After an engaging and informative Oil Painting Portrait Workshop with artist Emilio Villalba on Zoom last month, I was excited and grateful when my boss Linda Wehrli sent me to report back on his upcoming online Eye and Mouth Oil Painting Workshop.

There are many details that go into painting the eyes and mouth. After all, the eyes are the first thing people notice when they look at a face or simply have a conversation with someone!

This Zoom Workshop was held on Sunday, December 13th, 2020 from 12  – 2:30 PM (PST). Before the workshop, Emilio sent us a supply list. As with his earlier Portrait workshop, the Zorn Palette was specified again. For those who haven’t heard, the Zorn Palette is a limited palette based off Swedish old master painter, Anders Zørn. It consists of only four colors: Ivory Black, Titanium White, Yellow Ochre, and Cadmium Red.

Supply List:

Oil Paints: 

  • Titanium White, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red (hue), Ivory Black


  • Utrecht Mixed Synthetic FILBERTS 239-F sizes 4 and 6
  • Utrecht Round (watercolor brush) 6150-R, sizes 0 and 1


  • 1 or 2 GessoBord gessoed panel by Ampersand (blue label), size Options:  9×12 or 11×14
  • *or Arches Oil Paper size  9×12 or 11×14


  • Wood Palette or Disposable Paper Palette or Glass palette
  • Palette Knife for cleaning and mixing
  • Mason Jar or Small Glass Jar for Gamsol
  • Gamsol or Odorless Turpenoid
  • Paper Towel Roll

I ended up using an 8 x 10 stretched canvas board. Since I use Winsor & Newton Water-soluble Oils, I didn’t use Gamsol. Less messy/smelly. 🙂 Linda also recommends this brand of oil paints to her students for the Online Oil Painting 401 Course. Interesting to note that Emilio only used Gamsol to clean his brushes, not for a paint medium. Most of his paintings are used with just pure paint.

At the start of the lesson, Emilio demonstrated how to properly set up the palette and briefly explained the materials used. He stated this is his “step-by-step” process of oil painting, so we were able to follow along with ease. Phew!

The palette was laid out starting with titanium white, yellow ochre, cadmium red, then ivory black. Emilio suggested leaving enough space between each color so you don’t contaminate the “pools” of paint.

Before we touched the paint, Emilio discussed drawing and values. He showed us a beautiful graphite eye drawing and explained gradients. He referenced a helpful quote by Édouard Manet: [Tweet “”Look for the darkest darks, then the lightest lights, then everything else will work out.” Édouard Manet”] Squinting at your subject is a helpful way to see values. Even though there are many gradients, start with a two-value system.

Another master painter Emilio mentioned was our hero, John Singer Sargent. He coined a 5-value scale system- the perfect amount of value to make a nice 3-dimensional portrait. Emilio however, prefers a 6-value scale; 3 values for the lights and 3 for the darks.

Now, time for paint! Using a #0 round brush, we began mixing our “drawing color”, which was ivory black and cad red to create an engaging reddish-brown. We measured out the eye by creating a U-shape with our thumb and middle finger. After some measuring (and remeasuring!) the eye was drawn.

Since we started with the darkest darks, we went straight for the pupil and shadow shape under the lid using ivory black. A pro tip from Emilio is that it’s better to go over any lines because you can always go back and paint over the edges.

For the dark green/blue of the eye and pupil, we used a good amount of yellow ochre and black. Ivory black is actually considered a really dark blue! Interesting.

We then looked for the overall value of the eye. Using titanium white and black, with a little yellow ochre, we filled in the eye.

Next, we used the darker green to create the slight gradient from the top of the eye to the bottom. Emilio explained a helpful tip for blending the colors to create nice, soft edges: Wipe off your brush (do not clean it) so it is dry. Then gently blend the paint. Hard edges attract attention. Best to keep them soft!

There is something very satisfying about placing the highlight on the eye; I was very excited for this step! Per Emilio, there should be a little white paint hanging off the brush to drop in the highlight. You can always use black paint to clean up the shape of the highlight (using negative space.)

Next, we added white to our blue iris mixture to create the lighter color of the eye. Emilio used the term “feathering out” so the color fades in, sort of like spray paint.

For the white of the eye, we used titanium white and ivory black to creative a perfect gray. Because the right side of the eye is darker, we added a little more black. Since the eye is a sphere, we also created a lighter gray for the center of the white of the eye. This color was lightly added in and gently blended into the whites.

For the tear duct, we mixed white and a little cadmium red. Cadmium red goes a long way, so you only need a small amount! Using tiny hatch marks, we “introduced” the red color into the mixture.

Now, onto the eyelid shadow! This was basically our drawing color with a little yellow ochre. For darker colors, we added a little more black to our mixture. It’s remarkable how many values you can create with just 4 colors.

The eyelids were saved for last. We looked for the overall color first. By mixing a lot of white and a little red & yellow, with a touch of black, we had our skin tone. Emilio explained that this color may mix in with the lid shadow, and that is okay. If need be, we could simply go back in and blend the shadow color in. For the darker values, we used a little black and our green mixture to create a cooler version on the top and right of the eyelid. Emilio referred to this as more of a “feeling color”.

For the lower lid, we started from the top down. Emilio said to think of it like a cliff. The top of the lid is the top of the cliff which is lighter and gradually darkens as you descend. Looking for values throughout, we finally completed the eye. I couldn’t believe how realistic it looked by just using four colors! A student inquired about lashes, but Emilio stated that he usually doesn’t put in the lashes. However, if you’d like to paint in lashes, take a dirty brush, and lightly add in impressions of lashes. You don’t want to “draw” lashes as they will stand out. The perspective will be off.

Now it was time to move on to the mouth, which I find to be even more difficult than the eyes. Emilio started out discussing form. Because the light is coming from above, the top lip is in shadow, while the bottom lip is in light.

Here are some helpful tips: Every shadow shape starts off soft and ends hard. Emilio suggested thinking of each lip as a cylinder, almost like a cave. There is no edge on the upper lip. Always keep edges soft.

We began using the same drawing color as we did with the eye, so black and cadmium red to make a nice brown. We began drawing the upper lip edge just to lay a base down. Then we looked for the opening of the mouth. The cast shadow was next followed by the lower lip.

Emilio reminded us to “feel the form” as we’re painting these lines. Like the eye, we found the overall local color for the top of the lip, the bottom of the lip, and then a lighter and darker version of these colors to get the shadows and lighter areas. We used cadmium red, a little black, and a good amount of yellow ochre and some white to create the local color for the top lip. We added a little white and black to desaturate the color. Adding more black to create the shadow color, we moved along finding values within the lip. Emilio always states, “You earn colors as you go along”. Which basically means, you end up seeing many colors as you continue to paint. Whereas in the beginning, you only see a few. Neat.

By using little hatch marks, we blended the paint to diminish the hard edges, while also softening the upper lip. We also softened the top of the opening so it looked more like light was going into the “cave”. We then darkened our shadow color and applied the paint to the edges of the lips. Next, on to the bottom lip! We started with white and red and a little black to create the overall value. Matching the exact color has never been Emilio’s main goal, but rather the relationships of the colors.

Next, we had to darken and cool the edges and bottom of the lip. Emilio likes to apply little “curls” with the paint brush. Squint at the image and decipher if you need to go cooler or warmer. It’s definitely easier said than done, but with practice, it gets easier! Lighter tones were next. We looked at where the light was hitting, not the highlight. After this step was completed, it was time for the highlight! We let the white mix with whatever pink we had on our brush. Emilio reminded to use more of an impressionistic approach to adding the highlight and to not be too literal.

And that’s a wrap! What a workshop.

We hope this blog inspired you. We want to thank Emilio again for an insightful afternoon!

Interested in studying with Emilio? Good news! He has a 3-day portrait painting workshop coming up in February. For info and registration, feel free to shoot him an email.
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Pastimes For a Lifetime Art and Piano School is located in Valley Glen, California. 818-766-0614. School is open Tuesday – Saturday year round, except major holidays.

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