Quiet Eye For Artists

Draw & Paint Better Faster

Quiet Eye For Artists

Can Quiet Eye Training Help You Draw & Paint Better?

I believe the Quiet Eye technique can help you draw and paint better.

What is the Quiet Eye technique?

The Quiet Eye technique is an eye training theory developed by researcher Joan Vickers. It involves training the way you gaze at your subject.

By training your gaze, you may be able to improve your accuracy. It has been tested in a number of fields from sports to surgery.

Researchers have tracked the eye movements of amateurs vs. masters in fields requiring accuracy in motor skills. They found consistent differences between the gaze patterns.

Training an amateur to mirror the gaze patterns of an elite performer significantly improved accuracy.

Drawing and painting obviously require accuracy in motor skills.

I'd like to sum up for you what I've learned about Quiet Eye training and suggest how you might use it to draw better or paint better.

Our eyes naturally scan our environment. When you look at a target, in our case, the subject we are drawing or painting, the eyes don't rest on a single spot. The eyes jump around a bit, scanning for details.

Think of each jump as a blind spot. When the eye jumps, there is a tiny gap in the information your eye is taking in or processing.

These eye jumps or eye movements are called saccades.

Seeing is like breathing in that it's automatic. By noticing and becoming aware of our eye movements, we can increase the amount of information that our eyes provide.

“When your eyes provide the data, your motor system just knows what to do,” says Joan Vickers, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Calgary and the originator of the quiet-eye theory.

Saccades, how to feel a saccade.

Saccades are eye movements. You can feel these movements.

Close one eye. Place your finger gently over the closed eye so you can feel any eye movement through your closed eyelid. Slowly look around your environment with the other eye. Let your open eye travel from one object to another.

Can you feel the jumps? Your finger should be able to feel the movements of your closed eye.

If eye saccades create gaps in the information our eyes are taking in, reducing the number of jumps should increase visual information.

The key to Quiet Eye is to become aware of these eye movements or jumps and reduce the number as you gaze at your subject or target.

You can do this by relaxing your eye as you gaze at your target. Find a specific spot to focus on and try to hold your gaze on that spot for a duration of 3-11 seconds. Try to minimize the jumps.

Counting the jumps as you feel them can help you practice. Challenge yourself to reduce the number of jumps over time.

Visual Processing

When we look at something, our eyes are taking in visual information. The information is then processed by our brain or motor system.

When drawing or painting, we're analyzing the size, shape, color, and value of an object. When painting realistic, the color and value can change every quarter inch or so as we move across a subject.

By learning to control your gaze, and stay locked on the target, you're giving your brain a better chance of analyzing the visual information. More visual information helps you determine the shape, color, and value to lay down on your paper or canvas.

Research by psychologists Daniel Lee, Joshua Susskind, and Adam Anderson suggests that opening the eyes wide, with more iris and sclera showing, may improve a persons ability to perform a perceptual cognitive task.

How we open our eyes and control our gaze may improve our ability to gather and process visual information.

Amateur Eye vs Elite Eye

Researchers tracked the eye movements of amateurs and professionals from a number of fields like sports, military, medical, etc. They used eye trackers to record the movement of the subject's eyes as they performed their activity of expertise.

Here's a summary of what they found.

When amateurs gaze at a subject, the eye focuses on the general area, but jumps around a bit. They eye hops from point to point. You might say it is scanning the target and the area surrounding the target.

When they tracked the eye of elite performers, their eyes stayed locked on the target, even when objects in their peripheral vision moved.

Masters of the craft were able to ignore the movement and remain focused on the target. They could see the movement in their peripheral vision, they just didn't let it distract them from the task at hand.

As an artist, here's how you can practice the Quiet Eye technique.

Practice noticing how your eyes jump as you gaze at the model or subject. Relax your eye and hold your gaze on a specific spot on the subject.

Look longer to see more. Increase your visual processing time by holding your gaze on your subject for 3-11 seconds before returning your eyes to your paper or canvas.

Repeat this each time you look at your model or subject. Continue through your entire painting or drawing session. Do this session after session until you seal it in as a new habit.

The objective is to slow down, control your gaze and allow information to pass through your eyes and land on the fovea.

When I'm drawing from life, I try to remember to hold my gaze on my subject for at least 3 seconds. Then I move my eyes to my paper and make a mark. Then return my gaze for another 3 seconds and repeat.

It can be difficult to remember. Seeing is something that comes so naturally, it takes a heightened sense of awareness to adjust how we do it.

As any artist knows, there is a lot going on when drawing or painting. This process may take time but I know you can do it.

I believe that increasing your awareness can help you see like an artist.

Do this over time unto you build a habit. My hypothesis is that Quiet Eye training can help you draw and paint better.


Look longer to draw and paint better. I believe you can use the quiet eye technique to draw and paint better. Learn to feel your eye movements. Recognize what saccades or eye movements feel like. Practice relaxing your eye and controlling your gaze.

When painting, count the number of eye jumps you feel as you gaze at your subject. Over time, try to reduce the number of jumps to take in more visual information.

I believe that practicing the Quiet Eye can be a flow trigger. If you're interested in increasing your ability to get into a flow state, I suggest you give it a try.

Recommended reading:

Perception, Cognition, and Decision Training: The Quiet Eye in Action First Edition by Joan Vickers

Social Transmission Of The Sensory Benefits Of Eye Widening In Fear Expressions by Daniel H Lee 1, Joshua M Susskind, Adam K Anderson https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23620549/"

Author: Sonia Reeder-Jones