Many of my works have specific meaning behind them– some are social commentaries, some are illustrations of possible worlds or realities, others are meant to encourage the viewer to appreciate something normally overlooked.
This one…well, it’s a literal interpretation of a pun.
Yes… that’s it.
It begins with this piece I made in pencil in 2017, before I began my foray into the world of oil pastel.
Prompted by an eye-themed local art show this month, I’m not reworking this pencil piece–I’m starting from scratch in oil pastel. I worked to the best of my ability at that time, but with five more years of skill development and practice, I’m fairly confident I can improve on it this time around.
I’ll first both take and find a large collection of reference photos, which I combine into a collage in an editing program, and then have printed at a local office supply. Next, I select my frame and mat. I have a beautiful oak frame in the right dimensions which I will recondition. The accompanying mat will be painted for a complementary look, then I’ll attach acid-free spacers to raise it away from touching the work.
I trace the dimensions of the inner part of the mat plus 1/4″ onto my “canvas” of toned matboard. Next, I’ll sketch in the eye. I’ve decided on a slightly different position than was used in the original.
On to the color stage. I work from the outside in with a limited palette–a dusty pink, a rust-brown, very deep burgundy for shadows, and a small bit of cool pale grey for highlights.
I’ve got less experience working with cool lighting, but the cool lighting in this piece means I’ll be learning a lot more about rendering warm shadows. Despite this challenge, the texture of the skin is a blast to paint. Next is the sclera (the off-white area surrounding the iris), which is stretched out in a Dali-esque mid-drip. For the iris color, I’ll use a blue-grey similar to the original piece.
Eyes are both fun and frustrating to paint. Despite their small size, the tiny muscles and the way light scatters across the iris make for a whole world of beautiful, impossibly complex detail. What we typically observe about perspective and color is also distorted in an eye. The “whites” aren’t perfectly white. The clear dome-shape over the pupil, much like a glass paperweight, means the placement of the iris appears to move depending on your perspective. Light that highlights one side of the iris, scatters and illuminates the opposite side.
Even a “blue” eye isn’t always solid-blue up close–many eyes bear freckles of different hues.
Once I reach the iris section, my method of color application more closely resembles oil painting (with a rubber brush) than coloring with a crayon.
With Winter approaching, the light of the day fades quickly and early. I do much of my work up close by my small full-spectrum desk lamp. This stage seems to stretch on forever. Once I’m finally ok with the look of the iris and pupil, I am able to paint in the “eye-drop” toward the bottom of the piece very quickly.
Eye-drop close-up is shown here after I applied the skin texture. The edge of a pencil eraser works beautifully for blending more precisely, provided I move in only one direction or use it over very thickly applied pastel. As a side effect, it seems to also slightly lighten the colors and remove some oily shine, making it ideal for putting highlights on skin.
Contrasting with the fussiness of the eye-painting stage, putting in the skin texture around it is almost effortlessly fun. I simply scribble back and forth around the eye in pink and brown pastels, layering them, then smearing and blending with my fingers.
I’m now nearly finished with the work, and on to my favorite stage of deepening shadows and brightening highlights. I don’t want a shine on this piece, so I go over some of the glossier areas gently dabbing (not smearing) with my fingers to impart their texture.
The piece was dropped off for a local display as soon as its completion. It will not be glassed in, so this will be an experiment in the oil pastel’s durability.
I won’t lie, the original in pencil was definitely less finicky (or maybe I was?). However, I enjoyed the challenge of re-creating it in this oily medium. Next time I tackle subject this detailed, I may save myself some time obsessing, and work with a looser more painterly hand, or perhaps create the work in a larger size to allow room for inserting smaller pastel-strokes.
Upon completion, I was happy to see my growth and progress as an artist displayed in a concrete way. Once again, though it isn’t 100% what I would have liked, I worked to the best of my ability which has improved visibly over the past few years.
Creatives, I highly recommend re-doing a work from earlier in your artistic journey. I think you’ll be encouraged by the experience.