How to paint a realistic eye with watercolors

How to paint in a realistic way with watercolors

From my own experience, watercolor is all about layers. The color and the water are the main parts – that’s for sure. But if you can control the layers, you will be able to control the painting.

In my work, I usually paint with watercolors in a loose way but always focussing on the important areas to give them more detail. I do this, creating more layers in those parts and therefore, creating details that give the effect of more realism.

Painting in a realistic way with watercolors is quite challenging. It is not a technique that you can exactly control. It’s more about creating with the flow of the water and without the knowledge of how it will look like in the end. That’s the magic.

This quick watercolor painting tutorial will help you to get a better idea of how this works.


These are the tools I used for this studio:

  • Escoda brushes
  • Black watercolor (L’Aquarelle)
  • Mechanical pencil
  • Gerstaecker 200 gr paper

This paper is good for watercolor or acrylic sketches. I use it to get an idea of how the paint works and how to make the light and the shadows. Even if it is not the best paper, you need to use a proper surface for your studio or painting. There is a lot of difference between papers. It is important to use watercolors on watercolor paper to create a good looking piece and not a mess.

The brushes are important too. I really like Escoda brushes because they have all the properties I may need. They have a very good quality in their synthetic brushes – the ones I prefer to use. You can try different brands but always use soft and absorbent brushes.

If you want to know more about tools, you can take a look at this post I wrote a few months ago: My favourite art tools.

How to paint a realistic eye: watercolor painting tutorial

 1. Draw the shape

First of all, start drawing the shape of the eye with a pencil. You can do it very lightly or you can mark the shadows and dark areas more. It depends on which style you want to create.

I usually draw the shape of the eye, marking the shadows and light points. It is easier to don’t forget those parts while I am painting if I have the marks there.


 2. Time for the brushes

After the drawing, it is time to take out your brushes and start the first layer of watercolor. I put the paint first on the eyebrow (because it is usually a dark area) and then with water I spread the color to create the first shadows. That will guide me through the second layer. It is important that you decide where is the point of light, to know where are the shadows and where are the bright areas. Also, have into account that with watercolor there is no “white”, so you have to leave the white paper as it is to create those parts.


After the first layer, sometimes you have to wait for a while until the paper is dry to continue painting. Other times, there is no need for this because you want to use the damp surface to spread better the color. This creates interesting textures.

Put some water and let the magic appear.


 3. Create the volume

Now that we have the base, we can continue putting shadows to create the volumes of the eye. As I am working with wet paper, when I put color on one side it spreads and makes darker other parts. In my opinion, that gives to the painting an interesting effect of textures and movement.


 4. Focus on the important details

As you can see, it is important to know exactly where to put the dark areas. It is important to preserve the white ones too.  This is vital to create the sensation of volume on the subject.

In the picture below, you can see the effect of the layers, the textures and the edges created by them. Now we can appreciate more the sensation of depth.


The final result is a realistic eye created with a controlled – loose technique with watercolor.

Now it is time to know if you want to continue with the painting or if you think it is finished. You can always continue adding details to your piece. But sometimes that is not the best – remember that less is more. It will depend on your preferences and what you want to achieve.

watercolor painting tutorial

I hope this watercolor painting tutorial helps you and inspire you. I have some videos on my YouTube channel that can inspire you too.

If you paint something inspired by this tutorial I would love to see it!! How? You just put your creation on Instagram and tag me: @taniaestevez_illustration 

Thanks for reading! Leave your comment if you have any question or suggestion!

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