Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How to Make a Shadow Box for Still Life

I want to share how I make a portable shadow box for still life.  Lighting is unpredictable and it's so important to have proper lighting when studying still life painting.  A shadow box can solve a lot of problems and create a nice environment for your set up to live in.  When an artist is preparing to paint a beautiful still life and has spent many hours, sometimes days, picking the right subjects it can be very disheartening to battle bad lighting.  Objects come to life when properly lit.  The play of light and shadow add so much interest in a painting, so I recommend artists studying still life create a shadow box.  

Things to look for in a properly lit still life:
         1. highlight (may or may not be present, that's ok)
         2. light
         3. form shadow
         4. cast shadow  

What you need to make a shadow box:

1. office box or other cardboard box, whatever size will suit your   still life set up best.  The office box above is best for small subjects.

2. one sheet of Canson Mi Teintes drawing paper in neutral color of your choice.  One sheet will work nicely with the small size box above.  I like neutral warm grays or even black.  Buy more than one color and change the color scheme for different still life.

3. rechargeable WARM light book light.  Make sure it is a warm light as opposed to the cooler LEDs.  You can find them on amazon for about $15.

4. drapery, cloth is not required, you can add whatever surface you desire for your set up to rest on.

5. double sided tape

6. box cutter

7. ruler

8. steel carpenter square
First line up your steel square along the long edge on the bottom of the box.  Use the box cutter to cut a long slit all the way across the bottom as close to the edge as possible.

Next, set your box on top of the Canson paper and trace the outer edge with a pencil.

Measure about 1/2 inch inside the outline of your box and use the steel square as a guide as you cut out the rectangle of paper.

 The paper will fit perfectly inside your box.  Use the rectangle to measure the height of the box on the leftover Canson paper and cut side panels.  Tape all into place.

 Take your material for drapery and slide it through the slit you made at the back of the box.  Arrange accordingly.

Clip on your rechargeable book light and set on a shelf, voila, you are ready to set up a still life.

Here is the box in my studio.  I have found the shadow box to be a life saver when teaching and recommend all my students make one.  Not only will students have predictable lighting in class, they can use the box at home with the same lighting and continue painting.  With a portable box you can set up anywhere, like maybe the dining room table.  One note, if you move your box make sure it's at the same hieght you were originally working from.  Below I've used the lid to set the box on.

Here are some more examples of proper lighting in a traditional still life, I've used a piece of reclaimed wood to create a shelf:

Monday, July 24, 2017

Mulling Paint, Make Your Own Oil Paint

Here is a demo on how I make my own oil paint.  In the pic above you can see everything laid out except my dust mask.  Particles can become airborne and a dust mask is important.

To make oil paint you need:
glass plate
glass muller
linseed oil-cold pressed
(I use my own hand made linseed oil)
a couple palette knives
paint tube


First I lay out an amount of dry pigment that I think will fit my empty paint tube.  I lay the tube next to my pile to measure.  (real scientific!)

Next I make a pool of oil in the middle of the pigment.  The white in the pigment is a touch of calcite that I've mixed in.  I like adding calcite to my oil paint, it adds a touch of transparency and extends the paint.  That is a definite bonus for creating your own oils, you can customize them to your liking.  I also add a touch of sun oil to raw umber, in combination with the calcite I get a very specific texture that is great for under-paintings.

I use a palette knife to mix the oil and pigment into a dry mixture and place it in the upper left corner of my glass plate.  I will now mull small amounts at a time to the proper consistency.  I tend to make thick mixtures because I know I will add a different medium to this when I am painting and I don't want slippery, thin paint! 

I continue until I am through the entire mixture, placing finished paint to the top right on my glass plate.  I sometimes go through the mixture twice, in case I need to add more oil if it's very dry, or more pigment if it's too wet.  Once you start mulling the paint it changes texture and different pigments react differently after coming in contact with oil.  Some will thin out considerably.

A 50 ml tube will take about an hour to mix correctly, it's time consuming but not difficult. 

A finished mixture of raw umber, ready to tube!

Below you can see the dramatically different textures of different pigments, each unique in particle size and handling ability.  Not all paints I make end up on my palette, but when I discover something that works for me it becomes a staple that I rely on in my painting process.  That has been the best discovery of all, how amazingly unique each pigment is, and how you can manipulate it's handling properties with different oils and extenders.  Experimenting takes time but is completely worth the effort.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

"Wit and Whimsy" Show

 A Shimmer in the Moonlight  11"x14" oil/panel 

My work is up at Sage Creek Gallery for a show that lasts until June 25th.  I have many new paintings in the gallery and have been stocking away work for months.  I am super pleased with the final pieces and seeing everything come together is very rewarding.

Preparing for shows takes a lot of time, energy and planning.  I like to make lists of ideas, and thumbnails of possible series and groupings, all during the process.  I learn more when I'm working on several paintings at one time, I'm also able to refer to the finished pieces and see how they relate to one another.  As the paintings grow in number things start making more sense.  At the same time, each painting must be it's own unique and special piece.  My aim to to create quality work over quantity.

Abundance  11"x14"  oil/panel

I was especially pleased with the paintings for this show.  I felt the surfaces and colors have developed more in the past year than in previous years.  I am seeing the results of working with my handmade paints and mediums and relying on the unique quality of the individual oil colors to contribute to the final look of the painting.
This Nest is a Home 16"x12"  oil/panel

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Reflections on Teaching in 2016

student working on the underpainting

This year has been an exciting journey in teaching.  It has been such a wonderful experience!   As an artist I feel I've grown so much by sharing my classical method of painting with students and the feedback has been amazing.  It began last April when I traveled all the way to Virginia to Deb K Art Home Studios and taught an intensive five day workshop to a full class.  At the same time I also became a member of the faculty at the New Mexico Art League and started teaching Classical Still LifeIt has been a joy to work with students and introduce many to a way of painting that is completely new to them.  The classical indirect method of painting is growing in popularity and I'm glad to be part of a new generation of painters interested in techniques of the past.  Many are amazed at the paint quality that results from layering paint and glazes in oil and continue to study this method by signing up for more classes. 

 finished and signed!

Here are a few examples of students' work:


My next class at the New Mexico Art League begins January 9th, Mondays from 9-12 for eight weeks. click below for information (space is limited!):

                                        3409 Juan Tabo NE,  Albuquerque                               
                                                 P.O. Box 16554, Albuquerque NM 87191                                                   505-293-5034

I have developed a curriculum that begins with drawing and composition.  I teach how to use a basic armature and thumbnails to begin playing with design ideas.  I want students to think of objects as simple shapes, the simpler the better.  We study classical still life with the armature as examples.  We also study the importance of value by changing classical paintings to black/white:

Emil Carlsen 1853-1932 

Chardin 1699-1779

Next we move on to monochromatic underpaintings that concentrate on compressed values, we don't want the shadows too dark:

Once the underpainting dries we begin to study the local color and make individual plans for future glazes and scumbles based on the subject matter.

I introduce a glazing chart, illustrating how brilliant color can be created with a limited palette and knowledge of transparent vs opaque oil paint.

 Dennis Crayon's completed artwork

By the end of the class it is my goal to have students experiment with new ways of approaching oil painting.  Each day in class a new concept is introduced and practiced, from drawing and composition, value and color, to final details and color harmony.  I share different ways of applying and handling oil paint.  It's been quite a year, and I'm so thankful to have these opportunities.  Meeting other artists and talking about art has added a new dimension to my personal art life and I love it a lot!  I want to thank my students for allowing me to share their work here and hopefully inspire other artists to try new ways of painting.  Here are what a few of my students students are saying:

"I have learned more in this class than at the university."

"Great, the best art class I've had.  Would love to have and even longer study/class time to share with Sarah.  Her knowledge of materials and techniques and help with problem solving is truly helpful and valuable."

"Excellent-I learned a lot about composition, underpainting and glazing, as well as problem solving that will help me in whatever style I paint in."

"Excellent, well organized with a generous instructor."

"Thank you again for a fabulous 5 days. Sarah is an excellent teacher. Her calm supportive demeanor allowed for a stress free experience. I just want to keep painting in this style."