Two Portraits

I have been inspired lately to use conte, pan pastel, and pitt pastel pencil on Rives BFK paper. I love this particular mix of materials with the velvety texture of the paper. Even with all smudging I did, I found that Rives BFK paper was able to withstand multiple layers of conte, smudging and erasing. I can't wait to draw more!
 "Walter", conte and pastel pencil on rives bfk paper
"Christopher", conte and pastel pencil on rives bfk paper

My kitty Maggie watched me during much of these portrait sessions. She's a great studio companion except for the occasional snoring.

This past year I have spent almost my entire life outside of my full time job taking workshops. Although my personal schedule was definitely pushed the max and at times stressful, at the end of this year I am looking back and feeling hopeful, energized and inspired. For about ten years after I left Chicago to move to San Francisco, I stopped painting outside of my illustration job because I was too busy making a living. This year I've made connections back to what truly inspires me; I've been studying Nature closely and all the while looking deep within my own heart, thinking carefully about what I truly find beautiful.

I am eternally grateful to those artists around me, right here in San Francisco, who generously choose to pass on their wisdom and support!

With so much gratitude, thank you!

Lundman-plein air box


Classical Realism with Sadie J. Valeri

Last January, I took a two week Classical Realism workshop taught by Sadie J. Valeri in her San Francisco studio.  
At the time I took the course, my interest in Classical Realism was purely practical. I paint at home nights and weekends, which for me has meant that the Alla Prima (wet into wet paint) method I was trained in at the Palette and Chisel and American Academy of Art, has required immediacy and speed, a process not well suited to my current working full time life style.

I thought perhaps the layered and methodical process of the Dutch/Flemish indirect process might provide me with a better working method, allowing me to work in stages rather than all at once, better suited to coming back over the course of several days and nights. While all of this is true, what I found after taking Sadie Valeri's course was far more enriching and enlightening than I'd expected.

Lundman-studio shot 2 -Sadie Valeri

For those unfamiliar with the term, Classical Realism refers
 to the contemporary rebuilding of a legacy of art instruction which developed from the Renaissance ateliers up through the 19th century Academies, which was nearly lost in the anti-figurative philosophies of the 20th century. Sadie uses a process of indirect painting that was developed by the Dutch and Flemish painters, but many ateliers use a two or sometimes three step process.

For further reading, you can find extensive information HERE at the Art Renewal Center website along with many examples of past and present works. (also a huge array of articles and information on schools)

Construction Exercises and Value Control

The first exercise we worked on was a value sphere. I wrote extensively about this exercise, the terms and lighting effects HERE. At first glance this exercise might appear simple. I assure you, it is not! Like practicing scales on the piano, the value sphere is the equivalent for artists.


After we we practiced the value sphere, we studied the principles of organic form in Nature, contour and shape, perspective, and how best to construct objects, including a fantastic lecture on ellipses. **note: for this blog post I will focus primarily on the painting method and will outline in later posts the important information regarding structure that I learned.

We began our still life painting by taping a sheet of mylar (vellum) paper to a board on our easels which were leveled in direct line with the still life set up. Using a viewfinder, we mapped out our composition by making small thumbnails. We then went over principles in construction of objects, breaking down our subjects into shapes using the straight line block in technique rather than sight size. **note: the two links are 1) example of a figure drawing using straight line block in from Sadie's blog and 2) a discussion on wetcanvas.com about sight size vs. other methods with good comments about non reliance upon sight size.


Each student's easel was set up almost at eye level with the still life. Our easels were set far enough away to make the set up just under life size, in this case about 4-5 feet away.The reason for this is practical; comparing side by side makes measuring and comparing easier rather than guessing and translating on to the page the size you would like the objects to be.


Also important to note here is that Sadie's studio is set up for North lighting, the most consistent form of natural light. We did not use any form of artificial lighting whatsoever for this course.

Materials for Painting

After we transferred our completed drawings to the gesso panel, we began painting. Here is a list of materials we used which can also be found on Sadie Valeri's website HERE:
Robert Simmons "White Sable" brushes with the maroon handles and white bristles (very affordable)
Filberts, 2 each of sizes #10, #4, and #1
Rounds, 2 each of size #1 (one brush for the light areas, one brush for the dark areas)
Refined Linseed Oil
Stand Oil
Odorless Mineral Spirits (Turpenoid)
Natural Turpenoid  (ONLY for cleaning brushes, never get it into your paint)
"Silicoil" brand brush cleaning jar filled with Natural Turpenoid 
Paint Rags:
Shop cloths are used (can be found at Home Depot) for the reason that other paper towels have too much lint - especially the popular Viva brand paper towels that many impressionist painters employ. 
classic wooden artist palette with thumb hole so we can pick it up or clip it to our easels.
(If it's brand new, brush on thick coats of linseed oil every night for several days/weeks and rub it into the surface or it will absorb oil paint.) 

**note: when I was in art school we used untempered masonite panels cut to size at Home Depot, which we coated with linseed oil in the same way. these have no thumb holes but are great palettes and can also be clipped to an easel if needed.
smoothly sanded gesso panel with no texture. Sadie makes her own panels (detailed blog post on her site HERE). You can also use Ampersand smooth panels or make your own. 

**note: Daniel Sprick mentioned in his workshop that he coats untempered masonite panels with shellac, then five coats of Golden brand gesso, the last few coats he sands with a belt sander, and then applies Alkyd white to obliterate the texture completely making a smooth surface.

First Stage of Painting
The Open Grisaille Layer

"Open Grisaille" means "dead grey layer" in French. The idea of this is a basic first pass of values that also creates a surface for later layers of paint to adhere to.

We began by mixing a thin layer of burnt umber, a touch of ultramarine blue, and small amount of white, thinned down with *only* turpentine. We used two brushes: one with paint and the other with turpentine on it which functioned as an eraser for mistakes.
We began by washing in the darkest dark in a thin layer. Rather than "swiping" in big strokes, we used small strokes, building our darks. This stage is called "open" grisaille because the white is the white of the panel - not white paint. This stage seems similar to watercolor in respect to how the paint is used, staining the paper in varying degrees of saturation, the white of the paper being the highest value. Here the "stain" is thinned oil paint on a very smooth panel. Thinking of it this way helped me through this layer.

This layer will eventually be completely covered up in the very next layer. However, skipping this step is not advised as it will help the oil paint bind to the surface of the very slick panel. I also found this step a good way to make "pathways" into the brain for understanding the nuances of how the light is working on the set up, kind of like a "warm up" for subsequent layers of paint.


Usually the open grisaille will take about six hours to dry. The panel must be dry before moving on to the next layer of paint.


The "Couch"

After our panels dried over night upon completion of our open grisaille, we came back the next day to apply the couch. In fact, after each step is completed and dried, it is almost always necessary to apply a "couch" layer of underpainting medium on to the panel.  A couch layer on a dried panel aids the application of the new paint layer and helps the paint absorb into the panel.

The underpainting medium (linseed oil + turp) should be applied in the thinnest layer possible using a clean large brush. Sadie will also sand between layers after applying the couch, (which is called wet sanding) using the finest possible sand paper tooth - #600 - in order to remove dust and lint that adheres to the panel over night. Many artists have various recipes for the couch - Sadie uses underpainting medium.

Also, we applied the couch only to an area we were working on that day  because if we oiled an area we weren't painting, over the course of the day the oil would drip or become gummy.

**note: a good source for information about couching is in the book, Oil Painters Handbook, an encyclopedia that documents time tested techniques for oil painting materials and methods.

Closed Grisaille - The Black and White Value Layer 

After the Open Grisaille step, we moved on to the "Grisaille" layer or Closed Grisaille stage. More information on the history of this method can be found HERE. This layer involves white paint and is completely monochromatic.

The colors we used to mix this grey are French Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna,
and Titanium White.


We mixed seven values, counting white as value one and near to black as seven. This in itself I thought was an excellent exercise for understanding how best to boil the infinite value scale down to a workable palette.


**Side Note: These black and white values are really warm greys. If you are not familiar with the differences between true cool greys, neutral greys, and warm greys, I highly recommend going to the art supply store nearest you and looking at sets of markers or gouache sets. You will notice the difference between the shifts between them, and it will help you gain an understanding of how how cool, neutral, and warm colors work. You could also buy some sets in three values of each marker and do some exercise sketching. When I worked as a background painter in the 90's, very often I would do value studies using these three greys - it is amazing at how "full" the color can look when really there is no color at all (or very little chroma, which is what is really going on).


After mixing up our value strings, I was more than eager to cover up the open grisaille layer. Again, I found interesting information regarding how best to apply the paint that was quite different from the Alla Prima technique I was trained in. A lot of artists learn to apply paint in values that "band" together and then blend those value bands. Sadie instructed us that this methodology does not produce a truly accurate and nuanced representation of the values and causes loss of control. It is better to instead think of the paint as small tiles that move across the form, painting each as a very small "dab" - not swiping at all - moving across the form rather than up and down. It is important not to rush or feel like you need to get it all down in one day. The importance here lies in getting as accurate as possible the values of the set up before moving on to the color stage.


I love the look of a palette at the end of the day, although I don't recommend having your open can of diet hansen's ginger ale next to all those solvents. :) However, Sadie also instructed us to always keep the lids on our solvents and mediums while we painted to reduce the toxic effect in the air as much as possible. I was amazed at how six students were painting and yet the room barely smelled of paint at all! (a nice thing for anyone with asthma like myself)


 The Color Layer

After working a couple of days on refining the closed grisaille, black and white layer, we moved on to color.

the colors on the palette below, from left to right: Titanium White, Alizarin Crimson Permanent, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Sap Green, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Viridian Green, Mars Red, Burnt Umber.   


At this stage in the workshop, Sadie lectured about COLOR. Instead of getting into the ins and outs of this chart, I will post the Munsell chart. If you are a digital artist using Photoshop, you will find this easy to understand since Photoshop uses this color wheel system. If you are new to this concept, I suggest reading more about this HERE:

Munsell Color Chart


When I began laying in the initial color, I found it difficult to get the paint to adhere to the black and white layer with out picking up some of the black and white paint, which was muddying the color. To make sure this doesn't happen, make sure the closed grisaille layer is completely dry before applying color. I did appreciate the black and white layer, however, because I felt it made the color layer easier to focus on. Because the values were already noted carefully, I did not have to think about the value as much, which left me thinking about chroma and saturation instead. Nice!


Here we started by mixing up the dark color of an object, the light color and a mid tone. We painted thicker in the lights and thinner in the shadows, commonly referred to as "thick over lean", concentrating on the lights rather than the dark colors. We typically mixed a "string" of color before painting an object.

Another important difference I discovered between Alla Prima and Classical Realism was the handling of the highlight. Typically in Alla Prima, I would paint the warm tan-grey of the bottle first and then lay the highlight on top of that layer. When faced with the highlight in this set up, that is exactly how I began to do until Sadie intervened, explaining that in Classical Realism everything is painted right next to each other. In other words, the highlight is painted right next to the bottle color rather than on top of - sometimes referred to as "windowing".

** note: In addition, when I attended a Timothy Jahn demo at Sadie's studio in October of this year, he also mentioned this same thing: that he paints only a small section of a painting at a time, bringing it to full completion and then moves on, moving out and around the painting from there. (Visit his website here)


In the above photo you can see the black and white layer was mixing with my color. I found the next day when the layer had completely dried, the color went on cleaner without picking up the layer underneath. Be sure that b&w layer is dry!


My set up included a crumpled brown paper bag, which I was not able to complete. I mainly focused on the egg and dish, bottles and two glasses. I quite enjoyed this step and could have worked on it for much longer, but at this point the two week course was finished.
My semi-finished painting, above.

 Demonstration and Lecture Photos
Sadie J. Valeri lecturing while she demo'd the grisaille "dead layer". I noticed how light her open grisaille layer was compared to mine. You can't tell in this photo below, but the paint barely made any texture at all on the surface.
Three eggs in three steps, by Sadie J. Valeri. First, the pencil construction, second, black and white value layer, third, full color (although there is an open grisaille step before the black and white stage):


Here is Sadie's finished egg from the demo she started in the above photos. As you can see, her skill is well honed! It looked even better in person.


Final Thoughts

The methods used in this kind of painting were commonly taught in Ateliers in Europe and America, but diminished during the late 1800's through 1900's during the age of deconstruction in Western Art. (which happened in all the arts, including writing, dance, architecture, sculpture, poetry, etc) A revival has been taking place over the last thirty years for artists who wish to learn Classical painting methods driven by those who have a deep desire to depict Nature in it's true visual state. As a result, Classical Realism has become a richly poetic form of visual art in recent years thanks to the many Ateliers popping up all over the US and Europe and support by collectors world wide.

But what if you don't have a desire to paint in this manner? While I see a lot of painters begin at workshops that are loosely structured and sometimes even stylistic, I highly recommend that students begin with Classical Realism. Additionally, if you have already attended art school, Classical Realism studies will solidify accumulated knowledge and enhance an understanding of visual principles. Every form of painting, Impressionism, Alla Prima, Naturalism, even Abstract Expressionism is an off shoot of this hundreds year old tradition. Modernist avant guard schools function as a reaction to and against Classical Art tradition. Knowing this, why not fully understand the founding principles of technique and explore the truths of Nature? Once an understanding is mastered and practiced, along with the philosophy and historical context, exploring areas of visual expression is borne out of a place of understanding and relevance with a nuanced and intended expression of a visual idea. 

Lundman-studio shot 1 -Sadie Valeri

As for me,  I have spent most of this year using my vacation time and weekends to take workshops of all kinds, and truly enjoyed them all. Because of this, I have intentionally put off my personal work. I still have a great deal of questions and interests to explore, which I hope to address in my own paintings next year. I will definitely be using this technique for many of my studio works and am very eager to start!


Bowie the Greyhound

 On Thursday evenings, I attend a sculpture workshop with some friends. Usually we hire a model for figurative work. This time, however, we thought we'd tackle something different,  the greyhound of one of our favorite models.

Greyhound - model Bowie

 We set Bowie up on a sleeping mat while we sculpted. Occasionally she would get up and walk around the room or go outside for a quick run. 

While I was making the armature, I observed the incredibly graceful movements of our model. I noticed the long flowing s curves repeated throughout her form and her incredibly "springy" stride. I wanted to somehow capture that kinetic grace in the pose.

Greyhound - armature

I didn't make any gesture drawings, but instead decided to just mess with the armature until I found a pose that worked. I put a base layer of clay on the armature, adjusted it several times, and after about two sessions found a pose that had movement. I had trouble with the armature because I used aluminum wire where I should have used steel; the clay is heavy and can bend the aluminum wire. To compensate I decided to make a sturdy base at the bottom and balled up aluminum foil for the rib cage.

Greyhound - first pass gesture

Greyhound - first pass other side gesture

Eventually, our Thursday night sessions ended and our model was no longer available. I decided to take the sculpture home to work on it little by little after work.

The truth is, I am not really a sculptor. I am a two dimensional artist studying the 3rd dimension, sculpture. In the 3 years since I have been learning about sculpting with my friends each Thursday, I have found that the practice aids my understanding of depicting nature in two dimensions greatly. My mind is better able to process how form turns and how light falls on those forms far better than if I hadn't.



Greyhound - tail anatomy

Greyhound - Scurve2

My underlying interest in visual language is the idea of making something, anything feel alive to the viewer, whether it is realistic or fantasy; I want to be able create an illusion and spirit of life, the sublime. I strive to transcend technique in order to create something beautiful that reflects Nature in a visually poetic manner. It is this idea that keeps me pushing forward, wanting to learn more, improve my abilities and become increasingly skilled at how I might do this. Sculpture has helped me understand in a different way how to think about how to capturing "aliveness" of a creation. While I am certainly a lesser sculptor than others, I feel exploring this medium has helped me solidify ideas about visual illusions.

At this point, I decided to place a black board behind Bowie so that I could see more clearly the lines of her form. I started to soften the muscles and add some areas of compression along with skin folds. I came to the conclusion that although some of the sculpture might not be entirely "correct", it was my choice in serving the design at this point; I enjoyed rounding out forms and accenting areas I found the most beautiful.



My "finished" sculpture, at least as finished as I want it to be:

"Bowie", oil based clay on wood base.









s curves in motion:

While I worked on this sculpture throughout the summer, I took breaks to attend the Weekend with the Masters painting conference, which you can find in some of my previous posts, but, perhaps more interestingly, during this time I immersed myself in the work of string theorist Brian Greene, author of "The Hidden Reality". *

Aside from ideas about the shape of our questionably infinite universe, one fact about Greene's work stands out as entirely relevant to every day considerations: 

"Nothing in the laws of physics points to free will. Therefore, like time, it is a useful illusion. We are a bag of particles governed by the laws of physics.  And that’s it.”
 (from an interview with screen writer Charlie Kaufman)

 Really? Assuming Nature created these complex particles, it also created the desire for some of us to want to recreate it in art. Why? To understand it? For what purpose? Maybe meditating on Nature's beauty is somehow important in the grander scheme. It certainly is for me at least.

*You can also watch a fantastic PBS dvd series based on his book by the same name, "The Elegant Universe", which explains quantum mechanics in layman terms and is pretty enjoyable regardless (among numerous articles and speeches published all over the web).


Weekend with the Masters - Daniel Sprick Demo

On the last day of the Weekend with the Masters, hosted by American Artist Magazine, I took a one day workshop with an artist I have admired for years, Daniel Sprick.

The painting conference was structured so that students could take several one-day courses, choosing one instructor for each day (look to my two previous blog posts for other instructors courses I attended). All twenty instructors were master painters on the Realist fine art scene; quite an impressive roster with a wide span of approaches and philosophies ranging from the alla prima direct painters, to the Rembrandt school of thought, to the Classical Realists of the East Coast atelier scene to the many noted plein air painters of the West coast.

I was surprised and delighted when I saw Daniel Sprick's name on the roster since I had never before seen offerings of workshops taught by him in the past; this was a rare treat to meet the artist I have admired for so long. I was not disappointed.

An excerpt from an article written about him on his website:

"A Vermeer-like glow infuses many of Daniel Sprick’s paintings, often falling on objects from some unseen source. It spreads arbitrarily through his interiors, picking out this tangerine and that bottle, causing their color and form to bloom, submerging other parts of the painting in warm shadow. From Vermeer too, comes the suggestion of worlds within worlds. Oriental rugs imply distant exotic places (and perhaps Sprick’s obsession with flying via magic carpet as well). Paintings and fine art prints tacked to walls, tantalizing reflections in a blank television screen, figures half-seen through distant doorways enhance the notion of time and distance. Daniel Sprick also revisits the tradition of the still life as memento mori. Yet again, in these contemporary works, the traditional images of decay and dissolution –faded flowers, broken china, eggshells, a human skull---are leavened with humorous elements such as nibbled cookies and a seeping stain that spreads from a paper bag to the book it stands on. "
-- Jane Fudge
Jane Fudge is assistant curator of modern and contemporary art at the Denver Art Museum, and a visual art and film critic.

Daniel Sprick, "Passage", 36x30, oil on board

Two interviews, the first from the Denver Art Museum, and the second, below, an excerpt from American Painting Video Magazine:


Because the conference was expensive to attend, I appreciated Sprick's thoughtful note on the supply list that mentioned that we could use whatever supplies we already had. He provided a list of his specific materials also, and indicated that we were welcome to use those if we chose but that it was not necessary.**

His supply list can be found here.

However, for this demo, Sprick was using Royal Talens water based oils that were provided as samples from a representative from Royal Talens/Canson at the conference. He used them all weekend in order to test them out, and seemed to like the results.

Sprick explained his process for preparing panels at home, which are Masonite panels primed with golden sandable gesso. The medium he uses with his oils is Liquin.

Sprick - grisaille 1

He began by drawing out an accurate silhouette of the head using angular lines rather than curves. After he figured out the height, width, and overall shape, he then filled in the shape of the head with a thin wash of a warm sienna-like tone. This under painting technique is called a grisaille or dead layer, which many artists use as a base for subsequent paint layers. 

Sprick - grisaille 2

He intentionally left the area around the head white since he has been creating a lot of figurative works in his studio with a white background as a compositional element. Sprick's aesthetic for portraits and figures often employs stark white backgrounds foiled against a fully painted realistic portrait or full figure. He explained some of his influences in this direction, referring to a Renaissance painter, who's name I unfortunately did not catch, that also played with this idea. Additionally, contemporary print media often make use of photographed figures photoshopped against a white background, a visual motif surrounding us today.


After he finished the flat, wash of the silhoutte, he began to paint on top of the grisaille, filling in the shadow areas as one connected shape all over the head (below) with a thicker consistency of paint.

Sprick - grisaille 3

Sprick then mixed up the colors of the light in big piles from which he also used as a base for mixing middle tones.

Sprick - palette 2

At this stage, he began to lay the paint on thicker and in a "dabbing" manner instead of blending brush strokes together, carefully modeling the forms of the light.

Sprick - color 1

He continued in this manner, slowly building up the light, mid tones, and adding further shape to the darker values.

Sprick - color 2

It wasn't until this stage that he added the sharpest, darkest values and the lightest lights. 

  Sprick - color 3

After he added these accents, it seemed to be a matter of adding a few very small accents in the highest range of the light in order to shore up the accuracy of the portrait.

Sprick - color 4

It may look as though there are a lot of meticulous brush strokes on this portrait, however up close I noticed the painting was far more economical than I'd realized. Sprick has such command of the figure that he is able to make incredibly exacting choices.

Sprick-finished demo
The finished demo, Daniel Sprick, 2011

Below are two additional demonstrations he painted from other sessions:

Sprick - head demo 2

Sprick - head demo

During the break at lunch time and before we painted from the model, Sprick showed us a slide show of his STUNNING portrait work on his ipad. He also talked about his interests in lighting for his still life paintings, using unusual sources of light including hot, artificial spotlights (on occasion) and interesting bounce light effects, like mirrors with blue gel on top, which bounces back into the set up. He also glazes areas of his paintings after they are completed if he finds the composition is not working the way he prefers, using the glazes to either push back or pull forward specific elements of his still life.

It was truly a joy to be in the same room with Daniel Sprick, talk with him and paint. I will not soon forget the experience!

** The Weekend with the Masters was quite expensive (for me), considering the cost of the course, $1200, the fee for the hotel (I shared a room which came to about $500), PLUS additional supplies for each chosen instructor and dining fees. Thankfully I traveled by car, saving on air fare and cutting the cost.  I suggest to the hosts at America Artist Magazine to increase the attendance among the student population, that they include a discounted student rate much like the CTN Expo does for the Animation industry students.