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


"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.  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 ways into the light of KNOWLEDGE.  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 know that is integral to an artist's life 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

American Goldfinch  11"x14"

I just completed my first successful batch of hand refined linseed oil out of organic, cold-pressed Flaxseed oil.  It 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 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

 Oriental White eye and Eucalyptus    14"x11"

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 Umber pigment with the water washed flax-linseed by Art Treehouse on the left and combined with a alkali refined 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

It is a fascinating process.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Linseed Oil and Calcite

Bird Haiku  20"x16" oil/panel

I have an update on my calcite and linseed oil putty making project, comparing a couple different oils and also the Velazquez medium from Natural pigments.  Each putty was made by combining calcite with a different 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 flax-linseed begins as a cold-pressed, organic 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 medium with the bodied oil 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 between using a bodied oil (in the Velasquez medium) and a thinner oil (the Winsor and Newton linseed)

Now the most interesting discovery.  The water washed linseed oil by Art Treehouse 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. 
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 the Art Treehouse linseed 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. 

***UPDATE 5/2018
I have since made my own water washed linseed oil from flax oil in the tradition of the old masters.  I water wash flax oil with a sand and salt mixture to cleanse the oil of impurities.  I make my own calcite putty with the oil and it is now my favorite medium.  My water washed oil produced the best calcite putty for my needs, not too puddly and not too thick-like the Velasquez putty in the can shown above.  I also learned that the Art Treehouse water washed linseed oil is filtered through psyllium, and perhaps this creates a completed different and more complex oil than washing oil with just sand/salt/water.

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!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Spring into Summer, solo show pics and more!

 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

my parents viewing the still life featuring my father's ceramics

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