Thursday, July 31, 2014

How to be a Better Painter... part one

'Desert Greens'             11x14           pastel           ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting here $145
You just have to take the first step.  It is a journey as my teacher and good friend Marsha Savage likes to say. Being an artist of any medium is the most wonderful thing because the journey....the actual learning how to paint or use your medium never ends. There is always something new to learn and discover. We may stumble or move backwards at times but it is really the process of learning that can be the most exciting thing of all. We just need to understand and embrace it.

I love being an artist because of the never ending opportunity to learn. Improving my skills through practice is one thing. Study is another. I am a perpetual student. If I could have stayed in college and be a professional student I would have! Being an artist is like that. We have so many opportunities to learn and grow as an artist....technique, composition, art history, study other work, read books, watch dvds, take classes and workshops....the list is endless.

Taking a workshop in Iceland...Stan Sperlak doing a demo.
I set mini goals for myself to make sure I continue to improve my work and understanding of art. One of those goals is to continue to be challenged as a student and not just as a teacher. I was thrilled to get a spot in Richard McKinley's mentoring workshop this October that will be held at one of my favorite areas of the country....Abiquiu New Mexico. It is an advanced workshop and students can work in either oil or pastel. I am seriously considering oil as it would give me the opportunity to immerse myself for a week with oils... a no excuse approach! I can't wait!

Take the first step in your journey....or continue (or maybe change direction) in your path by looking into classes or workshops for the fall!  My six week pastel sessions start August 27th and I have a few openings. I also offer private sessions for local and out of town artists. If you are not in the Atlanta area consider online feedback sessions. Or consider hosting a workshop in your town...more on this soon.

Finally, plan to come to the next IAPS convention June 2-7 2015 in Albuquerque NM. I will be presenting two demos/seminars along with many other wonderful artists. The program will be announced in August! Check their website for updates.

Visit my workshop page for more information on any class or send me an email and just ask questions!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Are You in a Paper Rut? Pastel Paper Tips

'Daisy Fantasy'         11x14            pastel  on Canson            ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting here $145  
It is that time again. I am running very low on paper so it is time to pace an order for supplies.  I usually place a big online order every few months and wait for a coupon code and free shipping. We do have a couple of local art stores and while it would be a good thing to give them my business they aren't really close and don't always have the quantity I want. It is more cost effective and a time saver for me to buy bulk online.

Whenever I order paper I always order my favorite 'Go To' pastel paper which is UArt 400-600 grade sanded paper. I order 20 sheets of 18x24 which I will cut to size as needed.  But I always choose to order another brand of paper. I alternate brands or look to try paper I haven't used before or in a long time.

 I like to change it up sometimes. 

Pastel on Uart paper with a watercolor underpainting

    Paper really does make a difference in the look and feel of a painting. A pastel done on Canson will have a very different look than one done on sanded paper...even if the exact same pastels are used. (see my daisy paintings as an example)
  • I have a rule of thumb when it comes to pastel paper. I never say I hate or dislike a paper. Instead I remind myself that if I am not having success with a paper it isn't the paper...more likely I haven't found the right technique or pastel for it. If I revisit the paper after a break from it I may discover something that suits it. Never say never!

  • Another rule of thumb is that I encourage my students to try new papers...but they should stick with one paper at a time until they feel like they really know how it behaves. This is especially important to those new to pastels. If you are using a different surface every time you show up at the easel, it is difficult to get to know how the pastels behave. Stick with one paper for a wile, then experiment.
  • When trying a new paper be prepared to do at least 5-10 paintings on it before you decide if it suits you. One try with a paper isn't really giving it a fair shot. Be ready to get to really know it (even if you don't really care for it)

Paper really does make a difference in the look and feel of a painting. A pastel done on Canson will have a very different look than one done on sanded paper...even if the exact same pastels are used. (see my daisy paintings as an example)

Both and Jerrys Artarama are having coupon sales with free shipping now through August 1st. Time to get some new paper!

Painting notes: The top painting is on Canson Mi-Teintes paper and the bottom painting is on Uart both with a mix of pastel mostly Terry Ludwig.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Painting to Music....My New Discovery

'Another Beautiful Day'               12x16              pastel         ©Karen Margulis
painting available $165
It may sound hard to believe but I have discovered painting to music! Oh yes I would paint to music every once in awhile but for the most part I shared the company of news talk radio in my studio. It was wearing on me. The news is never good and so many talk radio hosts shout and rant. I like to be on top of the news and issues. But it was really not conducive to painting. Neither was television. I got too distracted by the programs.

I got a music tip from a tour bus driver in Iceland. And a whole new world has opened for me! We we parked in front of a hotel waiting for the passengers to come out. He had the radio on and a song came on that made him smile. With pride he told me it was the group 'Of Monters and Men'.  Not really up on current music I filed away the name and looked up the group when I got home. I was surprised that I knew them and their popular hit 'Little Talks'. I liked it a lot and I wanted more.

Out the window of a bus....Iceland! Thank you Tour Bus Driver!

So out of curiosity I opened up Spotify on my computer. Spotify is a music streaming service that gives you access to millions of songs on your computer or mobile device. It is available in a free version or paid premium service. You can search and discover music and organize your favorites in your own library.  I put in a search for 'Of Montsters and Men' and discovered they had a song in the Walter Mitty movie. That led to me adding the soundtrack to my list....and I discovered other songs that I liked so I added those albums to my list. This was music that reminded me of my Iceland adventure. Hearing these songs allowed me to be transported back to that wonderful place and time.

I continued exploring Icelandic music and discovered several other bands that I liked. This was fun! (I know where have I been!?)  Now I have a wonderful playlist of music that I have been painting to. many of them Icelandic groups. Instead of the ranting and bad news on the talk radio I am turning up the music. Painting has never been more fun!

Interested in discovering new music to paint to? Try Spotify. You can listen to radio stations, discover and share playlists and Spotify will suggest new music based on your selections. Here is a Mashable article on getting started with Spotify.   (you can follow me on Spotify...Karen Margulis)

Monday, July 28, 2014

Monday Challenge: Revisit Your Experimental Paintings

'Playful Poppies'             5x7           pastel           ©Karen Margulis
purchase here $50
Going through old paintings can have it's benefits. For one thing we can usually see how far we have come with our art. Looking back through older work makes it clear just how much we learn and grow as we continue to paint. I have boxes of older work that will probably never see the light of day. I hold onto them because I have room and because it would be like throwing away a piece of me....however awful they are. I know there are many thoughts on this subject...but I keep just about everything.

Sometimes we end up filing away work that maybe should see the light of day. 

There might be a spark of something that we need to pursue. Often our playful pieces can point the way to a new direction. Maybe we didn't see it at the time so we put these experiments in a box.

The other day I was going through one such box looking for an older painting someone had a question about.  This bright poppy painting was in the box buried underneath layers of dull, boring landscapes. It made me smile. It caused me to ask some questions....I am working on the answers. Here is my Monday Challenge to you....go through some of your older work and just look. See if anything jumps out at you....ask yourself these questions:

  • What was I thinking when I painted it? 
  • What was I trying to do?  
  • I like it now so why did I file it away? 
  • What can I learn about it.....why do I like it?  
  • Can I take these ideas and revisit them?
I am not sure yet what direction this painting might take me. I do know I am enjoying the shapes and colors and the mix of marks. I am going to hang it up to remind me that we have much to learn from our playful times!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

What Happens to a Painting When you Make it Larger?

'Dreaming of Poppy Meadows'         16x20         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting here $250
It was an interesting experiment. I didn't plan to do it. It just happened as I worked with a collector who wanted a poppy painting. It wasn't quite big enough the first time. I happily agreed to paint a larger version. Then we decided it really needed to be bigger still. The experiment was on!  I took out a full sheet (18x24) of Uart paper and painted the final version.

What happened as I painted the same image bigger and bigger? I was liberated! It was exhilarating. My marks got larger and bolder. There is more movement and energy in the larger paintings.

Look below at the progression of the three paintings from smallest to largest. You can click on each one to see more detail.
'Knee Deep in Poppies'        8x10          pastel     $125
The next one....16x20 'Dreaming of Poppy Meadows'

The last painting.....18x24        SOLD
I don't really have a favorite. I enjoyed each one. I like the quiet intimacy and softness of the smallest painting. I like the clarity of the second version. And by the last one, I was much bolder and decisive with my marks.  Why?

  • Repeating the same image...painting from a painting and not a photo allowed me to become intimately familiar with it. I was also free to take liberties with it. I wasn't worried about copying or being true to the photo. 
  • Using the same palette and similar composition allowed me to concentrate on the application of I made my marks. Soft. bold, linear marks or chunky marks? familiarity allows for more freedom in interpretation.
  • Working larger was the key to feeling liberated. As the paper got larger I had to get my whole body involved.....big sweeps with my arm and not restricted movement on a tiny surface. I highly recommend working larger and having a chance to dance with your pastels!
I often do series of similar subjects but this was an interesting take on a series. I learned that I really enjoy painting larger and I enjoy the freedom that a larger paper allows!

Painting notes: All were painted on Uart sanded paper 500-600 grit with Terry Ludwig pastels. I did a dry and orange Nupastels rubbed into the paper with a piece of pipe foam insulation.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Deciding on a Pastel Support

'A Sheep Called Thoka'             5x7          pastel          ©Karen Margulis
It's getting more complicated. Not too long ago pastel artists only had a few choices for the support they would paint on.  There were a few papers including Canson Mi Teintes and a sanded paper called Ersta. There were few papers dedicated to pastel. Now we have many options from sanded papers to sanded boards. How do we know which support to choose?

I have my personal favorites but  I like to use many different surfaces. I make my choice when I decide on my subject. Some subjects just work better on particular supports. For example, if I am going to do a wet underpainting I like to use Uart paper. If I am going to paint an animal, LaCarte is my go to paper. If I want to be bold and direct, I really like Pastelmat. I like Canson too if I want a soft painterly landscape.

some homemade supports pumice on gator foam

Sometimes it works the other way. I find a support and decide on a subject that will work. Today I came across three small pieces of gator foam coated with a pumice mixture. I had prepared them last year when I had a class on making home made supports. They would be perfect for the Icelandic sheep I wanted to paint!  A case of the support finding the right subject!

I chose the 5x7 piece that I had toned a peach color. I had used random brush strokes to apply the pumice and gesso mixture. This random texture would be perfect to suggest the shaggy sheep and summer grasses. I can't wait to paint more sheep!

TIP: Don't get yourself in a paper rut. We often find our favorites and it is great to really know a surface and what it can do. But make time to experiment and play with other supports.It will serve you well to be familiar with all the options we have available to us as pastel artists!

Painting note: This is 5x7 on a piece of gator foam board with my own mixture of pumice and gesso. I used a combination of Terry Ludwig pastels with some Diane Townsend lights.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How to Have Fun Painting from Reference Photos

'Wishes Do Come True'          12x12           pastel             ©Karen Margulis
painting available here $150
 Reference photos don't need to be perfect. The day I figured that out, a whole new world of painting possibilities was opened for me. Like many I always tried to find a great image to use for a painting....the composition, colors,  lighting all had to be just right. The photo had to be large and in focus. Looking back, having perfect photos actually stifled my ability to be expressive with my painting. I was all consumed with copying the photo...exactly. It often resulted in a stiff and boring painting.

I don't search for the perfect reference photo anymore. I am FREE!  I prefer blurry photos with washed out color. I am free to move things around, change colors, add and take away elements to make a better painting. It is so liberating.

Today I tried something with reference photos that really allowed me to have fun and reach inside my own imagination to create the painting. I combined two unrelated photos. Give it a try for your next painting! Here are some tips:

The reference photos I used for my paintings. Thank you to my  friend for the photo!

'Dandelion Wishes'           6x6         pastel   purchase here $50

 I wanted to use a photo that a friend shared with me.  I usually work only from my own photos but I loved the feel of the meadow with the distant mountain. To make it my 'own' I printed out one of my dandelion photos from Iceland. I loved the  light in the dandelion picture and I imagined what the painting would be like as a field of dandelion puffs rather than the daisies in the first photo. I put the two ideas together.
  • Choose elements in the photo that you want to keep and choose elements from the second photo that you wish to add. I liked the distant trees and mountain in the first image so I expanded these and added the dandelion puffs.
  • Pay attention to light source and direction of light and shadows whenever you are making changes. You can change the time of day/lighting just make sure you are consistent and that it makes sense. Ask yourself "Where is the light source? Are my shadows going in the right direction? Does this element look like it is in the same place or does it look out of place?" 
  • Rely on your imagination and your experiences to tie your images together. You don't need to copy something to say something...Use your own Words!

Painting notes: Both paintings done on gray Pastelmat paper with a selection of soft pastels, mostly Terry Ludwigs and Great Americans. No underpainting.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Learning How to Paint without Being Able to Draw

'Summer Wanderings'         8x10         pastel           ©Karen Margulis
purchase in my Etsy shop $125
In an ideal world every painter would also have good drawing skills. It is certainly something to strive for as an artist. Good drawing skills result in stronger paintings. The ability to see carefully and render what is seen is important to having a painting look and feel 'right'. A solid understanding of perspective and proportion helps. Having a sensitive and trained eye is important but it is a skill that takes time and practice to hone.

If you want to learn how to paint do you need to be good at drawing first?

I had a discussion with a student yesterday that has me pondering this question. I am so glad she decided to come try pastels with me. Her story concerns me. Here is a creative person who has always wanted to paint. She has dabbled in different media with a variety of instructors and has had success but recently she wanted to learn how to paint with oils. In her first oil class the instructor asked her to draw her hand and she struggled a bit. So the instructor then informed her she would need to spent the remaining  six classes working on drawing. She wasn't ready to paint.

How discouraging and sad! She is 78 years old and isn't interested in painting a masterpiece...she just wants to have the fun. To experience the joy of expression,  moving paint around and playing with color. She wants to enjoy the journey of creating art not be a perfect draftsman. I needed to show her that it is OK to learn how to paint and draw at the same time!  In my demo I showed her how I simplified my landscape into a few lines. Not every subject needs a precise and detailed drawing.

An old box of pastels just waiting for the right time!
Next I opened a box of pastels and sat her in front of an easel with some UArt paper and a pear. (she had brought along an old box of pastels that she had but never knew how to use them.) To my delight, she created the most wonderful pear painting....full of exciting marks and wonderful color. This is what panting is all about...having fun!

Don't misunderstand ....drawing skills are important and I work on mine and encourage my students to keep a sketchbook and practice their drawing. It is a work in progress! Don't let this work in progress prevent you from expressing yourself with paint!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Painting Iceland: Painting After the Trip Made Easier

'Make a Wish'            11x14          pastel          ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting on Etsy $165 here
It has been quite a summer so far. June began with a bang with a Caribbean cruise and then a trip of a lifetime to Iceland. I have spent the last three weeks since my return buried in my studio. I have been painting everyday from my Iceland reference photos.   I have posted 13 chapters to my Iceland travelog and posted many more photos on my Facebook page. The dust has been flying and my pastels have never been messier! And I have been in heaven. 

What a crazy mess!
I am so glad I was able to spend so many uninterrupted days in my studio. It has allowed me to truly reflect on my experience in Iceland. I don't always have this luxury after a trip. I have learned something very important though that will help me after future adventure. 

Writing a Journal is the Key!

I am not usually a journal writer. My friend Jayne and I joked that we usually get as far as two days into a trip and abandon the journal. We always start with good intentions but then it fizzles. In Iceland I did about the same....two days worth of journaling. What I did differently this time is I wrote in my journal on the long journey home. I had about 20 hours of travel time and I made good use of the downtime by writing. I filled my journal with my memories and observations from the trip....while everything was  fresh and clear. These journal entries served as the basis for my last 13 blog posts. I hope to turn this travelog into a book complete with photos, paintings and even more that I haven't shared on the blog.

The journal has helped me paint!  Reading and transcribing a chapter each day brought the trip back to life. I would look through my photos to find one that might illustrate the chapter. Having the memory written down helped me get back to that place while I painted. It made it all fresh which I know helped my paintings. Words and pictures together are the best way to help make my paintings more authentic. I will always make sure to bring a journal along on a trip and actually use it!

Enjoy the gallery of my Iceland paintings below. They are a mix of plein air and studio paintings. Some are sold. All of them and more can be viewed in my Etsy shop or Pinterest board. They are also available for purchase. I would love to share my trip with you through my paintings and I am offering blog readers free shipping on any Iceland painting.(coupon code ICELAND)

Question for you: I will be putting my travelog together in a book form and will include additional chapters with tips on traveling with pastels, Iceland travel tips and more. Is there anything I missed that you might like to know more about? Feel free to comment below or send me an email.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Iceland:Through an Artist's Eyes Part 14 Reykjavik

'Morning Kaffi'           6x6            pastel          ©Karen Margulis
painting available for purchase $50
After a wonderful week in the red house of Stykkisholmur the workshop expedition came to an end. I was so glad I had decided to stay on for a week. So it was back to Reykjavik for me. I had reserved a room at Hotel Leifur Eirikson. It was the perfect choice. Located across the street from the landmark church Hallgrimskirkja, I would never get lost. I just needed to look for the tall church. My room was small but cozy. Breakfast was included and was ample and fresh. It was the perfect home base for exploring Reykjavik on my own.

Across from my hotel was Hallgrimskirja

My single room at Hotel Leifur Eiriksson

Except I wasn't really alone! I was happy to discover that my new friends from the workshop Christine and Riley would also be in Reykjavik. We had dinner with Christine before she had to leave and Riley and I met up several times over the week to explore together. We spent quite a bit of time (and kronur) in the local art shop. It was a wonderful little shop filled with all kinds of art and craft goodies. I bought some Icelandic stone beads to make my own souvenir bracelet. Riley bought a set of Caran d'Ache Museum watercolor pencils. They were wonderful and I had to go back and get a set for myself. I spent many happy hours sketching in the local coffee, cakes and great people watching...what could be better?

Stones from Iceland

I spent 5 days in Reykjavik and I was glad I had the luxury of time. So often when I travel I have limited time at each stop on my journey. There is never enough time to truly get to know a place.  Having plenty of time (in between my tours) allowed me to slow down and notice things that I might have passed by on a short stay.

I switched cameras when I got to Reykjavik. I decided to use my small Canon digital trusty old camera with the bad screen. It is small and would allow me to be inconspicuous as I took candid shots. I would have loved to be invisible. It was the people that intrigued me. The little vignettes of life in the city...tourists and locals going about their business. Snapshots of life in Reykjavik were what I was after. I walked up and down the hilly streets looking for little moments in time. What fun I had!

Kid friendly city...sidewalk chalk and hoola hoops!

The colors and shapes of the buildings were also wonderful. And the windows! Most every window had some kind of arrangement of knickknacks on the sill. They were like little works of art and reflected the spirit of the resident. Windows were filled with elves, flowers, books and the occasional cat. I found the windows just as fascinating as the people.  Motifs of a wonderful little city by the sea. I will be back!

Today's painting was inspired by one of my candid photos. It is on black Artagain paper and is 6x6.
My travelog is coming to and end with just 2 chapters remaining. I appreciate all of the wonderful comments I have received. If you would like to catch up and read the other chapters you can find links to all on my Pinterest board HERE

Monday, July 21, 2014

Iceland: Through the Eye's of an Artist part 13 The Icelandic Horse

'White Horse Meadow'         5x7       pastel
Purchase painting here $50
 It was a ride of a lifetime. All of my life I've dreamt about galloping across a flower filled meadow on the back of a beautiful horse....mane and tail flowing in the wind. My dream came true in Iceland on a gorgeous Icelandic Horse. It was a magical experience.

The Icelandic horse is special. They are small and very strong and hardy. Since no horses have been imported to Iceland since importation was  banned in the 11th century, the horses in Iceland today are the same as they were 900 years ago. They are known for having 5 gaits with the best known gait being the tolt. The tolt is a smooth gait that carries a rider very comfortably over rough ground. I can attest to this!

I had booked my horseback riding tour before my trip. During the week of the workshop the anticipation for my ride was building. We saw these beautiful horses everywhere. It was a challenge to get good photos while we were driving though we did ask Stan and Corey for a few 'horse photo ops' and they happily obliged.

Adorable foal at the shark museum

Finally the day of my tour arrived. I looked out the window and it was raining....and it was windy and cold. A front was moving in. The good news was the tour was still on and I was going to make the best of it. I layered up from my long underwear to my new Icelandic wool socks and rainboots. The rain stopped just as we boarded the van to the Laxness Horse Farm.  It was going to be a good day!

My experience at Laxness Horse Farm was perfect despite the messy weather. There were about 10 of us in the group including my new friend from Lapland (you meet the best people on the bus!)  We were ushered into a room to gear up....rain pants, jackets, boots, gloves and helmet all included. Next step was to meet your horse. I was asked about my riding experience which was not much but regular trail rides.  The guide thought a minute and said he would be right back..he had just the right horse for me. He walked into the corral and came out with my horse Odina. She was beautiful. She was careful and had just the right amount of spirit. She was perfect!

Getting ready to ride!

Play ball with me!

Yes, she is the perfect horse for me.

We started out on our ride....single file through a meadow filled with Lupine. We gradually climbed the hillside until we were above the farm. The path leveled out and we began to move along more quickly....and even more quickly. This was no ordinary trail ride. We were really riding!  We continued riding past waterfalls and crossing streams which Odina did with such care. We climbed higher and higher ever so close to the edge but I felt secure on my horse. Every so often the wind would pick up and it would sprinkle. It was raw and so alive! (so much more exciting than a sunny day)

Across the moody and mystical countryside of Iceland

At the halfway point we dismounted to give our horses a rest. Our guides went around the group and asked how we were with the speed of the ride and if we wanted to go faster. Hmmmmm. My heart overruled my head and I said FASTER! So the group was divided into two and I wondered if I did the smart thing. Oh well. You only live once as they say.

Odina takes a rest

I am so glad my heart said yes. Odina and I flew like the wind over the meadows and streams. Wind and rain whipping us we ran and I quickly found her rhythm and moved with her across the rough terrain. Odina was so smooth. Her thick mane and tail were flowing. I could hear the thundering of hooves and feel the splash of the rain. All of my childhood dreams were coming to life in Iceland. I couldn't stop smiling. It was truly an experience of a lifetime.

We are flying!
The second part of my tour was a trip to the Blue Lagoon, the famous geothermal pool known for its warm milky blue water. The perfect way to end the day was a soak in the warm and soothing water. Another memory was made.

selfie with my horse

'Odina'              5x7            pastel             ©Karen Margulis