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 slightly thinned 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 slightly diluted 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!

Three Red Apples

red apple oil painting
Three Red Apples, 11x14 oil/panel by Sarah Siltala

This painting will be available at the Student/Faculty show at the New Mexico Art League opening this Saturday.  The show runs from July 30th-August 27th.
Click on the link above  for more info and to register for my Fall painting class.

 Sarah Siltala, Classical Still Life Painting in Oils

begins: 9/12/2016-10/31/2016, Mondays
9 a.m.-12 p.m.
in the main studio