On a recent long flight (13 hours), I was bored out of my mind. I took the time to review all of my coloring photos on my phone from the beginning of time (2 years of work), Have you tried looking critically at your own work after a cooling period? It’s actually very interesting. I learned a lot from doing that. It was also amazing to look at some of your old pieces and see how your style or technique changes over time. I find that I seem to gravitate towards injecting realism whenever I can in my recent work, like a realistic looking cat in an otherwise imaginary scene. What I found in my review is that “it’s all in the eyes”. If the eyes are convincing then they inject life into the picture. Otherwise, the figure (animal or human) looks flat and lifeless.
I do not proclaim to be remotely in the same league as portrait artists, I am just learning and besides I convinced myself that this is coloring and not a photograph. My goal is just to be convincing enough. I like to keep things simple. Here are some of my tips on how I color eyes.
What I use
All my eyes are done with colored pencils. Pencils give me the most control on fine details. I also use a white gel or acrylic pen to give some reflection or glitter to the eye. Sometimes I use a very fine black pen e.g. Sakura micron 005 to help in areas where I want a real black like the centre of the eye.
Anatomy of the eye
For the purpose of coloring, there are 3 components:
- Pupil – the black circle in the centre of the eye
- Iris – the colored part of the eye
- Sclera – the white part of the eye
Since this is the black circle in the centre of the eye, this needs to be very very black. Most of the time the illustrator colored this part black for you already. However, I still like to run my black pencil or pen on it and also blur the edge a bit by drawing tiny lines radiating outwards.
This is the part you as the colorist can use whatever color you fancy. I usually use 2 to 3 colors. The trick here is to add tiny strokes outward from the pupil like you are drawing the sun’s rays. If you look closely at your own eyes, you can see that they are not solid colors. You can see the lines caused by reflections of lights. You need to make them subtle, a sharp pencil helps. I run black on the outer edge of the Iris and again draw some tiny lines towards the centre. This creates dimension, it makes the eye looks like a sphere rather than a flat circle.
Here’s a close up of a multi-coloured Iris:
Although this is the white part of the eye, I feel that it’s more natural if it’s not just white. I use a light grey and ever so lightly add some shading. When I look at my own eyes, I can see some grey spots here and there too. I might also add a bit of red in the corner of the eye or even a bit tiny veins.
Animals don’t have much of the white part but I still try to add a bit around their big round eye if possible e.g. leave a ring around the eye before you start drawing fur.
This is the little white dot or a small bend of white that shows the eye is glassy and reflects light. Some artists go as far as drawing some objects in the reflection to show what the eye is looking at. This is necessary for big closeup of the eyes but for most coloring pages, the eye area is not big/close enough for such details. Hence a little white dot if the eye is really small or a curve that span over the pupil and the Iris is sufficient like in this cat coloring:
Examples of completed works
If coloring eyes intimidated you before, I hope this inspires you to give it a try. I tried to break it down into simple steps and with practice I am sure you can do it too.