About Sadie Valeri

Sadie Valeri is an award-winning classical realist painter and instructor based in San Francisco, California.
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Since October 2006 I have recorded every aspect of my artistic development on my blog. Here I invite you "behind the scenes" into my studio, where I share all of my materials, class notes, travel journals, and step-by step demonstrations of my paintings and drawings, including video demos

Entries in painting (203)


The Life of a Painting: "Between Darkness and Wonder"

“Between Darkness and Wonder” 16 x 20 inches, oil on panel

I’ve just completed my latest painting, “Between Darkness and Wonder.” I started it last April, but had to stop working on it for most the summer for reasons I’ll explain soon. In total I estimate I worked on it for about 10-12 weeks.

It was a luxury to work on it so long! I love not having to rush. For about a year now I have resisted committing to gallery shows for yet-unpainted work, because the pressure to make show deadlines was starting to put too much stress on the process of making my paintings. So now I have no show commitments, and I can take as long as I like on each painting.

I started the painting back in April with a detailed line drawing:

Preparatory line drawing, graphite on vellum trace paper

After I transferred the drawing to the panel and refined it, I started a layer of umber monochrome underpainting. 

Open grisaille underpainting, Burnt umber only

In this area you can see the umber “open grisaille” transparent underpainting, with the next layer started on top: the closed grisaille opaque underpainting.

Starting the Closed Grisaille

This stage is after a pass or two of color. The values and colors are still rough, and I’ve left the edges soft and blurry so I can continue to refine the drawing.

Rough color

When the whole painting had a pass of color, I had spent 6 (somewhat distracted) weeks on it, and I was about 50% done.

At this point, my life got even more crazy and I had to put the painting on hold over much of the summer.

For one, I had agreed throughout the previous year to write a few different articles for various publications. It just so happened that the final deadlines for all the articles converged at the same time, in late June/early July.

One article was for The Artist’s Magazine, and it was a Drawing Board column about how I use the principles of light falling on an imaginary sphere to render light and shadow.

The images for the article are simply the stages of my Graphite Value Sphere exercise, so the magazine editor requested a more dynamic image to illustrate the concept. I decided to do a drawing of the hand cast in my still life, since it was already set up and because I wanted to study the shapes of the forms in more detail before moving forward with the painting anyway.

Study of a hand sculpture, 8 x 10 inches, graphite on transluscent vellum

Victorine Meurent portrait by ManetThe next article I wrote was about Victorine Meurent, the model who posed for Manet’s “Olympia,” who was also an artist who showed her paintings in the Paris Salon.

I was fascinated by her life as a working-class music hall performer who became one of the most iconic models in history, and amazingly was also an artist in her own right.

Little is known about her and only 1 of her own paintings has survived, but she studied at the Academie Julian (one of the first fine art schools open to women), lived into her 80’s and indentified herself as an artist her whole life. The article is published in The Portrait Society’s quarterly printed newsletter.

The third article was a step-by-step of my painting process featured in International Artist Magazine. In it I describe all the stages of my painting, Anchor in the Gale, which is the same painting featured in my instructional painting video “Indirect Oil Painting.”

Step-by-step of “Anchor in the Gale”

Meanwhile, another big event was happening at the studio. We had been hosting Carl Dobsky along with his full time students in our space after Safehouse Atelier lost their studio back in February. But Carl’s girlfriend lives in LA, and over the summer he made the difficult decision to stop teaching his full time program, and move to LA to be with his girlfriend.

Me and Carl in my studio right after he moved his students in

Carl is a good friend of mine, and I understood and supported his decision. I knew it was a wrenching choice to leave his students and the school he had spent years building.

His departure meant major changes for the studio, so I had some hard thinking to do. I considered disbanding the full time program, but the students were all set up and working on their cast drawings. I really enjoyed the focus and energy of having a full time program in my space. Carl had assembled a wonderful group of students, and I knew they would be disappointed to stop their studies.

I had not intended to direct a full time program so soon, it was always a distant idea. But the final decision was made easier when Carl highly recommended his former student, James Edmonds, to help teach.

I already knew James since he had been subbing for Carl’s classes occasionally while Carl worked to finish paintings for his September solo show at John Pence Gallery. James was enthusiastic about teaching the full time program, and when I offered him a position at the studio he accepted it. One of Carl’s full time students, Christina Davis, had already begun assisting me at my summer workshop, and she agreed to be my ongoing assistant for all my classes at the same time she is continuing her studies. So by hiring both of them I could continue the program.

Taking on the full time students meant I had to restructure my weekday teaching program, incorporating both part time students and full time students into all my classes. It significantly expanded the resources I can offer to all my students, but it required a lot of financial calculations, space calculations, and the procurement of more studio equipment. So I spent most of the summer planning and preparing for the fall semster, when I would start my program after our summer workshops.

Screenshot of Nowell’s editing software for my instructional videoFinally, on top of all of that, Nowell was at home working long hours every day for months to complete the editing and production of my 3-hour instructional painting video.

As with all major projects, it turned out to be even bigger than we had originally estimated, and we both felt the pressure to get it done as soon as possible.

Nowell generally handles all the “behind the scenes” of running the studio: Keeping us stocked up with supplies, running payroll and bookkeeping, combating the never-ending beurocracies of small business, and running our home life. He managed to keep with all that while producing the video, but he was overworked for months.

So, it turned out to be a pretty busy summer!

Finally, in September my fall classes began again, the full time program (including 5 of Carl’s former students and 3 brand new students) started their school year. James and Christina came on board as employees, and very soon we were settled into a daily routine.

With all the studio’s classes, including our evening and weekend classes, we now have 125 students and 4 instructors working in the studio every week. With this amount of activity, just keeping the space functional, the instructor’s needs met, and the students productive, requires significant organization. I could easily spend all day every day just teaching and running the studio, and never have time to paint.

But I work hard to stay organized so I can preserve my daily painting hours. Once the summer was over and the new schedule of classes were up and running, I could get back to painting my usual hours: 6 hours at the easel a day, 6-7 days per week.

Finally, I was back to my painting - and then the fun part began!

With the drawing and values complete, and the color roughed in, I could focus on the details of subtle light and texture, further refining the hues and values. Every layer gets closer and closer to what I envisioned when I first started the painting.

DETAIL of “Between Darkness and Wonder”

DETAIL of “Between Darkness and Wonder”

The 6-month period of painting this piece has essentially encompassed a tour of my entire art life: Teaching, managing the atelier, writing articles for art publications, and working with Nowell on the videos.

Now that everyone is settled into a routine, and the instructional video has been released, Nowell and I are looking forward to a period of focused creative productivity for both of us.

And perhaps an occasional day off.

“Between Darkness and Wonder” 16 x 20 inches, oil on panel

More information about our Full Time Atelier, Part Time Atelier, weekend and evening classes, and intensive Workshops, is on our Classes page.




Instructional Oil Painting Video is Now Available for Pre-Order!

Sadie Valeri demonstrates layered, indirect oil painting in the tradition of the Dutch Masters of still life.

Painting: "Cream Satin Drape," 18 x 24, oil on linen

Cream Satin Drape, 18 x 24, oil on linenI am trying a technique that is different from my other paintings. I usually work in the Indirect Flemish Method: Many thin layers on wood panel to get a very high level of realism, without texture, for an almost enamel-like finish. It can take 4-6 weeks to complete a very small 9x12 inch painting.

DETAILIn contrast, this painting is done with a Direct Method: Only 2 layers (the umber underpainting and one pass of full color), painted with thick, loose paint, on stretched linen support. At 18x24 inches it is larger than most my work, and it took less than 2 weeks to complete.

I am finding what I have long suspected to be true: Working precisely and with great control in my more detailed work is teaching me to see better and make better decisions when I work faster and more loosely.

With this more direct method, this is how I think about painting:

The strokes are applied slowly: I look at my subject, decide what is the ONE stroke I want to make. I load up my brush with the correct color, and then very, very slowly make ONE mark. Then I look at it, and decide if it is right or wrong. Sometimes I need to wipe it off and try again if it is wrong. Then I decide what my next stroke will be. 

I start slow, but during the session I naturally speed up, keeping this same level of attention on every stroke. I stop thinking and it starts to feel like the brush is painting on its own.

I use a very light touch, only touching the paint to the canvas, not the bristles. In addition to swiping the brush, I also might push, twist, or wiggle the brush to make the stroke needed. The light touch lays the paint on the canvas, and might leave some broken scumbling drags, without pushing the paint flat.

When loading the brush: To get thicker paint, I push the brush forward into the paint puddle on the palette, not a just a back swipe. I build up a nice glob of paint, with even maybe with a string of peaked paint at the tip.

Every stroke should make the painting feel like it is developing and getting better. If it starts to feel like I am “fixing”, and the painting feels like a struggle, and the painting gets worse even though I am trying to make it better…. I stop painting. I wipe or scrape anything unsuccessful, I breathe, slow down, take a break, and try again.

While painting this I was thinking about how I would teach it as a class or workshop, and realized the only way I could teach it is to teach the Indirect, Flemish method I already teach. For every Direct stroke one must think about drawing, value, color, and edges, all at once. The way I would teach this is to practice each of these skills in isolation until each is mastered, before trying them all at once. 

The Flemish Indirect method separates these steps and is an excellent way to learn all of this. 

For me, working in this more Direct manner is emerging naturally from my Indirect method of study.

WORKSHOP: Still Life Drawing and Painting in the Flemish Method, January 2013, San Francisco


Painting: "I Rely on My Illusions"

“I Rely on My illusions” 11 x 14 inches, oil on panel
What at first glance could be a simple arrangement of a seashell and a floral spray, reveals upon a closer look to be damaged objects, tattered and chipped. However, the inherent structural beauty required to sustain life resonates with the sense of life departed, yet celebrated.
The Vanitas theme exhorts us to focus on the brevity of earthly life, and we delight in the details of the insignificant and ephemeral. The attention given to these torn and damaged objects is an exploration of our own humanity: Insignificant, brief, and yet somehow important.
The plant fragments are Luneria, known for their seed pods which remind us of the moon, or silver dollar coins. They are are the seed pods of a eucalyptus plant, stripped of their brown husks to reveal the silver transparent petals which protect the seeds.
This painting will be included in
April 6 - May 6, 2012

679 Boston Post Road Madison, Connecticut 06443

The show has become a focal point for painters and collectors of still life, and I am thrilled to be participating again.



Flower Alla Prima Oil Sketches

Orange Dahlias, 9x9, oil on linen

Ever since I got a lesson from Michael Klein in direct-method flower painting a couple months ago I’ve wanted to try it again, and once I got home from France I finally had a chance.

Tiny Rose Arrangement, 8x10, oil on linen

The landscape painting also was a good warm-up for direct method painting in the studio. I usually paint Indirect, or Flemish method - where I work in many layers, allowing each layer to dry completely before applying more paint.

Scattered Flowers, 14x18, oil on linen

With Direct method, wet paint is layered over wet paint, and most of the strokes of paint you make will be visible in the final piece. The goal is to get the correct hue, value, chroma, and edge down in each stroke, without adjusting.

For these paintings I am using New Traditions L600 lead-primed linen which comes in big rolls you can cut to the size you need.

I started each painting with an underpainting just using Burnt Umber to work out the composition, basic values, and placement of the objects.

I used Rosemary brushes which I like a lot, they are totally different than the more controlled Robert Simmons white sable brushes I use for Indirect painting.

Red Lilies, 12x16, oil on linen

All of these paintings were done alla prima, meaning in a single day’s painting session. Direct painting can be done in one session or over many days or weeks, but each stroke is painted as it is meant to be seen in the final painting.

And now I’m back to my regular Indirect method, as I have been working the last few days on a preparatory drawing for a new piece which will take me about a month to complete. I won’t have much time to paint in the next few weeks, between teaching my workshop, various short travels, and attending Weekend with the Masters, but it’s been fun to start at least.