I’ve finally put together the tutorial that I did some time ago. I thought it would be a nifty thing to add to this our first week of the Art Discussion forum.
Painting an Eye
The eye is probably the most catching thing about the human face. It’s where we’re looking when we’re talking to people. It’s where tears emerge from, it’s where we indicate what we’re looking at and often what we’re thinking about what we see. If you’re doing a painting and you do everything beautifully but you make the eyes look dead… then that’s it, you’ve not painted a human, you’ve painted a mannequin. A dead thing.
Instructions: Let us start with a blank piece of paper, only make it flesh coloured instead. Picking a good first colour for skin usually has some impact on all the other colours one will pick thereafter - for this reason, it’s always pretty vital to start off in a good way. Not too pink, not too orange, and not too saturated.
Common mistakes: Using a colour that is too saturated or too grey. A colour that is too orange or too pink. Try to find the middle ground, it will affect the rest of the painting.
Instructions: Secondly, sketching a really, really simple eye. There are some things here that people tend to forget. The first one is that there is a lid below the eye as well as above it. Without this lid, the eye will sit very unnaturally in the face. Secondly, we have the corner of the eye - you know, that small bit where the eye starts, where all the tears come from? Leaving these things out are among the most common mistakes when it comes to painting eyes.
Let’s keep these ‘sketch lines’ on an entirely separate layer, on top of everything else.
Common mistakes: Forgetting the lower lid. Forgetting the corner of the eye.
Instructions: Next, we try to get the feel for the shape of the eye. If we shade the bottom eyelid, and highlight the upper one, we suddenly see something emerge. A flat eyeball will mess the entire eye up, so it is very important that we get the roundness through. But the truth of the matter is that the area surrounding the eye should be showing the shape of the eyeball itself. The eyeball is white and you won’t be able to show much of its roundness because most of it is hidden, but by shading the lids you’ll give the same message without making the eye look like it is bulging. I’m using a warm pink here to highlight, and a desaturated brown for the shadow. This will all change though.
Try to imagine that there are lines running across your face, showing the shape of it - it’s sometimes hard to tell how the structure lies by just looking at something. Better yet, if you are ever inclined, paint straight lines running down your face and take a photo of it. You’ll see that the lines look everything but straight when you look in a mirror - in fact, you might discover an entirely new way of looking at your own features (I once did this, believe it or not: it took a while to wash all the makeup off afterwards).
When you shade, keep these lines in mind. Don’t paint them in unless you feel you absolutely have to (and if so, on a separate layer), but try to imagine them while you shade.
Common mistakes: Imagining the eyeball not as round, but as elliptic. Shading the surrounding area as well as the eyeball as if it is the shape and size of what shows, not what is hidden behind lid and flesh.
Instructions:So, first I’ll build the area around the eye up. I do this by picking a highlight (in this case, the same one that I used for the eyelid) and I figure out where the light would fall.
People have different shapes of eyes, but a rule of thumb is that you’ll have a soft, pillowed area just below the eyebrow (along the entire length, actually, though I’ve only highlighted part of it here - the other part ‘pops’ out because I’ve shaded below and above), one upon the cheekbone and then it’ll always help to make the area just around the corner of the eye look a little less flat. Close your eye and gently trace the shape with your fingertips. You’ll have the swell of the eyelid, the area below the eyebrow and then the cheekbone, right? Remember that an area like this is likely to leave a shadow below.
The problem here, of course, is that we’re not painting the entire face - it’s easier to fit an eye in when there is something to fit it into.
Common mistakes: Too stark shading. Using pure black or even lines to show edges.
Instructions: After this (watch the animation for, perhaps, a few more visuals on exactly what happens between these two stages), we need to define the areas that I only very quickly blurred in on the previous stage. I’m working with soft edged brushes here, all along. In some places, I’ll shift to a custom brush that is round but has slightly torn edges.
Pick warmer, more saturated colours. You can highlight and shade by using colours alone. Work shadows into the eyebrow, but more importantly accentuate the eye itself by shading the lower lid more and also adding some shape to the upper lid. Again, touch your own eyelid (now carefully, keep your eye open), it sticks out a little but not too much. A common mistake is to make the upper eyelid look huge, and to forget the crease that shows that while you’ve got your eye open, the lid is slightly folded back.
Now, we’re going to be tricksy. Instead of just shadowing with dark colours underneath the eye and accomplish a look like an alcoholic that hasn’t slept for five days, we’re going to find the shapes with a combination of highlights and shadows. Never forget that across the planes and curves of a face, the values will be flowing. You’ll have light reflecting differently on the different types of skin (often oilier below the eyes, around the nose, moist on the lips). You’ll have a few sharper creases (like upper eyelid) and then creases that soften out (like the one on the lower eyelid, which smoothens as it reaches the corner of the eye). A face does not consist only of highlighted cheekbones, nose, lips and chin - it has all kinds of hills and valleys, and however good you become at painting, it will always look flat, false, and fake until you understand these shapes.
Common mistakes: Accentuating all the creases and folds only with shadows instead of highlights.
Instructions: Trying to find shapes with a combination of highlights and shadows isn’t always easy, but it’s far more effective (to me, anyway) than trying to find it by using lines. For the most part, I won’t even have the sketch lines here, they’re merely here to demonstrate the shape of the eye as I build the face up around it.
Once more, accentuating the curves, planes and folds with a combination of lighter and darker areas. We’re using no black, we’re using no white. All variations of the same skin tone. Now - if you’re clever, the highlighted area underneath the eye will have a slightly more bluish tone (as the skin here is extremely thin and the vessels underneath have a tendency of showing colour though), and use warmer highlights for the other parts of the face. If you pick the colours directly off this demonstration, you’ll see that when I say ‘bluish’, I don’t mean actually blue.
Taking a look, you’ll see that in spite of the eyeball itself not having been drawn in, the eye already has shape!
Instructions: Having just said that the face has shape even without the eyeball, that doesn’t mean we can skip it altogether, does it now?
Let’s sketch it in. Don’t use white, use a mix of pale grey-beige and then brush over with the skin tone - I’ve found that this combination very closely resembles the actual colour of an eyeball (the skin tone is generally reflected on the highly glossy surface). Do not add highlights to this eyeball yet. It’s a waste to work in the glossiness at this point - it’ll be painted over by the iris and pupil anyway.
What’s more important, though, is that the eyeball’s shape is consistent with the shading you’ve done on the eyelids. If you’ve been thinking right, it should fit right in. If you’ve messed up, the eyeball will look like a golf ball pushed into an ill fitting hole. Keep imagining the round shape of it, and if it helps, sketch the outlines of the round shape on a separate layer and then shadow the eye below it accordingly.
Common Mistakes: Pure white for the eyeball.