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Saturday, August 17, 2019

New Video Release: How to Paint Landscapes that Glow

Would you like some tips for painting light and shadows? You can search this blog for some great information. You can also head over to my Patreon Page where we spent two months this year covering these topics. If you would like to see one of the videos I made for my Patreon group it is now available on my YouTube channel. ( I have over 100 videos available on my Patreon Page!) In this video I show you how I paint flowers that glow with warm sunlight. Click on the link below to watch the video. If you like what you see please give it a thumbs up or comment and be sure to subscribe to my channel! Your support of my efforts helps me create even more content for you!

The finished demo painting. Sold

Here are a few tips for painting the illusion of warm sunlight

  • When painting a landscape it is important to know what time of day and what weather conditions you wish to portray. Warm light occurs in early morning and late afternoon (sun is low in sky) Cool light occurs mid day and overcast conditions.
  • The idea that warm light = cool shadows means that if the light source is warm the shadowed areas will be cool (not just the cast shadows on the ground....but any area not lit by the sun)
  • The secret to painting warm sunlight is to use a warm color in the areas KISSED BY THE SUN and use a cooler/duller color in the areas not kissed by the sun.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Taking a Painting from Finished to REALLY Finished!

'Head North'             9x12                pastel                   ©Karen Margulis
available $175
I just didn't listen. I had been given great advice but I guess I just wasn't ready to listen or more likely I didn't understand the importance of the advice. SLOW DOWN. I heard it from my teachers from my early days of painting (12 years ago). I couldn't. I was too anxious to paint and finish. Why should I slow down? I had learned to paint fast because of my busy work schedule. Painting 10 minute studies every day will do that. But I didn't learn to slow down to resolve those paintings!

I had to come to that place by myself. When I was ready. Lately I have embraced the art of slowing down....both in planning a painting and resolving it. Take the painting in the photo below. I painted it a few years ago. I signed it and put it in a clear bag to bring to workshops. I must have thought it was finished! But when I pulled it out and looked at it I could see several things that could be adjusted.  Some of them I might have noticed if I had taken the time to slow down and make my finishing marks with more care. Sometimes we just need time and experience before we can see these things with our own eyes and that is OK. It is part of the journey. 

The original painting needed help!
So what did a slower approach tell me about this painting? It needed an adjustment to the tree line. They were all in a row and the dark band of distant trees was too dark and distracting. I could have fixed the palm trees but instead decided to turn them into evergreen trees inspired by my trip to Alaska.

The painting also needed a more interesting foreground to middle ground. This area was too large and boring in the original painting. I used some workable fixative to rework this area. I spent about an hour on  this foreground area which is quite slow for me! But in the end the painting is much more interesting and polished. Slowing down to make these finishing marks made the difference.

For more tips on painting foregrounds visit my Patreon Page. For a $4 monthly subscription you will have access to over 2 year's of lessons and demos!

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

How to Decide What to Paint First After a Trip

'Summer in Alaska'                 9x12                    pastel               ©Karen Margulis
available $175
I woke up to 4 suitcases staring me down. Would I spend the day unpacking and doing laundry or would I paint. Of course I was anxious to paint. I came home from my cruise to Alaska filled with inspiration. But the thought of those suitcases eventually won out. I decided it would be better to start with a clean slate and a clean studio!

Add caption

It really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and by late afternoon I was finished unpacking and the easel called my name. This would be the tricky part. What would I paint first from all of my Alaska photos? What would call my name? I scrolled through my downloaded photos and selected 6 to print. I had taken over 1000 photos so it wouldn't be practical to print them all out.  I like to print about 6 or so at one time...use them for inspiration for a week and then revisit the photo files on my computer and choose another six photos. This not only makes it manageable it also allows me to revisit the photos with a fresh eye. What inspires me one day might not speak to me on another.

I print my photos no larger than 4x6 on regular printer paper

Usually after a big trip such as this one to Alaska I will paint from the photos for 2 - 4 weeks after the trip. Each week I will look for new subject matter within my photo files. Then it is time to move on. The photo files stay on my computer  (backed up twice of course) and the paper photos I printed stay in a marked envelope. I will often pull from these photos month and even years from the time of the trip. This is inspiration that keeps on giving!

Monday, August 12, 2019

The Magic (and frustration) of Green Pastels

The Magic of Green Pastels

'Summer Magic'         16x20          pastel           ©Karen Margulis
Enjoy another post from the archives. I will be back to regular posting this week!

 Greens can make us crazy!  Pastel artists can't really mix our own greens so we have to have a variety of green pastels in our collection.  (we can adjust our greens somewhat...more on this in another post)  Our green collection grows as we discover the limitations of our basic pastel sets.
  • We learn that the vivid artificial looking greens in the basic beginner sets can be too garish for believable landscapes.
  • We realize that in order to create depth (aerial perspective) in our landscapes we need a variety of warm, cool and neutral green pastels. We also need a range of values. Basic sets often only include mostly middle value bright greens. 
  • With practice we start to see the difference between warm, cool, intense and dull and we begin to understand where to use them. At first we may not see it. I know I didn't. Green was green and I couldn't understand why we would want (and covet) a full set of Terry Ludwig Greens!  But lots of practice has developed my sensitivity to green and I would LOVE that full set.

Having the right greens and using them in the right place can result in magic! I learned this first hand on my Iceland trip. I didn't have the right greens in my travel box!

'Emergence II'    8x10  plein air pastel    
Iceland was very lush and green. But I didn't anticipate just how cool those lush greens would be. I had my usual very limited travel set and my Gogh Box. I didn't have a lot of pastels so my selection of greens was limited. I just didn't have the right greens. I had a variety of light, middle and dark greens and a couple of cooler greens. But overall my greens were warmer yellowy greens.

I was in Iceland with no art store nearby so I had to make due with what I had. I was able to capture the values in my plein air studies but would have to wait until I got home to reinterpret these studies with a better selection of green. It was a valuable lesson!

Look at the difference the greens can make in a painting. The larger painting at the top is my studio painting. I used the smaller study as a reference and changed the selection of greens to better represent the lushness I saw.

I invite you to read my travelog about my trip to Iceland complete with photos and paintings. Links to each chapter can be found on my Pinterest board here. 

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Behind the Scenes: Painting a Heron and Egret

'The Wild Side'        9x12      pastel      ©Karen Margulis     sold

Enjoy this post from the archives. Would you like to see more animal paintings? I hope to get some wildlife photos in Alaska!)

I'm nosy. I like to be an observer of everything. Sometimes I get so involved with my people watching and observations that I forget that I am not really invisible. I am just very curious. It's not just people watching that intrigues me...I love watching art come to life. I enjoy seeing artists post their progress shots and even better when they give a commentary. I love learning how other artists approach a painting. 

So today I will take you behind the scenes of my egret and heron painting. I took some progress shots and I have added my thoughts below each photo. I hope you enjoy a peek behind the scenes.

I am using a 9x12 piece of Uart 500 sanded paper. I begin with a drawing done with compressed charcoal. I just dive right in with the charcoal and make any corrections without erasing. This is a totally different technique from my landscapes. It just illustrates that there is no right or wrong way to start a pastel painting!

I decide to start with the heron. I began by blocking in the darkest darks and then the middle values and finally the lightest areas. I usually work on the entire painting at one time including the background but for some reason the heron went quickly and I decided to finish him. Sometimes you just go with the flow!

Next I painted the egret. There is not strong dark so I began by using a middle value blue and purple before add ing the lighter value whites. I have left the dark charcoal lines on both birds. I love lines and I liked how they gave the birds a looser more expressive feeling. They are my interpretation of these wonderful birds....not a photorealistic representation.

I also added some of the dried marsh grasses with a few different yellow and orange pastels. Now the hard part, the background ....I never wait until the end to put in a background!

I wanted the birds to have a backdrop of water so I used several different blue pastels to sneak the water behind them. I was careful to pull the blue all the way into the birds. I didn't want to leave a halo of paper color around the birds.  I used blue to negatively paint in between the grasses. That was fun!  I love painting animals this way! Directly, fast with no underpainting!

4x4 study
Here is another favorite painting os a snowy egret. I enjoy the square format for these birds!

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Why Bother with Painting en Plein Air?

'Back to Abiquiu'            24x18            pastel        ©Karen Margulis
While I am in Alaska I am sharing some posts from the archives. Enjoy!

It has been a long time coming. I have been wanting to paint this scene for a couple of years now. My plan was to take the little field study I painted and paint a larger version in the studio. I envisioned it big ... 18x24 which is big for me. I framed the little study because it came attached with great memories. It sat in my studio and I would look at it and tell myself that someday I would paint it larger. Today was the day. But did I wait too long? I was a bit concerned as I took out a full sheet of Uart paper.

Would I remember the place and be able to capture how I felt about it after a few years had passed?

I need not have feared. As soon as I took a good look at the little 5x7 study it all came flooding back. I recalled every detail of the afternoon painting on the bluff overlooking the Chama River. I remember it was a warm day but with a gentle cooling breeze. I remember taking out a piece of 5x7 paper and deciding to tone it orange because of all of the warm rocks underlying the scrubby bushes. I remember hearing the water and some ravens. I remember feeling at peace....happy to be in New Mexico and enjoying the first day of a mentoring workshop with Richard McKinley. Looking at the little study brought back the memories that all of my senses took in that afternoon.

The 18x24 painting with the 5x7 study
I don't think I could have recalled the place so well by looking at a photograph. The time I took to paint the choose the immerse myself, allowed it to become a part of me. It was worth the time and effort required to take supplies outside to paint.

Why bother? I was once asked. Why hassle with equipment and the elements when you can paint in the comfort of a studio? Why? Because it is the best way to really see what photos miss. It is a wonderful way to fully experience your subject. It is the best way to put more of yourself into a painting. Your response to a place live and in person is better than relying only on a photo.

I did an alcohol wash underpainting for the large painting
Here is an excerpt from the blog post I wrote on the day I painted the study:

 We painted from morning until the sun sank behind the cliffs. It is a dream come true. The opportunity to paint in such an inspiring place with a group of artists who are passionate about what they do is priceless. Today was the first day of the workshop with Richard McKinley and since this is a mentoring or next level workshop the morning meeting was short but filled with great advice. Richard issued us a challenge for the week: To be more conceptual....go more present.....go beyond the mechanics of painting....go farther! 

Our first painting location was a spot high above the Chama River. Yesterday I painted at the river I was like a raven soaring over the river as it rounded the bend. It was fantastic. I did 4 studies and had a wonderful time.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Plein Air Tip: Don't Forget to Pack One of the These!

'Summer in the Garden'.      7x5           plein air pastel      ©Karen Margulis
available $100

Here is a piece of plein air equipment that you will be glad to have along....a vinyl table cloth! I have had my trusty turquoise table cloth for years and it goes on every painting trip with me. Mine is actually just half a cloth. My friend Jayne gave me half on one of our excursions and it has come in handy many a time. Make room for one in your bag!

my trusty vinyl tablecloth for plein air
  • Use it for a tablecloth! It is nice to have when you are taking a lunch break and the picnic table is questionable. It makes lunch fancier! If you don't have a picnic table even better to use on the ground or convenient rock.
  • Use it for a ground cloth. Protect your gear and your feet from cold ground or early morning dew. Lay the cloth down before setting up.
  • Use it for a seat. If you don't feel like setting up your easel, find a good spot, lay down the cloth and sit to paint. You are now protected from rocks and bugs.
  • Use it to cover your gear or yourself if you get caught in the rain.
  • Use it to protect a table or chair when painting without an easel. I use mine when I am 'lounge chair' painting.

Update: I now bring a foldable pocket picnic blanket which takes up less room. I recently got one at Amazon which even includes small stakes! There are many options for these on Amazon!

Sunday, August 04, 2019

A Trick for More Interesting Foregrounds

'Summertime in the Shade'            12x9          pastel              ©Karen Margulis
available $175

Foregrounds can be a nightmare. How much information is enough? How much is too much? How can we make it interesting yet not too important? How do we paint those pesky grasses in a landscape foreground? How do we paint a foreground that looks natural and expressive rather than something a preschool child made?

There are basic art concepts that need to be understood and utilized that will help us Create more effective foregrounds. But there are also fun tricks that make foregrounds successful and fun!  Foregrounds can truly make or break a landscape painting which is why I will be focusing all month on painting foregrounds over on my Patreon Page. If you have been thinking of joining this is the month to give it a try! Head over to my page to see what you get for the small pledge of $4 a month (cancel at any time)

I will share the basic concepts on Patreon but here is a peek at the trick.....DUSTING!  I have blogged about it before and used it quite a bit in the past. It is a fun and easy way to add a little spice to an otherwise boring foreground. It is very easy to do.

1. You need a pastel that you don't mind shaving. I find the middle hard pastel work the best. I used a Mount Vision pastel. If they are too Gard they wont adhere to the paper and if they are too soft they will crumble when you shave them. You also need a shaving too and I use a palette knife.

2. Lay the painting flat. Hold the pastel over the area where you want the dust and pastel bits. You can cover the rest of the painting with paper. Shave the side of the pastel with the palette knife letting the dust fall. Move the pastel around as you shave so you don't end up with a pile of dust in one spot.  If I want larger bits I will dig into the pastel to let tiny chunks fall.

3. Press the pieces of pastel into the paper with the flat part of the palette knife. I used to use a rolling pin and a piece of glassine but I find it tends to make a fuzzier painting.

All you need is a pastel and a palette knife 

Today's painting began on a recycled piece of Uart paper
Check out my Patreon Page and consider joining us for a month long focus on FOREGROUNDS!

Friday, August 02, 2019

One Thing that Every Painting Needs

'Enchanted Forest'          11x14          pastel            ©Karen Margulis

I stood at the edge of the enchanted forest. I entered the shelter of the tall trees and it was like entering a great cathedral. It was silent. Deep moss cushioned my steps. I looked around in awe. It was the forest of fairytales. Deep and dark and mysterious but somehow not at all threatening. We were in the forest on the grounds of Ekenas Slott in Sweden. Searching for mushrooms...and blueberries and beetles. Treasures of the woods. My friend wandered in search of treasure while I wandered with my camera....could I capture the awe and wonder that I felt? Could I capture the gentle whisper of the wind? Or the way the light filtered through the trees and illuminated the forest floor? Maybe not with photos but maybe with paint. This moment needed to be painted. It was my story and I wanted to share.

Treasures of the Enchanted Forest photo collage

I painted my enchanted forest and I painted it with passion and it expresses my heart and soul and hopefully it will speak to others.

So what does every painting need? A good composition? Strong value plan? Good color harmony? A good drawing and handling of the medium are important. These things all contribute to making a painting strong. But there is something else. A very important thing that sometimes is not given enough time and care to develop.

Every good painting needs a story.

The artist needs to have an emotional connection to the subject. This is possible when there is a story behind the subject. Especially if we work from photos we need to have first hand experience with the subject matter in the photo. There is a story behind every photo. Some are compelling. Some evoke strong feelings. Some are just dull and uninteresting with a story to match.
Choose the photos with a good story.

We will have a more intimate and successful painting if we are connected to the story behind our reference photo. The viewer may end up interpreting the painting in their own personal way but if it was painted with heart and soul it will speak loudly.

The value thumbnail, notan and reference photo

Fresh from the Forests of Sweden

 Painting Notes:  11x15 UArt 500 with a value underpainting using a dark blue Nupastel. All greens are from Terry Ludwig's full set of greens...the perfect set for painting enchanted forests!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Choosing Pastels to Capture the Glow of Sunshine

'A Little Slice of Heaven'               4x11                 pastel             ©Karen Margulis
 It is a must have color family. It is a bit illusive much like the effect that it helps capture in a painting. There is nothing quite like the warm glow of the sun as it gets lower in the horizon. Everything it touches glows with its warmth. No wonder it is called the Magic Hour!  But how do we capture this glow in a painting? What color is it? Salmony- pinkish -orangey -yellow?

A reader asked: "Can you recommend source for the light peach colours you use? Looked at portrait sets. Other sets seem to have dark yellows or oranges, not that lovely light peach colour."
There is a certain color family that I like to use for the glow of the setting sun. It really isn't one particular color or brand even. 

Since I don't write down color names or numbers it is always a gamble and often a surprise when it is time to replace a well used color. My goal is to find a color  and value to match as closely as I can. I do have several brands that I like to choose from. 

I browse through color charts online and order my selections open stock. I may not always get the exact color but I get something close and it keeps my palette fresh.  Here are a few of my favorite brands along with the color ranges I select from for the sunset glow. Click on the links to see more about each brand.

Unison pastels Red 1-18

Unison pastels Orange 1-18

Terry Ludwig Vibrants

Great American Artworks

Schminke pastels
As you can see I am showing a variety of colors from pink to peach to orange-yellow. I like to stock a variety of these colors. I use them not only in sunset clouds but also on the edges of tree trunks or anywhere the sun kisses. 

Do you have a favorite peachy color? I'd love for you to share in the comments!

Monday, July 29, 2019

An Important Lesson for All Artists

I went down into my studio with a plan. I had given myself an assignment for the weekend. I call it Friday Fun. I allow myself to paint for the sake of play and experimentation. There is no pressure to perform or do a 'good' painting. I give myself an assignment....something new to explore. But that is just a rough guide. 

Today I learned an important lesson. Play is important! But it is also good to let go and let the play and experimentation evolve. LISTEN to the voice in your head that is asking you the question 'What if?'

I went into the studio with a plan but the plan quickly changed and I gave myself permission to change direction. 

 My goal was to do paintings that broke my self imposed rule of no blending. I did a couple of these blended paintings but they quickly evolved into paintings with detail. I enjoyed the early stages of the blended paintings. It raised the question "What if I did a painting and just left it in that early state....What if I tried to do a more abstracted landscape?"

The first painting started me wondering What If?

I started down this road to more abstraction in the landscape and below are the results. I am not sure where it will take me but I do know I was filled with this wonderful feeling of excitement and anticipation for the next painting while doing these little studies.  I'm glad I listened and I am glad I played.

The second version has less detail      8x8 pastel    $75
 Below you can see how I tried to add less and less detail in each painting. 
(top left to bottom right)

"Children smile 400 times a day... adults 15 times. Children laugh 150 times a day... adults 6 times per day. Children play 4-6 hours a day... adults only 20 minutes a day. What's happened?"  Robert Holden

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Why I Paint Plein Air....A Magical Experience

'Garden Magic'               7x5           pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available $100

This could have only happened on a plein air outing. Painting from photos is my mainstay but I know I miss out on so much when I stay inside my studio to paint. There is magic out in nature.....even when it nature in the middle of a big city. I have painted coneflowers many times from my photos but I don't think it will ever be the same after I experienced painting them from life and experiencing the magic. 

Michael and I had flown to Chicago a couple of weeks ago to drive our kid's car and two cats down to Atlanta. Our son Corey, wife Grace and three grandchildren have moved to Atlanta! I will miss visiting them in Chicago but wouldn't trade a thing to have them close to home. We only had a day in Chicago before heading back with the car and cats so I wanted to visit my favorite place in ....Lurie Garden next to the Art Institute of Chicago. I love this natural prairie garden and I have seen in in every season. This time I brought some pastels so I could paint.

Painting in the shade at the Lurie Garden in Chicago
It was a hot day so we found a bench in the shade. I could see some of the white coneflowers at the edge of the garden bed so they became my subject. I brought my Heilman Single Sketchbox  which I keep filled with Girault pastels....the perfect set up for painting on the go. I had a 5x7 piece of foam core and several pieces of 5x7 paper cut. I don't use an easel when I do this kind of plein air on the go. I simple clip the paper to the foam core and hold it while I paint. It keeps me from getting caught up in the details and only painting what is important to me.

I had worked on my painting for 15 minutes or so. My penchant for people watching was a distraction. It was a busy summer day in the city and there was a lot to take in. But I managed to get the information I needed for the painting. Just as I was ready to clean up a butterfly landed on my knee. I was sitting crossed legged on the bench. It was very odd....almost as if she was looking at my painting. I didn't want to move to take a photo but the butterfly didn't budge. After about 5 minutes I took out my camera and got some photos. She still didn't move. I decided to keep on working on the painting because I didn't want to disturb her. After about 15 minutes she flew away. I feel like she gave me her step of approval. It was truly a special moment tin time.

Pure Magic!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

More Fun with Micaceous Iron Oxide

'Magic in Provence'                8x10           pastel               ©Karen Margulis
available $175

It was the perfect subject to give this fun material another try. I recently discovered Golden's Micaceous Iron Oxide acrylic paint thanks to a Patreon member. It is acrylic paint but it has some grit which makes it a good choice to tone a support for pastels. It also has a wonderful dark gray color that makes pastels appear even more striking and vibrant. 

I applied the MIO with a cheap brush using random brushstrokes. In looking back it would have been cool to brush on the MIO in the direction of my lavender. Next time! Used the paint right from the jar without diluting with water. 

I have some other ideas for using this product. How about you? Have you tried Micaceous Iron Oxide? How have you used it?

I made a video of my first experiment with the Micaceous Iron Oxide. Click on the link below if you'd like to see. If you are a Patreon member I will be sharing this video with EXPANDED commentary at some point this month. 

So what is this magic material? It is actually a metallic acrylic paint by Golden. The makeup of the paint has metallic pieces that are like mica sense the name. When it is applied to a surface it is a dark metallic with a slight grittiness and sparkle. Very cool! You can thin it with medium or water but I used it straight from the jar. A little went a long way. I applied it to a piece of Multimedia Artboard but you can use any surface that can take wet paint!