Monday, May 30, 2016

Three Decisions to Make When Starting a New Painting

'Flying Free'        6.5 x 12.5      pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $175
The Poppy series continues today with more experimentation and play. I had the perfect reference photo for the painting from my trip to Wildseed Farm wildflower farm in Texas. Before I start the painting I have some decisions to make. All of these decisions depend on what I want to say with the painting. So first I ask myself WHY I am painting the subject. The answer will guide my decisions.

DECISION 1: What format should I choose? I don't always have to choose landscape format for a landscape! I can go vertical or square or even panoramic. I also don't have to stick to standard sizes. (although standard sizes are less expensive to frame) I  have enjoyed trying unusual formats this week and I had the perfect scrap of Uart paper to paint another long and tall format. This time it is smaller at 6.5 x 12.5 inches. This tall and narrow format will fir my idea of having the poppies reaching for the sky! 

DECISION 2: I have my reference photo and my paper now I had to decide how I would approach the painting. Should I just tone the paper? Should I do a wet underpainting? Should I just jump right in and paint directly with soft pastels with no underpainting? So many choices! Each one is a valid choice but would lead to a very different painting. 
*note* I like to use Uart paper because it is so versatile but the type of paper you use will also change the look of the painting so take a minute to pick the right paper if you use several types.

DECISION 3: I decide to do a wet underpainting because it suits the subject. My concept for the painting was to have a tangle of poppies reaching into the sky. There would be a hight horizon leaving a lot of the foreground grasses visible. A wet and drippy underpainting would give me a head start on the loose and expressive grasses. 
Of course there are many choices for wet underpaintings from simply wetting the pastel to using other media. I choose to use a black underpainting with black inktense stick and rubbing alcohol.

wet underpainting with black inktense and alcohol

Blocking in the darks

adding the colorful dirt

painting the sky and starting on the grass

blocking in the poppies

almost done....a few fixes for the finish!

There are more decisions that we make when starting a painting but these are three that will get you started on the right foot....with a plan!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Simple Tip for Painting White Flowers

'Freedom'        15 x 20       pastel           ©Karen Margulis
I call it 'Turning on the Lights'.  It is my favorite part of the painting process. It is when the painting start to come to life. I have learned to anticipate this part and not to rush it. It's kind of like eating your dinner first even though you'd much rather eat that nice big piece of chocolate cake. It will ultimately taste better if you take care of the business of eating a healthy dinner first.

So what do I mean by turning on the lights? It simply means I establish the dark and middle values of the painting first. I save the lightest values until last.  I gradually build my color and values and apply the light on top of the darker layers. I work this way for most subjects but it is easy to see when I paint white or very light flowers such as these Queen Anne's Lace. (from my trip to Normandy)

My Diane Townsend set of pure colors
 Today I decide to work on my last piece of salmon Sabertooth paper. It is an interesting surface. I also decided to use my Diane Townsend soft form pastels. I do like to challenge myself to work with  materials that are not my 'regulars'.

I begin the painting by blocking in the big shapes. I am using some warm colors to provide interest for the coming green grass. I start the flowers with a middle value VIOLET.

Here is the simple tip:  I want the flowers to be dark and cool. I know I want them to be light and warm eventually so I begin with the OPPOSITE. I will then be able to gradually add light and warmth to some of the flowers. I will leave the flowers in the shadows alone.

In the above photo you can see that I am starting to turn on the lights by adding a cool light to the violet base. They don't yet have the feeling of sunlight. To give this effect I need to use warmer and lighter values. In the finished painting you can see the sunlit flowers in contrast to the blue and violet flowers in the shadows.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Inspiration from a Poem Poppies #2

'Signal to the Skies'      9x18     pastel       ©Karen Margulis

 I was inspired by a line in a poem. I am working on my Memorial Day poppy series and I was searching for a painting titles when I found the poem.  One line in particular gave me the idea of choosing an unusual long and tall vertical format. It could be no other way.  Here is the poem with a link to more information.

Moina Michaels 1918

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought

In Flanders Fields.

oil stain underpainting 

Friday, May 27, 2016

Behind the Scenes: Painting the Poppies of Normandy

'We Keep the Faith'             8x12          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $165

It is Memorial Day weekend.  I will be painting poppies. I am going to dedicate my paintings to the brave men and women  who gave their lives for our freedom. What better inspiration for my Memorial Day series than my photos from last summer's trip to Normandy.  Today's post takes you behind the scenes as I share my inspiration and process for the first poppy painting.

My reference photos from France

I printed several photos from my trip. I like to use small 2x4 inch photos. I chose to combine two photos for the painting. We were staying near the English Channel surrounded by barley fields. There were many places where red poppies made an appearance. For my painting I wanted to show the view of the water and expand the fields of poppies. 

I toned my 8x12 piece of Uart with a mixture of beige acrylic paint mixed with clear gesso. I wanted a warm beige underpainting and the texture of the gesso. I hoped that the gesso would give me texture for the grasses. The paint was Toning Grey Yellowish by Interactive Acrylics. Isn't that a great color name?

I began to lay in the pastel starting with the dark areas. As you can see my darkest values are more of a middle dark. I wanted to keep the painting slightly higher key than usual to capture the feeling of summer.  You can also see that the little bit of clear gesso that I used really did give me a more textured surface.

Next I worked on the sky. I wanted to set the mood and light quality  of the scene. I would later go back and tone down the violets and add more reds up in the cloud shadows.  Next it was time to put in the greens. I already had good dirt color with the mauves and violets.

I layered some greens in the fields and trees. I used darker greens in the immediate foreground to throw it into shadow. At this point I have a big empty field and it was time to add the poppies!  This was the fun part. The poppies are my spices. They needed to be planted so that they would lead the viewer's eye into the painting.  The photos I used gave me inspiration and visual references but ultimately it was my job to design a painting that worked to draw the viewer in and allowed them to participate.

I had to use my 'spare' orange pastels for my poppies

Thursday, May 26, 2016

An Easy Tip for Finishing a Painting

'Evening Sanctuary'       10 x 10       pastel         ©Karen Margulis
I thought I was finished. A painting is never really finished though. Leonardo DaVinci said so.  

"Art is never finished...only abandoned" 

But we must abandon it at some point and call it done. It is one of the most difficult things to do. How do we know if we are finished? Some say we are finished when there is nothing more to say. I usually follow this idea. When I no longer know why I am making marks ... I stop.  I always try to stop before I go too far because it is easier to make small adjustments if needed.  It is more challenging to rescue an overworked painting.

The best way to finish a painting is to take a second look with fresh eyes to see what adjustments (if any) are needed. It is often recommended that we work on more than one painting at a time so we can come back to a painting with fresh eyes. Or let a painting sit for several days or more.  I have an easy tip if you need fresh eyes but don't have the luxury of time. TAKE A PHOTO. 

Before the change....the trees were not dark enough

You may do this already but I recommend taking a quick photo of your painting when you think you might be done. Use your phone's camera to make it simple. Looking back at your painting on a screen can show you areas that need adjustments. It gives you another point of view. It allows you to view the painting as an outsider.

Today's painting benefited from a photo review. I had finished the painting and uploaded the photo to my blog. As I looked at it on the monitor something jumped out at me. It was something I didn't notice before but now it was screaming at me. I had painted the distant trees a little too light and I didn't like the violet mark at the top of the big tree. Little details but something I could easily adjust. 

Consider taking a photo break when you are not sure what else to do in your painting. You might just discover that you are finished!

Oil stain underpainting on Uart 400 sanded paper

close-up detail

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Magic Word for Artists

'Summer Love'         9x12       pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $165
I didn't have an answer right away. My head was too full of inspiration and I couldn't choose just one thing to share. But as I thought about everything I had learned from my weekend as a volunteer at Richard McKinley's workshop for the Southeastern Pastel Society, one thing kept cropping up. It was something Richard repeated several times. I realized that it was the key! It was a single word which means so much. I will go as far to say that it is the MAGIC WORD for artists.

We all want to be the best artists possible.  We may have different goals but we all want to improve and grow. We want to get better! We want our paintings to express what is inside of us. Most of us want to move beyond having technical proficiency and create paintings that move others.  In order to do this we need the magic word....We need to give ourselves PERMISSION.

Watercolor underpainting on white Wallis paper

Permission. It's simple really but hard to do sometimes. We need to give ourselves permission to try things, to experiment with techniques, with color, with design. We need to give ourselves permission to play. We learn the most when we are having fun and letting go. We need to give ourselves permission to move away from the reference photo....we don't need to be literal to the scene. It's OK to let the painting lead us in a different direction. Let it happen! Don't hold back!

I love that Richard reminds us that we can give ourselves permission to think outside of the box and to follow our own voices. We need to enjoy the journey and with time and practice it will all fall into place.

2.5 x 3.5 inch color study

I decided to continue my exploration of this familiar subject and interpret it in a new way. I printed my reference photo in black and white so I could create a new mood with cooler colors. My previous painting was a warm sunset mood. For this painting I did a watercolor underpainting on white paper. I took the time to do a small color study to test out my color ideas. I gave myself PERMISSION to play and explore this scene in a new way.

black and white reference photo

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Bumpy or Smooth? A Side by Side Demo on Canson

'Summer Fields are Calling'       5x7      pastel      ©Karen Margulis
available $75
 I am back to daily painting practice. I am going to give myself assignments for each painting. It is part of my focused practice which I will be sharing more about in the coming weeks.  Today's assignment: Paint on both the smooth and bumpy side of Canson to compare and contrast. I decided to paint the same scene with the same pastels for a better comparison.

As much as I love sanded papers I am equally drawn to unsanded surfaces such as Canson. Every once in awhile I just like to paint directly with soft pastels with no underpainting. It is enjoyable. In fact the painting that just was awarded an exceptional merit award was done on Canson with no real underpainting.

'Summer Fields 2'       $75
Many artists don't enjoy working on Canson. They either don't like the textured bumpy side or feel they can't get enough layers.  I have written about tips for having success on Canson. (search my blog for canson articles) So today I decided to do a side by side mini demo on both the smooth side and the bumpy side of Canson Mi-Teintes paper. I hope you enjoy!

The bumpy side is the painting on the left. The smooth side is the right. The textured side is considered the correct side but many don't enjoy the regular texture. You can click on any photo to enlarge and see a close up.

I blocked in each painting with soft pastels using 4 values of violet. I then rubbed in the pastel with a piece of pipe insulation foam. It was especially helpful on the bumpy paper.

Reinforcing the dark areas  and painting the sky with a few different pale blues and a light pink at the horizon.

Beginning to add the green on top of the violets. I had to use a light touch so I could get enough layers on this unsanded paper. I don't really notice much difference in how many layers each side of the paper will take. It feels similar.

I sprayed the bottom half of the paintings with workable fixative so I could darken the foreground and get a feeling of texture over the dark areas.

I lightly applied some golds and greens over the 'fixed' areas. The bumpy side definitely gives a feeling of more texture although some feel it is too regular and mechanical. Click to enlarge.

Finally I added the finishing touches....the flowers and a few blades of grass. The flowers are are not planted randomly. They are placed deliberately where they will help move the viewer's eye through the painting.

Which version do you prefer? Answer in the comment section. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

When You Just Have to Paint

'Friends'              8x10         pastel         ©Karen Margulis

It was a weekend filled with inspiration and fun. On the roller coaster of the life of an artist this weekend was definitely on the 'up'.  Richard McKinley was in town to judge the show for the Southeastern Pastel Society.  I was honored to take home an Exceptional Merit award for my painting and it kept getting better!  I volunteered to help Nancy Nowak on the workshop committee so I got to help at the workshop. Of course my ears and eyes were wide open gathering the many pearls that Richard shared over the two days I was a helper.  As usual Richard was amazing (and entertaining ;) 

The only challenging part of being a volunteer and not a student is that Nancy and I didn't get to paint. It was hard to hold back! I was itching to try some of the things the group was doing and of course Richard's fantastic demo was so inspiring. I had to wait until I got home this evening and then I threw my bags on the bed and went right down to the studio to paint. I feel better now!

Block in on matt board with gesso/pumice surface

One of the projects the group worked on was creating texture in an underpainting using acrylic ground or clear gesso. This is a technique I have done before and I happened to have a prepared board ready to paint. I decided to visit a favorite subject of mine.... the Lowcountry marsh.
I love how the texture allows me to suggest grasses. I will be doing more with this technique and will share details!

Rubbed in the first layer

starting the layers

my reference photo

Saturday, May 21, 2016

From the Archives: How to Sign a Pastel Painting

'Morning on the River'            5x7            pastel            ©Karen Margulis

It is the moment of truth. Signing the painting can be nerve wracking. Will my signature look good? Will to be to big and clunky? How should I sign my name? What should I use to sign the painting?  All of these thoughts go though my mind when I am ready to sign.

I want to get the signature right because it is an important element in the painting. It becomes a part of the composition. If it is in the wrong place, or the wrong color, too big or too small it can effect the painting. It can through off the balance. It can draw too much attention away from the subject. If it is too small or too close to the edge it will not be visible at all!

Quick Tip:  Decide on how you will sign and stick with it. Full name? Initials?  Find the tool that works best (see samples below) Practice your signature over and over until it becomes effortless. When it is time to sign pick a spot that balances the composition and sign with authority and pride!

A few signing tools: pencil, Nupastels, pastel pencil

 The signatures above were done with the sharp point or edge of a hard pastel such as Nupastel.

The signature in the painting at the top of the post was done with a sharp pencil. The pink signature above is a sharp pastel pencil.

My signature choice: I decided early on to use my initials. It was quick and easy. The drawback is that people new to my work can't really look my name up. (if you google KEM artist I do come up second but this has taken some time!) I decided to make my letter 'E' with only three lines because I thought it looked cool. I sometimes use pencil to sign on a very light painting. Usually I choose a pastel pencil or sharpened Nupastel. I choose a color that is used in my painting. I make sure the color stands out from the background. I also make sure my signature is not too dark or too thick and heavy.