Tuesday, November 24, 2015

New Series, Egg Tempera painting

egg tempera bird
 Misty Morning 10"x8"

 Serenade 8"x8"

Dawn 10"x8"

I have a new series to share, paintings I've been working out the details on for quite a while.  I recently returned to trying egg tempera painting, and here are the final results.  You may remember when I first experimented with the medium HERE.

This was the beginning of my fascination with pigment and making paint.  I decided it was time to return to my original pigment mixtures and try again.  The paintings are egg tempera with oil glazes.  I also decided to incorporate more gold leaf elements into the paintings.  I created the arched panel inserts to practice my skills, and included a raised gesso design.  I really enjoyed the process.

These works plus the oil paintings below will be available at Sage Creek Gallery for their holiday group show opening this Friday, November 27th.

sarah siltala

Autumn Arrives 9"x12"  oil/panel


 Summer Serene  14"x18"

"Painting Best Practices" Art Materials Workshop

I recently had the opportunity to attend Natural Pigment's "Painting Best Practices" workshop held at Anthony Ryder's studio in Santa Fe, NM.  I had the honor of receiving a scholarship to attend, and it was an experience I won't soon forget!  I am still contemplating all the wonderful information that was shared in the three day class.  Everything concerning artist's materials was explained and broken down to it's smallest parts, and by that I mean down to the molecular level.  It was fascinating to learn how every part of the art making process has a direct affect on all the other parts.  From framing, supports, grounds, oil paint, mediums, varnishes, solvents, etc; every individual part's pros and cons were discussed based on the scientific research being done by George O'Hanlon and art conservationists in major museums.  George (founder and president of Natural Pigments) shared his vast experience and research in hopes to lead our blind artist's ways into the light of KNOWLEDGE.  I believe many artists today are working in the dark when it comes to understanding their materials.  

I have been on a journey recently in my own art practice, making my own oil paint, mediums, and even creating handmade linseed oil in the tradition of the old masters.  What I've learned in the process has been fascinating.  Today many artist materials are mass produced with little or no information for professional artists.  In the 20th century we've seen the decline of many modern works of art, George O'Hanlon and art conservationists are madly working to educate artists on materials in hopes that future artworks may last through many generations without falling apart.

One of my favorite parts of the workshop was learning about how physical light plays a role in an artwork and the optics of paint films.  Light rays are either reflected, or upon entering the paint film are refracted, bent and scattered, then reflected or absorbed through the substrate--or a combination of all three.  This has an impact on how we view the paint itself, it's relative transparency and how glossy/matte the finish is. The refractive index of a paint pigment plays a role in how opaque or transparent it is.  Low refractive pigments, such as Ultramarine blue and lead white, are more transparent.  Titanium white has a high refractive index, light entering the titanium paint film bounces around more, is scattered, and the result is a paint that looks opaque.  Pigment particle size plays a large role in the paint film and how light plays upon the surface as well. 

Transparent and translucent passages in painting are what give the old masters works such a variety of textures and created a beautiful quality of paint. It also made it possible for them to optically extend the range of values in their painting.  A transparent shadow is much, much darker than the same color painted opaquely.  They were aware of the optics of paint films and were able to push the boundaries and limits of the value scale dramatically by incorporating low refractive paints in their oil paintings as well as bulking up their opaque passages.

Another way of creating transparent and translucent passages in a painting is by adding extenders that have a low refractive index, such as chalk or barite.  Also, choosing pigments with a larger particle size will increase transparency, as the physical light has less to bounce off of in the paint film.  The extremely fine particle size in modern tubed oil paints creates a more opaque quality and they are also extremely concentrated.  This is the opposite of the paint used before modern manufacturing made tubed paints possible.  Some paints of the past contained larger particles and were also mixed with extenders like calcite and different oils for different effects.  The painters of the past were much more knowledgeable about materials and were able to bend them to achieve amazing effects and also last hundreds of years.

Here is a great article about impasto technique of Rembrandt and his choice of paint, oils and extenders:  Rembrandt 
Listen to an interview with George O'Hanlon and learn his ten best painting practice tips HERE   

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Drawing Practice

graphite on stonehenge 21"x13"

One thing I share with my students is the importance of drawing study.  It is something I try to dedicate time to regularly, I've been working at incorporating a daily drawing practice for a long time.

I can't always study the live model, so I like to do master copies when I'm not drawing still life.  I created a special large drawing board dedicated to master copies and bargue plates and it sits on my main easel whenever I'm not painting.  Since it's in main view whenever I enter the studio, and I'm using a sight/size method, I instantly see issues that need correcting and I grab a pencil and begin to work.  Sometimes I'll spend hours, sometimes ten minutes.  This piece took a couple weeks to complete.

here is a wonderful site to learn about sight size drawing:

original charcoal on paper by Tynedale

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Titanium vs Lead White

I spent some time recently experimenting with handmade white oil paint.  I thought I'd share a little comparison I made after mixing Chromium Oxide Green into three different whites, my handmade white, lead white, and titanium white.  Chromium Oxide Green is so easy to bend warm or cool so I thought it would be great to show just how warm lead is compared to the opaque cool of titanium.  

Lead white is very warm and somewhat translucent, it also dries very quickly.  Titanium white is ten times more opaque than lead, is cooling to color and slower to dry.  Titanium results in a chalky quality in painting that is not always desirable, compared to lead white. 

I've learned that combining calcite with lead white creates Ceruse or "lootwit" and was used by Rembrandt and Velazquez for translucent passages.  i also purchased some barite, after learning it is even more transparent than calcite and was used by the Old Masters with lead white as well, it was called Venice Ceruse, or Venetian white.
I decided I wanted to see what would happen if I tried to recreate the transparent quality of lead by mixing barite with titanium, resulting in a non toxic white that isn't cool and chalky.

The barite, titanium and my handmade SRO linseed oil created another ropey long paint.  To bulk it up I ended up adding a little bit of calcite as well, maybe 10% calcite.  The mixture was lovely!  So, would it be somewhat similar to lead?  I know my mixture will dry faster than commercially tubed titanium because of my handmade linseed oil.  Next was to mix with green and compare.  I was very pleased to see that my handmade white, while still not as warm as the lead, was still closer in color/value.  I took several pics in different lighting to share.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Art Talk, Rio Grande Art Association

 Swallow and Grapes  24"x30

This past weekend I gave a small talk and paint making demonstration for the local oil and acrylic painting group, the Rio Grande Art Association, in Albuquerque.  In my talk I discussed my indirect layering method and the influence of Flemish and Venetian painting technique.  After a brief history of the two styles I explained my modern approach and interpretation of these classical painting methods using layers and glazes.  After that I shared  a little bit about my paint making experiences and most recently, making hand refined linseed oil.  It was a fun experience and I met a lot of other great local artists.  I'm not used to public speaking so I was a bit out of my comfort zone, but I always enjoy talking about art! 

Here are some of the materials I brought for the paint making demo.  I brought several examples of traditional water washed oils, and also demonstrated how to make a calcite putty to add to the hand made paint, this was a lot of information to share in a very short amount of time!  

Above I am demonstrating paint making and recreating my favorite light mix of titanium white with a touch of yellow pigment and yellow ochre pigment. Making paint is a great time saver for creating your favorite color combinations which can be tubed for later use.  

happy painting!

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Hand Refined Linseed Oil from Flax oil

Sparrow and Nest  12"x12"

I just completed my first successful batch of hand refined linseed oil out of organic, cold-pressed Flaxseed oil.  I say 'successful' because the first batch I made I accidentally chose a bargain organic flax oil, an oil with additives in the ingredients (anti-oxidant mix with sunflower oil) that will cause my paint to never dry successfully over time.  I learned the hard way, READ the ingredients!!  I consider that my practice run because my second batch, with a very high quality pure flax oil, is beautiful and I'm over the  moon excited to make some paint and test it out to learn it's unique properties.  

I also have half of my new oil thickening in the sun, I plan to use that bodied oil for my hand made calcite putty medium.  I've learned that combining calcite with lead white creates Ceruse or 'lootwit' and was used by Rembrandt and Velazquez for translucent passages.  I also purchased some barite, after learning it is even more transparent than calcite and was used by the Old Masters with lead white as well, it was called Venice Ceruse, or Venetian white. 

here is the good quality oil I purchased to cleanse and make into linseed oil:

I've combined the oil with water, salt and sand.  A chemical reaction takes place and the mucilage and impurities are separated from the flax oil, they settle into the sand on the bottom, the cleansed oil floats above the salt water layer:  ingenious!  

After several mixes and changes in water/sand/salt I have the resulting oil, a bit cloudy from water particles still in the oil but cleansed of the mucilage, fatty acids (Omega 3s) and impurities that slow drying and yellow over time:

After setting in a glass tray in the sun for a few days to clear, we have the finished oil!  My own batch of hand refined SRO (salt refined organic) linseed oil will now have its own unique personality compared to the commercial hot pressed, alkali-refined linseed oils.  Commercial linseed is stripped of all the properties that create unique painterly effects.  This is due to the fact that they are refined in the same manner as vegetable oils are refined for consumption.  The qualities that are desirable in oil painting cause a fresh oil to go rancid and spoil, these materials are stripped from the oil in the commercial process to create a long shelf life.  Hand refined SRO oil keeps all the good stuff and eliminates the impurites and mucilage, resulting in an oil that the older painters prized in their hand made materials. 

My oil will create long, adhesive paint as opposed to 'short and bouncy', it will not yellow and will dry much more quickly now and to a strong, hard film.  These are exactly the characteristics I'm looking for in my painting practice.  If I were to heat this fresh oil to 100C on my stove for an hour, the resulting oil would create paint that is short, bouncy and dense.  My other half (that is thickening in the sun at the moment) will also have unique tendencies and rheology in my paints and mediums.  I love learning all the different painting qualities I can create, and am in complete control over, by processing my own materials.

ta da!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

More Paint Chemistry

"Summer Serene" 14"x18"

It's the end of summer break for my boys and both are back in school full time once again.  That means the house just got a whole lot quieter!  After quite a busy couple of months with lots of distractions and activity, I'm breathing a little easier now that the days are my own again.  It seems in summer most days follow an unpredictable path, and from one day to another I'm never sure what the family will be up too or how it will require my time and energy--which it usually does.  As a mother, and an overall caregiver, I find my mental energy used up during the hot summer months.  It leaves little quiet time for serious painting.  Painting takes a lot of mental energy, and I do feel frustration at times when my work is calling me in the studio and I am pulled in other directions.

Some things I love about summertime is the garden and the veggies, fruits and flowers we tend all Spring,  waiting and then watching as they bloom in glorious waves throughout June, July and August.  My husband grows beautiful vegetables; onions, tomatoes, tomatillos, jalapenos... just to name a few.  Combined together they make the best salsa you ever have eaten, especially fresh picked, chopped and still warm from the sun!  I have also discovered numerous ways to cook zuchini, carrots and will be making pickles with our delicious Armenian cucumbers.  I am not a fan of cucumber normally, but these are absolutely the best.  And the grapes are from my father's glorious garden this year!

Another summer treat has been watching the quail babies run through the backyard on a daily basis.  We've seen groups of tiny tiny chicks and also a larger group, the quail toddlers.  They live in the Chamisa bushes behind our back yard and love to perch on the fence, calling to each other and always on the lookout for possible danger!  The adults (there's usually a group together) are quick to herd the little ones back to safety, and very strict about it-- chasing them all to the cover of the brush.  Watching them run about has been very amusing.  

and there's always summer camping to enjoy too!

As for painting, I have been experimenting with different oils and making my own oil paint and painting putty mediums over the summer.  You can read about my experiments in the previous posts.  After my last experiment making putty with calcite and water washed flax-linseed oil I was very surprised with the results.  Since then I have done a little research and played around making some new earth colors using different oil combinations.  Below you can see Cypress Umber light pigment (Natural Pigments) with the water washed flax-linseed by Art Treehouse on the left and a boddied linseed oil on the right.  what a difference!  You can read about my experiments with different oils here: Linseed Oil Experiment and here: Grinding Paint

I then made a third mixture with the two paints: pigment, thicker bodied stand oil, about a quarter percent of the water washed oil and calcite.  The result was exactly what I hoped for, by combining the properties of the two different oils I created an earth color that is viscous yet settles beautifully after the brushstroke.  The calcite not only reacts with the oils just as it did when making the painting putties (previous post) it also creates a lovely texture when painting and as it is a 'colorless pigment' it add transparency without dulling the color a bit.  That is a good thing for layerists like me, who follow the Fat over Lean rule and would like an alternative to adding lots of medium to paint for glazing.  I find a little medium goes a long way when combined with my hand made paints.  By creating the unique properties I want to employ the most in my painting I produce a more personalized painting experience, and once I add different mediums to the prepared paint I develop those unique properties even more.  It is a fascinating process.    


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Linseed Oil and Calcite

Ruby Crowned Kinglet and Cherries  9"x12"

I have an update on my putty making project, comparing a couple different oils and also the Velazquez medium from Natural pigments.  Each putty was made by combining calcite with linseed oil.  My first introduction to putty medium was through the Velazquez medium, which is calcite mulled with a bodied linseed oil.  Bodied oils are polymerized, thickened and partially dried, with the use of heat.  Bodied oils do dry to a glossier finish than the other non-polymerized oils.  Some are oxygenated as well, others are created w/out the presence of oxygen; each have a specific personality.

I made two batches of putty to compare with the store bought Velazquez.  One batch was calcite mulled with Winsor and Newton linseed oil, a commercially processed oil.  The second batch was made with calcite and a water washed organic flax-linseed oil from Art Treehouse.  The water washed linseed begins as a cold-pressed, unrefined flax oil and is hand processed and washed of impurities in the traditional manner of the old masters. 

The difference in the putties was surprising.  

The Velazquez was thick and impasto like.  It had thixotropic tendencies, but was the least to settle out after agitation like the other oils.  It held up it's thick texture in the can and on my glass palette.

The calcite with regular Winsor and Newton linseed oil was also thick and impasto like but not as thick as the Velazquez.  It settled out a bit after agitation and I decided to add more calcite just to make sure I wasn't the cause of the thinner putty.  It was still a tad bit thinner than the Velazquez.

I believe that is the difference of using a bodied oil that was in the Velasquez medium and a thinner oil-the Winsor and Newton.  In my paint I have had similar results with the two putties, since I thin my paint with medium for glazes and layers the difference of thickness wasn't noticeable, I suppose if I wanted a thick impasto I would reach for the Rublev Velazquez with the bodied oil to hold up to thick textured passages better.

Now the most interesting discovery.  The water washed linseed oil completely melted and oozed into a puddle on my glass palette.  No matter how much calcite I added to the mixture, thinking I had made it too thin, it leveled out completely after being agitated.  I added so much calcite to the mixture that overnight it seized up in the tube I put it in and I had to discard the entire mix!  The mixture in the jar also seized up and was very difficult to mix, but after some work it returned to the original puddly consistency.  I am still trying to figure out why there was such a drastic reaction between the water washed linseed oil and calcite compared to the other oils. UPDATE  I have since learned that the Art Treehouse water washed flax/linseed oil is filtered through psyllium instead of sand, does this possibly cause it to be extra thixotropic and long compared to SRO oil?  Hand refined SRO oil is salt/water/sand refined-no psyllium--and SRO oil is much easier to work with for what I personally want in my oil painting practice. 

You can see the settled out putty with the water washed oil on the far left of the picture, (pic taken immediately after the samples had been stirred with a palette knife) and also in the left jar above.  

I have had a harder time painting with this puddly putty.  I put the concoction aside for now until I do some more research on traditional materials and hand processed oils.  I have learned so much about my materials on this journey!  I believe the old masters had much more knowledge about painting materials than we do today due to the fact that they had to process everything themselves.  Through knowing how the materials worked together to create different effects they were able to manipulate paints and mediums for their own personal expression.  While I may not continue mulling my oil paints and mediums forever, I have had a glimpse into the more intimate relationship past artists have shared with their paintings.  

I have to credit Tad Spurgeon, whose incredibly informative website and book has inspired me immensely over the past year. 

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Grinding Paint

Recently I've become very interested in making some of my own paints and trying out different materials.  Earlier this year I began by experimenting with Rublev's Velasquez medium, calcite in linseed oil, and adding it to dry pigment and making my own oil paint.  see Here
I also add the medium, which is a painting putty, to my purchased tubed paint to create a more luminous paint quality, calcite adds a nice translucency to opaque paint.  I was attracted to using an extender like Calcite after reading about it being a 'colorless' pigment and how it was used by the Old Masters before commercial paints and mediums were processed the way we find them today.  I really like working with just pigment in oil with a little added extender and that's it, it is nothing like working with commercial paints.  Calcite also creates a thixotropic affect and the paint is just luscious.  

Commercial paints contain:
1. pigment
2. brightener
3. filler
4. vehicle (oil)
5. thickener/pigment dispenser
6. driers

That's a lot of stuff!

I've also started researching oils, and how they are processed before becoming the bottled oils available for artists at the local art store.  Linseed oil is heavily processed and loses much of the properties that made it attractive to painters prior to the 20th century.  That is when commercial processing changed the oil into the yellowing, slow drying medium that it is today.  Refining oils reduces the impurities and fatty acids, but overly processed oil loses all the behaviors that contributed to the painterly effects of the masters.  By hand processing the oil, using methods of the past to wash the oils of impurities, you create a product that is non yellowing and faster drying, and also dries to a harder paint film.  There are methods for taking organic, cold pressed flax oil and hand washing it yourself, but I chose to buy this Linseed oil from The Art Treehouse, it begins as a cold pressed, unrefined Flax oil and is water washed using traditional methods.  

In the photo above you can see the start of my own putty medium using the water washed linseed oil and calcite.  It is amazing!  It is gelatinous, viscous, and smooths out completely after being agitated.  Watch my video to see the thixotropic behavior as it settles out after being mixed, it's completely solid when you let it sit for a bit, yet will pool and ribbon when stirred.  This also affects the paints rheology, which is the way a liquid flows.

putty medium

 Grinding pigment

 a full day's work

I really loved the quality of my last batch of homemade oil paints, I'm excited to try out this new batch with the water washed oil and also using my own putty medium.  

In the meantime, I'm enjoying this reading,  this little book contains writings by well known artists and reflections on painting from Fra Angelico, Da Vinci, Velasquez, to van Gogh, Robert Henri, Andrew Wyeth and beyond...  it is a great look into painting through the artist's eyes throughout history, very insightful.

My studio, Happy painting!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Painting Instruction

indirect painting

I'm excited to announce that I am offering a still life workshop next April in Virginia.  My host, Debra Keirce, has been kind enough to invite me to participate along with some of the many talented artists that travel to the area to teach.  I am in the process of planning this exclusive five day experience to teach the indirect method of oil painting, the difference between Flemish and Venetian technique, and sharing my personal experience of painting in this style for the past seventeen years. The knowledge of glazing, scumbling and layering is a skill any level of artist can easily learn, and the results are an immediate improvement in realistic painting.  


indirect painting
 completed painting with glazes in pure color

Indirect method in oil painting is a process that began when artists became discontent with tempera painting at the beginning of the Renaissance.  With some experimentation using oils and pigment our vast history of oil painting began, starting in the Netherlands around 1400.  Early oil paintings were started in tempera, worked on a hard wood panel, and finished with oil glazes.  Soon after paintings were completed using nothing but oil paint.  Jan Van Eyck was an artist who worked in this manner, the Ghent Altarpiece is an example of an early masterwork in oil and pigment.  As time marched forward oil painting spread to Italy and the technique was adapted for canvas, still layering and using transparent glazes, but direct approach incorporated as well.  This marked the beginning of Venetian style painting.  Stiffer brushes were used compared to the softer brushes of the Flemish technique and consequently more impasto and brushwork were apparent in the completed painting.  Rembrandt was a Dutch painter who employed the Venetian style, though he mastered many different techniques in his lifetime.

Indirect painting makes it possible to create realistic paintings by separating all the different elements into manageable steps.  Drawing and composition make up the first step, capturing correct value in the underpainting is next, and layering color is the final step, where all the detailed work that came before is used as the framework for the final painting.  Learning about color, and the properties of different oil paints, whether transparent or opaque, also  aids the artist in achieving realistic affects and a depth that cannot be attained in direct painting.  In my workshop and teaching I share the modern materials and 21st century approach I use to create paintings using the time tested indirect method that has been in practice for centuries and followed by the greatest artists in history. 

For information about the workshop please contact:  
Debra Keirce 


for a five day workshop with me in Northern VA in April of 2016. Specifically, in Broadlands, Virginia. Some systems call it Ashburn, VA.

"Chime"  12x9

I am also taking on personal students through e-mail instruction.  I provide detailed lessons beginning with drawing and working through the many stages of indirect oil painting.  The lessons are sent weekly with examples and artwork to study for inspiration.  You are welcome to work at your own pace, in the comfort of your home, and e-mail work when the lesson is complete.  I offer personal critiques and guidance in every single step and lesson to help students practice indirect method and create a beautiful still life.  I have limited availability as I can only dedicate my time to a small amount of students.  If interested please e-mail me for information, $20/lesson, must purchase four lessons (one month) in advance.  A painting from start to finish will take eight lessons ($160 total cost).  scsiltala@yahoo.com

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Spring into Summer

 Windswept  11"x14"

I'm sitting here remembering the past few weeks and looking ahead to the summer, now that my show has come and gone.  I have had a couple weeks to regroup, let go of the old, and consider starting something new in the studio.  It's a never ending cycle of creating and letting go.  I haven't dived back into painting, but enjoyed a little break.  I did dabble with landscape painting and created the painting above.  It felt really good to loosen up and play with the paint, to be a little more intuitive and free compared to the more structured still life.  I remembered I was thinking of a series of Nocturnes and I still feel excited with the prospect of painting those.

My show seemed to come and go in the blink of an eye.  I was so happy with the gallery and how thoughtfully they hung the work.  It was a great show and I'm happy to say there were a few red dots even before the official opening!        

 At Sage Creek Gallery, Santa Fe, NM

I also had some time to get out and enjoy Spring migration.  There have been a plethora of beautiful birds in the area and I'm having a great time trying to capture them with my camera.

sarah siltala


We even got to take a couple road trips around the state, hiking and visiting our favorite spots.  My sis was visiting and we hit Canyon Road in Santa Fe one day:


We climbed Tetilla Peak and had views for miles and miles:

 drove through the pines:

Visited Black Mesa:

and enjoyed the beautiful green across the state!  It was a nice break, filled with inspiration.  Now I return to the studio, refreshed and rested, ready for what summer brings.  

One more bit of news, I am in the planning stages for an upcoming workshop in Virginia!  I will be teaching indirect painting in still life.  I'm super excited and am working closely with Debra Keirce, who graciously invited me to teach.  She just hosted a five day workshop with Kate Stone, which sounded amazing.  If you have an interest in getting more info please contact Debra at:  debrakeirceart@yahoo.com

I will of course share more about this opportunity in future posts.  and check out my new website:  www.SarahSiltala.com