Linda StaigerRetired orthopedic surgeon and oil painter Linda Staiger spoke to members of the Fluvanna Art Association (FAA) at their monthly meeting Jan. 19 about her artist’s journey, her painting process and how to create good compositions from photos.

Staiger is passionate about painting landscapes and expressing her love for the natural environment through her artistic approach. Growing up on a farm in Fluvanna reminded Staiger of what keeps her painting. Her favorite subjects are the area’s rivers and woods.

“When I was in college and later studying medicine, I would go to museums,” she said. “I was always fascinated by the variety of artists and wondered how they did what they did.” This is a method that many artists learning about art employ. It can be useful to deconstruct great works in order to have a better understanding of their meaning and composition.

For the last 15 years, Staiger returned to art, taking classes at Piedmont Virginia Community College, including graphic arts and ceramics. Later she attended workshops at The Beverly Street Studio and McGuffey Arts Center, where she studied with artist Rick Weaver. 

“He was a very cerebral artist. Many artists cannot explain the how and why of art,” she said. She then listed the key points of painting: “The formal elements are lines and colors; what is the subject; what is it about.”

Many artists find drawing the figure intimidating. Staiger admitted that she had an advantage being a doctor and understanding the human form through anatomy. Artists are encouraged to take drawing classes with an emphasis on anatomy to have a better grasp on the underlying bones, muscles and movement of joints.

She eventually stopped taking classes and got on with the practice of painting. She discussed how she begins her painting process, transforming what she sees to the canvas. She suggested that the FAA members read Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, a classic book about freeing the inner artist.

“You learn that art is within you,” she said. Once an artist has gotten past the fears and limitations then it is time to think about creative ideas and subject matter. “Go out and look, engage your mind with the world,” she said. “Notice the shape of the trees, the light, what attracts you about the scene.”

A member asked if she painted every day.

“I would like to but things get in the way,” Staiger said. Even if she doesn’t paint every day, she is thinking about it. She begins with a Masonite panel because she likes its stability. She sketches on the panel – a point that promoted another member to ask about using vine charcoal on canvas. Staiger didn’t dismiss it but didn’t recommend it because of the roughness of the canvas. The light wispy charcoal breaks easily, resulting in lines that are not as clean. She suggested using raw umber on canvas and scratching out lines with turpentine.

Also, like many artists who want a good easel but do not want to spend $1,000, she built her own with the help of a friend. She also builds some of her oddly shaped frames and says simple woodworking is required for this.
 Oils afford the artist the flexibility of changing things around and are more forgiving than acrylics and watercolor. Staiger pulled out some of her work, showing her thought processes and the changes she made to her compositions as she analyzed what was working and what wasn’t.

At first she creates lines and shapes with no real definition, but soon recognizable patterns emerge. Looking at her work, one is struck by how she painstakingly maps out an analysis of her visual composition. One of her paintings, Big Run Loop Trail, was breathtaking in its color and composition. Looking at it one cannot help but experience the quiet beauty of the natural landscape.
Next for Staiger was to show her work. She has been exhibiting for three years and is currently at Cunningham Creek Winery.

A question was asked about the selling of large pieces versus smaller ones.

“Larger pieces are often bought by commercial businesses or corporations rather than private buyers,” Staiger said. “However, I did have one private buyer who wanted to purchase one of my paintings for a large house she hardly ever stayed at and I really didn’t want it sitting somewhere where it would never be seen.”

She then gave the members a task: to take a photograph and come up with the best visual composition by using the rule of thirds in art. Many went away learning a lot more than they knew before about visual composition.