Friday, March 24, 2017


Today I am painting the beach on the beautiful island of Barbados. I haven't been able to post to my blog on the ship so I will be giving a full trip report when I get home. 


Today I brought my sketchbook and watercolors and I am tryin to capture the amazing blues in the water. Tomorrow we are at St Lucia and I plan on bringing my pastels. 


I am posting photos of my trip on Facebook if you you'd like to see more! 


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Tip for Choosing Pastel Paper

'Daisy Fantasy'         11x14            pastel  on Canson            ©Karen Margulis
sold. other daisy painting available in my etsy shop
It is that time again. I am running very low on paper so it is time to pace an order for supplies.  I usually place a big online order every few months and wait for a coupon code and free shipping. We do have a couple of local art stores and while it would be a good thing to give them my business they aren't really close and don't always have the quantity I want. It is more cost effective and a time saver for me to buy bulk online.

Whenever I order paper I always order my favorite 'Go To' pastel paper which is UArt 400-600 grade sanded paper. I order 20 sheets of 18x24 which I will cut to size as needed.  But I always choose to order another brand of paper. I alternate brands or look to try paper I haven't used before or in a long time.

 I like to change it up sometimes. 

Pastel on Uart paper with a watercolor underpainting

    Paper really does make a difference in the look and feel of a painting. A pastel done on Canson will have a very different look than one done on sanded paper...even if the exact same pastels are used. (see my daisy paintings as an example)
  • I have a rule of thumb when it comes to pastel paper. I never say I hate or dislike a paper. Instead I remind myself that if I am not having success with a paper it isn't the paper...more likely I haven't found the right technique or pastel for it. If I revisit the paper after a break from it I may discover something that suits it. Never say never!
  • Another rule of thumb is that I encourage my students to try new papers...but they should stick with one paper at a time until they feel like they really know how it behaves. This is especially important to those new to pastels. If you are using a different surface every time you show up at the easel, it is difficult to get to know how the pastels behave. Stick with one paper for a wile, then experiment.
  • When trying a new paper be prepared to do at least 5-10 paintings on it before you decide if it suits you. One try with a paper isn't really giving it a fair shot. Be ready to get to really know it (even if you don't really care for it)

Paper really does make a difference in the look and feel of a painting. A pastel done on Canson will have a very different look than one done on sanded paper...even if the exact same pastels are used. (see my daisy paintings as an example)

Both Blick.com and Jerrys Artarama are having coupon sales with free shipping now through August 1st. Time to get some new paper!

Painting notes: The top painting is on Canson Mi-Teintes paper and the bottom painting is on Uart both with a mix of pastel mostly Terry Ludwig.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

How I Store my Pastel Paper

'Desert Fire'           5x7       pastel           ©Karen Margulis
sold
From the archives. I wish my paper corner was this neat!

The Great Studio Clean-Up continues.  Today's project included the paper and shipping corner. I am fortunate to have a great space for storing paper. I have a nice little corner with room for the rolling baker's rack that I got at a thrift store for $20. I am able to store full sheets of paper on this rack.

I haven't keep this area neat and organized.  In the frenzy of creating I would throw scraps of paper on the shelves (I don't throw any paper away)  Paper was piled up and all mixed up. It had gotten so bad that I couldn't tell what I had any more. I am so happy with the way my little area is now that I gave it a make-over. Have a look!


My Paper Corner
  • The paper rack is now organized and each type of paper has it own shelf. I took any paper that was 8x10 or smaller and put them by size on a smaller in & out style shelf. Now I always have paper ready to go!
  • All small scraps of pastel paper is now kept in a big clear box. When I have free time I will cut the scrapes into usable standard sizes and put them on the small shelf by size.
  • I made room for my canvas and panels for oil and acrylic painting. 
  • The bottom shelf on my unit now holds a variety of Clear Bags. I use these bags for shipping.
Next to the Paper Corner  is a shelf dedicated to my shipping and framing supplies 

My Shipping Corner
  •  The prize of my shipping and paper corner is my paper cutter. Every artist who works on paper should invest in one! (mine was $7 at the thrift store)
  • The top shelf holds the in & out box with small pre-cut pastel paper. The box next to it hold scraps of wrapping paper used for gift wrapping sold paintings.
  • I have a roll of glassine paper but the basket on the shelf holds the smaller scrap pieces. No paper goes to waste!
  • I keep all of my notecards, business cards and literature for collectors together in drawers. I plan to keep this area stocked.
  • Foamcore....I use a lot of foam core. I ship my painting in foamcore sandwiches (as well as for painting supports). I put scraps in a garbage can to be used for who know what. (can't throw them out!)
  • The bottom shelf holds my framing supplies. 
  • Note my window which has beautiful north light. 
It feels great to be organized for a change!  Next on the list is to clean my outer studio....yes I have two studio areas. Stay tuned for more on that.  Today's painting is a small pastel that I uncovered in a pile of scraps! You never know what treasure are in your piles of scraps!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Headed to the Amazon!

'Caribbean Color'       5x7    plein air study      ©Karen Margulis

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous

 Today I embark on another big adventure. I am excited to cross a few places off the bucket list on this trip up the Amazon River. I have my pastels, sketchbook and cameras packed. I plan to blog as often as internet will allow. In between updates I will be sharing some posts from the archives. I am excited to experience new lands and meet new friends and I look forward to sharing my experiences with you!


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Quick an Inexpensive Way to Make a Pastel Surface

'Morning Glory'          5x7       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $95
I don't like to waste materials. That is why I have such a collection of stuff in my storage room. I came across a box of mat board drop outs and I can't wait to put them to use. I have a cheap and easy way to use them for pastel surfaces. I blogged about it a few years ago but it is worth revisiting the post. Read on!

Making my own pastel surface 


  I enjoy painting on my own home made surfaces but I don't like to prepare them. I don't like the mess of mixing the pumice and gesso. I don't like waiting for them to dry. So I don't bother making my own supports. Until now!

I was introduced to this method by a student who worked at a frame shop. She had a pastel artist customer who told her about using clear gesso on paper or boards. The clear gesso alone makes a wonderful surface. It has a small amount of grittiness which is just right for pastels. I tried it on these two small paintings.


'The View Towards Abiquiu'    3.5 x 3.5      pastel
sold
 I am using scrap pieces of mat board.  I used Liquitex Clear Gesso. I simply brushed it on the mat board with a 1 inch brush. I made some smooth like linen weave and some with more random brush marks.  They dried quickly though I didn't paint on them right away.  I also applied some of the clear gesso on some Somerset white paper. I have some BFK Rives that I also want to try.

I am very happy with the amount of tooth that the clear gesso provides. I don't think I'd want it any rougher but I could add some pumice if I wanted to. I could also tint the gesso with liquid acrylics if I wanted toned supports.  But that would defeat the purpose of quick and easy!

If you are interested in other methods of creating your own pastel surfaces you might like to read my older post on home made surfaces.









Monday, March 13, 2017

Exploring an Oil Stain Underpainting


'Profusion'        8x10       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $150
The final mystery underpainting was an interesting journey. I have been blogging about the three mystery underpaintings I discovered last week. Since the original reference photos were lost I had no idea what my intentions were for these underpaintings. That made it more fun!

The last underpainting was an oil stain on Uart paper. I love doing oil underpainting because of the cool drips but I am usually too impatient to go bother with dragging out paint, brushes and turpenoid. See more about oils stain underpaintings here.

Now I get to decide what this painting should me. My first impression was that it should be a marsh. The drips resembled marsh grasses to me.

No this won't work!
I took out my stack of marsh photos and found a few that might work. I decided on an old photo from New Jersey. I took this at sunrise as we drove along the highway. I was excited to start but then realized it would take too much away from the underpainting to make this scene work.  I scrapped it and went in a totally different direction.

Ah, this is a better choice
I now saw the underpainting as suggesting the dirt and tangle of grass and stems found in one of my Queen Anne's Lace photos. The colors and texture were perfect for this scene. I used both Terry Ludwig pastels and a few of my new Russian pastels for the grasses.
By the way thank you to all of you who translated the box for me!

Sunday, March 12, 2017

How to Loosen Up Your Painting Style

'Wild Blue Yonder'         8x10        pastel     ©Karen Margulis
available $150

I am not one for painting details. A looser approach is just my natural tendency. If I wanted to get more detailed I have to work at it. I am often asked for advice on how to paint more loosely. If your natural tendency is to be detailed oriented there are some things you can try to loosen up. I want to share one way in today's post.

Change your painting surface to one with a lot of texture.

Why does this help? To paint in a loose manner it is important to focus on big simple shapes. You need to forget about details especially in the beginning stages of a painting. Too often we get bogged down with the details and try to paint every branch or blade of grass. If you want to paint loose, it is much better to paint the big shapes and put in a suggestion of the detail. A rough or textured surface makes it difficult to put in fussy details.

For pastels this means trying out some homemade surfaces. These surfaces can be made to have texture and brushstrokes which will affect how the pastel is applied. Pastels will glide over the ridges creating a 'painted' appearance. The brushstrokes of the ground will show. You can push some pastel down into the ridges but it is difficult to get too fussy. Details are suggested and you have instant looseness. Give it a try!

mini demo of my painting on my own homemade board

I made my own surfaces on Gatorfoam board. I cut a large piece of Gatorfoam into 8x10 pieces. It is easy to score with a utility knife. I coated the board with acrylic gesso to seal it. When it was dry I applied the ground which was made of acrylic gesso, fine pumice powder and water. I tinted this mixture with Golden fluid acrylic paint. There are several recipes for grounds that you can find and you will want to experiment with the ingredients to find mixture you like.
To read more about making your own grounds I recommend Richard McKinley's Pastel Pointer article on Home Grown Surfaces.

Do you like the look of pastels on homemade surfaces?

Painting notes:  This painting is on my own homemade surface using gatorboard and pumice mix. The board was toned with orange Golden liquid acrylic paint.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Surprise Pastel Gift From Russia

'Glorious Weeds'         8x10        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $150
 It was quite a lovely surprise. A Facebook friend wrote to me recently wanting to share some pastels his family brought from Russia. He knew I had blogged about the Russian pastels I liked to use for grasses. He had two boxes and wanted to share one with me! I was so excited to get the package. What could be better than mystery pastels!

My new pastels from Russia
 These pastels are definitely a mystery. I wonder what the box says? I had to try them out and today's painting gave me the perfect opportunity. I was expecting them to be very hard like the other Russian pastels sent to me by my friend in Finland. But these pastels were actually a bit creamy. They were still great for painting my grasses. Look at the close up below for the evidence!


close up detail of the grasses
Tips for Painting Grasses

  • Build up to the delicate grass marks. Start with the dirt....big simple shapes of color
  • Create broken lines rather than heavy lines for the grass blades...think Lyrical Lines 
  • Avoid the trap of trying to paint every bland of grass. Choose to put in a few well placed bladed of grass. 
  • Vary colors and direction of marks. Variation is the key
  • Vary the pressure of your marks...push and release for a natural looking piece of grass
  • Round pastels make excellent grass. Use the hard edge and draw or roll the pastel

Painting note:  Uart 500 with a wet pastel underpainting. Inspired by my favorite park in Chicago.

Thank you to my dear friend for sending these pastels to me. I will certainly have fun with them and I appreciate your generosity!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Listening to an Underpainting



'Serenity         8x10        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
sold
Oh the wonderful surprises I find in my studio! Actually in my studio storage room. We converted our garage into a hang out room for the kids when they were teens. Now I have taken over the space with art stuff. I'll show you a picture someday but it is a scary place!  The other day I uncovered this board with three different underpaintings. I used it for one of my early pastel classes. I think it is time I just paint on the samples!


A selection of underpainting techniques to try: wet pastel, watercolor, oil stain and a mystery

The problem is I no longer have any idea what I was trying to paint. The reference are long gone and forgotten. Not really a problem! It is actually a gift. Now I can look at the underpainting and let it speak to me. What does it suggest? What do the colors want to do? What does this underpainting want to be?

It is clear to me that this wants to be a marsh. So I took out my marsh photos and chose one with warm autumn colors. I decided to go with  autumn golden grasses with a subdued sky.  It was fun to let the underpainting guide me and I can't wait to do the next one!

Tease: I used a special pastel sent to me by a friend. I'll share more soon!


watercolor underpainting on Uart 5oo
 Try this: This weekend why not take out some paper and paint and just do underpaintings. Don't worry about painting with pastels just play with underpaintings. Put them aside for a week or so and THEN paint on them letting the underpaintings guide your choice of subject.




Thursday, March 09, 2017

Painting Bluebonnets: Your Questions

'Time for Bluebonnets'           5x7        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
sold
I am making good progress. My busy season begins in just a few days with an exciting trip followed by two workshops and a wedding....then IAPS and Ireland. So I have quite a few irons in the fire!  My studio is ground zero. It is a staging area. Every surface is covered with handouts, notes and things to pack for each adventure. I am knee deep in plans! I wasn't going to paint today but 5:00 rolled around and I just couldn't stay away from the easel. In a way it was the perfect break from organizing stuff!

I decided to paint a quick 5x7 study of some Texas Bluebonnets. These little studies are fun to do because they are a good way to see if the composition might work for something larger. I think I like this little one and may go bigger with it!

I will be heading back to Texas in April for my Plein Air workshop in Dripping Springs. I love going to paint the Bluebonnets and I always meet the most wonderful artists. We will (hopefully) be painting bluebonnets. I'd love to hear your questions about painting bluebonnets or any other wildflower. Your questions will help me plan the best possible workshop. I will answer them here on the blog as well.

*****I just had a cancellation for this workshop which is April 7-9. Email me if you are interested in more information. karenmargulis@gmail.com

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Wednesday Painting Demo with Music

'Wonderful Wildflowers'       16x20      pastel      ©Karen Margulis
available $225
I decided to sneak in a quick painting demo video the week. I had my paper and pastels ready and my music queued waiting for a daily painting. Why not film it! So I did a quick Facebook Live broadcast to some good music. I'd like to invite you to take a look. Visit my Facebook page to see the demo. https://www.facebook.com/karen.margulis

Here are a few remarks about the demo:

  • I am working from a photo I took last year at Wildseed Farm in Texas.
  • The photo was my inspiration but It was not my intention to copy it.
  • I am using a 16x20 piece of Canson Mi-Teintes paper in a dark brown color
  • I am using Terry Ludwig pastels.
  • I preselected my pastels and did a small study before painting.
  • I used Blair workable fixative to give me more tooth on the Canson paper
  • I am listening to Jesse Cook on Spotify.
  • I had a great time painting!


2.5x3.5 study

reference photo

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Great Advice for Overcoming a Frustrating Painting Experience

'The Clearing'          8x10        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
sold
 I remember clearly how frustrated I had been with the painting. I was trying to paint koi fish in a pond. In my mind I envisioned a great painting with interesting shapes and colors but it wasn't happening. The orange blobs didn't look like fish and I couldn't get the water to look wet! I worked on the painting for hours....put it aside and worked more. I didn't want to give up on it.  But finally I put it aside for good. Until I discovered it in a pile the other day. It all came flooding back to me....the frustration and the determination to keep working on a failed painting.  It was time to start over.

"Don't cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it"  unknown.

I came across this quote in a post by a Facebook friend and wrote it down. It is great advice.  It fit my experience with this painting. I wasn't willing to make the drastic changes need to fix the painting because I had spent so much time on it. It had become precious even thought it was BAD.

This idea also can apply to when we struggle with parts of a painting. Just because we spend a lot of time and effort in an area doesn't mean we can't rethink it if it isn't working. We must be willing  to wipe it out and take drastic measures and come up with new solutions.

8x10 pastelbord newly toned with pastel and water

My koi painting just needed to be wiped off and given a new life. I used water and a brush to wet down the painting. You can still see the koi trying emerge from the pastel. I will have to revisit the koi in another painting. It just wasn't meant to be this time!

Monday, March 06, 2017

Painting Makeover Made Simple


'Country Roads'          9x12         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $165
It was quite simple to give a very old and very bad painting a makeover. All I needed was an old brush and a cup of water. I found a couple of old paintings in a pile. They would have been good candidates for the circular file if they weren't done on Ampersand Pastelbord. If you aren't familiar with Pastelbord you should  give it a try. It is a sanded surface on a masonite board so it is very rigid and durable. I love using them but since I paint so much it isn't really cost effective for me to use them exclusively.

It is very easy to make corrections on Pastelbord or even paint over an old painting. The sanded surface takes many layers and there is no chance for the board to ripple or buckle like paper can. I decided that my old paintings needed to be completely covered up. I wanted to keep it quick and simple so I took some water and a stiff old brush and just wet the pastel down. My 9x12 board turned into a mellow gray tone. It would be the perfect color and value to start a new painting. The 8x10 board had more orange so I got an interesting fiery toned board that I can't wait to paint. 

OLD paintings on Pasteboard ready for a makeover



Just wet the old painting with water and you have a new toned surface
I didn't bother to brush off the old painting before using the water but if your pastel is on too thick you may want to take it outside and brush off some of the pastel. You can also use rubbing alcohol or turpenoid to liquify the pastel. I just wanted to keep it quick and simple with water.

painting notes: I have been wanting to paint this scene. I shot the photo out the bus window last fall while on my way to Salida Colorado. There was a controlled burn in the area adding to the colors in the atmosphere.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

What Happens When you Find a Big Piece of RED Paper


'Crazy for Red'           18x24           pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $450
A reader asked me why I don't usually work on colored paper. It was a good question. I didn't really have a good answer so I told her I'd think about it and answer in the blog. I put these questions into the lineup and mull them around. Today I had the answer and it came by chance. 

I was looking through my paper trying to find inspiration for today's daily painting when I found a stack of RED paper. Big red paper. Full sheets of red Canson Mi-Teintes paper. Whatever possessed me to buy it? I don't know but today was as good a time as any to use it. I just had to find the right subject.


A big piece of RED paper!
As I searched through a stack potential reference photos I kept looking for something with a lot of green. Since red is the complement of green working on the red paper might add some excitement to a typical green landscape. Red actually is a great color to use under green. Whether you tone your own paper or buy red paper it is a great choice for a very green landscape.

And it is an even better choice for a green and red landscape! I had the perfect scene....a field of poppies from my trip to Texas last spring. See the reference photo below and follow along as the painting develops. 

my reference photo

Blocking in the darks

Adding the sky and the flowers

Building the layers of foliage

and more building

...and more

Adding the lights to the foliage and building the flower shapes

Finished
That was fun! It was great to work large (18x24) as well.  The red paper gave my poppies a bit of a head start and made the greens more interesting where the paper peeks through.

So why don't I paint on color paper more often? Simple. I don't always have it handy and I forget how simple it is to tone a piece of sanded paper to any color I want. Thanks Monike for the question you've given me some new ideas!

Friday, March 03, 2017

A Surprising Watercolor Underpainting


'Welcome to the South'           8x10        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $150
It was a surprise for a couple of reasons. I had completely forgotten that I had done a watercolor underpainting for a Spring landscape. I just never got around to finishing the painting and it got buried in the pile of unfinished objects. (the UFO pile) When I found it today I was surprised for another reason. The underpainting had some cool crystal- like marks. How did I do that?

The watercolor underpainting
It took me a few minutes but then I remembered that I had experimented with watercolor and salt. The result were these pretty flower-like crystals in the dried paint. If you are familiar with watercolor then you already know about this technique. But have you thought about applying it to a watercolor underpainting for pastel?

the magic of salt and watercolor
 How about giving it a try? The results are unpredictable so I suggest lots of experimenting. Here are some tips:

  • Start the watercolor underpainting as usual. While the paint is still wet sprinkle the salt where you want the special effect.
  • Try different size salt....Kosher salt makes different marks than table salt.
  • Apply the salt with the paper flat.
  • Try tipping the paper and letting the salt slide.
  • Wait until the paint is dry before brushing off the salt.
  • Try different paper to see the results. Todays painting is on Uart sanded paper.
I tried to keep my crystals showing in my painting but ended up covering more than I wanted. That's OK> I am excited to experiment more!