Meeting Your Artistic Match

4 Jun 2013

Bottle Collection by Sadie J. Valeri, oil on panel, 18 x 24, 2009.
Bottle Collection by Sadie J. Valeri,
oil on panel, 18 x 24, 2009.
Not 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.

The 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.

Wrapped Silver Goblet by Sadie J. Valeri, oil on panel, 11 x 24, 2009.
Wrapped Silver Goblet by Sadie J. Valeri,
oil on panel, 11 x 24, 2009.
Wax Paper II by Sadie J. Valeri, oil on panel, 11 x 14, 2009.
Wax Paper II by Sadie J. Valeri,
oil on panel, 11 x 14, 2009.
Since 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 Salon.

Valeri 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.”

If 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!



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on 7 May 2010 7:02 AM

Her work is gorgeous, and the possibility of running out of subject matter is nill.  

Sadie created a nitch and mastered it.  Lovely article.

Blush Pink wrote
on 19 May 2010 5:23 AM

Makes me drool with envy.  Fantastic.