Our subject for today is one of the Kitten Posse. I want to show you how to draw cat eyes with Bob as our model.
The eyes are the most important part of any portrait, especially portraits that focus on the subject’s face. Get the eyes right, and you’re almost guaranteed success.
The eyes need to look smooth as glass and wet. Those sound like daunting tasks, but they’re not if you work slowly and carefully, and if you refer to your reference photo often.
How to Draw Cat Eyes Step-by-Step
I used Faber-Castell Polychromos under Prismacolor Premier Soft Core pencils on Canson Mi-Teintes Steel Grey paper. The steps I’m about to describe can be used with any good colored pencils on any good drawing paper.
I used Polychromos for the initial under drawing and the over drawing. For the final step, I switched to Prismacolor.
Step 1: Begin with a Base Layer Warm Grey I
Begin by layering Warm Grey I over the iris. Use a very sharp pencil with light pressure. The eye needs to be absolutely smooth, so use the stroke gives you the smoothest color. Small, circular strokes are usually recommended.
Layer light gray once over all of the iris, including the shadowed areas, and the highlighted areas. Work around the pupils.
Go back over the highlighted areas one or two more times. Continue using light pressure for each layer, and make sure your pencils are sharp.
Step 2: Add Smooth Layers of Cream
Begin adding iris color with the lightest color in the iris, Cream. Use a sharp pencil, very light pressure, and small circular strokes to draw smooth color. Layer Cream over all parts of both eyes except the pupil.
Step 3: Add Darker Values with Nougat
Add one layer of Nougat throughout the iris except the pupil and the highlights. Use a very sharp pencil and light pressure to “tint” and darken the eye color where the sun falls on it.
In the shadows, add two or three layers—all with light pressure—to begin establishing the shadows.
Step 4: Start Working in Other Colors to Get the Right Eye Color
In the right eye, there’s a very clear shadow under the upper lid. Use light pressure and curving, directional strokes to add Walnut Brown along that shadow, and the smaller shadow along the lower, outside lid.
There are actually fewer dark values in the left eye. It’s darker overall because there are no direct highlights. Use Walnut Brown around the outside edges of the iris and around the pupil.
There are “linear” shapes radiating outward from the pupils, and inward from the outside edges of the iris, so use short, linear strokes to draw those.
In shadow areas other than under the lids, continue to draw smooth color.
Next, use a sharp pencil and directional or circular strokes to add Earth Green to some parts of each eye. Also add one or two layers of lightly applied Earth Green to the reflected light highlights in the right eye.
The results are very subtle, even in real life. You don’t need—or want—obvious color. Just subtle transitions.
Layer Pine Green over parts of both eyes with a little more deliberation.
For example, I went around the outsides of both irises using a sharp pencil and short, directional strokes to enhance the lines radiating in toward the pupils.
When you finish layering color, use White to lightly “burnish” some of the lighter areas in each eye (marked in the illustration below.)
This isn’t true burnishing because you use medium pressure instead of heavy pressure. Also use a dull pencil to blend the colors already on the paper, and make them smoother.
Step 5: Shading the Highlights
Because they’re round and wet, eyes pick up more reflected light than other types of surfaces. Reflected highlights are also often brighter in eyes than on other surfaces.
Bob’s right eye has a large area of reflected highlight in the lower, inside surface, near the corner of the eye. Nearly all of the lower half of the left eye shows reflected light, broken into three separate shapes in two main areas.
The brightest highlight comes directly from the sun and it appears in only two places in the right eye.
Drawing the Direct Highlights
Using a very sharp pencil, carefully outline and fill in the two direct highlights. The eye is wet, so the edges should be sharp and crisp. Get the shape of each highlight and the placement as accurate as possible, since both shape and placement give the eye a round look, like a marble.
Use light to medium-light pressure.
This is a perfect place to use Prismacolor White. Prismacolors are wax-based so they’re softer than Faber-Castell Polychromos (which are oil-based.) The white goes onto the paper more easily and brightly.
But because they are softer, you may have problems with the tip chipping (my pencil chipped twice.) Polychromos White also works for these highlights. It will take more layers to get the same look, but you’re less likely to have problems with chipping. I used a combination of both brands.
Drawing the Reflected Highlights
Layer White very lightly over each reflected highlight. Follow the reference photo as closely as you can. Fade the white out to soft edges where the reference photo shows that, and draw clearer edges and brighter white where that’s what appears in the reference photo.
As with the direct highlights, get the shape and placement of each reflected highlight as accurate as possible.
Step 6: Finishing the Eyes
From this point on, it’s a delicate balance of adding colors to get the right values and colors. Darken the shadows as needed, brighten the parts of the iris that aren’t affected by highlights, and adjust edges to make everything as accurate as possible.
Add additional layers of Cream, Nougat, Walnut Brown, Earth Green, and Pine Green as needed to each area. You can also add other colors if you wish, depending on your sense of adventure and how the reference photo looks on your digital device!
Add more layers of each color. Work slowly and carefully to build color and saturation, so the colors are smooth and none of the paper color shows through.
Add Walnut Brown in the shadows and darker middle values. Keep the color layer smooth, but use slightly heavier pressure if necessary.
Add Pine Green in many of the same areas. The two colors—dark brown and dark green—blend to create nice, rich shadows.
Next, add Earth Green into some of the lighter middle values. The left eye (the eye in shadow,) isn’t that dark in value, but it has a bluer cast than the right eye because it’s entirely in shadow. Layer Earth Green over most of it, including parts of the reflected eye light to create those cooler tones.
Layer Cream and Ivory into some of the lighter middle values with medium pressure or a little lighter. You’re still drawing smooth color, so use small strokes, and work slowly and carefully.
Don’t layer each color over all of the lighted parts of the iris, but mix and match them so they blend in some areas, lie side-by-side in others, and aren’t applied at all to still other areas.
Step 7: Finish with Prismacolor
Darken the pupils and parts of the outer edges of the irises with Black, and go over some of the reflected highlights with Warm Grey I.
Switch to Prismacolor Soft Core to layer additional color over the Polychromos. They’re ideal for filling in the last paper holes, and creating eyes that look like wet glass.