how to draw bird eyes

This is the first article in The Colored Pencil Bird series. As an example, I will show the step-by-step drawing of a Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher, but the tips and techniques included in these articles can be applied to any bird drawing. After the eye, check out how to draw the beak, head & body, wings & tail, and feet.

I use a graphite pencil to draw the eye outline, which allows me to make marks in a more sketchy manner, and use a kneaded eraser to clean up the line. Look at the shape of the eye – different birds have differently shaped eyes, and most are not perfect circles or ellipses. Notice the places of curve and the places of sharper corner.

Then, clean up the lines with a kneaded eraser (which has the advantage over a rubber eraser in that it can be shaped into a point for detailed work like this).

Draw the outline of the highlight (the catchlight). This ensures that you are careful around it and do not run into the problem of needing to add white after adding the darker colors. I like to draw this outline slightly bigger than it should be, since it is easier to shrink it with dark pigment than to try to expand it with white later.

Since the pupil is the darkest part of the eye, it is best to start by coloring in the eye with the surrounding color. In this case, the Gnatcatcher’s eye is all very dark, but to distinguish between the pupil and the rest of the eye, I suggest using a dark brown (such as Dark Sepia). Lightly layer this color throughout the eye (avoiding the highlight).

Next, draw and color in the pupil using Black. Notice how, in most cases, the highlight is within or partially within the pupil. Also consider that a bird’s pupil is quite circular.

Use a light grey or white to lighten the part of the eye just surrounding the pupil and the dark brown again to fill in and darken the outer part of the eye. You can also use a dark grey to add the shadows that occur around the border of the eye.

Darken the pupil further, with Dark Indigo and Black (I find that mixing in some dark color other than Black makes the pupil both darker and more natural).

Depending on the size of the bird’s eye that you are drawing, you may need to add more detail, or may get away with less. In this case, since the eye is so small, this simple process is sufficient. The following example is of a larger eye, which I spent a bit longer on, being more careful with colors, transitions, and shadows.

This Trogon eye illustrates some of the differences you might encounter when drawing the eye of a different bird.

Drawing birds | David Kitler, 1. Draw the basic shape of the eye In this case, the eye is where I have decided to start the drawing. After having drawn the eye’s basic shape, I blocked in the surrounding areas to ensure proper placement and proportions using an HB lead in a mechanical pencil.

4. To fill in the iris, I pulled out radiating lines using the 4H and HB leads.

3. Suggest the reflected s We were alone in the woods on a chilly winter’s day when I met this bird. I used an HB lead in a technical pencil to push some graphite from the pupil area to suggest tree shapes because I wanted the reflection of the surrounding trees to be incorporated into its eyes.

This is a seven-step illustration that shows you how I draw an animal’s eye. The example drawing is the eye of a red-breasted nuthatch that I happened to see on a chilly winter’s day, which is also the shortest day of the year:

5. Remove top guideline for pupil: I used a white eraser to erase the top half of the guideline I had used for the pupil, using a mask (in this case, the holes at the edge of an old computer print-out).

The size of the bird’s eye that you are drawing will determine how much detail you need to add or how little you can get away with. Because the eye is so tiny in this instance, a straightforward procedure suffices. The next illustration shows a larger eye that I worked on for a little while longer, paying closer attention to the colors, shadows, and transitions.

To lighten the area of the eye directly surrounding the pupil, use a light grey or white; to fill in and darken the outer portion of the eye, use a dark brown once more. To add the shadows that surround the edge of the eye, you can alternatively use a dark grey color.

Next, draw and color in the pupil using Black. Observe how the highlight is usually either entirely or partially inside the pupil. Also consider that a bird’s pupil is quite circular.

The first piece in the series The Colored Pencil Bird is this one. I’ll use the step-by-step drawing of a Blue-Grey Gnatcatcher as an example, but the advice and methods in these articles can be used to draw any bird. Check out how to draw the beak and head after the eye.

Draw the outline of the highlight (the catchlight). This guarantees that you handle it carefully and avoid the issue of having to add white after applying the darker colors. I prefer to sketch this outline a little larger than it needs to be because it is simpler to reduce its size with dark pigment than to attempt to enlarge it later with white.


What does a bird’s eye view look like?

A bird’s-eye view is an elevated view of an object or location from a very steep viewing angle, creating a perspective as if the observer were a bird in flight looking downwards.