Sadie J. Valeri's Two Week Classical Realism Workshop

my still life painting (unfinished), Sadie J. Valeri's workshop results

At the end of January I took a fantastic ten day long workshop with Classical Realist painter Sadie J. Valerie. I regularly attend Sadie's atelier on Tuesday evenings for open studio life drawing sessions. It was by happy accident that I learned last year of Sadie's Tuesday night long pose sessions right down the street from where I work, a new classical realist atelier - absolute true fate! I began attending the Tuesday night long pose sessions, continuing my attempts at life drawing.

It was on one of these Tuesday nights, Sadie mentioned she would be holding a ten day painting workshop, in the manner of Classical Realism, which she practices to great success. Now,
I have been studying observational painting for many years now, first at the American Academy of Art in Chicago, and then at the Palette and Chisel in Chicago during the late 80's and 90's, a time when Richard Schmid was president there, a great painter to whom I am undeniably influenced. His teaching has shaped everything I know about color and light, and even the way I apply paint on a canvas, watercolor board or digitally for work. The reason I bring up my influence of Richard Schmid is because there is no doubt that his teaching shaped the way I have been painting for many years. Art schools at the time I went had pretty much thrown out the book on hundreds of years of research into how to actually paint and draw reality. For me, Schmid was and has been a life line in this regard (as well as a few amazing teachers at the American Academy of Art). For a while I sold paintings at the P&C, was in group shows, and was represented by a gallery, Jody Kirberger of the Talisman Gallery. Although I am ever grateful for my introduction to the lessons of realist painting and earned my living as an illustrator because of it, for many years I felt a strange lack of progress and improvement with my work that accumulated in my consciousness, eventually causing me to stop painting for about ten years only to focus on my professional life as an Illustrator.

It was with this background I began life drawing on Tuesday evenings. I began to feel curious about Classical Realism after having the privilege of seeing Sadie's paintings in her studio once a week. Her paintings have mesmerized me; they look more real than real, and yet also painted. I wanted to learn exactly how she is able to achieve such crispness in her work and get a general overview of what she thinks about when painting, so I signed up for her workshop.

The content of the workshop course was a true surprise to me. The first week began not with painting a still life, which I had anticipated, rather, with the fundamentals of drawing, beginning with the shading a sphere, from which all organic form is derived, then on to constructing a simple man made object, and finally, a crumbled paper bag. I must admit, at first constructing the paper bag was daunting and quite time consuming. After all, my painting goals do not necessarily include painting crumpled wax paper still lifes, as much as I appreciate Sadie’s. However, after working on the bag for an afternoon, I found the lesson enlightening on many levels, and, dare I say it...I fell in love with the complexity of form in this exquisite paper bag, thanks to Sadie’s insight into construction, a method different from the sight-size method I learned in art school.

As the class continued through the two weeks, surprises like this were often the case; my Alla Prima conventions were definitely challenged as I learned about the differing Classical Realist method regarding edges, value, chroma and hue. The second week was spent entirely on painting, two days for the black and white under painting and three days spent on color, a slow building crescendo toward the last day, when that "ah ha!" moment struck all of us workshop attendees.

All in all, Sadie's class was absolutely worth it, considering all that I have taken away. Although I am not necessarily a realist in the classic tradition, I feel that I now have a grander and more full understanding of how nature works, as well as a deeper understanding of a different Realist philosophy, a descendant of the pre-salon methods, as opposed to Alla Prima and direct painting, which descends from Impressionist ideals.
I came away from the workshop with a semi finished still life, abundant notes to fuel my research for future pursuits in picture making and many, many thoughts and questions about the choices I will make in my own pursuit as a fine art painter.

In addition to all of that wonderful stuff, I’ve found that immersing myself in classical realist tradition has had an unexpected effect on me; my eye is sharper, my appreciation of artists' work more discerning (including not only realist paintings but also a finer discernment in interpretive and cartoon based illustration, which I also love), ideas about a direction for my own work have become more clear, and my love of Nature has become more profound.
How fortunate to have this experience. No doubt, I am a better artist and art lover for having taken the class and the fire in my soul rekindled.

As a way of continuing my own research and studies, I thought I would document my notes from the class, expanding on each topic with ideas from other artists and schools of thought. Even if you think you do not want to paint in this very mannered, methodical approach, or do not wish to make highly realistic renderings of reality, or prefer to stylize imaginative illustrations, please stay tuned. I assure you, there will be something in these posts for you, as there undoubtedly has been for me.