So often people ask how to paint this or that. So often you find tutorials about how to paint something specific. You might have noticed (or not) that on my blog there are no ‘how to paint x’ posts at all. And there’s a reason for this, which I’ll talk about in a bit. But I am here to break my principle and I will write a ‘How to paint x’ today. So let’s start with one of the hardest topics of all; how to paint an eye.
I could create a video and show you how I paint an eye. But I’d rather teach you than show you how to paint an eye. There is a thin line between the two, which is sometimes hard to find, but I try to look for it whenever I can.
So if your painted eyes usually look like this image below and you are keen to improve, read on.
Painting an eye requires the same method as painting anything else. Well, if you follow my method that is. There are of course dozens of techniques and methods for paining and I will show you how I go about things and hopefully explain to you why it works well. You can try it and see if it suits you for your self.
Step 1: Look and See
Have a good look at the eye. Stare at it. Make some (mental) notes if you can: What stands out about the eye first and foremost? Perhaps they are bright blue or deep brown, perhaps it has insane eyelashes, perhaps it is an old eye, a tired eye, a happy eye? What colour is it? What’s the eyebrow like? Is it bushy or thin? What about the eyelid? Is it sagging or not, is the eye protruding or not. Are the eyelids sagging over the outer sides of the eye? Are the eyes deeply set? Now look at the shape of the eye: Is the eye more round or more oval? Slightly droopy, turned upwards, wide open, half closed? And finally, what is the colouring like? Skin colour, eye colour, lash colour? Is the white of the eye white, blue-ish, yellow-ish, shaded or bright?
Step 2: Shapes
The next thing I’d look for is shapes. Simple toddler-puzzle-like shapes. So look for triangles, squares and irregular shapes.The triangle in the eyelid. The oval or circle of the eye itself, the long and thin shape of the lid, the triangles in the corner of the eye. The triangles on either side of the eye making up the whites, etc.
Here is a graphic image of the shapes you could find in an eye.
Step 3: Paint
Now we can paint. I will paint those shapes. Mind you, I am not painting an eye, I am painting these simple irregular shapes. I keep double checking I’ve got the shapes right. Is this too wide or too tall? Too long or too narrow? For now I won’t bother about colour too much, I’ll just paint a simple average colour. What is an average colour? Well, you know, grass is green, the sky is blue, that brick building is brown/red, my skin is pink. So keep it simple. The eyelid is pink, the eyelashes (don’t draw them but just put down the shape: long and thin shapes) are dark brown, the eye is blue, etc.
Step 4: Smaller Shapes
If you are happy with your block-in eye then move to even smaller shapes inside the shapes already painted. But keep it simple. No doubt that eyelid has a colour gradation to moves towards a darker tone. And the corner of the eye will also have some smaller shapes inside that first big shape. The blue or brown of the eye will have a darker ring on its outside and some lighter areas on the inside and the upper eyelid might have a broad highlight. Look for smaller shapes inside the big shapes. These smaller shapes will naturally have a lighter or darker version of the bigger shape’s colour. So if the eyelid was pink, then there might be a darker pink smaller shape inside it. With these smaller shapes we can create form. Practice will make perfect when it comes to creating form. So don’t feel discouraged if your darker shape on the eyelid does not really read right just yet.
Step back from your painting and look. Does this start to look like a simplified eye? Fix any shapes that don’t sit right. Fix any colours that look out of place. Constantly compare with your model or reference photo and play ’spot the difference’.
Step 5: Transitions
Next we can refine the transitions from one colour block to another. That shading on the receding eyelid needs to transition smoothly to the highlight on the eyelid where it comes forward. That triangle in the corner of the eye needs a bit of softening.
Step 6: Form
Now that we have moved away from flat simple shapes, remember that we are painting 3-dimensional shapes. That eyeball is a sphere, the eyelid comes forward and recedes, the corner of the eye is deep and the nose bridge comes towards us. Put subtle values down to enhance the 3-dimensionality of these shapes and turn them into form.
Step 7: Build it Up
Stand back and look, compare, look again. What does it need? Do you NEED to draw in those eyelashes as if they are spider’s legs? Do you NEED to paint every hair in the eyebrow? If these features stand out clearly then perhaps you do. But for most natural eyes it is not something we see straight away. So if you put emphasis on the things that we don’t even notice in real life, you’ll end up with a funny looking eye.
I know the eyes are brown, but did you really look or did you just paint them brown and left it at that? What variation can you find inside this brown? Is there an inner circle (shape) of lighter brown? Is it just lighter brown? Or has it got a blue tinge, or perhaps a hint of green? Is it the same all the way round or perhaps darker on one side? And that highlight? So many paint that highlight simply white. Is it white? Is it the LIGHTEST thing in the whole image? Is there any variation in colour inside it? How big is it? What shape is it? Is it? And the white of the eye? Is it white? Is it the brightest area in the whole thing? Probably not. The white of the eye rarely looks white. Look again to double check.
Step 8: Finish
Stand back and look. What does it need? What’s wrong with it? As long as you know what’s wrong you will know what to to fix. Keep trying. When you run out of ideas of what to do, then it’s time to leave it alone.
There is a video demonstration of this piece available for Art School students. Just check out the Library where you'll find it.
Not a student? You can fix that here.