Tips for Painting Eyes Using Acrylics

The eyes are the window to the soul. In a painting of a human being, the look in the eyes can make a great impact to the message in the composition.

Artists are often occupied with just getting the eyes "right". Their main concerns are getting the features balanced and the painting as "realistic" as possible. In order to create really earth-shattering art with expressions that creeps up at the viewer, realism is not enough.

I am offering some tips for painting eyes with acrylic paints that would change the focus of the artist while he renders the eyes of his subjects in paint and canvas.

Rendering Realistic Eye Shapes

Unless the painting is stylistic, there are several 'rules' to understand in the structure of the eye.
The eyeball is a sphere. Always sketch the entire eyeball in the eye socket first, then enclose the eyeball in eyelid and lashes. This is an important step in ensuring that the shape of the eye is round and not the shape of an elliptical "fish".The iris is overlapped by the eyelids. If the iris is too small, the eyes will give the face a "shocked" open-eyed look.The right and left eye moves in tandem. It is important to get the balance right unless one is painting a cross-eyed monster or some species of frog.The eyelashes radiate outwards first then upwards. This is tricky when painting eyes that look straight into the viewer. Don't paint large eyelashes pointing just upwards like a child's painting of a blazing sun.

Painting Realistic Eye Colors
The eyeball is white, but not pure white. One can add a slight tinge of grey, blue, pink, brown to the white to make the eye white more believable.The iris can be any color, but not a solid color. Paint the irises by dappling 2 or 3 colors. Let the brushstrokes radiate from the pupil.The pupil is black, but is often interrupted by reflections to the eye.The eyelids and lashes cast shadows on the eyeball. Add a thin wash of grey on the eye near the lids.

Positioning of the Eyes and Center of Focus of the Painting

Eyes, unless in a surrealistic painting like that of Salvatore Dali, are found in paintings of living figure - be it animal or human. In most compositions, the eye takes the central position. If the eye is not the main focus, the direction at which the eyes look is the point of focus.

In a portrait, for example, there are 3 ways in which the eyes on a figure can be positioned:
Eyes looking straight at the viewer. This kind of painting makes the viewer part of the painting. Like speaking in the first person.Eyes looking away from the viewer. This composition puts the viewer as second person looking on. The viewer is directed to view another spot on the painting because the eyes of the subject directs to that location.Eyes not visible because the subject has head looking back or the eyes are covered. This painting leaves the viewer completely detached from the painting altogether.

It would be necessary to decide the message of the painting before deciding on which of the above eye positioning to adopt. There is, in every portrait relevance, of eye position to the position of the viewer.

Finishing Touches

Observe the eye. Its surface liquid and shiny. Add white highlights for the reflections made on the cornea and the tears.

The best way to fully understand the relevance of the eyes in a painting to observe paintings of the human figure. It will ultimately engage the viewer with appreciation of this subject.

Windows of the soul they are. Eyes are small areas in a figure, but they create and thus need the most attention.

Nik Helbig is an artist and art blogger living in Austria. She specializes in figurative paintings on canvas.

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