I get lots of compliments on my portraits and I always say "it's all in the eyes" so I thought I'd talk about my process a little bit. It's my opinion that the eyes are the most important part of the portrait, if I nail the eyes then I am far more likely to sell the commission. In every portrait I draw, the eyes are the most different aspect from the reference photo supplied. In photos eyes tend to have a very complex reflection, or 'light catch'. Lots of artists attempt to recreate this accurately, however, I feel the extreme realism of an accurate light catch is at odds with my slightly abstract, watercolour style. Therefore I simplify eyes down to either a single or double pure white light catch with no reflective elements. This is a slightly 'cartoonish' style choice but I feel it gives the eyes an alive and moist look that complements my portraits very well. I will show an example below of reference photo/portrait.
As you can see, the German Shepherd's eyes in the reference photo, especially the left eye (right as we are looking at the dog) has a much more complex reflection including a partial shape of the photographer. Also, the pupil is almost entirely occluded by the light.
While I could choose to draw this accurately it would capture the portrait in a place in time, especially when you can see the silhouette of the camera person, a building or a landscape. This is the same reason I draw an extrusion of colour for the background rather than draw in the actual background of the reference photo. I think the removal of references to a place in time or a specific memory represents a more complete and focused tribute to the subject rather than a snapshot of a scene. This is a more elegant stylistic choice to remove any connection to a physical space, even one as subtle as a reflection in the eye. This is especially important when the portrait is a memorial to a beloved pet that has died.
The video above shows the final touch up of the eyes on three spaniels. The eyes have already been roughly drawn in inline with the reference photo so the simplified light-catch and pupils are still left to finish. The vast majority of the portrait is already finished at this point as the final touch up of the eyes is one of the last things I do. When wrapping up a portrait I like to be able to see the balance of the eyes against the rest of the finished piece. I hope you've enjoyed this little insight. Like and let me know in the comments if you did.