top of page

Green bottle series

I studied at the Sadie Valerie Atelier in San Francisco for four years, from 2015 - 2019. There I learned a method of painting called the "Flemish Method", based on centuries-old painting traditions from the Dutch masters. It was an incredible educational experience and critical to my development as an artist. This still life, "Green Bottle" was created using this age-old method. The key to the method is layering. You create the painting in many, many layers, each layer painted on top of the dry previous layer, essentially creating six or seven detailed paintings stacked on top of each other. The idea behind this layering is to break the art of painting into it's essential elements: drawing, value, and color. Instead of combining these into one act, like the Alla Prima artists - for example, drawing with the brush, or choosing both your value and your color in one go - the Dutch method separates these elements into layers. This keeps things nice and simple so the artist only has to make one choice at a time. In other words, in the color layer, you only have to focus on hue and chroma, as drawing and value have already been figured out. This method achieves incredible clarity which is refected in the subtle artwork, and is also a terrific teaching tool. On the other hand, it is very, very time-intensive. You can only imagine how long all of these layers take. This one work was seven layers and took me almost six months to paint. But, it was worth it for the exquisite product, and for the lessons I learned.


For anyone interested in this tradition-soaked process, here it is:

I started with the still life setup. This kind of painting is always created from life, of course. The Masters didn't have photography, so subjects - whether still lifes, portraits, history paintings or whatever, were painted from life. This is a still life so I had to choose still life objects, setup and lighting. As I have always admired the incredibly skillful treatment of materials by the Masters, I chose objects made of classic materials I wanted to try painting: glass, silk, metals and velvet. I was especially enchanted by the translucence and patterning of that hand-blown Italian vase and wanted to take on that challenge. I arranged them in a pleasing composition with interesting lighting. Then, on to the layers.

Layer one: Drawing. I created a very precise graphite drawing on vellum of my setup, including shadow shapes. This included a measured drawing of the vase (with center line) to ensure perfect symmetry. I then covered the back of with 2B graphite pencil, laid it over my canvas, transferred the drawing and sealed it with a thin layer of varnish mixed with Gamisol so that the drawing stayed put.


Layer two: Open grisaille. This is a layer of Burnt Umber thinned with medium, to broadly establish value in the painting.


Layer three: Closed grisaille: A monochromatic layer in black, white and grey to more finely establish value. 

Layer four: First layer of color. When we choose a color for a spot we make sure to carefully match the established value, and only then look at hue and chroma. 

Layer five and possibly six: Second and maybe third layer of color, adjusting and refining at each pass. In my case I did three layers.

Layer seven: Glazing and highlights. Possibly my favorite layer. Glazing is painting with a thin layer of transparent pigments mixed with medium over an area of the dried painting, usually to subtly adjust the hue or temperature. For example, I glazed one side of the glass vase with a very thin layer of ultramarine blue to make it feel cooler and more in shadow. I also punched the highlights of the bronze vessel.

As you can see the result is a perfectly smooth, finely detailed painting in the style of the Dutch Masters. It is smooth because this many-layered approach doesn't leave room for juicy brushwork - it's hard to layer on top of that as it creates edges. In fact some painters using this method sand between layers. It has the dark background of so many master works because it is in a perfectly controlled, static. lighting situation.

I do love this painting, but it's not my style now as an artist. I still paint in layers, but more like three instead of seven. I still love detailed work, but I also love to see brushwork in my paintings - the hand of the artist. But this was a foundational educational experience and I wouldn't be the artist I am without having done it.

bottom of page