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 Drawing the Manga Eye: a Brief Guide

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Posts : 36
Join date : 2008-04-15

PostSubject: Drawing the Manga Eye: a Brief Guide   Wed Apr 16, 2008 12:10 am

Step #1

The eye is a very versatile and expressive organ in our body. When we look at someone, often the first thing we pay attention to are his/her eyes. There's no secret to drawing eyes in manga: merely a process of applying ink on paper to represent the eyes the way the artist wanted to.

The freedom of the medium allows manga artists a good deal of creativity when it comes to drawing eyes. Artists can choose to exaggerate, simplify and even alter the appearance of the eye. The result is an amazing variety of distinct eyes, ranging from the simple and comical to the detailed and realistic. To the left is just a small selection of eyes that can be seen in manga.

In this tutorial I will attempt to outline the process of drawing eyes in manga to the best of my knowledge, and here’s hoping that you have some fun along the way too Smile


Step #2
The eye:

To the left is a diagram of a typical eye, with most, if not all of the visually distinctive aspects included. As mentioned, eyes in manga can range from simplified to accurate. Either way, an artist will need to be thoroughly familiar with an eye before going about drawing one. I recommend you to try your hand at some sketches of an actual eye to see how much you can make sense out of it.

If you are already well-acquainted with drawing the eye, drawing the manga eye then, only involves some tweaking in your process. To illustrate, I’ve included in the following page both a basic process of constructing an actual eye and that for a manga eye.


Step #3

Constructing a realistic eye:

1. This is a basic process of drawing the eye. First, a rudimentary almond shape is sketched out. This shape is the most common shape of the eye, and thus most widely used. It is useful to remind yourself that my eye is simply a sphere resting behind the shape produced by the two eyelids in front of it.

2. Components of the eye (as listed in the eye diagram above) are laid down. Notice that the iris is partially obscured by the top eyelid. The full circle of the iris is not seen in an eye unless it is widened. Not also that the eyelashes grows out of the bottom eyelid at the outer edge of its rim.

3. From here on it's a matter of adding the details. A line is lightly marked on the eyeball to indicate the shadow that's cast by the upper eyelid. Some light lines are drawn on the iris to indicate the pattern formed by the sphincter muscles.

4. Shading is applied to indicate light and volume. Completion. The process maybe summed up as sketch – components – details.


Step #4
Constructing a Manga Eye:

1. The eye in the style of Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina) is chosen as his cutesy eyes are what manga is well-known for. Similar process. First the general shape of the eye is sketched out. Akamatsu’s shape for his eyes is like a bloated almond (for the lack of a better word), bigger and rounder.

2. Components of the eye are laid down. Note that in this particular style, the lower eyelid is absent, the iris and the pupil are much larger, and there are no eyelashes.

3. A line indicates the shadow on the iris. Shadow on the sclera is not applied.

4. Completion. This is how it appears after inking. Pretty much the same process: sketch – components – details.

You're thinking: "why does this manga artist draw eyes the way he does?" Good question. An artist can choose to depict eyes a certain way to better suit the situation, the story, or the character. For example, the protagonist in a serious story tends to have detailed eyes, whereas a clown in a comedy tends to have simpler and goofier eyes.

Of course the eyes don’t dictate a character, but it is true that components of the eyes are often tweaked to confer certain qualities and traits to the character. To outline the examples of such tweaks, I thought I'll group the parts of the eye that can be adjusted under three categories: the shape, the border, and the iris.


Step #5

- Almond – the most common shape of the eye.

- Round – round eyes, especially large ones, are typically associated with curiosity and innocence.

- Oriental – characterized by a lift at the lateral corner. Apart from indicating ethnicity, this shape also makes the eye appear sharper.

- Hooded – characterized by a drop at the lateral corner. Distinguishing.

- Squint – distinguishing, and can also suggest problems with vision. People with very thin eyes can even have their eyes represented by simple, horizontal lines.

- Half circle (Round Top) – An eye usually assumes this shape when grinning/laughing. Making this the default shape for a character can suggest jolliness or even insanity.

- Half Circle (Round Bottom) – the shape is formed by a half close upper eyelid. It makes the eye appear lazy and detached.

- Others – many, many other shapes can be used to represent the eye. Heck, you can draw a solid dot and call it an eye.


Step #6

-Open/ Closed Border – border can be closed, open at one end, open at both ends, or open at the bottom. An eye with a definitive border draws more attention and makes the eye appear more realistic. Of course, this will take more time to draw. Artists can choose to leave the border open. The less border you draw, the more time you're likely to save. However, a degree of realism is lost. Artist can sometimes draw eyes with more defined border on primary characters only so they will receive more focus from viewers.

- Thickness – making the border thicker can indicate the use of mascara. Can also replace eyelashes altogether. A thicker border at the bottom can represent lack of sleep or sunken eyes.

- Eyelashes – usually used to indicate femininity. The denser/thicker the eyelashes are, the more feminine the eye looks.


Step #7

A normal eye is represented with a thin line a the top to indicate the crease of the upper eyelid. The lower eyelid is only lightly indicated. Emphasis to the lower eyelid makes the eye appear puffier and elderly. Downplayed, or the lack of indication of the upper eyelid crease can make the eye appear more Asian (though it also depends on the placement of the eyebrows).


- Size – there’s no restriction to how small or big you want the iris to be. Naturally the more realistic the size of the iris is, the more realistic an eye appears. A larger iris means there’s more space to include details such as highlights and iris patterns. A smaller iris can’t afford as much details, but it’s useful if you want to make a character appear surprised.

- shape – the shape of the iris can act as a distinguishing feature for a character. The shape of the iris can also suggest something about a character’s personality. EG A thin and elongated iris makes the eye appear serpentine and convey a sinister trait in the character.

- Iris Pattern – an iris visible patterns and artists can choose to depict it to add more details to the eye, or as a distinguishing feature. Some depict it as centric lines around the pupil, while some depict it simply as a ring.

- Shadow – shadow on the eyeball may be depicted by hatching or by applying tone paper/ Some artists fore-go applying shadow on the entire eyeball and only have solid black shadows on the iris.


Step #8

– Highlights can be present/absent, have different locations, different amounts, can different shapes. The absence of highlights can indicate the lack of a light source. Some artists choose not to draw highlights at all. This would save time, but it also makes the iris appear flat. Some artists draw the eyes without highlights when they want to make the character appear alert, focused, or surprised. The location of the highlight indicates where the light’s coming from. Some artists use the location of highlights as a distinguishing feature of a character. With regards to amount, the more/larger the highlight(s), the more light the eye is receiving. Multiple highlights can make the eye appear moist/sparkling. The shape you can have for your highlights is probably only limited by the imagination.


- A pupil can have different sizes, shapes, and color intensity. A small pupil size is used in manga to make a character’s gaze appear sharp, focused and alert. Though in reality, the pupil is small when a person is relaxed. Varying shapes of the pupil largely act as distinguishing features in manga. Sometimes, animal-like pupils are given to confer beastly qualities to the character's trait. With regards to the intensity of the pupil, unless you have disease like cataract, a pupil's only ever black. In manga however, there's no stopping you from exercising some creativity with a pupil’s color and intensity. Often the darkness of a pupil is used as a distinguishing feature. The absence of a pupil can make the eye look unfocused and detached. A solid black iris with no pupil or highlights can be used to represent lifelessness, loss of conscious, or blindness.

As you can see there are many methods of depicting certain components of the eye, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. It's up to you to handle each aspect to end up with the eye you want. I encourage you to observe how different manga artists depict their eyes. In what ways do their eyes deviate from the realistic eyes and think about why they do it that way. And if you do see something cool, don't hesitate to try it out yourself.


Step #9
Some Specific Examples:

- Takehiko Inoue (Slam dunk, vagabond)
Inoue tends to depict eyes more realistically. Common themes in his stories are achieving recognition and coming-of-age, and this style helps to make his character’s emotions appear more convincing.

- Masakazu Katsura (I”s, Zetman)
Katsura’s eyes are more stylistic in general. In his teen romance I's, the eyes range from comical to (especially for the females) idealized. In his zetman, which is dark and violent, the eyes are more realistic to add to the somber mood – though the eyes for the females remain aesthetic.

- Eiichiro Oda (One Piece)
Oda's eyes tend to be very simple. The irises are often solid black, and the border can be either open or closed. Female eyes are depicted with larger irises, highlights and eyelashes. This style of drawing eyes is more compatible with the comical facial exaggerations prevalent in Oda's stories.

- Yusuke Murata (Eyeshield 21)
Murata is another artist that uses the size of the iris and eyelashes to distinguish females. Murata draws a large variety of eyes with wide ranging levels of details, making his characters more distinguishable from one another. In fact, no two characters in murata's manga look the same.

The author personally prefers a simpler style, finding it to be a happy medium between expression and efficiency. I hope I've made this guide concise enough, and I sure hope you’ve gotten what you wanted from reading it. Written communications has never been my strength so if you've got any advice/opinions regarding this tutorial, or anything you have in mind, do pop down to my website at and drop me a note about it. I'd really appreciate it.

Thank you for reading Smile

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