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

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Passing Storm

desert landscape oil painting
Passing Storm  24"x24" oil/panel

I completed this landscape after working out issues with it for several weeks.  It's interesting to look at progress photos and see how the momentum builds and looks so effortless when in fact there were so many little decisions I agonized over before finally reaching the final expression.  When I begin a landscape it is all feeling, intuition and memory.  I felt something when I gazed at a the clouds and sky during a stormy evening, it is that emotion I am intent on capturing...  I do not think of color or shapes, I think of luminosity and the grandeur of the New Mexico landscape.  How small I feel in the wind and oncoming storm.  The vastness of the desert landscape and how the rolling hills are empty and quiet, beyond civilization and human's reach. 

First I begin my painting with a concept; I see something that inspires me to paint.  Usually that is the spectacular light of the sky against the desert horizon as in “Passing Storm”.   I paint from memory, using thin layers to wash in the cloud formation, staying very loose and high key to keep the sky light and ‘airy’.  For the foreground I use a large ratty bristle brush and umber with impasto medium to build texture of the grass and desert growth with thicker paint.  I use a medium with calcite which is lovely to work with.  After the texture of the foreground dries I use a palette knife to add color and establish values, this stage is shown above.  This smooths the surface some but retains the look of grass and desert growth due to the texture from the previous layer.   The beginning of a landscape is just prepwork for the effects I want to achieve in the final painting.  I add a few spots of juniper bushes to establish my darkest dark and a strip of light along the horizon for my lightest light.  This first step is just a whisper of what I want to capture.  

After this dries I continue the painting with photo references or often going out to my own backyard for direct observation.  I add more details.  I refine the shape of the light and bottom of the cloud mass and distant hills.

Finally the sky is glazed with transparent color and semi-transparent color, and the top of the clouds are carved out alternating soft and hard edges to retain the loftiness of a storm cloud.  The lightest  light is layered one more time to create the most lightfast paint quality and most illumination.  The warm glazes in the clouds and light radiating out across the low hills and foreground create the atmosphere I had envisioned in my first inspiration and concept.  The texture and opacity of the foreground comes forward in the picture plane adding to the sense of depth juxtaposed against the smooth glazed sky.  All the previous work has come together to create a sense of luminosity and grandeur of the desert sky during monsoon season. 

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."

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Upcoming Show Preview

butterfly painting
 "Alight12"x9"  oil/panel by Sarah Siltala

I'm in the final days of painting for my upcoming show at Sage Creek Gallery in Santa Fe, which opens September 23rd and runs through October 6th.  I will have many new still life for the show and also some new landscapes.  Paintings are piling up in the studio, frames are waiting to be filled and I'm almost ready to transport everything to the gallery.  

There are other wonderful events going on during my show making it a great time to visit Santa Fe and enjoy not only art, but also wonderful wine and local chile.
"Western Tanager"   14"x18"  Oil/panel

The show opens during the Santa Fe Wine and Chile Fiesta, which runs from September 18th-25th:

"The Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta is an annual five-day weekend of events featuring the culinary artistry found in Santa Fe, New Mexico’s many excellent restaurants coupled with the sophistication and wines of national wineries.  By bringing 90 national wineries to Santa Fe to partner with 75 of Santa Fe’s best restaurants, a five day schedule of food and wine events is created featuring cooking demos, wine seminars, winery luncheons and dinners. The weekend culminates with the Grand Tasting at the Santa Fe Opera where all 75 participating Santa Fe restaurants and all 90 wineries serve samples of their best food and wine."

 "Garden Grace"  12"x14"

 Sarah Siltala
Exhibition of New work
September 23-October 6th, 2016


421 Canyon Road, Santa Fe, NM

Sarah Siltala

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Mulling Smalt PIgment and Crystal Glass Medium

Blue Morpho butterfly
 Blue Morpho  10"x8"  oil/panel by Sarah Siltala

I was reminded recently of a couple failed attempts in the studio, one: to make a medium with powdered crystal glass and two: make Smalt into paint.  In my previous experiments I had used linseed oil alone without any other additions to the mixtures.  This was a mistake, both Smalt and crystal glass are heavy particles that do not mix easily with oil.  They need an additional stabilizer to create a smooth consistency that will not separate or seize up.  I thought about my experience with both and suddenly a light bulb went off, I immediately pulled out my unusable tube of glass medium and ordered another batch of powered smalt pigment.

While I waited for the smalt to arrive in the mail I went to work on my tube of hardened glass medium.  I had it wrapped up in plastic because the particles of glass migrated to one end of the tube and the oil had separated and leaked out, a total mess.  It had seized up and I had to cut it open to scrape out the hardened mass of glass and re-mull it.  Below you can see the hardened chunk of medium and the oily residue.  It needed some sort of stabilizer but I did not want to use wax, and I did  not want to use alumina stearate-a paint stabilizer and cheap filler found in modern manufactured paints. 
I re-mulled the leftover glass chunk with my handmade linseed oil, below you can see the result, a nice smooth mixture.  
I divided the linseed/glass mix into two jars afterward.  To one of the jars I added fumed silica.  I've experimented with making my own medium with fumed silica before and thought if I added this as a stabilizer maybe my mixture would not separate like it did before.  Below on the left is the glass/linseed oil mix and on the right I am adding powdered fumed silica.  I have a post about my previous mixture with linseed oil and fumed silica HERE.  When fumed silica is mixed with linseed oil to make a medium it creates a lovely clear gel and is fantastic to add to oil paint.  It thickens up quite a bit and I'm hoping to have the same effect with my crystal glass mixture.
I also fill a third jar with linseed oil and fumed silica, to prepare for my later experiment...
 Here are my three mixes:
And, 24 hours later:  The linseed/glass mix is already settling and the oil rising to the top, the mixture with linseed and fumed silica is consistent and has not separated.  The fumed silica addition created a stable mixture.  I go ahead and tube it and label it.

You have probably guessed by now that I intend to mix Smalt pigment with linseed and fumed silica.  Smalt is incredibly difficult pigment to make into usable oil paint.  I've read that adding wax can help as a stabilizer, but when I asked the director of Natural Pigments about using the pigment in oil he recommended mulling and using it the same day.  In my first attempt to make paint with just oil and powdered pigment I found it to by totally unpredictable and when I let it sit for 24 hours to 'sweat' it had solidified completely and had to be re-mulled.  It never really became a stable consistency I could use for paint.

Smalt is a historical pigment and a beautiful, delicate shade of blue.  Very unusual.  It's incredibly transparent and has been known to fade or turn green over time.  Luckily potassium has been found to combat the discoloration and fading and Natural Pigments brand of Smalt contains plenty of potassium so no worries there.  Mixing with lead white will also help against future fading, but Smalt has such a low tinting strength I prefer to use it as a glaze.

I add the smallest amount of oil I can to create a thick chalky paste, this will thin out to an ink like consistency immediately.  I don't have to work hard at all to mull it and it's best not to over-mull this pigment anyway.
I'm surprised at how thin the oil becomes, but now I add my previously prepared mixture of oil and fumed silica which has become a thick gel.  After a quick mix together with the ink like Smalt I have an actual paint like consistency!
 The paint has become buttery and smooth:
 Here are my tubed up experiments, both with the addition of fumed silica as a stabilizer:

Below you can see them again, almost two weeks later.  I wanted to wait before posting to make sure the tubes wouldn't seize up again over time.  So far both the Smalt and the crystal glass medium have remained consistent in the tube and I'm really enjoying using them in my current painting.  So far so good

Friday, August 12, 2016

Western Tanager

 14"x18" oil/panel by Sarah Siltala

Last year New Mexico seemed to have a deluge of western tanagers through the state during migration.  It was exciting to see the colorful birds flit through neighborhoods all over the state, we travel a lot and they were everywhere!  I was inspired to create a painting with complimentary blues and greens to set off the fiery color of the bird.  This work will be headed to Sage Creek Gallery for my upcoming show opening September 23rd.