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Modified Contour of the Eyelids

In this exercise, the only real differences from the pure contour exercise is that in modified contour you get to look at your paper - at the paper you're doing the actual drawing on. You'll also be drawing within a format - you recall: the frame, the container, the bounding space around your drawing. The format will become more important as we get into negative space - the next exercise. I'm throwing out terms you should be familiar with by now. If not, you can reference them below:


So, if you need to, I recommend re-reading Modified Contour in the foundation lessons or either of the Ears or Nose Modified contour lessons. I'm going to give the quick version of modified contour here - as applicable to the eyes.


  • Time: 15-20 minutes
  • A #2 pencil or softer
  • Typing paper or any unlined paper
  • sign and date each picture

So get yourself comfortable, I've adapted a previous exercise for eyelids.

Step 1

Recall, modified contour is just like pure contour except you get to look at your paper. You spend 90% of the time looking at the subject (parts of the eye in this case) and 10% looking at your drawing. You begin to size the proportions of your drawing by sight. That is, by comparing, judging angles, relating one line or part to another you can reproduce a drawing that looks like the subject you're drawing - with all its proportions intact.

Formats are the framework (rectangular in this case) you draw your exercises in. You can print them from their separate pages or trace them right off the screen.

So here we go: Eyelids

Approaching this as a modified contour drawing.

You'll be Drawing This Eyelid

Step 1: Setting up

  1. As in the other exercises, read all the steps before you begin. You'll need to draw a format approximately the same proportion as the one around the drawing just above.

  2. Try to allow yourself 30 minutes of time to do the drawings. (If you have an hour, all the better; if all you can put aside is 15 minutes, then work with that. A consistent 15 minutes 4 or 5 days a week will yield more lasting results than 1 two-hour period.) If you get done with time to spare, repeat the assignment.

  3. Tape down your paper like you did in lesson 4. You don't want it moving around.

  4. Now look at your screen. You should have the Eyelid right there on the screen in front of you. Since you've probably never looked at one this way, it'll be foreign to you. That's great! What we're trying to accomplish with this is find a view of facial features that's complex and interesting: one you're left hemisphere will want to reject and allow the R-mode to take over. This eyelid is a little more complicated than the eyelid you drew in the previous exercise - that'll make it a lot more interesting

Step 2: Getting acquainted with what you'll be drawing

So, now that you've comfortably positioned yourself, give the eyelid on the screen a good look. As you did in the pure contour exercise, start in one spot - any spot. With your eyes, track the contour lines all the way around the shape. Look at the texture, look at the shapes in and around the eyelid. Allow the shift back to R-mode to begin. Be aware again, of how this shift in perception feels.

  • Take a good long look at the eyelid. Close your eyes. Imagine in your mind the eyelid is bordered by vertical and a horizontal lines. Open you eyes. There it is, framed within the format. Pick one of the longer lines, margins or contours. Focus in on it.

The "Imaginary" Eyelids within the format

  • Regard that single line you've chosen as an arm of an angle. Now compare that angle to how it opens towards or away from either the vertical or horizontal lines you've imagined or that you see formed by the format:

I've picked 2 diagonal lines to reference here

  • Now look at your paper. Imagine how those angles, how either line would look drawn on the paper. Compare their relation to both the vertical or the horizontal (we haven't started drawing yet.). I'll start with diagonal the line at the upper lid's "plate fold":

  • Go to the very next adjacent line section and determine it's angle- that is, ask "how does this line segment angle towards or away from the vertical or horizontal lines? How does it angle towards or away from the line I just drew?".

Imagining this next piece of angled line
drawn within the format:

(Note: compare this next illustration
to the one above.)

I'm starting with the upper lid plate margin and working my way around. Rather than try and draw whole line sections, visually break them up into small straight lines. Remember, you're learning to do two things here: youre' learning how to draw eyelids and built lots of depth in accessing R-mode, i.e. seeing as an artist sees.

And then the next section...

and the next...

Here I've added the margin of the upper eyelid that lies right on top of the eyeball. I did it in one big jump from the previous drawing but you get the idea, right? (Remember, you're using your imagination here and visualizing the jump from the original illustration to your drawing paper.)

And the next...

Adding the lower lid margin that touches the eyeball...again in one fell swoop. Break it into smaller sections if that works for you.

Note: the lower lid is a double line. That's because the lid has thickness to it and if you look in the mirror right now, you'll see the lighter or shinier margin of the lid edge. This thin edge along the eyelid is the aslo the origin of all the eyelashes. The upper lid has the same margin to it - it's just not as obvious as the lower lid.

And so on...

Here I've added the little pouch of the lower lid.


And lastly I've added a little wrinkle at the "lateral" corner (earside) of the eye and the "nasal groove" at the "medial" aspect (nose side) of the drawing.

Now you have the idea.

Step 3

Lets review the technique a little: Fix your eyes on any line, (or contour) that grabs you. Again, in comparison to vertical or horizontal, which way does it go? Which way does it angle? I'm easing you into making it a habit to compare contours, or any line for that matter, to vertical and horizontal.

  • Now begin slowly moving your eyes along the contour, and start recording with your drawing pencil, all the same perturbations, undulations and curves at the same slow pace as you see them.

  • When you finish one line or contour, draw the very next one, the one immediately neighboring the line you just finished. Then go to the next, and then the next. Draw the lines and contours as they come up: don't try to draw a big outline that you'd have to go back to and fill in later.

  • Hint: some of the lines of the eyelid seem pretty long. Break it up like this: most of the lines are straight with little kinks that as a whole ad up to a curve. Draw little sections that seem pretty straight - that way you're comparing the lines by the angles as they diverge towards or away from vertical and horizontal.

  • There's no need to talk to yourself, or use language at all. When you're in R-mode, there's no use for words. R-mode does fine entirely without words. Just keep referring to the screen, eventually you'll be wordlessly comparing, relating, and scanning what is before your eyes.

  • Reminder: you don't have to reason anything out. Just draw what you see. It's all right there. Focus on how one line or contour seems to arise out of the one before it, compare widths, angles, and lengths. Compare those lengths or angles to the one you've just recorded.

Keep Going....

  • You can look at your paper as much as you like to reference a relation, a starting point, or a quick proportion. But don't get hung up on it. You're bound to have discrepancies in relative size and proportion. Don't' worry!

Like the pure contour method, the vast majority of your time in this exercise should be spent on observing and recording what you see. Maybe 10% of the time should you be looking at the paper.

  • If you get stuck on a part that seems too difficult, the tendency is to access your memory - this pulls you out of the real-time, in-the-now, direct experience of R-mode. To avoid the "memory bin trap" of L-mode do this: Draw the area or contour immediately next to or around the troublesome part. That will shift you away from naming it, will steer you around L-mode, and head you back into R-mode.

Step 4

As a reminder: everything you need to know is in front of your eyes. You just need to observe those perceptions - no reason to think, no need for words. The finished picture will be a recording of those fresh, honest observations you made while you were immersed in R-mode.

Play Reporter

So that's your job: play reporter and get your observations down. Since you don't need to do anything else, this will feel easy, you'll feel relaxed, and confident as you get engaged with the information in front of you. You'll be fascinated how the puzzle pieces will come together.

You've set up the conditions so R-mode can process the information. And that's why once you can leave the critical, domineering, belligerent L-mode behind, it becomes easy. What you see is just "information". And you're the conduit between the "information" and the paper.

Grab your pencil and begin to draw.

Do 4 drawings of the eyelid Eyelid

Now following these exact same directions do:

A) 4 drawings of the pupil and iris within the eyelid drawings you've just done.

Draw the pupil and iris inside the eyelids

Review the Pupils exercises if necessary and go for it! You've drawn the eyelids, now fill them in with pupils and irises. Experiment with the placement of the pupils. Have fun with it!

  • Do another 5 or 6 drawings this time doing all parts: eyelids, iris and pupil.

Great work!

Take a break. You deserve it. Next exercise is a "Negative Space" treatment of the eyelid/iris/pupil you've e just completed. If this seems like I'm getting redundant, that's good! I want you to so familiar with the basic drawing skills that they'll be second nature.

Eyelids, Iris and Pupils: Negative Space

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