Carrie L. Lewis, Artist & Teacher

Helping You Create Art You Can be Proud Of

Jesse in Oils, Color Layers – Painting the Eye

Photo reference for oil painting, Jesse in Oils
Original Oil Painting
14 x 18 Raymar Canvas Panel

I’m breaking from the usual series of step-by-steps to give special attention to the most vital part of a portrait of this type. The eye. If the eye isn’t right, it doesn’t matter how well the rest of the portrait turns out.

Step 1
I blocked in the eye, the lids, and the areas around the eye that are bare skin or nearly bare skin with a base mixture of Titanium White, Ivory Black, and a touch of Burnt Umber and Manganese Blue. I used a #2 sable round, which I cleaned with Walnut Oil regularly to limit paint build-up. I used a worn #3 sable round to smooth out visible brush strokes.

Because the eye is in shadow, there is very little highlight. There are reflected lights along the back and bottom edges, however. I used Manganese Blue mixed with a little white to add reflected sky light at the back of the eyeball, pulling in one steady stroke from the top downward and curving forward to apply paint with the #2 brush. Visible brush strokes were removed with the #3 sable round and a very light touch.

I used the same process with Yellow Ochre to add reflected ground light along the lower edge of the eye ball. I over emphasized each area enough to make the eye come alive and to compensate for the natural tendency of photos to flatten colors. I also added blue reflected light along the curve of the eyeball and a faint earth tone reflected light near the corner of the eye. These spots of color enhanced the appearance of curvature and wetness. A touch of white and blending with the #3 sable round and the eye was finished.

Carrie L. Lewis' signature

Step 2
I used some of the same colors as in the previous session (Ivory Black, Titanium White, and Manganese Blue) and two brushes (3/0, 10/0 sable rounds).

The first thing I did was add a little more brightness to the reflected highlight in the eye. This isn’t a direct reflection of light, so it has to remain subdued, but I did want to add shape and wetness to an area that is pretty flat and lifeless in the reference photo.

I applied a mix of Manganese Blue and Titanium White at the brightest point in the reflection (on the left) and dragged color to the right with the brush. I then used my finger to pull color to the right and downward to create a smooth gradation of color.

The parts of the eye that don’t show light of any type were darkened with Ivory Black to emphasize the lighted areas, especially the warm reflected light along the bottom and right edges of the eye ball.

Too increase the curve of the upper lid over the eyeball, I brightened the highlight on the center left and darkened (slightly) the area on either end of the highlight. I also altered the curve on the lower edge of the upper lid with Ivory Black.

Carrie L. Lewis' signature

Step 3
For the detail stage, I used my +3 glasses and the Opti-Visor to get up close and personal with the painting and with the reference photo.

In the eye, I used Ultramarine Blue in the darkest blue areas, Manganese Blue in the mid-tone blue areas, and Manganese Blue and a touch of Titanium White in the lighter blue areas. I applied and moved paint around with a 5/0 sable round and smoothed out the brush strokes with a slightly frayed #3 sable round. I finished the eye ball by repainting the warm highlights with Yellow Ochre and adding a cool highlight on the back edge with Manganese Blue. I also used a mixture of Titanium White and Burnt Sienna toned down with the base gray I’ve been using to paint the pink tone in the corner or the eye.

I repainted the upper and lower lids, redrawing and correcting placement and shape where necessary. I continued using the 5/0 sable round after cleaning it with Walnut Oil.

In the upper lid, I added hair color with Burnt Umber and Burnt Sienna on the tail end and also added Burnt Umber to the crease at the top of the upper lid.

When I finished with the lids, I repainted the bare skin under the lower lid, then used Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber, and the base gray mixture to begin laying in color around the bare skin under the eye.

Step 4
The last thing to paint are the eyelashes.

I used the smallest brush I have, 10/0 sable round. I thinned the paint with a touch of walnut oil to get the smoothest, finest lines possible.

Burnt Sienna was applied first, stroking downward from the lid one lash at a time.

Without cleaning the brush, I picked up a bit of flesh tone from another painting and stroked in highlights in the same fashion, pulling color downward. I didn’t do full strokes with the highlight color, instead just hitting the center part of the lashes. I also didn’t apply highlight color all the way from the front of the eye to the back.

The lashes turned out a little bit thick, so I dipped the brush in walnut oil, wiped it off, then picked up a bit of Ivory Black and thinned the lashes with an upward stroke, starting just past the end of the lashes and applying color toward the lid.

Carrie L. Lewis' signature

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Jesse in Oil, Dead Layer, Part 1
Jesse in Oil, Dead Layer, Part 2
Jesse in Oils, Color Layer – Round 1


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  1. Kate V.

    So glad I found this tutorial! Stuck on my horse eye and it turned out pretty good. Pleased overall though no comparison to yours. Thank you.

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