Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Solo Show at Collins Gallery, with an exhibition essay by Peter Trippi



collins galleries


Stillness. In our busy-busy world, most of us crave it, yet rarely find it. (The proliferating of meditation apps is just one expression of our yearning.) Fortunately, the painter Sarah Siltala captures stillness on a regular basis, and now we get to discover how she has explored this theme over the past year or so. As this exhibition suggests, most of her attention has been paid to still life paintings that depict an array of birds, fruits, fabrics, flowers, and other foliage, and also to serene landscapes under placid skies. Somehow all of her creations resonate as both traditional and very much of our time.


collins galleries


Our eyes turn first to the “props” in Siltala’s set-ups because we humans instinctively seek out clues and cues. This artist was raised by artist-parents, and her father painted birds, fish, flowers, and other wildlife onto his own ceramics, drawing particular inspiration from the intricate patterning of Persian pottery. In his daughter’s scenes, we more often see East Asian bowls—also densely patterned—and surely it won’t surprise us that she now collects ceramics for herself. In the 17th century, Dutch still life painters included (expensive, imported) ceramics as markers of wealth and aesthetic sophistication. Today we see them not only as gorgeous, but also as signifiers of fragility; no matter how well made, a porcelain bowl can easily be broken, and so it must be protected.


collins galleries

The same can be said of the birds Siltala depicts. Avian populations are in steep decline everywhere due to climate change and human encroachment, so we must do everything possible to keep them alive. Siltala loves watching and photographing their beautiful vitality outdoors, and in the paintings, we can immediately discern her understanding of their anatomy and plumage. At first, the juxtaposition of bird and bowl makes little sense and might seem a bit surreal (“Why is a bird in your dining room?”), but soon we slow down to ponder the vulnerability that an innocent creature would feel outside its natural environment, in a setting so clearly man-made and potentially hostile. The connections between our fragility and theirs are closer than we might imagine; Siltala’s arrangement conveys this unifying idea without preachiness.

It is our minds—more than our eyes, actually—that ascertain the still, meditative aspect of Siltala’s compositions. The artist seeks “to capture the most feeling with the least amount of busy mark making,” and indeed her paintings are, to a degree, studies in empty space charged with a subtle yet powerful tension: we are witnessing that brief moment when a bird—or a butterfly, in one picture—alights in a non-natural setting. We know it will lift off imminently, so we intuitively appreciate—relish even—the preciousness of this instant. Were there no creature at all, the scene would be lovely, yet we might not savor it as thoroughly. Now, in this fleeting moment, every detail matters a bit more.


collins galleries


Viewers may be surprised to learn that Siltala is self-taught, but surely not that she is always teaching herself more about the intricacies of oil painting. Inspired by Old Master traditions, she has even made her own oil paints from pigment and hand-washed linseed oil. With every picture, she sustains the longstanding practice of building thin layers of paint one upon the other; it demands patience because each layer must dry completely before the next can be applied. Pushing further with glazes and scumbles, Siltala achieves a luminosity and a depth that maximizes the play of light and shadow, pleasing our eyes with gem-like colors but not distracting us from the overall sense of unity and stillness.

Getting all of this right is not easy, and it’s a pleasure to watch how Siltala—like a composer of music—explores her variations on a theme, never losing sight of the tranquility she seeks.

Peter Trippi
Editor, Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine
July 2022


Sarah Siltala



Thursday, April 25, 2019

A Poem

The Swan by Mary Oliver
Did you too see it, drifting, all night, on the black river?
Did you see it in the morning, rising into the silvery air -
An armful of white blossoms,
A perfect commotion of silk and linen as it leaned
into the bondage of its wings; a snowbank, a bank of lilies,
Biting the air with its black beak?
Did you hear it, fluting and whistling
A shrill dark music - like the rain pelting the trees - like a waterfall
Knifing down the black ledges?
And did you see it, finally, just under the clouds -
A white cross Streaming across the sky, its feet
Like black leaves, its wings Like the stretching light of the river?
And did you feel it, in your heart, how it pertained to everything?
And have you too finally figured out what beauty is for?
And have you changed your life?

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Saying Goodbye to 2018

bird painting
 Summer Sweet  11x14  oil/panel

I spent some time over the past month recovering from quite a busy year, 2018 was exciting and downright exhausting at times too.  I have often shared on this blog my love of the winter months.  I appreciate the time after the holidays to rest and contemplate new beginnings in Spring.  Being in sync with nature's cycles helps me gather energy for the coming year, and 2019 promises to be another busy one!  While I made plans for upcoming events this Spring and Summer (which I will continue to share on my blog), I also revisited some favorite paintings from my work last year.  I thought I'd share them with you.

bird art
   Water Pitcher and Magpie  16"x20"

bluebird art
Still Life with Bluebird 18"x14"
bird art
The Gift 14"x11"

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Making Salt Refined Organic Linseed Oil

A fresh batch of raw linseed oil made from organic flax seed oil, resting in the light

I recently completed another batch of SRO oil, or salt refined organic linseed oil, for painting.  It's such an interesting process and the results are truly worth the effort.  I like to make my own linseed oil because I am interested in the materials of the past, used by the old masters before modern oil painting materials were available.     

The image above shows the first stage of cleansing the organic flax oil to remove impurities.  The flax oil is mixed with water, sand and salt, and given a good shake.  The cleansed oil rises to the top and is siphoned off and the entire process is repeated again.

Here is the cloudy oil after the first cleansing.  I discard the dirty water, clean the jar, add fresh water, clean sand and salt.  I add the oil back in and shake, shake, shake.


The impurities and mucilage (stuff you don't want in your paintings!) have a molecular attraction to the other ingredients and separate from the oil, sinking to the bottom of the jar.  

 mucilage, yuck


This oil is fully cleansed and will clear as it sits in a sunny window in the light. 

I currently depend on my SRO oil for making oil paint.  I use half of the raw SRO oil for mulling pigments.  I tube the hand made paint in 50 ml tubes that last a long time.  I take the other half of SRO oil and pour it in a shallow glass dish and place it in the sun to thicken.  After a month I have a beautiful, clear and thick oil that is perfect for mediums.

The completed jar of raw oil, ready to make paint!

At the moment I make about half of the colors on my palette from my own oil and pigment.  I have adjusted the ingredients for each pigment to suit my particular needs.  I am slowly making my way through each color and experimenting with the pigments to find the best balance of oils, pigment and fillers like calcite or fumed silica, to create a beautiful tube of oil paint perfectly suited for my indirect layering process. 

~my favorite white~

~my dependable 'warm light mix' that sits right next to white on my palette~

It will take a long time to get through all my colors to have a full palette of handmade oil paint, but in the meantime I'm really enjoying the process!

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Workshop with Teresa Oaxaca & Demo

This past weekend I had the wonderful opportunity to study the portrait in charcoal with Teresa Oaxaca.  I have been spending a lot of energy this year studying figure drawing and when I heard Teresa was coming to Albuquerque I signed up immediately.  In my self-study I had been experimenting with different materials and papers and started to feel frustrated with the time limit in my usual figure drawing group. During the workshop we were only using charcoal and Canson mi-teintes papers and spending a full day on one composition.  It was such a luxury to have a so much time to concentrate on each portrait.  It was a two day workshop, so the class worked on a new portrait each day.  

Here is the model Malia on the first day of the workshop.  Teresa started the day with the following demo:

 my first day portrait

 portrait by Shana Levensen

David Jon Kassan's work for the day. It was such a pleasure to meet so many fantastic artists participating in the drawing session on that first day!

Here is Teresa's work on the second day. Teresa was a wonderful instructor and such a lovely person to meet.  She spent the majority of the time circulating the room and offering personal guidance and instruction.  She spent as much time with you as you wanted and answered every question with the utmost patience and respect no matter what level an artist you were.  Even though I've been painting for fifteen years I felt like a newbie, but by the second day something clicked for me and I felt really focused.  I was pleased with the work and happy because I felt like my self-instruction and practice over the year had finally come together.  Drawing on weekends and finding time in the evenings was worth it and I will continue to hone my skills during these stolen moments between painting and family.

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."