My Latest Studio Work/Progress on Final Color Pass

First session after finishing the initial color block in stage. I spent most of this session looking at the value relationships between the white of the vase (which was really a very warm-grey), the white of the board the entire set up is sitting on, the white of the flowers and the white of the butterfly. I spent a good deal of time in this session comparing between the four white areas, trying to see what the difference between them was. 

 I focused first on the flowers. In the first color block in, I felt that the shadow areas were getting a little too dark and muddy, when what I wanted was luminous colors even in the shadow areas. I painted over all of the shadow areas of the flowers and strengthened the white areas. I also pumped up the contrast on the yellow flower stamens.


Second session of the final color pass:

The focus of this session was on the butterfly held up by twine. The butterfly is made of white feathers, paper mache in the body, and has iridescent glitter all over the wings, making it a difficult challenge.

Sadie suggested that instead of painting each and every little dot of glitter, that I paint large swaths of blurry color - the shapes of the areas instead of pieces. I also remembered a passage in James Gurney's book, "Color and Light" about painting scales on a dinosaur. Instead of painting all of the texture everywhere, he recommended only painting the texture in the light, and especially in the highlighted area. As the textures moves into less illuminated areas of the form, it will become less and less apparent to the eye.

This was as far as I chose to push the glittery iridescent areas of the butterfly. In the next few sessions during the final pass I will revisit both the glitter areas and the string. 


Third session of the final color pass:

I spent almost this entire session working on the pattern on the vase and the color shifts in the shadow areas of the white areas in the vase. 

I often struggle painting white objects. As I am observing the scene in front of me, I can clearly see the light area vs. the shadow side. But when I've sat and observed these same objects over a long period, like today's five hour session, my eyes begin to pick up the subtle hue shifts, bounce colors and variation in the value. 

In the past when I'd worked in the alla prima method (direct wet on wet painting) I would just simplify these areas for the sake of turning the form, with the brush work always on stage, so to speak. The Flemish indirect method, on the other hand, provides the opportunity to get the subtle variance of the light on the form by building up layers and layers of paint. With layering, you can push and pull areas into and out of focus, glaze areas, and continue to soften or sharpen edges endlessly. All of this makes it challenging to make decisions. I've resigned to working out the "mood" of each area in relation to the whole piece.

For the final finishing details in the next 2-3 sessions, I plan to work on the gradient of the blue-green in the  background. Working over many sessions, the color in the background has begun to creep a little. Some areas are not matching previously painted areas. That happens because each session I am working on a specific area and need to mix up the surrounding background paint color so that I can soften the edges.

In the next few sessions, I will work on smoothing out the hue shift and the shadow areas so that it is a little more harmonious. I might also make the green-blue a little more saturated. The flowers still have a few textures and details that are not yet depicted, and the glitter on the butterfly is not quite there yet. Last but not least, the pattern on the vase…is it too dark? I will most likely add a light glaze of vase color on top of the pattern in the center so that it does not call itself to attention so much.

Thanks for reading!

Latest Studio Painting/1st Color Pass Finished

Sunday is my painting day. I paint from about 10 am until 4 pm, using that time as efficiently as I can. I put on my headphones, crank up the latest history lecture I've been absorbed in, and paint. My painting space currently is one of the still life stations at Sadie Valeri's Atelier, which has excellent light and overall great art vibes. I really enjoy watching new students learn and go through similar trials and tribulations I went through as an art student. The dedication and determination is so concentrated that it permeates the air and makes me feel motivated all week long. It is an experience I feel fortunate to be a part of. 

This past week I finally finished the first color pass on my latest still life painting. This pass is about establishing the main color relationships in general terms rather than details. At this point, I will go into the fine details and creating areas of focus.  Below is a series of process images from the closed grisaille state into the 1st pass color stage.

The finished closed grisaille, the 2nd underpainting that establishes a full value range. Although as an alla prima painter by training I've never separated out the value stages in this way, I've found that painting the grisaille has enhanced my understanding of how deeply value relationships are tied to color. 

Beginnings of the color pass. There is a subtle range of color going on in the light areas of the flowers. Instead of focusing on those colors, I've painted them pure white in this first color pass. 

 In this stage I am also focusing a lot on the edges of things, making edges very blurry instead of sharp in any one area.

The details on the vase are painted very softly on purpose. Later when I work on the final color pass, I will sharpen up the detail where needed, including the highlight area which falls over the flower details of the vase.

Notice how blurry the edges are all around the subject. In fact, I probably should have painted them even softer. 

After the flowers and vase hues were painted, I began working on the hue shift in the background area from the bottom left up toward the top right. This is not necessarily a smooth transition in the actual set up, but an improvement in the light pattern that I felt worked better for the composition than what is actually happening in reality.

As I moved toward the butterfly and the shadow underneath it, I roughed in the color in very simple terms making sure to leave the edges extremely soft. The tricky part of this area is going to be the glittery, shimmery surface of the wings, which are feathers that have glitter applied to them. Instead of painting all of that detail, I just noted general colors and made the upper right area pure white.

The finished butterfly. I sharpened up a couple of areas in the light, but left the rest very soft.

The finished first color pass. As you can see the background gradient is still quite rough, as are patches in the vase and flowers. All of this will be addressed in the next stage as I refine the painting.


Meditations on Still Life Painting

 The subject matter in my painting is a little odd, I know. When I set it up, I had been thinking about the fantastic dioramas in the Chicago Field Museum and thought I'd try recreating that feeling of an artificially arranged environment. Instead of using real flowers in my set up, I crafted paper flowers which I dipped in wax to preserve their shapes. Likewise, the feather butterfly is not a real preserved butterfly, but is instead crafted. I chose to show the way I set up the still life by including the string, clothes pin and tape so that the viewer knows this is a set up and is not real.

As a modern viewer of any still life painting, the audience knows that the subject has been set up by the artist, every detail carefully composed, including the direction of the light. We have a relationship to narrative painting that is different than it was in the past.

Dioramas from the Field Museum in Chicago. Taxidermy animals displayed in an artificial environment  made to look real, depicting a certain narrative of a scene that might have occurred in real life. The images in the far background are realistically painted murals. The foliage and tree branches are silk, wood and painted plaster.

Originally, still life arrangements were not seen with the same eye as we see them now. Natural History dioramas and still life paintings were similar in that they were narrative arrangements that represented a story to the viewer about something not widely known about the world, like animals on the plains of Africa or they were representative of religious beliefs or values like in many of the Flemish still life paintings of the 16th century. Viewing these depictions in our modern era, we know more about these subjects due to availability of travel, familiarity brought to us by stories told in film, the wide use of photography in remote places, and globalization via the internet. As a result, the still life in the traditional sense now holds less importance to us as an informative vehicle than it has been in the past. 

And yet, I am an artist in this modern age who has a desire to paint elaborate and narrative depictions in the still life format, creating the cart before the horse, so to speak. I wonder if in our modern era the tradition of still life painting can bring to us something of equal value or perhaps something new and different. It is a question I am thinking about a lot as I work on this painting. 

Classical Realism with Sadie J. Valeri

Last January, I took a two week Classical Realism workshop taught by Sadie J. Valeri in her San Francisco studio.  
At the time I took the course, my interest in Classical Realism was purely practical. I paint at home nights and weekends, which for me has meant that the Alla Prima (wet into wet paint) method I was trained in at the Palette and Chisel and American Academy of Art, has required immediacy and speed, a process not well suited to my current working full time life style.

I thought perhaps the layered and methodical process of the Dutch/Flemish indirect process might provide me with a better working method, allowing me to work in stages rather than all at once, better suited to coming back over the course of several days and nights. While all of this is true, what I found after taking Sadie Valeri's course was far more enriching and enlightening than I'd expected.

Lundman-studio shot 2 -Sadie Valeri

For those unfamiliar with the term, Classical Realism refers
 to the contemporary rebuilding of a legacy of art instruction which developed from the Renaissance ateliers up through the 19th century Academies, which was nearly lost in the anti-figurative philosophies of the 20th century. Sadie uses a process of indirect painting that was developed by the Dutch and Flemish painters, but many ateliers use a two or sometimes three step process.

For further reading, you can find extensive information HERE at the Art Renewal Center website along with many examples of past and present works. (also a huge array of articles and information on schools)

Construction Exercises and Value Control

The first exercise we worked on was a value sphere. I wrote extensively about this exercise, the terms and lighting effects HERE. At first glance this exercise might appear simple. I assure you, it is not! Like practicing scales on the piano, the value sphere is the equivalent for artists.


After we we practiced the value sphere, we studied the principles of organic form in Nature, contour and shape, perspective, and how best to construct objects, including a fantastic lecture on ellipses. **note: for this blog post I will focus primarily on the painting method and will outline in later posts the important information regarding structure that I learned.

We began our still life painting by taping a sheet of mylar (vellum) paper to a board on our easels which were leveled in direct line with the still life set up. Using a viewfinder, we mapped out our composition by making small thumbnails. We then went over principles in construction of objects, breaking down our subjects into shapes using the straight line block in technique rather than sight size. **note: the two links are 1) example of a figure drawing using straight line block in from Sadie's blog and 2) a discussion on about sight size vs. other methods with good comments about non reliance upon sight size.


Each student's easel was set up almost at eye level with the still life. Our easels were set far enough away to make the set up just under life size, in this case about 4-5 feet away.The reason for this is practical; comparing side by side makes measuring and comparing easier rather than guessing and translating on to the page the size you would like the objects to be.


Also important to note here is that Sadie's studio is set up for North lighting, the most consistent form of natural light. We did not use any form of artificial lighting whatsoever for this course.

Materials for Painting

After we transferred our completed drawings to the gesso panel, we began painting. Here is a list of materials we used which can also be found on Sadie Valeri's website HERE:
Robert Simmons "White Sable" brushes with the maroon handles and white bristles (very affordable)
Filberts, 2 each of sizes #10, #4, and #1
Rounds, 2 each of size #1 (one brush for the light areas, one brush for the dark areas)
Refined Linseed Oil
Stand Oil
Odorless Mineral Spirits (Turpenoid)
Natural Turpenoid  (ONLY for cleaning brushes, never get it into your paint)
"Silicoil" brand brush cleaning jar filled with Natural Turpenoid 
Paint Rags:
Shop cloths are used (can be found at Home Depot) for the reason that other paper towels have too much lint - especially the popular Viva brand paper towels that many impressionist painters employ. 
classic wooden artist palette with thumb hole so we can pick it up or clip it to our easels.
(If it's brand new, brush on thick coats of linseed oil every night for several days/weeks and rub it into the surface or it will absorb oil paint.) 

**note: when I was in art school we used untempered masonite panels cut to size at Home Depot, which we coated with linseed oil in the same way. these have no thumb holes but are great palettes and can also be clipped to an easel if needed.
smoothly sanded gesso panel with no texture. Sadie makes her own panels (detailed blog post on her site HERE). You can also use Ampersand smooth panels or make your own. 

**note: Daniel Sprick mentioned in his workshop that he coats untempered masonite panels with shellac, then five coats of Golden brand gesso, the last few coats he sands with a belt sander, and then applies Alkyd white to obliterate the texture completely making a smooth surface.

First Stage of Painting
The Open Grisaille Layer

"Open Grisaille" means "dead grey layer" in French. The idea of this is a basic first pass of values that also creates a surface for later layers of paint to adhere to.

We began by mixing a thin layer of burnt umber, a touch of ultramarine blue, and small amount of white, thinned down with *only* turpentine. We used two brushes: one with paint and the other with turpentine on it which functioned as an eraser for mistakes.
We began by washing in the darkest dark in a thin layer. Rather than "swiping" in big strokes, we used small strokes, building our darks. This stage is called "open" grisaille because the white is the white of the panel - not white paint. This stage seems similar to watercolor in respect to how the paint is used, staining the paper in varying degrees of saturation, the white of the paper being the highest value. Here the "stain" is thinned oil paint on a very smooth panel. Thinking of it this way helped me through this layer.

This layer will eventually be completely covered up in the very next layer. However, skipping this step is not advised as it will help the oil paint bind to the surface of the very slick panel. I also found this step a good way to make "pathways" into the brain for understanding the nuances of how the light is working on the set up, kind of like a "warm up" for subsequent layers of paint.


Usually the open grisaille will take about six hours to dry. The panel must be dry before moving on to the next layer of paint.


The "Couch"

After our panels dried over night upon completion of our open grisaille, we came back the next day to apply the couch. In fact, after each step is completed and dried, it is almost always necessary to apply a "couch" layer of underpainting medium on to the panel.  A couch layer on a dried panel aids the application of the new paint layer and helps the paint absorb into the panel.

The underpainting medium (linseed oil + turp) should be applied in the thinnest layer possible using a clean large brush. Sadie will also sand between layers after applying the couch, (which is called wet sanding) using the finest possible sand paper tooth - #600 - in order to remove dust and lint that adheres to the panel over night. Many artists have various recipes for the couch - Sadie uses underpainting medium.

Also, we applied the couch only to an area we were working on that day  because if we oiled an area we weren't painting, over the course of the day the oil would drip or become gummy.

**note: a good source for information about couching is in the book, Oil Painters Handbook, an encyclopedia that documents time tested techniques for oil painting materials and methods.

Closed Grisaille - The Black and White Value Layer 

After the Open Grisaille step, we moved on to the "Grisaille" layer or Closed Grisaille stage. More information on the history of this method can be found HERE. This layer involves white paint and is completely monochromatic.

The colors we used to mix this grey are French Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna,
and Titanium White.


We mixed seven values, counting white as value one and near to black as seven. This in itself I thought was an excellent exercise for understanding how best to boil the infinite value scale down to a workable palette.


**Side Note: These black and white values are really warm greys. If you are not familiar with the differences between true cool greys, neutral greys, and warm greys, I highly recommend going to the art supply store nearest you and looking at sets of markers or gouache sets. You will notice the difference between the shifts between them, and it will help you gain an understanding of how how cool, neutral, and warm colors work. You could also buy some sets in three values of each marker and do some exercise sketching. When I worked as a background painter in the 90's, very often I would do value studies using these three greys - it is amazing at how "full" the color can look when really there is no color at all (or very little chroma, which is what is really going on).


After mixing up our value strings, I was more than eager to cover up the open grisaille layer. Again, I found interesting information regarding how best to apply the paint that was quite different from the Alla Prima technique I was trained in. A lot of artists learn to apply paint in values that "band" together and then blend those value bands. Sadie instructed us that this methodology does not produce a truly accurate and nuanced representation of the values and causes loss of control. It is better to instead think of the paint as small tiles that move across the form, painting each as a very small "dab" - not swiping at all - moving across the form rather than up and down. It is important not to rush or feel like you need to get it all down in one day. The importance here lies in getting as accurate as possible the values of the set up before moving on to the color stage.


I love the look of a palette at the end of the day, although I don't recommend having your open can of diet hansen's ginger ale next to all those solvents. :) However, Sadie also instructed us to always keep the lids on our solvents and mediums while we painted to reduce the toxic effect in the air as much as possible. I was amazed at how six students were painting and yet the room barely smelled of paint at all! (a nice thing for anyone with asthma like myself)


 The Color Layer

After working a couple of days on refining the closed grisaille, black and white layer, we moved on to color.

the colors on the palette below, from left to right: Titanium White, Alizarin Crimson Permanent, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Sap Green, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Viridian Green, Mars Red, Burnt Umber.   


At this stage in the workshop, Sadie lectured about COLOR. Instead of getting into the ins and outs of this chart, I will post the Munsell chart. If you are a digital artist using Photoshop, you will find this easy to understand since Photoshop uses this color wheel system. If you are new to this concept, I suggest reading more about this HERE:

Munsell Color Chart


When I began laying in the initial color, I found it difficult to get the paint to adhere to the black and white layer with out picking up some of the black and white paint, which was muddying the color. To make sure this doesn't happen, make sure the closed grisaille layer is completely dry before applying color. I did appreciate the black and white layer, however, because I felt it made the color layer easier to focus on. Because the values were already noted carefully, I did not have to think about the value as much, which left me thinking about chroma and saturation instead. Nice!


Here we started by mixing up the dark color of an object, the light color and a mid tone. We painted thicker in the lights and thinner in the shadows, commonly referred to as "thick over lean", concentrating on the lights rather than the dark colors. We typically mixed a "string" of color before painting an object.

Another important difference I discovered between Alla Prima and Classical Realism was the handling of the highlight. Typically in Alla Prima, I would paint the warm tan-grey of the bottle first and then lay the highlight on top of that layer. When faced with the highlight in this set up, that is exactly how I began to do until Sadie intervened, explaining that in Classical Realism everything is painted right next to each other. In other words, the highlight is painted right next to the bottle color rather than on top of - sometimes referred to as "windowing".

** note: In addition, when I attended a Timothy Jahn demo at Sadie's studio in October of this year, he also mentioned this same thing: that he paints only a small section of a painting at a time, bringing it to full completion and then moves on, moving out and around the painting from there. (Visit his website here)


In the above photo you can see the black and white layer was mixing with my color. I found the next day when the layer had completely dried, the color went on cleaner without picking up the layer underneath. Be sure that b&w layer is dry!


My set up included a crumpled brown paper bag, which I was not able to complete. I mainly focused on the egg and dish, bottles and two glasses. I quite enjoyed this step and could have worked on it for much longer, but at this point the two week course was finished.
My semi-finished painting, above.

 Demonstration and Lecture Photos
Sadie J. Valeri lecturing while she demo'd the grisaille "dead layer". I noticed how light her open grisaille layer was compared to mine. You can't tell in this photo below, but the paint barely made any texture at all on the surface.
Three eggs in three steps, by Sadie J. Valeri. First, the pencil construction, second, black and white value layer, third, full color (although there is an open grisaille step before the black and white stage):


Here is Sadie's finished egg from the demo she started in the above photos. As you can see, her skill is well honed! It looked even better in person.


Final Thoughts

The methods used in this kind of painting were commonly taught in Ateliers in Europe and America, but diminished during the late 1800's through 1900's during the age of deconstruction in Western Art. (which happened in all the arts, including writing, dance, architecture, sculpture, poetry, etc) A revival has been taking place over the last thirty years for artists who wish to learn Classical painting methods driven by those who have a deep desire to depict Nature in it's true visual state. As a result, Classical Realism has become a richly poetic form of visual art in recent years thanks to the many Ateliers popping up all over the US and Europe and support by collectors world wide.

But what if you don't have a desire to paint in this manner? While I see a lot of painters begin at workshops that are loosely structured and sometimes even stylistic, I highly recommend that students begin with Classical Realism. Additionally, if you have already attended art school, Classical Realism studies will solidify accumulated knowledge and enhance an understanding of visual principles. Every form of painting, Impressionism, Alla Prima, Naturalism, even Abstract Expressionism is an off shoot of this hundreds year old tradition. Modernist avant guard schools function as a reaction to and against Classical Art tradition. Knowing this, why not fully understand the founding principles of technique and explore the truths of Nature? Once an understanding is mastered and practiced, along with the philosophy and historical context, exploring areas of visual expression is borne out of a place of understanding and relevance with a nuanced and intended expression of a visual idea. 

Lundman-studio shot 1 -Sadie Valeri

As for me,  I have spent most of this year using my vacation time and weekends to take workshops of all kinds, and truly enjoyed them all. Because of this, I have intentionally put off my personal work. I still have a great deal of questions and interests to explore, which I hope to address in my own paintings next year. I will definitely be using this technique for many of my studio works and am very eager to start!

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.