The one thing that can make or break a paint job is the level of detail that is put into the face. The one facial feature that is easy to learn is the eye, and successfully painting eyes will help you conquer half of the facial detail battle. There are three common methods for painting eyes, which I am going to discuss.
Before I get into this discussion I need to discuss a topic that is related to painting eyes. What kind of paint brush are you using? If you are like most gamers I know, your tool of choice is a synthetic bristle brush produced by some game company, or bought at the craft store. Synthetic brushes have their place, but not in detail painting. Three years ago, I switched to Kolinsky Sable brushes, and, needless to say, they really took my painting to the next level. Yes they cost more than synthetic brushes, but the benefits of a good brush completely outweigh the price. A good brush will give you better flow control. It will also hold a point better. For all detail work I use a Windsor & Newton Series 7, 3/0 brush.
Your paint consistency is super important when painting any detail, especially eyes. I typically start with a 1:1 mixture of paint to water that is conditioned with Flow Aid. This mixture, along with the good brush, makes painting eyes or any detail an easy job. The key to detail painting is good paint flow. Too much paint on the brush will fill the entire eye socket and ruin any paint work you have done.
Method 1: The Dark LineThis is method employed by many scale modelers. The idea of a just using a dark brown to black line to indicate the eyes is based on the premise of scale. Try this exercise: Hold a miniature between your thumb and index finger at arms length. Next go outside and try and find a person in the distance that looks as tall. Chances are that when you do this you will quickly notice that you cannot see the white of the eye, and that the eye appears as a dark line.
Honestly this method is just fine, and is completely appropriate if you are painting for games only. It is also appropriate for True Scale figures like what is in the Lord of the Rings line. Sometimes, painting an actual eye will make a figure look cartoonish, or bug-eyed. The draw back to this method is that on larger Warhammer Fantasy Battle and 40000 figures this approach might make the figure look like they have a hollow eye socket, which may be what you are going for.
Method 2: Paint the White, Dot the EyeIn my experience this is the most common way people paint eyes. This method starts with painting the sculpted eye white followed by dotting the center with black. After you have painted the eye you can clean up any mistakes with your base flesh color. The most common mistake when painting in this way is when the black dot doesnt completely touch at least one eye lid. Since many Games Workshop figures have their war-face on, it is actually better for the black to touch both eyelids.
Up until a year ago this was my primary method of painting eyes. It worked well for me. The benefit to this method is that is mistakes are easily covered up. I found that my major gripe with painting in this way was that if one eye was off by a little bit they would look wall-eyed and goofy.
Method 3: Paint Black then the WhiteThis is the method I currently use and is the reverse of method 2. You start by painting the entire eye black, and then you use white and dot the whites of the eyes in. Mistakes are cleaned up like in method 2. Some may see this method as incorporating an extra step, but there is a big reason I like this method. If it is done right there will be a very thin line of black between the eyelid and eye. This thin line outlines the eye and allows it to stand out against the rest of the face. I also like this method because it feels easier to get the eyes looking the same direction. Try some of these methods. See what you like.
The main thing with becoming successful at painting eyes is practice. At first youll mess up some faces, but do not become daunted. Keep plugging away at it and then one day youll be painting eyes and realize that it is the easiest thing to do. It took me about 10 figures to get it right, but once I got it down, painting eyes became something I enjoyed.
How do you paint eyes? If you are having trouble with eyes tell us about it. Chances are good that someone here has faced your problems and might have a fix that will work for you.