How This Sydney Artist Turns a Blank Canvas Into a Masterpiece

Lauren Powell
by Lauren Powell

We’ve been stalking her bold, mesmerising, and playful artworks on Instagram for a couple of years now and we simply can’t get enough. The pretty, yet audacious colour palettes and the carefully considered abstract designs of everyday subjects would make any art-lover fall in love with Evi Oetomo’s creations in an instant.

As well as being an award-winning artist, Indonesia-born Sydney-local Evi O. (as she’s affectionately known), is a woman of many creative talents. She is also a renowned graphic designer, illustrator, book designer, and founder of design studio OetomoNew—impressive.

Her child-like, but detailed paintings—that she creates from her Surry Hills living room (only when the sun is up)—are inspired by daily observations, landscapes, and figures. “I enjoy the slowness of art making—compared to designing digitally on a computer,” says Oetomo. “And I really appreciate the freedom of creating something out of nothing, and to be able to share it with your peers.” Read on and find out how her beautiful creations come to live.

MYDOMAINE: Can you provide a brief overview of your career to date?

EVI OETOMO: My graphic understanding is based on my four years study as a visual communication student at University of Technology, Sydney. The course allowed me to explore a variety of creative outlets, from illustration, graphic design, and animation and I ended up majoring in print design and illustration.

Following my study, I spent my 20s as a book designer for Penguin Books Australia. It was my dream job. As well as honing my graphic design skills, this role has naturally improved my image-making skills, from pure drawing on paper or creating a pattern using real vegetables or tea leaves! The main joy of book design is that a project is never the same so you never feel that you’re stuck doing the same thing every day.

Bookmaking is also a very collaborative process so I ended up learning from fellow authors, publishers, editors, photographers, stylists, and many other talented people in the industry.

Answering to my restless nature, I also started painting a few years ago, and a curator friend discovered some of my works two years ago and invited me to join her group show. Nervously, I did, and it’s actually quite a joy to see people enjoy your work and have them in their spaces. Since then, I have been lucky to work on a solo and few group shows in Sydney and Melbourne.

These days, I run my own design studio OetomoNew with a partner, based in Surry Hills, focusing in book publishing and graphic design projects. Painting is also happening alongside.

MD: When did your love of art, painting, and illustration begin?

EO: It started early. I have always been a drawer since I was a kid, not a good one though. I took it seriously while at school and I’m still pinching myself these days that I’m able to do this professionally—illustrations through design gigs and painting as its own practise.

MD: What is your inspiration behind your artwork?

EO: Visually, it usually comes from daily observations, of both urban and natural landscapes and figures. Theme-wise, it’s often from something I read, or an interesting thought that pops out during conversations with clever friends.

MD: Where are your products made?

EO: While I work in a studio in Surry Hills for my design business, my paintings are currently produced in our living room. When an exhibition is looming upon, it means we can’t have guests until all the works are done! It will hopefully change soon as we’re moving into an apartment with an extra room.

MD: Where is your studio located?

EO: I work from The Marlborough House in Surry Hills—a fantastic seven storey warehouse office filled with some of the most creative people in Sydney. Our studio is on level two, with a view of nice trees and open sky. It’s me and my business partner, Daniel New, and we share with creative strategist and writer Karen McCartney, interior designers Sarah Johnson and Bethany Sheehan of Lifesize Studio and Sarah’s dog, Ziggy.

MD: What do you love most about creating your art?

EO: I enjoy the slowness of art making—compared to designing digitally on a computer. And I really appreciate the freedom of creating something out of nothing, and to be able to share it with your peers. It’s another form of communication for me, and it’s very rewarding when people get it.

MD: Talk us through the process from start to finish of creating one of your artworks.

EO: My design background definitely influences the way I work. Often a collection starts with a fascination of a subject or theme, followed by obsessive research, then sketches, then studies and tests, before the production of the whole collection.

Often I paint three to four paintings at once. When I’m painting, I work when the sun’s up and stops when the sun has gone. A small to medium painting takes a minimum of 20 hours, with another 10 for bigger sizes. I start with rough underpainting then layers of colours, finished by very careful edge work to achieve the neat lines. It is quite an obsessive process!

If, like us, you’d like to be a proud owner of one of Evi O.’s creations, you can contact her here. In the meantime browse a selection of her latest works below.

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