Monday, October 16, 2017

The Benefit of a Mini Goal and Some Great News!

'Summer Perfection'         15x10       pastel       ©Karen Margulis

I am a firm believer in setting goals. But I call them Mini Goals. They are things that I hope to accomplish. They may be big things or maybe just a little thing. But they don't have any time deadline. I just keep plugging away and working everyday with the mini goal urging me on.

Mini goals keep me motivated. When I meet one I try to set another one. I don't put pressure on myself to meet the goal. I figure if I am working hard and still having fun I can't help but get better and eventually meet the goal.

Well I am thrilled (yes I am thrilled) to share that I met one of my mini goals. My painting 'Summer Perfection' was awarded an honorable mention in the 19th annual Pastel 100 Competition for Pastel Journal.  It has been a goal of mine for several years. I do enter every year and swallow my disappointment when I don't get in. I just keep plugging away. It feels good to have met this goal!

What goals have you set for yourself?  To give you an idea of my mini goals I'll take you back 13 years ago when I first began painting. I was at my first pastel exhibition for the Southeastern Pastel Society. I made a mini goal that I would someday get into that show. I got in the next year! My next goal was to become a member of excellence. And the goals went on from there pushing me to paint more and study more and paint more. Mini goals make me a better artist!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Studio Time: Intimate Autumn Landscape Demo Youtube Video

'Maine Woods'           9x12         pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I was so inspired that I had to get down into my studio to paint. The chores had to wait. Once I am home from a trip often life gets in the way of inspiration. This time I didn't let it! I threw in the laundry and immediately downloaded the photos from my New England and Canada cruise.

Once in the studio a printed put a few photos and pulled out my pastel palette for the intimate autumn landscape that begged to be painted. I thought it would be fun to paint live so we set up the iPhone to do a Facebook Live video of my painting. I had no idea how the painting would turn out but my goal was to show you how I respond to inspiration. Everything gets put on hold until I paint!

The small reference photo that inspired today's painting 

The photo above was my inspiration. You can watch the video demo here on my YouTube channel.

Click here to see the video on YouTube
We also filmed two more videos for my new Patreon page. I have over 200 patrons now who are enjoying the extra pastel and painting instruction and inspiration. If you haven't had a look at the Patreon page you can visit it here.

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Great Way to Tone Paper for Pastel Painting

'Summer in Finland'             5x7             pastel              ©Karen Margulis

Enjoy this post from the archives while I am out of town!

Sometimes I just don't want to think. I don't want to think about underpainting colors or the best way to start a painting. Sometimes I just want to paint underpainting. No thinking.  I find that a middle value paper makes the best choice for these times. A nice warm toned paper allows me to paint directly without worrying about covering up a light or white paper.

I find that the light bits peeking through my layers can be distracting and a mid value toned paper helps me avoid the light bits!  If bits and pieces of the middle value tone peek through it is more pleasing. In fact it can unify and harmonize the painting.

Of course we can buy colored pastel paper and I do. But sometimes I want to use my favorite paper Uart, but I want it to be more of a middle value. Now I can!  

Art Graf pigment square....unusual and amazing!

I was introduced to this new product at the recent IAPS convention. My friend found them at the trade show and insisted that I have a look. I am glad I did and I am glad I bought the set.  These squares of rich water-soluble pigment create a most wonderful toned paper. And a little bit goes a long way!

They are thin square shapes like tailor's chalk only they are not chalk. They are not pastel either. In fact they feel a bit waxy. But they work like a dream to tone paper. Read more about them here:

It takes very little pigment to create a rich tone.  I tested all 6 colors on Uart sanded paper. I used the side of the Art-Graf to color the paper....lightly!  A brush and some water is needed to liquify and spread the pigment. It took some practice to figure out the right amount of water. More water equals a lighter tone. I got some drips and bubbles on some of mine because I was impatient. I liked the effect though!

I even mixed more than one bock on the same paper to make a custom color.  It was great fun and I loved the results.

 How does pastel react to the toned paper? I am happy to say that it was a great marriage. The pastel responded perfectly. The painting at the top of the post is on the sepia toned paper.  The pigment of the Art Graf did not fill the tooth of the paper. I am thrilled!  I am looking forward to using them to tone paper for my upcoming plein air workshops!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

More on My New Favorite Underpainting Technique

'Autumn Evening'         9x12         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $155
Here is a post from the archives:
I cannot resist an art store. So when my friend and I found ourselves in Santa Fe last week with some extra time to spare we made a stop at Artisans, an art store in Sante Fe New Mexico. We didn't really need anything but you never know what treasure you might find.

And I found a wonderful treasure! My favorite Art Graf squares in primary colors! You may have read about or tired these Art Graf pigment blocks. I have used the earth toned squares for underpainting and I loved the results. They are a strange thing....they feel waxy almost like a crayon but when applied to paper and wet with water or alcohol they EXPLODE with rich color.
It takes very little application to get a rich and dark resulting tone. They are fantastic for toning paper or for underpainting for pastels.

Art Graf squares in primary colors for wonderful possibilities

I had to buy this set of primary colors! I was excited for the possibilities since it is easy to layer and mix the pigment of the squares. I tried the squares for my aspen demo at my workshop  and I was thrilled with the rich results. (see  post here)
One evening at the workshop we had a paper toning party and all of the artists had fun using the Art Graf to tone paper and create underpaintings. We are now all fans! You can find the Art Graf squares on Amazon and I have also seen them online at Cheap Joes. Below you can see how I used the primary color squares for today's painting.

I applied the Art Graf lightly by coloring on my sanded paper (Pastel Premier white)

After wetting the pigment with water and a brush.

Starting to add pastel over the underpainting

The finished painting

Monday, October 09, 2017

How to Paint a Yellow Tree: Bonus Demo

'The Yellow Tree'      12x12       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
 Are you having fun painting the colors of Fall? I am having fun playing with using an intense underpainting to help give punch to my yellow trees. I used the Art Graf primary color squares for this underpainting and I love how they gave me a great head start!

TODAY'S TIP: You can use the medium of your choice for an underpainting but for yellow I like to underpaint with some yellow. It seems to help the yellows feel brighter and more intense.

Underpainting with Art Graf pigment squares
I have posted a mini demo for this painting on my Patreon page. It is available for all! I invite you to head over to my page to have a look at what we are doing!

Friday, October 06, 2017

When You Can't Stop Painting One Thing

'Pink Poppy Profusion II'          6x8           pastel on Uart Dark        ©Karen Margulis
available $125
I can't help myself. Sometimes I find something that I just can't stop painting. It may be a subject or a particular reference photo that grabs my attention. It may even be the first painting done from the photo that inspires more interpretation. No matter what the reason I can't stop painting!

Some artists prefer to paint new material and don't like to repeat a motif but I find repetition allows me to truly understand and become intimate with my subject. If Degas did it then it is a good practice for me too!

Just as a classical dancer repeats the same movements again and again, in order to achieve a greater perfection of line and balance, so Degas repeats the same motifs - it was one of the things that gave him so much sympathy with dancers. -Sir Kenneth Clark

My pastels used for the pink poppy series
Here are some tips for repetition of a motif

  • Choose a subject or photo that you LOVE. It should be something that you experienced. The passion for the subject is necessary!
  • Challenge yourself to interpret the scene in different ways instead of just copying the same painting over and over.
  • Keep things simple. In the early receptions I like to reuse the same pastel palette. It eliminates one thing from the planning and allows you to concentrate on composition and marks.

You are invited to check out my Patreon page for more painting tips and inspiration.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Have You Considered MOO Cards Lately?

Ireland plein air 5x7 pastel

 I want my business cards to be keepable. What's the point in giving out business cards if they end up in the garbage. Business cards need staying power. You never know when your art or services may be needed. If your business card is a keeper it is more likely to be there when the need arises.

I am a big fan of I love their business cards and I am always trying the latest products.  I was excited to try the new square business cards. They measure about 2.5 x 2.5 inches. I got my first order and love them so much I ordered another set!

Square cards are cool!

I think these cards will be keepers! I decided to showcase about 50 different wildflowers paintings on the front of the cards. The great thing about moo cards is the ability to use up to 50 different images on one batch of cards. There is no set up fee or extra image fees. It is a very simple upload process. The back of the card has my contact information. You get full color printing on both sides for no extra charge.

I am very pleased with the printing and color reproduction. The card stock is heavy and feels expensive. You can even upgrade to an even more luxurious card stock.

The quality of Moo cards is wonderful
If you don't have business cards or need to get new ones consider giving Moo cards a try. If you use this link to create your cards you will get 10% off your first order.  Click here for the link.

If you don't have business cards or make your own, treat yourself to some really nice business cards. You are your own brand and your business cards reflect you as an artist. You DESERVE nice business cards!
Moo comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Something for everyone!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Another Great Hack from a Clever Student

'The Quiet Time'       8x10         pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I handed her a dish towel. And she took it but mentioned casually that she uses toilet paper.  Toilet paper! But of course! Another clever idea from my student. It is good practice to have something handy for wiping pastels before you make a mark. In fact it should become automatic. Make a mark. Wipe. Mark a mark. Wipe.

Why? Because pastels can pick up other colors as you paint. These colors can be deposited in other areas. Sometimes this is good and leads to interesting things. Most times it isn't good. Think about a dark green mark in a light blue sky. It happens if the pastel is not wiped off in between trees and sky! trull name.....PAINTING TISSUE.

So that means we do a lot of wiping! I use old dish towels and throw them in the wash when dirty. Other use aprons and wipe on the apron. My student uses toilet paper. Let's call it by it's rightful name .....PAINTING TISSUE.

Always handy Painting Tissue
You don't need a lot but a wad in your hand will help you keep your pastels clean as you paint. Pick up some painting tissue the next time you are in the Dollar Tree.....or stock up at your favorite warehouse store.

Thanks Linda for another great tip!

Monday, October 02, 2017

Try Some Unexpected Underpainting Colors

'River of Peace'           18x24         pastel           ©Karen Margulis

I was hoping to get to the easel today but last minute packing took over! So I am sharing a good post from the archives. I have scheduled posts for the time I will be away and I hope to do some posts from my trip if technology cooperates! 

I don't know why I haven't used this color before now. It is one of my favorite colors but I have never used it for an underpainting. But when I was planning my demo painting for my workshop yesterday a bright blue variation of turquoise caught my eye. I pulled four values of the color for my simple block-in. It would work for my lesson. 

Color will work if the values are right.

I was curious to see what would happen with a turquoise underpainting. I blocked in my big shapes with the four sticks. Dark trees, light sky and water and the two middle values for the ground and distant trees. I didn't get a photo of the block-in since this was a workshop demo but it was pretty! It was my favorite color after all.

The colors I used for the underpainting
The finished painting was actually quite true to the mood and feeling of the reference photo. The warm blues peeking through my foliage and grasses added just the right amount of coolness without being cold!

 It had been a cool and overcast morning on the grounds of Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey in New Mexico. We were taking an afternoon walk on the grounds in preparation for the week's painting retreat. We walked along the river's edge listening to the music of the water over distant rocks.....  I am left with such inspiring memories and photos and can't wait to go back in October!                  

close-up photo
 Unexpected colors maybe... but a fun result. Imagine what other underpainting colors could do to transform this scene. I think I'll try some warm colors next....but they will be unexpected. This is what painting is all about. Fun!

The painting at the end of the demo. I spent another 30 minutes once home in the studio
PAINTING NOTE:  This painting is on Canson Mi-Teinte gray paper. In my last two blog posts I gave suggestions for getting started with pastels. I suggested using good paper. Many pastelists prefer sanded paper. I like it too but I love Canson. The trick is to use good pastels and have a LIGHT TOUCH. It is easier to build more layers when the pastel is applied with a whisper.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Mastering Pastel Mark Making

'Under Moody Skies'         9x12        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $125
Once you have the tools it is a matter of refining techniques. A big part of the techniques involved with the pastel medium is mastering mark making or how to apply the pastel to get the effects you want.  We all have our own way of making marks. It is like handwriting....we all have our own personal calligraphy. Our marks and way we apply them are unique to us.

But there are some basic building blocks in mark making and once mastered they allow the artist to explore and discover their own silt of applying pastel.

I have three basic ways that I use to apply pastel. 

  • Whispering marks are those marks applied with the side of the pastel using a LIGHT TOUCH. A light touch allows for the artist to build many layers creating optical blends of color.
  • Shouting marks are those marks applied with a heavy touch. The paper is covered with thick pastel. I use shouting marks when I know I will not be adding another layer to the area. I can shout at any point in the painting but most often at the end for the final marks.
  • Dancing marks are those usually applied with harder pastels. They are linear marks used for detail such as grass. I like to let the pastel 'dance' across the paper and use BROKEN LINES. This makes more natural looking linear marks.

Can you identify the three types of marks I made?
How do you apply pastel? Think about the types of marks you make. Do you whisper or shout? Do you dance or do you something totally different?

Since a picture is worth a thousand words I made a short video demonstrating these types of three marks up close. The video is now available on my Patreon page for a sneak preview to patrons.

Check out my video intro on my new Patreon Page

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Five Tips for Painting Yellow Trees

'Aspen Gold'        12x16          pastel        ©Karen Margulis sold

The excitement is building. There won't be aspens but I hope to see the reds and oranges of fall! Next week Michael and I are taking a New England cruise from New York City to Quebec City. I've packed my sketchbook and my Heilman sketchbox and my camera. I plan on doing some Facebook Live broadcasts along the way and I have scheduled blog and Patreon posts in case I have technical difficulties!  Since I have to pack this weekend I am sharing a post from the archives on painting yellow. Enjoy!

Painting the yellow foliage is my challenge. I don't know about anyone else but I find yellows to be tricky with pastels. It is hard to get them as bright, clean and vibrant as I want to.  I am always looking for ideas to help me with yellows and I'd like to share five of my favorite techniques.

Gouache Underpainting

  • Try a yellow underpainting under the areas that will be yellow. It gives your yellows a head start. For this painting I did a gouache underpainting.
  • Use your softest pastels. The softer pastels have more pigment and I can get juicier marks with them. This way the yellows don't mix with the colors underneath as easily keeping the yellows pure. In this painting I took an extra step and dusted soft yellow pastel pieces on the painting and rolled them with a rolling pin to set them into the paper.  (see my post on this Dusting Technique HERE)
  • Try to mix warm and cool yellows in the areas that you are painting yellow. I find that if I place warm yellows next to cool yellows, the color looks more alive and vibrant.
  • When building up your layers of Yellow, start with a darker yellow or an orange yellow so the lighter and more intense yellows will stand out in contrast to these darker areas.
  • Use the compliment of yellow....Purple!  Using the complimentary color purple or violet next to the yellow intensifies it and makes it appear more vibrant. Be sure not to mix the yellow and purple or you will get muddy color.
I hope these tips are helpful. I use these techniques whenever I am painting things that have big areas of yellow such as sunflowers!  Do you have any tips for using yellow? I'd love to hear them.

Join us over on my Patreon page! The challenge this week is painting Yellow !

Friday, September 29, 2017

Use Your Uglies. A Tip for Painting Autumn Aspen Trees

'Autumn Appeal'              8x10          pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $145
It was on my bucket list. The last two years I was lucky. I was lucky to be out west at the peak of fall foliage season. I had dreamed of seeing aspen trees with their golden fall colors. It was worth the wait and I have hundreds of photos from my aspen excursions.

As soon as fall rolls around I get the bug....I want to paint fall color! I go crazy in my studio painting as many fall scenes as I can. Today I pulled out one of my aspen photos for inspiration. As much as I love painting them the bright yellows can be a challenge.

Today I stumbled upon a tip a bit by accident. It was a failed underpainting that gave me the clue.

Wet underpainting with pastel and alcohol. Meh.
I was using a piece of dark gray Yi Cai paper. I like this paper but my alcohol wash wasn't very exciting. the colors were dark and dull when the underpainting dried. I forged on with the painting even though I wasn't excited about the underpainting.

That was it!  The dark and dull underpainitng was actually a good thing. It allowed my bright intense yellows to pop! Just like painting on dark paper, the brights needed the contrast of the dark and dull.

First layer of pastel.....dark and dull
 TIP: Start dark, dull and boring! Use your UGLIES! Those colors that don't scream for attention. The quiet ones are needed to balance the loud ones!

Adding more layers of cool, dark and dull

Darker and duller colors on the left with more intense, brighter on the right

Would you like more YELLOW tips? Would you like to join the weekly challenge and share with others? Consider joining us over on Patreon. The theme this month is painting autumn landscapes!

Thursday, September 28, 2017

One Important Task Before Painting

'Transitions'         9x12        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $125
A painting should begin with a plan. I have a few steps involved in my planning stage. I admit I sometimes skim over some of them but lately I have added a step that I won't skip. It is all about the color!

Color can be chaotic without thought and planning. 

Some artists are fortunate and  have a finely tuned sense of color.  They instinctively know just which colors to pick up. They make interesting and harmonious color choices seemingly without effort and without preplanning.  I admire that ability but I don't like to leave color to chance. I don't want to get halfway through a painting and become lost in the pile of pastels that is growing on my easel tray. I don't want to deal with color chaos.

Now I don't have to take my chances with color anymore. I make time to make a

a 2.5 x 3.5 inch color note study.

  • Color Note Studies are small scraps of paper (preferably the same paper/color of the painting) They are not detailed mini paintings.
  • Color Note Studies are simply marks on the paper that represent the various elements in the painting.  They can be a very loose abstracted series of marks.
  • Color Note Studies allow the artists to see how the colors selected for a painting will look together and their approximate relationships. 
  • The studies save the artist much frustration and saves pastel. We can visualize how a color palette will look before experimenting on a bigger piece of paper. Experiment on a tiny piece!
Today's painting was a demo for a private class. I was painting from a photo of a summer meadow filled with pink flowers. My concept was to turn the meadow into a fall scene with yellow flowers. The color study notes helped me see if my color choices would work for my concept.

Try This: Make a commitment to do a color note study for your next painting. Decide in advance what your palette will be and test out your choices on a scrap of paper.

What is this Patreon Page you are talking about? 
I have had some questions and concerns about the new platform I am using to share additional instructional resources. My Patreon Page is EXTRA STUFF! I will still post to this blog and make free videos for youtube but I will offer expanded posts with themes and challenges and demos in Patreon. The page is $4 a month. This blog and my Youtube channel are free and will continue to operate as usual!
THANK YOU to all of you who are now supporting me on Patreon. I am excited to be able to share even more with you. Check it out if you haven't seen it yet:
And here is a comment from an artist who uses Patreon:

To your subscribers, I follow a few creators in Patreon and this is an excellent way to learn more of their techniques and really get to know how they think when they are painting. It is an excellent value for the immense amount of information you receive. There is no long-term commitment. You pledge $4 a month and get email notification when something is posted on Patreon. You can unsubscribe to a creator whenever you want before the first of the month and not be charged that next month. Your rate never changes unless you change it. Karen may decide to add Patreon features such as one on one critiques at a higher rate and you can sign up if you want or not. One of my creators allows 10 patrons a month this feature as you can imagine it's very intensive and time consuming for them. But again, you may elect to do it one or two months and then stop so another student can have the opportunity. All in all, Patreon is a great feature for students and gives the creator the necessary funds to be able to test out new products and demonstrate for us, show expanded detailed videos of their techniques and give us a sneak peak into their art world! Win-win!!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Everyone Needs this Color!

'In the Mauve'           8x10        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $125
 You can tell from the photo. This has become one of my well loved go-to pastel sets. Everyone needs this set or at the very least these colors in your favorite pastel. The set is called Misty Mauves and they are Diane Townsend soft form pastels. I bought them on a whim and I find I use them all of the time.  Mauves isn't just an 80's thing....How many of you had mauve carpet?  :)
These mauves are a must! The mauves and light peachy pinks are perfect for landscape painting.

  • They are perfect for the dirt or colors under grass.
  • They are wonderful layered with greens in trees and shrubs. They add a bit of warmth and light and make the greens come alive.
  • They are perfect for dried grasses. I love them for fall landscapes but even a green meadow had dried grass!
  •  I love using them to build up the grays in the sky and clouds.
For today's painting I challenged myself to use this set for the majority of the scene. I used a few Terry Ludwig greens and blues and they worked perfectly together. Do you have these colors in your collection? What can you paint with them?

Diane Townsend Misty Mauves set of soft form pastels available at Dakota

The underpainting with misty mauves and blues

Join me on my new Patreon page. It is like my blog with extra content! I just finished
a three part step by step paint along demo of an autumn landscape. Check it out!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Why a Tie-Dye Underpainting is Cool

'The Beauty of Sparseness'          8x10        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $145
 I didn't intend to make a psychedelic underpainting. It was one of those fun happy accidents. But I embraced it's coolness and made it work for me. Now you can be sure I will be trying to recreate the tie-dye effect in future underpaintings. Here is why and how I did it.

I love these things!!! Read more
I was sharing unusual underpainitng techniques with a student last week. We tried the Caran d'Ache Neocolor II crayons and my favorite fun medium.....Art Graf pigment squares. I've reviewed them on my blog here. They always surprise me. Their intensity explodes with a little water or alcohol. Only a tiny bit is needed to get bold intense color. They dry just as intense!

For my demo I wanted to show how the primary color Art Graf squares could be used to create more colors. I made purples and green and orange. I had it all and when I wet the pigment they mixed and mingled and went tie dye on me!

The underpainting looks like tie dye!
I wasn't sure what I would do with it but then I realized it was a great start for a subtle quiet painting.
  • I am reminded that it is easier to tone down and lighten a passage than it is to make it bolder or more intense. 
  • It is good to have a little boldness in a mostly quiet painting. These tiny bits of dark and intense color is a good balance for a mostly gray painting.
I had a quiet marsh painting in mind so the tie dye underpainting would provide just enough variety. Cool!

close up detail
I want to thank you for your wonderful response to my new page. Welcome to all of my new patrons! I have posted the second installment to the paint along and I am excited about how it looks! I want to clarify that the content I will share on the Patreon page is IN ADDITION to this blog and my Sunday videos. I hope you will consider the $4 a month pledge for the expanded content but rest assured I will continue to post as usual here! Check out the new page here