Exhibit One

About a month ago, I saw a film called “Big Eyes” about Margaret Keane, an American painter in the 1960s known for, as the film title suggests, featuring characters with big eyes. Her husband Walter, though, claimed credit for her work so that her paintings would sell more. To cut a long story short, she sued her husband when their marriage went sour claiming she was the real artist doing all the work. The judge ordered them to each create a “big-eyes” painting in the court room to prove who was telling the truth. Whilst Margaret completed hers in under an hour, Walter cited a sore shoulder and never even started. She won the case of course. And that painting famously became known as Exhibit 224.


“The eyes I draw on my children are an expression of my own deepest feelings,” Keane is quoted as saying, “Eyes are windows to the soul.” Interestingly, much of my own work also focuses on the eyes. No mouth and no nose but just eyes, in fact! I totally agree that eyes do evoke emotion and tells us one’s state of mind, and it is no wonder I tend to make the eyes unproportionally huge. Quite moved by Margaret’s work, I decided to do my version of her style, more precisely using her Exhibit 224 painting as reference. I should like it to call it Exhibit One though!


I used Cansons 300 gsm Mixed Media paper for this, firstly brushing a thin layer of white gesso before sketching my outline with pencil. Despite being a relatively simple painting with no elaborate details (remember Keane’s painting was completed in 53 minutes), it was quite a challenge for me. This because I’m not drawing from my mind but actually emulating another work so central composition, proportions and symmetry were somewhat crucial this time. And drawing the hands! As you’ve seen from my previous work, I just draw arms without details like hands and fingers. So this indeed was good practice.

Mixed Media Version

First, I traced over the outline using oil pastels for the hair and alcohol markers for the eyes. I then filled in the colours using acrylic paint, using Jane Davenport’s products. By stroking a dry brush with brown paint on the oil pastel streaks, I was able to create a highlighty effect on the hair. The wall was painted by mixing the paint with gloss gel to develop some different texture like shine and sheen.

Developing My Style

Wanting to obtain the perfect colour for the sky, I used a mixture of Sky Blue Light acrylic ink and Cobalt Blue fluid acrylic. Love the vividness! A bit different from the original Keane painting, but we all have our own style right? I went over the eyes with brown marker again and enhanced the whites with Uni Posca Pen. Once again, I did my own thing and made them more manga-like and added eyelashes! Then as added twist, I decided to go a step further. I found some scrap pieces of paper from a previous work I had done ages ago. They were already in random shapes so I cut them up in appropriate shapes and glued them all along the wall area. Finally for the sky, I stenciled in some spots and dots with blue Distress Oxide and sponge. Et voilà, Exhibit One!

I Can Do It!

I never like “copying” the work of others but this is a rare exception. Even then, I prefer to describe it as “being inspired”. Both of us like huge eyes. And as Keane’s work is uncomplicated yet brings out some mystery, it most certainly appeals to me. Getting inspired by someone’s work involves getting some ideas from it, then developing it in my own style. And even embellishing it further by say gluing on collages or stenciling stuff top as I have done here. I had so much fun testing to see what I could develop with Keane’s artwork and creating my own kawaii version!

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