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Draw Dogs' Eyes

Realism in Colored Pencil


The eyes of any portrait require special attention. In this short tutorial we take a look at the process of drawing a dog's eyes to capture the expression and varying textures of the eyes and hair for an expressive, realist dog portrait drawing. From equine and animal artist Janet Griffin-Scott.

Tip: Click on the images for the full-size version, to see detail clearly.

1. Preparatory Drawing

Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Here is a close up detail of thepreparatory drawing of the eyes of the dog.  I wanted to focus on this area because so many artists have trouble getting these structures to be absolutely life like, and they are so critical to the success of the portrait. I start with the pencil as sharp as possible so an accurate outline can be drawn.

2. A Yellow Undercoat

Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

The next step is to completely saturate the pupil area with a bright intense yellow, in this case a Cadmium yellow pencil. It seems odd as dog’s eyes are not this bright yellow, but this colour is very useful as an undercoat of colour on which to blend other layers. This yellow helps to provide a luminous quality to the layers of colours that are layered over it.

3. Adding Warmth with Burnt Sienna

Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

In the next step, I have started to outline the outside edges of the pupils with Burnt Sienna, in circular strokes going directly over top of the yellow. This blending immediately lowers the intensity of the yellow and makes a more life like tone in the eye. In the animal kingdom, I find that this eye colour is remarkably the same across different species. My approach is similar when doing the eyes of some types of horses, wildlife and some cats. Although cats have a wider variety of colours present in their eyes, but this first layer of yellow is remarkably similar in many different types of animals.

4. Developing Detail and Darks

Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

A lot seems to have happened all at once in this stage, and in fact, it has. This is where I spent the majority of effort in the eyes. It is also the step where I really started to apply the black pencil strokes around the eyes to depict the mask marking around the eyes, which is typical of German Shepherds. I added about three more layers of Burnt Sienna onto the pupil, with more layers and heavier layers right near the bottom eye lid. I left a bit of the yellow peeking through at the top of the eye and I coloured in the pupils with the hardest darkest strokes of black that I could without breaking the lead. The waxy binder of the coloured pencils have a creamy feel to them here as more and more colour builds up. This sketchbook paper does not hold as many colour layers as drawing paper does but I like the effect here.

5. Building Depth

Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

I add a bit of Cadmium yellow back into the Burnt Sienna as it is getting a bit too dark. This Yellow and Burnt Sienna colour combination is a very important and valuable mixture and I use it for the majority of my work. I help define the lower eyelids by leaving them fairly light, as in fewer layers of black, and lighter pressure on the pencil. I outline the eye shape again with hard pressure strokes of pure black so that the shapes are defined and sharpened. The pupil gets a few more circular hard strokes to darken it to is maximum.

6. Finishing Touches

Janet Griffin-Scott, licensed to About.com, Inc.

The last step is be to add a bright white highlight. This can be achieved with many strong strokes using White, but in this case I chose to make it simple and and put one small dot of Titanium white gouache on top of the coloured pencil. Sometimes there are two highlights, depending on how the photograph was taken and what the light source was. Flash photography often adds the second highlight as the light bounces off the curved eyeball. Carefully check your photographic reference for accuracy and your efforts will be rewarded with realistic and expressive eyes, which is vital to the importance of the likeness you are striving for.

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