Making of: Imaginative Realism Oil Painting

The Embrace by Dorian Iten

It began with a tangle of bones.


I’ve spent most of my life not liking myself. I thought that’s just how it is for everyone. The self-criticism is absolutely endless. “I’m not disciplined enough”, “I’m not smart enough”, “I’m socially awkward”… And “why am I not painting?” A few years ago I got curious about finding ways to befriend myself. Not to beat myself up anymore but to embrace myself. What better way to get acquainted with this idea than through making an artwork?

Here are the very first sketches – in clay and line.

Happy Accidents in Digital Sculpture

After sketching and sculpting, I turned to ZBrush in order to work out the anatomy of an embrace. As I awkwardly aligned virtual bones, I realized that I had never seen this image: two skeletons in a tender embrace. It had something raw and true about it. I decided to move forward with the 3D render rather than pursuing a figurative sculpture maquette. Here are a few directions I considered.

Starting on the Wrong Side

Days before, I had started sketching on a wood panel. It had a beautiful even, “good side”, and a beat up, damaged “bad side”. Lacking confidence, I decided to play on the bad side first, not to spoil the good side.

Of course, working on the bad side ended up giving me the nonchalance necessary to create something I ended up liking. The entire final painting was completed on the “bad side”…

Here are a few shots of the first days. I let the lines of the wood grain guide me, working in white gouache and black ink, directly on the wood.

Raw Umber Wash

The skeletons had been a separate project, but at this point, they made their way into the image. I couldn’t resolve the snowy landscape and decided to do what usually helps: apply a raw umber wash. 🙂 After this unifying coat, I established the lights with lead white.

Dorian Iten, the embrace, work in progress, 2016

The Environment

The sky and environment went through many iterations before I settled on the vast desert.
Memories of Moebius were on my mind. Here are a few snapshots I took during the process.

Impasto Play

One part I particularly enjoyed was building up the texture in the foreground rocks. I started very early and did a few cycles of sanding and glazing to create variation in color and texture.

The Frame

The frame was partly integrated because of the large black area outside the circle. But it needed a proper finish. The entire painting process took place at Atelier Narasca and I was able to use Patrick‘s workshop to do the necessary sawing etc.


Here is the final result in the studio.
Thank you for reading this far. I hope you’ve enjoyed the journey! 🙂


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