Hey Teagan, I love your work, especially everything fox-related! May I ask why the displayed animals have empty eyes?
Everyone interprets the empty eyes a little differently, and that’s exciting to me! A big part of why I sometimes don’t paint in eyes is to get people to pause, question, and reconsider what they’re looking at, so whatever your reaction to them, it is totally valid and I want you to have that personal experience rather than defer to whatever I say it means.
From a creative standpoint there are a few reasons the empty eyes interest me.
First and foremost it takes the animals outside the realm of the literal and distances the work from being interpreted as a straightforward nature illustration. That’s always a major goal for me because my gallery work is inspired by personal experiences with wildlife which are often tragic and sorrowful and guilt-ridden, and I pour a lot of metaphor and philosophy about the natural world into what I make. It’s sad to me if someone’s experience with a piece doesn’t extend beyond “this is a painting of a blue jay” to engage with themes of life/death cycles, mortality, environmental stewardship, deep ecology, etc.
I also think about most of the animals I paint as totems or surrogates for a larger population or theme, less than as individuals or characters. Eyes convey so much emotion and individual identity, and in removing them, I feel that the animal can more effectively be a stand in for lots of others.
Personally I feel that empty eyes also make the animals slightly spooky or unnerving. Maybe they are a ghost/spirit, or maybe they are dead and their soul has left their body (if you’ve ever looked closely at a dead or dying creature, you’ll know that their eyes look dull, blank, or foggy), or maybe they are possessed, rabid, in shock (tharn?!), in fight-or-flight mode, or are in some other altered state of consciousness. So it’s also this sort of cryptic, open-ended narrative device. I like adding something a bit disconcerting to my pieces because when I used to always paint the eyes in, the majority of people didn’t realize that many of the animals I painted were dead/dying, and just thought the work was cute or pretty – a little bit of creepiness helps people second-guess their interpretation.
And finally, it’s sometimes just an aesthetic or compositional choice! I don’t always-always leave out the eyes, and it’s not necessarily something I’ll do forever. (And I hardly invented the idea, so many contemporary artists use blank eyes, like Natalie Hall or Sam Wolfe Connelly or João Ruas.) I make the decision based on what feels right for the individual piece of art. In my recent fox painting, I waited until the VERY end before deciding what to do with the rabbit eyes – whether they should be blank/paper color, realistically rendered, or the flat midtone I ended up with. I actually scanned in the finished piece and mocked up the different options in Photoshop to help me decide! Conceptually I wanted them to feel very blank because they’re ghosts/spirits, but compositionally it worked better to use a dark eye to direct your eye around the page, so I went with the middle ground.
Something to take a break from commissions. Subject: my character from The Elder Scrolls: Online (I have too many omg and I wish I could draw them all)
Xavryel is a High Elf Sorcer/Healer. Athletic but not so tall as most of his people. He’s a pretty nice guy to anyone who respect him as well. Member
of the Mages Guild, wears a mix of heavy/light armor. He felt in love
with the Dominion Queen, Ayrenn, but he knows that’s impossible to
happen, and that makes him always sad when she’s around. Abnur Tharn is his best friend and he got a little fox as pet.