have huge-appearing irises because their eye slit isn't wide enough to show much of the rest of the eye. When the face grows, the apparent size of the iris shrinks.

This just gets us started with the eye. Later we'll look at the fascinating and subtle ways the eye changes to accompany our various moods.

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