How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

Today’s question comes from a reader who wants to know how to get bright highlights in eyes. This is a great question, because the answer works for any type of bright highlights on any subject.

Here’s the question.

How do you get that realistic look of shiny glaze look in eyes, besides just having a white dot from a jelly roll pen? Please, I’m lost on making the seem real, Thanks.

Danny,

Thank you for the question!

This post is a followup to last week’s Q&A Wednesday post, in which I talked about using gel pens and other supplies for adding highlights to colored pencil. That method works well for craft uses and other non-archival art forms. If you’re fine artist and want to know whether or not that’s a good idea, take a moment to read that post here. We’ll wait for you.

How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

How to Get Bright Highlights in Eyes

There are two ways to get bright highlights in eyes—or bright highlights on any subject. The methods are very different, so what I’d like to do is share a few general tips on each subject.

I’ll include links to more in-depth tutorials on this blog when they’re available.

Drawing Highlights on Traditional White Paper

Traditional paper is what most of us think of when we think of drawing paper. Brands like Stonehenge, Strathmore, and Canson Mi-Teintes are examples.

These papers take varying amounts of color, but one thing is fairly standard. You cannot layer light colors over dark colors and get bright values. That has more to do with the pencils than the paper, because the pencils are translucent. But the paper does make a difference.

When you use white paper, you have to preserve the highlights and work around them. The method that works best for me is marking out the highlights on the line drawing, then developing color by starting with the lightest colors and gradually drawing the darker colors and values layer by layer.

Peggy Osborne wrote an excellent tutorial about drawing cat eyes on white paper, which you can read here. She uses a method similar to what I described above. You can draw highlights in any type of eye or on any subject using her method.

Drawing Highlights on Traditional Paper That’s Medium Dark or Darker

Drawing on medium-dark or darker paper has one advantage over white paper. You can actually draw the light values first and see them. You still have to work around them, but at least you can see them more easily.

I wrote a tutorial on this subject, which you can read here. The subject is a cat, but the method I describe works with any type of eye.

Or with any subject on which you need a bright highlight.

Drawing on Abrasive, Non-Absorbent Papers

Uart Premium Sanded Pastel Paper, Fisher 400 Pastel Paper, and Clairfontaine Pastelmat are all abrasive papers. They have obvious texture.

They are also non-absorbent, so they don’t soak up solvents the same way traditional drawing papers do.

While you can use normal drawing methods on them and get good results, they also allow you to use more “painterly” methods of applying color.

I haven’t yet completed a pet portrait on this type of paper, but I did do a landscape in which I added light-value highlights over darker colors. As you can see in this detail, the light greens and whites show up quite well when placed over medium dark and dark greens.

If you have the right tools, you can even isolate layers and add new colors just as though you were drawing on fresh paper.

That means that you can add highlights and lighter values over darker values with much greater success than you could on traditional drawing paper.

You will need special tools for this method. Tools such as Titanium White, Powder Blender, and ACF Texture Fixative from Brush & Pencil. Alyona Nickelsen’s book, Colored Pencil Painting Portraits is a great resource for learning how best to use these tools.

Drawing Those Bright Highlights

As you can see, there are several methods for drawing bright highlights in eyes. It all depends on the paper you use and your preferred drawing style.

If you work on traditional white drawing paper, preserve the white of the paper in the highlight area. You’ll always get brighter highlights if you preserve the white of the paper than if you try to add them over darker colors.

The other methods I described are also very effective once you learn them.

But if you prefer using traditional papers and just colored pencils, then your best option—your only option—is defining the highlights first and working around them from the start.

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