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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 studio setup (19)


Easels and Tabourets

A lot of people ask about what easels I recommend. In our classroom studio we use two:

H-frame Winsor Newton Shannon Easel

It’s sturdy and well-made for the price. A hidden knob and pin make it non-intuitive for new students, but eventually they figure it out.


American Umatilla Easel 

Lightweight, affordable and very easy to use. We use pony clamps to secure the drawing board for more stability. 

The tabourets are actually laptop stands I bought from Overstock.com. They are a perfect height for holding pencils and palette next to you while you work.

This is my personal studio easel, I love it:
Craftech Sienna Counterweight Easel





Still Life and Cast Stands Setup and Lighting

The new Cast and Still Life studio is all set up and my annual workshop is underway this week!

I’ve been working hard on getting great lighting on all the station and easels and I’m really happy with how they are turning out.

(Ripley prefers the studio to be full of her friends, she’s been a bit lonely this summer, she can’t wait to get her “pack” back together!)

The space really started coming together when we set up our furniture. For still life/cast stands I like to use black/brown Ikea shelving units. They are like shadow boxes, but with a bunch of extra shelves for storing materials. Students use the shelves to store their paintings supplies between classes.

Ikea Bookshelf
Shelf unit, black-brown 
Article Number: 401.021.29 

To start the lighting, I wanted a lot of white ambient light all over the room to light the easels well for painting and drawing. There are several skylights all over, and we added additional banks of fluorescent all over the ceiling, with the same daylight bulbs we discovered work great when we set up our last studio.

Philips 40-Watt 4 ft. T12 Natural Supreme 5000K Linear Fluorescent Light Bulb

Lithonia Lighting Industrial 6-Light High Bay Hanging Fixture

Then came the hard part: Baffling all that ambient light to create dark shadow boxes for the still life and cast setups. I want a single lightsource to shine on my subject, with very little ambient light. So I hung black photographer’s drapery from the ceiling (this is the baffling in the Figure Studio):

The hard part is the ceiling is 16 feet in some places. The easy part is that it is wood, so we can just staple up the fabric. This is the fabric I found - it’s not complete black-out, but it works well to stop light shining on your subject:

Prism Backdrops 10X20’ Black Muslin Photo Video Backdrop Background

To light each individual cast stand we installed track lighting and pointed each light directly at one stand, from an angle. I set up a small cast and also an upturned silver goblet and put this setup on each stand, one by one, to test the light at each station. The white plaster cast shows me if the shadows are dark enough. The silver goblet is a clear reflection of every light source hitting it, which is really helpful to figure out where stray ambient light is coming from.

I get most my casts from

This cast is an inexpensive one I got at DickBlick.com

To control the light I created a “hood” for most the stations from a large piece of black foamcore attached to the top of the bookcase with a wire and strong Gaff tape. This blocks the skylight and fluorescent light but it is angled to allow the track light to shine on the subject.

To control the light shining from the track light, we wrapped each light with Cinefoil, which is black “tin foil” used on film sets (one of the many lighting tips I have learned from my film-major husband, Nowell!).

I’m not posting the track light details because I’m not sure I like them yet. They are LED lights, which were an investment, but they will save us a lot on electricity bills. But we might end up swapping them out for stronger spotlights.

I ended up lighting most the stations with a clamp light (with the reflector hood removed) and a good LED bulb:
Feit PAR30 LED Reflector Bulb

I also used a pony clamp to make sure the light will not slip.
The light from these bulbs creates a tiny double-edge along the edge of a cast shadow, so I tape a piece of frosted mylar over the bulb. I also tape a piece of Cinefoil to mask off the light so it does not shine in my eyes.


New Studio Warming Open House Party July 6, 2014

I am thrilled to announce that after a long search we have recently leased an additional, larger studio space! The new location is just 1 mile from our current location.

Please join us for a Studio Warming Open House Party to check out the new space and enjoy some refreshments on Sunday July 6, 2pm-6pm!

1045 17th Street, San Francisco, California
RSVP to info@sadievaleri.com 

The Figure Studio has an enormous frosted skylight right over the model stand

The walls have just been painted (Benjamin Moore, Sparrow AF-720) and we are currently building out a kitchen/lounge area, as well as installing keypad-keyfob door access, plus shades for the skylights. We are still keeping the current Bryant Street location as well.

Skylights and beautiful original beams in the Figure studio

The new space is over 3200 square feet (our Bryant Street studio is 1800 square feet). It has high ceilings, north light windows and skylights throughout, plus beautiful dark wood ceiling beams. Best of all, we will have a Figure studio in a completely separate room from the Still Life and Cast studios, so we can run classes concurrently and we won’t have to rearrange the space daily as we do now.

Wall of North Light windows in the Cast and Still Life studio
The new space is just a mile east from our current space, at 17th and Pennsylvania Ave, in the Mission Bay neighborhood.
The address is 1045 17th Street, cross street Mississippi.

Still Life and Cast Drawing studios are subdivided so everyone has plenty of wall space for mounting casts and setting up still lifesMove Date
We will be setting up the new space over the summer and classes will begin classes at the new space in August and September. Most summer workshops will still take place at Bryant street, but my workshop, Daniel Keys, Katie Whipple, and Felicia Forte’s workshops will be at the new studio.

Parking and Transportation
There is available street parking in the immediate blocks around the studio which is free all day. So far we have always been able to find a spot within a block of the studio, even at peak business hours. There is also plenty of free 2-hour Residential street parking within a couple blocks of the studio.
Public transportation: The studio is accessible by the Caltrain commuter rail, the 3rd Street Muni light rail, and the #22 bus


Entrance to one of the Still Life and Cast Drawing studios

NEW Extended Hours!

Still Life and Cast students now have access to the studio from 9am to 5pm on their designated studio days, so students can come in and work on ongoing projects in addition to the regular instructed hours.



Studio FAQ: Lighting, Wall Color, and Casts

We get a lot of questions about our studio setup, so I thought I’d compile the most frequently asked questions into one blog post. Everything we have set up came with a LOT of research, but lucky blog reader you get it all in one post!

What color are your walls? (And why are your walls gray?)
Benjamin Moore Sparrow AF-720, Flat. It’s a cool neutral gray, but tends slightly more towards green than some grays which can look blue. I think the slight green looks better with skintones. Depending on the light, the wall can look warmer or cooler. I loved the color in my 500 sq foot studio, and so I used the same color when we moved into our 2,000 sq ft studio.

Why not white walls? Before the 20th century, art studio walls were not white, they were dark! The invention of the “white cube” studio space is a 20th century idea. I believe it’s because in the 20th century the focus was moved off the subject and onto to the canvas. White walls put maximum light on the easel, but white walls bounce far too much light into shadows on the subject. Contemporary Classical Ateliers try to control the light of the subject and keep the shadows dark, so three-dimensional form is more clearly revealed.

Where do you get your plaster casts?
Giust Gallery is the best place I have found to buy plaster casts of antique and 19th century sculpture in the US. Good casts are very difficult to find because most museums no longer allow new moulds to be made of the collections, so the moulds are generally at least 100 years old and highly coveted. You can google search “Winged Victory” and find LOTS of plaster versions of the statue, but they are usually just inferior copies sculpted by modern artists. If you have ever drawn a particular cast and learned what it really looks like, you will cringe to see the terrible modern copies being sold as “casts”. 

Where do you get human skulls and skeletons?
China and India rightly banned the export of human remains recently (to stop a very exploitative market), so in the last few years it has become extremely expensive and difficult to buy human skulls and skeletons. I bought one real human skull from The Bone Room in Berkeley California (a great place to visit, it’s like a Natural History museum where you can buy the exhibits) and I also bought a couple excellent reproductions from Bone Clones, which makes medical-grade casts of skulls and skeletons. Just as with casts, you can find cheap versions online, but a $60 plastic skull is so far from plausible human proportions as to be worthless for artistic study. Bone Clones is the only brand I have found to be good enough quality for artists.

How do you light your studio?
Our studio has north light windows, but in the evenings we light our studio with artificial daylight bulbs bright enough to be suitable for drawing and painting. 

Overhead Lighting
We did a lot of research before we installed our overhead lighting, and we have been really happy with the setup: Strong, white, full-spectrum bulbs that light up the room for our evening classes.

We were originally considering Kino Flo bulbs at about $22/bulb, but after looking at all the options we realized that Philips sells a tube fluorescent that has equally good ratings for $4 a bulb.

We wanted a Color Rendering Index (CRI) to be higher than 90, and the Philips bulbs were rated 92 CRI.

We wanted 6 bulbs in 4 housings, so buying 24 bulbs at only $4 each was a huge savings. These are the bulbs we bought:

Philips 40-Watt 4 ft. T12 Natural Supreme 5000K Linear Fluorescent Light Bulb

The other problem with Kino Flos is the housing fixtures for the bulbs are also really expensive. So instead, we mounted the Philips bulbs in these 6-bulb housings from Home Depot:

Lithonia Lighting Industrial 6-Light High Bay Hanging Fixture

The specs say the housings are for T8, 32 watt, but the T12, 40 watt Philips bulbs fit just fine with no heat increase.

In fact the lights generate no discernable heat, and no sound at all. I find the flicker and hum of bad florescents very distracting, so this was really important to me.

The housings do not come with plugs so we purchased a 14 gauge grounded extension cord and my husband Nowell joined the wires.

The hardest part was getting the lights hung from our 18 foot cement ceiling! After lots of hassle we finally found a hourly-rate handyman with a scaffold who could hang them from chains drilled into the ceiling, but that was after we rejected a $3000 installation-only bid from an electrician.

Easel Lighting
When more light is needed on an easel we attach a Daylight Easel Lamp from Dick Blick. It has by far the best designed clamp I have ever seen on a clamp light, and comes with an excellent daylight bulb.I recommend these often to students for their home studios.

Matte Black Cinefoil attached with gaff tape helps control the light so it does not spill onto the subject. 

Lighting the Model
Finally, we needed a better setup for lighting the model. We have a set of theater Arii fresnel lights from Nowell’s filmmaking days, but those lights are warm in color, run hot enough to burn a bare hand, and are heavy and prone to tip their stand the second the sandbags are removed.

I asked around and got the excellent recommendation from Susan Lyon for the Tabletop Kühl Lites. We bought a set of 2 and we love them!

We have them mounted on a better quality c-stand so they can be mounted on a boom arm for greater flexibility over the model, but the stand they come with would work fine too.

Finally, sandbags are important to keep them from tipping on any stand. The shipping fees for a full sandbag are outrageous, so we buy the sandbags empty and fill them with sand bought from the local hardware store.

How do you set up your Cast Drawing Stations and Still Life Stands?
IKEA! For cast drawing, each student gets their own dedicated Ikea BESTA Shelf 401.021.29, which they light with daylight or with a clamplight. 

For my still life classes we have Ikea BESTA Shelf101.021.35 on castor wheels which we roll out for each still life class, and we keep the still life setups on the shelves below for safe storage between classes. These are a good height for still life and I recommend my students buy these for their home studios. I make shadow boxes from black foam core and gaff tape which are set on top the stands.

Setting up our teaching studio has been an enormous labor of love, and we have worked hard to get everything just right for our students and instructors. 

I feel grateful to all the artist studios and ateliers I have visited to get ideas for mine, and grateful to be an artist in an era where this kind of information is freely exchanged between artists.

We don’t get any compensation for endorsing the products we list here, it’s just honestly what we use and like, so if you feel so inclined, buy a video to say thanks for the free info!


New Studio for the New Year

I am very pleased to announce that I am moving to a larger studio! 

We have been preparing the space for the last couple of weeks, and now I can finally share a sneak peek.

The new studio is 1800 square feet, with 18 foot ceilings and a wall of north light windows. We have painted the walls a classic “atelier gray”, and installed brand new glossy black flooring. There is a separate small space for my own painting studio, and the rest of the space is wide open for classes and workshops.

The studio is just a half mile from my old space. It is located on Bryant Street, just north of 16th street, near the the Protrero shopping center.

With the larger space, we are now offering even more classes and workshops:

Non-Instructed Figure Model Sessions
Tuesday and Thursday evenings
Monday and Wednesday daytime
To see the full schedule and register for the first round of sessions beginning the week of February 6, please visit:

Drawing and Painting Classes
There are still a few spots left in our Winter/Spring schedule of classes, see all upcoming classes here: http://www.sadievaleri.com/classes/

Advanced Open Studio
For artists who have completed group painting or drawing classes and wish to practice their skills with Sadie’s help and instruction, we are offering Advanced Open Studio on Sundays.
For more information visit:

Easel Assembly / Pizza Party / Champagne Toast
We would like to invite our local studio friends to a sneak previw of the new digs! We invite anyone to drop by the new space on Friday, January 13th4pm-9pm.
If you are feeling handy, we would love your help assembling our fresh batch of fancy new easels. And even if you are not particulary adept with assembly, please stop by for a slice of pizza and a glass of champagne anyway!
(Note: Those who arrive on the early side can get a glimpse of our lovely north light before sunset!)
Please RSVP to info@sadievaleri.com and we will send you the address.

I would like to thank everyone who took classes and workshops from me in the last few years. It is through your support and dedication to Realism that this expansion of the Sadie Valeri Atelier is even possible.

I hope you will enjoy the new space in 2012!