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Eye Movement In Art: 3 Simple Ways to Keep Your Viewer Interested In Your Painting

eye movement
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The longer a viewer is drawn to look at your painting, the more eye movement in art you can create, the more interesting that painting is to them. One measure of the quality of a painting is how long you can keep the viewer looking at it, by encouraging eye movement in your artwork.

Your goal is to keep the viewer’s interest by keeping their eye movement all over your artwork, while at the same time preventing the eye leaving the painting, or getting trapped in one spot. Getting viewers to be interested in your art is not easy, but here are a few simple ways you can promote visual interest through eye movement.

How do I create eye movement in art?

eye movement

One of the easiest ways to create eye movement in art, is to provide a pathway in the composition for the eye to follow.

The pathway can be created using:

  • color
  • brushwork and visual lines
  • patterns of lights and darks

How can I use color to create eye movement in art?

The easiest way of creating eye movement in art is to repeat a specific color throughout the canvas. The viewer’s eye bounces from one color spot to another in the painting, and in the process ends up looking at all of the painting surface.

California Art Club Gold Medal Exhibition Award Winning Painting: Maya 16x16in (40x40cm)
California Art Club Gold Medal Exhibition Award Winning Painting: Maya 16x16in (40x40cm)

In the painting of Maya I used the color red to make the eye movement bounce around the painting.

  • The folds of the skirt are painted in saturated color to direct the eye.
  • The red in the pattern of the chair is picked out.
  • Red color spots are repeated in the features, particularly in the lips and ear.
  • There are red brushstrokes in the background.
  • Even the signature, in cadmium red light, becomes part of the design.
Eye movement in Art

How can I use brushwork to create eye movement in art?

Xinchang Peach Blossoms, by Barry John Raybould, 40cm x 50cm, Oil on Canvas, 2018

A method of increasing eye movement in art is to use your brushwork to reinforce the composition and direct the eye where you want it to land. You can add a perspective line, such as a path moving into the distance, or the graceful curve of a tree.

Eye movement in Painting
Telluride History

In this painting you can see how I used long, thick brushstrokes in the foreground to lead the eye movement into the painting and toward the focal area.

How can I use lights and darks to create eye movement?

eye movement brushwork

Sprinkle dark and/or very light areas around your painting to promote eye movement in art and keep your painting interesting.

For example, if you sprinkle areas of darks and lights in your painting, it encourages the eye to jump from one to the other so they notice more things in your composition.

In this painting of the flowers in my garden, I used areas of light paint on top of a darker background, to keep the eye movement flowing around the art. This is a principle in notan design called spotting. If you squint at the picture, which reduces the design of the painting to a simpler black and white pattern, you can see more clearly this underlying notan design. At its simplest, it consists of two values – a middle gray and a series of light shapes.

eye movement

Saccades

In reality, the movement of the eye around a scene such as a painting is far more complex than this. The pattern of eye movement described in many art books is overly simplified, if not actually not true. What really happens is that both eyes move in a series of quick, simultaneous movements between phases of fixation in the same direction on a particular part of the scene.

Humans and many other animals do not look at a scene in a steady way; instead, the eyes move around, finding interesting parts of the scene and building up a three-dimensional ‘mental map’ of the scene.

When scanning a painting, human eyes make these saccadic movements and stop several times, moving quickly between each pause. The eyes move as fast as they are able between the stops, and this speed cannot be controlled. 

One reason for the saccadic movement of the human eye is that the central part of the retina—known as the fovea—which provides the high-resolution and color part of vision is very small in humans. The central area is only about 1–2 degrees of vision, but is very important for recognizing objects. Using this type of movement, the eyes can scan small but important parts of a scene more efficiently and with greater resolution.

Typically the eyes will fixate on parts of the scene that hold greater significance for humans. For example an image of a human. This is quite difficult to predict, but can now be measured using certain specialized devices for tracking eye movements.

Thank You

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Please feel free to share it with friends. If you are interested in a structured approach for learning how to paint, take a look at my online painting classes.

Happy painting!

Barry John Raybould
Virtual Art Academy

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