How To: Draw An Eye- Illustration vs. Representation

by Cass Art Student Ambassador

We set Fine Art student, Dean Wilson, loose with a set of Staedtler Pigment Liners, and in exchange he's offered to share a few of his drawing tips with us. He'll be showing us how to draw quick and easy eyes, by focusing on both traditionally representative and illustrative drawing styles. 


If you want to draw representatively, the most important piece of advice I can give is draw what you see, not what you think you know. We all know what a face looks like... or do we? It's easy to fall into the trap of drawing based on assumptions, but it's important to actively study and refer back to your source material while you work. Take the time to compare its proportion, shape and other physical attributes to those of your drawing, to see whether they match up.

A common example of drawing-by-assumption can be seen when looking at sketched images of eyes- eyelashes in particular often fall foul of this mistake. Everybody knows that eyelashes are the little hairs attached to our eyelids, but it’s easy to forget that they don’t always stick out in a perfectly mascara'd swoosh- they can fly off in different directions, they can be totally obscured by shadow, they can catch the light or they can get lost in the dark shades of a person's eyeliner.

In my quick sketch I referred closely to the source image, and tried my best to copy the placement, shape and thickness of the real lashes, building up tone using cross-hatching and making the most of the varying thicknesses of the fineliner pens. You’ll notice that the iris is not a perfect circle- your eyes have a shiny lens on them, which reflects light, meaning that often in photographs this flare will distort the shape.

Cross-hatching is a good way to build up tone, but also shape, as you can curve the lines to add depth and give the illusion that something is three-dimensional. I’ve used cross-hatching on the tear duct and to the left of the iris to affirm the spherical shape of the eyeball.



Illustration is very different to technical drawing, and commonly features stylised, playful details, which seek to convey a mood or tell a story about the image. While representative drawing puts heavy emphasis on the importance of detail and accuracy, an illustrative style gives a larger amount of creative freedom- allowing the artist to play with the elements of a drawing; minimising, eradicating or exaggerating details to suit the needs of their piece. When drawing in this style throw caution to the wind and play with pattern, texture and colour- just have fun with it!


In my illustrative piece I made use of the curves and basic shapes present in my original image, but chose to simplify and stylise the form. I experimented with mark-making, using the thinner-tipped pigment liners to fill some of the negative spaces with patterns, balancing this detail with matt blocks of black and white. I embraced the freedom of automatic drawing- letting my pen create swirls, curls, circles and triangles, without worrying about perfectly copying my source image. 

Illustrative drawing benefits from a steady hand, and while real life doesn’t have thick black outlines, illustrations often do. It can be difficult to keep everything neat and fluid, particularly when working in a permanent medium such as pen. In representative drawing slight slips of the hand can often be hidden amongst shadow or texture, but it's harder to disguise in illustration, which typically relies on fewer lines to relay an image. To achieve a clean finish I suggest working slowly, layering your lines and adding small details as you go.  

So- grab a cuppa, your favourite pens and find a comfy seat. Remember, there are really no rules in drawing and there's always room for experimentation, giving you the ability to create and embrace your own style, whether that be representative, illustrative or somewhere in between. Have fun!

Feeling Inspired?

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