How do you draw eyes?

  • SVS OG

    When I first started drawing, I drew Charlie Brown eyes on my characters — the comma with a dot - because it was simple and I was mostly drawing cartoonish characters. As I’ve developed my technique, however, I’ve tried to improve the eyes I use and so I’ve been watching how other people draw eyes. There are obviously definite eye styles associated with different types of illustrations — the anime eye, the Disney eye, the highly rendered eye, and quite frequently, the single dot eye. I know in one SVS video, Will Terry said that he thought the single dot eye doesn’t allow for enough expression and yet it is used surprisingly often by some highly skilled illustrators.

    I did the following quick study of various eyes (and I apologize that I can’t cite all of the artists.). I’m curious about how you choose to depict eyes, and why you have chosen that style. Do you change the style depending on the illustration and what goes into your decision making?

    Here’s my study:

  • Ive tried playing around with this. You cant keep to a single dot if you’re making the character glance sideways or upwards or squint or roll eyes. Or at least I havnt figured it out. I had to find a different solution for close up expressions but still do dots for distance

  • Moderator

    If I’m drawing cartoony then I have a triangle type eye that I’ve drawn for a while. But lately I’ve been trying to make my characters appear more real so the eyes are evolving. They are still triangle-y (😜) but with a more real spin on them.


  • Pro SVS OG

    Usually I draw the eye. Occasionally I draw a dot. I am not sure why I have chosen the dot in the illustrations past, I will have to think about it the next time I chose it over the full eye 🙂Alicewatercolorcc - Copy.jpg mertrainzoom.jpg

  • SVS OG

    @lmrush I think the dot works in your first illustration which points up part of what I'm trying to figure out. There are times when I feel like drawing the eye out gives my picture more of a cartoon look or more realism (depending on the type of eye) than I want and a dot keeps it simpler but at other times it's hard for me to work with a dot eye because it doesn't convey enough emotion. Maybe the dot works in your first illustration because the characters are turned toward one another and the feelings of intimacy don't require a lot of eye expression. The intimacy is portrayed in the pose. In your second picture, however, the fuller eye is needed in order to show the viewer where the character is looking and convey more of the character's feelings. This was a helpful comparison -- thanks for posting these side by side.

  • Pro

    @demotlj I actually draw both - Sometimes I do the dot eye, sometimes the full eye.



  • SVS OG

    @NessIllustration Is there a reason you choose one over the other in a particular drawing?

  • SVS OG

    You know this is such an interesting topic. I already had a couple of agents comment about how I draw my eyes. A year back, I drew my eyes with a dot. I really found that style appealling and innocent. However, when I made my first round of submissions to illustration agents and reps, I got the comment that I should change my eye style because as previously mentioned above, it limits the expression of the character. However, just recently when I did another round of submissions, an agent commented how big expressive eye are not popular right now. One even said that my eyes looked old-fashioned. To be fair I was inspired by retro cartoons. Now I’m trying out the big ruond eyes style because that’s what I see is prevalent in most children’s books nowadays regardless of what that previous agent said. I’m not really sure if I’m on the right track but I guess we’ll know once I do another round of submissions. Below are my previous and current eye styles.

    What do you guys think about this issue? Is there really an “in fashion” eye style as of the moment? Should we follow it? Should we follow our own style? What if an agent wants you to change your eye style? What if that’s the only element stopping you from being represented? Would you do it?




  • SVS OG

    @Nyrryl-Cadiz I think you hit the nail on the head -- are eyes a stylistic thing that can go in and out of fashion? I am fortunately not trying to be professionally employed and to some extent can draw in whatever style I want, no matter how old-fashioned it might look, but I don't want to totally date myself. How much harder this must be for all of you who are trying to work professionally.

  • Pro

    @Nyrryl-Cadiz The dot eye thing, it is a style that goes in and out of trend! Sometimes they'll say it's out, then it's in again. I will say though. I've seen plenty of artists make it work! It's a bit more difficult to make it expressive, but once you manage it then it actually becomes easier to draw regular eyes and expressions too. In your first illustration, the animals do seem a bit expressionless but I think this is more because it's an old piece. You're much better at drawing expressions now and if you tried it again I think you'd get much different results! There's so much that goes into an expression other than just the eyes. The eyebrows and mouth are very important, and so is the entire body and its posture! The best example of this is the carper in Aladdin. That thins has no eyes, no face, no nothing. It's a CARPET. But it's so freaking expressive! You can tell exactly how it's feeling. If people can do that with a carpet, I know it can be done with dot eyes too!

  • SVS OG

    @demotlj yes, I also didn’t know that was a thing! I thought that as long as your eyes were expressive, any variation would do but apparently that’s not the case. Apparently, retro looking eyes are not hot as of the moment which really baffled me. I think well established illustrators can get away with this but for starting ones, agents need a more mainstream style to sell them easier.

  • Pro

    @demotlj Mostly what strikes my fancy at that moment! It depends on the character design I'm trying to achieve. I do find it's nice to have both in my portfolio because I've seen clients specifically request dot eyes - or specifically request NO dot eyes.

  • SVS OG

    @NessIllustration i agree, I think dot eyes are classic and really sweet. But I guess it’s not currently in mainstream and it would be a hard sell for a newbie like me. Hopefully it’ll come back in style tho. I also agree in having dot eyes and huge eyes in ones portfolio so that whenever one style becomes popular, you’ll always be in trend.

  • Pro SVS OG

    @demotlj Thank you so much, that makes a lot of sense. I think dots can work-my belief is it is the eye brow that gives the emotion and I believe you can know where the viewer is looking by where the dot is in relation to the eyebrow-just my thinking......

  • I give most of my characters big white eyes with little pupils because I really like to play with increasing the pupil size to make a character scared or excited or pointing the eyes in different directions to make them look derpy. I forget where but I heard one person say dot eyes were "very European" while the bigger eyes were more American. I'm not sure what to make of that.

    I think it all comes down to the personal preference of the art director or publisher looking at your work and what is popular at the time in whatever niche market you are playing to. If one art director says that your style of faces looks old fashioned, maybe that just isn't the art director for you. If 15 art directors tell you the same thing, maybe it's worth looking into the industry that they work in and what style of work is being published, then you have to decide whether you want to adjust your style of drawing or pivot to a market where your art fits better.

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