Thursday, May 05, 2016

Painting in Mexico on Cinco de Mayo

Today was a dream come true for an artist. All day with nothing to do but paint!  We docked early in Costa Maya Mexico and the weather was much more pleasant than yesterday. A gentle breeze blew as I had my coffee and plotted my day. 

It was still a bit hazy with a tropical quality to the sky. I decided to start with my sketchbook and make some watercolor sky notes. I wrote down my observations for future reference. 

Next I took out my pastel kit. I wanted to paint some watercolor skies and add pastel. I didn't bring any pastel paper larger than 2x3 so I used some watercolor paper. Here is a photo of the watercolor followed by my pastel addition. 

Tip: I didn't bring anything to protect a larger pastel so I improvised and used the daily ship newsletter as a cover. It worked great in a pinch!

Tomorrow is our last day at sea before returning home. I have s great pastel project planned for my last painting day! Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

When It's Too Hot To Paint

I stepped out on deck this morning to a blast of warm mist. It felt like a steam room. There wasn't a breath of air. The early morning sun was trying to break through the mist creating an erie orange glow. 

I sat down to enjoy my coffee despite the oppressive heat. My intentions were to have another painting marathon day. I chose once again to stay on board. I managed to do my first watercolor sketch. I was excited to capture the orange sky. 

The rest of the day was spent trying to stay cool. I read. I ate watermelon and drank lemonade. But it was too hot to paint! According to the weather it felt like 104. I agree.

Finally around 5:00 a breeze came up and I was able to find a table in the shade. I took out my sketchbook and added another Roatan watercolor sketch. 

Such is another day in the Western Caribbean!

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Palm Tree Studies ... Focused Practice with Watercolors

It started with one painting. But I couldn't stop at one. I was trying to find a way to simplify palm trees. I wanted palm tree impressions....painterly palms ...not fireworks on a stick!  Once I started with the watercolors my imagination took over. 

I tried to see how many ways I could paint the palms using the same steps. Palm tree variations beginning with a wet wash for the sky then drop in greens for the palm fronds and finally adding the trunks. Simple but effective and fun!

I enjoyed the watercolors so much that I didn't bother to take out my pastels. There is a reason for my focused watercolor practice. I'm not sure what it is but I won't fight it. I am sure it will make sense as my journey continues to unfold. 

Monday, May 02, 2016

Focused Practice...Cozumel Clouds

Today was all about clouds and I was lucky that they cooperated. The plan was to stay on the ship and paint clouds. Cozumel has beautiful beaches but I just wanted to relax and paint all day! 

I started with a watercolor study in my sketchbook. The sky was full of billowing clouds and I chose a spot on the aft deck to enjoy my coffee with a good view of the sky. 

I am starting to uncover the mysteries of watercolor. It's a good stretch for my brain to work light to dark!

After breakfast it was time to switch gears and go dark to light with my pastels. Back to lounge chair painting with my single Heilman sketch box. 

I only painted 3 small studies but I spent a lot of time just looking. There is no better teacher than Mother Nature herself! I took notes as I observed colors and edges....the key to clouds! 

Tomorrow the cloud study continues!

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Cloud Studies at Sea

I am back on the road again... Or should I say back on the sea again! This time for some r&r time with my mom. I brought a suitcase full of art books and projects I want to work on. Things I never seem to find enough time for. Today was devoted to cloud study and luckily Mother Nature cooperated! 

I will be teaching a sky workshop in Florida next month so I worked on my plans but also took time to paint the morning clouds in my sketchbook. I am really enchanted with my small watercolor set lately!  I have a lot to learn and at times it can be frustrating but the happy accidents are worth it! 

I also enjoyed using the sketch n wash pencil that Tom Lynch have out at his demo at 
he Plein Air Convention.

Once again I am loving the sketchbook time. It is so relaxing I find I am slowing down and getting lost in it.

I will do a more thorough post on my sketchbook and supplies when I get home. It is time to get ready for cruise elegant night. Tomorrow I think I'll take out my pastels!
P.s. If you think I cruise a lot .....I just ran into a couple that we met on my art cruise in February and another couple with 295 days at sea! 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Five things I learned from an Art Road Trip

'Flying High'      5x7    pastel      ©Karen Margulis
available $75
We must have said the same thing every day. At some point in the day Marsha and I would look at one another and exclaim how blessed we were to have the opportunity to do what we love. The chance to travel and paint and teach with a great friend was a trip of a lifetime. We spent 17 days driving over 2000 miles and living out of a suitcase (or two). I came away from the experience filled with inspiration and enriched more than I can possibly express.

Yesterday I wrote about the five ways that I was enriched by attending the Plein Air Convention. Today I'd like to share five ways the road trip out west enriched my life as an artist. Enjoy my thoughts that are in no particular order of importance.

a collage of beautiful skyscapes captured from the car

1. Have your camera ready at all times!
We both had our cameras out and ready to shoot at all times. I got some of my favorite shots of the trip from the car as we drove at 70 mph. I love taking photos and not just for painting references so keeping my camera ready was a must!

Packing as light as I could for 17 days of painting and teaching

2. Pack Light....and then reevaluate and pack even lighter!
It is my goal to pack light but I am also the type of person who needs to be prepared for anything. That mindset tends to be anti-light!  Added to the fact that we needed extra supplies to teach a workshop added to the load. We laughed when we needed two bell carts to get all of our gear to the convention hotel. In hindsight I could have done without a lot of what I brought. Packing light should be a priority because it gives you so much freedom....and less to keep up with.  It is now my goal to cut my load in half for the next trip.

We managed with just two bell carts!

My suitcase exploded! The aftermath of 5 busy convention days!

3. Bring a sketchbook
There is always room for a small sketchbook and a pencil and if you pack it just right you can even put together a small kit with watercolors,pens and pencils. I enjoyed the time we took to simply sit in a beautiful spot and sketch. I know that when I look at these sketches I can recall every detail of the place more intensely than looking at a photo of the same place. A sketchbook is worth it's weight in gold.

sketching the bluebonnets in Texas

sketching the saguaros in the Saguaro National Park

4. Bring some good snacks
You never know what food you'll find on the road so a bag of good snacks is important. One night after 9 hours on the road we just didn't feel like going back out to eat so we relied on our trusty snack bag for some apples and peanut butter.  Good snacks made the road trip better. ( I will admit that I was tired of apples and peanut butter after 17 days but they did serve a good purpose!)

Road food

5. Don't forget a small pastel kit
I had my sketchbook. I had my larger Heilman box and tripod for the convention and workshop so I wasn't sure if I needed to throw in my smaller Heilman sketchbox. I packed it at the last minute and I sure am glad I did! There were days when I just didn't feel like dragging out my tripod and getting set up. It was easy to find a spot, open the sketchbox and paint. I will never leave this kit at home again. It took up little space and was always ready if I found time to paint.

I brought my sketchbox to the Old Tucson paint out.
It was a fantastic experience. I encourage everyone to plan a road trip with art friends. It doesn't have to be an epic 17 day adventure. Even getting away for an overnight with like minded friends will be something that you will always cherish.

If you missed our trip report head over to for the full report.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Five Ways I was Enriched by the Plein Air Convention #PACE16

'Cliff Study'         5x7      plein air pastel       ©Karen Margulis
Five seems like a good number. It was the 5th Annual Plein Air Convention. It had been 5 years since I had attended the last convention. So I happily accepted Marsha Hamby Savage's challenge to list 5 things I took away from this year's convention. Except five is not nearly enough! I had to narrow it down for the challenge. I decided that I would go through my notes and pull out five quotes that touched me in some way....they were 'Bright Spots'.  These are things that I heard during the many demos and presentations that made me pause. There is so much more but this is a start! Enjoy my take-aways along with my photos and bonus quotes.

"Out of Sight is Out of Mind"   Eric Rhoads

1.    "People don't always READ"  Eric Rhoads. 
During the second day of art marketing bootcamp Eric cautioned us not to post unfinished or paintings- in- progress on social media because people don't always read the commentary and may assume that your unfinished work is actually your finished/best work!

"To be loose you have to understand design, sculpture and calligraphy" Jove Wang

2.  "Even = Boring"  Jove Wang
Even though Jove's amazing demo was done with a translator this gem was spoken loud and clear. Jove emphasized the importance of design in a painting as well as the calligraphy of brushstrokes. Jove's demo was a visual treat with much yet to absorb.

"Allow Yourself Freedom to Fail"   Matt Smith

3.  "Override what you see to create the ILLUSION"  Matt Smith
There were many pearls of wisdom in Matt's demo but this one spoke to me. It reinforces how important it is to master the basics so that we can create a believable landscape.

 "If you are painting but not pushing yourself you are just performing" Bryan Mark Taylor

4. "Performance is not Practice"  Bryan Mark Taylor
Bryan Mark Taylor's presentation was truly an AHA moment for me and I am currently 'geeking out' on anything I can read about the topic of practice. I am still digesting this and figuring out how to make  changes in my routine. Life Changing!

"Too many stories in a painting is too much"  George Strickland
5. "Don't put a James Michener novel in an 8x10" George Strickland
I loved George's demo and was happy that he had helped me out in the field and gave me some great tips. His quote says it all about simplification and the importance of knowing what compels you to paint a scene.

Tomorrow I will share five things I learned from an art road trip! 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An Important Tip for Getting the Most from an Art Workshop

'The Desert is Blooming'         5x7         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $75
Sometimes you get lucky. You are taking a class or watching a demo or maybe even attending a conference and you are bombarded with great information. It isn't really possible to process it all at one time. It is sometimes even difficult to get good notes and watch at the same time. It can be a dilemma! Should we sit and listen and watch or try to take notes?

We all learn in different ways and I happen to learn best when I listen and take notes. So I have gotten pretty efficient at taking notes during a presentation. But so often these copious notes would be forgotten. When I returned home from the event life would get in the way and the notebook went on the shelf.....the pearls of wisdom forever hidden.  NOT ANY MORE! I have an important tip that I want to share. It is something I learned at the Plein Air Convention.

Taking lots of notes...and some sketches too.
This tip was found among the paperwork given to the convention attendees. I thought it was a good tip and I am glad I remembered to follow through. It was suggested that we reserve a page or two at the front of our notebook to record anything that really stood out to us....something we wanted to be sure to remember and act on when we got home. Such a simple idea!

I found that during the demos and presentations there would be ideas that really spoke to me. They might have been new concepts or new ways of explaining something or maybe even a great idea I wanted to try. I decided to call them 'Bright Spots' as in light bulb AHA moments. As I heard a Bright Spot I recorded it in the front of my notebook. I ended up with 15 really great ideas that are no longer buried in the pile of notes. It will be much easier to act on them now.

Sure I got much more information than 15 ideas at the convention, but these were the things that really stopped me in my tracks. If I can come away from a conference or workshop with tangible ideas that I can act on and not forget then it was definitely a successful event!

'Desert Spring'       5x7      pastel      $75
The next time you are at a workshop or anywhere you are taking notes....try this idea of recording the Bright Spots and see if it makes a difference!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Success with a Watercolor Underpainting

'Under the Desert Sun'          8x10          pastel        ©Karen Margulis
I guess I was never quite patient enough. I have had some success with watercolor underpaintings and I knew a few tips and tricks courtesy of watching Richard McKinley work his magic....but the failures far outnumbered the successes. I didn't let it stop me from trying but I wasn't going about it the right way.

The Plein Air Convention opened my eyes in many ways. I have a book filled with notes that I haven't even had a chance to review but I know that I am on the verge of some wonderful things that will help both my paintings and how I teach!  It all began to click at the last paint out of the convention.

under the pavilion with my fellow artists
I was feeling energized yet a bit tired from several very early mornings in a row. So I was content to just sit at the picnic table to paint. I usually am in a hurry to paint as many studies as I can. Perhaps it was because I was tired or maybe it was because I had been painting the desert for several days and was settling down....but I was moving very slow.

Slow was the key! Taking time with a watercolor underpainting is the key to success. (I knew this already but rarely slow down long enough to do it!) Taking time to let the darks dry before adding another wash...Adding layers of colors and letting them mingle.....using a thin brush to draw into dry areas....slowing down to allow things to happen and allow myself to enjoy the painting process was an amazing experience.

the finished watercolor underpainting
When the watercolor was finished I was almost reluctant to add pastel. I wanted to save it as a reminder of what I try to accomplish every time I do a watercolor underpainitng. In the end I did add some pastel but not much. It was a wonderful day of painting for me and one that I will always remember.

There is a lesson in my story and I actually learned it several years ago but I wasn't quite ready. This lesson was driven home by some of the things I learned at the convention and now I am not only ready to implement them but to pass them on to others. (more on this soon)

Monday, April 25, 2016

My Secret Plein Air Weapon

'Take Me to the Meadow'        5x7        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $75

I didn't expect it. But in the end I loved it.  That little piece of green pastel that somehow found its way into my travel pastel box. It is a deceiving little thing.  At a quick glance it looks like a nice mid value warm green. It is perfect for foliage. As soon as it is applied to paper its true nature is revealed.

It shimmers!  It is a like a gem. It is a pearlescent  pastel and it makes me smile!

a tiny piece of pearlescent pastel from Great American Artworks

As I layer this soft buttery piece of pastel it leaves behind a subtle shimmer.  The effect is more pronounced when the light hits the painting.  The camera seems to intensify the effect. It is actually more subtle in real life.

I love this little green pastel but it has to be used in small amounts. Like too much jewelry or cologne....a little goes a long way and too much can be overwhelming.  Here is a suggestion for using pearlescent pastels:

  • It is the element of surprise that makes a touch of shimmer special.  Rather than using a whole set of pearlescent colors in a single painting, break the pastels into smaller pieces. Now plant these pieces in your pastel box in the correct value and color area.  The next time you reach for a certain color and value you may end up with a little gem. It will add a nice touch of shimmer just where you need it!
  • I am now going to refer to this little piece of green pastel as my secret plein air weapon. Without fail, a touch of the green shimmer in my plein air studies give them an added special touch.

Several pastel manufacturers make pearlescent or iridescent pastels including Sennelier, Diane Townsend and Great American Artworks. I have them all!  The green in the painting is a Great American. See the set on link here.

'Desert Sparkle'         5x7       pastel
available $75

Sunday, April 24, 2016

How to Create a Collage of Your Paintings

Plein Air Studies from PACE16 Tucson, Arizona      all pastel   ©Karen Margulis
The first thing I did when I got home was to start my laundry. I find the longer I procrastinate unpacking the harder it is to tackle it. Diving in and getting it done is the best approach. The second thing I did was to take out all of the paintings I did during the Plein Air Convention. My husband was surprised that I didn't have more for a 2 1/2 week trip but I reminded him that help of that was spent in the car driving from Atlanta to Tucson! The rest of the time was spent teaching a workshop and attending convention sessions. So overall I was pleased with what I accomplished. It was time to make a collage!

5x7 pastel study

It is always a good thing to take some time to review the work you do over the course of a few weeks. It helps you to see what you did well and what you might need to work on. One way to do this is to physically set out your paintings ....line them up against a wall and study them. Take notes. Is there a common thread that runs through all of them? Is there something that you are doing consistently well...or not so well?

Ideally, this evaluation should be done every few months. There is a simple way to do this instead of taking the paintings out physically.....create a digital collage. I learned about a wonderful website that allows you to make a free photo collage when I was doing Leslie Saeta's 30 in 30 painting challenge. She recommended Picmonkey  and it is a great way to make an easy collage of your work. This collage can be used in many ways...make cards, Facebook banners, promotions of all kinds. It is also an excellent way to see a collection of your work all in one place!

All you need to do is visit the PicMonkey website and select Collage. Next you upload the photos you want to use and choose a layout. You can change the size and color of the border. Be sure to save your collage when you are done.  Have fun with making a collage of your own paintings!

a collage of my paintings for my Facebook cover photo