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  • Sadie Valeri

New Painting: "Undertow"


"Undertow" 18 x 24 inches, oil on linen

This painting is part of my series of still lifes that I call "wax paper paintings."


Waxed kitchen paper is a transparent, organic material that holds its shape when I twist and crumple it. I arrange it to complement a group of vintage silver and transparent vessels. I use a needle and thread to stitch the paper to my curtain backdrop and suspend it from hooks on the ceiling, so it stays still while I work.


This painting took about 2 weeks to complete.

Open grisaille under painting: Transparent raw umber only

In the past I only tackled this complex subject with an Indirect painting method: A meticulous process that started with a detailed line drawing, transferred to a smooth chalk-gesso panel, and built up with up to a dozen thin layers of paint.


In the last couple years I have been working towards a more Direct method, and this recent painting, although very refined and detailed in the end, follows a much more loose and flexible process from the start. I now paint on an oil-primed linen instead of a sanded-smooth chalk gesso surface, and I don't start with an initial line drawing. I start by massing in the general shapes and composition with a brush and transparent umber paint.

The next layer I start trying to match the elusive hues and values of the subject with opaque paint. My palette is titanium or lead white, indian yellow, quinacradone red, ultramaine blue, and burnt umber.

For each session, I don't necessarily try to match the colors I used before; Instead I do my best to match what I see from life. You can see the hues shift from the top half of the painting to the bottom half. This gets integrated and evened out as I apply more layers.

I am working with large, basic shapes and blurry edges, with no detail at all. I resist the natural inclination to paint sharp edges and detail until I am sure the large basic shapes, values, and hues are correct.

When I feel the major decisions have been resolved, I finally dive into the details. The fun part!

I work on each section of the painting until the whole painting is brought to high resolution.

In the final stage, I spend a few days glazing (deepening the darks) and scumbling (building up the lights and highlights) so the dramatic feeling I intended from the start is expressed in the final painting.


I teach painting and drawing online and through instructional videos. For more information visit my VIDEOS page.

@2019-20 SJNV Creative Associates and Sadie Valeri Atelier | San Francisco, California, United States