Saturday, January 24, 2015

Finding Inspiration in an Unlikely Place

'Down by the Sea'           8x10           pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available $125
I didn't go there looking for inspiration. I did go because I was looking for treasure. And I found more than treasure today. It was my weekly mindless trip to the Goodwill down the street. I love poking around thrift stores. It is the thrill of the hunt. Sometimes I have a particular search in mind and other times I just go to clear my head.

Today I had no real goal. I was just procrastinating. I needed to pack and clean the house since my cruise is this week. A quick run to the thrift store would be all I would do and then I would get to my chores. But instead I found some treasure and came home inspired to paint. The cleaning would have to wait!

Today's thrift store finds...a paper cutter, some cool treasures and a big book on Monet

I found some interesting items today. The first is a Dahle Personal rolling trimmer for $4.54! It has an $80 value but it is priceless for me and all the paper I cut.  Next I found some interesting items....a punched tin mirror with doors. I have been wanting one of these mirrors. This one is copper and gold. Price $2.52.  Next is a strange item which appears to be some kind of Native American or tribal piece. It is light color hide on a handle with leather stitching. I need to research this. Price $1.91.

Lastly,  I found a great book on Monet by Sandro Sprocatti. It is large with many nice color plates. Price $1.91.

I came home with my treasures with an idea brewing. Why not use the paper cutter to cut some paper and then paint something using a color palette inspired by something in the new Monet book.

Inspired by Monet's palette
I opened the book to a beautiful beach painting and selected pastels to match the colors I saw in the painting. I then found one of my own beach photos to work from.  Once I picked the pastels I closed the book so I wouldn't be influenced by anything other than the color palette.  My beach scene was similar to Monet's without the addition of boats, buildings and people. It was a fun afternoon. Now I have to go pack!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Art Challenge: The Many Moods of Green

'I'll Take the Path on the Right'           8x10            pastel          ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $125
Green. You either love it or hate it. Sometimes painting with green can be a challenge. With pastels it seems we never have the right green. No matter how many greens I have collected I am always searching for the right one. And even though I have a lot of green pastels how do I know which ones to use?......Which ones are warm? Cool? Neutral? And how about all of those vivid artificial or acid greens?

It's green overload! What is the solution?

Terry Ludwig Pastel 90 piece Green Set.....this should do it!

The solution isn't to keep buying greens. The solution is to get to know the greens you have! Take them all out of all of their individual boxes. Play with them. 
  • Group them by value....put the dark ones together, the light ones and middle values ones in their own piles.
  • Try to group them by temperature....which ones seem cool (more blue) Which ones seem warm (more yellow) Which ones are hard to tell (probably neutral) 
  • Group the artificial greens together....these are the vivid, intense artificial looking greens (spices)
  • Make some marks with the greens to see how they look on paper. Remember that they will appear different depending on the paper color and what they are next to. (simultaneous contrast)
Make notes about which greens you seem to lack. Now you won't just buy random green pastels you will buy green with a purpose. 

After you experiment and play with the greens in your collection, paint a very green landscape. Remember that in a typical landscape the cooler greens (and lighter) will be in the distance and they will gradually transition to warmer greens in the foreground. There are always exceptions but this is a good general truth.
Take the challenge to the next level and paint the same scene but vary the greens to create a different mood. Perhaps turn a sunny day into a gray moody day.

If you'd like some tips on using green in the landscape have a look at my pdf demo available for $6

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Favorite Color Tool

'Under the Spell'               8x10               pastel                ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $125
It is serendipity. I've had some questions about color and color wheels so I thought it would be a good time to share a post on one of my favorite tools....the Analogous Color Wheel. It helps me choose spice colors or to check my intuitive choices. It just so happens that I wrote this post exactly a year ago. I hope you enjoy it.

 I am not a good cook.  I might be if I cooked more often but I'd rather paint.  So my cooking suffers. I do know a few basics about cooking though and it is always interesting to discover similarities between cooking and painting.

 Every Painting Needs a Little Spice 

I like to say that every painting needs a little spice. Sometimes a color note or a bold mark....something unexpected and enjoyable.  Like herbs and spices when cooking....

 Used properly they will enhance a dish.  Used in the wrong amount or in at the wrong time in the cooking process they can ruin a dish.  The same is true for those color notes.  The wrong colors or too much can hurt a painting rather than help it.

Using the Analogous Color Wheel to find my Spices
 A good cook wouldn't sprinkle an herb or spice on a dish without knowing how it works with the other ingredients.  Well maybe they would and maybe they would get lucky.  But they have a better chance of success with a delicious result if they know their ingredients.

Painters who choose random colors or just keep adding colors to a painting hoping to make it better risk  color chaos.  If you have a boring painting or one that just 'needs' need to know your spices.  It is better to know what colors will work as spices rather than just guess.

I love using the Analogous Color Wheel to Choose my Spices

  • For spices I often turn to using the discords of my dominant colors in the painting.  The Analogous wheel makes it easy to find them, just dial in your dominant color!
  • The discords are colors that located equidistant on the color wheel from the dominant hue and from each other. 
  • They add  visual excitement (spice).  
  • They need to be used in small amounts and in the right place....usually in an area of interest.
  • Like herbs and spices they can be added in the beginning and cooked in the layers of pastel or they can be added at the end.
  • It is very easy to over spice a painting. Go slow and easy and step back as you add spices to make sure you aren't overdoing it.

How did I use the Color Wheel to choose my colors for this painting?  
I worked on Uart 800 and blocked in the painting with Nupastel rubbed in with pipe insulation.  I decided my dominant color was yellow orange with the complement blue.  The discords were red violet and blue green. I used red violet for the block in. It got cooked and only shows in a few places.  At the finish of the painting I added a few small touches of the red violet and blue green for my finishes touches.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Three Problems Found in Reference Photos

'The Other Side of the Island'             8x10            pastel             ©Karen Margulis
purchase this painting $125
Photos can inspire wonderful paintings. Photos can also lead to bad paintings. They are loaded with things that can create problems if they are copied into a painting. Sometimes they are obvious but sometimes they are sneaky. I am always on the lookout for these potential problems.

There are three things that I have found to cause the most problems in a painting. The photo below is a good example of all three!

Bad color, too sharp and needed elements

  •  Photos don't always capture true and accurate colors. Often the typical point and shoot camera set on auto doesn't capture the subtleties of the colors in the landscape. Green is a typical example. Often photos of green landscapes show the greens to be the same color and value from the foreground to the background. If we copy this color it can lead to a flat landscape with no depth or atmospheric perspective. Photos also sometimes don't get proper exposure for the darks and lights in the same picture....this leads to overly light skies and shadows that are too dark. My photo has all of these issues...lack of true colors, no change in the greens, darks too dark and lights too light.

  • Cameras record things as they are, not how we see them. The resulting photos often have detail and clarity everywhere. In reality our eyes focus on only one thing at a time the rest is out of focus (we don't even realize this unless we stop and focus on one thing and try to see what is around it)  If we paint everything in crisp sharp detail it doesn't feel natural.  If I want to have depth in my paintings I have to over ride the photo and make sure things in the distance have less detail than things in the foreground.
  • Photos often include elements that don't translate well in a painting. There are often things that are better left out. I call these things 'half trees'. These are objects that appear unnaturally on the edges of a photo...maybe half or less of a tree or bush, or maybe an overhanging branch.  I ask myself if the element needs to be in the painting (hold my thumb over it) If it does I make sure I put in more than half. Most of the time I leave it out.  My photo has a branch coming in on the left and a big weed sticking up from the bottom. I don't need either element.

first version of the painting
Painting Notes: 8x10 on gray canson. I started the painting with colors close to those in the photo. I found them to be too dull I didn't get as much depth as I wanted. I did leave out the branch and weed! I decided to spray the painting with workable fixative and add another layer of more intense colors.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Inspiration for All Artists

'Blue Highways'               5x7             pastel            ©Karen Margulis
painting available here $95
 An inspiring quote feeds the soul. Sometimes it comes at just the right time. Sometimes we just aren't ready for it. I like to give my class an art quote each week. I often will print them on small slips of paper so they can put them up on their easel. I didn't have a quote for this week. But I was confident something would come to me.

And it did. A wonderful quote from Mary Whyte fell out of a folder as I was cleaning the studio. It was just the right words I needed to read and share.  I strongly believe in what Mary says and it is a helpful reminder to all artists but especially we who paint from photos.

"Never undervalue your emotions. They are the force behind every great work. You must strive to paint ideas and beauty, not things. Merely copying objects will lead to work that is journalistic rather than poetic, and the results will be paintings that never stand out from the crowd. When you paint  throw your whole heart into the creation and watch what happens."
-Mary Whyte

dry underpainting on Uart 600
I painted today's painting from one of my photos but I drew on my experience and feelings more than I copied every bloom and blade of grass. I was transported back to the day I took the photo. I was on a road trip out west with my VIP friends. It was early morning and we decided to get off the interstate and follow along on the access road. It was a wise decision. Yes it took us a lot longer to get there but we saw so much beauty what we would have missed if we were going 80 mph. This field of blue wildflower was one of the spots of beauty on the blue highway.

Do you paint from your heart? Or do you let the reference photo get in your way?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Paint Along Monday: Painting a Poppy Meadow

'Prairie Music'             8x10            pastel             ©Karen Margulis
painting available here $145
It's Paint Along Monday and I am in the mood for wildflowers. I went through my photos and found one that spoke to me. I have painted red poppies but not many pink ones. I also like the moody sky in the photo. Soft, Pink and Moody Sky....that will be the concept for the painting.

I cut a piece of UArt 500 sanded paper and taped it to my board. I spent a few minutes choosing the pastels I will use for the painting. As you can see it is a limited palette...some darks, some dirt, some flower colors, some sky colors and some grass colors. That's it.

Next I open Spotify and choose my painting music. Music influences my mood and how I respond to the painting. I wanted moody and soft so I chose my new favorite soundtrack from  'The Theory of Everything' by Johan Johansson. Time to paint. 

I decide to do an alcohol wash for the painting. I picked an assortment of pink pastels in 3 values. I apply them lightly using the side of the stick. I wash the pastel in with a brush and some rubbing alcohol. Why did I choose this technique? I was painting a tangle of wildflowers and grasses. I wanted the painting to be loose and free. I knew the drips of an alcohol wash would give me a start to some suggested grasses. I picked pinks because I will have pink flowers and also I knew the warm red pink color would make my green grasses more exciting (complements)

After the underpainting is dry I begin the painting by reinforcing the dark areas. I want to create a subtle path for the eye under the grasses with my darks. I also add some more peachy pink over the underpainting. This will be the dirt.

 After I block in the darks I move to the lights. The sky is the lightest part of this scene. I put down some grayed purples for the moody sky and add some yellows. I blend these layers using a pale blue gray pastel. I don't blend with my fingers!  I add some lighter yellow at the horizon. The sky is finished.

Oops. I got into my zone here and forgot to take a photo! What I did was block in the grasses first. I begin with the distant grasses and used a gray green. I varied my greens to create and interesting mass of grasses. See the nice dark shape underneath the grasses? Next I blocked in the flowers with the darkest pink/red that I saw. Dark to light.

I finish the poppies by layering a few different values of pinks using the side of the pastel. I end with the pale pink on the edges of the flowers. This is an overcast day so I want the flowers to be softly lit with cool light. (I so sunlit flowers differently)

I continue adding touches of suggested detail. I put in some yellow flowers. I add some broken 'lyrical' lines for the stems and taller grasses.  I am almost finished. I want to keep the painting fresh so I will stop and step back to see what what else the painting needs. It is so easy to overwork and put in too many blades of grass at this point. Stop to smell the flowers!

I decide to add a few spices. These are marks that I apply with a heavier touch. They are meant to be points of interest in the painting. I put in some heavier marks of coral pink. I add some blue violet flowers. They are not in the photo. Why did I decide to add them? Comment below and let's get a discussion going!

I hope you enjoyed today's demo. Please share this post if you did!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

How to Create Texture on Sanded Pastel Paper

'Hand Over the Apple and No One Gets Hurt'            12x12          pastel             ©Karen Margulis
I needed her to be shaggy. I was using a piece of Uart sanded paper and I just wasn't getting the fluffy scruffy look I wanted for my Icelandic sheep. She was too smooth and silky. This was not a silky girl. She was a sheep with an attitude and a scruffy coat to match.  We met her at a roadside pullout somewhere in Iceland. She stared us down and actually followed us around the parking area. We finally figure out she was interested in our snack. As soon as we threw her an apple all was well!

So how could I get a textured look to my painting? Sure I could have used a surface prepared with clear gesso or a pumice mix and gesso. Both give a rougher and more textured start to a painting. But I had already started the painting on the Uart paper. I didn't really want to start over and I didn't want to wait for gesso to dry!  I had an idea.

layering darks before spraying

I had already layered the dark pastels for the undercoat of the sheep. I took out some workable fixative and sprayed the painting. It darkened the fur but also fixed the dark layers.

tools for texture

Once the fixative was dry I added more pastel. I began to add the lighter colors in the coat. After a few layers I used the edge of a bankers clip and the end of a brush handle to scrape into the pastel layers.

First pass looks like a mess. keep going!

 Repeat the spray, pastel layer and scraping. Each time these steps are repeated adds to the texture and roughness of the pastel. I repeated these steps at least 4 times in my sheep. By the fourth time I was really able to dig through the layers to expose the darks. I was happy with my scruffy coat!

Now it is starting to get rough. This is fun!
It took a little time to add layers this way but it sure was fun. Now I have to try it on other subjects.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Can You Find the Hidden Elves in My Painting?

'Home of the Huldufolk'            18x24                   pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available $450
I've been in an Iceland frame of mind this week. I am preparing for a presentation on my summer adventure to Iceland with Stan Sperlak's Painter's Passport group.  I want to paint some new work for the presentation so I pulled out my plein air field studies from the trip looking for inspiration. This little study caught my fancy. I decided it needed to be large.

plein air study from Iceland 5x7 pastel
This was a larger than life kind of day. The weather was dramatic. The scenery was beyond inspiring. It was windy and cold and we had to work quickly to capture the rapidly changing scene. The mountains appeared then were covered in mist. The mosses and grasses were alive with color. Yes. It needed to be large.

I took out a piece of white Wallis paper and turned on my Walter Mitty soundtrack. I decided to do a dry wash underpainting to cover the white paper. I could have done a watercolor underpainitng but I was impatient to start.

As the painting developed and the music filled me,  I was transported back to Iceland. I was there holding down my Gogh box against the wind. I was wiping the mist from my eyes and stomping my boots to keep warm. And I was painting....the wind, the clouds, the greens. I was there was again.

When I finished the painting I saw them.  The Huldufolk....Hidden folk. The elves and fairies that live in Iceland. They were in my painting and it made me smile.  Can you spot them? Click on the painting to see a larger version. Read more about Huldufolk here.

The block in for the painting. I used pipe insulation to rub it in.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday's Art Challenge: Change Your Horizon

'Marsh Study I'             6x6          pastel               ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $45
I am always looking for a challenge. I am committed to getting in some painting time everyday even if it is just for a quick study. Sometimes I show up but I am fresh out of painting ideas. That is when I try to challenge myself with self imposed assignments. The challenges give me something to focus on and I always learn something new.

I'm sure I am not the only artist out there with the problem of what to paint I'd like to devote each Friday's blog post to an art challenge.  I will issue a challenge that you can explore using the medium of your choice.  This week's challenge is a compositional consideration we often overlook:

Changing the placement of the horizon can change the feel of a landscape painting. 

'Marsh Study V'         4.5 x 8.5             panoramic format
 Choosing the placement of the horizon is one of the first decisions I make. I ask myself what is most important to my is a painting about the sky? Or is it about the earth or what's happening on the ground? I try to avoid putting the horizon in the middle.  Another important consideration is making sure that I have unequal divisions of space.

The format  of the paper is also a very important choice.....landscape, portrait square and panoramic all create different energy. Just because I am painting a landscape doesn't mean the horizontal format is the best choice.

So how do we know what will be the best choice?  Thumbnail sketches help us see the possibilities. I took it a step further and did some small quick color studies. These studies will help me decide which composition is worth doing larger.

CHALLENGE: Take a simple subject and do several small studies. Change the placement of the horizon....low, high and middle. Try zooming into the scene and find an intimate composition. Try the same subject in a different format.  The possibilities add up to a lot of potential paintings!
Feel free to use my photo below. How many paintings can you make with simple changes to format and horizon? Tip: these are quick studies. Set a timer and work no longer than 15 minutes on each one.

If you decide to take on the challenge feel free to share your finished pastel paintings in my Facebook group 'Pastel Challenge Group'.

The reference photo for these studies

I used the Terry Ludwig Plein Air landscape set for my studies.
Painting notes: 6x6 paintings are on black Artagain paper. All studies available in my etsy shop. click here

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Studio Tip for Organizing Reference Photos

'A Quiet Spot'               11x14               pastel                ©Karen Margulis
available $155 click here to purchase
 It's time to get organized!  Being organized allows me more time to paint. One of the things in my studio that is in need of organizing is my stacks of reference photos. I print out my photos on copy paper and file them by subject in a photo box. But they get messy so quickly and I never want to take the time to file the photos I have taken out. By the end of the year (yes I let it go for a year!) I have piles and piles of photos ...too many to go through. It  makes it hard to decide what to paint and I waste so mush time mindlessly flipping through photos.

This year I am starting a new system. I prefer using small 3x5 and 2x3 photos that I print myself on cheap inkjet paper.  These little photos were too small for my big box and they were getting lost.  I was thrilled to find small plastic document envelopes by a company called Doc-it.  They are perfect for organizing small photos. The envelopes measure 5x7 and come in clear colors. Mine have a string tie but one of my students found them with snaps. They also come with a label though I just use a piece of artists tape for my labels.

I found my envelopes in my local grocery store. Here is a link to a source online

These envelopes are inexpensive (under $1) so I can have one for all of my favorite subjects. I will be filing these plastic envelopes in a box with cardboard tabs with the subject category. I'll share a photo when I get to this point.  This system will allow me to narrow down my painting ideas without being overwhelmed by too many choices.

Question for you:  Do you use paper photos or do you paint from a tablet, phone or computer? There is a great discussion on this subject on the Pastel Society of America's Facebook Page. Head over to Facebook to read all the opinions and advice. If you are on Facebook I'd love for you  to 'like' my art page. You can like my page right here on the blog...look for the like box on the right!

Painting notes: I used my planning sheet to decide on the format and design of this painting. It is on Uart 500 with an alcohol wash. I used a variety of Terry Ludwig pastels.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Cheat Sheet: Compose Better Paintings

'Summer Profusion'                12x12            pastel              ©Karen Margulis
painting available $175
Are you a 'top of the pile' artist?  Do you use the paper that is on the top of your pile or do you give serious thought to the size/color/type of paper you will use for each painting? Taking a few minutes to figure out the best size and orientation of paper for the subject leads to better paintings.  It only takes a few minutes. In the end it saves much time and angst.

 The orientation/ format of the paper can have a profound impact on how well our concept for the painting comes across.  We have four main choices: Landscape (horizontal) Portrait (vertical)  Square and Panoramic.

How do we decide which one will be best for our subject?  The usual recommendation is to do a thumbnail. I take this advice a step further.  I like to do several QUICK thumbnails trying out each format. I have developed a cheat sheet for my planning.  (see photo below)

Usually one thumbnail will speak to me the loudest. This is the one I paint. Often I like all of them for different reasons. These can all be developed into paintings. 

One image = 5 potential paintings!

My Painting Plan Worksheet in action

 Using the planning worksheet saved me a lot of aggravation on my demo painting. My intention was to use a piece of 12x18 Uart in a portrait orientation. I thought it would be a good format to show the country road going back into the woods.  I set up my paper for the demo. 

I decided to use my planning worksheet and discovered that I really preferred a square format for the painting. In the thumbnail the portrait format wasn't working at all....too much foreground!  So I marked off a square on my paper. Taking a few minutes for planning was well worth my effort! (I probably would have ended up fussing with the foreground until finally cropping it off anyway!)

my 12x18 paper turned into a 12x12 square

my reference photo
 I am offering my planning sheet in my Etsy store. It is a 2 page worksheet which also gives you space for a color study and questions to help you decide on your painting concept. Sure you can use a sketchbook or scrap paper....but the planning sheet ensures you don't skip a step!  Click here for details.