Drawing Eye Misconceptions

Figure Artist uses virtual models that are anatomically correct, including genitalia; however, it also includes a feature to remove genitals from the models. The default is off, showing no genitalia. The images in this book use the default setting.

Learning to Be a Figure Artist

Good figure drawing is a conscious effort that takes time, patience, and knowledge. I have often told my students that art is more closely related to an athletic event than it is to an academic endeavor. I believe that art instructors would be better served to think of themselves as coaches than as teachers. Like athletics, art takes very refined physical facility, adeptness, and inspiration.


Art has a very tactile aspect to its creation. It is a physical act that requires immense dextral control and extreme delicacy. This type of control can only be learned through long practice. Like the athlete, an artist must spend countless hours practicing. The artist needs to learn control and handling of the drawing instruments. The artist must gain a feeling for the surface.

Practicing drawing can create within an artist drawing skill. In other words, the artist can learn to make the pencil behave and do what the artist wishes. An artist can learn to draw boldly and strongly or delicately and subtly. If you have ever watched a good caricature artist at work, you know what I mean. The drawing just seems to flow from his or her pencil. It is almost a performing art. But just learning to use a pencil well does not make a person a good figure artist. The artist also needs to have knowledge.


Knowledge is key to creating great figure drawings. When talking about figure drawings, words such as anatomy, gesture, proportion, composition, perspective, line quality, form, and lighting always seem to crop up. Each of these words denotes specific knowledge that the artist needs to have to consistently create meaningful figure drawings. In other words, just being able to control a pencil is not enough—the artist also has to understand structure and components of the figure and the drawing itself.

For the artist to use knowledge to help with drawing, it must be accurate knowledge. Familiarity with himself both helps and hinders the artist in learning how to draw people. It helps because the artist already knows the subject. It hinders because the artist assumes an understanding of the subject and draws without really looking at it.

Let me give a quick example. Often one of the most glaring errors that beginning artists make is to draw a person with the features of the face too high on the head. The artist assumes that because there is so much going on between the eyes and the chin and so little between the eyes and the top of the head, the features of the face should take up most of the room on the head. The fact is that a normal human head has the eyes about halfway between the top of the head and the bottom of the chin, as shown in Figure 1.2.

Figure 1.2 The eyes are only about halfway up from the chin on the average face.

The Human Figure Stx.

Artists gain knowledge from many sources, but the greatest source of knowledge comes from observation. This is especially true of the figure artist. Learning to see the figure as it really appears will do more for increasing a person's ability to draw the figure than almost any other ability.

Probably the most significant thing that I have learned through intent observation is to see how things really are instead of how I think they should be. A big revelation for me when I started really learning how to draw was how many assumptions I made in life. Let me give you an example. Take the human eye, which many think is shaped like a football. I have seen many beginning art students draw eyes similar to footballs, as shown in Figure 1.3.

Figure 1.3 Beginning artists often draw eyes in the shape of a football.

Close examination shows that even though the eye might resemble the shape of a football, it is much more complicated. Look at Figure 1.4. The eye itself is actually a round sphere within the eye socket. The upper and lower eyelids cover the ball of the eye, allowing only a small portion to be seen. Rarely does the iris of the eye show completely below the upper eyelid. There is a tear duct on the side of the eye near the nose. And the eyelids have thickness, which is most noticeable on the lower lid.

When teaching students how to draw eyes, I first have to unteach the football shape and get them to really look at the eye. As long as they assume they know the shape of the eye, they don't really look at it; they just draw footballs. Once they really start to look at the eye, they begin to understand how it really looks and can draw it with confidence (see Figure 1.5).

Figure 1.5 It helps to know the true nature of the eye to draw it well.

Eye Drawing Common Misconceptions

Figure 1.5 It helps to know the true nature of the eye to draw it well.

Figure 1.4 The shape of the eye is more complex than a simple football.


In addition to drawing skill and knowledge, a good figure artist needs one more ingredient— vision. It doesn't take vision to draw something well and accurately, but it does take vision to create art.

Not long ago I was discussing with a friend his recent experiences in taking a drawing class at a local university He commented on something I have often seen when teaching my own students drawing. He told me that he was amazed at all of the things he had never noticed before—things such as the way light defines objects and how reflected light makes objects look like they have dimension. He spoke of colors and shading, of textures and motion, of composition and perspective. He commented that he really wasn't a very good artist, but that taking a drawing class was teaching him how to see. He stated, "I never knew how much I was missing in life until I took this art class."

My friend was gaining more in his drawing class than just the ability to draw. He was gaining artistic vision—the ability to see the world in a truer, clearer way. In other words, he was gaining the ability to see and understand the world around him in a deeper, more profound manner. This ability enables the artist to see what most people miss. What the artist sees might be the subtle shading from light to dark across a surface, or it might be the underlying personality of the person he or she is drawing. It might be that the artist has a unique way of looking at social situations, as Norman Rockwell did, or it might be that the artist can see the inner spirit of man, as Michelangelo did. The artist then takes that vision and infuses it into his work to give the world a meaningful work of art.

A trained artist who has learned to draw and paint realistically experiences life at a completely different level than does a person who has not had art training. The world becomes a rich and beautiful place full of wonder and excitement.

Even mundane objects and places become interesting. Major art museums are filled with paintings of mundane scenes made interesting by the hand of great masters whose vision helped the rest of the world see wonder in the ordinary.

Artistic vision requires the artist to focus and see what others might miss. It is difficult to say which elements the artist might pick up that others miss, but let me give you a simple example from my own work. While drawing a portrait one day, I noticed that the pupil of the eye was set back from the lens. Look at the drawing of the eye in Figure 1.6. Notice that the clear lens of the eye has thickness, and both the iris and the pupil sit behind the lens.

Figure 1.6 The iris and pupil sit behind the clear lens of the eye.

For me, this simple discovery was meaningful because it changed the way I thought of eyes, and I began to recognize the inherent quality of offsetting the iris and pupil from the outer edge of the eyeball when the eyes are turned at an angle. This might sound like a little thing, but the little things sometimes make the biggest differences in an artist's work.

Learning about the Figure

In this book I hope to help you to develop all three aspects of figure art just mentioned. I will be giving you practice exercises to help you develop your physical art abilities. I will give instruction to help increase your knowledge of figure drawing. And last of all, I will give you creative challenges to help you unlock your artistic vision. Let's start by going over some of the basics of the figure. This will help you to gain a foundation upon which you can then learn how to draw the human form.

Basic Proportions of the Human Form

As mentioned earlier, human bodies come in a great variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. It would be almost impossible to describe every variation while trying to give you some basic guidelines for drawing the figure. Instead, I will attempt to give you some general proportions based on an ideal human body. The creators of Figure Artist have been kind enough to supply ideal male and female virtual models that I will use as references to show you the proportions. Let me introduce them to you. Meet James and Jessica, shown in Figure 1.7.

Figure 1.7 James and Jessica are our two virtual models.

James and Jessica are virtual models and not real people; therefore, they are not based on a single body type, but rather are designed to be the ideal body types. Figure 1.8 shows our models without clothing so you can better see their anatomy.

Couple Nude Dancing
Figure 1.8 Without their clothing, you can better see the models' body type.

Figure 1.7 James and Jessica are our two virtual models.

When working from the ideal figure as reference, the artist needs to keep a couple things in mind. First, the ideal figure is an ideal, not an average. For example, the average figure is about seven-and-a-half heads high. (When measuring, the figure artist will often use the model's head as a standard unit of measurement because the head doesn't radically change dimensions.) The ideal figure is about eight heads high, giving it a slightly larger-than-life feel. Look at Figure 1.9, which shows the proportions of the ideal figure.

The "eight heads high" rule applies to the female figure the same way it applies to the male, as shown in Figure 1.10.

Even though the female figure is generally smaller than the male figure, the proportions are the same because a person's head is usually proportional to their body Thus, taller people generally have larger heads than shorter people do.

Ideal Female Proportions

Figure 1.9 The ideal figure is eight heads high. Figure 1.10 The female figure is also eight heads high.

Figure 1.9 The ideal figure is eight heads high. Figure 1.10 The female figure is also eight heads high.

I also included a few other lines over our male and female figures to show some other interesting facts.

^ The male figure is about three head-widths wide at the shoulders and only about two to two-and-a-half wide at the hips.

^ The female figure is about two to two-and-a-half head widths for both the shoulders and the hips.

^ The halfway point for the height of the figure is just above the crotch area of the model.

^ The distance from the center of the body to the tip of the finger is about half the height of the model. Therefore, the distance from fingertip to fingertip is equal to the model's height.

^ If the body was divided in height by four, the bottom quarter line would intersect the knees, and the top quarter line would be just above the nipples.

^ With the exception of the hips and upper legs, the male figure is usually thicker than the female figure.

^ The widest point of the hips on a female is even with her crotch, while the widest point for the male is above his crotch.

^ If the male figure is muscular, the upper leg muscles will be wider than the hips.

Figure 1.11 shows the male from the front, side, and back. Notice that the lower leg is almost entirely to the right of the centerline in the side view.

Figure 1.11 Look how the proportions line up with the figure from front, side, and back views.
Female Figure Front Back Side
Figure 1.12 The female figure seen from the front, side, and back

Figure 1.12 shows the female from the front, side, and back.

You can use these general proportions to help you set up your figures in your drawings. They create a base for better understanding the human form. Try sketching our two models, shown in Figure 1.13.

For this drawing don't worry too much about getting a beautiful figure drawing. This is just an exercise to show how to use the proportions to set up a drawing.

Gozo Model Art

Figure 1.13 The two models are walking and wearing bathing suits.

Figure 1.13 The two models are walking and wearing bathing suits.

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