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Saturday, October 13, 2018

3 Tips for Successful IAPS Registration


'Old Town Hollyhocks'     plein air pastel        ©Karen Margulis

This is the moment we have been waiting for......registration opens on Monday October 15th for the 13th biennial convention of the International Association of Pastel Societies or IAPS. This gathering of pastel artists from around the world is often called the biggest pastel party on the planet. If you  want to know why you should go stay tuned for more posts this week!

Many of you already know you want to go and will be sitting at your computer come Monday morning. I have some tips to help make this anxious time a more successful experience.

First take a deep breath. There are some things you can do to make the registration process go smoothly.

Be there next year!


1.  Make a Plan and Plan to Let go.  

This is my philosophy for everything and it works well for IAPS registration. Don't wait until the last minute to decide on your schedule and your preferred classes and demos. Research NOW. All of the information you need is on the IAPS website.

Use this weekend to study the offerings and the instructors.http://www.iapspastel.org/conv19_classes.php

A friend of mine made a document of all the class offerings by copying and pasting the class description into  document and printing it out. It makes it easier to read when you aren't sitting in front of a computer. Get out a notebook and start taking notes on the classes that interest you. Note that there are a variety of offerings....1 and 2 day workshops, 2 and 3 hour demos and personal development/business presentations. Plan out your schedule with your fist choice selections so you can have an overview of your time at the convention.

Write out your schedule so you can see when your class choices will be.  Be sure to allow for a little downtime to visit the trade show or do some sightseeing or just visit with your fellow artists.

You may already know what workshops or demos you want to take. But if not scroll through the list and look at the work of the artists. If there is a painting that makes you pause then stop and read more about the artist and their class.

What if it isn't a subject you paint? What if an artist interests you but they don't paint your usual subjects.....that shouldn't stop you! You just never know what you will learn when you venture outside of your usual comfort zone!

What if you aren't familiar with the instructor/artist?  All of the artists on the faculty are carefully selected for their work and teaching. You can be certain that even the lesser know artists will be offering high quality presentations and workshops. If you like the work and the topics.....go for it!

2. Make a Back up Plan

While you are making your plans be sure to make a Plan B. You need to have a list of your second and even third choices that work with your schedule so that you can register quickly and efficiently. Yes the popular classes and instructors may fill up quickly but that doesn't mean you shouldn't come to the convention if you don't get your first choices.  There is a wonderful variety of topics and instructors....all of them are experienced and very talented artists. You really can't go wrong! Take time to research all of the offerings BEFORE registration day so that you are prepared with a Plan B.
Here is an overview of the instructors. You can click on their workshop or demo titles for more information.http://www.iapspastel.org/conv19_instructors.php


3. Have your payment information ready!

It is easy to forget to have your credit card handy in the excitement of registering. Be sure to have your payment information handy when you register so you don't waste precious time during registration looking for your credit card!



Ready to research? Go to the IAPS convention homepage and begin by clicking on all of the tabs on the left. Read all about every aspect of the convention here so that you will be knowledgable and prepared. http://www.iapspastel.org/convention_welcome.php


I will be sharing much more about the convention this week. I am excited to be a part of the faculty for the convention. I will be doing a 2 hour demo on wildflowers in the landscape and a 2 hour presentation on social media for artists. I would love to have you join one of my classes!

My demo at the last convention. Planning on a great demo experience
for next year's convention!

Friday, October 12, 2018

Three Things to Do After an Art Workshop

Pastel Demo Painting using n Art Graf Underpainting
I am home from teaching a wonderful workshop in Pecos New Mexico. I always return home from a workshop energized and inspired by the artists in the class as well as the scenery! I got home at 4:00 in the morning and it has taken me a couple of days to recover but I am back to work and would like to share some thoughts on what you can do after a workshop.

 My photos from Pecos and Santa Fe NM

It never fails.  I return home from a painting workshop full of inspiration and ideas only to be faced with a list of non art related chores.  I am thrown back into the regular routine and before I know it that spark of excitement and inspiration is pushed down by the weight of my other obligations.  If only we could have a couple of extra days after a workshop just to paint and talk to our artist friends about the things we have learned.

Most of us don't have the opportunity or time to spend a few extra days just to paint.  But this time I am going to do my best to not let the ideas from the workshop take a back seat to everything else.  I decided that there are three important things that I need to do after every workshop and I will encourage my students to do the same after a workshop they take with me as well. So what are the 3 things?


  • PAINT!  I can't stress how important it is to get right to the easel after a workshop. The longer you wait the more you will tend to forget. Paint while the instructor's demos and words are still fresh in your mind.  You know when you can still he the voice of the instructor in your head as you paint?  This voice will fade the longer you wait.  I find I do better trying the ideas and techniques I learned once I am back in the studio. I can take my time and practice. 

  • LOOK BACK AT YOUR NOTES!  How many times have you taken a notebook full of notes and then never looked at them again?  I know I am guilty of this. Yes there is the benefit of writing down notes in the first place but you will get more out of them if you look at them again. It is a good idea to re read your notes right after the workshop while it is all fresh in your mind.  It is even better if you can take some time to rewrite your notes.  This extra step will really help to cement the ideas in your mind.  I know that mu notes are often a jumble of thoughts I write down as the instructor speaks and paints....so it helps me to rewrite the notes an make better sense of them.

  • CONNECT WITH THE OTHER ARTISTS!  One of the best things about a workshop experience is meeting other like minded people. Other artists who share the same passions and who want to be the best they can be.  The friendships and camaraderie that develops can be one of the best things to come from a workshop.  If you can reach out to theses new friends so that you can stay connected it is worth the effort.  At this workshop, the coordinator sent out an email list of students after the workshop. This was such a nice touch! I also plan to look up my new friends on Facebook.  Often we have already met on facebook and only meet in person at a workshop so it works both ways!
Finished demo

Here you can see the underpainting

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Trying a Wet Underpainting on Uart Dark

'Autumn Mosaic'         9x12       pastel on Uart Dark       ©Karen Margulis
available $165
 There is something very satisfying about wet underpaintings. Holding a brush and watching pastel melt and drip or moving wet paint around the surface is also very liberating. Even if I end up covering the underpainting with pastel, the act of creating the underpainting feels great.

I probably do some kind of wet underpainting for half of my paintings. I love all types of wet underpaintings from simple alcohol washes to experimenting with unexpected media such as oil paint or oil pastel crayons. I love using Uart paper because I have good results with these wet underpaintings. So I was anxious to try a wet underpainting on the new Uart Dark. I am happy to report that it passed all of my tests with flying colors!

Putting Uart Dark to the wet underpainting test
For the test I used an unmounted piece of Uart Dark 500 grade. I used both water and alcohol and a variety of media. My main concern was how the paper would hold up. My results:
  • The unmounted paper was taped on four corners to a piece of foam core board. It did not buckle or wave or wrinkle when wet with both water and alcohol. The liquid did not seep through to the back of the paper. 
  • The sanded surface retained the grit. The water and alcohol did not make the paper gummy or remove the grit.
In my tests the Uart Dark performed the same as regular Uart sand color. 

Blocking in color with Caran d'Ache Neocolors II crayons
 Continuing my experiment I used a piece of Uart Dark 500 grade and did a wet underpainting using Caran d'Ache Neocolor II crayons and water. I liked how the Neocolors stayed vibrant in my test. They didn't disappoint me. The allowed me to block in the big shapes of my composition and set up the color. The underpainting provided me with a roadmap. The Uart Dark performed flawlessly.

In the end I covered up much of the underpainting with pastel. There is nothing wrong with that! Even though it is desirable to let underpaintings show or peek through it isn't the end of the world if it gets covered. The underpainting was an icebreaker....it was a set up and allowed me to start the painting without fear and hesitation!

Wet with water

Blocking in the darks once underpainting has dried

Painting the sky and all of the dull colors....brighter colors to come!
Read more about Uart paper on their website here:http://uartpastelpaper.com/products/

Sunday, October 07, 2018

I Painted my Largest Paintings Ever!

My largest pastel paintings ever! Each one 36x60
 It was the best kind of commission. Paint something HUGE and ship it unframed. The fun of painting large without the worry of framing and shipping big framed paintings. And even better I was given the freedom to create paintings based on one of my smaller works without a lot of restrictions. The paintings needed to be compatible but not one big continuous scene.

The scene that was selected was actually one of my paintings from my trip to Ireland. So I pulled out my photos from Ireland for inspiration. Once the small studies were approved I got to work. I had already cut and taped the paper to my large foam core boards so they were ready to go. See my post on the other paintings in this commission for details on my supplies. http://kemstudios.blogspot.com/2018/09/my-largest-pastel-paintings-ever-tips.html

In the studio working hard!
 Enjoy the photos of the paintings. They were all so much fun to paint and everyday I was thankful to have a big studio with lots of spare easels!

A closer look at painting #1


Here is painting #2


Here is Jennifer to give you a sense of the scale.



closeup details


Friday, October 05, 2018

An Important Sky Painting Tip

'Drama Over Pecos'          8x10          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
 There seems to be a fine line in a sky painting. How much land should there actually be if the painting is all about the sky and clouds?  If there is too much information on the land then the painting risks becoming too busy. But not enough information doesn't allow a visual connection between what is happening on the ground and up in the sky. The story seems incomplete. No matter how interesting or dramatic the sky if there isn't enough information on the ground we don't get a sense of time or place.

I decided that I had two sky demo paintings that needed to be reworked. I had focused solely on the sky in the demos. The clouds were interesting but the paintings felt like only half of a thought. It felt unfinished without any grounding from the land below.


I took out some rubbing alcohol and a cheap brush and I liquified the pastel in the sky. I love doing that! I now had some interesting sky color to respond to. I decided to paint a couple of the many views I have of Pecos New Mexico.

In both the bright sky painting and the stormy sky painting I wanted to leave just enough land in the painting to give the viewer a sense of the place. I considered just adding some tree tops but then that could be anywhere....I wanted the painting to be about the skies over New Mexico. I purposely kept my marks and shapes on the ground simple and subdued. I added just enough detail to suggest mountain, trees and scrub. I was tempted to add more detail in the trees but then they would fight for attention with the sky!


'Brewing Storm'        8x10         pastel



Keep this fine line in mind when you are painting a skyscape. Connect your sky to the ground with a simple description of the landscape.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Pay Attention to the Time of Day When you Paint

'Lavender Impressions'       5x7      pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $95
Scroll back and forth between these two lavender paintings. They both depict the same place! Yet they look so different from one another. Why? The conditions were completely different for each one. The top painting was done under a slightly hazy day around noon. The bottom painting was done when the sun was low in the sky during the late afternoon.

What differences do you observe?

'Lavender Impressions II'        5x7        pastel       available $95
The time of day, the weather conditions and the quality of the light source (the sun) changed the way the colors appeared.

  • When the sun was directly overhead around noon the light is generally cool and there aren not much in the way of shadows. The light is flat. The purple color in the lavender appeared cool and looked blue-violet and even blue. Since it was hazy the lavender was softer and seemed more grayed.
  • We went back to the lavender in the very late afternoon. The sun was lower in the sky and even though the sky was still bright and still blue.....the landscape was beginning to take on a golden/orange glow. The warmth the sun touched everything and changed the colors....the purple color in the lavender was now much warmer and looked red-violet. There was also a yellow green and a bronzy orange green look to the foliage. 
Observation in real life is important! Being aware of the time of day and the weather conditions will help your paintings look more authentic and believable. If we aren't paying attention we might allow our logical thinking part of our brain tell us that the lavender is purple. Period. Just purple....as in crayon box purple. We need to override this part of our brain and take into consideration the way the light changes the way we see color!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Can You Do An Oil Underpainting with Water Soluble Oils?

'Together Forever'              12x9        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
I had been experimenting with oil stain underpaintings last month and had a good question from a reader. Have I ever tried an oil underpainting for pastels with water soluble oils? I've never tried it so I didn't have an answer. My initial thought was that while it would certainly work , the results might not be as interesting as regular oil paint. Part of what makes the interesting spider web like drips with oil paint is the reaction that occurs when the mineral spirits evaporates. Would water do the same thing?  I had to find out.

I took out some old water soluble oil paints to give them a try. The results were very strange. The paint didn't want to stick to the paper. It would go on but when I trued to brush more paint on the sanded paper paint would come right off. In the end I was left with this very strange underpainting.

the underpainting done with water soluble oil paint
Now you know I don't like to waste good sanded paper. In this case I had used Uart 500 sanded paper. So I let the underpainting dry and set it aside. I decided to use it for today's tree painting. As I painted I kept on thinking that the results were strange. The paint should have stuck to the paper. Maybe the drips wouldn't be the same but the paint should have stuck! I was a bit disappointed. 

As I wrote this post and had a closer look at the photo of the underpainting I think I know what might have happened! In my haste to try the water soluble oils I didn't remember that they were water soluble......I think I used odorless mineral spirits instead of water. I am not sure that is the case so further experimentation is in order!  I did have quite an interesting underpinning to respond to and in the end that is really what matters!

half way through the painting 
Have you tried water soluble oil paint for underpaintings? Share your experience with us in the comments.

What is happening on Patreon this month
The month of October is devoted to studio practices. I will be answering those important questions such as how to photograph your work, storage, shipping pastels, signing work and much more! In addition I will have painting demos such as a photo demo for today's tree painting. Join us for just $4
www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Underpainting 101: The Alcohol Wash


'Ribbons of Gold'       12x12       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $195
Baby Nora is here! My granddaughter was born yesterday so I am away from my studio :)  Enjoy this post from the archives and baby photos coming soon!

The very first underpainitng technique I ever tried was a simple alcohol wash. I loved it but thought I was cheating! It seemed as if my painting was half done after the underpainting was dry! I have now experimented with many underpainting media and techniques but I still enjoy the good old alcohol wash. So tonight after a long day of non painting chores I decided to play with this favorite!
Here is the resulting underpainting. I used Nupastels and 70% rubbing alcohol.


12 x12 on Uart 500 grit sanded paper

  • An ALCOHOL WASH is simply a technique used to liquify pastel creating a wet underpainting. Using a paintbrush and 70% rubbing alcohol the artist wets the pastel creating a wet wash. Pastel can also be liquified with water and Odorless mineral spirits with slightly different results. ( I have also used vodka which works great!)
  • Sanded paper or paper that can take a wet wash is needed. Note that some sanded papers do not take a wet wash. (LaCarte)
  • It is best to use a harder pastel for an alcohol wash. The softer pastels with more pigment than binder tend to get thick and gummy when wet. I have had success with softer pastels when I apply them very lightly.
  • Take your time! You are turning pastel into liquid paint....like gouache ...so take advantage of this and slow down and use the brush to paint! Use brushstrokes to help describe what you are painting. It is not just a matter of getting everything wet....slow down and make the underpainting just as important as the pastel application.
  • Embrace the drips! One of the wonderful things about wet underpaintings is the opportunity for the unexpected! Let the pigment drip and mix and mingle!
Do you have any tips for doing an alcohol wash? Feel free to share them in the comments!

If you would like to explore underpaintings in depth then I invite you to try my Patreon page.We are just wrapping up 2 months of study on all things underpainting! www.patreon.com/karenmargulis




Tuesday, September 25, 2018

One Great Reason to Love Pastels

'Symphony of the Seas'        16x20         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $300
 There are many reasons of course. Pastels are quite easy to love once you get your hands on some good ones. They are vibrant and luminous and intense and subtle. They are versatile and can be used in so many ways and with so many other materials. I could go on and on singing the praises of pastel.
But today I was reminded of yet another reason to embrace pastels.
 Pastel is a very forgiving medium.

If you aren't happy with a painting it is very easy to make corrections.  There is no such thing as the point of no return with a pastel painting.  There are always ways to revive a painting gone bad. (I have done my fair share of putting this to the test!) You can even paint over a painting without having to scrape or wait for it to dry. It is the perfect medium for impatient artists like myself.

I pulled out an older unfinished demo from my pile. It was a beach scene and I had added some pink beach roses to the dunes. The painting wasn't finished and frankly it was a mishmash of things that I was demonstrating at the workshop. Demos can be like that.....tools to show certain concepts or techniques.  The painting had good n=bones but it needed help.

The original unfinished demo painting
I decided that I wanted to get rid of the pink flowers. I wasn't feeling them!  I looked through my beach photo pile and found one that I could use for inspiration. I likes the subtle colors in the photo and the Queen Annes lace rather than bright colorful flowers.

I sprayed soem workable fixative over the dune grasses of the demo painting and set to work to recreate the scene. It was very easy to go over the original painting with fresh pastel marks. I did use some workable fixative to restore some tooth in the grassy areas but other than that I just painted right on top of the original.  It was like the original painting became my underpainting. I love that about pastel!

my inspiration photo for the redo
What's happening on Patreon?
We will be exploring studio practices for the month of October. I will be sharing tips for signing your work, correcting mistakes, photographing work, shipping, storage and more. Be sure to sign up to join us! It is a $4 monthly subscription and as always I appreciate your support both here and on Patreon! www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Monday, September 24, 2018

Free Yourself with a Random Underpainting

'Welcome Autumn'            6x8           pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $125
“It is very good to copy what one sees; it is much better to draw what you can’t see any more but is in your memory. It is a transformation in which imagination and memory work together. You only reproduce what struck you, that is to say the necessary.”-Edgar Degas

 It really is amazing. We have the ability to retain so much information and to recall it at will. This ability can help us create stronger paintings if we let it. But we often don't allow it to happen. We become slaves to our references. If we work from photos they often become a crutch. It is a scary thought to put the photo away and work from our memory and experience with the subject  of the photo. But giving ourselves the freedom and permission to put the photos away can result in paintings that have more meaning. We tend to only include what we remember....what meant the most or made the biggest impression.

TRY THIS:  Create a random underpainitng of any type. Don't plan for what you will paint on the underpainting. Just play with shapes and colors. I call these Random Underpaintings. When the underpainting has dried look at it and see what it reminds you of. Then paint that place or thing from your memory. My random underpainting reminded me of yellow fall trees    maybe the cottonwoods of the Southwest. I based my painting on memories of these trees.


My random underpainting



Saturday, September 22, 2018

Quick Photo Demo and Tips for Painting Grass


'Summer Tango'        16x12       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $175
My grass painting has evolved. I have gone through the stages from painting every blade of grass with stiff fence-like marks to big swaths of green with no detail. As my style evolves the grass goes along for the ride! Lately I am interested in getting more depth in my grassy areas of a painting. Even in closeup viewpoints I want the viewer to feel like they could put their hand in the grass and not just on the top layer.  To do this I have to build up many layers of complexity. I thought it would be interesting to show you a step by step build up of these layers.

Here are a few tips to help your treatment of grass in a painting.

  •  Avoid painting individual blades of grass. Think instead of the big underlying shapes or blocks of grass. Pull out and paint a few blades. Allow the viewer to participate and fill in the rest. A few well placed blades will read as grass.
  • Using the long edge of a soft square pastel use the press and lift method to leave a print of a piece of grass. Do a few but be careful not too have them spaced too evenly or all marching in the same direction.
  • Use the top edge of a harder round pastel and roll it leaving a broken line of grass.
  • Lay down a block of color and then draw some lines of grass with a thin hard pastel. Draw a SENSITIVE line. Have a light responsive touch so the line isn't to thick or regular. Practice sensitive lines.
  • Paint on a heavily textured surface. Glide the pastel over the texture and it will look like grasses without putting in a blade!
  • Underpainting! I like to use an alcohol, turpenoid or oil stain and allow the drips to create the grasses.



The underpainting is really just an old painting that I wet down with
rubbing alcohol to create a wet wash. There are no drips because the pastel was so thick.

The beginning stages.I black in the flower placement and use several layers
of dark pastels to make uptake 'dirt' in the grass. The dark that will hold all of the grass together.

I build up more layers of dirt using workable fixative to
give me more tooth for even more layers. I also build up the flowers and layer blues in the sky.

Next I start to add the thicker excess of grass and weedy foliage.
See how the green pops against the dark 'dirt'. 

Once the larger pieces of grassy stuff are in place I start to cover them with thinner marks of grass.
I use a variety of hard pastels to paint some 'dancing' linear grass marks.
You can see that the grass in made of layers form dark to light and from no detail to more clarity.

The finished painting.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Simplifying a Complicated Landscape

'The Way Through the Woods'           9x12           pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $165
 This is another landscape that I have been wanting to paint. But it was too complicated. I avoided it. Every time I leafed through my stacks of photos it would call to me. But I put it aside. Too many trees and much too busy. Today I decided that it was high time to paint it. All I really needed to do was simplify it. Simple right?

Well it turns out that it wasn't as complicated as I thought. All I really needed to do was look at the big picture. Instead of counting every tree trunk, branch and twig and instead of painting every individual leaf I looked at these things as simplified shapes. I painted with the side of my pastel for as long as I could so that I could make broad flat strokes.

I began the painting on a piece of Wallis seconds (I still have a stash) I used hard pastels to block in the simple shapes that made up my forest scene. I Indicated the darkest shapes of the tree trunks, the lightest shapes which was the peeks of sky and the large areas of fall foliage and grass with some yellow and green. I rubbed in this layer with a piece of pipe insulation foam. This step gave me an immediate simplified roadmap to follow. Just seeing all of the details as simple shapes helped me get stated on what had been a daunting reference.

Blocking in the big shapes
Just think of your block-in or first layers of the painting as a flattened simplified collection of related shapes. It is almost as if I took my finished painting and put it thorough a machine that squeezed out the details and left me with simple flattened shapes.

Once I had this simple block-in it was much easier to gradually add smaller and smaller marks on top of the flat shapes. These smaller marks of different colors and values allowed me to have control over the level of detail I wanted.


At the halfway point
I could have added more leaves and branches and twigs but I wanted to leave something to the viewer's imagination. I wanted the viewer to fill in the blanks. Starting flat and simple was the key!


Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Tips for Preserving an Oil Stain Underpainting


'October is Calling'           11x14        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $175
Have you ever done a really cool underpainting and then proceed to cover it up completely? Have you ever applied your pastel so thick that you can't even remember what type of underpainting you did?  Take heart if this has happened to you. It happens to me more than I like. I try to preserve an underpainting but it takes a huge amount of RESTRAINT. And that is something I don't always have.

Here are a few tips I have discovered that make it easier to keep some of the underpainting visible: 
  • Slow down after you have a light layer of pastel over your painting. Decide where your focus is and develop the focal areas.
  • Use a VERY LIGHT touch when applying pastel...whisper. You want to be able to see the colors and layers underneath so whisper on a thin veil of pastel. One thin layer t a time.
  • Match the colors and values of the underpainting so you don't make drastic changes too soon. Make gradual changes rather than abrupt changes. Sneak up on the painting!
  • Step back at least every 10 minute. This will help you slow down and be more deliberate about the marks you make. 



The very first pastel layers

 I have gotten better at restraint and slowing down. Both are important to preserving an underpainting. Do you want to get better at keeping an underpainting visible? I just posted a new video on Patreon that shows you how I add pastel to this painting. I will also be sharing my step by step thought process for the finish. I'm sharing some tips here on the blog but I'd love for you to check out the much expanded content on the Patreon page. It is the blog on steroids!
www.patreon.com/karenmargulis  Just $4 a month and you can cancel at anytime.


The painting at the end of the demo video

Close up.....look at how lightly I apply my pastel layers