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Draw and Paint Horses' Eyes

Capturing Character and Expression

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Horses' eyes are as unique as human eyes, varying according to personality, breed, colour and expression. A horse's eyes can be very expressive, and it's important to capture them accurately. Here we take a look at five variations on the 'standard' horse eye drawing with tips on how to draw and paint them, from equine artist Janet Griffin-Scott.

1. The Side View

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

Most often we draw horses from the side or three-quarter view, so the plane of the eye is more or less parallel to the viewer.   When the horse is looking directly on at the viewer, the anatomy of the head and eye look very different. Take extra care to observe accurately when drawing these tricky angles. The pupil shows clearly here, and once again we see blue highlights on the shiny reflective surface, possibly because the eye always reflects partially the blue of the sky. The eyelashes are drawn in long strokes with heavy black, and the wrinkles around the lid are suggested with many overlapping pencil strokes.

2. The Whites of the Eyes

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

This horse is showing “the whites of his eyes”. When the eyeball moves back in the socket, a white band where the eye ends is clearly visible, giving the horse a worried, startled or scared look. It can also mean he is looking behind him, but horse clearly show their mood by their expression. You just have to be aware of what they are saying with their body language. The eyes are a big clue to how they are feeling. It's a common mistake among beginner artists to show the whites because they think they should, not realizing that unlike human eyes, the whites are not normally visible.

3. Closed Eyes

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

This horse is asleep or blinking. Horses sleep for a very small number of hours each day, and often sleep standing up.
They normally lie down for less than an hour a day. Notice the eyelashes sprout from a fairly large area in the upper eyelid.

4. Grey and White

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

This shows a grey horse with white eyelashes. notice the eyes is a bit rounder than in previous examples. As mentioned, the shape and size of a horse or pony’s eyes vary widely between individuals, the same as in people. The eyelashes in white have always amused me and to me it gives the horse a sweet and gentle expression. Small ponies with white eyelashes are my favourite. Paints and Appaloosas can have these same light eyelashes. Note the dark hairs coming out from the eyelid sort of in the place where an eyebrow would be. Depth and detail can be developed in small strokes going outwards from the eye structure and under the bottom lid.

5. Wall Eyed Horses

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

Some coloured breeds of horses have blue eyes, also called “wall eyes”. I have even seen some horses with part blue, part brown colouration in the same eye, usually where a patch of colour goes through the eye on the horse’s head. This example above is of a Paint Arab cross mare I know that is used as a hunter. Her eyes are bright whitish blue and are quite striking. Contrary to myth these horses with these “wall eyed” horses are not crazy or untrainable, they are just exhibiting a different pigment in their eyes. The blue eyes also are not  signs of bad vision. However they can be susceptible to damage done by UV light, the same as in people, so care must be taken if the horse is out all the time in the summer.

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