3 Ways to Color Amazing Eyes


I have seen plenty of artists who create some amazing eyes in their artwork. The trouble I tend to run into is how much detail is enough detail. I bet you have seen many works of art where the eye is very large and you can see every single detail of the iris, sclera, pupil, tear duct, etc. You can even see every eyelash from root to end. You see so much detail that you can swear you are looking at a photograph.


I tried coloring one of those close-up eye projects and it was a challenge to create realism that large, but once you know what parts of the eye are the most important, it gets easier.


When eyes are in a project, they become the star of the show because we see so much in eyes. You can tell what is really going on with someone just by the look in their eye without a single word spilling from their mouth. As a woman, I can be swooned by my husband by giving me that look that makes me melt every time. As a young girl, all my mother had to do is give me that “mom look”, you know that brief look in just her way and I knew I had to stop what I was doing immediately and go straight to my room.

As we all have experienced similar things, I am sure it’s safe for me to say we all get a bit anxious when we have to color eyes, after all they are so important. When someone looks at your project the first thing they will notice are the eyes. That’s right, they will see the eyes before the fancy hat or the beautiful flowers on the tree, it is the eyes they see first. Well there is no need to fear coloring eyes when you know a few essential things that need to happen, no matter what size of the eyes you are about to color.

To make eyes sparkle there are three things that must be included each time you color eyes:

  • Highlights

  • Shading the iris

  • Pupils must be set in the right direction

Often when coloring eyes we focus a lot of attention on picking pretty colors to make the eyes sparkle. Really it is several other supporting characteristics that make those eyes shine. The highlight is critical as the eyeball is a reflective wet surface. Even in low light you will see a glint of a highlight in the eye. As you look close in the eye, the highlight will also reflect a low light on the opposite side of the eye as part of the light passes through. Many people will put a bright dot or a circle to illustrate the highlight. That is good because it is necessary to have highlight but looking at eyes you will see most highlights are not a dot, they are odd shapes. If you are working on a large eye it is important to get these details in as a dot would not be good enough because looking closely you can see reflections of their surroundings like a window or the flash of the camera. When coloring a smaller eye where you cannot get that level of detail it is still important to capture both the glint and the low light.

As you look at eyes you can see the upper lid casts a shadow on the eyeball. The eyebrow and the eyelashes also contribute to the cast shadows on the eye. Coloring eyes and shading the eyeball is important to create the round form. What I learned recently about this is that you cannot shade the same way on the sclera as you do the iris.

As we look at the sclera area it is not really white, it will need a grey or pale blue grey to shade the edges of the eyeball to create the form. Let’s say, for example that you are coloring the iris of this eye green. You would not use the same color of grey to shade the green iris as you use for the sclera if you want the eye to sparkle. It might work, but there is a better option. When you want to desaturate the green of the iris where it is being shaded by the upper eyelid the best solution is to use the complementary color of the green. So, in this case if you add the complementary red color to help shade that green it will create a more interesting desaturated green and create interesting iris to look at.

Pupils must be set in the right direction. No matter what size the eyes are you need to make sure the pupils are pointing in the same direction. The challenge is that if you don’t make one the right size then you run the risk of making the eyes look uncanny as if the person looks vacant. There are ways to make sure you do not make this mistake, the first is to start with the pupils and measuring to ensure you have them in the right spot. Yes, pupils are black, but you don’t have to start with black when making your first marks for the pupils. You can use your iris color to make your first marks for the pupil. That way if you make one too big you can still save it even if you are using markers. Once you have it in a spot that makes sense then you color them darker and darker to get to that deep dark pupil you are looking for.

Eyes have been said they are the windows to your soul. I don’t know about that, but I do know they are the windows to your project as they can say more than words. The emotion you can get from adding an arch in an eyebrow. Or by simply adding redness in the sclera can signify someone was crying, is frustrated or maybe mad. There are so many other supporting characters of the face that will make your eyes sparkle. Even if you have eyes that are very small you can still make them stand out if you ensure the highlights are in the right spot, the iris is shaded with interest and the pupils are the same size and aimed in the same direction. You will easily make your viewer believe the eyes you’ve colored are the windows to the story of your project.



What's happening in the Corner . . .


We are now focusing our attention on coloring eyes because it's amazing how something so small can add so much emotion or attention to the image you are coloring. Big or small, there are details that will help you color successful eyes every time.


If you are reading this after we moved on to the next technique, you can find the Work-at-Your-Own-Pace Practice for Eyes here.

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