Tuesday, April 14, 2015

One of my Favorite Wildflower Painting Techniques

'Freedom'          11x14            pastel        Karen Margulis
painting available $165
Never has watching paint dry been more fun. There is nothing wishy washy about it.  It's bold. It's rich. It is usually quite magical to watch.  When I want to start a painting with a bang this is the underpainitng technique I turn to.....Oil Stain Underpaintings!

'Save the Bees'            8x10            pastel          ©Karen Margulis
It is simple to do. All you need is a few tubes of oil paints, stiff cheap brush and some odorless mineral spirits (OMS). You also need to use a surface that can get wet. I used Uart for today's paintings.  It is called oil stain because you are basically staining the paper with the thinned oil paint. If the paint is applied too thickly it will fill the tooth of the paper and you won't be able to add much pastel.

detail of painting. Notice the drips of the underpainting
Here are a few tips for Oil Stain Underpaintings
  • Use a limited palette of paint colors. You are less likely to mix muddy color with only a few colors. I use red, blue and yellow.
  • Avoid using black or white paint. You want nice thin and transparent color. Adding white will make it opaque and chalky. Black can be dull.
  • Make sure your paint is thinned with the OMS (I use Gamsol)  I like for the paint to be the consistency of tea.  If you can see your brushstrokes in the paint then it is too thick.
  • If the paint is thin enough, the underpainting should dry in under an hour.
  • Begin with the darkest paint. I like to mix red and blue for a nice dark purple.
  • As the paint dries and the OMS evaporates, you will hopefully see interesting weblike drips occur.
  • When the underpainting is dry,  it is time to add pastel. I use a very light touch and build up my layers... very slowly. I will leave areas of the underpainting untouched if I like the way it is working.

several underpaintings done at the same time

I don't often do oil stain underpaintings because there is a bit of clean up involved. When I do, I often do serval underpaintings at once. Not only does this save clean up time....it is always good to practice underpainting techniques. The more you do....the better they will be.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Quick Tip: How to Sign a Pastel Painting

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

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

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

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

A few signing tools: pencil, Nupastels, pastel pencil

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

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

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

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Finish a Painting with Care with this Quick Idea

'Old Friends'                18x24            pastel               ©Karen Margulis
painting available $500
 I am really starting to like this idea. I shared it in a recent post and I am using it more frequently. I plan to use it for every painting. It is a simple idea really. But it solves the common problem of overworking a painting and knowing just when to stop.

I like to stop painting before I think I am done. I paint until I feel like I am almost done. When I am not sure what else I need to do that is the perfect time to stop. Many times if we keep going at this point we are making marks that might not add anything to the painting.


Then what? I usually walk away or do something else and come back to the painting with a fresh eye. Then I can decide what if anything needs to be done to finish the painting. I then WRITE these things down. I use a small dry erase board but post it notes or a sketchbook all work. If I don't write them down I will not only forget what I wanted to do I will often be sidetracked and do more than I NEED to do.....overworking the painting.

Here is an example:

The painting above is almost finished. I liked the colors and the freshness of the marks. I wanted to keep that feeling but on closer observation I saw some issues to address. I wrote them down on my dry erase board below.

On my dry erase board you can see I had written down the concept I had for the painting. This helps me decide if I was successful. I decided that I was and I still liked my working title of 'Old Friends'. Here are the things I decided to address:

  • I wanted more texture in the grass
  • I needed a few spices in the grass and spices in the trees. I wanted to make sure the eye moved around the painting.
  • I needed to break up the solid area in the bottom left section of the trees.
  • I want to put a nice royal blue accent in the trees just because!
When I had a chance to return to the painting I was able to remember what I wanted to do which helped me to do only these things and STOP!  Yes, I really like this idea!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Simplifying a Marsh...Painting Tip

'Into the Marsh'                11x14    pastel          ©Karen Margulis
Painting available here $165
My goal is to keep it simple. I love painting the marsh because it is such a challenge to simplify and I love the challenge.  Marshes are essentially a sea of grass. Miles and miles of grass. It is easy to get lost in rendering every blade of grass. I speak often about leaving a little mystery in a painting.  If I paint every blade of grass where is the mystery?

Here is a tip for painting marsh grasses:  Think of the marsh grasses as big shapes of grass color. Not individual blades.  Keep these shapes big, simple and intact until the very end of the painting. Then a few well chosen blades can be pulled out of the shapes.

my black and white thumbnail

I begin the painting with avery simple value study. I only use four values to define the big simple shapes I see. As I layer the pastel I keep these shapes intact. I may change colors but I keep the values the same as my study for as long as I can.

It is only at the end of the painting process do I add a few blades of grass. I think about the best placement of these pieces of grass. They act like lines. Lines pull our eyes in a certain direction. I want to be sure the lines I create with my grass lead the viewer's eye where I want them to go.

 I paint individual blade of grass in a few ways. One way it to carve them out of a block or big shape of grass. In the photo above I used the color of the water to negatively paint some grass. Paint the color behind the grass to do the carving.

Another way to paint grass is to add them on top of the big shape. I try to make my lines painterly or lyrical. I want them to look natural and not stiff. I allow the thin edge of a pastel to dance and create a lyrical line.

TRY THIS: The challenge at this point is to have restraint. It is all too easy to get carried away. Allow yourself to put in only three pieces of grass at a time. Step back and evaluate. If more is needed, paint only three more before stopping and so on. Stopping to evaluate will hopefully prevent you from overdoing the grass!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Lighten the Load on your Next Workshop or Trip

'Time for Bluebonnets'             8x10          pastel           ©Karen Margulis
purchase here $125
It is almost here. I will be heading for Dripping Springs Texas next week to teach a workshop. I will be hosted by Marsha Young at her wonderful Butterfly Gallery in Dripping Springs. We will have one studio day and two plein air days. Marsha has found some wonderful spots to paint including a B&B and a winery. My fingers are crossed that the weather will cooperate and that we will see some bluebonnets.

Packing for a workshop is part of the fun. I love to pack. To me it is an art form of it's own. I love bags and suitcases and have more than any one person could ever need.  My family calls me a bag lady and I suppose that is true. But there is one thing that I have learned to embrace.....

I don't need to bring every bag on a trip! I need to pack light.

The block in for today's painting

I can enjoy the experience so much more if I don't have to lug around and keep up with multiple bags of stuff. I have downsized the painting supplies I bring and downsized the clothes and other misc. stuff I bring. It feels great!

I'll discuss packing art supplies in another post. Today I'd like to share some of the wonderful packing tips for clothes and other travel necessities that I have found online. I put them all together on a Pinterest board. Visit the board to check out the tips. It isn't too early to start planning to lighten the load on your next trip or workshop!  Click here to visit the Packing Tips board. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Make Corrections to a Pastel with this Simple Tip

'The Way to the Beach'              9x12            pastel               ©Karen Margulis
painting available  $145
It really isn't that hard to do. Pastels are very forgiving. I like that. I can be fearless when I paint because I know I can always change things that aren't working. There are ways to fix the problem areas. A stiff paintbrush does a good job of brushing them out.  Brushing off the pastel isn't usually enough to get all the way back to clean paper but it is often enough to remove enough pastel for corrections. Making the corrections is the hard part. Especially if you don't remember what pastel sticks you used in the painting. You can easily make things worse!

Here is an simple tip for successful corrections: Keep all of the pastels you are using for the painting where you can see them! Don't put them back until you are finished with the painting.

Today's painting reminded me of the usefullness of this tip. I wanted to paint the road that runs in front of the beach house my friends and I rent on Pawleys Island South Carolina. I decided I wanted the telephone poles in the painting. So I put them in.

The first finish. The pole on the right has to go.

When I uploaded the photo and looked at it on my computer monitor (a great way to see problems) I decided I didn't like the big pole on the right. The wire was also in the wrong spot. They needed to go. So back to the easel I went with a stiff paint brush in hand.

The pole on the right is on it's way out!

I brushed out the pole and the wire. I was able to get most of the marks removed. There was a slight ghost image of the pole but I knew I could cover it up. Fortunately I always keep the pastels I am using for a painting out in a tray. This is my working palette. It was very simple to find the pastels I had used for the areas behind the pole. All it took were a few marks with the right pastel and the pole was history. This fix would not have been as easy if I had to hunt for the correct color and value.

Bonus Tip: If you want to remove even more pastel .... down to the original paper try to use some canned air that is used to clean electronics. You can get precision removal with the thin straw that comes with the can!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

A Compact Plein Air Set Up for Pastel

'The Path on the Left'             6x6             plein air pastel           ©Karen Margulis
purchase this painting here $65
 It has to be compact and light. Everything has to fit in my backpack. Over the years I have continuously downsized my plein air set up. I remember the days of dragging a rolling cart filled to the top with painting supplies. Set up took forever. I could never find what I wanted in the cart full of unnecessary stuff.  It was discouraging and plein air wasn't something I enjoyed.

Until I downsized! Now I have several different downsized plein air set-ups. I keep them always ready. The type of painting situation helps me decide which set up to bring.  Today I will share my Compact Travel Light Set Up.

'Blue Ridge Memories'          6x6       $65
Travel Light Kit: Heilman double sketchbook pastel box, Heilman easel attachment,  Oben AT3400 tripod

Everything fits in my Orvis backpack with room to spare. I will always carry this on the plane. I have room for extra travel needs such as my toiletries and iPad mini.  I use an Oben AT3400 tripod which folds up to 16". It will fit in the backpack but sometimes I put it in my checked bag if I want extra room in the backpack.

Heidi checks out my set-up. Here you can see the inside of the Orvis backpack. I love this pack because it sits so well without flopping over. I used it to weigh down my tripod using a mini bungee cord. It also has plenty of outside pockets.

This is all of my gear. I am using a Heilman double sketchbook pastel box. I put the metal ease attachment into a small stuff sack to keep it protected. I have my backing board with bankers clips. This is actually a hard plastic board which will hold paper. It is called an Artworks Book from Easel Butler.  I have a pouch for baby wipes, a zippered pouch for miscellaneous supplies such as tape, watercolor set, alcohol, fixative. I also have 2 black portfolio folders by Itoya. I use these to store my paper and the finished paintings.

Here is the Heilman box open. I have an assortment of Terry Ludwig pastels on the left and Girault pastels on the right. I do vary the selection depending on my location.  I don't preselect my pastels before I start painting since my palette is already limited!

Here is the entire set up. I was asked about the stability of this set up. I did notice some shaking but I am a fairly aggressive plein air painter so I did hold onto the board to steady it some. If I was a kind and gentle painter it wouldn't be as noticeable. It really didn't bother me. I am trading size and weight for complete stability and to me it is well worth it!

Next week I am taking this set up with me to teach a plein air workshop in Dripping Springs Texas. This will be the ultimate test so I will report back with my thoughts.

If you'd like to see this set up in action watch my plein air demo video on YouTube click HERE


Heilman Designs
Easel Butler Artworks Book
Itoya Original Art Portfolios

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

3 Tips for Painting on Canson Paper

'River of Peace'                9x12            pastel               ©Karen Margulis
 It's the paper we love to hate. It is often the paper we use when we first discover pastels. Canson Mi-Teintes paper. It is inexpensive and readily available. We often choose it over sanded paper because of these reasons. It is the 'training' paper of choice. But when we discover sanded paper it is often hard to go back to Canson.

I happen to love Canson Mi-Teintes paper. It wasn't always the case. I struggled with it. It seemed as though my colors weren't as fresh. I filled the tooth too quickly and my paintings quickly turned muddy and dull. I stopped using it and turned to sanded papers.

Curiosity and seeing other wonderful work done on Canson encouraged me to give it another try. This time I was ready for it. I had learned more about pastels and refined my touch. That was the key! Now I understood how to get the effects I wanted. I loved the soft feel to the paper. It is now one of my favorite papers.

Give it another try! Here are 3 tips to get you started:

 1. Choose the correct side.  Canson has a smooth side and a bumpy side. The official correct side is the bumpy side. Most pastelists prefer the other side which is smooth. If you like a regular texture throughout your painting then you want the bumpy side. If you don't want any texture choose the smooth side. TIP: Hold the paper under a light to better see the little dimples of the bumpy side then tape it down right away! (before you forget which side you want)

2. Work with a LIGHT TOUCH. Canson paper does not have much tooth or grabbing power. It is easy to get too much pastel on the paper. When that happens you are finished! The more you try to add the muddier the painting will be.  If you start the painting with a very light touch and whisper your pastel strokes you will be able to build more layers. Let the tone of the paper show through. If you can't see the paper in your beginning layers your touch is heavy. For more layering... whisper don't shout.

The heavily applied pastel looks thick and muddy. The lightly applied pastel looks light and airy.
3. Use Softer pastels. You can certainly use hard pastels such as NuPastels and Rembrandts on Canson but they don't give you the same look as the softer pastels. I have more success with softer pastels such as Terry Ludwig pastels.  Diane Townsend pastels work especially well since the pumice in them opens up the paper.

A light touch with softer pastels on the smooth side of the paper is my recipe for success.

Bonus tip: Try lightly sanding the surface of the paper to rough it up some and provide more tooth.

Here is some information about Canson Mi-Teintes from the Canson website:
Canson® Mi-Teintes® is a pulp-dyed colour paper that has won worldwide recognition for its qualities. An authentic art paper: it is gelatine stock-sized which limits the absorption of pigments in order to show colours at their best.
It has the highest cotton content (more than 50%) on the market, combining mechanical resistance and a sensuous feel. In addition to its qualities as a drawing medium, Canson® Mi-Teintes® complies with the ISO 9706 standard on permanence, a guarantee of excellent conservation.
Furthermore it has the advantage of having a different texture on either side: a honeycombed side characteristic of Canson® Mi-Teintes®; and fine grain on the other.
It boasts the richest range of colours on the market, with 50 light-resistant tones.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Video Demo: A Quick Plein Air Painting of a Spring Flowering Tree

'Spring is in the Air'               5x7               plein air   pastel               ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $50
It was a beautiful Spring day in Atlanta. The perfect opportunity to try out my new plein air set up and shoot this week's video.  I packed my new baby Heilman box (the double sketchbook), my tripod and some paper and my husband and I headed to the river.

Michael volunteered to be the cameraman. That was great for me because I needed to get familiar with my new set-up. We decided to go the a park alongside the Chatahoochee River.  I did a warm up painting and we decided the light would be better if I faced the opposite direction. I really wanted to find some blooming trees so we moved to another spot.

The best spot happened to be right where we parked. There was a wonderful row of blooming redbud trees. Sure they were alongside a busy road. Yes there were houses and 'stuff' behind the trees. But it was a great exercise in simplifying and editing!

That was fun!
I thank you in advance for watching. In Wednesday's blog post I will answer any questions you have about the demo. Ask questions in the comment section.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Spring Studio Event ...Paintings need a home!

'Nesting I'             11x14             pastel             ©Karen Margulis
Purchase here $165
Spring has arrived! I spent a wonderful day painting outside! I tested my new plein air set up and made this week's video. (to be released tomorrow!) It felt so good to be outside in the warmth of the sun.  I also had a productive weekend doing some spring cleaning. I tackled my winter clothes and now I am moving onto the very messy studio. 

I need your help! I have some wonderful paintings that still have not found their homes. I need to make room for new work so I am having a Spring Studio Event! I have a selection of work available at a savings of 20%. Please visit my Etsy shop and the Spring Event section. If you find something you like just use coupon code SPRINGEVENT at checkout. 

These nest paintings and more are included in this event through Sunday April 12th. Visit my Etsy shop to see them all! Click here to visit shop.

Nesting II'          10x12          $145

'Nesting III'         10x12         $145

'Nesting IV'        11x14        $165

'Nesting V'           8x10           $145

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Get in the Studio and Paint!

'Marsh Study'              5x7             pastel              ©Karen Margulis  
It can be a challenge to find time to paint. Maybe you work full time. Maybe you are busy with taking care of family. There are plenty of things that demand our attention and painting can't always be at the top of the list.  But what happens when you do get some illusive free time? It can be hard to get back into the art groove.

I received  a great question from a reader and would like to share my thoughts with you. She asked:

" I was wondering if you could give me any advice for structuring my painting days... The problem is I go days without painting because I work full time but then when I get some days off I have no idea where to begin..."

'Back to New Mexico'             5x7            pastel              ©Karen Margulis    $50

The simple answer is to get into the studio and paint. But it isn't quite so simple. Having free time to paint can almost be paralyzing. So much to do and so little time to do it all!  So what happens? We putter around the studio. We organize. We look through reference materials. We end up wasting a lot of our precious time.  We need to find a way to break this cycle and get back into the painting zone quickly. Here are some things that have helped me:

  • Take time to get organized. If you spend a free day organizing and prepping  you won't have to do these things on your next painting day. When I worked full time I would stock up on precut papers. I would cut paper to smaller sizes and attach a reference photo so when it was time to paint I had several subjects ready to go.
  • On painting days begin the session with a small quick study. I like to do 10 minute studies (like the paintings in this post) They are warm ups and often doing one or two gets my creative juices flowing. I am then ready to settle down and paint something larger or more involved.
  • If you really don't get big blocks of free time make the most of short breaks and paint something small. Again having your supplies set up and ready makes a huge difference. While a big studio is nice, a small spot where you can keep some painting supplies handy is all you really need for small studies.

These are the block-in stages for today's paintings. Big simple shapes!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Five Tips for Painting Commissions

'Meadow Study #3'                5x7               pastel              ©Karen Margulis
painting available click here $50
 It seems as though everyone has a commission nightmare story. Hearing them is enough to keep many artists from doing commissions. I have had some close calls but no real nightmares. Many of them could have been prevented. I have learned through experience. I have truly been enriched by each commission painting I have completed.

Along the way I have developed ground rules for doing a commission. The rules have helped make the process rewarding and positive.

Tip #1   Paint what you love and what you love to paint. I have gotten some strange requests. Some things were not in my comfort zone. Some of them I tried but made it clear to the client that I would try but not promise. Now I only accept commissions for a subject that I LOVE to paint. I do my best work when I am enjoying the subject. (and if the commission falls through I have a paining that I actually enjoy)

'Meadow Study #1'         5x7          $50
TIP #2  Work with clients that give you freedom to use your artist license. My favorite client is someone who tells me they love my work and use my best judgement in interpreting the subject. The freedom to create something without being tied to strict directions makes the commission fun.

'Meadow Study #3'           5x7           $50
TIP #3  Be clear with your expectations and requirements. I don't use a contract or even require an advance payment. I  have never had any problems. Perhaps I have just been lucky. But I only paint what I like and make sure it won't be so specific that I can't find another home for the painting.  If you have a contract or certain requirements make sure everyone understands them before you begin painting.

'Meadow Study #4'           5x7           $50
Tip #4 Take the time to do small studies for larger commissions. It is well worth the time and materials to do a small color study to show the client. This way composition and color can be addressed and everyone can agree. It is easier to make corrections and changes in the study phase than on a large painting.

The four paintings in today's post are small quick studies I did for a potential commission. The client sent me photos of the space where the painting will go. That gave me a better understanding of what might work. She gave me a rough idea of her wants....the four studies now give her a visual aid to help her decide on the details of the larger painting.

Tip #5  Make sure the client gives you the correct painting size. It happens a lot. Especially for larger paintings. A client will tell me the size they need for the space and ask for a painting that size. They don't remember to take into consideration the final size after framing. I know now to ask them if they have a frame size in mind so we can choose the best actual painting size for the space.

Painting commissions has opened up a new world of painting opportunities. I have worked with wonderful people who truly enjoy my work. I love doing commissions as long as they follow my five tips!

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Do You Have a Box of Pastel Goodies?

'Wild Maine'            8x10             pastel           ©Karen Margulis
The painting needed something. It started as an alcohol wash on a piece of the new Pastel Premier paper. Today I tried the white fine grade piece. I wanted to see how the paper would take a wet underpainting. (it did fantastic) After the underpainting was dry I went about building the trees and the meadow. I put in the flowers and the big areas of grass. It was OK but it lacked something.

But what did it need? To answer my question I went back to my concept. My WHY. Why did I choose this subject to paint? What was it that I liked? It was the tangle of stuff. I loved how the purple flowers and grasses were intertwined. I loved the seemingly random sprinkle of white flowers. How could I get this effect?

I needed my box of goodies!

 I have a box of random Schminke pastels. I love them but they are almost too soft for me sometimes. So I save them for a special occasion. Like today. My painting needed something. It needed some bold and vibrant marks. The super soft and rich Schminkes would be perfect for these finishing touches. I love my box of goodies!

Note: Whenever I get the chance to see Schminkes in person I always choose a few colors. I look for colors that would make good accents, highlights or spices. I keep them in a separate box since I am so rough on my pastels. I don't want to crush these soft pastels!