2018 Workshop Schedule. New workshops added! click here for details.
Visit my Patreon Page for more painting instruction

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Have You Tried Canva?

I'm not the slickest. I probably could use a blog makeover with a more up to date look and feel. But when it comes down to it I'd rather spend my time painting and creating interesting content then working on the behind the scenes design challenges.

 But sometimes I want and need something slick to present my work or workshops. I'd like to create good looking designs that are low cost, low tech and quick. I found it all on a great website called canva.com . I am hooked!  Here is a quick description of Canva from wikipedia:

Canva is a graphic-design tool website, founded in 2012. It uses a drag-and-drop format and provides access to over a million photographs, graphics, and fonts. It is used by non-designers as well as professionals. The tools can be used for both web and print media design and graphics

I use canva to create photo collages, instagram posts, flyers and much more. I used canva.com to create the photo collage of my work in the photo at the top of this post. It only took a few minutes and it was free! Give Canva a try and let me know what you think!

My Thankful Event sale is still live until Thanksgiving day. Be sure to consider the gift of original art this holiday season! Check out the paintings in my etsy shop www.etsy.com/shop/karenmargulis.com

Friday, November 16, 2018

Tips for Simplifying Tree Paintings

'Lady in Red'            9x12            pastel            ©Karen Margulis
available $175
 It suddenly hit me yesterday when preparing a lesson on painting trees. We often make things more complicated than they have to be. From everything to setting up and starting a painting to the actual painting process itself...it is always a challenge to keep things simple.

Take trees for example. I avoided painting trees for years because I believed them to be too hard....too complicated. I didn't know how to simplify them. I didn't know how to simplify anything involved with painting. I wish I had pictures of the huge cart of supplies I would haul to pastel class! Live and learn!

Trees don't have to be complicated. They are just shapes after all. Once I learned how to simplify a tree into a basic shape and then carve and mould it like it was a lump of clay, painting trees became doable. Now I enjoy painting trees. Starting and keeping things simple has been the key.

Breaking up the distant tree line with the sky

Ideas for Simplifying Trees

  • Look at the overall shape of the tree. Is it oval? Square? Round? Triangular?  Does it have lots of little section of foliage?  Block in this big simple shape.
  • Pay attention to the silhouette of the tree....If it was just a big flat shape what would the outer edges look like? 
  • Make sure the shape you block in for the tree is an interesting shape. You want an interesting positive shape as well as have the shape around the tree (negative space) be interesting.
  • Don't let the symbol your brain has for a tree cause you to make a plain, boring and orderly shape.
  • Observe carefully. Be a good observer of trees. Pay attention to how they grow, what kind of foliage do they have? Where do their branches come from?
  • Practice, Practice and practice some more. Don't avoid what frustrates you. (but don't obsess about it either, balance practice with difficult subjects with subjects you have success with.)

Join us over on my Patreon page for many more tips, video demos and challenge exercises. The month of November is Tree Month! www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Painting the negative spaces AKA sky holes 

Be sure to check out my paintings in my Etsy shop. For this week only they are available at a 50% discount! click on this link to see the paintings: www.etsy.com/shop/karenmargulisfineart

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Sale You Have Been Waiting For! 50% Off Original Pastel Paintings!

I am thankful to have the opportunity to share my love of pastels and painting with you here on my blog. I have been sharing here since 2006 and it has been such a rewarding experience. Blogging has encouraged me to paint every day. All of those paintings have helped me share tips and techniques with you and they have allowed me to grow as an artist as well. The bonus is a studio full of paintings that need good homes!
This week I am offering  a 50% discount on all of the paintings in my Etsy shop! There is a painting for every price range from minis starting at $12.50 to large up to 24x36! All paintings are original pastels and many of them have been shown here or painted for a Patreon / blog / YouTube demonstrations. The sale ends on Thanksgiving Day! 
 Remember, original art makes wonderful holiday gifts for your friends and family (or for yourself!) THANK YOU for your support of my blog. 
Visit my etsy shop to view the paintings.  You don't need an etsy account to make a purchase. Just check out as a guest. Click on the link below:

Here are just a few of the 100 paintings that are available at 50% off! Note that a few paintings don't have the sale price since I just added them.  They are still on sale for 50% off. Click on those paintings to see the sale price. 
Please share the sale with your friends!

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Words of Wisdom for Artists

'Summer Love'         9x12       pastel         ©Karen Margulis
My house is full of the joy and laughter of my children and grandchildren. I had a minute go into the studio to check on my email so I decided to share a blog post from the archives. I was scrolling through some old posts and this one stood out. I hope you enjoy these words of wisdom once again!

I didn't have an answer right away. My head was too full of inspiration and I couldn't choose just one thing to share. But as I thought about everything I had learned from my weekend as a volunteer at Richard McKinley's workshop for the Southeastern Pastel Society, one thing kept cropping up. It was something Richard repeated several times. I realized that it was the key! It was a single word which means so much. I will go as far to say that it is the MAGIC WORD for artists.

We all want to be the best artists possible.  We may have different goals but we all want to improve and grow. We want to get better! We want our paintings to speak...to express what is inside of us. Most of us want to move beyond having technical proficiency and create paintings that move others.  In order to do this we need the magic word....We need to give ourselves PERMISSION.

Watercolor underpainting on white Wallis paper

Permission. It's simple really but hard to do sometimes. We need to give ourselves permission to try things, to experiment with techniques, with color, with design. We need to give ourselves permission to play. We learn the most when we are having fun and letting go. We need to give ourselves permission to move away from the reference photo....we don't need to be literal to the scene. It's OK to let the painting lead us in a different direction. Let it happen! Don't hold back!

I love that Richard reminds us that we can give ourselves permission to think outside of the box and to follow our own voices. We need to enjoy the journey and with time and practice it will all fall into place.

2.5 x 3.5 inch color study

I decided to continue my exploration of this familiar subject and interpret it in a new way. I printed my reference photo in black and white so I could create a new mood with cooler colors. My previous painting was a warm sunset mood. For this painting I did a watercolor underpainting on white paper. I took the time to do a small color study to test out my color ideas. I gave myself PERMISSION to play and explore this scene in a new way.

black and white reference photo

Friday, November 09, 2018

How to Get Pastel Out of Carpet

'Autumn Chill'                9x12         pastel           ©Karen Margulis

The red and violet pastels were fast and furious this week.  Every once in awhile a pastel would take flight. Has this happened to you?  You are happily painting and all of the sudden the pastel just flies out of your fingers and lands on the floor....usually in pieces. A sad event and a messy one.

I have a new discovery that will take care of the pastel mess on the carpet.  And it only cost a dollar.  Yes I have been to the Dollar Tree again!  It is called LA's Totally Awesome Cleaner (as seen on TV) and I was skeptical. Would it live up to it's name?

A dark violet pastel crushed into my carpet!

Yes It was Awesome!  It took care of the ground in violet pastel as well as some leftover red and yellow that I wasn't able to get completely out with other carpet cleaners. It bills itself as an all purpose concentrated cleaner, degreaser and spot remover. It is meant to be diluted but I sprayed it full strength on the pastel spots. It took two treatments...spray and wipe up with baby wipes.  The spots were gone!

I read about this cleaner on a facebook thread on cleaning up oil paint messes. This cleaner was recommended and I thought if it worked for dried oil paint it should work for pastel!  I even tried it on an old black acrylic paint stain on my carpet and it just melted the paint. The carpet was fine. Totally Awesome!

TIP: When cleaning up a pastel mess always vacuum with the hose to get up most of the dust. You want to get as much of the loose pigment up as you can otherwise you just turn it into more paint when you wet it. Suck up the dust first then treat the remaining stain. 

LA Awesome Cleaner to te rescue!

All clean!!

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Tips for Painting Yellow Foliage

'Light in the Forest'             9x12        pastel  on Wallis warm mist       ©Karen Margulis
available $165
Painting the yellow foliage is my challenge. I don't know about anyone else but I find yellows to be tricky with pastels. It is hard to get them as bright, clean and vibrant as I want to.  I am always looking for ideas to help me with yellows and I'd like to share five of my favorite techniques.

  • Try a yellow underpainting under the areas that will be yellow. It gives your yellows a head start. For this painting I did a gouache underpainting.
  • Use your softest pastels. The softer pastels have more pigment and I can get juicier marks with them. This way the yellows don't mix with the colors underneath as easily keeping the yellows pure. Sometimes I take an extra step and dust soft yellow pastel pieces on the painting and roll them with a rolling pin to set them into the paper.  (see my post on this Dusting Technique HERE)
  • Try to mix warm and cool yellows in the areas that you are painting yellow. I find that if I place warm yellows next to cool yellows, the color looks more alive and vibrant.
  • When building up your layers of Yellow, start with a darker yellow or an orange yellow so the lighter and more intense yellows will stand out in contrast to these darker areas.
  • Use the compliment of yellow....Purple!  Using the complimentary color purple or violet next to the yellow intensifies it and makes it appear more vibrant. Be sure not to mix the yellow and purple or you will get muddy color.
I hope these tips are helpful. I use these techniques whenever I am painting things that have big areas of yellow such as sunflowers!  Do you have any tips for using yellow? I'd love to hear them.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Have You Tried Splatter Spray on a Pastel Painting?

'Quiet on the Marsh'         18x24             pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $600
 What a great weekend! I had the honor to team with Nancy Nowak to teach a workshop in her studio. We had a great group of hardworking artists who all created some wonderful paintings. Nancy and I each started a painting on day one sharing different techniques and then we finished our demos on day two. The artists in the group also started and worked on two paintings. Nancy demonstrated her wonderful watercolor underpainting and I shared my three favorite simple starts.

Here is a photo of my demo painting at the end of the demo time. It was about 95% finished and I was excited to pull it out tomorrow and put in the finishing touches.

The painting at the end of the workshop demo time
I explained to the group while I was painting that I like to use Blair Very Low Odor workable fixative to build up layers of textured pastel. I demonstrated one layer but I knew I would take it home and do a couple more layers of spray and pastel application.

I also explained that I sometimes like to make the spray come out in a splatter! This would be a disaster for some paintings. Not getting a clean light even spray of fixative could ruin a painting. But in the case of this demo I wanted splatter!

Splattering the fixative leaves blobs and dots of fixative. The workable fixative will darken and dull the pastel. It also fixes it in places so the pastel doesn't mix with the next layer. Look at the photo below of my splatter. They add interest and texture to my dried marsh grasses!

The results of splatter spray with workable fixative
 Spray splatter is easy to do. Simple depress the spray button very slowly and press down on one side of the button only. The spray should come out sputtering and spotty! Yay!

The pastels I used for the painting 
I will be announcing registration for a couple of workshops in early 2019 in a couple of weeks so stay tuned. I'd love to share with you in person!

Friday, November 02, 2018

Learn From Failure and Inspiration from Van Gogh

'September Tapestry'         9x12         pastel      ©Karen Margulis  
available $150

"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. 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!

About today's painting: Sometimes it takes a lot to pull off a painting.  It began as a failed  painting. I couldn't make it work and I was ready to give up. But I persevered and decided to start over by going over it with a thin coat of clear gesso. I had a fresh start.  

Applying clear gesso to an unfinished demo
The first remake of the painting still wasn't working. I was really tempted to give up and throw it into the trash. But I persevered and brushed out the painting.

The first remake of the demo. Meh.....not quite happy with this one.

I had another fresh start and a lot of texture. The third remake was the charm. I liked it much better than the previous paintings. I am glad I did not give up. From a failure to something that pleased me equals success.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Change is Good! Simple Ways to Change a Painting

'Change is Good'            14x11       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $175
I was searching for some of my old tree paintings. I was looking to find a range from early to more current so I could see how my trees have evolved. I found some really bad trees! They couldn't help but improve and with such practice they have come a long way from my first tree paintings back in 2006! 
I came across one painting that was probably painted halfway through my journey with pastels. It was a summer aspen tree grove. I liked it but I wondered if I could change the season and make it into a fall scene. I put on my 'What If' hat and got to work.

The original painting was very green...summertime!
The original painting had a watercolor underpainitng. I liked the bits of watercolor that still peeked through so I wanted to keep a light touch. Can you see the simple changes I made?

Now it is fall!

  • I didn't brush out anything or spray....I just went right on top of the existing pastel.
  • I lightened the sky a tiny bit.
  • I add a light layer of dull yellows to the distant grasses.
  • I added ochres and warmer yellows to the foreground.
  • I punched up the lights and darks on the tree trunks.
  • I added some ochres and brighter yellows on top of the green leaves.
This month is TREE MONTH over on my Patreon page. If you want to learn tips and techniques for painting trees head on over and sign up for just $4. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Paint Autumn Trees: Quick Video Demo

'Maine Woods'           9x12         pastel          ©Karen Margulis

Enjoy this post from the Archives!

I was so inspired that I had to get down into my studio to paint. The chores had to wait. Once I am home from a trip often life gets in the way of inspiration. This time I didn't let it! I threw in the laundry and immediately downloaded the photos from my New England and Canada cruise.

Once in the studio a printed put a few photos and pulled out my pastel palette for the intimate autumn landscape that begged to be painted. I thought it would be fun to paint live so we set up the iPhone to do a Facebook Live video of my painting. I had no idea how the painting would turn out but my goal was to show you how I respond to inspiration. Everything gets put on hold until I paint!

The small reference photo that inspired today's painting 

The photo above was my inspiration. You can watch the video demo here on my YouTube channel.

Click here to see the video on YouTube
We also filmed two more videos for my new Patreon page. I have over 600 patrons now who are enjoying the extra pastel and painting instruction and inspiration. If you haven't had a look at the Patreon page you can visit it here. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Sunday, October 28, 2018

How to Start a Landscape Painting from an Abstract

'A Flash of Red'          8x10         pastel         ©Karen Margulis

I'm not about to waste a good piece of Uart paper. So when I saw this piece on the pile I had an idea. It was covered with red and purple squiggly marks....the result of my recent video on mark making. It served it's purpose but I hated to just throw it away.

So as usual I put on my 'What If' hat and thought about how I could reuse the paper. The easiest thing to do would be an alcohol wash. So I poured some 70% isopropyl alcohol into a cup and took out a stiff bristle brush.  I scrubbed the alcohol into the pastel marks and let the liquid do its magic. I couldn't get rid of the heavy lines so they became a part of the new underpainting.

I'm not about to waste a good piece of paper!

When the underpainting was dry I was pleasantly surprised. It was actually kind of an interesting abstract painting. But in it I could see a red tree trying to emerge! It would be a great way to start my  intimate autumn forest scene. 

I usually have some kind of plan for my underpaintings. In this case I simply wet some colors and marks and let them become their own abstract design. I then responded to this abstract. It was a fun way to start a painting and one that I will definitely try again!

A little rubbing alcohol and voila!

The finished painting. Watch the demo on YouTube

Friday, October 26, 2018

Why Painting is Like Cooking

'In the Mood for Fall'           9x12         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $165
Don't laugh!  Those of you who know me are aware that I don't cook.  It's not that I don't like to cook. I don't make time to learn. It isn't a priority or a passion.  I love to watch Food Network though. After the workshop this past week I unwound in the hotel room by vegging out to Food Network. Something occurred to me....

Creating a painting is a lot like cooking a meal!

To cook a delicious meal you need to know the basics of cooking and assemble the freshest and best ingredients. You need a recipe or at least a plan for your dish. You need to orchestrate the plan, check on the progress and not overcook it!  It takes a some intuition and confidence to take an ordinary recipe and make it your own. Can you see the parallels?

Chop Your Way to Success

One of my  favorite Food network programs is Chopped. It is a cooking competition show where the chefs have 30 minutes to create a dish from a basket of mystery ingredients.  I love watching the chefs create under the pressure of the clock. I think it is something we should try as painters for a good exercise.
  • Take a photo and piece of paper and set the timer for 30 minutes. 
  • Now paint. You have just enough time to formulate a quick plan and then just respond. There is not enough time to overwork the painting. 
  • There is a time to slow down in a painting but we also need to learn how to respond intuitively and trust ourselves. This exercise is to help us avoid 'fiddling'.
  • This exercise is a good warm up or even cool down after a day of painting.
  • If you really want a challenge have someone else choose your subject and a limited palette...you have to make it work!

This is our challenge this week over on my Patreon Page. Join us over on Patreon www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Why Use Purple Underpainting?

'Autumn Breeze'     12x9           pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $250
I took a long look at my reference photo. I was intrigued by the tangle of dried weedy stuff.....my favorite thing to paint. But the photo wasn't very interesting. The colors and values were all the same. It was flat. I would really need to push the color and value to make a more interesting painting.

Where should I begin? It made sense to begin with the underpainting. I knew I would be using a lot of yellow in the painting so perhaps using the complement of yellow would add some excitement to the painting. Complementary colors will vibrate when places next to one another but will turn gray or neutral when blended together. I would have to be careful to not allow the complements to mix.

My reference photo
That is where the underpainting comes in. I could add the complement with purple pastels and wash it with some rubbing alcohol and a brush. Not only could I create interesting drips, once dry the pastel would be fixed in place and less likely to mix physically with the yellow pastel layers.

Purple pastel alcohol wash on Wallis warm mist 12x9
At the end of the painting I did one extra thing to add interest. Scroll up and look at the finished painting. Can you tell what I added?

(answer: I reintroduced some purple to the top layers in small marks to represent dried flowers)

Monday, October 22, 2018

More Rocks and Water : New Video Demo!

'Turning Seasons'            9x12         pastel      ©Karen Margulis
available $165
 One of the benefits of my Patreon page is the opportunity to view weekly video demos. This week I offered patrons the choice of 4 photos for the weekly demo. The votes were close but rocks and water won!  I had fun sharing the development of this painting on the video.  I know that many of my blog readers are also Patreon members and I thank you for your support! It allows me to present more comprehensive content and I love sharing with you!  If you are not sure about joining I'd love for you to give it a try. It is a $4 per month subscription but you are receiving several weekly in depth posts including video and step by step demos. You can do as much as you like or as little. All content is available to you in the archives!

close up of rock detail

Watch this video on my Patreon page www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Thursday, October 18, 2018

How to Paint Rocks in Pastel

'Breathe in the Magic'                9x12          pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $165
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.

Up close these rocks are just marks of pastel
This painting is the subject of a detailed step by step demo on my Patreon page. I will be sharing step by step photos and commentaries of this painting next week. I'd love for you to check it out! www.Patreon.com/karenmargulis

Building up the color in the trees