Tutorial: Painting the Eyes with Corel Painter

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This tutorial concludes the lesson begun in a previous tutorial, which showed how to paint the background, skin, and hair in a portrait. Today we’ll look at the technique I use for eyes in many of my photo paintings.

Follow along with this step-by-step tutorial to learn how to paint eyes with Corel Painter.

Suppose you are relatively new to using Painter in your portraits. In that case, you probably find eyes to be the most intimidating part. As you’ll see, there are essential steps to follow when painting the eyes in any portrait. Follow along, step by step, and eye will intimidate you no more! To begin, let’s look at the eyes, still unpainted, from the end of the first tutorial: 

Here’s our starting point, with everything painted but the eyes.

Our goal here is to remove the “photographic clues.” For instance, the catchlights here are obviously from a photograph, not painted. We need to replace the catchlights, enhance the whites of the eyes, repaint the irises, and replace the eyelashes. The first step is to paint over the existing eyelashes. Using the Soft Charcoal brush at a fairly small size. Sample colors from between the eyelashes and paint over them carefully. This allows you to paint the lids as one continuous area without having to paint around the individual lashes.

Step One: paint over the eyelashes.

Next, introduce some good, strong colors for the irises. Our model has grey eyes in the photo, but I chose to give her blue eyes. Again, I paint a tiny Soft Charcoal brush, selecting colors using the Color Picker (the wheel). Try to use a range of blues (or browns, or whatever). Our light source is coming from our right, downward. Remember that the eyes are globes, not flat. Paint the left side (our left) of each iris using brighter colors, going towards very dark on the right. We’re going to place our new catchlight on the right. By placing the bright catchlight against the dark side, the eye will sparkle. Combine dark and light flecks on the left side for sparkle, as well. Make sure the pupil is a solid black circle. There is no catchlight at this point.

Irises and pupils are repainted, removing the original catchlights and reflections.

Add a new layer, and choose a near-white color. Use the Soft Charcoal or Captured Bristle, very small, to paint a catchlight as shown below. Make sure you are viewing both eyes together as you do this so that they match. Their placement should be the same on both eyes, or the portrait may look cross-eyed. The catchlight slightly eclipses the pupil. Since it’s on a layer, you can erase and try over and over until you get it just right, without affecting anything else. Drop this layer when you’re happy with the catchlight. 

The catchlight is added.

Choose the Digital Airbrush from the Airbrushes category. Sample the white of the eyes with the eyedropper. In the Color Selector, push the color up just slightly towards white. With the airbrush opacity set at 15% and reasonably large size, “puff” some white onto the whites of the eyes. Don’t worry about overspill; you will clean that up next with the eraser. Remember, we’re on a layer. Apply the white so that the eye appears round, meaning: put more towards the middle, less on the edges. Now, clean up the overspill with the eraser. Adjust the layer’s opacity until the eyes seem bright but not too white. Then, drop the layer. Add another layer, and using a 1.5 size Soft Charcoal, paint the eyelashes. This will take some practice! Vary the size and opacity until they look right. Reference the original photo as you work; you guide your painting. Here’s the final result:

Whites enhanced, eyelashes painted in.

This drawing shows the basics involved in the steps we just took. Use it as a “map” or a visual guide to the painting of eyes. I hope you find eyes less intimidating now! Questions? Comments? Please leave them below.

A simplified value drawing of the eye, after painting (not including eyelashes).

You may also be interested in:  How to Add Sparkle to Your Corel Painter Portraits