How to Draw Caricatures: Eyes

June 30th, 2008 | Posted in Tutorials

This series of “How to Draw Caricatures” tutorials are a just a small taste of a larger and much more in-depth book I wrote called The Mad Art of Caricature! The book is 175 full-color pages, lavishly illustrated and contains greatly expanded explanations of the concepts presented in these tutorials, as well and a great deal of additional material on caricaturing other facial features, posture, hands, expression and more, techniques on drawing from live models, doing caricature for freeplace illustration and for MAD Magazine. This is a must have book for anyone interested in caricature, cartooning or humorous illustration. You can order it online here.

Part Four: Drawing Eyes

I’ve written in past tutorials on drawing caricatures that you can’t really teach someone to draw caricatures… that is more about developing their “sight” and observation skills and also developing an ability to find that which make an individual face unique and exaggerating it. Since every face is different this is an exercise in personal observation and decision. Therefore after I have gone over the information in my pervious tutorials, I switch gears an concentrate on teaching rookie live caricaturists how to draw the individual features, both how to see them, exaggerate them and how to draw them in line to best effect.

Here is where style becomes an issue. What I have written about previously can apply to almost any style of caricature, from the richly painted to the most minimalist of line. In these next series of tutorials some aspects of what I talk about will relate specifically with a style of caricature like my own… based on cartoon line either inked or in some other medium. Therefore those with different sensibilities and styles can take from it what they will and apply what makes sense to them, and ignore the rest. I will try to center my discussion on that which applies to a broader range of styles than just my own.

My method for teaching the individual features begins with a lesson on real anatomy. I’m not a big believer in memorizing every anatomical name but I do believe you must have a good working knowledge of how a feature is put together in order to have a good command over the drawing of said feature. Following the anatomy lesson, I talk about different techniques to help “see” the shape of the feature and understand how to draw it, including realistic proportion. Finally I talk about interpreting the feature in terms of exaggeration and incorporating it into the whole.

Points of Reference

Seeing and drawing anything is all about shapes and the correct drawing of them or in the case of caricature the correct drawing of the exaggeration of them. Either way you still have to “see” the object you are drawing and understand it’s form first. We have all seen depictions of artists on TV raising their arm outstretched towards their models with the thumb out from the fist and squinting their eyes before drawing. That is supposed to represent an old artist’s trick of using their thumb, or hand, or pencil or some other object to measure their subject’s features relative to one another, or to see angles or other relationships. The thumb is supposed to be a “point of reference”… a constant that is used to make accurate observations of the subject. Establishing points of reference in the face is key to helping to “see” shapes and make observations. With each feature and the face overall I will suggest several things I use as constant points of reference, which I can then use as a starting point from which other observations are based. Any kind of drawing can benefit from this simple concept.

Our first feature is the eyes. I’ve always felt that the eyes of a caricature are the center of everything, literally the center of the face but figuratively the center of expression, personality and “life” as it were. Therefore I’ve always place special emphasis on the eyes and begin and end with them, after the head shape, as the focus of almost any caricature.

Anatomy of the Eye

Artwork ??á©2008 Tom Richmond

The human eye is made up of an round orb (eyeball) that rests in and slightly protrudes from a socket of bone and tissue, surrounded orbital muscles and by covered by skin in the form of eyelids. The visible parts of the eyeball include the pupil (black circle in the center of the eye), the iris (colored area around the pupil) which includes the stroma (the thread-like fibers that radiate from the pupil out to the edge of the iris), and the sclera (whites of the eyes). The tissue surrounding the eyes include the inner and outer canthus (the “corners” of the eyes), the caruncula (the small, reddish, oval shaped piece of tissue in the inner corner which is sometime incorrectly referred to as the ‘tear duct’), and the semilunar fold (where the eyeball meets the caruncula). The eyelids consist of the upper and lower lid plates (the actual eyelids that fold down and up to cover the eyeball), the eyelashes or cilia, which are attached to the free edges of the lid plates in a double or triple row and are short, thick and curved hairs.

Seeing the Eye Shape

Despite what I said about the importance of the eyes, the eye is still just another feature and it has a shape like any other feature of the face. When I refer to the “shape” of the eye I am talking about the visible portions of the eyeball, created by the space between the upper and lower lids.

Artwork ??á©2008 Tom Richmond

The exterior part of the eyes, like the lids themselves and the area that surround the eye also are very important in capturing the eye itself, but it’s that initial shape that you use and a springboard for the rest of the eye. In order to “see” the eye shape, you must ignore the pupil, iris and all the lines and visual noise that surround the eye, and look at just the pure shape. Imagine an eye this pure white like the Exorcist eye… that white is the shape you are looking for. Remember also that the eye is not flat, but protrudes quite a bit from the face and the lids have a definite thickness to them.

Artwork ??á©2008 Tom Richmond

Typically the eye is NOT shaped like a football or an almond. The upper and lower lids are not mirror images of each other. In fact, they are very different. The lower lid is usually much less of an arc than the upper lid, moving more straight across from corner to corner. The upper lid overlaps the lower lid in the outer corner, and and is farther removed from the horizontal axis of the eye, which is created by an imaginary line connecting the corners. This horizontal axis, or “corner to corner” line, is a central part of making observations about the eye, it’s shape and it’s relationship with the rest of the face. More on that in a second.

The eye shape is more of an asymmetrical ying-yang shape that a symmetrical almond. The upper lid line rises somewhat sharply from the caruncula, peaks about 1/3 of the way across the eye and then arcs more softly towards the outer corner. The lower lid does the opposite, it’s “peak” being it’s lowest point, about not quite 1/2 of the way from the outer corner in, and arcing to the caruncula. In the simplest of geometric terms, the eyes are quadrilaterals with the four points being the inner and outer corners, the highest point of the upper lid and lowest point of the lower lid. Naturally we don’t draw the eyes with straight lines connecting the dots, but in “seeing” the shape in simple terms like this we can use these points of reference to better capture the shape of the eyes, as well as using them to manipulate the feature for exaggeration purposes.

Let’s get back to the “corner to corner” line I mentioned earlier. This is very useful in helping to determine not only the shape of the eye, but it’s relationship to the axis of the face. Imaging the line going from the outside corner of each eye inward to the inside corner and then onward to the center axis of the face, what we really have it the central angle of the arms of the “T Shape” I talked about in an earlier tutorial. By looking at how that line intersects the eye itself, we can see how much of the eye shape lies above the line, how much below, where the contour lines of the eye shape travel along that line. We can also see at what angle the eye lies to the center axis of the face. Are the outside corners of the eyes higher than the insides? Lower? Even? Are they the same or is one different than the other? You can use the line to exaggerate the angle you see to great effect. The Corner-to-Corner line is a great tool for observation and “seeing” the eye itself, as well as a point of reference both both accurate drawing and observation.

Artwork ??á©2008 Tom Richmond

Another method I use for understanding the eye shape is to look for any straight lines in the contour of the eye. Lines that are straight or nearly straight can be used as another point of reference for seeing the rest of the eye and also used as beginning points for the actual drawing of the eye itself. In many cases, the longer part of the upper eyelid, that from the “peak” to the outside corner, is often close to a flat line. Look for straight lines and observe their relationships to the rest of the eye shape’s contour to better “see” the eye shape.

Exaggerating the Eye

The exaggeration of any feature must be done with the whole in mind, and not be treated as some separate entity. Seen in a vacuum, it might be tempting to exaggerate the size of the eyes because they have a round and wide eyed look. However when the rest of the face is taken into account, it might very well be that the eyes need to be small and beady within a massive face. Exaggeration in caricature is all about the relationships of the features to one another, and not the features themselves taken individually. However many of the observations you might make about the eyes can factor into the essential whole, especially the angle the eyes are at relative to the center axis, and the shapes of the eyes themselves.

The angle of the eyes is the easiest thing to exaggerate. If the outer corners are higher than the inner, then you simply make them higher still, and vice versa. Once you make the observation, doing the resulting exaggeration is easy.

Exaggerating the shape of the eye is a little trickier. It can be easy to compromise the likeness, but when done right it actually enhances the likeness of the caricature. That’s because the shapes of features are also describing the expression of the subject, and exaggerating expression is a central part of good caricature. If someone’s eyes become squinty when they smile, drawing them squinty-er will exaggerate their expression as well as their face, and expression is personality. Capturing personality is an essential goal. If your eye shape is squinty, make it more squinty.

Artwork ??á©2008 Tom Richmond

If it’s wide open, make it more wide open. They should still look like the eyes you are drawing, but with your observations as a guide you turn up the volume a bit… or a lot if you can without losing the likeness.

Take this set of eyes that are very round and intense:

We can exaggerate the shape of them as well as their look by emphasizing the whites surrounding the pupil/iris, and the roundness of the lower eye. In this case I also exaggerate the angle of them by raising the outside corners. Not by much in either case here… what I am really exaggerating and trying to capture is the intensity of the eyes themselves. Those little observations combine to allow me to get that piercing gaze.

Certain styles of caricature will go farther and “interpret” the shape and actually change it into a representation of the shape itself. Here are those eyes as might be drawn by Al Hirshfeld:

or Mort Drucker:

An artist’s individual style aside, it comes to the same… seeing the shapes and uniqueness of the features and drawing it in a way that describes it for the viewer to understand.

As always, caricature is about PERCEPTION and not hard physical reality. In this picture, our perception of the eyes of this model is changed by the makeup surrounding them:

The heavy eyeliner and over-thick exterior lashes near the outer canthus make her look like the inner whites of her eyes are much larger than the outer, giving her a “walleye” look that we can make fun of:

Here are some caricatures from some of my sketches where the eyes are a central part of the exaggeration or personality of the subject. Drawing eyes that really look back at the viewer can make for a startling effect. Remember the exaggeration of the caricature involves all the features and their relationships. The eyes may not be as important in another caricature, but as they are one of the chief agents of human communication and expression, they are always of import.

This “How to Draw Caricatures” tutorial and others of the same series on this website are part of a complete book on drawing caricatures live and in illustration, entitled The Mad Art of Caricature!


  1. kmcnutt says:

    Wow, Tom – great distillation, yet filling! Thanks for taking the time. I don’t think I’m alone in saying I really look forward to the tutorials.

  2. Philbert says:

    Once again, Tom, you prove what a great teacher you are. I’m looking forward to your book (you’re going to do one, right?)

  3. yondaime_kazekage says:

    tom is back with more tutorial XD

  4. vedala says:

    pray pray pray

  5. shallot says:

    Wow. I found this site through google and I have to say, I was expecting a load of How-To-Draw bullshit that just gives you a set of instructions to follow and allows no flexibility. This has been incredibly helpful – I’ve been stuck for months on this and now I finally have a place to start from. Thanks so much! 😀

  6. Rosver says:

    Boom!!! My heart explodes.

    This is a very great tutorial ever. Instantly bookmarked it. I going to draw lot of eyes 6.6 . I really really waiting for your next tutorial.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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