How to Paint the Eye - Creative Catalyst Productions

January 22, 2017 5 min read 3 Comments

Lynn Kunz Powers Demo 1 - Pharaba’s Eye

We hit gold !  We found a number of step by step drawings and paintings Lynn Powers created to use in her portrait classes.   Lynn studied faces relentlessly.  She loved people and always  tried to “enter into a private conversation with my subject.” Her goal, was to paint the real person behind the face.  .

Author and painter Jan Kunz is collaborating on a project to describe, document and share Lynn’s painting method with art makers everywhere.


Note From Jan

In copying Lynn’s step by step Demo I used 140 lb hot press paper as she did in the original.  While I cannot be certain of the actual sequence of her brush strokes, I did try to describe what I did to achieve similar results.   The pigments I used for each step are noted.   


Lynn was a master at glazing one color over another to achieve extraordinary clean lifelike colors and brilliance.  This technique is especially noticeable in her painting of the iris.  In that small space I counted five different hues.  There is so much to learn by simply studying this demo that words are scarcely needed. 


Lynn created this step by step for her portrait class and is intended for advanced painters  but any painter will find it valuable. 




In 2015 Lynn photographed a friend named Pharaba.  Pharaba was Lynn’s final portrait painting, and lay on her drawing board, following her death.



Eye, detail


LP Demo 1: Pharaba’s Eye







Lynn painted on Arches hot press paper, 140 and 300 lb.


In this demo Lynn charged multiple colors into her painting to add light and brilliance, including:  Quinacridone Gold,  Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Raw Sienna, Magnesium Blue, Yellow Ochre,  Quinacridone  Rose, and Alizarin Crimson.  If you do not have all these pigments at hand, you can achieve nearly the same results  by substituting similar pigments

Careful observation and a good drawing help insure a successful painting.   Notice that the soft, rounded surfaces around the eye grow darker as they turn from the light.   The eyeball itself is not white, but darker than areas around it.  The only white is a small highlight in the eye. 



Take your time, and think about how you might paint this eye.  Become thoroughly familiar with every part.   Notice that the soft, rounded surfaces surrounding the eye grow darker as they turn from the light.   The eyeball itself is not white, but darker than areas around it.  The only white is a small highlight in the eye.


After you are familiar with the various shapes make a careful drawing of the eye or trace Lynn’s drawing onto watercolor paper.    She used dotted lines to identify the soft rounded shapes and solid lines for harder edges.


Lynn’s Advice:  “Be bold, trust yourself, and paint whatever you see...The so called ‘trick’ is to consciously look and really see your subject.  Paint with focus and serious intent.  Serious painting is fun, but it is work.”



Use mixture of  Quin Gold and Quin Rose to block in the basic skin color.  The value should be light.  On a scale where #1 is white and black is #10, the value should be between one #1 and #2.


Paint the entire area, including the white of the eyeball leaving only the small circle  for a future high light.(Don’t worry if you have painted the entire eyeball, you can “ lift  out”  the highlight later.)


Be sure the entire surface is dry before painting the next step.  (a caution::  A bleed back or other problems are best corrected with a clean water wash.


JK Colors: Quin. Rose


There is no black in either of these pigments, so you assured of a clear bright color.

Value Scale



 The rounded surfaces turn cooler and darker as they turn from the light. This is especially noticeable above the fold in the eyelid, under the eye, and near the nose.   Begin with that darkest area and allow your brush to follow the gentle curve while carefully adding clear water to the paper as you approach the sunlit area.   Use this same method to paint under the eye, and near the cheek .  (These passages might be thought of as mini graded washes.)


Finally use darker hues to paint above the fold in the eye adding various colors as you approach the brow.   Whenever possible try to blend colors on the paper .

Be sure everything is dry before starting the next step.


JK Colors: Burnt Orange, Quin. rose, Raw Sienna, Quin. Gold,



To paint the curved shape above the eyelid add a dark passage  just above the fold,and gradually add more water to lighten the value as you approach the brow   This  will make the darker area appear to curve downward into the eyelid and give  roundness to the shape.

 Use this same technique to suggest the raised area under the eye and near the nose.



The Iris is moist and is full of light and color.   There are several ways to treat this small area.  You could dampen the paper and carefully add colors varying the value within the iris,.   Another way is to add one color at a time letting the colors blend just enough so they do not lose loose their identity .  The variety of colors  and value make the iris appear  translucent and damp .

 Be sure the paper is dry before adding the round pupil..  Be careful to place it in the very center of the iris.


JK Colors:  Quin. Rose, Raw Sienna, Quin. Gold, Manganese blue.



Now is the time to evaluate your painting and bring the eye to life.


Carefully add the shadow cast by the upper eyelid evenly across the eyeball and darken and defined the corners of the eye .


Do some areas need more color?   Be bold and try glazing more color into places where you think it is needed.  Does the iris appear translucent and damp and do the rounded surfaces look round?


Finally, if you have lost the highlight now is the time to reclaim it.   Be sure the paper is dry, then  use a frisket and a damp brush to lift it out or simply pick it out with a sharp knife.


JK colors: Quinacridone Gold, Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Quinacridone Rose, Raw Sienna,

Magnesium Blue, Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson.



Learn more about Lynn Powers:

Lynn’s Painting “Pharaba” can be seen here: Link to Pharaba

Download a PDF of this Step by Step HERE

3 Responses

Peg Patterson, from WSO
Peg Patterson, from WSO

February 07, 2017

Thank you for sharing this information with us!!! What a fabulous painting!

Marjorie Ewell
Marjorie Ewell

February 07, 2017

What a treasure! Thank you so much for sharing Lynn’s tutorial with us. I will definitely go to her website and check that out.
Lynn was a lovely person who I met at a Florida Watercolor Society convention some years ago. She helped me find the DVD’s I wanted and have been a customer ever since.

Linda Shelton
Linda Shelton

February 07, 2017

Thank you for sharing this informative process…most appreciated

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.