Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pastel Demo ....Seven Steps to a Marsh

'Into the Marsh'              15x21         pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase $150
The challenge of Green!  How to make a very green landscape interesting? If we stick with only the local colors of green it can be overwhelming. Green needs relief. The day I learned Richard McKinley's 'Secret of Green' was an eye opener.  My green landscapes would never be the same!  One of the ways I like to add interest and relief to my green masses is through the underpainting or block-in stage. 

Today I'd like to share the seven step marsh demo that I did with my Tuesday Pastel class. Enjoy!

STEP 1:  I do a simple line drawing with charcoal to indicate my horizon line and a few big simple shapes.  I then block in each shape with a warm color. I chose red (the compliment of green) I used four values of red choosing a different value for each shape depending on it's location in the landscape. I rub in this first block in layer with a piece of pipe insulation. I am using gray Canson Mi-Teintes Touch paper.

STEP 2:  Next I take out my softer pastels and reinforce all of the dark areas. I use three different colors that are all the same value and layer them. This creates a more interesting dark area. Notice how I expand my darks so that they are connected and Not spotty.

STEP 3: I add some cooler greens to the distant treeline to establish the tops of the trees. Now I can put in the sky. I use about 4 colors that are close in value and layer them until they blend to create a luminous sky. I chose pale peaches, pinks and yellows for my sky. I then add these same colors to the water using horizontal strokes.

STEP 4: I finish the distant trees adding some skyholes. Now it is time to work on the grasses. Before starting on the greens I decide to put down some more reds and salmon pinks. I consider this the 'dirt' and it will help make the greens more interesting.

STEP 5: Starting at the back I put down the green grasses being careful to vary the colors and vary my strokes to help create the illusion of depth.

 STEP 6:  I decide to add a few small houses in the distance. These are made with very simple one stroke marks.

STEP 7: The final step is to complete the grass. I spray the foreground with rubbing alcohol to fix the darks before adding big strokes for the grass. The final touches are a few thinner blades of grass in a few key spots. Every mark has a purpose at this finishing stage.

close up detail of the buildings

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reflections on Plein Air Painting

'On Top of the World'            11x14       plein air pastel         ©Karen Margulis
painting available for purchase $165
It isn't always easy. There is the hauling and set up of equipment. The challenge of dealing with the ever changing weather and light. Then there are the bugs....sometimes lots of those.  Perhaps that is what makes painting on location so valuable. Because it isn't always easy and because all five senses are involved.

Every time I return from a plein air outing I am reminded of how valuable it was.  I may not have liked the paintings I did while on location but I know they were done with passion and joy. When I get them back in the studio I am always surprised at how much emotion I have managed to capture. Looking at them reminds me of the moment they were painted....the wind, the sun, and even the bugs. These things cannot be produced from copying a photo. When painting on location I am never more alive. That can't help but get transferred to my paintings.

"Everything that is painted directly and on the spot has always a strength, a power, a vivacity of touch which one cannot recover in the studio... three strokes of a brush in front of nature are worth more than two days of work at the easel." (Eugene Boudin)

'Over the Ridge'          8x10        pastel  $145
Painting outside is not for everyone. If you don't enjoy it or can't for whatever reason do the next best thing. Go outside with a sketchbook or maybe just yourself. Take time to paint what you see in your mind's eye. What colors do you see? What are you feeling? If you had paint what would you do? Just go outside and experience the things you love to paint without a camera. Live it and it will show in your work!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Three Reasons to Try a Plein Air Paint-Out

'September Meadow'               6x6         plein air   pastel   ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting here  $50 
I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend. I came home relaxed, renewed and inspired. I participated in a plein air painting event in Blue Ridge Georgia this weekend. The was my 4th year participating and it was the largest turnout of artists yet. There were 45 artists participating and over 70 paintings turned in for the exhibition and awards.  We painted in beautiful locations from Thursday to Sunday and turned in our framed paintings on Sunday afternoon. Participating in the paint out was a wonderful experience and I highly recommend it to artists of all levels. Here is why:

1. Relaxation: Yes I go to a paint-out to relax! It is an opportunity for me to get outside to paint. I find painting to be the most relaxing activity so to combine it with the Great Outdoors is the perfect combination. I am not stressed or concerned with the competition aspect of a paint-out. I like the excuse to be able to paint all weekend with nothing else on the to-do list.

2. Renewal: A plein air event is the perfect opportunity to meet up with like-minded people....other artists who love to paint. We are fortunate that we have a great network of artists in our area. No matter what the medium or level of experience, everyone is welcome. I have met some wonderful friends and spending time painting with them and catching up is a welcome change from the solitary time spent in the studio.

3. Inspiration: I come away from a plein air event inspired. How can you not be inspired by seeing 70 paintings created in the space of 3 days!  Oil, watercolor, pastel and acrylic....so many different approaches and interpretations. It is so much fun to see.  I also leave a plein air event with a heightened sensitivity....I notice more than usual. I have fine tuned my eye from having painted for 3 days outside....and that experience will continue to help my work!

The 3 paintings I turned in for the exhibition

Painting Notes:  The painting in today's post was one of the plein air pieces that I did. It is 6x6  pastel on Somerset paper with clear gesso.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How a Pair of Scissors Can Improve a Painting

'Under the Summer Sun I'         6x6          pastel           ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting on Etsy $50
It was time for the scissors.  I got carried away with the bits and pieces in my painting. I had forgotten about the whole thing....the big picture. How do those bits fit in? Did the whole painting work or had I gotten too busy?  I sure was having fun but I wasn't satisfied with the results.

I left the painting on the easel. Maybe the answer would come in the morning. 

The 12x18 painting before the scissors 

I came down to the studio the next morning and was dismayed to see that the studio fairies had not paid a visit. The painting sat on the easel untouched. It still bothered me.  It was too fussy. I could brush it out and rework it.  Sometimes it is a matter of taking things away rather than adding pastel and more 'stuff'  that solves a problem. Brushing out would certainly simplify the painting.

The problem was I liked all the bits and pieces. I just didn't like them all together! If I brushed them out I would lose the things I really enjoyed. It was time for the scissors.

'Dancing with the Sun I'        6x6
I rarely resort to the scissors. But sometimes a painting is just too much for itself and it needs to be divided. My sunflowers needed trimming.  The painting was 12x18 so it would be easy to cut it into 6x6 and 4x4 squares.  It worked out perfectly. Each square was interesting to me.  I used a ruler and sharp pencil to mark and cut my squares. A sharp pair of scissors and a steady hand and I had 7 paintings instead of one!

Tip: If you decide your painting is a candidate for cropping be sure you don't just make equal divisions. I like to use mats in different sizes to visualize the crops. It just so happened that I was able to make equal divisions for the sunflowers. It doesn't always work that way! Mats help you decide on the best parts of the painting.

'Sunny Patch I'    4x4

'Dancing with the Sun II'          6x6

'Under the Summer Sun II'         6x6
All of the sunflower squares are available in my Etsy shop. Visit my shop here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why Painting is like Planning a Good Party....part 2

'A Bright Spot in my Day'                16x20             pastel            ©Karen Margulis
purchase this painting here $195

 A memorable party has a lot to do with the chemistry of the invited guests. A good mix or balance of personalities can make or break the party. Too many high energy people ....and the neighbors may complain. Too many quiet people can be a bore.

Paintings are like that. Think about color. Too much bright, intense, loud, pure color can lead to a painting that doesn't hold the viewer's attention for long. I love the  quote  is "All color is No color". If everything is screaming for attention, where do we look?  On the other hand too much dull, neutral or grayed down color can be beautiful but could also be uninteresting without a little spice.

In my post yesterday I introduced Mr. Red and Ms. Gray.....they represent pure color and grayed color or neutrals.  A painting benefits from having both quiet areas and spicy areas. Just as a party benefits from high energy 'Life of the Party' (Mr. Reds) people and quiet but interesting people.(Ms. Gray)

Underpainting with pastel and water
I try to have a balance of both in my paintings.  Not an equal amount but a balance. If I have a painting with a majority of intense pure color I want to be sure to have a smaller amount of dull or neutral colors to balance and set off the intensity of the pure colors. If  I have a quiet painting with a lot of grayed down colors I try to incorporate a smaller amount of brighter intense color for spice.

detail showing intense color next to quiet color
Today's painting has a lot of bright color....fuschias, purples, bright greens. I tried to balance this with the addition of some grayed colors such as the dull purples and muted greens. Yesterday's painting of the red rocks was overly dull and boring. See it here. I had too much grayed or neutral colors and no spice. In my redo I changed the shapes of the mountains and added some more intense color to the sunlit mountains and sand.

Painting notes: I did a water wash on 16x20 Pastelmat using bright colored Nupastels.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Why Painting is Like Planning a Good Party....part one

'Red Rocks Rediscovered'             8x10              pastel             ©Karen Margulis
click here for purchase $100

A lot of thought goes into planning a good party. Where to have it, what to serve and most importantly, who to invite!  A painting is like that too. Lots of thought is needed for a successful outcome. Sure we can wing it....but having certain things under control makes it more enjoyable....both a party and a painting! 

When planning a painting I begin with the design. How will I compose my scene? What are my big shapes and how will I arrange them. Next I concentrate on the values of each shape. What is dark? Light? Medium?  And finally I worry about color. That is where the party planning really starts.

What colors should I invite to my Party?

the original plein air painting done at the first Plein Air Convention
 I will tell you my answer in tomorrow's post. But here is a clue and something to think about. Tomorrow I will introduce you to my friends...Mr. Red and Ms. Gray.  Have a look at the paintings on this page. The original was a plein air painting that had issues. Try to guess what the issues were and see how I tried to resolve them in the painting at the top of the page.  Be sure to visit my blog tomorrow for my answer!

Meet my two friend Mr. Red and Ms Gray!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Taking Liberties with a Reference Photo

'Stormy Sunset'             12x18            pastel                ©Karen Margulis
 I am getting close. In fact I probably would do away with reference photos all together if I didn't enjoy taking the photos so much. I would love to take the jump away from using photos for my paintings. I have done a few paintings from my imagination but one of the things I would like to work on is painting from my imagination.

For now I do work a lot from my photos. But I take liberties with them. They serve to jumpstart my imagination and often once I get the painting started I find I am not even looking at the photo. It already did it's job. Now my imagination takes over.

close up detail
Take the photo for today's painting. It is a very poor quality photo. I love the scene....the moment I captured. But the photo has exposure problems. The sky is washed out and the foreground is way too dark. On top of that my printer was running out of ink causing the foreground to be a series of gray lines!  If I was trying to copy this photo I would be in trouble!

My reference photo
But I don't copy photos. I interpret them.

 I remember the evening I tool the photo. I was in Cape May NJ with friends. We were in a restaurant enjoying a good meal. It was cloudy when we went in and soon the winds picked up. A big storm came on quickly. Everything was blowing and the wind was howling. A crack of lightning was followed by the lights going out in the restaurant. It was some storm! We finished by candlelight. After the meal we head out to the car. We were greeted by a glorious and unforgettable sight.....A fiery sunset over the bay. It was completely unexpected and exceptionally beautiful. That was over 10 years ago. before I started painting.  But the memory of that evening is still vivid and that memory helped me interpret my bad photo!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Getting Past the Ugly Stage in a Painting....pastel demo

'Hidden Beauty'            9x12           pastel             ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting on Etsy $150

It is a common affliction. Most paintings go through it. It tests the mettle of the artist. Many paintings get detoured to the trash bin and never see their full potential. It's commonly called The Ugly Stage. It can come on quickly. A painting is started and looks promising. It has some good things happening. All of the sudden it takes a turn for the worse. The composition may have changed. The colors may not look right. It looks downright scary. The Ugly Stage.

It is tempting to just give up and send the ugly thing to the trash. But it is important to realize that this is just a stage in the painting. It isn't resolved. It would be nice if a painting looked wonderful at every stage of it's development and I suppose it happens for some. But for me I have to power through the uglies and THINK!

When a painting reaches the uglies....I have to think about what it needs. Values, drawing, composition, color? What can I do to resolve any of these issues?  I don't like to give up. I learn from working hard at resolving an ugly painting!

Today's poppy painting went through an ugly stage. I was ready to throw it in my pile. The problem was the paper/pastel combination. Read on to see how I solved the problem and uncovered the painting's potential.

my reference photo

I decided to use a piece of Richeson sanded paper that I had in a sample pack. It was white so I thought a watercolor underpainting would be perfect for the red poppies. I liked my underpainting and I was excited to start with my pastels.

I knew I wanted bright bold colors so I took out my set of Diane Townsend Pure Color set. I love this set! I started by blocking in the dark reds in the flowers. Immediately I realize that the Richeson paper is very toothy. It was eating up my pastels. With dismay I watched the piles of dust fall into my tray but I kept going.

Next I added some dark greens for the shadowed area of the grasses and foliage. I was not liking the coverage of the pastels. I couldn't get good coverage because of the roughness of the paper. But I didn't want to press any harder. Hmmmm My painting was officially UGLY. I didn't like it at all and I was frustrated with the rough paper.  Trash it or power through? What could I do? My problem was the paper so what could I do to solve it?   I remembered that I had purchased a set of Richeson soft pastels at one of the IAPS conventions. Maybe they would work better on the Richeson paper? I pulled them out.

 The Richeson soft pastels are on the left and the Diane Townsend pastels are on the right

moving past ugly and ready for details
That was the answer!  The Richeson soft pastels are large and feel creamy. They went into the crevices of the paper with ease. Now I was getting the coverage I needed. I was enjoying the painting and the paper!  I always remind my students that they should not ever hate a paper or pastel....it is just a matter of finding the right combination. I found the right combination for this painting and it helped me move past the dreaded Ugly Stage!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Why Bother with a Wet Underpainting?

'Hope Springs Eternal'               9x12           pastel           ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting on Etsy $150
I love getting questions. Especially when I am doing a demo. It keeps me on my game and makes me think.  I have a student who throws me for a loop every class. And I learn something every time too. This week she wanted to learn how to paint water. So I planned to show her a wet underpainting with pastel and water. A simple but effective way to paint water and reflections.

We discussed the design of the painting and I choose the colors I would use in the underpainting. I drew my shapes and put down the first layer of pastels.  I took out my brush and water and proceeded to demonstrate how I use the water to liquify the pastel.  Before I got very far into my explanation she exclaimed "Why would you even bother with the water?"  Good question.

pastel underpainitng that has been wet with a brush and water

There are so many other ways to start a painting which don't involve the extra time and supplies of a wet underpainitng. Why would we bother doing a wet underpainting?  Why not block in the first layer and just keep going?  I gave my student the  usual responses... wet underpaintings create something interesting to respond to, happy accidents, loosens us up, prevents us from copying our reference.....but then another reason for wetting the pastel occurred to me.

Using a paintbrush!  That's right. Using the paintbrush to wet the pastel and turn it into paint is the best thing about wet underpaintings for me.  I think of the wet pastel as liquid paint (which it is at this stage) and use the brush to actually paint ... not just to wet down the pastel. I think of my brush strokes and how they could be use to describe my subject. I take time and take care with the underpainting. I enjoy it. I get to know my subject better. It prepares me for the next step of adding pastel.

If I have done a good job with the brush and water then adding the pastel is like icing the cake! 

Painting notes: this painting is 9x12 on white Pastelmat with my usual assortment of Terry Ludwig pastels.

Friday, September 05, 2014

A Great Resource for Painting Titles

'No Question of Whiteness'           6x6        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
Some love it and some loathe it. Giving a painting a title can be a challenge that I really enjoy. I admit some of my daily paintings get the lazy title approach. You know, the generic....'Green Meadow in Morning' kind of title. Some days I just don't have it in me or have the time to reflect and find the perfect title for my daily paintings.  But when I do have time I relish finding just the right title to suit the painting.

One of my favorite resources in just a click away. Our friend Google!  That's right I simply turn to Google to help me find a title. My favorite thing to search for is POETRY.  I like to find poems about my painting subject. I read through the entries until a line of poetry speaks to me. Just a snippet.... a few words that express what I am trying to say in my painting. I love to find just the right word or words to sum up my picture.

Today's painting is Queen Anne's Lace  which is done on black paper with only black,white and gray pastels.  I did a google search for 'Queen Anne's Lace Poem'.  The first entry was to the website for the Poetry Foundation and a poem called 'Queen-Anne's Lace by William Carlos Williams. Perfect!
I found just the words for my black and white painting. Here is the entire poem for your enjoyment:

Queen-Anne’s Lace

Her body is not so white as
anemony petals nor so smooth—nor
so remote a thing. It is a field
of the wild carrot taking
the field by force; the grass
does not raise above it.
Here is no question of whiteness,
white as can be, with a purple mole
at the center of each flower.
Each flower is a hand’s span
of her whiteness. Wherever
his hand has lain there is
a tiny purple blemish. Each part
is a blossom under his touch
to which the fibres of her being
stem one by one, each to its end,
until the whole field is a
white desire, empty, a single stem,
a cluster, flower by flower,
a pious wish to whiteness gone over—
or nothing.
William Carlos Williams, “Queen-Anne’s Lace” from The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams, Volume I, 1909-1939, edited by Christopher MacGowan. Copyright 1938, 1944, 1945 by William Carlos Williams. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: The Collected Poems: Volume I 1909-1939 (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1938)

Thursday, September 04, 2014

A Foolproof Way to Make Changes to a Pastel without Making Mud

'Sunrise Through the Pines'        10x14           pastel        ©Karen Margulis
painting available on Etsy $150
It is the quickest way to make mud. Making changes and corrections to a pastel painting has to be done with care. Sure it is easiest enough to go over an offending area or brush out and repaint. But the more we go back and add and change and add some more the more we risk destroying the freshness of our colors and marks. We can end up filling the tooth of the paper or mixing too many colors together. The results can be frustrating.

The problem occurs because we often try new solutions on top of existing passages of our painting. We are just testing.....but all this testing adds up to too much pastel.

What if we THINK we want to make a change but we aren't sure how it will look? We don't want to overwork and make mud either.  I have a solution! Make a test paper!

 I came up with this idea when I was asked if I would add more of the golden color grass in my Sunrise painting.  I usually don't mind making changes or honoring special requests if the painting is a commission but in this case I wasn't sure if the lighter grasses would make sense in the painting. I was afraid it would spoil the mysterious feeling of the sunrise peeking through the trees.

But what if I wasn't sure and wanted to see for myself without touching the painting? A test strip is the answer. Watch how it works below:

  • You need to have a scrap piece of paper that is the same type and color as your painting. Cut the trial paper to fit over the area you want to change.

close up view of the test paper placed over the section I might change

  •  Now make your changes on the test paper. Try to match the colors you want to keep as I did on the bottom edge. I then added more of the golden grasses all around the trees.

  •  Now you can look at the painting and see the changes in the context of the whole scene. The changes are easy to see and judge how they effect the whole scene. I decide that my initial thought about the lighter grasses was correct. They are too light and bright for this shadowed section of the scene. It looks incongruous.

  • I remove the test paper to reveal the original painting. If I had tested the light grasses on top of this dark foreground....then decided it didn't work and try to change it back I would surely have made mud and ruined the freshness of my marks!
painting notes: this painting is on Canson Mi-Teintes paper with my usual variety of Terry Ludwig pastels.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Why I Tried a Black and White Underpainting

'Buttercup Road'                 16x20           pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase on Etsy $250

'Wind Over the Dunes'           16x20         pastel          $225
A black and white underpainting was an unexpected delight.  I didn't plan it that way. It began with a class on values and painting with black and white pastels. I decided that one of the best ways for my classes to learn about color was to take color out of the painting equation and focus on design and value.
You may have heard the quotes about values....my two favorites are:

"Value does the work but Color gets the Glory"
"Value gives the form and Color provides the emotion"

If we can just get the values right then we can use any color and the picture will look correct. Easy enough?  Not always. Just what does it mean to "get the right value" ?  First we need to be able to see the values in our subject. Next we need to block in our paintings with a strong value map. See the correct value and put them in the right place taking care not to be too spotty. (more on this idea in another post)

my thumbnails showing a spotty block in at top
and a stronger value study at the bottom
During the class I demonstrated this idea of a value map and then did a 16x20 demo using only black, white and gray pastels. The important thing was to get the right values first and then add the details. This is a lot harder than it would seem. Remove color and it's like taking away our frosting (you know how you put frosting on a crooked cake to make it look better?) 

After the class worked on their black and white paintings I decided to demonstrate how I could use the black and white painting as a value map and add some frosting (color)  I sprayed it first with workable fixative so the black pastel wouldn't contaminate the color. Using the value map helped me choose the correct value of color to add to the painting. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It ended up as a double lesson for me and my classes!  Give it a try!

the black and white 16x20 demo on white printmaking paper