“Eyes are the window to the soul”
Unspoken in brush strokes
Charlie, Mary Sparrow, 2021
Without hesitation, Mary will tell you that Charlie is her heart. His beautiful brown eyes are reflection pools that exude profound wisdom, self-assurance, and loyalty. Charlie will stare at you silently, but the message is clear: his eyes say, "I love you.” His eyes are the window to his soul.
Most of you who are reading this probably have a special furry companion at home who looks at you with the same adoring gaze that Charlie has for Mary, so it's a fair bet that you understand precisely what I'm describing. These are special moments. They are personal moments. They are the moments that accrue in a way that is immeasurable and ultimately result in overwhelming heartache when they cross over.
First and foremost, Mary is a portrait artist. Inspired by the work of John Singer Sargent, Mary’s greatest and most rewarding challenge is creating life-size portraits for her clients. Each portrait is created over the course of several weeks or months, and each portrait is original and one of a kind work of art that simply cannot be replicated. The most subtle brush strokes can make a massive difference in the look of the portrait and determine success or failure. There is no middle ground.
Clients frequently compliment Mary on her ability to paint eyes, with the most common compliment being that the eyes perfectly capture the personality of the individual. We’ve all seen portraits where the subject seems to have a blank stare or is looking at something off the canvas. Then there are portraits where the eyes are penetrating and alive and seem to follow you around the room. If you know the person in the portrait, you’re likely to comment that it’s almost as if they are present in the room. Mary is adept at creating expressive eyes for both people and animals, which brings us to the next part of our story.
When Mary launched her Mary Sparrow Fine Art Facebook page in 2012, months passed with just a few hundred followers. Mary would post daily, mostly images of her dog and cat portraiture; however, growth was slow. Resistant to running advertisements on Facebook, Mary decided to spend only one dollar a day in an effort to promote her work.
Her advertising spend did result in an increase in followers, but it was very slow as her numbers grew from a few hundred to just over a thousand in the following months. We would often debate what thumbnail images—a dog or a cat, a particular breed of dog, etc.—she should include with the advertisement. No matter what image she would post with the advertisement, growth remained slow until we stumbled across the idea that the thumbnail images needed to focus on the eyes.
After months of running dollar-a-day advertisements on Facebook and having about 1,500 followers, Mary used an image of a West Highland Terrier, Zoe, that she painted for a family in Texas. The portrait was a large 36" by 48" painting of the Zoe’s face, with the eyes dominating the canvas.
Zoe, Mary Sparrow, 2012
Zoe's eyes and all their personality were vividly apparent despite being reduced to a tiny, square thumbnail. Upon posting the advertisement with only one dollar spent, the results were immediate. Her fan base started to increase by several hundred per day. Soon Mary's Facebook page reached 5,000 fans, and she was adding about 1,000 new followers per week. The rampage continued for the remainder of that year and eventually slowed. As of this writing, her page has over 164,000 followers.
The takeaway from using Zoe’s painting is that people are attracted to and tend to focus on eyes, whether from another person or an animal. In its most basic form, it is a way of connecting to each other on a deeper level. As trivial as a thumbnail on an advertisement may seem, you have to question whether Zoe's eyes were the catalyst for the sudden boost in followers on Mary’s Facebook page.
Mary continues to post nearly every day and is continuing to run her dollar-a-day advertising campaign. The majority of her posts feature dog art in support of her large following of dog lovers. In addition, Mary posts images of her other evolving projects that she is developing, such as her Floral Art and Landscape Art, jewelry, and 3D-sculpted wall panels. I'll be writing about Mary's initiatives as well as her inspirations and driving forces in the months ahead. Until then, thank you for reading, and please like and share so others can join along on this journey.