Friday, November 21, 2014

The Best Grade of Uart Pastel Paper

'Listen to the Marsh Music'         18x24         pastel  on Uart 600     ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $750
 Choices are great. But sometimes too many choices can be overwhelming. I love Uart paper and one of the reasons is the variety of grits that are available. Whether you like a rough toothy surface or a smooth velvety one,  Uart has a paper for you.

What if you don't really know what you like? If you haven't tried all of the grades of Uart paper how will you know which one is best?  I decided to put the paper to the test to find out the best grade.

The answer?  I like them all!  I recommend you give this little test a try so that you can experience them all for yourself. The best grade is the grade that gives you the results you want!  My test can give you an idea of what you might expect.  (click on photos to enlarge them)

Uart Paper Grade Test
 For the test I cut small pieces of each of the 7 available grades of Uart paper. You can get a sample pack of papers at Dakota Pastels.  For the control I decided to paint the same scene with the same pastels on each sample. I chose one of my personal favorite marsh paintings because I wouldn't mind painting it 7 more times!

  • The lower the number the rougher or toothier the surface. So 240, 280 and 320 are the roughest grits. For those of you who like Wallis paper these lower numbers have the closest feel to the grit of Wallis.
  • The lower the number, the grainer the pastel application. Click to enlarge so you can see the textured look to my marks.

  • The middle numbers 400, 500 and 600 are still toothy but not as rough as the lower numbers. 
  • 400 is a good compromise between rough and smooth.
  • These 3  are my preferred grades. I personally don't notice too much difference between these three so I am equally content using any of them. I would say that 400 and 500 are my favorite if I had to choose. 

  • 800 grade paper is quite smooth and velvety although it is still sanded paper. I noticed a much smoother application of pastel with little feeling of texture. If you need fine detail, this grade is your best choice.

I also decided to do a layer test. I wanted to know which paper grade held the most layers of pastel. I did the test on 240 and 800 grade. I was quite surprised to find that each grade easily took 21 layers. I expected that the rougher paper would take more layers than the smooth but this was not the case. They actually could have handled more layers without filling the tooth but I stopped at 21....that's a lot of layers!

I enjoyed discovering the subtle difference the grit could make. Overall I would be happy with any of the grades. Uart is my go-to paper. I find it to be very versatile and always gives me good results. (and takes a beating when I have to fight for those results!)

Read more about Uart paper on their website here. I just bought my first roll and will soon blog about how I am flattening the rolled paper.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How Blogging Has Made Me a Better Painter

'Wildwood Days'              8x10             pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase $145
10 years ago I discovered pastels. It was instant love. But it wasn't instant gratification. My paintings did not match the visions in my head. I knew what I wanted them to look like but the results were far from my vision. I took on the challenge of getting better. I knew it would take a lot of work. I was motivated but was I disciplined enough?

Fortunately 10 years ago I also started blogging. It was the best thing I ever did for my art. Not only did it improve my paintings but the blog has given me so much more.

summer memories of a day at the beach

Working on my blog and creating posts became my best teacher. It was there to remind me to paint. If I didn't paint I would have nothing to post. The blog got me into the studio more frequently. The more I painted the closer my paintings came to matching the visions in my head. I was encouraged to paint even more. It became a cycle of painting and posting with each activity helping the other.

It was like being on a good diet and exercise program. When you see the pounds come off and you start feeling healthier you are encouraged to stick with it....and when it becomes a life changing habit there is no greater feeling in the world. My blog has done the same for me! Now if only I could stick with the exercise program!

8x10 pastel from July 2005
July was the 10th anniversary of my blog. I looked back at the very first painting I posted (above) and decided to paint it again. (top image) It was fun to revisit this subject after 10 years!

Blogging has the potential to help everyone no matter how big or small their art goals are. I encourage everyone to try a blog. I will be sharing my Low Cost, Low Tech and Low Maintenance approach to blogging in my 3 hour seminar at the next IAPS convention. If you are going to IAPS consider taking my seminar! Registration will be closing soon so be sure to register as soon as possible! Visit the IAPS website here to register

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What to Paint? The Most Important Consideration

'Back to the Marsh'            8x10              pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase $145

I can always retreat to the marsh. It always inspires me. The many moods and colors. The wide open views. The sounds. The smells. And of course the birds. Painting the marsh gets me excited. If I am not in the mood to paint (rare) looking through my reference photos of the marshes I have visited always lights the fire.  The marsh is an old friend but I look for ways to interpret it in new ways.

I  am passionate about the marsh and I embrace that passion. It is the most important consideration for me when choosing a subject to paint. If I am passionate about a subject I will do a better job.

"The things you are passsionate about are not random. They are your calling."  
              Fabienne Fredrickson

Take some time for some serious reflection. Why do you choose the subjects you paint? If the answer is "it looks easy" then try again. The answer should be "I LOVE it and I am passionate about it"
Take the time to discover your passions. Explore them and embrace them.
Your work will be better for it.

It is Virtual Open Studio Week and all paintings in my Etsy shop are available with a 20% savings. Visit my shop to have a closer look. click here.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Gift of Art....Virtual Open Studio Sale

'Sanibel is Calling'                8x10              pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $145 click here

My studio will be lonely this month. My classes have wrapped up for the year and I don't have my annual Open Studio to prepare for. I will miss that.  It just didn't work out this year. The group tour didn't get organized in time. I loved having my Open Studio. Not only did it allow me to meet other artists and collectors, it forced me to clean the studio and get organized!

So this year I will take my open studio online!  This will be a Virtual Open Studio.  You can click on the tab at the top of the page to visit my studio. You can also purchase my original pastel paintings for a special Open Studio price.

Visit my Etsy shop to see the selection of available paintings. There are small to large paintings, all original pastels. For a limited time you can apply the code GIVEART14 for a 20% savings.

In a real life Open Studio I would have the opportunity to meet you and discuss my work in person. Since this is a virtual tour....I'd love for you to introduce yourself in the comments! Thank you for visiting my blog...and my studio!

To visit my studio click here.
To see the available paintings click here.

painting notes: Uart paper with a warm underpainting of red and orange Nupastels.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Painting on the Go with a Small Travel Kit

'Beauty in the Bush'. 5x7. Pastel. sold
You never know when you might have some downtime. And when there is downtime I am itching to paint. It has been a busy few days visiting my son, daughter-in-law and grandbaby in Chicago. Yesterday we braved the cold and snow and went for two long walks in the neighboring park and at the Chicago Botanic Garden. I was in heaven. The snow made a wonderful backdrop for the lingering fall color and the emerging winter colors. My timing was perfect (and I did make a wish for a little snow)
One of my favorite sights was a big fat Cardinal in the middle of a purple Beauty Berry bush. He sat for my photos content to get his fill of berries. I knew I wanted to paint him. So when we decided to make today a stay at home day I was content to pull out my Mini pastel kit and paint the cardinal.
My small travel kit has gotten a lot of mileage. It is actually a book cover that zips closed. Inside I can fit everything I need to paint 5x7 and smaller. I have two small boxes filled with assorted pastel pieces. I make sure I have a variety of colors in a range of values. If I don't have the right color I will at least have the right value.
Today it was much too cold for plein air so I used my iPad mini to pull up my Cardinal photos and worked inside where it was warm and cozy. As always I am glad I threw my travel kit into my backpack!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Secret to Painting a Believable Meadow

'Meadow Walk'               9x12                pastel                 ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting here $145
I dream of running through a beautiful meadow filled with wildflowers. I think it goes back to my childhood and a trip to the North Carolina mountains. We hiked to the top of the mountain and picnicked in a picture perfect meadow. I carry this vision in my head. When I began painting I was drawn to landscapes with wildflowers. But when I tried to paint them they fell flat.

My wildflower meadows looked as if a child came in with a box of crayons and added dots of flowers. This wasn't the romantic vision in my head!

I was determined to paint a meadow, field, prairie, marsh [insert your favorite landscape] that looked authentic. I wanted my grassy areas to look believable. If I chose to add flowers I didn't  want them to look like a child added them.  After painting many, many meadows I have a much better understanding of the things that make a meadow work.  I have techniques and tips that I use to help me create the meadows in my dreams.

I will be sharing these tips and techniques next June in my 3 hour Demonstration at the IAPS Convention. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to join the faculty at the convention and to be able to share with my fellow artists.  I am planning a fast paced session packed full of demo paintings, tips and fun!  You don't want to miss it!

Here is one of my favorite tips for painting a wildflower meadows:

It is all about MASSING. The best way to approach a field filled with wildflowers is to treat the flowers as one big mass or collection of masses rather than painting lots of tiny dots. SQUINT and see the big simple shapes of the flower groupings. Paint these shapes. Then come back and add just a few individual flowers at the edges of the masses. Let the viewer fill in the rest. 

Registration for IAPS is MONDAY November 17th at noon ET  Visit the website here to look at the schedule and plan your classes. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

6 Steps to a Mini Pastel Painting

'Morning on the Marsh'             2.5 x 3.5           pastel              ©Karen Margulis
available here $15
Have I convinced you yet? Have you tried painting a mini? Mini Week continues with a look at a simple way to paint small. There are so many ways to paint with pastels. There are hard pastels, soft pastels, Pan pastels, pastel pencils.....anything goes. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes I just want a simple method. This is a quick look at my favorite method ....6 Steps to a Mini. 

1. Quick light drawing of the big shapes with pencil.

2. Block in the dark shapes.

3. Block in the light shapes.

4. Block in the most intense color.  

5. Fill in the rest of the paper. Usually middle value.

6. Continue developing the painting and clarifying the focal area.

This is a quick look at this technique. It is a helpful way to simplify a busy reference photo and it works for any subject. I painted a snowman for my class showing them how this method still works!  If you would like to see it in more detail you might like to explore my pdf demo available on Etsy.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

How to Store and Display Small Pastel Paintings

'Fall Fantasy 13'              2.5 x 3.5         pastel          ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $15
Mini Week continues with a look at how to store and display these wonderful little gems. I am sharing an older post with some new paintings. Enjoy!

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 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!


See all available minis in my Etsy shop. They make great holiday gifts!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mini Week: 10 Reasons to Paint Small part 2

'Fall Fantasy 6'         2.5 x 3.5
How small can we go? Have you tried painting a mini pastel? I used to think 5x7 was small until I gave minis a try.  I choose 2.5 x 3.5 as my mini size because ready made frames and mats are available. I will share storage and presentation ideas later this week. Mini Week continues with a look at 5 more reasons to paint small. If you missed the first 5 reasons click here to read them.

6. Economical. Minis are great because they don't cost much in materials. I don't use much pastel at all and I cut my scrap papers into 2.5 x 3.5 pieces. I buy my pastel paper in full size sheets and cut them down to size. I am always left with thin strips. I save these strips until I need paper for minis then I cut them down to size.

'Fall Fantasy 7'           2.5 x 3.5 

7. Eco-Friendly. Save the environment and recycle paper for minis. Not only do I use my paper scraps, I also recycle failed paintings and cut them up for minis. Instead of throwing away a failed painting I do an alcohol wash over the offending painting, let it dry and cut it up. I get lots of nice dark toned paper to paint on!

'Fall Fantasy 8'          2.5 x 3.5

8. Fine Motor Practice. Painting small is one of the best ways to develop and fine tune control over your pastel sticks. Sometimes a chunk of pastel can seem awkward and unwieldy. It take practice to figure out just the right touch to make the marks you want. 

'Fall Fantasy 9'          2.5 x 3.5 

9. Experiment. Painting small leads to getting more creative and experimental. I find it less daunting to experiment on a scrap of paper. If it doesn't turn out I didn't waste much. I have tried many interesting techniques on a mini before I did a larger version.

'Fall Fantasy 10'           2.5 x 3.5 

10. FUN!  The best reason of all to paint minis is because it is fun and relaxing. I like to sit when I paint the minis. I find that the more I do, the more I want to do. The more I do the more expressive they become.  Working small allows me to gain experience with the important parts of good painting....composition, value, color, drawing. I learn while I am having fun....can't beat that!

See all available minis including some not shown on my blog in my Etsy shop. Click here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Mini Week: 10 Reasons to Paint Small

'Fall Fantasy 1'            2.5 x 3.5            pastel            ©Karen Margulis
Why would you want to paint so small?  This is one of the questions I get when someone sees me painting these mini pastels. I can think many reasons to limit the size of my paintings every once in awhile. I've boiled them down to 10.  Enjoy my latest mini pastels as I share 5 of the top ten reasons to paint small (2.5 x 3.5 inch artist trading card size)

1: Simplify. Limiting the size of the paper limits how much I can put in. It forces me to simplify and pick out the big simple shapes. It is easier to suggest details in a smaller space. This is great practice for seeing simply that can be transferred to larger paper.

'Fall Fantasy 2'   2.5 x 3.5    

2. Color Studies: Trying out color schemes on small paper saves time and frustration. It is quick and easy to try several color scheme possibility in a mini painting. I get a good idea of the color choices before investing time and supplies on a larger painting.

'Fall Fantasy 3'         2.5 x 3.5

 3. Affordable: I love having small affordable originals for my collectors. These minis are affordable for anyone to add fine art to their home. It's a win-win. I learn from painting them and collectors enjoy collecting them!

'Fall Fantasy 4'       2.5 x 3.5 
4. Gifts:  Not only are mini pastels affordable for collectors they are great gifts for anyone. I love to gift my minis throughout the year but especially for the holidays. They are great to give to children as an introduction to collecting original art. I have also used them as table place cards for the holiday table. Put them in small frames for a great party favor!

'Fall Fantasy 5'          2.5 x 3.5 

5. Portable: This is probably my favorite reason for painting small.... I can take them with me anywhere!  I have a small pastel kit that I keep in a zippered book cover. It holds a small box of pastels, 2.5 x 3.5 inch papers, wipes and a small piece of foam core.....I can throw this in my car or backpack and I am ready to paint anywhere!

I will share 5 more reasons and 5 more Fall minis in tomorrow's post.  All of the minis are available for purchase in my Etsy shop. $15 each. click here to purchase

Monday, November 10, 2014

Mini Week... Painting Large from a Small Color Study

'Late Afternoon Show'             22x28             pastel           ©Karen Margulis
painting available $500
 Shark Week was good but Mini Week is even better!  What is Mini Week?  It is a celebration of painting small pastel paintings, the 2.5 x 3.5 inch paintings commonly known as Artist Trading Cards.  This week my pastel classes will be working on minis and learning just how helpful they can be.

This week I will be sharing tips for painting minis....why, how and what to do with them when you are finished. Today I am sharing my demo form my workshop for the Appalachian Pastel Society. I used one of my mini pastels for the demo.

 One of my favorite uses for mini pastel paintings is to use them as  studies for larger paintings. It is less daunting to approach a big piece of pastel paper if you have a plan for the painting. I often have ideas for compositions and colors that differ from the photo.

 I don't always know if my ideas are good though.  It helps to test out the potential ideas in a small painting. The 2.5 x 3.5 size is perfect for this. It is too small to get too caught up in details but big enough to paint the big simple shapes and try out the color palette.

I often take this idea even further.....I will often paint some minis for relaxation and then choose my favorites to paint reference photos are used for the larger paintings....only the small studies.

color study 2.5 x 3.5

The demo in progress for the Appalachian Pastel Society
Stay tuned this week for more ideas on painting small!

TRY THIS:  Join me this week and paint some minis. Cut some scrap pastel paper into pieces that measure 2l5 x 3l5 inches.  Gather some reference photos and get ready to paint! If you are looking for ideas and a detailed demo have a look at my pdf demo in my etsy shop.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Loosening Up Your Paintings Tip #1

'Ribbon of Blue'            16x20            pastel             ©Karen Margulis
painting available $250
I've been thinking a lot about it lately. Painting loose. What does it mean and how do we do it?  I just finished a presentation demo and workshop for the Appalachian Pastel Society and this was the topic. I've read a lot of advice on the subject and most if it seems to be easier said than done. Advice such as Relax. Let Go. Be Free. Be Bold and fearless. Have Confidence.  Sounds good but I need something more concrete to follow.

I came up with some suggestions and tips that I shared in my workshop. I'd like to share a few with you in my blog. The tips I will present are in no particular order.  Here is the first tip.

Color Studies save time and lead to better color harmony and more expressive paintings.

my reference photo and small color study

  • Nothing slows you down faster and interrupts the flow of a painting more than searching for the right colors and values. Choosing colors in advance saves time and aggravation.
  • Having a limited selection of pastels leads to better color harmony because you are not tempted to use too many colors in one painting (color chaos)
  • Trying out the selected palette in a small color study allows you to see andmake adjustments on a smaller scale.
  • I like to do color studies on scraps of pastel paper. My preferred size is 2.5x3.5.
  • Make sure the color study is done on the same type and color paper you will use for your painting.
Painting notes:  This is the demo from my workshop. It is 16x20 on Uart with a value alcohol wash underpainitng.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Permission to Stop

'Lupine Memories'            9x12           pastel            ©Karen Margulis
painting available $145
Don't finish it off! My friends and I laugh when we remind each other that we just need to finish the painting....not finish it off.  Overworking is the death of many a great painting. If only we stopped sooner. If only we stopped when it was looking so fresh.

But no. That would be too easy. And besides how could we possibly be done? Isn't painting supposed to be a slow and gut wrenching process? If a painting comes together quickly can't we just accept that it is working and stop?  So often we don't stop. We keep plugging away...fixing something which leads to more fixing and more fixing and soon we have lost the freshness. Where did that painterly painting go?

Here is something to try for your next painting.

  • Have your phone or camera ready and snap a photo of the underpainting. As the painting evolves take a photo when you are feeling pretty good about the painting. These pictures will be a reminder of what the painting looked like when you liked case you finish it off!
  • Make a sign or note to put on your easel that says 'YOU HAVE PERMISSION TO STOP'
  • When you get to a point in your painting where you find yourself not sure what else to do...STOP. Get a drink or a piece of chocolate. Come back to the painting with fresh eyes. Evaluate what the painting needs.
  • Allow yourself to make a mark and then step back....all marks at this point should have a random, mindless painting. This way you will finish the painting with careful thought and will hopefully come away with a much fresher painting!
painting notes: 9x12 uart with a watercolor underpaintings. I stopped sooner than I  usually do because I wanted to allow a lot of the watercolor to do the work. 

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Another Good Reason for Using Bad Photos

'Oldtimers'               11x14               pastel            ©Karen Margulis
Color gets all the glory. When color in a painting is working we are intrigued. Color can draw us to a painting but it the value that keeps it all together.  The well know quote that Value does all the work but Color gets the glory is a good  one to remember.

I love to play with color. One of my favorite painting games is to take a scene and see how many ways I can interpret it through color changes.  This is where bad reference photos help. When the photo is over exposed or washed out it is easier to invent the color. I can take a bad photo and use the colors I want as long as I can create a strong value map. If I get the values right I can get away with any color I want. (color harmony is needed but that's another post!)

Today's painting is based on a bad photo. You can see the reference photo above. It is dull and washed out. But I can clearly see the dark mass of the trees against the light of the sky. It is a perfect scene for color play.

I decided I wanted a yellow sky. All I needed to do was follow my value thumbnail and choose the right values for the trees, sky and grasses and the painting should work. Each new color combination will create a different mood. I can't wait to try another one!

painting notes: 11x14 Ersta sanded paper with a dark blue alcohol wash underpainting

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A Great Little Sketchbook for Thumbnails

'Bring On the Birds'                 11x14             pastel               ©Karen Margulis
painting available $165
 I am always looking for better ways to take my medicine. The medicine of Doing My Thumbnails. I know I am not the only one who avoids them even though I know they are good for me. Doing a thumbnail always leads to a better painting. Rather than thinking of them as medicine perhaps I should think of them as vitamins......or even better....thumbnails as chocolate!

OK so thumbnail sketches are not chocolate but I do have several ways to make them more enjoyable. One of them is to keep the process accessible and simple. I have tried many sketchbooks but was thrilled when I stumbled across this little sketchbook by Pentalic.

A great little sketchbook for thumbnails
This is a small sketchbook measuring 4" x 3" which makes it the perfect size for thumbnails. It is also very portable which is wonderful for plein air outings.  The sketchbook is called the Traveler Pocket Journal. It has 160 pages of acid-free 74 lb. recycled paper. It comes in a few cover colors. The best part is the low cost. I found mine at for only $3.26 each! click here for link

Thumbnails really do help and creating them before painting is just a matter of developing a good habit. Anything you can do to make them fun is worth trying. The reward for the effort is a better chance at a successful painting!

Painting note:  I did a value underpainting with a #305 spruce blue Nupastel washed with alcohol on Ersta sanded paper ( I had this paper in my stash and never tried it but I really had no good reason to save it)