This installment is about one of the most daunting parts of any miniature: the eyes. Since my woodland fey project is all about playing with advanced techniques and pushing myself, I decided it would be a good time to tackle some of the more complete eye painting methods out there.
Eye of the tiger, baby.
The first thing to notice, is that this piece has conveniently large eyes to work with. Let's make that tip number one: Start with a miniature that makes your life easier, not harder. If you go back and look at the Ettin project posted earlier this year, you will see a beastie several times larger than this one with eyes that are probably half as large. Do not start there!
There are multiple schools of thought for how and when to approach eyes. I subscribe to the "paint them first" school. The idea here is to paint in the eyes before painting the skin of the face. The advantage is that you can be as sloppy as you want with the early stages of eye painting, and then clean up the mess later when you do the skin, which may be a bit more forgiving.
I like to start out by painting in the eye sockets with a dark color. My base of choice is Reaper master Series Walnut Brown, but any dark brown will do. I do not recommend a pure black, as it will probably look a little harsh on the finished mini. Of course, if you are intentionally painting wearing figure with black eye liner, that would be a different matter. This strategy is largely a variation on the "Bette Davis Eyes" technique that you may find elsewhere online.
My next step is to paint in the eyeball. In this case, I am using a slight off-white, which is a common choice. Pure white can sometimes look a little bit unnatural, or harsh. On the other hand, I find that pure white sometimes shows up better when painting tiny little eyes. Duller off-whites can sometimes seem to disappear once the pupil goes in.
You may notice that the whites of the eyeball are not perfectly neat in the picture. The beauty of this stage is that it is easy to go back with the dark outline color and trim them to shape. Just be careful to err on the side of painting more of the face brown, rather than covering up the eye itself.
With the whites in place, I painted in a pair of irises/pupils using the same color of brown that I used to outline the eyes at the beginning. This step is simultaneously very tricky and very forgiving. The tricky part is to align the two eyes so that they are pointing in the same direction. You do not (usually) want to make the figure cross-eyed.
The forgiving element is that nothing bad happens if you paint outside the lines above or below the eye. For this reason, it is often easiest to start with a thick vertical line across the eyes to place the pupils, and then adjust from there. Ideally, you want a big rounded spot in each eye. Assuming the figure is looking straight ahead, they should look like circles that have been partially covered by the upper eyelid.
It's time for tip number two. You can stop here! This is where I stop painting in 90% or more of all cases, including show pieces. Eyes like these look just fine in small scale. For this project in particular, I wanted to take it up another level.
Pressing on, I painted a tiny white stripe along the bottom of each iris. In this case I did use a pure white because i wanted the brightest possible base for the next step. The picture doesn't show it very clearly, but I promise you that's what I did. This is a pretty fiddly step, because you don't want to paint more than half of the iris white, and you want to leave a dark outline around the whole iris.
With both tiny white patches in place, I painted a bit of color on top of each. The purpose of the white is to help the color to show up nice and bright. Sadly, I picked a bit too dark of a purple, and the effect wound up fairly muted anyway. next time i will pick something even brighter.
Before I go on to the last step, I am going to insert tip number 3: You can paint over anything! When painting these tiny details, I routinely get them wrong. I just paint over them with the appropriate colors (walnut brown in this case) and try again. Do not be discouraged by a few (or a many) failed tries. Almost nobody gets it right the first time.
As a way of putting off the last, and tiniest detail, I stepped back and undercoated the skin of the model with a leather-brown. As you will see, I used that paint to trim back the brown eye-liner to a thin outline, and restore the shape of the eyes. There is no reason to do that before adding the highlight, I just needed a break from the extreme detail.
For the final step, I loaded my brush with a small amount of white paint. For this application, I left the paint a little thicker than normal, almost "bottle" consistency. Note though, that the consistency of paint in the bottle varies by manufacturer and color. In this case, I am referring to a Vallejo Model Color Pure White. It flows quite freely, but is much thicker than the oft cited "skim milk".
I used the pure white to place a single, tiny dot of paint on the upper third of each iris. The point is to add a reflection from whatever light source is illuminating the figure. This is much like the "ting" one would add to a gemstone. It's just complicated by the small size and inconvenient placement of the eyes.
I hope that helps! This technique is derived from advice I have gotten from top-tier artists in the past. You can find many variations out there. Go look!