How to paint eyes

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If eyes are a gateway to the soul, should they be easy to create? Painting eyes takes time and preparation, like most subjects to be painted. You can create as realistic of an eye if you have the time for it. In modern art, most eyes represented are not realistic. Create the eyes you want to see and use your own artistic style.

  • Look over your work and select the eye you are most proud of. [3] X Research source
  • Try to recreate your own skin tone for if you’re unsure what skin tone to use.
  • Paint a very thin line all the way around the iris (on the inside) and then use a dry brush to do spokes inwards towards the center. Think of a CD, the way the colors are angled to head inwards towards the hole in the center.
  • Don’t worry if the iris goes over the edges of your white paint, as you will add eyelids after the eyes are done so the eyes look well set in the face.
  • Add eye sparkles. This is white part of the pupil where the light reflects off the surface of the eye. [6] X Research source

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About This Article

To paint eyes the easy way, start by drawing a pair eyes onto a canvas to serve as an outline. Next, paint two flesh colored ovals for the base, then mix white paint with a touch of grey to fill in the white parts. After that, paint the eyelids and eyelashes with a small brush. For the iris, paint a thin line all the way around the iris in your desired color, then use a dry brush to make spokes towards the center. Finish by painting in the pupils in a solid black color. For more tips, like how to add detail to the eyes, read on!

February 25, 2015 By Sara Barnes & filed under Art Blog.

Painting eyes can look deceptively difficult. After all, there are a number of fine details in the iris and pupil such as fractured light and speckles of brilliant color. But, worry not. This easy process will help you to realistically paint eyes.

Follow these tips on how to paint eyes using acrylic paint!

Before you begin, round up some of your favorite painting supplies. I gessoed a sheet of paper and grabbed several paintbrushes as well as tubes of red, yellow, white, blue, burnt sienna and black paint. And, of course, the all-important paint palette.

1. Draw the eye

I decided that it was easiest to draw my own eye for this exercise, but if you want to gaze into someone else’s, feel free. I snapped a photo of my eye from up close and printed it out for reference. If you want a challenge, though, skip the photo and just look straight into the mirror!

Using a pencil, I drew the outline of my eyeball, the pupil and iris, plus my eyebrow and lines under and above my eyes. Don’t forget to include those details — they’re defining features!

2. Paint around the eye

Before you begin painting inside of the eye, paint around it. Mix the appropriate skin tone (keep it a medium shade — not too light or dark), and brush it across your surface. Then, mix a shade and apply it to the crease in above the eye. Afterwards, add highlights to the lid below the crease and blend it with the shadow.

3. The gray of the eye

You might have the inclination that the eyeball is white, but it actually appears gray to us. It’s in a shadow thanks to the lid, our forehead and eye cavity. So, it only makes sense that we paint the eyeballs a light gray! The centers will be the lightest (think of a sphere shape) while the tops and bottoms will be slightly in shadows.

4. Paint the iris and pupil

This is the part that most people think of “the eye.” The iris can be a visually striking color, and depending on lighting, pupils can be big or small.

Block in the color of the iris and pupil with a flat, medium-toned color.

Now, darken the edges of the iris and right around the pupil. Notice how it already feels more realistic?

If you look closely at your eye, I bet you’ll find a lot of beautiful details and multifaceted color. You might see tiny, radiating lines around your iris, and that’s what we’re going to mimic here. I used a darker blue pigment and made squiggle marks all around. Afterward, I added lighter-colored squiggle marks. Remember, when you paint these, don’t make straight lines. Since we’re trying to express a spherical shape, it makes sense to have lines that follow the form.

Here’s where you’ll really want to look to your reference so to accurately capture the light. Depending on your surroundings, your eyes might have different flecks of color reflected into them. And, like in my painting, you can see that edges of the pupil and iris were distorted thanks to highlights. Add the highlights and marks wherever you see them. This is what will help make your painting look the most realistic. Don’t be afraid to add hints of yellow and red!

5. Creating graceful eyelashes

Everyone has different lengths and amount of eyelashes. Some people (like me) might be wearing eyeliner and mascara. Either way, you’ll want to use a liner brush (if you have one) to paint the eyelashes. Look closely at how the top lashes arc. Starting with the edge of the eye, mimic swoop and length of the lash in one fluid motion. Move from the outside and towards the inside of the eye when they look shorter and less pronounced.

The bottom eyelashes will be shorter and thinner. Remember, there’s a small area of skin between the eyeball and those lashes, so there will be space between the bottom of the eye and its lashes.

Add highlights (thin, light-colored) lines in-between the lashes so that they don’t look like one uncomfortable mass.

6. Finishing touches

Once you’ve finished painting the eyelashes, the hard part is over. Now, it’s just going back and refining your painting. Glance at your reference. What areas need to be darkened? Often, it’s the top and bottom of the eyeballs and the creases around the eyes. If you’ve included eyebrows in the painting, now is the time to paint those, too.

Have you ever tried to paint eyes that look at you , and they end up looking in two different directions, scaring away your mother and grandma?

This practical and comprehensive guide on how to paint eyes for beginners will surely help you out of your slump of painting cross-eyed models! Keep reading if you want to learn how to paint eyes like a pro.

The Anatomy of an Eye

The anatomy of the eye is not as tricky as you may think, but understanding the different shapes and curves is key when painting a realistic eye.

Most eyes generally have an almond shape, but some can be more or less rounded.

The iris is the part of the eye that will direct the gaze. Each iris in a pair of eyes has a very specific angle to it.

In order to get two matching eyes looking in the same direction, you have to measure the angle from the highest point to the lowest point.

Those two points should be opposite of eachother, and knowing this angle will help you map out the shape and location of your iris.

The tear duct is another important part of drawing an eye. You want to make sure it is rounded, and the transition into the bottom and top eyelid is smooth.

How to paint Eyes Easy: Best Techniques

You can paint an eye using any technique and medium you are comfortable with.

I personally enjoy the alla prima process (“at first attempt”) meaning it is done in one sitting, with one layer, fairly quickly. You can do this technique with acrylic or oils.

Oil Painting

When you paint eyes in oil , it is very helpful to first do a thin wash over the whole canvas to get rid of the white. A very thin drippy layer of any light color works perfect for this.

You can get the paint to be thin and drippy by mixing paint thinner into the paint, and of course, by using a large brush.

The next step is etching in the outer contour of the eye. Use a small brush that comes to a point to create this.

Mix a darker color with paint thinner, and use this small, round and pointy brush to sketch out the outer lines of the eye. From the tear duct, you should have a straight line slightly tilted, then a soft curved line that will connect to the back corner of the eye.

The bottom line is much softer, and will swoop under the eye and connect again to the tear duct and back corner. Next, sketch in the iris, and the crease above the top eyelid.

Once you have the outer contour sketched in, you will want to use a medium sized brush to block in all the larger areas with a value between 6-10. These are all the darkest darks! That would be the pupil, creases, under the eyelid.

Then continue with this process until you have blocked in the midtones and highlights. If you want to watch a pro use this process in a portrait, check out Portrait Painting Essentials .

You will be able to keep the paint fluid by mixing a medium into it, such as linseed oil or galkyd.

When painting the whites of the eye, the biggest mistake most artists make is using straight white paint. You will never use straight white paint ever, but especially not in the whites of the eye.

The whites of the eyes will always be tinted, depending on the lighting situation in the source or on the live model you are painting. If you are trying to paint an eye out of your head, mixing paynes grey or brown pink are usually a safe bet.

The whites of the eyes can have a blue/grey tint to them, or a more red tint. If you’re painting out of your head, it’s up to you! It will always be a little more colorful along the edges and at the corners, and a brighter white near the iris.

Acrylic Painting

When you paint eyes, acrylic paint can also be used in the process of alla Prima. Alla prima painting is actually very easy with acrylics, as they dry at lightning speed compared to oils.

However, the concept is still the same with acrylics as it is with oils! The only difference is you’ll be using water instead of paint thinner, and mixing in retarder instead of galkyd.

Be sure to have out a good variety of brushes and colors on your palette. Once you finish any paintings of eyes with acrylic paint , use transparent oil colors to glaze over the acrylic.

Glazing is done by using transparent paint and a medium to help keep it fluid. It will be transparent over what you have painted, while giving the piece more depth and saturation.

How to Add the Iris and Reflection Area

Adding tiny details to a painting of an eye can be difficult depending on how large the eye is! If you are working smaller, make sure the brush you are using is suited for tiny details, such as the iris, the sparkle, and any reflections you can see.

When you paint the iris, paint it in several layers. Your first layer should be the darkest color shown in the eye.

Once you have that down, use a small brush to create the beautiful lighter colorful streaks in the eye.

Continue working from dark to light, so don’t go straight to the brightest highlights after that first dark layer. A size 4 filbert is a great brush to use for the inner streaks of color, as you can get a decent variety of widths.

When adding any small and bright details to a painting, make sure your brush is clean from any other paint colors. When mixing your bright color for the highlight on the eye, the paint should sit on top of the tip of the brush.

Do not press the paint into the brush as you mix, because in order to transfer that paint to your painting, you will have to press and smudge the brush, and this will create a less than desirable effect.

Lightly mix and scoop the mixed color onto the tip of the brush. Then let the brush lightly kiss the canvas to add that teensie sparkle in the eye.

The bright color will not mix with any of the darks you applied earlier, and your sparkle won’t be too large and smudgy.

Adding Eyelashes

Painting the eyelashes to a painting of an eye is like adding the cherry on top of an ice cream sundae. It’s so satisfying and fun!

The most important part about painting eyelashes is the brush you use. I highly recommend investing in a good quality script brush, and keeping it clean and fresh! There’s nothing worse than a script brush that has frayed bristles going in every direction.

When you paint the eyelashes, always start from under the eyelid. Creating the swoop, you will actually bring your brush down from under the eyelid then a big swoop up. If you immediately swoop up, it will have very little dimension to it and won’t look very realistic.

Once you have those eyelashes in, you’re golden! You’ve now painted a whole eye, and I bet it looks amazing.

By following a few key steps and understanding what makes an eye painting look good, you can fulfill your wildest dreams of knowing how to paint realistic eyes, as well as painting anything else under the sun.

The world is your oyster!

Use the hashtag #milanartinstitute to show us those eyeballs! Happy painting!

From early on I always wanted to know how to paint eyes.  You know, to add some life to them.  To make them seem more real.

I’ve been doodling and drawing eyes since I was very young.  I loved trying to make them look nice but something was always just off and I couldn’t figure it out.

And then I realized that there’s really only one very important thing to know.  And I want you to remember this for ever more if you really want to know how to paint eyes.

The human eyeball is a perfect round sphere.
The iris is a perfect circle.

And the pupil is a perfect circle located
directly in the middle of the iris.

Eyeballs sit in the eye sockets of the skull.  Then depending on your family traits and where you come from, the skin that covers your eyes will create your particular eye shape and of course give you your eye color.  But the eyeball, iris and pupil do not change shape.  Your iris may be larger or smaller than mine but they are always a perfect circle.

So let’s say you’re painting laughing eyes.  The upper and lower lid will close quite a bit revealing only a little of the iris and pupil.  Right?

But behind the laughing eyes, nothing changed.

The biggest mistake I see is the tendency to squash the iris to make it fit into the eye opening.  That’s why your portraits or casual characters don’t look quite right.

So let’s start the demo on how to paint eyes.

Here I’ve prepared a page in my journal by basecoating it in DecoArt Soft Peach.  I’ve used DecoArt Americana acrylics throughout this project. To complete it you’ll need the following brushes: #12 flat, 10/0 liner, #4 filbert, 1/4-inch domed round.

The line drawing for the “how to paint eyes” tutorial can be downloaded here.

1.  Trace out the line drawing onto tracing paper.  Lightly transfer the main outline of the eye as well as the upper eyelid crease.  Basecoat the eye area with a few coats of White using the filbert.

2.  Transfer the left edge of the eyeball creating a small triangular area on the left.  Basecoat this section with a mix of just a touch of Cadmium Red and mostly Soft Peach.

Use the #12 flat to add a soft float of Payne’s Grey to shade under the top lid on the eyeball.  When dry, float the left side of the eyeball and the right corner of the eye.

3.  Transfer the iris and basecoat it with Dark Chocolate using the filbert.  When completely dry and opaque, transfer the pupil and basecoat it Black, using the filbert.

When dry, use the #12 flat to float a shade on the iris under the lid with Black.  It should be the same width as the shading on the eyeball.

4.  Transfer the eyebrow then use the liner to add fine lines with Dark Chocolate and then add a few more fine lines with a mix of Dark Chocolate and touch of Black.

Mix some Burnt Sienna with mostly Soft Peach to line in the crease.  Use this same mix to outline the entire eye.

With the #12 flat, float the pink corner of the eye with Burnt Sienna, first next to the eyeball and then into the very corner.  These are narrow and soft floats.

Using a domed round, dry brush Marigold to highlight the iris.  Stay out of the shaded area and away from the very edge of the iris.  Clean the brush.

Use the liner and a mix of mostly White and touch of Soft Peach to outline the lower lid just below the first outline you did.  Repeat until it is a shade or two lighter than the original skin tone.  Refer to the close up image.

Use the dry domed round to dry brush some Burnt Sienna in the crease and outer corner of the upper lid.  Use the worksheet as a guide.  Dry brush up toward the start of the eyebrow.  Then add just a little shade under the eye as indicated in the line drawing and work sheet.

Add a touch of Dark Chocolate to the Burnt Sienna and deepen the shading in the crease of the eye only.

Dry brush White on the eyelid and on the outer edge of the corner of the eye as well as above the shading under the eye.

On the iris at about 2 o’clock, add a strong shine highlight of White using the liner.  The shine highlight circle overlaps both the pupil and iris.

To create the two soft shine highlights on the other side first dampen the iris.  While damp, use the tip of the liner and thinned White to tap in two tiny dots.  The dampness will diffuse the dots.  When dry add a tiny strong dot of White to both those highlights.

5.  Transfer the eyelashes to the top lid.  Then transfer the eyelashes to the lower lid.  Notice the top lashes touch the very edge of the lid?  Now see where the eyelashes start on the lower lid?  Yes, that’s right.  There is a little flesh outline between the eyeball and the lash line.

Use the liner and Black to add the lashes.   Then outline the top lid with a very fine line of Black.  Then add a little eyeliner to the bottom lashes.

So you’re wondering how on earth did I get my eye shape to remain so perfectly round?

After finishing the painting, I noticed the iris was just off by a bit.  So I took out my trusty Staedtler Professional Combo Circle Template # 977 / 110 and re-outlined the iris using a permanent black fine tipped marker.  Where needed, I used White paint where I went outside the line and Dark Chocolate where I missed a spot.

You can get this template in any store that carries office supplies or drafting supplies.  I use mine all the time!

Well that’s it for the how to paint eyes tutorial.  Of course there are many other types of eyes to be painted.  But just remember that the human eyeball is a perfect round sphere. The iris is a perfect circle. And the pupil is a perfect circle located directly in the middle of the iris.

1) The anatomy of the face
2) Relationships between different features of the face
3) Which photos make good portraits
4) How to mix and match skin tones
5) How to paint the individual features of the face
6) How to tie it all together to form a realistic portrait

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Class Tutorial

The Iris

To paint a realistic eye, you will need to make the pupil perfectly round, even though the top of it will be partially covered by the eyelid. Study several eyes before you begin to paint. You will see that you will need to paint in many fine lines, shadows, and highlights.

The Pupil

You will learn the colors to mix to get the deep blackness of the pupil and how to achieve the proper size for the pupil. In painting the pupil, you must retain its round shape.

The Eyeballs

You will find that painting each side of the eyeball will require variations in the color of the paint. Also, you will learn that different ethnic groups have different pigments in the whites of their eyes. By properly applying the shadows and highlights, you will give a nice rounded effect to the eyeball. You will add the tear ducts once the eyeball is painted.

The Eyelids

You will begin this section with the upper eyelid. You will be working with several different tonal values in this area. The lower eyelid can be painted using the same technique as you used for the upper eyelid. You will finish up painting the wall of the eye.

Skin Surrounding the Eye

As you work this area, you will be doing a great deal of contouring and blending to include the edge of the nose and the skin around the eyebrow.

Eyelashes and Eyebrows

You will begin with the eyelashes, being mindful of both the direction and spacing of the lashes.

You will use much of the same technique to paint the eyebrows. Use the eye itself to help you gauge the proper positioning for the brow.