The importance of eyes in art
In human portraiture, it’s been said that the eyes are the most important part.
As a pet portrait artist, I’ve learned it’s no different with animals! And while there are lots of good tutorials out there about how to render eyes so that they look realistic, deep, and well lit— none of that will help if you don’t get the shape, position and expression right first. That’s what this post is all about.
I’ll show you 6 concrete methods to make sure you get everything in the right place, so when you apply rendering techniques you don’t accidentally create a tribute to Dave Devries’ Monster Engine.
These methods have guided me through all my animal portraits. More of my pet paintings can be found in the Paws By Zann Gallery.
Dog eyes are tricky because the different breeds have a much wider variety of facial shapes than you see in humans. So making one “rule” to tell you where facial features sit in relation to each other doesn’t work. The methods I’ll show you in this post will work for any breed, and use your knowledge of that breed’s specific anatomy. For easy navigation, I’ve divided the subject into thses sections:
1. Eye Position
2. Eye Size
3. Eye Shapes from Different Angles
4. Internal Eye Structures
5. Dog Eyelids
When you get to the rendering step, I also have this blog post featuring 4 videos about rendering dog eyes in paint. But for now, let’s get the basics of drawing dog eyes down.
1. Dog Eye Position
Before you start looking at details like expression and shape, you need to define two key points: where do the dog’s eyes sit on the skull, and how big are they? We’ll start with location: the first thing to keep in mind is that a dog’s head is a round, 3D object, and what you’re trying to do is translate 3 dimensions into 2.
Because of this, 3/4 views are the most challenging: one eye will be a different shape than the other, and they’ll be in a different positions relative to other identifying features like the eyes, ears, and edges of the head.
Notice how the distance between the eyes and side of the head changes as he turns?
Figuring out where the eyes sit in the front and profile view will help you figure out where they sit in other, more challenging angles. I advise starting here with your subject. Where are the dog’s eyes?
1 a) vertical positioning of a dog's eye in a drawing
Your dog’s eyes lie somewhere between the base of her ears (as seen from the front) and the top of her nose. As your dog looks up and down, the distances between nose, eyes and ears change.
When you’re drawing your dog’s eyes, imagine lines at eye level, at the base of her ears, and at the top of her nose. Notice how the space between the lines changes?
Even when your dog’s nose is at or above her eyes, her pupils still fall somewhere between the top of her nose and the base of her ears. You can see the same effect from the side.
1 b) Horizontal Positioning of a Dog's eye for Drawing
Horizontally, a dog’s eyes still sit between the outer edge of her nose and the base of her ears, but your visual cues will be different. Take a look at the examples below and think about how these relationships would change if the eyes were too close together, too far apart, or not properly centred.
Before learning how to draw dog eyes from the 3/4 view, you’ll save some time if you can get comfortable with where his eyes sit between his nose and his ears from the side and from the front.
2. Dog Eye Size
The size of a dog’s eyes will have a big impact on how viewers react to your artwork.
Big, round eyes are puppyish and cute. Small, angular eyes appear more focused. Do you want the dog in your drawing to appear young? Old? Cute? Noble? Exactly as he is in life?
A strict carbon-copy of your reference material will always be technically accurate but might not be as expressive as a purposeful exaggeration.
When you’re drawing dog eyes, try playing around with size and see how the portrait’s personality changes. Learning to exaggerate features can be a helpful exercise even if your goal is realism.
In most of my pet portraits, I stick with a realistic size, but it’s fun to play around with options!
3. Drawing Dog Eye Shapes
When you’re drawing your dog’s eyes, notice how the lids cup the eyeball itself and fold to stay out of the way. And don’t forget that dogs have a third eyelid, aka that weird white part you see when they’re dreaming.
Drawing Dog Eye Shapes from the 3/4 View
- A dog’s head is round
- The eyes’ position relative to the ears and nose will change depending on where the dog is looking
- Unless the portrait is in a perfectly straight, front-facing position, the eyes will be different shapes
4. Internal Dog Eye Structures for Drawing
In order to learn how to draw dog eyes as realistically as possible, you’ll need to take into account the internal structures. Irises aren’t painted on the outside like the spot on a pool ball, but rather floating in the middle like a weird little frisbee.
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Thanks for reading, and good luck with your drawings!