How to Paint Eyes

Step by step: painting eyes with watercolor

How to Paint Eyes

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It can be quite tricky to paint realistic eyes with watercolor, but we can all learn how to do it. Probably the biggest hurdle is not necessarily the painting itself, but painting with the right material! With at least two different brush sizes, we should be able to paint a realistic eye. For small paintings the brush sizes 0 and 8 are great, for larger paintings try out 2 and 12 or bigger.

Painting a realistic eye step by step

In the following section we will go through the steps together on how to paint a realistic eye. The eye color in the example is hazel, but depending on your preference, you can follow the tutroials using other colors as well.

Detailed sketch of an eye

In order to paint realistic eyes, we need to know how to draw realistic eyes first. Although a complete drawing is not necessary for our painting, a detailed sketch is an extremely important basis that we should not do without in our watercolor painting.

Sketch of a realistic eye

Painting the eyeball and the corner of the eye

It doesn't matter if we paint the skin first or start directly with the eye, because as long as we let one dry completely before proceeding with the other, nothing will smear.

For the tear caruncles in the inner corner of the eye, we can use a red (vermilion, for example) that we apply especially transparent.

The fine shadows on the eyeball under the upper eyelid and in the outer corner of the eye are best painted by layering several very transparent coats of blue, purple and brown.

Eyeball painting

Painting an iris

On the one hand, the iris is probably the most complicated part, but on the other hand, it also is the most fun. I definitely recommend using a very small brush size for this step, because that way we will do better with the details.

To paint a ring, we start by painting a small circle with transparent paint. We let it dry, which creates a slightly dark edge.

We then paint a second layer over the small circle, starting from the outermost edge. By layering over it, the edge of the small circle becomes a little more dark and we get a natural looking ring.

Eye paint base tone

Depending on the eye color, we can add more colors to the iris. Often there is a dark ring at the very edge of the iris, although this is not always the case. Around the pupil there is sometimes an area that looks like a sun or flower, sometimes even in a completely different color.

The upper eyelid also casts a fine shadow on the iris, which we can draw along the upper edge with a mixture of blue, red and brown.

Eye paint base tone

How to paint Eyelashes

To paint eyelashes, we need one thing in particular: a steady hand. Unlike with a pencil, it's not so easy to correct mistakes when painting, and it's especially annoying if you mess up the painting just before it's finished. Therefore, there is also no shame in changing the material for certain things. If you feel more confident about addding the eyelashes with a pencil, you don't have to force yourself to paint them with a brush.

In the example painting, the eyelashes of the upper eyelid were painted opaque with black ink, the eyelashes of the lower eyelid somewhat transparent with a mixture of brown and blue.

watercolor eye

Eye color: Finding the right shade

Eyes are rarely monochromatic. A closer look reveals fine rings or dots in different colors in an iris. To find the right shade of an eye color, it is a good idea to test the individual colors separately, mixed and layered on a separate piece of paper.

Painting hazel eyes
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cobalt Blue Hue & Cadmium Yellow Lemon mixed
  • Mahogany brown
  • Burnt Umber
Mixing paints for hazel eyes
Painting blue eyes
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cobalt Blue Hue
  • Cobalt Blue Hue & Burnt Umber mixed
Mixing paints for blue eyes

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