Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Eyes Have It

By Justin Gerard

Recently I ran into a problem of how to treat the eyes in an illustration I was working on. I was following my reference, but every time I painted them in they stuck out like Mickey Mouse eyes. (No offense Mickey.)

But in my reference the eyes were bright. And don't they call them the whites of the eyes? Are they not white!? IS THERE NOTHING IN THIS WORLD I CAN TRUST?

Before I lept from my chair to go and light the curtains on fire and rip the couch cushions in half I thought, waitaminute, painters throughout history have likely already wrestled with this conundrum. Why should I suffer a mental breakdown figuring this out when they've already done the work! I can relax again. There is objective truth out there, even if sometimes it comes in a thousand muddy shades of gray.

And so I assembled the above collection from some of the artists whose work has been a great inspiration to me. The results have been very helpful for me. My curtains and couch remain unmolested. Sometimes whites aren't always white.

I hope you enjoy.


  1. That's a great reference compilation. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Grin;) Would make an awesome print. The Martha Stewart from hell image is pretty great too...

  3. the middle one at first looked like some cool weird owl head design, and then i realized it is one of Petar's giants :)

    great post Justin :)

  4. Hehe, I will be saving this picture for some eye references ! but who's are the pen drawings in the bottom right corner?

  5. That is the amazing European artist Sergio Toppi. He has an absolutely fantastic sense of design and uncanny abilities with ink. I really admire his work.

  6. i love that hellboy is in there :D

    also, i read on a forum years ago that someone made a point of mixing four distinct eye white masstones for a set of eyes, none of which are white:
    one shade for the eyeball on each side of the iris, left/right eye separately.
    i always found that to be a good point, and simple to memorize.

  7. Hmm, I see Bouguerau, Rembrandt, I'm pretty sure there's at least one by Donato in there, Petar, Paul Bonner, Mignola, and perhaps Peter de Seve? But I'm not sure on most of them. It would be nice to have a list, or better yet, all the images! But it looks really cool loke this!

  8. I don't remember who said it, but often the white of the eye is almost the same colour and value as the half-tone on the cheek, or something like that.

  9. I think I spot...
    3x de Sève
    2x Weber
    2x Meseldzija
    2...maybe 3x Giancola
    Dos Santos's Wheel of Time cover
    At least 3x Travis Louie
    2x Bonner
    3x Toppi
    Guarnido possibly?

    ....and others that hit a nerve but I can't place. Very cool.

  10. Adding to Scott's list:
    Lord Leighton,
    Tom Fluharty
    Van Gogh,
    Eric Fortune,
    Michael Kutsche

  11. Duh...I forgot:
    Jon Foster

  12. dah! James Jean. Couldn't place his at first.

  13. Wow you guys are sharp. If I hadn't put it together I don't think I could have so many. And I didn't think anyone would spot the Hundley.

    (And Scott you must have been reading my notes, I actually tried to work in a Guarnido, but just couldn't find a good high-res piece for it.)

    There are only 4 left that haven't been identified that I can see.

    1. 2nd column from the left and 3 rows up is one of my favorite Japanese artists. His designs are really compelling... and anyone who owned a super nintendo as a kid will probably be familiar with him...

    2. Far right column, 4rth row down. Though these eyes are from an oil painting, he is perhaps more widely known for doing some of the coolest watercolors since Arthur Rackham....

    3. 3rd column, 6 rows down under Petar's Giant. He is one of my favorite Russian painters. This is a somewhat rare portrait for him and he is generally more associated with landscape painting and the Peredvizhniki movement.

    4. To the right of Petar's giant is a genius whose brushwork will probably mesmerize painters for as long as there is paint to work with.

  14. This is SO helpful! I've been having trouble with eyes myself, especially if they're from a distance. I also try never to use black or white at all, unless dramatically I use both/have no choice. I don't like white paper any more :(
    J. x

  15. 1. Yoshitako Amano?
    2. Doh! I thought that was Van Gogh's self portrait.
    3. I know I've seen it a zillion times. I just can't place it.
    4. Gotta be Sargent!

  16. that TV series tittle 'Lie To Me' about deception also help a lot in understating eyes expression.

  17. Yes, the panther has to be from Yoshitaka Amano's Guin Saga.

  18. Number 1 the one I thought was Guarnido, jungle cats and whatnot.

    No clue on 2 and three, though both seem familiar.

    I'm with Dan on 4 being Sargent.

  19. Thanks so much for this post, very inspirational & helpful.

  20. I really enjoy the eye-spy eyes game that sprung out of this post! That's some interesting reference eye might have to lift. ;)

  21. Of COURSE eyes aren't white. Didn't they teach you that i--- oh, right. Art schools don't teach these things. At least they didn't when I was in school.

    Took me years to figure it out on my own. Grrrrr.....

    These are great, Justin. I can't imagine how long it took you to get them to all be so perfectly similar. Nice job!

  22. #1 is correct; it is Yoshitaka Amano. I really love his arrangements. And watercolorists, much like illustrators who work in ink(Like Toppi or Mignola here), often have a sort of shorthand for eyes and I always really like seeing the inventive ways they devise to tackle the problems they present.

    #2 Is actually the amazing Omar Rayyan, from his "Man with Gold Earing" oil painting. The eyes in it are remarkable.

    #3 Is of Shishkin by Ivan Kramsoki. This is a very obscure one, but I really like his treatment here. His 1867 Self Portrait is also a very interesting piece.

    #4 This one was tricky because the brushwork looks just like Sargent's. It's actually J. C. Leyendecker's cover for Collier's magazine, "Vacation."

  23. Every single one of those is a forehead slapper.
    When you say them, it's like "How could I forget that!"
    Especially JC... I even pictured her whole upper body in my mind, and was still convinced it was Sargent.

    The Omar one is amazing.
    That one would've taken me forever to place.

  24. The JC one totally threw me. That painting is among the more smooth, I guess, less Leyendecker'ed images. I expect that intentional staggered and aligned brush stroke. Nice choice.

    And now I have a couple other artists to keep an (ahem) eye on.

  25. It's always a pleasure to follow your instructive and entertaining posts Justin. Thanks so much for this one!

  26. All I want to know is third row, first picture. WHO??? Must...study. :)

  27. This is so awesome! What is that piece, 4th row 7th down?

  28. d_flam, Bouguereau!

    Corina, Jon Foster!