How to Draw Horse Eyes With Colored Pencils

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Draw a Horse Eye

the finished horse eye drawing
The finished horse eye drawing.

Janet Griffin-Scott

Eyes are where you are able to capture the main likeness of the individual horse that you have chosen for your subject. It is also here where we see can be successful in capturing the critical expression that is so very necessary. Notice that the horse has a horizontally placed, oval-shaped pupil, compared to the vertical slits of a cat or the perfectly round centrally placed pupil in a human eye. Here is what the final eye drawing will look like.

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Preliminary Sketching

Beginning with an outline sketch
Beginning with an outline sketch.

Janet Griffin-Scott

We begin drawing the horse eye with a preliminary sketch. Draw very lightly, to begin with, this drawing has been darkened for viewing on screen. Outline the eye in light pencil strokes, to give yourself guidelines. Outline the actual eye structures and eyelashes and make rough guidelines for the creases, wrinkles and where the eyelashes come from, what direction they go and how long they are. Rough in the guides for the eyelids.

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HorFirst Color Layer

drawing the first color layer of the horse's eye.
Drawing the first color layers of the horse's eye.

Janet Griffin-Scott

Sketch in the pupil and eyelashes, with your strokes going in the same direction as the hairs grow. The eye reflects many details and light at close range, so in photographs, it is entirely possible to see yourself holding the camera reflected back at you. Remove these distractions when drawing the eye. The wrinkles and size and shape of the eyelid crease vary widely from horse to horse, and from breed to breed. It is important to study different horses and observe the differences, so you are better able to accurately portray the shape and structure of each horse’s individual eye and expression. Note that there is much more detail in this sketch that would be in a finished drawing because this is extremely close up.

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Continue Layering Color

continue layering color
continue layering color.

Janet Griffin-Scott

Continue to add detail in and around the eye, varying the length of the pencil strokes matching the length of the wrinkles and hairs that you observe. Use pencils of Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber shades in radiating outward strokes from the pupil. Continue to darken the creases in grays and blacks lightly put down and softened with Qtips. Detail should be added in the hair around the horse’s bony face structure around the eye socket, so those strokes again must be small and follow the direction that the hair grows. Horses have another inner eyelid in the corner of their eyes that you can see momentarily when they yawn, it quickly covers the eye and then goes back into place when the main eyelid opens. This is easily seen in the corner of the eye, so it must be drawn in in increasing strokes of grays and blacks. Small gray and black strokes on the lower eyelid help to define the eye. This horse has its eye open but not too wide, so the shape forms an elongated oval.

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Highlights and Lashes

highlights and lashes
Adding Highlights and Lashes.

Janet Griffin-Scott

Add a white highlight above the pupil and add small strokes in the lower eyelid. There are usually very long eyelashes above and below the eye which can be added in the very last step. But those lashes normally have a small raised area that the hair grows from. For horse shows, these lashes above and below are normally shaved off. Horses are a prey species, that is, their eyes are placed on the sides of their heads, compared to a predator species who typically have their eyes placed on the fronts of their heads. Horses can see almost 360 degrees around them when they are grazing in the head down position, making it harder for predators to sneak up behind them. They cannot see directly in front of their faces, so when approaching a horse for a pat, it is always safer not to startle them by touching them on the neck. This horse has a relaxed gentle expression which is starting to take shape.

Additional layers should be added down in the Ultramarine Blue pencil strokes on the highlight on the top of the eyeball, and darken the pupil with black. The radiating strokes can be deepened here as well with Burnt Sienna and Raw Umber. A small spot of white can be placed above the pupil and extra detail with tiny strokes with a very sharp point. I prefer the small hand sharpeners when getting these sharp points. They waste less of the lead than the electric ones.

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Completing the Horse's Eye

completing the eye
Completing the eye.

Janet Griffin-Scott

Everything comes together in the final stages of the drawing. Make sure the eye is a nice even oval shape, with smooth strokes outlining the upper and lower lid. Outline the eyelashes again, and place a few going in different directions. Notice that the eyelashes are not evenly arranged in a nice straight line like a human’s eyelashes, but see how there are several random rows of lashes altogether. The eyelash functions as a protector for the cornea of the eye and these lashes can be quite bushy and long. Darken the crease lines of the eyelid.

Use Kleenex and Q-tips to smudge and flatten the larger areas. Add the long lashes talked about earlier above and below the eye. Add two or three more layers of Ultramarine Blue for the highlight, and the eyeball should have a few more layers of black at this stage. Hair underneath the eye on the cheekbone should be added here and longer strokes lower down to suggest the beginning of the long hair on the face. The white highlight is given several more layers of the pencil so that it really contrasts against the dark of the pupil and brown tones of the cornea. This was painted from a photo taken in winter, so the horse has a longer coat and there are darker hairs in this image. In the summer the hair is shorter and lighter.