Painting Eyes

The eyes of any portrait are the primary focal point, they are the first area of the face that you see.  Let’s look at the simple steps that create a realistic impression for adding coloring to the eye area.

Before you start the actual painting steps take a moment and explore with your fingers exactly where the eyes fall within the face.  Start by placing your have flat against one side of your face on a cheek ridge. allow the side of your hand to touch the side of your nose and the palm of your hand to touch the side on your chin.

Right away you can feel that the nose extends beyond the width of your hand, it is the highest point in the face.  Your cheek and chin equally touch your hand as they lie at about the same depth in the face.  If you have is truly flat you will not be able to feel the eye area, you may be able to feel your eye lashes, but not the ball of the eye.  The eye is the lowest, deepest area of the face.

This places the eye in a shadow area caused by the overhang of the upper eye lid, the eye is a half-sphere which lies inside of a bowl-shaped depression.As you work through these simple steps we will add both coloring to the eye and also shadowing to emphasize the half-sphere shape of the eye structure.

Step 1 Applying a base coat of color to the face

For this tutorial I have created a simple Santa Claus like face carving in a 3/4″ thick by 6″ square basswood board.  I have two coats of a base skin color applied. Then I used very thinned burnt umber to shadow the eye lids, along the nose, and under the lower lip. I have also used white to highlight the brow ridge, center point of each eye lid, the nose, cheeks and mustache.

To learn more about skin colors and how to mix your own skin tones please visit Adding Skin Colors with Watercolors.

The eye ball has two coats of creamy white, not bright white, applied. When that dried I thinned burnt umber and washed a thin coat to the top 1/3 of the eye ball. In the painting steps this is probably the most important. The eye is not white, it’s off white and too bright a white paint can give your face a startled look. The entire eye structure is always in shadow. The brow ridge over hangs the eye lids and the upper eye lid over hangs the eye ball. That little bit of brown shadow tucks the eye ball into the eye lid area.


Step 2 Establish the shape of the pupil

The iris area of the eye is the area that carries the eye coloring of brown, blue, or hazel.  It is a circular area with the black pupil centered inside of the iris.

The only time you see the entire iris (colored area) of the eye is when someone is in shock. So 99.9% of the time some part of the iris is covered by the eye lids. If the top part of the iris is covered your face looks straight at you. If the lower section is covered he is looking down. I have used a medium blue for the iris and I have pulled a burnt umber line under the edge of the upper eye lid.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: