This is the third in a series of five tutorials about painting the human face.

PhotoImpact 10  -  Can also be done on other versions.

Beginner & Intermediate

Charcoal Brush; Airbrush

Digital tablet and pen.  I use the Wacom Intuos3 4x5.  This tutorial can be done without it.  I have always indicated a range for the brush sizes, and if you are using a mouse, you will have to change the brush size frequently within that range to get the results you want.  If you have a tablet, use the largest setting indicated, and set it for size & transparency.


No doubt you have heard the expression that the eyes are the "windows of the soul."  This may be one reason why they are so hard to draw and paint.  We can know every anatomical detail of the eyes, be expert painters, and still miss that subtle, elusive something that glows out of a person's eyes.  It's very hard to even identify, never mind, capture.


In order to understand some things about the eye, we need to take a look at the eye in profile, or "in section."  One item is the thickness of the upper and lower lid.  We think of these eye "edges" as lines -- they are the almond shape we usually draw -- but they are much more substantial.  We normally see the top of the lower lid, and we see the shadow that is cast on the eyeballs by the thick, overhanging upper lid.  See the "Light" line in the diagram, which also indicates the area in shadow.

From this viewpoint, you can also see why the irises are typically covered at the top by the upper lids, while the lower lid remains below them -- it's because the eyeball is not centered on the eye opening; the eyeball is situated higher than that.  In the diagram, the arrows show the centerline of the eye opening vs. the eyeball.

Finally, note that the two lids are not vertically aligned.  The double-pointed arrow shows the vertical relationship between the two lids.  This is important to know when drawing a face from an angle.


Airbrush; Shape:  Round; Size: 6; Transparency: 80;  Soft Edge: 10 
Hex #19100D  [MODE]


Airbrush; Shape:  Round; Size: 6; Transparency: 80;  Soft Edge: 10
Hex #19100D [MODE]


Airbrush; Shape:  Round; Size: 8; Transparency: 50;  Soft Edge: 10
Hex #4D453A  [MODE]


Airbrush; Shape:  Round; Size: 5; Transparency: 50;  Soft Edge: 10
Hex #5A4738  [MODE]


Airbrush; Shape:  Round; Size: 4; Transparency: 50;  Soft Edge: 10
Hex #402315  [  [MODE]


Airbrush; Shape:  Round; Size: 6; Transparency: 80;  Soft Edge: 30
Hex Hex #1D1512  [MODE]


Airbrush; Shape:  Round;  Size: 12; Transparency: 90;  Soft Edge: 30
Hex Hex #847A77  [MODE]


Using the face sketch we made earlier, we will paint the eyes in MODE.

Brush:  Charcoal; Shape: Round; Size: 10; Transparency: 0;  Preset:  None
Hex #D8C9C2  [MODE]

SAVE often.  Best after every step.

Fill in the "whites" of the eyes.  You will be surprised by just how grey my color choice is.  But go with me on this.  The whites are never pure white, but at this time they will appear particularly dark simply because of their contrast to all that white "paper" surrounding them.  Once we put the features we are painting together in a face, the eyes will be surrounded by skin tones, and this color will make more sense at that time.  SAVE.  NOTE:  We are painting over our very sketchy face drawing, which, like the face, is neither perfect nor symmetrical.

Outline the iris.  My base drawing showed the irises too small.  I outline them in their correct size and position.  Irises and pupils are completely round, so I do my best.  Try to make them as perfectly round as possible.  If this color is too dark, it can be corrected by overpainting the iris colors later.  SAVE.

Pupils - Using the new placement of the irises, I locate the pupils in their  centers, keeping an area of the highlight white.  Again, make sure the  pupils are round.  SAVE.

My eyes are going to be sort of hazel.  Hazel is a mixture of brown (usually  around, or nearer, the pupil) and green (often in olive or sage tones).   This first color is going to look more grey than green -- this is because we  cannot see the local (actual) color at a normal distance; we see a color  affected by atmosphere, lighting, and other environmental factors.  If you  want to paint blue or brown eyes, you may do so, but currently I do not have those hex numbers for you.  Check back later. .   Fill in the space of the iris between edges and pupils.  SAVE.

Put some free-form shapes inside the iris.  See below for the shapes I made - I eliminated everything but the original base sketch, the pupil, and the new iris edge, and filled the shapes I made in this step with red for you to see.   SAVE.


Airbrush; Shape: Round; Size: 6; Transparency: 50;  Soft Edge: 10
Hex #706644  MODE]

With this lighter tone, I cut into the shapes I made in the last step.  (By "cutting in," I mean that the smaller shapes I'm putting on top of the previous shapes, I seem to be "cutting" the previous shapes into smaller ones.)  The goal is to give the irises the mottled, multi-toned pattern they tend to have.  Remember that these are NOT symmetrical -- each iris has its own pattern.  The reason I am not worrying about the top of the iris as much, is that soon we will make a shadow there.   SAVE.

A few darker browns are needed to create the dots and shapes and patterns within the iris.  See below for my shapes.   Yours may be different.  Look at your own eyes, or a close up of someone else's, to get ideas.  Each person's iris patterns are so unique the they are even better identifiers of identity than fingerprints, and eyescans may soon be the norm at your local airport.  SAVE.

The irises look acceptable for now, so it's time to paint in the shadows cast by they lids.  Here we paint the shadow as it would look on the irises.  Below are the shapes, again.   SAVE.

For the lid shadows on the whites, a cooler shade is needed.  Paint this one as shown, arcing it gently under the upper lids.  Then also paint a larger, more transparent curve on both sides of the irises, in arcs adjacent to the irises (set your brush size larger for this if you have to, and if needed, increase the transparency to 95 or even 98).  The shapes of the lid shadows, and this darkening of the whites, are shown below in red.     SAVE.

© 2007 Gisele Zeitler
Terms of Use:  The graphics in this tutorial may be used for private, non-profit use only.  Any other use please e-mail:


It won't come as a surprise to you if I tell you that eyes come in all shapes and sizes.  That means the eyes shown here are just one, unique set, and not some universal set of eyes.  And your painting will most likely not look like mine, nor should it.  But some things should be said about eyes in general, that will always make it easier for you to draw or paint them.

A- The eyes are round balls, especially from the front.  The irises and pupils are also completely round.

B- This roundness extends forward, too.  The eyeballs are therefore closer to the viewer in the middle than at the sides.  This affects shading and highlights.  More details about this later.

C- The eyeballs are also under the upper and lower lids, and this bulge is evident to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how deeply they are set in the subject.   This affects the shading of the lids' skin tones.

D- The eyeballs are located directly in the center of the skull's eye openings.  The top of this opening approximately defines the location of the eyebrows.  The bottom of the opening defines the arc referred to usually as "circles under the eyes."  The fact is that we all have them.

E- And one note NOT about the eye.  When you use your airbrush, spray it over the designated area, moving back and forth or in circles or arcs, until you achieve a similar intensity of color, or stop short to get a thin, transparent layer, according to the directions in a step.  It takes a bit longer to get the results, but they are worth it.   And you really learn to control your pointing device, and PAINT!

And now, let's get started!

With that as a given, we also know that we can learn to draw and paint an accurate representation of a person's face, as well as the eyes within it.  I am averse to the many standards of proportion of the human head that I've seen over the years, because I've seen too many people who don't agreeably fit any standard.  So I recommend using your powers of observation, to really look at, and study, and analyze, every face that you look into.   And sketch, sketch sketch!

What makes us all look different, anyway?  We are all in the same size range, and our heads are all generally 9" high -- so what is it that accounts for all that variety in the human face?  Well, it all begins with the foundation, which is the skull.  We tend to think of the skull as a Halloween icon, and don't ponder the range of distances between the features of the skull.  But this is where they are! 

Many standards will tell you that the eyes are in the vertical center of the skull.  I've divided this skull into two columns of three equally sized boxes.  As you can see, here the eyes are located between a quarter and a third of the way down from the top of the center square.  So they're not dead center (pardon the pun)!  However they are closer to the center than most people think.  We tend to think of them as being quite high on the face.  But that's only because the hair line is also lower than you think -- it's not at the summit of the cranium.  Try to learn these proportions to improve your drawing skills.