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.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Mulling Paint

I recently spent some time in the studio replenishing my supply of handmade linseed oil.  After working with my own oil for the past year and testing several other store-bought brands along the way, I am convinced I will never be without my handwashed organic linseed oil for mulling paint and making my own mediums.  It has really revolutionized my painting process and I have not found a suitable replacement with the same working characteristics that can be purchased in a store.  The majority of art store linseed oils are extremely slow drying, and create short, bouncy paint.  My paint is long and stringy, smooths under the brushstroke and dries incredibly fast.  You can read about the water washing process here.  I also made a beautiful jar of sun dried linseed oil, nothing beats the hot New Mexico sun for creating the perfect bodied oil!

I have also discovered that different brands of organic flax oil have different properties when washed, I like the flora brand best so far but haven't experimented with a lot of other brands yet.  When I think of the old masters and the oils and pigments they created I wonder how we can ever reproduce the paint quality they created in their artworks!  I still have much to learn, but continue to experiment and enjoy being able to create different properties in my paints for different subject matter.

I've been experimenting with new pigments over the summer.  It has been tricky to work with some of the pigments I've tried.  Vicenza Earth is a pigment I purchased after reading about it's low opacity and glazing qualities.  It is also used as a pigment extender, and I love many of these types of pigments!  

I found the particle size to be so large and gritty it was impossible to use as a glaze, or extender.  It left a texture in my paint that I found undesirable, but this is because I choose to have very smooth glass like surfaces in my final paintings.  Sometimes it is difficult to spend time experimenting and end up with unexpected results.  I have had mixed results making mediums with powdered leaded glass, and also making paint with the Smalt pigment.  The Smalt was very difficult to work with.  I did not document those in photos, but I will continue to update my blog with my painting endeavors in the future.

Still life with Plums and MacGillivray Warbler  16"x16" oil/panel by Sarah Siltala

Saturday, July 30, 2016


"Twilight" 24x30 oil/panel by Sarah Siltala

Lately I have been feeling adventurous in the studio, and wanting to return to themes I once considered pursuing years ago.  My feeling lately is blue, as in the color blue and all it's nuances.  I love painting the desert sky because of the varying shades of blue you can study in one evening.  Years ago I considered a series of nocturne paintings celebrating the vast skies at at twilight, when the first twinkle of stars appear.  It must be something about this time of year, and spending time outside.  Or in the car, travelling, this is a fantastic way to give the sky your full attention--no distractions.  No city lights, buildings or roads obscure the horizon here in New Mexico, it's just vast earth stretching out to the biggest skies you can imagine.  I am passionate about road trips because when else can you stop and just watch everything go by for hours on end, it's like a moving meditation, usually with an exciting destination at the end.  I also love the freedom when I paint landscapes, to be able to be fully present in the moment while I'm working and mixing colors, letting the painting dictate it's own course, usually surprising me at the end.  It's very much the opposite of still life painting. I paint landscapes from memory and impressions of the desert that I've been surrounded by my entire life here in New Mexico.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

How to Prepare Perfect Panels

I have many inquiries on how to prepare hardboard panels for painting.  I have found that nothing compares to making your own supplies for classical painting, from paint, to oil and mediums, to handmade panels.  It really will make a difference in your painting, and you can customize your surface to your own working methods and needs.  I like a lightly textured and absorbent surface to paint on.  Surfaces do effect how the final painting will look and I have seen students struggle with store bought panels and fight against slippery smooth texture, or cheap canvas texture, both ruin the effect of layering and glazing.  Materials do matter!  If you must buy pre-made smooth panels give them a couple coats of acrylic gesso, it will help create some absorbancy and texture and greatly improve the painting surface.

list of supplies:
1. newspaper, I buy rolls of unprinted newspaper and they are only a few dollars each.  
2. gloves, several pairs
3. large sponge, cut into squares
4. foam paint roller
5. several large housepaint brushes, 3" bristles
6. isopropyl alcholol
7. shellac
8. good quality gesso-acrylic disperson ground like Golden brand
9. plastic wrap
10. small bristle painting brush 
11. hardboard, cut into various sizes 
12. tin pie plate 
13. a well vented space for safety against fumes 
14. sandpaper

 first I clean my boards with alcohol, I use the cut up sponges to go over the entire surface, removing dirt and dust.

 Next I give the boards a coat of amber shellac, I use another cut up sponge to apply.  I wear gloves to protect my hands, you need a lot of gloves on hand!  The amber color helps me see if I've got an even coat but is not necessary.  I have read that pigmented shellac is more protective than clear, so I figure that is a good thing.  Coat one side and let dry, flip over and apply to back side, let dry completely.  Please make sure you are in a well ventilated area!

 all shellacked  and read for gesso

 I use a foam roller to apply a coat of gesso.  I thin the gesso with a little bit of water, not much.  The texture will be very grainy and orange peel like at first, keep lightly rolling the gesso as it sets and the texture will smooth out considerably.  let dry.  reapply, in the same manner for a total of two passes with the roller.

Wrap your foam roller in plastic wrap in between coats so that the gesso doesn't dry and ruin the roller.

 Here are a stack of dry panels ready for a light sanding, after the first two coats.  I take them outside to sand off any dust or crud or overly bumpy texture.  I like a little texture so I keep a light touch.

Now I'm ready to use the brush, I use unthinned gesso and scrub the panel all over to make sure I have an even coat over the entire surface.  Then I use the brush to create all vertical strokes from top to bottom.  You an see I've wrapped my wet brush with plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.

 First loaded brush with gesso, ending with even vertical strokes.

 I use a small bristle brush to fish out brush hairs or dog hair or whatever

 Now I go over the same vertical strokes in the same up and down direction with a dry, very smooth bristled brush as it is setting up.  This must be done very quickly and watch the edges because they can get tricky.  It's best to view the panel in raking light to check that the texture is correct, see pic below.  Let dry completely.

 First pass with the brush

 After the panel dries I apply one last coat of undiluted gesso with a bristle brush going horizontally across the vertical strokes I just established.  I smooth the brushwork with another completely dry and soft brush and I'm left with a nice faux weave of gesso on the panel.  After this is completely dry I will give one last sanding to smooth out any bumps, or dust particles.  

 The final panels have a light texture and are nice and absorbent for my next step, priming with opaque lead white tinted with color.  I get very excited when I have a fresh panels ready in the studio for painting.  The effort is well worth it!