Pick an Eye and Stick With It

Article by Darren Rousar. Most recently updated in September of 2019.

sargent-mugging-1918

Most people see in stereo. But for representational artists, that is not always a good thing. Why? Because stereo vision gives you two visual points of view. And since your paper is flat, seeing both can be problematic. Better is to pick an eye and stick with it.

Stereo vision is no doubt a biological gift. It’s what helps us to easily negotiate stairs, doorways, and even setting a glass of water onto a nearby table. Without both eyes, the main cue for depth perception disappears. Our brain then has to rely on edge, value, and movement to perceive depth.

two-eye-view

Take a look at the pair of photographs above. Can you notice the differences between them?

The left-hand image is what you would see if you only used your right eye while looking at the actual cast. The right-hand image is what you would see if you only used your left eye.

Why the difference? Because the distance between the center of your pupils (called the pupillary distance) is roughly a couple of inches apart. Hence, the two points of view. It is that distance, as well as slightly divergent focus points, that provides us with our primary sense of visual depth.

For an artist, stereo vision can be hindrance. In fact, those without the ability to focus in stereo may well be gifted in their own way precisely because their primary means to determine depth disappears. They may find it easier to pay attention to the other cues.

guercino-crop

Giovanni Francesco Barbieri was a contemporary of Rubens, van Dyck, and Velazquez. He is more well known as Guercino, which is Italian for squinter. As you can see above, he was cross-eyed. The legend is that his cross-eyed appearance was somehow due to an inattentive nursemaid. Apparently, when she left him alone while he was sleeping, a loud noise startled him awake and the fright caused one of his eyes to fix at an angle in its socket.

Whether the incident was true or not, the fact is that Guercino could only focus out of one eye at a time. He did not consider this to be a handicap, however. Quite the contrary, in fact.

On bad days, he thought of his condition as a minor inconvenience. On good ones, it distinguished him from the competition and became a trademark that, rumor had it, aided his concentration when drawing from life and translating his pen-and-ink studies into dramatic paintings and action-packed, ceiling-spanning frescoes.

From Guercino: Mind To Paper

rembrandt-self-portrait

Some claim that Rembrandt was stereo-blind as well.

Margaret S. Livingstone, Ph.D., author of the fascinating book, Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing, has concluded that he was. Her contention is based upon measurements that she and a colleague, Bevil R. Conway, Ph.D., made of the positions of Rembrandt’s eyes in all 36 of his self portraits. Apparently the vast majority show his right eye looking straight on and the left diverging outward.

Traditionally-trained art students have long been advised to close one eye when looking at their source. Closing one eye effectively blocks stereo vision and helps the artist to view their three-dimensional subject closer in appearance to what the artwork will eventually look like.

This action may also help the artist look a little more carefully, since the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional paper or canvas surface is just that, an illusion.

So, if you’re supposed to close one eye when drawing or painting, how do you know which eye to close?

While there are ways to determine which of your eyes is dominant, I have my students wink at me. Whichever eye they automatically close in order to wink is the one they will find the easiest to close when drawing.

steps-to-seeing-cta-2021

GET YOUR FREE GUIDE

And begin learning how to draw what you see today!
.

Your privacy is as important to me as is my own. I'll never give out your information and you can unsubscribe anytime through the link at the bottom of all my emails to you. Still not sure? See the site's privacy policy.

After your Free Guide arrives you can expect more free content!

The Sight-Size Cast banner.

Learn Sight-Size cast drawing through the
full-length book,
The Sight-Size Cast!

Learning how to accurately see, as well as draw, is best done through Sight-Size cast drawing. Ateliers exist worldwide to help you do that. But what if you cannot afford atelier training, or there is not an atelier nearby? Or, perhaps you are already in an atelier and would like to supplement that training?

You can learn how to see through Sight-Size, or enhance what you already know with Darren R. Rousar's book The Sight-Size Cast.