In this lesson, we’re moving on to our second facial feature—the eye. Eyes are one of the most fun—and most challenging—parts of the human body to draw and sculpt.
Here are the topics we’ll be discussing:
We expect that each exercise in this lesson will take about one hour to complete, though this may vary from student to student depending on your individual pace. Take your time, don’t rush, and if you need to stop you can. If you have more than an hour to spare, then work as long as you feel comfortable!
Exercise One: Watch The 22-Minute Video.
Exercise 1 consists of watching the video then reading the text below about the anatomy of the human eye. We recommend you watch the video in its entirety before you try to begin sculpting. This will just help give you a better sense of what it is you’re going to be doing. Once you’ve done that, you can move on to exercise two.
If you like, you can always open the YouTube video in a separate tab in your browser to make it simpler to switch back and forth between the video and the text in our lesson. To do this, simply click the YouTube button in the lower right-hand corner of the video that’s in the lesson. This will open the video in a new tab on YouTube. We recommend watching the video in full-screen mode. For more information on YouTube, see our Being A Successful Student post.
We also recommend students (particularly non-English speakers and those with hearing challenges) watch the videos with the closed captions turned on. For information on YouTube’s Closed Captioning, see this post here.
Anatomy Of The Eye
One thing that beginning sculptors often forget to take into account is the fact that our eyes sit in deep holes in our faces. Because we tend to recognize eyes first when we look at a face, we give them highest priority, which can translate to most prominent. That’s incorrect, though. If you look at the image below, you’ll see the eyes are actually the most recessed feature on the face.
Notice how the eyeball sits about halfway into the eye socket. It’s not bulging out, but the back half of it is nestled into the socket. By the time it’s covered with muscles and flesh, we end up only seeing a very small portion of the eyeball, particularly from the side.
Eyes are also not football shaped, or almond shaped. Thinking that way will only create bad habits (focusing on external look rather than interior structure) and your sculpted eyes will look unrealistic. Eyeballs are spheres covered by eyelids that make them take on the appearance of a football or almond shape.
Eyelids are not exact mirrors of each other, either. The top and bottom lids peak in opposite positions. Let’s take a look at some photos to illustrate what I’m talking about:
In the photo below, I have marked the upper- and lower-most portions of both the top and bottoms lids respectively. The diagonal line shows the opposition in peak points on both the lids:
On the top lid, the highest point (peak) is nearer to the nose. On the bottom lid, the lowest point (also called its peak) is nearer to the ear or outside of the face. Remembering this will help you to avoid making eyes that look too symmetrical and “fake.” See how Raphael is employing the diagonal peaks in the eyes here in this study:
It’s subtle, but it makes a world of difference.
Okay, now that we know a little bit about the anatomy of the eye, let’s get started on sculpting it!
A reminder from our last lesson:
Set up your workstation so that your wood is flat on a table or on a lazy Susan (if you have one). Place the mirror close by so you can keep looking at your own eyes while you sculpt. You could also look at photos of an eye, but it’s helpful to be able to see your own eye since you can see angles that the photographs may not have. You don’t have to sculpt an exact replica of your own eye! The mirror is just helpful as a reference tool.
Don’t forget that sculptures are three-dimensional—be sure to remember to look at it from all angles as you work.
Let’s get started!
In the video, Kent starts out with a 2” ball of clay on his wood board. He pushes it down onto his board and creates the basic structure of the eye socket. Remember the reason we do this is because the shape of the bones will inform the shape of the skin on top. As Kent says in the video, “…with all sculptures, you should be considering what’s underneath first before you start putting fatty tissue and muscular portions onto your sculpture…especially around the eye because the skull plays so much a part of the way the eye looks in the end.”
That’s why anatomy is so important to the artist!
Kent reiterates what I was saying earlier about how you actually see a very small percentage of the eye because the eyeball itself is so deeply embedded in the socket. Since the socket you’ve just created is relatively shallow (because it’s on a board and not three-dimensional) you don’t need to make a sphere for the eyeball. Adding a sphere to this shallow of a socket would make the eye protrude too far, resulting in a Marty Feldman-esque face (though we did love him in Young Frankenstein):
Take a small bit of clay and shape it into a half-sphere or disc shape and place it into the eye socket. Smooth down the edges a bit so that it adheres to the clay underneath. At this point, Kent roughs in the nose a little so you can see where the edge of the nostril would be. The edge of the nostril lines up with the inner corner of the eye (the tear duct). The width of the nose, from nostril to nostril, is roughly the same size as the eye, from tear duct to outside corner. Depending on the shape of the eye you’re creating, the outside corner may be higher than the inside corner, resulting in a sort of cat-eye look. Other eyes may have both corners on the same level, which is a big more general and this is the look Kent is going for in the video.
To create the lower eyelid, take another small piece of clay and form a log then flatten it a bit. Attach it to the eye, covering a small portion of the lower part of the eyeball. The reason we want to do the lower eyelid first is that if you look in your mirror, you’ll see that your top eyelid covers your bottom eyelid slightly at the corners.
Start smoothing down the bottom part of the lower lid so that it melds easily into the rest of the clay. You’ll notice in the video that Kent leaves a small, flat ridge on the top part of the lower eyelid (the part closest to the center of the eyeball). This is to show that the eyelid has depth to it—they don’t just melt into your eyeballs!
I think this is illustrated very well in Michelangelo’s sculpture of David:
You can see it very well in David’s right eye. The eyelid has a flat ridge on the side that touches the eyeball. This is very important in creating a realistic eye.
Next you will make the top eyelid in the same manner as you made the lower lid. Make a flattened log and place it at the top of the eyeball. Attach it to the underlying clay using a tool or your fingers (if they’re small enough!). Don’t worry about making it look perfect at this stage—we’re just roughing things in for now. Later on we can add detail and refine the sculpture, but the important part right now is to make sure you get things in the right locations and proportions.
Now that Kent has his upper and lower eyelids in place, he’s working on the cornea of the eye.
The cornea is a transparent part of the eye that covers the iris and pupil. As you can see in the diagram above, it pushes out from the rest of the eyeball, creating a slight bulge. When you’re sculpting, because you don’t have the advantage of color (like painters do), depth is created using form. By creating a slightly raised shape for the cornea on the eye, you can indicate where the eye is looking.
Kent mentions in the video that you can see how different classical (or classical style) sculptures approach this. I’ve put together a few examples for you to look at:
Heidi Maiers, Roman Emperor, plaster, 2009
In three out of four of these sculptures, the cornea is indicated with just a fine line and slight bulge outward from the rest of the eye. In the fourth image, the corneas have been dug out entirely—yet another method of creating depth in the eye form.
Now that you have all the basic parts of the eye put together, you can start to add more details. Kent has taken a small amount of clay and placed it on the top of the socket where the eyebrow is to give it a bit more definition. If you’d like to add more fatty tissue (like Kent is doing), you can.
Once you’ve added all the details you like, use your soft brush and turpentine (if using) to smooth out your eye. Continue to refine using your tools. To create the pupil, you can carve out a small divot (as seen in the historical reference images above) or leave the eye plain, as Kent is doing and as we see here in this ancient bust of a Roman man:
Exercise Two: Sculpting The Eye!
2” ball of plastiline clay
Small piece of wood
Soft paintbrush and paint thinner (optional)
Sculpt along with Kent as you watch the video for a second time.
A convenient stopping point for those whose schedule might keep them from completing Exercise 2 in one sitting is at 9:30 (after ‘go’). The remaining 13 minutes can be completed the next time.
How did your eye turn out? Send us your results! Use our submission form here to send us a picture of your sculpture of the eye.
See how other students have done in the Student Gallery!
Key Lesson Learning: You’ve learned about the anatomy of the eye and creating eye depth, and sculpted your first eye.
We’ll see you back here soon for the next lesson, Sculpting the Ear.