Saturday, August 23, 2014

Tahoe Workshop Report Day 3

'Morning Majesty'. 5x7. Pastel. Plein air

I had the best of both worlds this week. Not only did I get to stay in a beautiful home surrounded by breathtaking scenery, I got to teach a wonderful group of ladies who are now my 'West Coast' friends .....and I got to paint for myself in my downtime. I couldn't have asked for a better experience.

Today began with another beautiful sunrise. I got my coffee, grabbed my pastels and went out on the front steps to paint before our workshop began.n The light on the pines were gorgeous and the sun felt great as I painted the pines. I even found a lucky feather.

I used my Giraults for this little Plein air study.

We set up again on the back patio for the morning lesson and demo. I finished just as the winds began to howl. We had to move to the shelter of the front porch and garage for the rest of the day. Today we did value underpainting with an alcohol wash. The paintings done by everyone today were awesome! You would never have guessed that some had only picked up their first pastel 3 days ago. I was so proud of all of their hard work . It was especially gratifying when talk turned to buying pastels and meeting again next year. I knew then that they were hooked!

Thank you and welcome to the wonderful world of pastels! It was a fabulous time!






Friday, August 22, 2014

Lake Tahoe Workshop day 2

'Morning View'. 5x7. Plein air pastel.

Sunshine, mountains, pastels and lots of laughter. What more could one ask for? I woke up early to the barking of Megan, the resident chocolate lab. It wasn't her 'bear bark' though which was a good thing. Only last week a bear managed to crawl through the kitchen window before being chased off by the dogs. Such is life at the edge of the mountains.I'm kind of glad I missed it! That's a little too close for comfort!

After breakfast we set up our easels on the back patio. I did a quick demo of the morning view and shared some thoughts on my approach to plein air. The focus of this workshop isn't plein air rather it is an exploration of pastels. (Mostly beginners) This morning we would do watercolor underpainting and the chosen subject was sunflowers.

We had some sunflowers to paint from life and after my demo everyone got to work. It was a perfect morning with great paintings by everyone. We spent the afternoon sightseeing and taking photos of this gorgeous area before returning for an early evening demo.

The talk has begun about buying pastels and I can feel everyone's excitement to explore more....tomorrow we will do just that!

My demo of a sunflower with a watercolor underpainting on watercolor paper with clear gesso

I love the ingenious way of displaying the sunflower

Hard at work!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Trip Report...Lake Tahoe Workshop

'Last Light'. 5x7. Plein air pastel. Karen Margulis

It's been an amazing experience so far and I've only been here a day. I was invited to Lake Tahoe to a private pastel workshop to a group of six friends. I didn't really know what to expect since everything was planned through emails but I have enjoyed every minute.

Our painting location at the beautiful home of one of the artist's is perfect. The view of the mountains is breathtaking. I couldn't wait to paint the view but it had to wait until the end of the first day. The group is mostly beginners so I began today with a basic pastel introduction. We covered a lot of material and everyone did some great paintings....some were their very first pastels! It was so much fun to see everyone excited about pastels!

Here is the view of my set up and our view! What a way to spend a day.


At the end of the day after we had finished cleaning up I decided to get a quick Plein air painting in. The light was fading quickly so I had to work fast. It felt great to paint the mountain that teased me all day! We have 2 more days and I look forward to getting out and exploring the area although this is the kind of view I could paint all week!


Monday, August 18, 2014

The Difference an Underpainting can Make

'Once Upon a Summer'          8x10          pastel          ©Karen Margulis
This painting is on gray Pastelmat with a Nupastel and alcohol wash underpainting
available on etsy $100
 Pictures are worth a thousand words. Click on today's paintings to have a closer look.  They are 8x10 demo paintings I did for a private class. The objective was to share two different approaches to starting a pastel painting. I wanted to show my student a very basic and simple approach using Canson paper and Nupastels. This is the way I learned. (Thanks Marsha Savage!)

I also wanted to share one of my favorite techniques for starting a painting...doing an alcohol wash. To keep it simple and compare and contrast the two techniques I painted both demos side by side using the same reference and palette of pastels.

The results speak volumes for the effect an underpainting technique and/or paper color can have on the look of the painting. Which version do you prefer?

'Summer Story'           8x10            pastel          ©Karen Margulis
This painting is on Canson Mi-Teintes burgundy paper with a Nupastel dry underpainting
available on etsy $100

Painting on left is on gray Pastelmat and painting  on right is on burgundy Canson

palette of pastels used for both paintings...Nupastels, Terry Ludwigs, UPS (unidentified pastel sticks)
What is your favorite underpainting technique? Do you vary the way you start each pastel painting?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Best Tool For Traveling Artists

'Caribbean Blues'              8x10            pastel          ©Karen Margulis
painting available on Etsy $125
Checklists are critical. They help me stay organized. They help me plan. They help me prioritize my day so I can be productive.  I especially rely on my checklists when I am going on a trip. It doesn't matter if it is a dedicated panting trip , the lists help me remember all the stuff I need to do and bring with me.

Every time I make a new trip to do and packing list I tell myself I should type it up and save it for the next trip. I am a pen and paper person so I like to write out my lists. So I never save them and I have to start all over again every time I travel.

This time I gave in to technology....surely there is a packing app for my iPhone?  Of course! There are many. I just needed to choose one!

I chose the app TRIP LIST by Enabled Apps (free version). It was mentioned in a recent issue of Travel and Leisure magazine so I gave it a try last night.

'In the Shade'           8x10        pastel   $125
Wow! I had so much fun making my packing list for my trip to Lake Tahoe this week. It was easy to start the list using the built in catalog of items that I might need. The catalog is divided into usual categories such as clothes, medicine, toiletries, outdoors as well as a to-do list. But what I loved about the app is that I could edit the items, add items, add details about the items and even add new categories.

If you are an artist and want to paint or do art while traveling then you need to have a additional items to pack. This app allows us to create categories for our art supplies and add these items to our packing lists.  With the Pro edition you can make and save lists as templates and then for each new trip you can adjust the items you want on the list. Now there is no excuse for forgetting an important's on the list!

 The app has other helpful features:
  • Unlimited number of packing lists or check lists. Besides a packing list, you can also make checklists of things to do before a trip or even shopping lists.
  • The app allows you to set reminders and alarms...for example why not set a reminder to check-in online for your flight?
  • You can check off items as you pack them so only what you need will show (so much nicer than a messy written list)
I am giving this app a bigs thumbs up. I consider a checklist an important part of a successful painting trip. This app makes packing for a trip or plein air outing fun and easy! Never forget something important again!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Magic of Green Pastels

'Summer Magic'         16x20          pastel           ©Karen Margulis
painting available $275 purchase here
 Greens can make us crazy!  Pastel artists can't really mix our own greens so we have to have a variety of green pastels in our collection.  (we can adjust our greens somewhat...more on this in another post)  Our green collection grows as we discover the limitations of our basic pastel sets.

  • We learn that the vivid artificial looking greens in the basic beginner sets can be too garish for believable landscapes.
  • We realize that in order to create depth (aerial perspective) in our landscapes we need a variety of warm, cool and neutral green pastels. We also need a range of values. Basic sets often only include mostly middle value bright greens. 
  • With practice we start to see the difference between warm, cool, intense and dull and we begin to understand where to use them. At first we may not see it. I know I didn't. Green was green and I couldn't understand why we would want (and covet) a full set of Terry Ludwig Greens!  But lots of practice has developed my sensitivity to green and I would LOVE that full set.

Having the right greens and using them in the right place can result in magic! I learned this first hand on my Iceland trip. I didn't have the right greens in my travel box!

'Emergence II'    8x10  plein air pastel     $150
Iceland was very lush and green. But I didn't anticipate just how cool those lush greens would be. I had my usual very limited travel set and my Gogh Box. I didn't have a lot of pastels so my selection of greens was limited. I just didn't have the right greens. I had a variety of light, middle and dark greens and a couple of cooler greens. But overall my greens were warmer yellowy greens.

I was in Iceland with no art store nearby so I had to make due with what I had. I was able to capture the values in my plein air studies but would have to wait until I got home to reinterpret these studies with a better selection of green. It was a valuable lesson!

Look at the difference the greens can make in a painting. The larger painting at the top is my studio painting. I used the smaller study as a reference and changed the selection of greens to better represent the lushness I saw.

I invite you to read my travelog about my trip to Iceland complete with photos and paintings. Links to each chapter can be found on my Pinterest board here. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sharing Pastels with the World!

'Hope Valley'        8x10        plein air pastel           ©Karen Margulis
I love to travel. Any opportunity to take a trip and I am interested. So when I was invited to teach a private workshop in Lake Tahoe I happily accepted. I will be able to share the wonderful medium of pastels with a group of 6 friends. Only one of the group has pastel experience so I am thrilled to be able to introduce them to the medium. How wonderful to be able to take my pastels to those who want to learn. It will be a 2 1/2 day workshop with some extra time for sightseeing.

I love sharing with small groups. I am able to tailor the workshop to the specific needs and desires of the group. For this workshop I sent a questionnaire to the group which gave me the information I needed to plan the sessions. Since this group is new to pastels we will begin with the basics and then experiment with different papers and underpaintings. I am excited about experiences I have planned. They have requested nests and sunflowers which will be great first pastel subjects!

My supplies and visual aids ready to pack
I am excited to visit Lake Tahoe again. I was there a few years ago in the fall for a Richard McKinley workshop. It was a wonderful experience in a beautiful part of the country. It will be nice to experience another season and different colors.  The painting in today's post was one of the plein air pastels I did at the workshop. I keep it in my bedroom as a reminder of a wonderful workshop with Richard. I hope that I can pass on my enthusiasm for pastel with the group!

If you have a small group and wish to host a private workshop in your part of the world let me know. My suitcase is always packed! email me for more information.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Pastel Support I Love to Hate

'Take a Walk in the Meadow with Me'           8x10          pastel           ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase on Etsy $95
I hate it until I love it. It happens every time I use it. It's that kind of surface for me.
 I am talking about Multimedia Artboard or the pastel version Pastel Artist Panels.  I was first introduced to this surface at a workshop with Bill Creevy at the last IAPS convention. The workshop was about pastels and water. It was a lot of fun layering and layering pastels and water. We needed to use a surface that would take a lot of abuse. The Multimedia Artboard was perfect. It stood up to whatever we could throw at it. Bill joked that it would probably be able to withstand a bath of sulfuric acid!

But I have a definite love-hate relationship with this surface. My usual technique with pastels just doesn't work well on it.  The boards are very different. They are thin like paper but rigid like a board. They are flexible but can snap if bent too far. They have a resin thermoplast coating and are acid free, won't yellow or buckle when wet. They can be used on both sides. The Multimedia Artboard doesn't have any grit but the Pastel Artist panels do have a sanded side for pastels. You can use both for pastels and I sometimes add my own layer of pumice mix for grit.

close up detail of my painting done on Multimedia Artboard
I have found that this surface is at it's best when I want to build up multiple layers and especially when layering with wet media or fixative in between layers. I don't usually work this way so my paintings done with a light touch and few layers don't look finished for some reason. But all I need to do is take out some water and spray it or brush it and work at it and layer......the result can be exciting. I am able to build up interesting texture and I never have to worry about the paper buckling or not taking any more pastel. It just takes some time and TLC and I dislike it until it starts working then I love it!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An Aha Moment about Simplification

'Join the Garden Party'         6x12            pastel            ©Karen Margulis
 Sometimes you just need to say it all. For me the ultimate goal of the painting is to simplify the subject. I want to leave a little mystery....something for the viewer's imagination.  It isn't always easy to do. It is easy to say Simplify...break it down into a few shapes...choose what's important. But how do we go about doing that?

I had a simplification challenge today. A student brought in a panoramic photo of her beautiful garden on the edge of a dark forest. It was filled with poppies and foxgloves and all kinds of foliage. It was a very busy scene. I thought it might be fun to do a watercolor underpainting to get us started. (we were doing a paint-along) Despite my efforts I ended up putting everything in the one painting! I considered brushing it all out and starting over but then it hit me.

I needed to say it all. I needed to capture the mass of busyness and color. I needed to get it out of my system before I could settle down and simplify. 

I was drawn to the scene because of the jumble of colors and textures. I knew it might be too much for one painting but I wanted to capture the busyness of the summer garden. So I left the painting alone and started another one. This time I chose to zoom in and focus on a small section of the garden. Now I was relaxed and it flowed. I had gotten the initial excitement out of my system!

'The Garden Party'             10x20       pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase on Etsy $150
This was the first painting which showed the panorama of the garden with all of the flowers and foliage and even some bumblebees. The painting at the top of the post was the second one I painted. I chose an intimate view of the poppies which simplified the painting.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Adding Pastel to a Watercolor Underpainting..demo

'Back to the Wetlands'            6x8             pastel          ©Karen Margulis
purchase this painting $50 here
You just have to sneak up on it. That's the best way to add pastel to a watercolor underpainting. The beauty of the watercolor is it's transparency. Add some opaque pastel and the contrast is wonderful. Add too much pastel and you cover up the watercolor and the effect is gone. It's a balancing act. When I do a watercolor underpainting I approach the pastel application like a cat.....softly and quietly.

  • I use a very light pastel is like a feather and it dances across the paper....lightly.
  • I start by matching the colors and/or values of the underpainting. I may layer other colors but I do it in stages...and with care.
  • Every mark has a purpose and it thought out. By the time I have done the underpainting I already have the composition and value map in place. Adding the pastel is done with thought. It is when I find myself making random marks...without thought...that I overwork the painting and cover up the underpainting.
  • I am not compelled to cover up all of the underpainting. If there is a section of watercolor that I like I will leave it alone or add just a whisper of pastel. Let it breath!

The watercolor underpainting done on mat board that has a coat of clear gesso for tooth

Adding pastel by starting with the dark areas.

Adding pale yellows to the sky and the water

adding blues to the distant land

Adding golds and oranges to the grasses

Adding a few blades of grass for the final touches
If you would like to try a watercolor underpainting or learn more about them check out my digital demo  on watercolor underpaintings. You can download this pdf booklet or follow along on your ipad or tablet. Available for $6 in my Etsy shop . Click here to see details.

Monday, August 11, 2014

What Happens When Painting Plans Change

'Reaching for the Sun'              8x10         pastel          ©Karen Margulis

 A valuable lesson presented itself today. I was reminded just how enjoyable it can be to veer off the planned path. When we do remain flexible and choose to go with the flow we are often rewarded with unexpected treasures.

I am a planner. I am most comfortable when I have a meticulous plan. I plan everything (except meals... I'm not much of a cook these days) I love planning trips and I am often teased by those traveling with me if I have scheduled in the bathroom breaks.  But those who know me realize that the plan is just to cover the bases....we are always flexible and open to changing the itinerary when more interesting things come along.

I was reminded today that sometimes when painting we need to change direction and throw away the plan! It's good for the soul.

reference photo for today's painting
I had a new private student this morning and I was prepared with my usual 'new to pastels' lesson. The student wanted nothing to do with that. She had heard about doing watercolors under pastels and wanted to try it.  I hesitated for a minute...shouldn't we go over the basics first? Shouldn't we stick with the tried and true plan?

Then I reminded myself....what was painting all about anyway? Shouldn't we discover new things and have fun doing it? We can always go back to basics so why not paint what we want and learn about what really interests us?   So we painted sunflowers and we did watercolor underpaintings! It was fun and my student did a wonderful painting!  (and I convinced her to come back for the basics)

watercolor underpainting with cheapo watercolors

The pastels I used for today's painting
What did I learn from this little detour?  Be open to changing the plan and never be afraid to try new things!  It's a great feeling!

Painting details: Uart paper,Terry Ludwig and Great American pastels, inexpensive pan watercolors

Sunday, August 10, 2014

How to Store and Display Mini Pastel Paintings

'Summer Trees'        2.5 x 3.5       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
bid on painting $12 opening bid click here
I admit it. I am a paintaholic. I paint for the sake of creating. I am compelled to take up my pastels everyday and paint something. Once they are finished I am ready to move on to the next one. It is the process of creating that interests me not the final product. Having a good painting is certainly the ultimate goal but the fun is in the journey to get there.  Every once in awhile I become attached to a particular painting but for the most part I am happy to share them with others or hide them away in boxes. 
I am uncovering many such hidden paintings in my studio clean up this week.  Some of them deserve to see the light of day. Take these mini original pastels for example. I painted them while on my  spur of the moment cruise in June. It was a busy month (Iceland) for me so I didn't get the chance to share them and they were buried in a pile of foam core .  I love painting these miniature pastels. They force me to simplify and I learn so much from doing them. They are also very relaxing to paint which is why I like to paint them while on vacation!  I encourage you to try to paint a few minis!

The official rule for these minis often called ATC (Artist Trading Cards) or ACEO's (Art Cards Editions and Originals) is that they measure 2.5x3.5 inches. That's it. They are actually quite easy to store and display. It is a great way to add a touch of original art to your space. And they make wonderful gifts.

Last year I made a You Tube video on storing and displaying these mini pastels so I thought it would be a good time to share it again!  Enjoy the video and paint some minis today!



All paintings in this post were done on my cruise. They are aceo/atc size 2.5x3.5 originals. They are all on auction on Ebay with a starting bid of $12. You can  Bid on them here. Good Luck!