How To Paint A Human Eye

Today’s tutorial will cover how to paint a human eye. Several years ago I posted a tutorial on how to draw an eye in pencil, and since then I’ve gotten a lot of requests for a color version. I’ll be doing this painting digitally, however the majority of these steps will be the same even if you’re painting with traditional paint. Let’s get going!

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Step 1 – Outline

To get our eye started, we will first draw a circle for the eyeball itself, and then draw an almond shape which will be the opening of the eyelids.

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Step 2 – Base Color

Next we need to lay a base color down on the iris and also define our light source. As you can see from the image, I chose the light source to be the upper-left. This means that the area right under the eyelid should be darker because the upper eyelid is casting a shadow on the iris.

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Step 3 – Add Highlight

I’m adding a very bright highlight near the upper left corner of the iris. To get a wet effect, make sure that your highlights are bright and crisp. I also decided to make the pupil a little bit larger as well.

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Step 4 – Add Striations

Begin adding some very thin lines that extend outward from the pupil to give the iris it’s texture. Everyone has a unique pattern of lines in their eye, so don’t spend too much time trying to make them look perfect. Keeping your lines wavy will make the eye look natural.

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Step 5 – Add Skin Tone

Lay down some color to the area around your eye to create the outer layer of skin. For my painting, I’ve chosen a light skin tone to match the blue eye. Also, don’t forget about your light source. Make sure the skin that is facing the light source is lighter to make the eyeball look rounded.

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Step 6 – Build Values

Once you have a base color for the skin, continue building those values around the shaded area of the eye to show the roundness of the eyeball beneath the surface. I also added a little more of a red color to the base to create a more natural skin tone.

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Step 7 – Add Eyelashes

What would an eye be without eyelashes? Paint in several thin eyelashes that extend out from the edge of the eyelid. If you look closely at real eyelashes, you’ll see that the top row curves upward, and the bottom row curves downward. Also, there are usually about twice as many eyelashes on the top as there are on the bottom. Take a look at your own eye in the mirror, or check out the reference images below to see this.

I’ve also added a soft highlight to the bottom of the iris to give the eye a little more depth.

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Step 8 – Add Eyebrows

Depending on your own artwork, you don’t necessarily need to draw eyebrows. But they add a nice frame to the eye, and of course, give it a more natural look.

Reference Photos – Click to Enlarge

Here are a few up close eye images for you to study to help you create a believable painting of an eye.

Extra Help

Check out this video by Rogers Digital World where he takes you step by step through his process of digitally painting a realistic eye. It is a wonderful tutorial that everyone can learn a lot from. Enjoy!