Monday, May 14, 2007

Vanderpoel on Eyes

I have read so many books about anatomy that I should be an expert in the subject by now. Unfortunately my mind is not geared that way and very little of it sticks with me for very long. Years ago, a friend introduced me to "The Human Figure" by J. H. Vanderpoel. It is probably my favorite book ever on the subject. It is pretty short and contains a lot of great information that I don't think I've ever seen anywhere else. The Dover edition is available for a very reasonable $6.95 from

That said, another friend recently pointed out to me that the Dover reprint doesn't contain all the plates of the original, and that the plates in the Dover book are pretty poor reproductions compared to those visible in the first printings. So, of course, I had to go and locate a copy of one of the earlier printings to see what my friend was talking about. I found one for $30 and it's a third edition from 1907. Of course my friend was right! It's a spectacular book, no doubt about it. I am going to start reading it all over again and be amazed at how much I have forgotten.

A word of caution, though - don't take my word for it. everyone has a different opinion of what makes a good anatomy book and there are many to choose from. I wouldn't want anyone to spend a lot of money to find a copy and then be disappointed. Check out the Dover edition if you can at your local bookstore or library and see if Vanderpoel "floats your boats", so to speak.

Anyway, his first chapter is all about eyes, which should tell you how important it is to learn how to draw eyes well. I won't belabor the point, we've all heard over and over why learning to draw the eyes well is so important. Even though there has been so much written about drawing eyes, this book really blows me away with fresh insights on the subject, so I will scan the chapter for you to peruse. I know it's daunting to read all that tiny looking text but click on the page to read it at a bigger size. In all honesty, the language he uses reflects the time in which it was written and I frequently have to read a sentence a few times to glean his meaning. In any case, I will pick out some key points to type below for those of you who just want the high points. If you read none of this at all, at least check out his diagrams on eyes. They are scanned at a high resolution so you can get a good look at them. They are meticulously thought out and executed. Looking at them makes me think I should print them out and post them over my desk at work.

Below are some of his more helpful points. I used ellipses to indicate where I skipped over some of his writing, and I added my own clarifications in parantheses. I included the page numbers that the excerpts came from because sometimes he has diagrams in the margins to explain his text.

From page 19:

The eye, or any part of the human figure, no matter how well understood, must, to be of any value to the whole, be truly placed and bear a true relation to the larger planes.

The (eye) sockets are somewhat rectangular in form, and descend slightly from the nose outward; this drooping effect in the skull is counteracted in the living model by the eyebrows as they rise from their origin to the outside of the socket.

From page 20:

A plane formed not unlike a keystone, facing slightly downward and similar in direction to the orbital plane, descends from the center of the frontal bone, connecting the forehead with the nose and separating the eye sockets (here he is referring to the glabella).
The eyebrows originate at the sides of this keystone, and together mark the lower boundary of the plane of the forehead. Rising, in part from underneath the frontal bone and where it is heaviest, the eyebrow travels outward and a trifle upward, diminishing in width until at the approach of the temple it turns upon the outside of the bone, following the arch along the temporal border of the orbit to its termination.

From page 21:

(the orbicular muscle above the eye and below the eyebrow leaves a gap between the eyeball and nose - this is the best illustration I could find online of the eye muscles). This (gap) is indicated by a triangular shape of shadow on each side of the junction of the nose, when the head is...lighted from above.

The upper lid rises abruptly from the inner corner, and sweeps with graceful curve over the spherical form of the eyeball to the outer corner, while the lower lid starts continuously with the direction of the lower border of the corner, curving but slightly until it sweeps upward to the upper lid, which overlaps it.The inner corner of the eye is farther forward than the outer, so that a section of the exposed portion of the eyeball from corner to corner would slope backward from the center of the face; this enables the eye to swing sideways for observation without turning the head. The outer corner is also somewhat higher than the inner.

The upper lid is thicker than the lower, as it must be to support the heavy lashes...the thickness of the upper lid and weight of lashes have much to do with giving depth and mystery to the eye through their shading.

From page 25:

Note the apparent difference in the outer corners as the lids come together, the corner of the nearer eye being quite angular, whereas in the corner of the farther eye, the lids together describe the convexity of the ball perfectly.

Note, too, the tendency of the cornea to raise that part of the upper lid under which it rests.

The great thickness of the upper lid fringed with its heavy lashes shades the upper part of the iris and gives added depth and beauty to it.

From page 27:

The lower lid, beyond a slight capacity for bilateral and downward contraction, plays but a slight part in recording movements of the eye, while the upper lid responds and accommodates itself to every action and consequently is a great factor in expression.

(When the eye is looking up) the folded upper lid (presses) against the obicular muscle in its endeavor to keep the vision clear.

From page 28:

(When looking down) the lower lid contracts so that the upper lid overhangs it considerably.

Click to see these much bigger.

Everyone has a favorite book on anatomy and life drawing. This one happens to be one that I respond to, even as I find it difficult to wade through some of his dense writing. I hope that some of you will delve into the scans and read his writing for yourself; I have tried to pick out the most relevant parts for me but everyone will find different passages that speak to them so you may not respond to the same parts as I do.

I know that learning anatomy and structure are not inherently interesting to every artist and that's why I encourage you to keep searching for the books, teachers or methods that will make the subject palatable to you. Learning how things are put together are absolutely essential to drawing them well.

Back when I was at CalArts I happened to be watching "101 Dalmatians" and during the scene where Roger and Anita meet in the park I noticed that when Anita is casting her eyes down to read the book in her lap her eyes become downward curves, just like as if they were closed completely. I had always thought of eyes drawn like that as "closed" or "asleep" eyes. But in the context of the scene, it read clearly as "looking down (demurely) to read". It was absolutely the right choice and fit her feminine character perfectly. As soon as you see it you absolutely know that it's correct: when we look down or upper lid almost completely covers the eye. But I never would have realized that on my own. That's just one of the small things that Vanderpoel talks about that make me really appreciate him. And when you read a great tract on anatomy that points out subtleties, it increases your awareness and sensitivity to other subtleties of anatomy and how the smallest changes in our appearance and subtlest shifts in our expressions can convey a lot.

Anyway, I figure I'll post more of his chapters, but I'm not sure if it's doing any good for anybody. If you found this helpful, let me know in the comments, and if you didn't find it helpful let me know as well. Be honest, because it was a heck of a lot of work to scan (and pretty rough on the book binding) so if it's not helpful then let me know and save me the time and effort (although please don't leave comments telling me you'd prefer more posts about sketching...there will be more to come but this blog is about a lot of things, not just sketchbooks). If there are a lot of you who are really put off by the language in the text of these pages then maybe I could post all of his text but also take a stab at re-writing it for those who want it to be a little more reader-friendly (don't worry, I'll always provide all of his text as well for those who aren't keen on reading an idiot interpreting a genius).

Anyway, hope this is helpful to you.


pbcbstudios said...

"I just do EYES!!!"

- bladerunner

Tinker Bell said...

Wow! Great stuff! Thanks so much for posting it all.

Rafi said...

A very helpful post. I think the best way to learn is studying from many different styles and approachs (bridgeman, loomis, raynes etc..)

I would greatly appreciate further posts from the book, if you are willing and have the time.

antikewl said...

Superb, as ever! Thanks so much for posting (and scanning). :)

Stephen said...

Mark, it's uncanny. I was just looking at that book on amazon this morning. After reading your post on it, I'm sold. Reading his description of the eye is like reading poetry - in fact, I feel like the people on those Holiday Inn Express commercials. "I'm not an eye doctor, but I did read an excerpt from 'The Human Figure' by J. H. Vanderpoel this morning."

I think I found a better image that shows the orbicular muscles of the eyes, and you can actually see the triangular shape he's describing (C in the diagram shows the orbicular muscles).

I would really love it if you could post more of this book or if you could talk more about some of your other favorite books. Thanks a lot for posting this - I'm sure it was a lot of work for you.


Sam Nielson said...

I really like this post and the images from the book. Would it be possible to highlight the parts on the pages that you like rather than transcribe the text? That way I can read the context of the statements more easily.
I'm sure this was a ton of work, and thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting, that was very helpful. I really appreciate how you summed up his best points.

Brian said...

Thanks for sharing such good information.

Dave said...

Always helpful! Thank you!

Rupee said...

Great post, with defintely some good things to think about. (Oh and I've never commented before, but I follow your blog and I'm a Ringling animation student) I would say that if you did want to post more from this book that you help us interpret it. The pictures were good to look at and I paid much attention to your comments, but the idea of all that flowery language and reading all those scans is a daunting subject. So perhaps maybe you could help us translate again like you did in this one? Just letting you know, as you requested to know! :D

The Mighty Adam said...

Thank you for posting these scans! I know how time consuming that can be. Personally, I find things like this really, really helpful. Count my comment as a vote for "Please post more like this."

Rafi said...

Yet another excellent post! This blog is such an essential resource for me in my pursuit of better drawing skills!

Thanks very much for the scans and the breakdown of key points you wrote yourself help get my head around Vanderpoel's language. It's great to have both - so if you have the time, it would be great to read more posts like this with easier explanations from yourself.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for another wonderful post. It's a shame that Vanderpoel isn't mentioned the same way Loomis and Bridgeman are when it comes to learning. To anyone who hasn't picked up this book, do it asap. You won't be disappointed.

Another teacher that doesn’t get the recognition he deserves is Glen Viluppu (sp?). His teaching and style is very approachable for students at any level. To anyone interested, I highly recommend getting some of his anatomy DVDs and books. Some great stuff. (Though if you watch the movies, you might get freaked out by his hearing aid at first. After a while you get used to it.)

P.S. Would it be possible in the future if you discussed (or just mentioned some reading material) on how to get more 'action' or movement in your drawings? How do you make your drawing flow in its movement? What should you look for? Any tips to consider? Good/bad examples? (I hope I explained that right.) I’d like to hear what you have to say about that. If you can’t, I understand. But anyway, that’s for creating and maintaining this blog! It continues to be one of the bright spots on the Web.

c.tate said...

I'm one of those you spoke about, prone not to read much text in anatomy books, continually gleening what I can from their sketches. Thanks for your 'crib note' version... which gave me incentive to actually read my own books.

Randeep Katari said...

Hey Mr. Kennedy,
As always, I'm astounded at the amount of work you put into these posts for our benefit, thanks so much, these pages are awesome. Hope to talk to you soon.


Floyd Norman said...

Hey Mark,
Thanks for the insightful comment about "101 Dalmatians." Paying attention to things like that is what made Disney key clean-up guys and gals the best in the business.

As one who worked on the movie many years ago, it's cool to know people are still aware of these important things in good drawing.

Thomas Fluharty said...

once again mark im a better artist after visiting your site. made me pull out my vanderpol book and blow the dust off of it.always learning each visit. also loved the sketch posts. all the best my friend tom fluharty

Anonymous said...

this was a very "eye" opening post. thanks for all of your commentary and helpful hints. just started drawing/sketching and these posts provide a ton of help and inspiration to keep going.

Austin TX

kevin said...

It's a great book! Thanks for reminding me that I should look at it more often. It was one of many highly suggested books we get when at school in Chicago at the American Academy of Art.

Is your copy the hardcover Bridgeman publication?

L,Danté said...

cute a ducth name , me dutch and a lover of storybards , liked the sissy tart reading that book.
time to dive into your archives.

Skid said...

This is definitely helpful, thanks for all your hard work on putting these posts together!

mark kennedy said...

Thanks for all of the responses. I didn't realize how much time it would take to "re-interpret" Vanderpoel when I offered to do that. I really want to do that but be will take some time.

anonymous - yes, Glen V. is a great teacher. I've been wanting to check out his DVDs for a while. I will try to discuss the subject you are talking about in the future, that's a good topic to think about.

kevin - actually, no, it was published by the "inland publishing company" in Chicago...that's what it says, anyway!

Amblagar said...

very usefull!! the depth of the theme treated... it is very cool...even considering i just have readed a couple of lines, jaja

Julie Oakley said...

Thank you very much for all of your hard work. I really appreciate the effort you've gone to. I'm going to print off those pages and read them this weekend.

Will Finn said...

Hi Mark, great Vanderpoel posts! Thanks!

Thanks too for being among the very first to drop by my blog: "small room." I will continue as ever to hang around "the temple," always a must on my daily webcrawl.


Jazz said...


A very resourceful pal of mine showed me a link here, and I finally got the chance to read!

I'm also one who doesn't like reading a lot of text, but I took the time to look through your entry. It was very helpful, indeed! I even tried drawing out a couple of eyes just to get an idea of what the author was talking about! They look more like eyes than the ones I drew before reading this!

Thanks for sharing, and taking the time to scan and put up text for us!

Adrian Hogan said...

Man, what an insightful book. Thanks for the scanning the pages so large! If it's less painful for you in the future I don't mind if you just post the pages in raw form.

Something I've been having some difficulty is understanding lately is the way the mouth works. Does Vanderpoel have anything to say on the construction of the mouth and it's muscles?

Thanks again for all your great posts, I've learnt a lot from them and always come away inspired.

Ian M said...

honestly, if you're book can't handle it, I'd say don't stress ot more than neccessary. It IS a bit of a hard read. It is useful, and it has helped me some, but it is very dense and some of it I had to read multiple times just to sort of grab the point.

It helped me, but not to the point that you should destroy your personal belongings, I guess is my stance.

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff about your eyes:)

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