Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Closer Look at a Great New Paper

'Under the Summer Sun'       12 x 9      pastel  on Uart Dark 800      ©Karen Margulis
available $165
The first thing I did with the new paper was to paint on it. I wanted simply to respond to it without overthinking.  Next I put it to my paper test. I was more deliberate and analytical. I tested how the paper responds to harder pastels vs. softer pastels. I also did a layer test. I wanted to find out how many layers the paper would take. Finally I painted the same thing using the same pastel palette on each of the 4 grades of paper. I've been playing with the new Uart dark sanded pastel paper this week and having a great time!  Below are my results.

All 4 test paintings together in a canva.com collage

My test strip. Click to enlarge for detail
  • How dark is it?  The paper is called Uart Dark and the level of darkness varies according to the grade of the paper. The two lower grades (rougher) 400 and 500 are the darkest.They are considered black. The 600 grade is slighter lighter and is called dark charcoal. The finest grade 800 is called charcoal and is slightly lighter. The higher the grade, the smaller the pigments are. I find the variation in darkness to be so slight and subtle that it made no difference at all in my paintings. 
  • How do pastels perform on Uart dark? The good news is that both hard and softer pastels perform EXACTLY THE SAME on the dark paper as they do on regular Uart sand color paper. Pastels go on easily and layer well.  There is no struggle to get pigment from even the hardest pastels. You get the benefit of the consistency of the Uart you love with the new dark color.  I truly forgot I was working on black because the paper felt so familiar to me. 
  • How many layers does Uart Dark take?  I put each grade to the layer test. I used my box of 30 Terry Ludwig yellows and started layering. I used my usual light touch. I got to 26 layers without a problem. I layered dark over light and light over dark. I was able to build layers without the pastel completely filling the tooth of the paper and getting slippery. I could have added more layers but more than likely we don't really need to use more than 26 layers! A painting would probably loose freshness. It's good to know that the paper can take it though!
  • What is the difference in the various grades? Besides the subtleness in the darkness of the grade there is also a difference in the amount of grit or roughness. Think of how regular sandpaper is graded from smooth to rough. I found that I didn't paint differently on the various grades and my results are similar. Click on the photos below to enlarge. The smoother paper does allow one to get finer detail. The rougher paper allows for more suggested texture. I like all grades and again found them to be the same as regular Uart sand color paper.

Final thoughts: I love the new dark paper. I will still use the sand color Uart and choose my paper color depending on the subject. I love having choices and having a dependable and consistent paper to choose from!  NEXT UP: testing wet underpaintings on Uart dark.

Today's Painting Notes: The painting at the top of the post was done on Uart dark 800. I chose to blend the sky to eliminate the bits of black peeking through. I wanted a calm sky to contrast with my busy weeds!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Two Important Reasons to Try Dark Paper.... A First Look at Uart Dark

'Daisies'         4x6       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
 Keep those great questions coming! The next few days will be devoted to my tests on the new Uart Dark sanded paper. Your questions are helping me put the paper to the test!  Before we explore dark paper any further let's address the question of why would we want to work on dark paper in the first place!  There are many reasons artists like black or dark toned paper but my favorite reasons are VIBRANCY and CONTRAST.

My pastel palette on a black cloth. Look at how vibrant they look!

  •  VIBRANCY. Look at how bright and intense the pastels in the above photo appear on a black surface. This same level of vibrancy can be achieved on a black or dark surface. Pastels glow and come to life on a dark surface. Because the paper is black or dark....the lights and brights appear even lighter and brighter than they would on a lighter surface. (simultaneous contrast at work) 
  • TIP: When choosing a subject to paint on black choose something that will exploit the ability of the dark paper to make light and bright colors pop. Subjects such as flowers are wonderful candidates for black paper. 

New paper leads to new explorations! Uart Dark comes in
four grades: 400, 500, 600, 800
available at Dakota Art Pastels

  • CONTRAST: Black or dark paper can lead to stronger paintings. The dark tone provides the glue that holds everything together. It provides the much needed contrast with the middle and light values. If handled well the back paper can help unify shapes and prevent spottiness. I like to block in a painting with simple shapes of 2-4 values. These big areas of light and dark form the foundation for the detail and colors to follow. Working on a dark paper ensures that my darks are strong enough. (often we are afraid of pushing the darks too far and we end up with disjointed and weak paintings)
  • TIP: The Uart dark paper is dark but there are some pastels, notably the Terry Ludwig eggplant which is actually darker than the paper. I like to use these 'super darks' with restraint as accents. This makes the dark paper a perfect overall dark allowing my accents to pop!

The photos below show the progression of today's painting. I have repeated the same painting with the same pastels on each grade of Uart Dark. I will share the results in tomorrow's post.

Blocking in the darks and starting some mid value green

Adding the bright yellow centers and the darkest accents.
See how they pop on the black paper!

Adding the lights using a pale blues

Painting a simple background of greens allowing the paper tone to peek through

Adding some warmer lights on the petals and a few details.

Finished painting on Uart Dark 500
As an experiment I painted the same daisies using the same pastel palette on regular sand color Uart. Can you see a difference? Did the black paper change the look of the painting? 

Painting on regular Uart 500 sand color

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Choosing Paper Color for a Painting

'Windy Reverie'          6x8          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $100
I love new supplies! I am having fun working on the new Uart Dark sanded paper. I am working on a comprehensive review and I will share my experiments here this week. Today's painting of Queen Anne's lace was done on a piece of Uart dark 500 grade which is a black sanded surface. Paper color does make a difference!

I pulled this post from the archives on paper choice. I'll be back tomorrow with more on Uart dark!

'Good Morning Marsh'            11x14          pastel        ©Karen Margulis

It begins with a piece of paper. That is one of the first things I decide on before I start a painting. Will I use paper or a board?  Will I choose sanded or unsanded?  Will I be doing an underpainting or toning the surface?  My choice will effect the outcome of the painting.

I often hear students tell me they just choose the next piece of paper on the pile. Or Use up whatever scraps they have. Or use the cheapest paper because they aren't good enough for the good stuff (that's for another discussion!)

If you don't put thought into your paper choice you are doing your painting a disservice.  Paper choice can make or break a painting.  One of the biggest things to consider is the color of the paper.

Many brands of pastel papers comes in colors. I usually play it safe and choose the warm middle value colors. These warm grays seem to work well with most subjects and I don't mind having the color peek through the finished painting.

This is important!  The color of the paper will end up peeking through your layers of pastel unless you apply pastel very dense and thick.  So you want to be sure the color you choose will work with the colors in your subject.  These little bits of color can enhance your subject or help create a certain mood.

The color of the paper will also effect your judgement of values so this is something to be aware of when you choose a paper color.

So the question is What color paper should you use? Here are three pairings done with the same pastels but in different paper colors. Observe the subtle changes each color gives the painting.

(from top to bottom) Burgundy Canson, Brown Canson, blue gray Canson

There is no rule or 'right' paper color to use. It depends on the mood you want to create. The more you experiment and try different colors the easier it will become to make more intuitive color choices.

*TIP*  If you aren't sure what color will work best with your subject, take some time to do some quick color studies on the paper choices to compare and contrast. These little 4x4 paintings helped me decide which color I like best for the bigger painting.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

I Need Your Questions About Uart Dark!

'Light in the Forest'         6x8        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $95
You all have the best questions! I'd love for you to chime in and ask questions about a new product. I just got some of the new Uart Dark and I have been playing with it. I am working on  putting it to the test and writing a review. I would love to know what questions you have about this new sanded surface.  

In case you haven't heard, Uart has a new sanded paper called Uart Dark. It comes in four grades 400,500, 600 and 800. The lower grades 400 and 500 are darkest and are called black. The 600 and 800 are slightly lighter and are called dark charcoal and charcoal. 

If you have questions about this new dark paper let me know either in the comments or by sending an email to karenmargulis@gmail.com  I will answer in my blog. Your questions will also help me with my video review. Thank you in advance.  

Below is a quick 6x8 study done on Uart 500 Black.

Drawing the big shapes with a Nupastel

Blocking in the dark trees

Blocking in the big sections of aspen foliage....dark and dull to begin

Adding the light tree trunks....they really pop on the black paper!

Putting in the sky

Adding more color to the tree trunks and adding more color to the foliage

Refining the foreground

Asking brighter yellows to the foliage and adding some detail
Also adding a brighter blue to the sky.


Friday, September 15, 2017

A Day in the Studio

'Pink Poppy Profusion'        8x8       ©Karen Margulis
available $145
It is great to get back to normal. But what exactly is a normal day in the life of a full time artist?  Join me as I share my day. (which didn't really turn out to be so typical) I was excited to get down into the studio today. I had two commissions to work on so I wanted to get to work early. I was off to a good start. After answering emails it was time to clean up my trays of working pastels. Every week I clean and put away these pastels so I can start with a fresh palette. I was just getting into the groove when BAM...the power goes out. No rain, no wind. It is a beautiful day. When a few minutes went by with no power I looked on my phone to discover that my entire neighborhood was with our power.

Plan B.....I get changed and head to the thrift store for a little mindless treasure hunting. There was no sense hanging out in the dark waiting for power. After a couple of hours I check and see the power is back on so I head home for lunch. I get back to work.

choosing my palette in advance
My commission was to paint some pink poppies. I had several references from a meadow filled with beautiful pink ruffled poppies. I select one and paint my commission. When I was finished I was reluctant to put the pastels away. I loved the colors! So I decide to paint another variation of the poppies. This is something I do often. If I like the subject I take the reference and try to interpret it in another way. 

using a piece of demo paper Uart 400...photo reference of a past painting

I spot the piece of Uart that I used yesterday to demonstrate the wet paper and pastel technique. I am not one to waste a perfectly usable piece of paper so I decide to use it for my poppies. It is 8x8 so it would be a fun challenge to make an interesting square composition.

Since there was a blob of thick green pastel in the middle of the paper, I had to decide how to start the painting.  I choose to draw my poppy shapes around the blob and block them in with the darkest pinks from my tray. This was just playtime. I had no real plan and that is OK sometimes. I decided to just let go and feel my way around the painting. I work back and forth between the flowers and the background until I feel it is finished.

feeling my way through the painting....blocking in big shapes
I finish the painting around 4:30 in the afternoon.  I take the final photo and download the photos onto my computer. The next thing that I usually do is take a snack break and work on my blog post. I crop the photos and add them to a new post. And that is where you find me at 6:19 pm...putting the finishing touches on my blog post before heading upstairs to begin my evening.

Hmmm, I wonder what tomorrow will bring!?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Is Wetter Better? Try This Fun Technique with Pastels

'Hidden in the Meadow'        14x11         ©Karen Margulis
available $165
I never thought to keep it wet. But it was so much fun! It was really one of those happy accidents. I was reimagining a painting today and my impatience got the best of me. It was a good thing this time! I discovered a very interesting way to work with my pastels.

Pastels are just paint in a dry form.

It is good to be reminded that pastels are really just sticks of pure pigment that have been mixed with a binder and water and shaped and dried. We are actually painting with real paint. So when we get pastels wet they return to their liquid state. Think of wet underpaintings. We wet the pastel with water or alcohol and we get a wet and drippy paint to push around. I love wet underpaintings. But today I was impatient for my underpainting to dry.....

The unfinished painting on Multimedia Artboard
I had pulled this old poppy painting from the pile of unfinished painting. I  started it a few years ago at IAPS in the Bill Creevy workshop. It was on Multimedia Artboard. This is a surface that can take a lot  of abuse and is endlessly reworkable. I decided to spray the painting with water and alcohol mix to get a wet underpainting. The colors started to drip and mix and mingle. I took a brush and pushed this paint around. I needed to wait to let the underpainting dry before continuing.

But I couldn't wait! It was taking long to dry. Probably because the pastel was too thick. So I didn't wait. I just picked up a green pastel and started to paint. And a wonderful thing happened.....

Nice and thick!
As soon as I applied the pastel stick to the wet paper it was like magic. It felt like I was painting with butter on a hot pan. The pastel melted and became like liquid paint. But it was liquid paint that I could control. I didn't stop. I picked up another green pastel and kept painting on the wet surface. This technique lent itself to my subject of tangled stems and grasses. I kept spraying and painting and building up the texture. The Multimedia Artboard was perfect for this technique as it didn't warp or curl.

The interesting thing was that the pastels on wet paper didn't seem to be used up any faster than when used dry. I think I will continue to explore this further!

Want to paint more expressive poppies? Give my step by step PDF demo a try for only $6. Available in my Etsy shop. Click here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

What To Paint When You Have Been Away From the Easel

'Late Summer Breeze'           9x12         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $165
It's been a week. I have had my Florida family here and I haven't had a chance to get down in the studio until today. I spent the morning puttering around and putting the studio back in order from the minor water we had. Then it was time to paint. But what to paint?

Many of us have had a dry spell or a period of time when life happens and we don't have time to paint. When we finally do have time and get in from of the easel it is sometimes difficult to get started. I was excited for the chance to paint but I wasn't particularly inspired by anything. It was time to fall back on my three tried and true bits of advice.

1."Don't wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working."
If you aren't feeling inspired and everything seems blah....just paint. Pick something and get to work. Put pastel to paper. Putter around if you must but make sure you don't walk out of the studio without picking up a pastel and making some marks.  Once the mark is made more marks will follow and often the act of painting unlocks the block and allows inspiration to follow.

2. Return to your happy place.  When choosing a subject to paint after a dry spell I try to choose something that I am familiar with. The subject that I am most passionate about is wildflowers...the weedier the better. I love getting lost in the tangle of blooms and grasses. It is relaxing. It is soothing. It isn't stressful. It allows me to ease into the act of painting without having to think too hard. If you pick a subject that you are familiar with it can allow you to get to work without too much preparation. The trick is to just get started!

3. REIMAGINE an older painting. It is always easier to break a dry spell with a painting that needs to be wiped off and reworked. That way the paper is no longer precious. There is no fear of 'messing up' because you are reusing the paper!

For today's painting I took out the last unfinished me form last weeks plein air workshop. I was demonstrating ideas for more effective clouds and skies. Since it was done on a nice piece of Wallis I didn't want to waste it. I brushed it out and reimagined it into another scene from the beach in Kilmore Quay Ireland.

Cloud demo brushed out and ready to reimagine

A little spray of rubbing alcohol to set the pastel

Adding the dark shapes of the flowers

Blocking in the flower colors....big simple shapes

The finished painting  with a little bee to add the final touch

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Best Solution Ever For Traveling with Pastels

'Memories of France'            5x7            pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available $45
It has been quite a week. My Florida family left this morning for home only to turn around when it took 3 hours to go 60 miles. Talk of traffic and no gas and no power at home made a difficult decision easier. Here in Atlanta we did feel the effects of the tropical storm Irma but fortunately I had only a small leak in my basement studio.

While cleaning up the studio I came across some paintings done on my trip to France a couple of years ago. I have not shared them so I thought it would be a good time to share them and my solution for keeping my pastel papers and paintings safe while traveling.

One of the most important things to consider when traveling with pastels is how to carry and store your paper and finished paintings.  I have been using this solution for several years and It has been the Best!! Read on to see how I transport my  paper and paintings.

Plastic portfolio books by Itoya

  •  When I travel I bring an assortment of my favorite sanded pastel papers. Uart, Pastel Premier, 
       Tip: Bring paper that you are familiar with. Unless you have a lot of room and want to                     experiment and play it is safer to work on paper you know.
  • I cut full sheets of the papers into smaller sizes both 5x7 and 8x10. I use a ruler and scissors or utility knife to cut the paper. (saves money)
  • I sometimes tone some of the Uart paper in my favorite plein air color (a medium value gray)
  • I fill my Itoya plastic portfolio folders wit the cut paper. These folders have plastic sleeves that work great for protecting and transporting paper.
  • I put finished paintings back into the plastic sleeve of the folder. This is how I transport and protect my finished paintings. (yes a little residual pastel dust is left on the plastic but not enough to harm the painting.)
  • The plastic folders are great for sharing your work with others and keeping the paintings safe. 
  • The loaded folders are slipped into my backpack. The perfect solution for keeping both paper and paintings safe!
'Memories of France II'      5x7      $45