How to Create Custom Artwork for That Special Someone




Valentine's Day is coming up, and being an artist, I decided to make something special and one-of-a-kind for my girlfriend this year. I'll show you how to create a painting that comes straight from your heart (har har).

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: Get an Idea and Gather Your Materials

Well, first thing's first. You need an idea of what you're going to be creating in order to make something. Since this was a Valentine's present, I decided on painting a heart. Since my girlfriend and I both have a somewhat morbid sense of humor, I decided on painting a human heart.

Now You'll need to decide what you'll use and gather what you'll need. For this, I decided to use oil paint sticks. Basically it's oil paint with hardener already mixed in, in the form of an over-sized crayon-type thing. You don't have to worry about getting the proportions of paint and hardener right, and these dry overnight.

I used these on a canvas board, and I also had a couple paper towels handy for wiping off my fingers as well as peeling the film off the oil sticks (more on that later).

Step 2: Prepare Your Canvas and Design

Now that you have your idea and materials ready, you need to get your design ready to paint. You can simply start painting on the canvas if you like, but I prefer to have my composition all worked out before I put down any wet media. It saves time and energy in the long run.

I just drew my design right on the canvas in pencil. You don't have to do any special preparations on the canvas unless you've stretched your own, then you may want to put a primer coat of gesso or white paint on so the canvas doesn't absorb the paint.

Step 3: Start Painting!

With the oil sticks, I generally do all of one color in a piece at once, let that dry, and move on to the next color. I decided to do the blue areas first, for no particular reason whatsoever. The technique I use with oil stick is first roughly fill in the area, then smooth it out with your fingertip. You'll eventually get a feel for how much to put on, at a time. If you put more on at once, It's easier to blend colors together, but it's harder to get pure colors and vice versa.

You'll notice that when you leave the oil sticks sit for a while, they develop a film or a casing on the outside. This is normal and they're not ruined. Simply peel the casing off to get at the fresh paint below it. I use the paper towel and my thumbnail to rub the casing off. It is very much like peeling a hard boiled egg.

I suppose this is a good time to put a warning in here:


This is basically grown-up finger painting. You can use a blending stick (those pointy rolls of paper in the drawing aisle of art stores) if you wish, but why pay for them when you have 10 free blending sticks with you at all times? Using your fingers also helps you feel what you're doing, which allows you to prevent errors before they happen.

Step 4: Add Shading and Highlights

After I get the base color down, I add white and black in the highlight and shadow areas respectively. I use the same technique as with the base color: block in a rough area then use your fingertip to blend it until it looks smooth.

I also used a contrasting color (in this case, red) to add some areas of shadow instead of just using black. It gives a more natural looking color. Again, rough it in, then blend smooth.

As you can see, the edges are not sharp and crisp. This is because you can go over the edges with the colors that appear next to them and give them a crisp edge later.

Step 5: What You Have So Far

Well, there's lots of rough edges. But don't worry that'll be taken care of later.

What you also have is a very nice looking painterly effect. That's one of the greatest benefits of oil sticks in my opinion. It give you a very good looking surface with very little effort once you get the hang of them.

Step 6: Repeat for All Colors

Repeat the previous steps in order to finish all your needed colors. The only other color I had to do was red. I used green, blue and some brown to add that lifelike touch in some areas.

At this point, it still has the rough edges and there are several fingerprints on the background. We'll take care of that.

Step 7: Cleaning Up the Edges

I like to do my pieces with oil sticks starting with the subject, then doing the background so that I can get nice crisp edges. I'd like to say that I chose yellow because it is a complimentary color of purple which is red and blue mixed together, but I won't because that would be a lie. I chose yellow because I thought it would look good. It just happened to work out nicely.

I wanted the background to be a gradient from yellow to black to create a vignetting effect around the edges. To start, I went around the outside of the heart with the yellow oil stick. Don't try and go right up to the edge. Next, I took a small, sharp-edged paint brush and brushed the paint right up to the edge to create a clean, crisp edge. This is where it helps to put on lots of the paint at once so you have enough to brush around. I went around the entire heart like this.

Step 8: Finishing the Background

After I finished applying the yellow, I applied brown just outside of that. If you want to do a gradient, it helps to add a color between your base color and black to make the blend smoother. It is optional, but I feel it makes the final product look much better. Finally, I added black to the very outside edges. Again, you apply it rough, then blend it smooth. I find that starting at the lightest color and blending toward the darkest works the best.

I blended using two fingers and going over the "seam" between two of the colors in a circular motion about 1" in diameter. After that, I followed the edge around the entire way slowly blending it until it was a fairly smooth transition.

Finally, to finish it up, I put a little black on my finger and went around the edges so there wasn't a glaring white line around the whole thing.

Step 9: That's It!

Enjoy the look on your significant other's face when you present them with a piece of artwork you made especially for them!

Be the First to Share


    • Book Character Costume Challenge

      Book Character Costume Challenge
    • Made with Math Contest

      Made with Math Contest
    • Cardboard Speed Challenge

      Cardboard Speed Challenge

    18 Discussions

    I loved your painting, so I decided to go ahead and do my own copy of it! ...however I did it with oil paints instead of the oil sticks. However this 'ible made me go out and get a set, and they are awesome! Great job!

    cole painting.jpg

    Absolutely love it man! I'm gonna head out to Hobby Lobby and grab me a set, so I can start painting some stuff. Sounds like its much easier than regular Oils.

    amazing instructable! also, well explained details.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I haven't ever tried, but I would probably not use these on something like that. I would go with something like auto paint or engine paint specifically made to stand up to those conditions.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah, you would have to use airbrushing though which is a whole 'nother kind of artistry. Traditional paint would not create a smooth surface, and things like a clear coat are easier to apply on a flat surface such as airbrush.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    And another thing i forgot to say, you explain the details very well and nice pictures.OK I'll stop now

    1 reply

    11 years ago on Introduction

    Great work, i suck at oil pastels, etc. I am a traditional painter and sketcher but i never knew it could blend together so easily. I use finger blending a ton in my sketches, so i think that i could probably do well with this medium. Nice instructable! :D

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! Yeah, the oil sticks are like thick oil paint so they blend really easily and you have lots of working time depending on how thick you put it on. Once you get the hang of it you can go through a piece really quickly if you do all the colors at once. (I like doing one color at a time because I feel like it's less messy and helps keep me organized.)


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I think that with some red in the background it would look very lovey-dovey. With these dark colors it looks passionate. Just a thought. Again very cool

    1 reply

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    I thought of that, but then I decided to specifically avoid red in the background to add more contrast since there's red in the heart already. Thanks for the comments though!