too many years ago, San Francisco based artist Sadie J. Valeri was an aspiring
figure painter stuck in a still life studio. She had a good deal of time on her
hands to hone her painting and drawing skills, but her workspace was less than
100 square feet. The space constraints, plus the costs of hiring a model, meant
that figure studies were not a viable option. But Valeri wanted to make the
most of her studio time and strongly test her abilities, so she set her sights
on creating the most challenging still life composition she could come up with.
Because she wanted to produce highly detailed paintings that would take
anywhere from 60 hours to three months or more to complete, the artist steered
away from still life paintings using flowers, fruit, and other perishables. “I wanted to work with
objects that would stay still. I was searching for really dynamic and
interesting compositions that were stable,” she says.
|Bottle Collection by Sadie J.
oil on panel, 18 x 24, 2009.
artist found the perfect composition mainstay in the form of a commonplace
sandwich wrap—wax paper. Previously, Valeri used this unlikely still life
painting material to protect painted panels when they were leaning against each other.
“That actually didn’t work too well, but I had the wax paper on hand and just
grabbed a piece of it, crumpled it up, and tossed it behind the still life
objects I already had in place. It created a nice composition and filled the
space in an interesting way,” she says.
that time, wax paper has been a good match for Valeri and she’s pitted her
skills against it in numerous paintings. What’s kept her engaged is the paper’s
unpredictability. When it is creased, crinkled, and folded, the resulting
shapes and angles are always unique, and provide an interesting challenge. “It
is really hard to paint,” she says. “The wax paper tended to look flat and not
at all like itself when I generalized and simplified all the little details.”
Instead, Valeri approached the wax paper as if she was painting a portrait,
with each detail of the paper given as much attention as the features of a
human face. “When we draw, we tend to center and straighten and organize, but
when you commit yourself to seeing accurately, you have to resist the
temptation to simplify, and instead show the actual weird and unique shapes in
front of you,” she says. The artist trained herself to paint just that way,
which has led to a series of virtuosic wax paper still lifes, including Bottle Collection, which won first prize
in the still life category at this year’s International Art Renewal Center
||Wrapped Silver Goblet by Sadie
oil on panel, 11 x 24, 2009.
||Wax Paper II by Sadie J. Valeri,
oil on panel, 11 x 14, 2009.
did not start painting still lifes because she was a particular fan of the
genre. “My goal has been to be a figurative painter,” she says, “but all the
best artists who work in that genre also do landscapes, portraits, and still
lifes. Each exercise allows an artist to become a better painter.” Luckily,
still lifes can create endless challenges. From the incorporation of different
objects, surfaces, and the ever-changing appearance of each new piece of wax
paper, to the reflections, diffused light, and shadows that make up the
composition of any still life composition, Valeri considers her time with still
life well spent. “You can’t write off still lifes,” she says. “When you put a
form in space, there’s just so much to challenge you, and if you come away with
one problem solved, you’ve done a lot.”
you’re looking for a new challenge, or just want to learn more about still life
painting, Sadie Valeri is about to release her own still life painting DVD. Catch a sneak preview here. Enjoy!