How to: Paint Eyes with Liz Chaderton
Getting eyes right can be key to capturing character or emotion in a painting - and they can often be the hardest to get right. Liz Chaderton has some top tips for painting them correctly...
Get the eye spot on in your painting and you will see your animal spring to life. Watercolour is a wonderful medium for painting eyes – full of light and sparkle.
I would always suggest starting with the eye when painting an animal portrait. If it’s wrong the whole painting will fail, so it’s better to screw it up at the beginning rather than at the end!
Remember eyes are spherical and set into the skull – they are not buttons sewn on the outside.
Eyes have shadows and highlights
When painting an animal straight on with both eyes visible, it is very confusing to the viewer if they don’t know which to look at first. Make one a tiny bit more dominant.
There are three main eye forms:
The simplest eye is a circle or oval with a white highlight. You see these in birds and rodents. By leaving small flashes of white you will indicate moist lids around the eye. Once you have the circle in place, with clean water paint around it, leaving a tiny gap of dry paper. Then bridge the gap in a couple of places and watch the eye colour move out to start forming the surrounding feathers or fur.
Eye without a visible pupil
Of course, all eyes have pupils, but they may not be visible eg barn owl, deer, cow. You need to do a little more to make them look like balls. Paint the eye shape (don’t assume it is a circle), leaving the highlight. Simplify and make the highlights consistent if both eyes are visible. While damp use a clean damp brush to lift out a soft highlight along a bottom quarter. Now continue painting outwards leaving white gaps for the membranes as before. You might want to drop in a different colour too, for example a little turquoise into a brown eye.
Eye with pupil
A more complicated eye with a visible pupil will need to be built up in layers. Start by painting the iris including where the pupil will be, leaving the highlight. While still wet, touch in a little colour at the edges. This will form the flecks you see in the iris. Using your damp brush create the illusion of a ball as before. You can start to paint around the eye. I like to have some of the iris colour run out into the fur. Look carefully at the pupil – what shape is it and where is it? Paint it in carefully, avoiding the highlight. Put in some shadow under the brow depending on the light direction. Once dry using a blue mix put in the pupil behind the highlight.
You can find more great tutorials and artwork by Liz on her website
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