Wednesday, August 23, 2017

My Favorite Tool for Finishing a Painting

'Beyond the Storm'             11x14          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $165
 It's the age old question. How do we know when a painting is finished.  Leonardo Da Vinci said that art is never finished, only abandoned. So how do we know when it is time to abandon them? When is it time to be satisfied and move on to the next painting?

The advice I have frequently heard that it is time to stop when you have nothing more to say. That may be good advice but it is important to know if what you have said can be understood! Have you clarified your concept?  Sometimes it is hard to tell. Sometimes you need to look at the painting with a fresh eye or in another way.

My favorite tool for giving me a fresh eye is to use a mat around the painting. I know this isn't a new or earth shattering idea and maybe you already do this. But quite frankly I forgot how effective it really is until I pulled out this mat today for a private class. I had stopped using mats for myself but no more! I am making them an important part of my painting process and here's why.


Adding a mat to check for doneness

  •  Putting a mat around a painting eliminates the clutter of a busy support board. Sometimes the tape or clips or pastel marks create distracting elements. The painting feels unfinished because the tools of creation are still in place. It is like having the scaffolding on a building. The building looks like it is under construction. Remove the scaffolding and voila.....it looks complete and finished.
  • A mat allows for separation and space around the painting. It isolates the painting and forces us to look at what is inside the mat. Often we can then better focus on the parts of the painting that have clarity. All of the sudden the parts of the painting that we may have thought were unfinished now look right. It becomes easier to see that we don't necessarily need clarity and detail everywhere! We may just decide that the painting is done long before we thought it should be. Many an overworked painting can be saved with the use of a mat!

TIP:  Step up your game!  Try a fancy mat! I found this mat with a silver liner in an old frame in a thrift store. I took the mat and donated the frame and print. You need mats in the sizes that you paint the most. I also use clips to hold the mat over my painting so I can step back and evaluate for doneness!


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Breaking Free of Color Ruts

'Listen to Your Heart'             9x12        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $195
 Do you find yourself returning to your favorite color combinations over and over again?  I tend to  have favorite colors that seem to find their way into my paintings when I am not paying attention. Do you have favorites? You can tell by just looking in your pastel box. Those tiny nibblets of pastel are most likely your personal favorites. There really isn't anything wrong with having preferred color schemes. In fact it can often be part of your unique personal style. But sometimes it is fun to mix it up! Get out of your color rut by deliberately choosing a different color scheme.

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed earlier today when a painting caught my eye. I loved the limited palette the artist used and the soft muted colors in their palette.  I pulled out a piece of paper and quickly jotted down some color notes of the main colors in the painting. ( Unfortunately I was distracted by something else and when I returned to Facebook I couldn't find the painting to credit the artist. I am still looking!) But I did have the color notes so I decided to use them for a new marsh painting.

Inspired Color Notes

Choosing a simple limited palette based on my color notes

  • Using the color notes as my guide I selected pastels I would use for my painting. I made sure to have a range of values within the color scheme. The results are in the butcher tray above. I started the painting using a few Nupastels in similar but bolder colors in my  tray.
  • I often like to start a painting darker and bolder than I ultimately want. It is much easier to lighten and tone down a painting than it is to punch it up!
  • I continued building the painting using only the few pastels in my tray. The result was a quiet and simple color scheme that was inspired by making a strip of color notes and sticking to them!


The first layer or block in of my extremes...
darkest dark,lightest light and most intense color.
TRY THIS:
Scroll through Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest looking at art that inspires you. In particular look at the artists use of color. Pick a painting whose color scheme interests you and make some notes with pastel of the colors you see. Now choose pastels in this color scheme for your next painting. This exercise can be repeated many times using the same reference but different color inspirations!

Note: today's painting is 9x12 on Wallis Warm mist seconds.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Painting During the Eclipse....An Interesting Thing Happened


'Changing Meadows'            8x10       pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $145

I stayed home for the eclipse and had a very  interesting afternoon.  I spent the morning making several eclipse viewers. (I wanted to make sure at least one worked!) We were expecting a 98% eclipse here in Marietta Georgia with the peak at 2:36. I decided to start my daily painting while I waited. 

As the eclipse started I would step outside of my studio to check on the progress. Then I would work in the painting. A funny thing happened to the evolution of the painting during the eclipse. 

It seemed to change the same way the sky was changing. I didn't do this on purpose but it is interesting how it unfolded. It was if the mood and light in the sky changed in my painting as it changed in my backyard! Have a look at the photos I took of the painting's progress.

My eclipse viewers


Beginning with a notan underpainting

First steps completed before the start of the eclipse

Eclipse started. Excited and anticipating the darkening of the sky
Took a break from my painting to go back outside.

Just after the peak when the sky was a deep blue violet in my backyard

The eclipse about finished with the sky becoming brighter again.
 I noticed I was drawn to brightening the sky in my painting.

The finish. A brighter and sunnier mood than how it began!
And I decided I didn't like the little path.

I took a lot of photos of the cool shadows

Just before peak the sky got deep blue violet.
I live in the land of trees and this is my view of the sky.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Tips for Painting The Night Sky

'Nightfall'            11x14         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $165
Eclipse fever is reaching a peak. In Marietta Georgia we are within an hour or so drive to the path of TOTALITY. I have family in this area and my plans were to take a drive and experience the total eclipse. Traffic is predicted to be terrible so I may just stay put and experience the partial eclipse at home. I wasn't able to get glasses either.  But with all the hype I decided to paint the sky today.

I started this beach sunset painting a few weeks ago but didn't quite finish. It needed a few stars and brighter light at the horizon. This was a sunset I shared with good friends several years ago in South Carolina. The sky was amazing!

I enjoy painting the night sky. The challenge is to give the sky a sense of air and depth even though it might be very dark. I have a few tips for painting successful night skies.


  • Observe the sky in the evening. Spend time just watching from twilight until total darkness. Make notes about the colors and values you see. How do they change? Soak it all in. These observations will help you when having to work from photos.
  • Take night photos at twilight. When the sun has set there is still some light in the sky. These deep dark and rich blues of early evening make for the most interesting night scenes. Even better is when the lights begin to come on. These little lights add even more interest to the night sky.
  • Avoid using BLACK pastel. We tend to think that at night the sky is black.  Even when the sky appears very dark painting it with black will make it look flat and heavy and dull.  Choose dark value blues for a more believable night sky.
  • There is often a gradation of color seen in the night sky. I like to use my darkest cool blues for the zenith (top) of the sky and gradually transition to rich warmer turquoisey blues closer to the horizon. Scroll down to see samples.


Black vs. Deep Blue. Which do you prefer for a night sky?


Starry Sky a sliver of the night  11x4 

A selection of beautiful deep blue pastels perfect for the night sky
 The next time you are inspired to paint the night sky see how beautiful it can be with blues!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

More advice for New Painters and Anyone Else Who wants to be a Better Painter


'Roadside Treasure'          8x10         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $145
Becoming a good painter is simple. All it takes is some good pastels and paper and knowing how to use them. Right? Not exactly. Yesterday I shared some advice for new painters. Advice I wish I had heard when I was new to painting. But there is more to it than just having good materials. Read on for more advice.

Just a few of my favorite art books. I have three shelves FULL of books

  • Make time to study the basic concepts of painting. Whether you take classes, watch dvds or read books,  find a way to learn more about what makes a good painting. Understanding the concepts of composition, value, color, edges, perspective are all important to making good paintings.  Pick one per month. Study all you can. You won't be able to master it all right away but you need to make time to study.  Some concepts elude us until we are truly ready to understand, process and use them. I didn't really 'get' value until I had been painting for three years. Then I had an AHA moment and value became simple. Be patient. You will have the AHA moments when you are ready but you must expose yourself to these concepts.


A few of my hundreds of daily painting....many many miles of paper!

A good friend of mine would often say "I can talk the talk but not walk the walk" She was often frustrated with her paintings. She had all of the best materials and a deep and solid understanding of what makes a successful painting. She had great technical skill with her pastels....but yet she was still frustrated and unhappy with her paintings.

Good materials won't make you a good painter. Having good technique is a start but not enough to create paintings that are compelling or interesting or successful. Study and knowing and understanding art concepts is important. But it isn't enough to talk the talk....you want to be able to walk the walk.

"A Painting a Day Keeps Frustration at Bay" 


  • PRACTICE is the key that unlocks the mystery behind successful painters.  I often hear a common complaint ..... "I can't paint like you. How come mine doesn't look like yours? How do you just seem to know what to do? You make it look so easy!"   My answer is PRACTICE! Painting is like any other discipline. It takes time and commitment to improve.  Even if it is a short amount of time done with frequency...time at the easel is key to feeling confident and at ease. Practice (if done right which is a topic for another day) unites your knowledge, skills and materials  so that you see progress and experience improvement.  To become an intuitive confident painter you need to partner study with practice.

Some parting advice. Be patient with yourself. It takes time and effort but getting to the place where you can paint with passion and intuition without overwhelming struggle is well worth it.

Painting notes: Today's painting was a demo for yesterday's private class. It is 8x10 on Canson Mi-Teintes unsanded paper.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Advice for New Painters

'Summer Bounty'             10x8          pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I had a very wise student today. She wanted to try pastels and had purchased a few supplies. She quickly discovered that what she was painting was not what she had in her head. Instead of giving up or going out and buying more supplies in hopes of making things better....she decided to seek help. She told me she didn't want to develop bad habits so it was time to take a class.

I was very happy to have her come to my studio and share some of the things I have learned along the way that have helped me become a better painter. We chatted.  We test drove some pastels and paper...Terry Ludwig and Diane Townsend seemed to be favorites! We did thumbnails and talked about easy ways to start a painting. After my demo we painted together following the steps I had shared. It was wonderful to share pastels with an enthusiastic artist!



As I prepared for this class I wanted to give my student some good advice....something that would be helpful and encouraging. I came up with four things that helped me when I was new to painting. I'll share two today and two in tomorrow's blog post.


  • Get to know your medium.  Research and purchase the best materials you can afford. Learn all you can about pastels and the available brands. Artist quality materials really do make a difference. So often artists tell me they don't want to spend money on the expensive or 'good' pastels and paper until they know they will like it ...or are good enough. It's a catch-22. It is harder to have good results with cheap materials. It can be downright frustrating to paint with cheap hard mid value pastels on unsanded or regular drawing paper. I've met artists who gave up on pastels because they were not having success ...it wasn't their skills....it was their materials.
          ***Before investing in good supplies try them first! See if you can find another pastelist or
                instructor in your area and ask to try out the 'good' pastels. And if you do choose to invest
                in better materials and change your mind...Ebay is your friend.***

  • Get Comfortable with your medium. Once you have good supplies you need to get comfortable with them. Use them! Pastels can make a variety of marks. Learn how to hold them so that you can get wide marks, thin linear marks, light strokes, heavy strokes and so on. The best way to get familiar with them is to use them.... a lot!  Make marks. Experiment and play.
         ***A great way to learn how to make marks is to paint without trying to make a good painting.
               Paint skies or simple objects...something that allows you to just make marks and 
               get comfortable with your pastels.

Not sure which brand of pastels or paper to buy? Take them for a test run with a sampler set from Dakota Pastels. Click here for details.

Painting Notes: Today's painting is on Uart 400 grit sanded paper with Terry Ludwig pastels. This was one of the demos painted in my class.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Transformation from a Bad Quick Draw Painting


'Dancers By the Sea'          10x8        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $155 
It's been a wonderful week in the studio! There is nothing better than returning from a trip to an empty calendar....a week of no obligations and no plans. In fact I didn't even leave my house for 7 days!! I had a week to enjoy the glow of a wonderful visit to Ireland and paint and write to my heart's content. 

I have a couple more installments to my travelog. Today I am sharing one of the last events of Art in the Open....the Quick Draw.  This event was open to any artist and the requirement was to paint one of the storefronts in Wexford in a specified area. The time limit was two hours. Everyone painted at the same time and then displayed their paintings for all to see and perhaps purchase.

If you would like a great look at the Quick Draw event have a look at this video done by one of the AITO artists Alvin Mark Tan. Here is a link to the video on YouTube. Alvin Mark Tan is a wonderful artist and great guy who conducted an Urban Sketching session at the festival. He was seen everywhere with his paints, sketchbook and video camera! I also recommend following him on Instagram @alvinmark

Now for my experience at the Quick Draw and how I transformed one of my quick draw paintings into today's Queen Anne's Lace paintings.

Painting Suki!
I have to admit I was a little concerned about the Quick Draw. I'm not really a painter of buildings and while the streets of Wexford are certainly picturesque I know I couldn't do them justice. My wheels were turning. What would I paint??....then while in the Wexford Silver shop the morning of the event it hit me. I knew exactly what I would paint....or who that is. Suki....the adorable little shop dog. Suki liked to hang out at the door and greet everyone. She would be the perfect model!

I set up in front of Wexford Silver at the appointed time. The horn blew and I started to paint Suki. Until the band started up. Suzi didn't like that and started fussing. The shop owner came out and to my dismay took her inside. A plein air painter's nightmare! Actually it wasn't all bad. Suzi returned when the band left and I managed to finish one small painting and start on a larger one. About that larger one.......it was bad. Very bad.

brushed down and ready for some alcohol
The painting actually started life as some buildings. I tried to paint the storefront when Suki went inside but I wasn't having fun with it. So I brushed off the buildings and tried for a close up of Suki. Short on time I didn't finish and wasn't at all happy with my composition.

Not wanting to waste a good board (Pastel Premier panel) I took it all the way home and did an alcohol wash. It now became the underpainting for my Queen Anne's Lace at Rosslare beach. Definitely a painting with an interesting journey!

After the alcohol wash

Yes it's true, everyone stopped to say hello to Suki

'Everyone Loves Suki'             5x7         pastel        available $75
As a final note to this story....I treated myself to a beautiful silver necklace and earrings from Wexford Silver. :)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Pastels in Ireland Part 5: Another Beautiful Beach, Rosslare

'Dance There Upon the Shore'           9x12        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
sold
Once again the beach surprised me. This time it was Rosslare. I don't know what I expected but I was excited to get off the bus and see dunes covered in wildflowers. There was plenty for me to paint here! But it was quite windy and not really conducive to using my Heilman box on the tripod. Sharon and I were quick though and found a couple of benches out of the wind. We decided to sit and put our easels down low. It was a perfect solution. I had a perfect view of the dunes and proceeded to paint several dune studies.

There were many families on holiday at the beach and when the sun was out it really felt nice. In fact one of the artists painting with us had worn her bathing suit and took a dip in the sea. Too cold for me. I had on a few layers but not a bathing suit!


It was nice enough for a swim.....too cold and windy for me though!

'Through the Dunes'       5x7      pastel     $95


Over the dunes!
After a few productive hours it started getting blustery. We decided to break for lunch. It was a good decision because it was time for rain! Fortunately for us the sun came back out as soon as we were done with lunch so we found a new spot on the beach near an pile of rocks. A new and interesting view! The skies were getting interesting with storms on the horizon.

For the afternoon painting session I set out my Monkey Mat on the sand. I found some great rocks for weights and sat down to paint. It was time for the single Heilman box with my Giraults. I painted a few more studies from this spot. I really could have spread out on the mat and taken a nap. In fact I heard from several artists who did just that! It was the 5th day of painting after all!

I will always remember the sights, sounds and smells of this day. We were set up next to a women who had 5 young boys with her. Brave woman! They were all well behaved except for poor Ollie. In my mind, the sounds of the sea and wind will always be accompanied by the cries of "Ollie!!"

Love the Monkey Mat! It came in handy several times this week!

'Seaside Drama'          7x5        pastel       $95
Painting Notes:  Today's painting at the top of this post is 9x12 and dark blue Colourfix paper. It was inspired by a photo I took of the dark skies and exciting light from the afternoon coming storms. Even though the beach was full of people on holiday I decided to add just one solitary figure.






Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Clouds Over Ireland Pastel Demo


'Enchantment'          8x10             pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I just had to paint them! I was scrolling through my photos from Ireland looking for something to paint for my travelog posts. The clouds stopped me in my tracks. So I pulled out a prepared piece of Multimedia Artboard and painted them. The travelog will resume tomorrow but today I'd like to share the making of today's painting. Enjoy the step by step photos and be sure to scroll all the way to the end for a special treat.


Step one: choose the paper or support

 Step One: I selected a board I had already prepared with an orange toned texture. I made the texture using clear gesso tinted with orange liquid acrylic. I applied this mixture with a brush on an 8x10 piece of Multimedia Artboard. I wanted the sky and clouds to have a random and exciting texture.


Step 2: Block in the big shapes

Step 2:  I drew the big shapes of the land and clouds with orange Nupastel. Next I blocked in these big shapes with one layer of color. I chose colors to create a value map of darks and lights. I needed to rub in this first layer to fill in the grooves of the textured surface. I let some of the orange tone peek through.


Step 3: Paint the ground

Step 3:  The painting was going to be about the dramatic light filled clouds so I wanted to keep the ground simple. I decided to paint it first so that I could use some of the colors both in the ground and the sky.  I kept the elements on the ground simple. I only suggested the trees and grasses.


colors in my clouds...yellow, green, orange, violet



Step 4: Leaving the ground I went to work on the clouds. The first thing I did was create the shadows or darker areas in the clouds. Instead of using gray pastels I created my own blend of gray using  greens, yellows, peaches and violets. Some of these pastels were used in the ground creating a visual connection between earth and sky.


Adding cloud lights and blue to the sky

Step 5: I began to add the lighter values in the clouds. I used very light value peach and yellow instead of white. I also reinforced the blues in the sky keeping in mind the transition of blue from dark and cool to light and warm.




Step 6:  As I added blue to the sky I decided to take out my artistic license and add some blue to the ground. Why not have a wee stream flowing through the meadow?


Finished? Not quite.


Step 7: I continued to build up the clouds. I rubbed layers in with my pinky finger and added more pastel. The texture is so strong that it is visible even when the pastel is pushed into the grooves. To build the layers I use the same yellow, peach, violet and green pastels.  I save the lightest light (almost but not quite white) for the brightest clouds. Reinforced the blue of the sky and painted into the clouds to define them.


click to enlarge and see the texture

The final painting with some light on the little sheep in the meadow

Step 8:  I thought I was finished and took photos. When I looked at the photos I decided that the clouds needed further definition. I used the lightest light pastel to add some highlights to some of the clouds. I pushed this pastel into the board with a shouting mark! I enjoyed painting this scene!

If you would like more details and information on painting clouds and skies  consider trying my PDF booklet on Painting beautiful skies and clouds. For this week only I am offering 10% savings on all PDF demos. Use coupon code DEMO10 at checkout or follow this link for the coupon.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Pastels in Ireland Part 4: Castles, Swans and Rain



'Cows in the Meadow'      8x10         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
sold
My last minute purchases came in handy once again. The 4th painting day of Art in the Open was challenging especially for the pastel and watercolor artists. It was cool, windy with on and off rain showers. Knowing the weather forecast in advance (I love the Dark Sky app) I was prepared for a day out in the elements.

One of the items I bought just before my trip was a great roomy tote bag by Baggallini. I am a huge fan of their bags but I wanted a large tote that would have a top zipper. I found one on eBay and it arrived in time for my trip. It was perfect because it shed the rain! I was able to take along my small pastel box, my Monkey Mat (a blanket made of parachute material) and of course my umbrella. I also had another jacket and a change of socks....just in case. It was a  good thing that I was so prepared.

close up of the cows
Enniscorthy is a wonderful picturesque town built around a castle. The movie Brooklyn was filed here.  Read all about the town here: http://www.enniscorthytourism.com

When we arrived it was cloudy and windy so I decided to paint right away before the rain moved in. I set up on the banks of the river. There wasn't any shelter. The watercolor workshop was being held under the bridge. They had it made!  I had to work fast!  I spread my blanket down on the wet cement steps and opened my Heilman single sketchbox. I worked with my board on my lap. I was able to paint a couple of studies before the rain. My simple setup made it stress free and easy to clean up in a hurry!

A castle sparks the imagination!
 After a nice warm lunch of soup and brown bread and a cup of tea (I drank a lot of tea) I took a walk around the castle and took some photos. There was much more to see but this was day 4 of intense painting and I was starting to drag a bit. I decided to return to the bus pick up area and just sit and watch the river.  It was a good day for the rain after all.  It allowed me to relax and recharge. There was much more to come!

Some photos from my day in Enniscorthy

Painters on the river bank dodging the rain

'Enniscorthy Study'         5x7     plein air pastel      available $75


my rainy day pastel set up

Starting to rain....time to pack up!
Today's painting: On the bus rides to and from our painting sites I made sure to take photos. I wasn't concerned about having perfect photographs. I wanted to capture little snippets of life in the Irish countryside. The cows and sheep intrigued me. This painting is from one of these 'drive by' photos.
8x10 on Yi Cai pastel paper.