Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The Eyes on My Portraits Never Look Right

Painting eyes within a portrait may instil fear in the beginner, causing a diffident approach. Eyes may end up lacking colour or shading, except in the irises and the pupils, resulting in a blank look. The slightest inaccuracy around the eyes may result in a portrait that does not look quite like the subject. How does the beginner tackle painting eyes for the first time?

Problems with Eyes in Portrait Painting

The eyes are the focal point within any portrait, and are therefore the most crucial. Unless the eyes have been rendered accurately, the portrait may lose its likeness to the subject. Common problems with eye painting may be due to the following practices:
  • Painting eyes with the simplistic belief that they should always be rendered as follows: they are almond shaped, are surrounded by eyelashes, have a circular pupil and part of a half-moon iris in view
  • Dividing eyes into three main colours: blue, green or brown, and using one of these colours to paint irises
  • Painting a round black pupil in the middle of the visible white eyeball
  • Similarly, always painting the eyeball white
  • Forgetting that eyes have contours and shadows around the eye itself, as well as on the eyeball, and painting the skin colour as merely beige or pink.
  • Not rendering the ridge around the eye, but illustrating it as a simple line, making the eye appear two-dimensional
  • Pointing every eyelash and brow hair in the same direction
  • Illustrating contours around the eyes as linear
  • Forgetting to look at the photograph when painting eyes, but subconsciously painting what the artist believes an eye should look like
How to Paint Eyes with Realism

By addressing the problems with painting eyes, the beginner could see improvements in portraits when addressing the following:
  • Forget what eyes “should” look like, but view them as abstract areas of shadows and colours
  • Forget the eye-colour labelled to the subject. A person with brown eyes may have irises that contain other colours, including gold, yellows and greens
  • Never paint the whites of the eyes as simply white. Dark shadows can often be seen below the eyelid, and again could contain definite hues, such as blues and earth colours
  • Eyelashes never point in the same direction. Depending upon the viewpoint, the hairs may appear to point in diverse directions. Similarly, illustrating each hair could result in a harsh representation of eyelashes. Hairs close together will appear as a dark area
  • Reflections over the eyeball and the pupil are not always merely white, but can be many colours
  • The shadows and contours around the eye are crucial. Dark shadows can often be seen below the eyebrows and beneath the eyes
Tips on Painting Eyes

It is advisable to paint eyes last in a portrait. Getting the colours and the shadows accurately on the face and around the eyes is crucial in making eyes work. This means sensitive observation on light and shadow. When painting eyes, the following tips will help:
  • Eyeballs are rarely just white, but may have deep shadows. A little ultramarine and burnt sienna will kill the artificial white
  • Look out for colours within reflections over the eyeball and the pupil
  • Rather than illustrate each follicle, half close the eyes and simplify the area into tonal areas
  • Look for a multitude of colours within the irises, not just white
  • Take extra care over the shape of the eyelid, as too much either way could give the subject a sleepy or surprised look
Essential Art Materials Required for Painting Eyes

Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice
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Good quality thin sable brushes are crucial. Size 0 or 1 for detail and highlights are ideal. Size 3 and 6 are good for applying small areas of light and shade around the eyes. Blending the colours will add softness to the eyes.

Satisfactory skin colours can be found in burnt sienna, permanent rose, burnt umber, cadmium red and white, although other colours will be seen. Avoid paint tubes exhibiting “flesh tint,” as the resultant flesh colour will look artificial. Lamp black is good for pupils, but use sparingly. To retain a smooth finish, a little linseed oil can be mixed into the colour mixture. Completing the portrait in layers will add depth to the colours of a portrait.

Links Related to Portrait Painting

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Portrait Painting