Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Easter I was Famous

'Time for Spring'         6x6       pastel      ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase $45

'Time for Change'          6x6        pastel      $45

A Story from the Archives:  I was 13 years old and on top of the world.  I had just opened up the local newspaper to check on the winners of the egg decorating contest.  The headlines shouted "Sisters tie for 1st Place in egg contest" That would be me!!!  And  Oops!  You see I couldn't decide which of my egg designs I liked best so I entered both of them with one in my sister's name.  I didn't think either one would win so it was a surprise to read that both tied for first place!  

No my parents didn't know I used my sister's name to enter and of course looking back it wasn't the right thing to do. But at the time it seemed like the best way to enter both of my eggs. Was my sister upset?  No, I shared my prizes with her!  But really the best prize for a 13 year old budding artist was to have my work published in the newspaper!

The contest winners announced!

These days I still like to paint eggs only I put them in nests and use pastels!  Today's nest paintings are done on Strathmore Black Artagain paper and are 6x6.

I have three more nest paintings on auction at ending soon! See them here 

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Useful Tip for Packing Plein Air Gear

'Afternoon at the Pond'              8x10           pastel          ©Karen Margulis
It's a work in progress.  My plein air set up undergoes adjustments every time I use it. I am always trying to come up with ways to streamline and manage my supplies.  I have already downsized my pastels by switching to the Gogh Box. This box is great but like any box or easel you choose you are still bound to have a lot of extra little things.  Things that you need!   Clips and rubberbands and tape. Sketchbook, business cards, underpainting supplies, wipes....the list goes on.

I needed a way to keep up with the extra stuff....I found the perfect answer...little stuff sacks.

My Gogh Box set up with my pastels

The box all packed and ready to travel
These little nylon drawstring bags are perfect to corral all of the little things I need. It makes packing my box or backpack easy. Best of all it makes set up quick and easy. Before I discovered these little bags I would have to find a place to keep the little things I needed. I wanted them handy but not in my way. I would have to unload them from the box....but had no where to put them! 
With the stuff sacks, not only is everything contained,  I can even hang the bags from my tripod while I paint so that they are in reach. The photos below show the supplies I am taking.

business cards, sketchbook, microfiber towel,mini bungees and rubber bands 

Bankers clips and bulldog clips needed to set up backing board and attach paper

underpainting supplies and extra rubberbands will stay in my backpack until needed
I will be taking this set up on my painting trip to Arizona next week. Having my supplies organized and contained and not lost in the bottom of my backpack will make painting much more enjoyable!

Today's painting is 8x10 on Multimedia Artboard panel. I began with a drawing with pastel pencil which I sealed with clear gesso. I then did a watercolor underpainting over the dry gesso before adding pastel.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Musing of the Week....What Should You Paint?

'In My Nantucket Dreams'             8x10           pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase $125 click here

 Paint What You Love.  You have heard it before. It is great advice.  When you paint the things you are passionate about you will usually do your best work. Sometimes we paint something because it seems easy or it is what the class is working on. Sometimes we choose a subject because we want to learn from it. We do need to take time occasionally to stray from our true love.

I believe it is OK to stray. Trying another subject will stretch us. We can learn from it.  But it can also lead to frustration. If our hearts aren't  in the subject it often shows in our paintings.  We are missing that spark...that illusive thing that happens when we are truly excited and moved by the subject. We may not have the same success that you have with our true love. We just have to remember that we need to visit home every once in awhile.

 Landscapes are my true love. I happen to be drawn to many kinds of landscapes but most of them have something to do with wide open spaces....deserts, beaches and marshes and meadows. I am happiest when I can see the sky!  Knowing what ignites the fire helps me paint better.  I can learn from painting other subjects but I won't allow myself to get frustrated when I don't have success with them.  I learn what I can and then come back to painting what I am truly passionate about. 

What is your passion? Not sure?  I will have more on this topic in a future post.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Making a Marsh Painting Better

'Home'              11x14             pastel           ©Karen Margulis
 We could smell the salty air mixed with the unmistakeable smell of low tide.  Ahhhh, we felt our spirits lift as we rolled down the car windows and breathed in deeply. We knew we were close.  It was time to go on the lookout for the whitebirds.  That's what we call egrets of any kind.  We are always a little premature with our sightings though. Calling out "White Bird!" only to discover it is a white plastic bag hung up on a bush.   "It's only a bag bird."  Such is the conversation on a road trip to the marsh.

What is a marsh without birds? A beautiful landscape to be sure. But part of what makes a marsh so special is the life it contains. Birds, crabs, fish....they all add to the sights and sounds of the wetlands.  I love to paint the marsh but it occurred to me that I rarely include any signs of life. My marshes are deserted. They need a hint of this hidden world.

So today after finishing this march painting I decided to add some life. I needed a white bird or some kind of egret or heron. But how should I go about it?

My painting with a few of my bird photos for review

What kind of bird should I paint?  Where should he go?  I decided I wanted my bird to be hidden in the grasses perhaps somewhere in the foreground. I took out a few of my own bird photos. Since I print them out as small contact sheet size photos it was easy to line them up and visualize how they might look.  I knew I didn't want my bird to be too detailed....just a hint.

I chose to put in a snowy personal favorite. I mage a small mark of pale blue for the shadow side of my snowy and then a mark of a pale yellow (almost white) for the sunlit side. I use a small piece of Girault pastel to paint the orange and black beak. I painted in some more grasses to hide him better.

close up of my white bird!

This is the marsh I know and love! I think I like a little bit of life in my landscapes!

What about you? Do you paint only pure landscapes or do you like to add signs of life...either animal or manmade? 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Three Easy Steps to Choosing Pastels for Plein Air

'Along the Rio Grande'              5x7              pastel         ©Karen Margulis
Make it Work. That is my motto when it comes to downsizing my pastels for plein air. It's Tim Gunn's catchphrase for his fashion designers but it applies nicely to painting.  Once I realized I didn't need every pastel in my box for a plein air trip it literally lifted a huge load off my shoulders. I can take just enough pastels to fit in whatever travel box I am using. If I don't have the "right" pastel I will just have to make it work!

I do have a method I follow when packing for a plein air trip. It helps ensure that I have a good selection of pastels. It's as easy as 1-2-3. Follow along as I pack for my next great adventure...a painting trip next week with artist friends in Phoenix AZ.

making a list and checking it twice...step 2
Step 1:  Choose your Box.  I have a backpack size Heilman box which I love. I only bring it to longer workshops and classes. Usually when  I travel with pastels I prefer a smaller set up. My favorite box is Stan Sperlak's Gogh Box (see my review here)  This is a small box that holds everything you need to paint and mounts on a tripod.  There is room for a small box of pastels, paper, backing board.  For this trip I am bringing my Great American Plein Air half stick set. The box is very sturdy and fits in the Gogh Box perfectly.

 I usually cram my pastels into a cardboard box but I tripped over my tripod with  Gogh Box while it was closed and the box along with the cardboard box of pastels crashed to the floor shattering the box of pastels. I am going to test out this Great American box on this trip.

I rigged the Gogh Box to hold a small box of extras plus a working palette tray

STEP 2:  Choose Your Pastels. The formula is to have a dark, middle and light value of each color. You don't need a full stick of each. Smaller pieces are fine. I won't paint larger than 8x10 so small pieces of pastels will work.  I make a chart as I go through my pastels and mark off when I find the right color and value. I make sure I have a nice rich dark...My Terry Ludwig eggplant and a beautiful light value cloud pastel. I also consider the painting location and gear my color choices to the subjects I will paint.  This step takes time!

STEP 3: Test out Your Selections. Once I have my choices in the box I find a reference for the location I will visit and try a sample painting. I pulled a few of my Arizona and New Mexico photos to try out my color choices. The more quick studies you can do the more you will be able to tweak your choices. So far I am happy with my choices. I did the two paintings in this post with my selection. I will try a few more and then.....if I don't have it I will remind myself to Make it Work!

'Come to the Desert'            5x7             pastel     $45 
More plein air and packing tips coming this week!  Top painting is on Pastelmat paper and the bottom painting is on Uart that I toned warm gray.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday Pastel Demo....Spring Landscape on Textured Board

'Forsythia Woods'             8x10           pastel              ©Karen Margulis
Forsythia is pure joy. There is not an ounce, not a glimmer of sadness or even knowledge in forsythia. Pure, undiluted, untouched joy.  Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Painting has something in common with forsythia. It is pure joy. I enjoyed painting today's demo. I hope you enjoy seeing  my process. I am working today on a textured board. It is an 8x10 piece of gatorboard that I applied a pumice and gesso mix in random brushstrokes. The mixture was tone with yellow liquid acrylic paint. I love working on this surface and I need to make some more soon!

I begin by choosing the pastels I will use for the painting and lining them up in my working tray. I then do a loose drawing with compresses charcoal.

For the next step I block in the dark shapes using dark purples and greens. I then block in the distant foliage and trees with some muted pinks and greens.

Next I block in the shadow shapes on the path and grass. I reinforce the shapes of the tree trunks with the charcoal. I want to make sure they are interesting shapes and have a varied spacing between them.

Time to block in the sky. I choose a pale warm blue and use this sky color to break up the tree shapes.

 In these two photos I am working on the grasses and path. I have also put in some of the thinner branches.

Now I am working on the last layers.  I add some bright green to the sunlit areas in the grass. I also start to develop the big forsythia bush in the foreground.  I want it to appear unruly and textured.  The texture of the prepared surface helps. I want more though. I spray it a couple of times with fixative and add more layers of yellow pastel.

Finally I add some highlights to the trees and some more branches. I then took a very soft Schminke pastel and added the brightest yellows to the forsythia bush. Click on the photo to enlarge it so you can see the texture of the board up close.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

How to Paint a Mini Pastel pastel demo

'Across the River II'          2.5 x 3.5       pastel        ©Karen Margulis    
 It is the most satisfying way to paint. Instant gratification.  Using scraps of paper, a few pastels and sitting down at a table I can finish a painting in a very limited time.  Painting minis allow me to play with color and composition without the worry of wasting a bigger piece of paper.They are not always successful but it is so easy to put the bad ones aside and keep on painting.

'Across the River'            2.5 x 3.5        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
I have a method that I follow when painting these minis. I don't use pastel pencils or even hard pastels. I don't use tiny pieces to get the small details. I use regular soft pastels. Practice helps!  I have been asked to share my technique and tips for minis so I thought it would make a good addition to my PDF Demo collection.  This demo download is now available in my Etsy shop for $5 or as a free bonus with the purchase of one of my mini originals also in my Etsy shop. Click here to see all available minis

My step by step demo on painting very small

Displaying a mini pastel

'Through the Sunflower Meadow'      2.5x3.5      pastel    $15

A sample page of the demo

Did you recognize the painting at the top of the page? This was the mini that inspired my larger 18x24 version that I posted last week!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Importance of Mystery in a Painting

'Emergence'          12x16          pastel over watercolor       ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase $165

"A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people." Edgar Degas

I love a good mystery story. Something that pulls me in and makes me think. I like it when a writer can give me just enough information to keep me hooked. I want to keep reading.  I'd like to be a mystery painter!  I'd like to tell a good mystery story with my painting.  It is my goal to put in just enough detail to tell the story but not to give away the ending right away!  I want the viewer to linger and to discover the bits and pieces that tell the story of the painting.

This quote from Edgar Degas speaks to me. It is something I have been working on in my paintings. How do I  introduce mystery into my work?  Wet underpaintings help.

Today's painting was done with a watercolor underpainting and tried to leave some areas to the imagination. Here are some close-ups:

Not every petal is painted and I only used a thin veil of pastel over the watercolor

Very soft edges hint at a flower. Soft edges add mystery

I tried to be  loose and free with my strokes. Bolder more opaque pastel contrasts with the thin pastel over watercolor

Friday, April 11, 2014

Keeping Plein Air Painting Simple

'A Breath Of Fresh Air'             5x7         plein air pastel        ©Karen Margulis
Available for purchase $45
You don't need the kitchen sink!  I have figured out that the more stuff I pack for a plein air outing the less enjoyable it is. The best and most productive experiences happen when I keep my supply list and packing simple.

Did you  know there is a Pastel Supply Bell Curve?

It applies to regular pastel supplies and plein air supplies and often occurs at the same rate.  We start out with only a few pastels and some paper....this collection quickly grows as we discover new brands and colors we must have. Then comes a box or two or three until we figure out what we like.  Then an easel and if we take classes or do plein air we need some kind of cart to haul it in or just the right bag to put it all in. I can't even count the number of carts and bags I have gone through. (I think I am on my last and best!)

This accumulation of supplies continues until it reaches a peak.  We eventually get to a point where we are tired of hauling around all of the stuff. We want to downsize and simplify. We figure out that we don't need every single pastel or supply that we own to carry to class or out in the field. We can paint with less and we are just as happy!

I am currently at the end of the curve. I have pared down my plein air supplies to the bare minimum. And I feel so free!  It is all about adjusting the mindset and goals for painting outside. Once I decided that plein air was about doing quick studies I was able to let go of a lot of unnecessary stuff. 

A quick & easy set up for plein air
Here is a peek at my current plein air set up.  I have my Gogh Box on a tripod and I am only using the Great American Artworks Plein air half stick set and a few Nupastels. I have one backpack to put it all in.

 I am going to do a detailed post next week on my actual supply list but I wanted to get you thinking about where you are on the supply curve. Are you still collecting or are you ready to downsize?  Stay tuned for a lot more!

'Spring Fever'    5x7     pastel       sold

'Spring Tango'          5x7          $45

All of today's paintings were done on location at the Taylor Brawner House in Smryna Georgia. I have my work on exhibit along with 13 other talented artists through this weekend.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Choosing Underpainting Colors for a Large Painting

'Listen to the Marsh Music'             18x24           pastel         ©Karen Margulis
purchase with Paypal $350 click here
 It all began with blue violet. I was planning another large demo and choosing my palette.  I would be using a full sheet of Uart 600 paper 18x24.  That is big for this 5x7 painter.  I love Uart but I knew I had a limited time for the demo so I decided to do a dry wash of color for my first layer. This way I could paint quickly with a minimal number of layers.  I wouldn't have to worry about the light paper tone peeking through and being a distraction.

As I started to fill my tray with potential colors for the painting I decided to consult my Analogous Color Wheel to help me choose the underpainting colors.  The color wheel suggested Blue Violet as the compliment of my dominant hues. Ahhhh perfect. I love blue violet and I might not have thought to use it for the underpainting!

detail of distant marsh with discord color
The analogous color wheel also helped me choose some of my spice colors. I especially love the suggested discord of red I used some hot pink!  Choosing my colors in advance with the help of the color wheel allowed me to paint quickly and more intuitively.  It was so much fun to share the creation of this painting with my class.

my palette

My reference photo and small color study