Issue #14 | Spring 2010

The Eyes Have It

Observing the tiny details of light and shade in the eyes will bring the subject to life. Helen South, How To Draw Eyes.

There are two sets of eyes in every portrait, the eyes of the subject and the eyes of the artist.

The subject’s eyes we could call “the window to the soul”. Through the expressiveness of the eyes most human communication takes place. The eyes speak silently, but convey a myriad of nuance.

Really though, the eyes are sensory organs, they deliver information with- out opinion. It is the flesh around the eyes that moves and so creates and conveys expression. The startled lift, the narrowed gaze and the smiling corners are the curtains of the soul. The moving curtains, in time, become a person’s look. Those crinkles we don’t like to see in the mirror are pure gold to the artist.

The artist’s eyes deliver information; the artist’s hands must render it as accurately as possible. Where are the areas of light and shade? Where are the hidden muscles that create the gaze? What is it that defines this person’s look? Larissa Doll describes feeling with her eyes and Ada Lovmo tells us she looks at the face and sculpts it with her chalks. To Janet Enfield, it comes down to having the subject’s eyes look back at her from the portrait. Then she knows she’s not only accurate; she hasn’t just captured the person. They have captured her. The eyes in a series of Darcy Jackson’s por- traits not only looked back at her, they looked into her, revealing a map of her journey as a painter and as a person.

Mediate/Meditate by Ed Bader is the exception here that proves the rule. We rarely see his subjects’ eyes. An absence of expression highlights these people’s detachment from those around them and their extremely tight focus on abstract messages from afar. The curtains are open only just enough to let in the information they desire.

Meticulous observation by the artist is required to translate light and shade into an eye, a window to a soul, a person we can recognize. The observed play their part as they live and breathe, as they open or close their curtains. There must be a third pair of eyes to complete any picture; the viewer looks, believes and in a blink the portrait comes to life.


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