A while back, Pengo asked if I might write something about eyes. I've been procrastinating on that, because, well, eyes have been pretty well covered and it's not that easy to find illustrations for the few points I have to make. But I do have a few things to say about eyes that I haven't read already elsewhere. Here are the less important points:
1. Point of Focus - or lack of it. In humans, both eyes tend to look at the same thing. We are very good at reading what a person is looking at - from a straightforward look at something in the far distance, to a cross-eyed look at something close to the person.
Imagine two dotted lines extending forward from the eyes. Each eye is aimed down its own line. It is natural for the lines to be parallel (looking straight ahead into the distance), and it is natural for them to converge (some degree of cross-eye). There is no natural circumstance where the lines diverge.
However, there is a strong emotional content to such a representation. It is not an inward look: it is a defocused outward look. It virtually always reads as if the person's soul had been crushed by some circumstance or suffering, leaving them not introspective but vacant. It is a tremendously powerful configuration of the eyes if portrayed properly. I first became aware of it when I saw the poster for Julie Taymor's one good movie to date, Titus. The expression on Anthony Hopkins's face says it all, and I sat down at the time to figure out why:
The points of focus diverge. I came across this exceedingly rare depiction again recently, in a self-portrait by Israeli-Russian artist Yefim Ladizhinsky:
This is an effective tool to keep in your bag of tricks as a painter. And that's what I have to say about that.
2. Lower Lid Shape.
Artists give a lot of thought to the upper lid of the eye, because it is in the raising, lowering, and squinching of this lid that emotions are most directly expressed. To the extent we think about the lower eyelid at all, we are accustomed to thinking of it as a circle arc symmetric about the horizontal midpoint of the eye. This is almost never true. In most caucasians (and let's face it, most of what I know is about caucasians) there is a slight dip downward toward the inner corner:
After a little messing around with things that don't work, most artists also eventually figure out this shape, and apply it without further individuation to all eyes. Bad idea, artists!
I first became conscious of the reverse configuration when I was trying to figure out why Sarah Michelle Gellar had strangely emotional eyes. Check her out:
That's right, my friends. Her lower lids curve down to their lowest points farther to the sides of her head than that axis of symmetry. This makes her look very emotional, pretty much all the time. I have a hypothesis about this too.
Because the lowest points in her lower lids are not where we expect them to be, we have a preconscious impression that something is actively weighing them down. And what's the one thing that usually weighs eyelids down? Tears. Therefore, we have a vague impression that her lower lids are always brimming with tears. Of course, on Buffy, they usually are. But even when they aren't, we think they are.
This lower lid shape is fairly rare, but people who have this shape have an unusual emotional intensity to their eyes. Most artists don't know to depict this shape because even when they are looking at it, they don't see past the stereotyped eye-shape template in their minds. Well, except for the artists who draw Buffy comics:
Sooner or later, most of them figure it out.