When I begin to illustrate a pet portrait, I always start with the eyes. Like the saying goes, “The eyes are the window to one’s soul.” They reveal personality and sentiments. Plus, I don’t want my pets staring back with a blank look—get it? Small joke.
Step 1. Sketch out your subject. For the purpose of this tutorial, just sketch out the eye (in this case, a dog).
Note: If you work a photo as reference, keep it near, as you will be needing it often. Observe the photo and pick out swatches that resemble the colors in the eye.
Step 2. Fill in the base colors. You want the darker colors first to create a base, and in the next steps you’ll add the highlights and blend in the shades. Start with the pupil (black) and the iris (this dog has brown eyes).
Note: It may not look like much in this step, but don’t worry about details here.
Step 3. Now begin adding highlights. If you observe the eye in your photo, you’ll notice different pigments in the iris. Stroke in those highlights and on other surrounding areas, such as the socket and tear ducts.
Note: Blend in the colors to make it look natural. We’re getting closer to the finished product.
Step 4. Draw the details on the iris and surrounding areas. Take a close look at your reference photo, and notice the varying colors and streaks in the iris. Use textured brushes to create a more realistic-looking eye, as the iris blends out from the pupil.
Note: Add in some shadows near the folds of the socket and upper and lower eyelid.
Step 5. The final step is drawing the reflection on the eye. Since the lids help produce moisture, the eye looks glossy. This effect may seem difficult, but it’s quite simple. Choose white for your brush and lower the opacity down to about 15% (you want it to look transparent). Look at your reference photo, and take note of where the light reflects. Brush a white shadow over a part of the eye. Then raise the opacity, and draw a small dot and a larger dot where the light reflects.
Note: You can add a light shade of baby blue on the “glossy” part and highlight the edge of the white dots with blue. It all depends on the lighting. The goal is to get the eye to look spherical.
You’re done! Drawing eyes, just like everything else, takes practice. I learn new tricks everyday too. Watch videos, read tutorials, draw often, learn techniques from other artists and most importantly—observe!
If you’d like to see what the entire pet portrait looks like, visit the Barnhouse Pet Portraits Facebook page. Don’t forget to click “like” to participate in contests and more goodies!
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