Still life warm-up sketching

My focus for quite awhile has been on painting landscapes, but recently I’ve become frustrated by my progress. And when I’m frustrated more than not, it’s a sign to take a step back and reassess. I think what’s going on is a combination of a few things:

  • feeling rushed when painting outdoors
  • not having enough outdoor painting experience to be able to enjoy working from photos
  • struggling with making the materials do what I want
  • trying to paint fast when indoors

Reflecting on this made it pretty obvious to me that a good next step in my painting practice would be to focus on still life so I can paint from life rather than photos, and to do some classical realism painting lessons to gain more control over the materials. Since I’ve been curious about other methods of painting besides alla prima, I decided to continue my study with Sadie Valeri through her online programs. (She also teaches alla prima, but starts students off with indirect painting techniques.) I took her drawing course a few years ago to get a more solid drawing foundation. Her teaching style is such a great fit for me because of her structured, methodical approach. After completing the drawing curriculum I strayed away from the straight line block-in that she teaches — but I can’t quite remember why! Maybe just because I like exploring different methods and wanted to try some others to compare.

straight line block-in warmups - paper bag and egg
Days 3–6 of the 10-day straight line block-in project

In any case, my intention at the time was to complete her drawing curriculum simply as a means to getting to her painting curriculum. But I got off on another track, as is my tendency. I’m super excited to be back on that track now though! To prepare for the painting lessons, I did a 10-day series of straight line block-ins from life with a variety of subjects. It was really satisfying to get back to basics with drawing, and each day I could feel getting a bit quicker and more confident about capturing what I saw.

The biggest psychological gain from the project was reconnecting with one of Sadie’s principles: be willing to do what it takes to fix the drawing before moving on. Keeping this in mind helped reset my baseline expectations for how long the drawing/painting process should take. Since my schedule tends to be segmented up into lots of smaller chunks of time and I aspire to a high level of skill, it’s important for my morale that I let go of time expectations and let the process take as long as it takes. With the painting techniques taught in Sadie’s course, I can still paint as often as I want, without the constraint of finishing in one sitting.

straight line block-in warmups - vessels and geometric shapes
Days 7–10 of the straight line block-in project

Over the course of this project I made several improvements to my studio setup. My easel is now positioned far away from the window that caused tons of lighting problems. For consistent light, I set up a light over the easel, and installed a large black shadow box for still life staging (with a ton of help from my husband). It’s fun to have a new environment to go along with the new course and subject.

The thing I’m most excited about is returning to an instructor who relishes taking her time with paintings, and desires no pressure to rush through the process. Sadie’s knowledge and perspective are inspiring because I can tell her training will provide the tools and experience for painting at whatever pace I want — whether that’s completing a painting in a day or doing it in bites and pieces over many days or weeks.