Learning to paint with oils – demo, painting eyes

I get asked a lot about painting eyes and making them look realistic, so here is a copy of an article I did for my oil painting tutorial site  – hope you find it of use.

For the purpose of this exercise I have used the eye of a lion, with their rich colour it is easier to see the effects light has upon them but the principles outlined here apply to almost all eyes. You must remember that the shape of the eye will dictate how the light reacts, therefore a fishes eye (usually flat) will react very differently from say a human eye.

OK lets take a look at the Lions eye in some detail. Here I have labelled the most important parts.
A- General colour of the iris.
B- Strongest highlight – sun.
C- Where the sun shines through the eye
D- Shadow area

The brightness of the day obviously dictates how prominent the above effects are. In the example above it’s a bright sunny day. For me the most important part of the eye, which many people forget is not just the way the sun hits the eye causing the brightest highlight (B) but how it then travels through the glassy part of the eye, brightening and enriching the opposite portion of the iris (C).

This photo (below) still shows the above effects but they are more subdued due to the sun being not as bright or possibly the Lion if facing away from the sun.

To paint the eye in oils I would usually paint all of it with the eyes base colour i.e. no highlight and no shadow effects. Then with that layer still wet I would darken the shadow area and gently add a suggestion of the reflected highlight at the bottom of the eye- I would usually not even bother with the bright highlight (B) yet.

When that layer has dried I would go back in glazing and enriching the colour where necessary and increasing the shadow intensity. Then when that layer is dry, I would gently put in the subtle blue highlight at the top of the eye (reflection of the sky) then lastly dab on the brightest highlight (if there is one).

There are many ways of painting the eye, I could have for instance painted it entirely with glazes, but no matter what techniques you use if you carefully observe the way the light plays in the eye you will end up with a realistic eye, which usually becomes the centre of interest in the painting.

I really hope you have enjoyed this short demo
To learn much more please check out my tutorial CD / E-book

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About Jason Morgan - wildlife artist
I am UK based professional wildlife artist specializing in big cat and large scale African wildlife paintings. Through my site "http://www.onlineartdemos.co.uk" I sell my limited edition prints and original paintings worldwide - I have had an online gallery now for over 12 years, I also have a Learn to paint wildlife teaching site - http://www.jasonmorgan.co.uk

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