How to Paint Eyes That Are So Lifelike, They Almost Look Back at You

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The eyes always have it — and with good reason. When we meet someone, we notice the eyes first. When we speak to other people, we look into their eyes. Eyes draw us in and tell us what we need to know about a person.

So when it comes to painting eyes, we want them to have all the sparkle and intensity of the real thing. With these tips, you'll be painting realistic peepers in no time!

Before you begin, round up your supplies : paper, several paintbrushes and tubes of red, yellow, white, blue, burnt sienna and black acrylic paint. Don't forget your paint palette. Now you're ready!

1. Draw the eye

You could gaze into someone else's eyes as you sketch, but it's far easier to use your own as a reference. Snap some closeups and print them out. Or skip the photo and just look straight into the mirror.

In pencil, draw the outline of the eyeball (which will be sphere-shaped), the pupil and iris, plus your eyebrows and lines under and above your eyes. Don’t forget to include those details — they’re defining features.

2. Paint around the eye

Before you dab color inside the eye, paint around it. Mix a skin tone that's not too light or dark, and brush it across the surface. Then mix a slightly darker shade and apply it to the crease above the eye. Afterward, add highlights to the lid below the crease and blend it with the shadow.

3. Get your gray on

Avoid the temptation to paint the eyeball white. It's actually a light gray, thanks to the shadows around the eye. Paint a light tone in the center while keeping the top and bottom lightly shadowed.

4. Color the iris and pupil

Choose a visually striking shade for the iris (a bright blue, a warm brown), and make the pupils big or small depending on the lighting. Just block in the color for now with a flat, medium-toned hue.

Next, darken the edges of the iris and around the pupil.

The iris has a ton of beautiful details and multifaceted color, including tiny lines that radiate from it. To create that illusion, use a darker blue (or brown) pigment and make squiggly marks all around. Afterward, add lighter-colored wavy marks. Why curvy lines instead of straight ones? Because your lines have to follow the sphere-like shape of the eyeball.

To make your painting even more lifelike, you want to create the illusion of light being reflected off the iris. Look closely at your eyes (either in the photo or the mirror) and add highlights and marks wherever you see them. Don’t be afraid to add hints of yellow and red.

5. Create eyelashes

Use a liner brush to paint eyelashes. Your goal is to capture the arc in the top lashes. So start at the edge of the eye and mimic the swoop and length of the lash in one fluid motion. Move toward the inside of the eye where the lashes look shorter and less pronounced.

The bottom eyelashes will be shorter and thinner. Don't forget to leave a space between the bottom of the eye and the lashes to represent the lower eyelid.

And to keep the lashes from looking like clumped strokes, add thin, light-colored lines in-between the lashes as highlights.

6. Add finishing touches

Once you're done with the eyelashes, the hard part is over (whew!). Now go back and refine your portrait. Study your reference and decide where you need to shade and darken. Often it’s the top and bottom of the eyeballs and the creases around the eyes. Don't forget to paint the eyebrows.

Now you're a master!

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How to Paint Eyes That Are So Lifelike, They Almost Look Back at You