An Eye in 5 Steps

My sister’s visiting from Toronto so I decided to spend some quality time oil painting with her. She’s never used oils before, and I’m always keen to get people to try it since I’m a huge fan of the medium myself.

Robyn with her first ever oil painting in progress behind her.

While she was doing her own splendid thing, I in turn decided to try something a little different. I’ve been consistently unhappy with how much I tend to overwork my pieces, and so decided to design a rougher project – basically leave some blank canvas, since I love seeing the raw material from underneath.

I also decided to do a close crop. I remember my art teacher in Cheongju recommend us try an unusual framing when we paint – usually one wherein the subject breaks out of said frame. This increases the tension and interest of the piece. At the time, I chose a pair of scissors and enjoyed the effect very much.

“The Tension of Scissors”, acrylic on board from my Cheongju art class.

This time, I decided to zoom into a portrait and do only an eye and nose. I crossed my fingers this would create the tension and interest he spoke of.

So, in five steps, this is the creation of my painting.

Step #1: Blocking Out the Space

Step #1: Blocking out the space.

As always, the first and most important step is in determining your proportions and carving out the space you’re going to work with. Getting this done in the beginning is good to make sure mistakes aren’t made later where stuff suddenly doesn’t align or is hideously off centre. Plus you can just keep going over and over and over with oils: they are completely opaque and therefore corrections are easy.

Step #2: Blocking Out Colour Zones

Step #2: Blocking out colour zones.

Here I worked with blocky, bold colours. Most were fully mixed without much tonal variance, but that’s okay. You want it simple in the beginning so you can layer after. It’s much easier to add details on a clean palette rather than a chaotic one.

Step #3: Working In Details

Step #3: Pulling colour away from the centre of focus.

Now to fill in the rest of the spaces I want to use which includes the eye as well as pulling colour into the blank areas of the canvas. In this case, I wanted to keep a rough minimalist impressionism, so I kept a good deal of the canvas blank, only adding a bit at a time.

Step #4: Working In the Details

Step #4: Working in the details.

Once most everything is in place, it’s time to focus on the details. The tones, values, shapes. In particular I focused on the nose, which although I wanted to keep understated, still needed to hold its own in the piece. The same with the colour detail in the iris.

Step #5: Finishing Up

Step #5: Finishing up.

The trickiest part of minimalism is knowing when to stop. But this time around, I think I met my goal with flying colours. I’m really happy with how it turned out. Rather than overwork it and fill out the image to the edges of the canvas, I think I stopped at exactly the right place – at least for my taste.

As ever, I’m happy to hear what you think!

8 thoughts on “An Eye in 5 Steps

  1. Seeing your piece for the first time some 3-5 feet away I could not help being drawn into it. I kept looking and looking and getting closer and closer. I began seeing the parts but not the whole at first. Then standing back some 10-15 feet the form suddenly jumped out and saw your piece from Step #1 & #2. Much to my amazement the next day looking at it from some 25-30 feet away through a window it revealed itself in a totally different manner. For the first time I saw a 3 dimensional image and I asked you how you could possibly create that technique while painting at arm’s length. Very clever.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So long as you’re true to the piece on the small scale, it’ll hold true from any perspective 🙂 at least that’s what I’ve tried and tested so far


  2. I was truly surprised at Robyn’s finished portrait. To borrow a familiar phrase . . . I was speechless. The tiling surrounding the subject was so unique. I don’t ever recall seeing that before in a painting. Robyn’s talent for art has come to fruition and has jumped light years in such a short time. Don’t stop. Please.

    Liked by 1 person

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