2019 Workshop Schedule coming this week!
Visit my Patreon Page for more painting instruction. New Paint-Along Videos coming!

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Leave the Wrappers on These Pastels!

Enjoy this post from the archives!

I don't want to take the wrappers off my pastels.  I don't even want to take them out of the box they came in. It's a nice wooden box and the pastels are so beautiful all lined up and nestled in the foam.

 Aren't we supposed to take the wrappers off?

You hear it all of the time (including from me)  Take the wrappers off new pastels. Break them into smaller pieces. Take them out of the original box and mix them with your other pastels. Arrange them by value and color to make it easier to paint. 

It makes perfect sense.  It is even great advice. It does help you paint more efficiently.  Using pastels in smaller chunks without wrappers allows you to actually paint with them...make broad marks of color.  When the wrapper is on you only have a small amount of pastel to work with. You tend to draw with them. Sometimes you might even get more detailed than you want.  Which is great if that is your intent.

Keeping the Wrappers on doesn't work for my way of working but I still don't want to take the wrappers off! 

My prize from the PSA show a few years ago
 I have this wonderful 108 piece set of Sennelier pastels that were a part of my prize at the PSA show a few years ago. I haven't used them. Why?  Because I don't want to take the wrappers off! I like to take them out occasionally and just look at them.  That is silly....but I know you understand!   I have plenty of pastels so I don't need to put them in my big box.  So I decided today....

I won't take the wrappers off but I will use them.  I am going to use them for my spices. Read about spicing up your paintings in my blog post here:http://kemstudios.blogspot.com/2014/01/my-favorite-way-to-spice-up-boring.html

I don't need the wrappers off to make the small and bold spice marks.  Sennelier pastels are very soft and very richly pigmented. They are perfect for making juicy spice marks!  Have a look at my marsh painting and see if you can spot the spice marks. I can use them with the wrappers on for the purpose of creating final marks and details.

I am leaving the wrappers on!
I still recommend taking the wrappers off your pastels especially if you are still building your collection. But it sure feels good to leave them on occasionally!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Important Tips for Using Reference Photos

'Poppy Profusion'              8x10              pastel           ©Karen Margulis

 The Secret to a good painting is a bad photo

That might be an over-simplification but a less than perfect reference photo can actually free you up and allow you to be more expressive.  After all you won't want to copy a bad photo....you can only make it into a better painting!

This is great news for us artists who are not photographers. We don't need to get the perfect shot. We only need photos as Memory Joggers. I have written before about how I use reference photos. click here to read.  My secret is to work ONLY from my own photos.

So often I hear artists say they don't have any of their own photos. So they use magazine images (not a good idea) or royalty-free images. Both of these solutions aren't as good as using your own photos. If you didn't take the photo then you can't replay the scene in your mind.

Everyone can take a good reference photo....because it doesn't have to be perfect!

This photo has inspired several paintings....a variation on the theme!

Think of reference photos as snippets of information that can inspire a painting. Maybe it is a color or the light and shadow pattern or maybe an interesting tree. Snap a photo. It can be used in a painting. Here are some tips:
  • Smartphone camera:Any camera will do. In fact I most often use my iphone camera. If you have a smartphone, get to know it's camera. It is usually always handy for a quick photo.
  • Cheap Digital camera: If you don't have a smartphone get a small digital camera and keep in in your bag/purse/pocket when you go out. So many good inexpensive cameras are available. The trick is to get one small enough that you won't mind keeping handy.
  • Automatic: There is no need to get involved with all of the settings (unless you want to of course) Most cameras do an excellent job on auto....besides you don't need perfect photos!
  • Ipad camera:  Don't forget about your ipad camera. Sometimes I see something interesting and the only thing close enough is my iPad....I get the shot! Don't have an iPad? Now you have a good excuse to get one!
  • Printing photos:  If you aren't comfortable with uploading and printing photos don't worry!  I often work right from my camera/ipad/phone screen. The photo is small but even better for me to be expressive. You can't get bogged down with details that you can't even see! I prefer to keep the printed photos no larger than 4x6.
  • Walgreens: If you do want prints but don't want to fuss with the computer you can email your photos from your phone and Walgreens will print them. Some stores have photo kiosks which allow you to use your camera's SD card to print photos. Other store offer these services but I am most familiar with Walgreens.

So get out there and take photos of the things that inspire you. They will lead you to your best work.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

My Thoughts About Mark Making

'Beautiful Interlude'                  5x7             pastel            ©Karen Margulis
available $95
I never would have thought it was possible. How can a chunky stick of pastel make such a variety of marks?  Even more amazing, how can it make such delicate and tiny marks?  I would have thought I needed a finer tool such as a pastel pencil to make detailed marks.  But I have learned that it isn't the case.

Big pastels can make any kind of mark you want.  It just takes practice . And some fine motor coordination!

When I first picked up a pastel stick it felt a little strange and clumsy. What do I do with it? Do I use the tip or rub it on it's side. Then of course don't I just blend everything in? (that's a topic for another post) And the big question was how did an artist get small marks from a fat stick?

I learned by doing. I painted something every day. They were not always keepers but with each painting I developed more control over the fat stick. I learned just how much I needed to lift it off the paper to get the size mark I wanted. I played with my marks. I tried linear strokes and chunky strokes. I learned how to blend without my fingers using just the pastel.  I watched other artists but I really learned what worked best for me by Painting. A . lot.

Now it is second nature to me. I can make any type mark I want with any size pastel stick. My marks come natural to me and are unique to me.  If you are new to pastels I encourage you to paint often and let your own way of making marks emerge. Embrace it and practice!  And if you are experienced....go outside of your comfort zone and try another way of making marks for a fun change of pace. You never know what you might come away with.

Painting notes: Today's 5x7 painting was a timed 20 minute daily painting study. Painting a small daily study was key for developing my mark making technique. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Secret to Painting Luminous Reds

'Just Add Sunshine'                      8x10                 pastel            ©Karen Margulis
available $160 email for information
It's the season for Red! I love red so it is easy to get excited about painting red things. Red can be overpowering though. And since I like to build up my color with layers of pastel I don't want to jump right in with the 'Power Red'.  I have a technique for working with red that allows the most vibrant reds to really glow.

The color chart above shows my technique. The trick is to start layering with a duller and darker red. I sometimes even begin with a dark purple. Here I began with a dark brick red. I selected two other dull cooler reds for the middle layers. I reserved the most vibrant and warmest (orange) reds for the final layers. You can see these bright reds better when they are layered over the dark cool reds. In contrast if you just go right to the brightest red it isn't as interesting!

Depending on how much warm light there is in your scene you could take it a step further and add some red orange and even push it to go with some orange and yellow orange as I did in the poppy painting. You are moving toward the yellow of the sun!

I am sharing more on this concept on Patreon this week! Join us! www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

A Key Tip for Painting from Reference Photos

'Sea of Poppies'        9x12               pastel            ©Karen Margulis
available   $165

I love painting from photos.  Most of my paintings are done from reference photos.  I do love to paint from life but I am not a plein air purist. I rely on photos.  I  see students struggle with their paintings and most of the time part of the problem is caused by the reference photo....relying too much on the photo for their painting decisions.

Have you ever heard yourself saying "I put 'x' in the painting because it was like that in the photo"?  

Photos have their own issues and if we copy what we see in the photo we often create problems in our paintings...color, value, composition problems are easily transferred if we try too hard to paint what we see in the photo.  Read on for my tip for avoiding this potential problem.

My demo board for the video


Think of your photos as if they were video thumbnails. You look at a photo which is simply a moment frozen in time. You took the photo so you were there. You experienced the scene with all of your senses. If you look at the photo you can turn on the video....replay the scene. Try to remember the colors you saw, the interesting shapes, the sounds, the warm or the cool, the breeze, the smells. Allow the photo to take you back. 

Now when you are ready to paint look at the photo and  try to pull out the things that you recall. These are the things you want to put in the painting. Everything else isn't as important. Allow yourself to simplify or rearrange the elements in the photo to best express your scene.

 How did I use this tip for today's painting?

My reference photo
  • I took the photo of these poppies early in the summer. They were in the median of a busy highway. I had to stoop down low to get the road out of the photo!
  • I looked at the photo and I replayed the video in my head. I felt the breeze. I smelled the grass. I remember crouching down to frame the flowers. I was there!! 
  • When it was time to paint I looked at the shapes of the trees and hills and decided how to rearrange them to make an interesting composition. I pulled out some of the color I saw and enhanced it. I changed the orientation of the composition. 
  • I put the photo aside and allowed the painting to develop from my memory. I made it personal and not a copy of a photo.

You can see this video demo on my Patreon page this week. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Sunday, February 10, 2019

New Video Tip: How To Create and Avoid Mud with Pastels

Have you checked out my YouTube videos lately? I just released a new quick video tip that you might like. If you are a Patreon member you had the first look at this video when we were exploring the subject of making mud. You can now see the video on my You Tube channel here:

Please be sure to subscribe to my channel so you get the latest videos!

Here is some more important information about making mud:

 Making mud is easy.  It usually happens when we don't want it.  All of the sudden that fresh beautiful color turns dull and muddy....dirty looking color.  Yuck.  It is frustrating and we work hard to avoid it.

Sometimes it is good to make mud!

My favorite place to mix up some muddy color is in my clouds.  Whether they are stormy tormented clouds or just the shadows in white clouds, we need to use gray.  But I really don't like to use gray. I have discovered that gray can be beautiful. It depends on what colors go into the makeup of the gray. This is where making mud comes in.

There are grays made from mixing black and white. I call them B & W Grays.  They work to show the value changes in clouds but they aren't very exciting or interesting. I prefer Technicolor Grays!

Technicolor Grays are a mix of colors that when layered together turn gray (or muddy but this time we make them on purpose)  Technicolor grays are rich and interesting to look at.  You can make your grays more colorful a couple of ways:

1.  Take your B&W gray and layer some other colors on top. The colors you choose depends on the mood you are trying to create.  Keep the colors the same value of the gray. You don't need to blend the layers with your fingers...simply layering the colors will blend them together.

2. Make your own grays by layering three or more colors of the same value. Again...keep layering repeating the colors until they blend.  Whenever you mix the complements together they become grayed so any three colors are bound to create mud...I mean gray!  I love to layer the tertiary colors of orange, green and purple.

How do I choose the colors to go into my technicolor gray mix?  I like to look at the ground....what colors in the ground could I use in the makeup of the clouds? This helps my painting have color harmony and good relationships between the ground and sky.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Three Tips for Starting an Art Blog

'A Summer to Remember'              5x7              pastel on board           ©Karen Margulis

So maybe you want to start a blog for your art.  Or maybe you have one but don't see how it is helping.  As a blogger since 2005 I'd like to share some things I have learned along the way. First if you aren't convinced an art blog is for you then you might like to read my post about the benefits of blogging HERE.  There are lots of things I could share about blogging but I will narrow it down to three things.  Consistency, Content and Clarity.

1. CONSISTENCY:  You should be prepared to post on a consistent basis. You don't have to post every day. (It is a habit for me)  I would recommend a new post every week. 2-3 times a week is better but once a week is a manageable goal.  Why post consistently?  One of the benefits of having a blog for your art is to establish connections with collectors and other artists. You want people to check in and follow you.  If you are sporadic or erratic in your posting you risk losing your audience. You may have wonderful work and interesting posts but if there is nothing new on your blog week after week, your readers will stop visiting. If you are always pressed for time you can write several posts when you have time and save them as drafts. Then you have new material to spread out and share when you are short on time.

2. CONTENT:  Your readers not only want to see your work they want to hear what you have to say. I am not interested in following an artist who posts nothing but images with prices. I want to read about the art or the artist.  A blog is your opportunity to connect with others. Take the time to write something to accompany your art. I recommend starting by writing about the piece, how you did it, the inspiration behind it. Once you start writing the ideas will flow. Just be yourself! ( I took a blog triage course 2 years ago with Alyson Stanfield and she recommended that we decide who are audience is and write to them...I decided to focus my posts on information of interest to other artists)
Another reason for including content is to help you get found. The search engines like content. I will be talking more about search engine optimization in another post.

3. CLARITY:  Make sure your blog layout reflects your art. I try to have my blog clean and easy to read. I don't like to have a lot of clutter on the sidebar, just the essentials. I could do a better job though!  Make sure you have good photos of your art. Make sure the photos are clear and in focus with accurate color.  I have discovered that some Blogger templates allow the photos to show larger so be sure to test out the template you plan to use to make sure the photos are big enough.

I will be presenting a personal development class at the upcoming IAPS convention. I'd love for you to join me but if you can't I'd like to have your help!  What questions do you have about social media for artists? Your questions will help me develop a comprehensive presentation!  Ask your questions in the comments or send me an email karenmargulis@gmail.com

2 Hour Seminar, Saturday, 8:00 am - 10:00 am . . . $70
Social Media Savvy for Artists

Spend less time on social media and more time creating. Social media is important for artists but it doesn't have to be overwhelming. Karen will share her strategy for social media success and will demystify the world of Facebook, Instagram, blogs, Pinterest and more. Learn how to share your work and art story with Karen’s simple approach.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

A Quick WIP Collage: Warm Light on a Marsh

'Great Beginnings'.         9x12               pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available $165

I wanted to capture the feeling of warm sunlight on the marsh. Where I was standing it was cold. In fact the ground was covered in frost. But the marsh was lit by the morning sun and it was making its way closer to me. I have painted a smaller study of this scene before but I wanted to go a bit larger. This version is 9x12 but I plan to go even larger. I took photos of my progress and put them in a collage. (www.befunky.com)

I decided that the best way to showcase the play between the warm sunlit areas and the cool frosty areas was to block in the painting with warm Nupastels for the sunny parts and cool Nupastels for the frosty and shadowed parts. This warm/cool block in gave me a road map to follow and really helped me push the warm /cool feeling. The warm tone of the paper also helped. (Wallis warm mist seconds)

To keep things simple I limited my palette to the Terry Ludwig red Rocks set of pastels. They were perfect for this painting and are not just for Red Rock Country!

What about the frost? In the small study I had attempted to paint the frosty foreground but it just didn't translate. It looked like water and then it looked too washed out. The painting needed the dark foreground to enhance the light so I kept it dark and simple and eliminated the frost.

I hope you enjoyed the little collage WIP. I have posted an in depth version over on my Patreon page today. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Monday, February 04, 2019

Monday Inspiration from Van Gogh

'December Fog'             12x9           pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available $165

"If you hear a voice within you saying 'You are not a painter', then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced"   Vincent Van Gogh

I love this quote by Van Gogh. Some may disagree but if you paint or create art ...you are an artist.  You may be new at painting or you may be at a cross roads in your journey but as long as you continue to make art I believe you must consider yourself an artist.

I often see hesitation in my students to refer to themselves as artists. Perhaps they believe that they aren't good enough to be able call themselves artists. But this hesitation can prevent growth.  In order to grow as an artist you must work hard at your art. Being afraid of failure or of not doing it right or not being good enough can be paralyzing. This fear stops many from painting.

I am going to give a copy of this quote to my students. I want them to believe in themselves and know that if they paint they are artists. The more they paint the faster their skills will grow.  Thanks Vincent for the inspiration!

Painting notes: This painting is on Part 400 with an alcohol wash underpainting. I used a pale green pearlescent pastel to paint the fog!

Saturday, February 02, 2019

A Quick and Easy Tip for Choosing a Color Palette

Color Study Abstraction.    3x6            pastel            ©Karen Margulis

Before I start a painting I always like to select my pastels. I want to have a limited palette. But how does one decide what pastels to use? I like to see how my color choices will work. It is better to see this BEFORE starting the painting rather than testing and potentially overworking the painting. The more you test and try colors on the painting the more you risk getting muddy and dull results.

I like to do small color studies before I start a larger painting but sometimes I am anxious to get started and don't take the time to do a mini painting. I have a solution.....I make color notes. I make a mark with the colors I think I want to use. This way I can see how my color choices work together. It saves a lot of frustration...and paper.

IMPORTANT: Color notes need to be done on the same color paper as you will be using. For example making color notes on white paper when you will be painting on black will give you conflicting information. For today's painting I was using a middle value tan paper so my color notes need to be done on the same color paper.

Today I am sharing one of my color notes for a new Paint Along Video series I just finished filming. The more I looked at the swatch of colors the more I liked it for it's abstract quality.I am thinking I might use this swatch as inspiration for a future abstract painting!

The photos below are a sneak peek at the newest addition to my Patreon Page.....a Paint-Along Video series! If you join at the Silver level of $6 a month you will have access to the series. I will break down the painting into four parts (videos) making it  easy for you to paint along with me! I will take you through the planning stage, the underpainting stage, the painting and finally the resolution of the painting. If you have been thinking about trying Patreon now is a great time! The first video in the series starts this week!  www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Why Wildflowers Make Good Spices in a Painting

'When Spring Comes'           8x10            pastel.             ©Karen Margulis
available $175

I am working on my IAPS19  demo presentation this week and I had a couple of AHA moments. I love when that happens!  Let me share one with you today.

Not every landscape has or needs wildflowers but when they occur it is always good to exploit them and use them wisely. Wildflowers can be a wonderful spice to an otherwise ordinary landscape. Here is why......spice in a painting is an area of contrast. Contrast acts like an eye magnet. We are drawn to look at areas of contrast.  Deliberately placing areas of contrast (spice) can help create the movement of the viewer's eye around a painting.

Spice = Contrast = Eye Movement

This means that we have control over the wildflowers in the painting. We don't want to scatter them randomly or even copy the way they appear in our reference. Instead we need to take charge and plan where they will be planted! In the bluebonnet painting today notice how I have created areas of contrast within the flower masses. The lighter flowers stand out and draw the eye back into the distance. I have also used other areas of contrast to help create a visual journey.

TIP: Areas of contrast are simply opposites. Here are a few: warm/cool  intense/dull   soft edge /hard edge  thick/thin.  detail/out of focus  light/dark. Plan your areas of contrast. Don't leave them to chance. Don't overdo them. Like a spice a little contrast goes a long way. Flowers everywhere don't have as much impact as a few well placed flowers!

I am excited about my IAPS demo! It will be a fast paced pastel demo production packed with information and fun! Even if you don't care to paint wildflowers most of the information I share and demonstrate can be applied to ANY landscape!  Struggle with grasses? Need to create more depth? Is Mark making your trouble spot? Consider registering for my demo! Here is the official description:

Whether up close and personal or a small part of a landscape, wildflowers add the perfect spice. Learn how to invite your viewer into your paintings with beautiful flowers. Karen will demonstrate and share strategies for painting expressive flowers and grasses that look natural and believable.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Some Art Advice from Hemingway

'Wildflowers Roam Free'               10x8        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
ask for availability 
 I have always been committed to painting every day that I am home. But I found that sometimes I was letting other things take up too much of my time. It seems like the more are time we have the less we end up accomplishing. For me it was always....oh I have plenty of time so I'll do it later. I found I painted less for myself, for fun. If it wasn't for a workshop or blog post or class I put it off.

Things have changed in 2019. I am watching my 4 month old granddaughter for a few hours each day during the week. Even though it is just a few hours a day I feel more urgency to be efficient and to get more art done. It's been a productive month so far! I have a little secret and Ernest Hemingway had the same idea!

"At night, never go to bed without knowing what you'll write tomorrow." Ernest Hemingway

These days I am not getting down to the studio until the late afternoon. I don't have time to putter around trying to decide what to work on. I have to have a plan in place.  So every evening before I head upstairs I set up paper and reference photo for the next day. I might even do an underpainting if I have time. This way I have no excuse the next day.....I paint because it is there and ready for me. I know the night before what I will paint the next day. It is the secret to being productive!

Below are two underpainting on the easel. It gave me a head start on two day's worth of daily paintings! Today's painting came from the underpainting on the left. It is an Art Graf underpainting on white Pastel Premier paper.

Monday, January 28, 2019

How to Make Your Own Canvas Like Pastel Support

'Among Good Friends'                 9x12                pastel            ©Karen Margulis
available $175
I haven't made my own pastel ground in awhile. I was lazy. It was easier to use clear gesso for a homemade surface. I decided to give the pumice gesso mix another try last week. This time I applied the mixture in a more controlled fashion and I loved the result!

I usually take a stiff brush and use random brush strokes to make a crazy textured underpainting. This time I used a softer Brush and applied the mixture in smooth level strokes going across in one direction and then again in the opposite direction. The result was a look much like the weave of canvas. It really gave my pastel painting a different look especially up close.
Here is some information on making your own supports. You can see today's painting demo video this week on my Patreon Page. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

I made my own surfaces on Acid free mat board. I cut a large piece of mat board into smaller pieces. It is easy to score with a utility knife. I coated the back of each board with acrylic gesso to seal it. When it was dry I applied the ground which was made of acrylic gesso, fine pumice powder and water. I tinted this mixture with Golden fluid acrylic paint. There are several recipes for grounds that you can find and you will want to experiment with the ingredients to find mixture you like.
To read more about making your own grounds I recommend Richard McKinley's Pastel Pointer article on Home Grown Surfaces.

Do you like the look of pastels on homemade surfaces?

Making a homemade pastel surface

click to enlarge to see texture

Sunday, January 27, 2019

New Pastel Video Released : How to Paint Rocks and Water

9x12            pastel          ©Karen Margulis.       sold

Do rocks intimidate you? Are you frustrated with the rocks you paint? My rocks used to look like potatoes!  They looked like rounded squishy looking blobs of brown. And when I tried too hard to make them better they didn't look like the rest of the painting. They were overly detailed and they didn't fit in with the looser marks I used for the rest of the painting.  I avoided landscapes with rocks.

Then I learned about the power of suggestion. I realized that I didn't need to render the rocks with great detail. I didn't need to paint every nook and cranny. I also started to look at the planes on rocks. I started to notice the big patterns of light and shadow. If I could suggest these planes of light and dark with simple marks with the side of my pastel....I could suggest the rocks.

"Suggest and let the viewer do the rest"

Look at the photo below. I didn't draw these rocks and color them in. I simply made marks to suggests the darker shadowed areas and marks to suggest the light on the rock planes. Taken out of context they don't look much like rocks. But in the landscape painting the viewer can deduce that these marks are indeed rocks.

close up of suggested rocks

To see the newly released video follow the link to my YouTube channel!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Spice Up Your Landscapes with the Right Greens

"Summer Delight'              5x7           pastel on board       ©Karen Margulis
available $95 

"You don't have the right Greens"  Albert Handell told me back in 2006. It was my first workshop and I had only been painting with pastels for a few months so I was quite intimidated.  I was also disheartened. After all I had just bought a big set of greens for the workshop so how could I NOT have the right greens! He showed me the greens I was missing and I was shocked!

The greens I didn't have in my box. Wow!

They were the brightest most acidic and artificial looking greens you could imagine.  I would have never chosen to use them but as a good student I went out and bought the greens Albert suggested. I really didn't understand at the time why I needed them and how to use them. I wasn't ready for that knowledge. But now several years and many paintings later I finally get it. These greens are my SPICES and they are to be used in small amounts to add interest and excitement to my landscapes. They are not necessarily the greens I would use to paint an entire meadow....but a few marks in the right place with the spicy green will make a big difference in the painting. 

Spice:  interesting element or quality; zest; piquancy
I like to consider these artificial looking (some might even say garish) greens as my spices. They add an interesting element to a painting. And like a spice used in cooking, a little bit goes a long way. I choose to use my spicy greens at the end of a painting when I am trying to pull everything together. A few well placed spicy marks can help lead the viewer around the painting. Just remember not to overdo the spicy marks or they will lose their impact.