“The eyes are the window to the soul.”
No truer words could be spoken than when referring to our pets. Yes, animals. Our sweet, loving furbabies.
“A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” – Josh Billings
Attempting to paint a dog’s eyes can be, well, daunting, to say the least. But if you get the eyes right, everything else falls into place.
I think you’ll be surprised at how simple these eyes are to paint.
Just reserve judgment until the end of this post, ok?
First, we start with a sketch. The pattern for this pug is in my last post.
I like to do the eyes early on, no matter if I’m painting or drawing with colored pencils. Once the eyes are done, I can “feel” the pet better.
So let’s get started, shall we?
How To Paint Dog Eyes
Obviously different dogs have different eye colors so I’ll list the colors I used for Roxie.
- dark burnt umber
- burnt umber
- raw sienna
- medium grey
- black or dark grey
- You’ll need a round or flat to fill in the pupil then you’ll need a fine tip liner or round for everything else.
Step 1 – Paint the pupils with a very dark brown or grey, leaving the reflective spots blank.
I like Dark Burnt Umber by Ceramcoat but other colors work too. I used to use black but I found that a) it can be too harsh for the overall painting, and b) if you need to go darker, you can’t once you’ve painted black.
I also used to paint the pupils completely, without leaving the blanks. You can do that, certainly, and there’s nothing wrong with it. For me, it gives a little more ‘life’ to the eyes right from the start so I feel like I’ve already accomplished something.
You know us artists. Hyper-sensitive and all.
Step 2 – Paint the iris with the dog’s eye color.
In this case I used burnt umber, a warm dark brown, but not as dark as the pupils, obviously. (It looks darker in the photo than it does irl.)
Generally speaking, dogs’ irises are much smaller than humans, because their pupils are much larger. From what I’ve seen, at least.
I should probably insert some sort of disclaimer here – I am not a veterinarian, animal specialist or anything more than a plain ol’ animal lover. This tutorial is based solely on my own painting experience, not from anything I’ve read or seen. The information I offer here is only my opinion, nothing more.
Basically, if I say something that you know to be incorrect, feel free to leave me a comment. I’m always open to learning.
Step 3 – Highlight the iris with color lighter than the iris.
If I used Burnt Umber for the iris then I’ll use Raw Sienna for highlighting. If Raw Sienna is the iris color, then I’ll go into the golden shades for highlights.
You want to paint the highlights in a slight curve, as indicated by the red marks. This will not only emulate the roundness of the eyeball, but also increase the depth too.
Step 4 – Outline the lower portion of the iris in dark burnt umber.
Again, the same applies as stated above for the pupil. You could use black, but it accentuates the rim of the eye more than I like.
You don’t want to paint the outline in a complete circle as the upper eyelid hides the top part of the iris.
Using white is similar to using black in that it’s very stark. If you paint this area with just white, you’ll have an artificial appearance. Adding just a touch of grey softens the look just enough.
Step 6 – Paint light reflections in the pupils.
Now you can use white full strength in the blanks in the pupils. You might need two coats to get it as bright as possible.
I also added a tiny curved line in the eye on the right only because the photo I was working from had one.
That’s an important point to painting eyes – pay attention to the eyes in the photograph you’re using for reference and where the light reflections are placed. If I follow a photograph stringently, I always get a good result, as opposed to dotting some white here, there and wherever.
Step 7 – Paint grey in the pupils.
Sorry, I didn’t take separate photos for these steps. Anyway, I painted just a couple dots of grey on the pupils, following the photograph. I’m not sure if this was a secondary reflection or if it’s because she is an older pug and might have cataracts. In any case, the grey added that much more realism. So check your photos.
Step 8 – Outline eyelids with grey.
Yes, they look too thick right now but, stick with me. You want a thicker line on top for tiny hairs to drop over. Without the line, you won’t see the little hairs. We’ll get to the thick line on the bottom in the next step.
Note: the eyelid color will change with each dog.
Step 9 – Paint a thin white line in middle of lower eyelid.
This tiny white line is actually another light reflection on the ridge of the eyelid. Use your photo for reference to determine how long the white line is.
Step 10 – Add shading to the eyelids.
I used Wrought Iron which is a very dark grey, almost black. Now, where to put it? Okay, first off, you’ll want to rim the entire eye, right over the medium grey we applied in Step 8. You can see it better on the eye on the left , I think.
Notice how on the lower lid by adding a darker line in between the white line on the eyelid and the white of the eyeball how that darker line creates the appearance of a ridge. Do you see it? It’s very subtle but everything in painting eyes is.
Step 11 – Add additional shading to eyelids.
Finally, check your reference photo again and add any additional shading such as in the corners of the eyes and the upper eyelids.
I placed my painting next to the actual photo, not for you to judge my painting, but more so you can see the details of the actual eye as opposed to my painting. There are details I didn’t paint, and there always will be. You could paint each and every detail however it’s likely they wouldn’t even be noticed. You have to be able to judge your own work and acknowledge when enough is enough.
It’s an ongoing thing.
You may be thinking eleven steps are a lot to paint dogs’ eyes but they aren’t really. Besides, when the eyes look ‘right’, the entire painting most likely will too.
Years ago I had professional ‘head shots’ taken when I was a dance teacher. (required by the studio where I taught) When I was trying to choose the best photos, the photographer told me just to look at the eyes. He said that people always look at the eyes first.
I believe it’s the same with animal art – you look at the eyes first.
Give these a try, would you? I’d love to know what you think. If you’d like to have more animal painting tutorials, just let me know. I might not know what I’m doing but I’m always happy to share. Ha!
Have a great week!