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Old 06-13-2008, 05:52 PM
Ellen in Ont's Avatar
Ellen in Ont Ellen in Ont is offline
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Painting Realistic Eyes and Skin Tones

Hi everyone,
Once again it's homework time before the fun of painting together. To save a lot of tedious time listening to me spouting facts and rules at the start of class, and to get right down to painting once there, I am giving you lots of theory to read over and think about. I can answer question here before the meet or you can wait until we are actually there. It might be fun to post questions here so everyone can hear them. When the meet is over, I'll post the step-by-step instructions for the painting we will all be doing in this thread as well. That way those who can't travel can join in. So what follows are my basic observations and "rules" that I follow when painting eyes.

Tips on Painting Eyes

Eyes In General
If there are eyes in a painting, they will be the focus whether you want them to be or not.
If you can make them alive they will bring the whole painting to life.
Eyes are the most important feature to get right when painting a portrait. If the eyes are right, the rest of the face can be distorted and yet be recognizable: if the eyes are not right, the face is wrong no matter if the rest of the face is perfect.

Common Mistake: not observing what is there

Portrait VS Figure
When painting figures you can make up the eyes so no need to worry about an exact likeness.
The eyes in a portrait have to be exact to get the likeness.
Study the shape of the socket, angles and thickness of brow, relationship of brow to eye, line of eye, curve of lids, fold line, lashes, colour of iris, and the lines and wrinkles.

Common Mistake: A millimeter can count. Donít rush through the drawing stage to start painting. The likeness wonít suddenly appear later if the drawing is wrong at this stage. More details in the drawing donít help. Keep the lines simple and accurate. And while painting, follow the critical measurements exactly Ė this is not the time for painting outside the lines

Fold line and wrinkles
Fold line - shows that the eye is open and the upper lid is folded back on itself.
The look changes with partially closed or fully open lid.
Extremely important line for likeness, observe angles, colour, spacing closely.

Common Mistake: not making the fold line dark enough or not observing its contour.

The pupil is a hole Ė the darkest part of the face
It is always centered in the iris.
It is round unless seen from the side.
It determines the direction of gaze Ė THEY MUST LOOK AT THE SAME PLACE

Common Mistake: making the pupil off center in the iris, not round, not dark enough, looking in different directions.

Iris (coloured part)
Bottom lid just barely overlaps the lower edge of iris and the top lid slightly covers more of top edge of the iris (usually 2mm).
A darker outer edge is common.
Make dots and lines of colour, not a solid shade
Pupil in the center

Common Mistake: too much iris showing, not round

They are the brightest part of the face and often surrounded by dark
Hard edges of reflections show a wet surface.
Highlights follows curve of eye.
A whole other story can be shown in the highlights. They can reflect the light source, surroundings or the photographer/artist.

Common Mistake: not observing highlights accurately

Sclera (whites of the eyes)
Not really white Ė save brightest white for highlight
Pinker toward inner corner and a little pink on outer corner
Most of the shading showing the eyeball is round, occurs on the sclera. The values can be very dark.
It can reflect local colours in it.

Common Mistake: flat, white sclera and forgetting the shadow under the upper lid

Unless close up, only suggested
Grow from outer edges of lids
Length varies and width tapers to ends
Tangled, down swept then up on top lid
Not evenly distributed across lid

Common Mistake: start from wrong place, too uniform, too long.

I used images of eyes from the RIL that had a lot of features that should be observed when painting a portrait. Each example is followed by notes of things to look for in each photo

Example 1.
Shading shows the roundness of the eyeball and the depth of the socket.
Look where the lashes beginÖ on the outer edges of the lids.
There is thickness to both the top and bottom lids that thins as it reaches the inner corner.
Donít forget the shadow under the bottom lid.
Lashes can look white in the light.
Highlights can be surrounded by dark and transmitted light lightens the otherwise shadowed area.
Irises arenít solid colour, there are stripes, dots, lines and even zigzag patterns of different colours.
Look for the shadows of the lashes in the highlight.
Look at the soft highlight on the pink bump on the inner corner.
Highlights gently curve following the curve of the eye.
Sharp edges on reflections suggest wetness of the eye.

Example 2.
Look at the fine wrinkles. They can be indicated by light lines.
Observe the thickness of the upper eye fold.
The white sclera can have fine capillaries that you have to decide if you want to include.
Look at the colours in the skin around this eye.
Look at the thickness of the lids thinning towards the inner corner.
In this photo the reflection of the sky is making the top of the pupil show as blue rather than black

Example 3.
Deeper wrinkles are darker but closely observe the colours of them. They can be anywhere from pinks and purples to blues, burnt siennas or browns.
The elderly usually have lighter, sparser lashes
Elderly eyes can develop a cloudy ring around the iris called the arcus senilus. This isnít seen well in this photo. Look at an older person you know.
Glasses can show more reflections and you can tell a whole story in them. They can reflect the setting, the light source or the photographer.

Examples 4 and 5:
The bulge of the eye is more noticeable from the side. The larger bulge over the iris is seen in example 5
You only see the underside of the upper lid when you are looking up at a person from below. The width of the lower lid is seen at almost every angle.
The shape of the pupil and iris are more elliptical from the side.
***PEARL OF WISDOM: ***if you want the eyes in your painting to look like they are following the viewer, simply make sure they are completely round. Our brain interprets this roundness as meaning someone is looking right at you. So even if they look at your painting more from the side, the roundness of the pupil and iris tells their brain that the eyes are following them.
Observe the tiny line of highlight along the bottom lid.
Lashes sweep down and then up usually ending around the same height as the fold line.
Look at the blue tinge common in the thin skin between the eye and the nose.
Reflections can be distracting. Use judgment in deciding how much you will include.

Example 6:
Lighting from below creates an eerie effect because we donít usually see light coming from this direction Ė avoid it unless you want the effect or if you are adding some reflected light from snow or water.

You can tell these are childrenís eyes even if you donít see the rest of the face. Our brain is extremely good at interpreting facial features but we have to be just as aware of them to paint or we will end up aging the children and not understand why.

A newbornís eyes are 2/3 the size of adults and reach adult size by 6-12 years even though the face isnít adult size. Therefore, they are larger in comparison to the face and to the eye socket than an adult. The inner corner of a babyís eye is completely covered by a fold of skin that slowly retracts as the bridge of the nose develops.

Example 7:
In a very young child the skin completely covers the inner corner of the eye.
A blue tinge to the sclera is common in newborns.

Example 8:
The skin at the edges of the inner corner is starting to recede in this example but is still covering part of the corner.
The puffiness of the upper and lower lid area with a lighter and looser fold line is because of the large size of the eyeball in this age.
This is another example of the shadows of the lashes in the highlight of the eye.

Example 9:
The shadow under the lower lid is lower down the face than an adult as well as being puffier and with fine lines. This is because of the large size of the eyeball in comparison to the socket.
The extra skin by the inner corner is retreating as the bridge of the nose develops.

OK, the theory part is over. Now for the fun part of your homework. Here is the reference line drawing. Notice I am not giving you the whole ref photo right now. I don't want you adding more lines than I have here. A portrait starts with just a few simple lines for positioning but those have to be accurate. These are all you need. I also put a tiny bit of masking on the highlights in the eyes. I had to darken those in photoshop because the masking didn't show well. Don't forget that tiny line of highlight just above the lower lid. I have purposely only included the face to just below the nose for work on skin tones. The mouth is a whole other lesson.

Because we all have to fit in the one room at the gallery (we will be very cosy) please just draw this on 8 x 10. We are not going to come out with a finished painting like other years. It is for practise, so when I tell you to go darker you won't have to worry about ruining it and can go for the gusto.
I'll give you each a photo reference at the meet to work from as well as step-by-step instructions in case anyone gets behind or wants to do it again at home.

Have fun everyone, learn lots, ask questions and come ready to paint.

Note: To preserve the continuity of instruction, this thread has been edited to remove some posts that did not pertain to the technique being demonstrated. The Moderators]


Last edited by painterbear : 07-02-2008 at 07:29 AM.
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Old 06-18-2008, 07:31 AM
Ellen in Ont's Avatar
Ellen in Ont Ellen in Ont is offline
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Re: Homework for Ontario Meet #4

I'm finished the demo painting so now I can add the list of paints I used. You don't have to go out and get all of these if you don't have them. Most can be substituted with something else.

Colours used: quin gold (if you don't have this, I am bringing lots with me. I bought tubes of the substitute thinking it was the oringinal ), perm rose, ultramarine blue, Hookers green (any green will do or even mix one), indigo, burnt sienna, raw umber, thalo blue (or any intense blue), brown madder (or mix an equivalent), caput mortum (again, not necessary but I find this one very useful and use it in almost every portrait), and yellow ochre.

I'll post the step-by-step lesson here after the meet. That way everyone can join the fun.


Last edited by Ellen in Ont : 06-18-2008 at 07:35 AM.
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Old 07-01-2008, 01:12 PM
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Ellen in Ont Ellen in Ont is offline
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Join Date: Jul 2004
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Painting Realistic Eyes and Skin Tones

Painting Eyes and Skin Tones

This is more than just an exercise in painting eyes and skin; it is also a lesson on careful observation that can apply to any subject. You wonít have a finished painting by the end but you will know how to paint eyes and tackle skin tones. It is always important to remember that this is just one way to do it. There are as many ways to paint eyes and skin as there are artists. This is just how I do it.

Colours used in this demo: perm rose, quin gold, ultramarine blue, Hookers green, indigo, burnt sienna, raw umber, thalo blue, brown madder, caput mortum, and yellow ochre.

Here is the reference image from the RIL posted by copyKat.

Step 1:
Draw out the face very lightly using no details. Closely observe the angle of the lid line, fold and brow. Look at the size and angle of the corner of the eye. This is the stage where a likeness will develop. If it doesnít look right now, correct it. Double check all angles and measurements. A likeness wonít magically appear later if the basic drawing is wrong. It doesnít have to be detailed, just accurate. Donít forget to draw the thickness of the lower lid. Decide where the pupil is going to be and mark it with a small dot. Draw the circle of the iris using this as your center point. If you have trouble drawing circles, use a template. Make the iris circle big enough to be just barely cut off at the lower lid and a little more cut off at the top. Now draw a smaller circle for the pupil centering it with the dot you made previously. Make sure that both are completely round and the pupil is centered. Decide on where the highlight is going to be and either draw it to avoid painting over it later, or use masking fluid. Highlights can extend over the lines between iris, pupil and sclera. Make sure you follow the curve of the eye. Donít forget the line of highlight along the bottom lid and in the corner of the eye.

Just before starting to paint, partially erase the lines so they are barely visible, especially where two light areas meet, to avoid seeing the pencil lines through the paint. Find the lightest skin colour (usually a highlighted area) and add a wash of that colour (quin gold, perm rose and UB) over the whole face including the eyes. This reduces the glare of the white paper, eases the hardness of the sizing, and makes sure the masked highlights are the whitest white. Dry.

Step 2:
Mix small puddles for the eye colours (yellow ochre, thalo blue, and a mixed dark grey (indigo, perm rose, quin gold or your own favourite mix)). Dab yellow ocher where you see it in the ref photo. Dry.

Step 3:
Leaving some yellow uncovered, cover the iris and pupil with your blue where you see it. If you leave hard edges, make sure they are in a pattern of radiating lines, not other angles. Dry. Use the mixed grey to paint where you see the darkest greys in the irises and paint the pupils as well. This just starts blocking in the colours for the eyes. There will be many more layers. Dry.

Step 4:
Add another layer of the blue to deepen the colour where you see it in the ref photo. Dry. Add darker grey again. Dry.

Step 5:
Remove the masking from the smaller, darker highlights and tickle any hard lines with a damp brush to soften them. Make sure to keep the lid edges clean and straight. Dry. Mix some yellow with Hookers green to add the yellow/green highlights. Use a damp brush on the hard edges.

Step 6:
Mix raw umber or sepia, brown madder, and caput mortum to make a brownish red to start adding some of the darker lines around the eyes. You are just trying to get a feel of how dark the values in the eyes need to be. The eyes look very strange sitting on a white background.

Step 7:
Mix some light quin gold for the yellow areas around the eyes.

Step 8:
Mix quin gold, perm rose and ultramarine blue in a dark, skin coloured puddle. Make another puddle of some of the colour from above, diluted. Apply the lighter and darker colour washes where you see dark and lights around the eyes. Dry.

Step 9:
While that wash is drying, start shaping the sclera (whites of the eyes). Cover them with a very pale blue/grey wash and drop in a tiny bit of pink in the corners. The two right corners (as we look at it) are a darker brown/blue.
When the skin wash is dry, tickle the hard edges to soften them. On the bottom left corner, mix a dark colour for background and paint it. Mix raw umber, yellow ochre, and a tiny bit of UB to start the hair by dabbing around the face. Add burnt umber and sienna and add that to the hair. Mix a black and add that.

Step 10:
Back to the eyes. With a damp brush, lift any highlights that arenít bright enough. Add a pale pink wash to the lower lid edges. Remove the masking on the large highlight but leave the fine line of masking over the lower lid. Continue to correct the values and colour in the eyesÖ be brave. Add an orangey wash to the upper lids where you see it. Mix a reddish-brown colour and start on darker values under the eyes. Add a light wash of a greenish blue to irises as needed. Deepen the right corners of the eyes. Dry between washes.

Step 11:
Add a touch of pink to the corner of the eyes and another coat of black on the hair.

Step 12:
Find and lift highlights on the skin to adjust the final placement of them. Lift highlights on curls.

Step 13:
Mix all your remaining puddles of skin colours together. Add raw umber, caput mortum, quin gold, perm rose, and UB until you have the dark red/brown colour for the side of nose and cheek. It can be any shade from a wine red to a burnt sienna colourÖ it is more important to get the value right than the colour. Wet the areas of highlights with clear water where you donít want the darker colour going. Wet the edges of the dark areas so the darks will blend into them as you touch them. Do one area at a time. Lay in darks. Add water to dilute as needed. Drop in reds or yellows as you see them. Blend edges. Dry well.

Step 14:
Lift out highlights again to place them and soften all hard edges. Mix a dark grey and darken eyebrows. Donít blend well or soften these edges. Darken nostril.

I have to continue this in the next post of this thread.


Last edited by Ellen in Ont : 07-01-2008 at 02:03 PM.
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Old 07-01-2008, 09:37 PM
LGTherrien's Avatar
LGTherrien LGTherrien is offline
National Capital area
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 73
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Re: Painting Eyes and Skin - from Ontario meet

Thanks for sharing this lesson Ellen.

I was looking at a photo today that someone gave me of a Tanzanian man sitting on the ground against a cement wall. I was wondering how I would tackle the expression on his face until I opened this thread.

Now all I need to figure out is the right blend of colors to get the skin tones correct as there is this beautiful blue hue as a result of a reflection from the painted blue wall behind him. Any suggestions?
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Old 07-01-2008, 09:50 PM
Ellen in Ont's Avatar
Ellen in Ont Ellen in Ont is offline
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Northeastern Ont
Join Date: Jul 2004
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Re: Painting Eyes and Skin - from Ontario meet

Lise - just paint exactly what you see. My new motto is "forget what you know, paint what is there".

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Old 07-03-2008, 09:00 AM
Ellen in Ont's Avatar
Ellen in Ont Ellen in Ont is offline
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Northeastern Ont
Join Date: Jul 2004
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Hails from Canada
Eyes homework part 2

Step 15:
Start working on final skin values by starting around the eye with the darkest values. I also added burnt sienna to areas in hair to get darker values.

Step 16:
I added a wash of yellow and pink over the right side of the face and while still wet I dropped in dark red/brown. I added a wash of yellow pink over the nose area where I saw it. Dry.

Step 17:
Mix a wine-red/brown colour. Add a pink wash on the nose and drop in the darker colour where the darkest values are in the ref photo.

Step 18:
Mix a blue/green colour for the dark area under the eye and down into the cheek. Bring hair farther down onto forehead after dropping in darker colours around hairline.

Step 19:
Mix a larger amount of dilute pinky peach colour and lightly wash it over whole face except eyes. Add a wash of the darkest black to the pupils and a dark grey/black for lashes.

The painting isnít finished at this point. The skin tones are still blotchy and should have more layers of washes to even them out. The hair has a lot of work to be done, the dark values on the side of the nose and cheek have to be darker, the reds should be added darker around the nostril, etc. But this will give you an idea of how to paint eyes and start skin tones. Anyone can paint a portrait but it takes patience, accuracy in positioning of features, careful observation, and of course, practice.


Last edited by painterbear : 07-03-2008 at 09:47 AM.

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