Blog / 2008 / Eye Like You.

November 3, 2008

When a person is interested in something or someone, their pupils dilate. I discovered this fact somewhere along the way in my research about body language and the way that faces work. Once I found out about it, I started to see it everywhere: in the people I like most as well as in fashion magazine faces and billboard models.

As it turns out, ad agencies have long capitalized on this quirk of human perception. They understand that if a person is attracted to an object or another person that they are looking at, that person becomes more appealing to observers. The engaged person is the engaging one, so people are more inviting-looking when their pupils are larger.

And even though I prefer not to associate myself with advertisers, I started using this method of enhancing pupils in my portrait painting process.

pupils in a portrait
reference photo for and detail image of Stephanie

The source photo I chose for this portrait has Stephanie looking directly out the window. As you can see in the detail of the picture above, her pupils are small and less inviting than they might be due to the bright light she is facing. I corrected her pupils in the portrait, making a painting that might not be exactly true to the moment of our interview but which reflects more fully who Stephanie is.

pupils in a portrait
reference photo for and detail image of Kristin

Because of the contrast between the pupil and the iris, lighter colored eyes like Kristin’s are easier to read. This can be an asset when you want to communicate your feeling, but it’s more often a liability. It gives rise to unflattering descriptions about eyes being “icy blue” and “steely grey.”

pupils in a portrait
reference photo for and detail image of Jimmy

Darker colored eyes like Jimmy’s tend to have an overall warmer feel to them, because there’s less of a contrast between the pupil and the iris. With darker eyes, pupil size may only be noticeable to intimates who can get away with looking deep into a person’s eyes.

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