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Sunday, November 10, 2019

How to Store a Large Pastel Painting

How to Store a Large Pastel Painting

'Lavender Surprise'          16x20           pastel        ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $195

Bigger is better sometimes.  I love painting large but I don't do it very often. Mostly because of expense. I want to paint something everyday so smaller paper size and less pastel use fits my budget.  But every once in awhile I pull out a full sheet of paper and paint big. It is energizing and exciting.

But that leads to the other reason why I don't paint large.....How to store the finished large pastel paintings? The small paintings are easy. I just stack them in boxes with glassine paper in between each painting. But I don't have boxes big enough for anything larger than 16x20.

I have a system that is working for me....but I am now out of shelf space as you can see on the photo! When I finish a large painting I leave it attached to the foam core support and cover the painting with glassine paper.  I then stack the paintings on a shelf unit in my studio. If I were more organized and neater I could stack a lot of big paintings this way.

My shelf for larger finished paintings

Large paintings covered in glassine
Before I got the shelf unit I would stack the foam core/paintings against the wall in a corner of my studio. I sat them in the bottom of an empty box to help them stay in place.  The big shelf is a nice luxury. I am lucky to have a lot of space.

 How do you store large pastel paintings?  My method works well for me but I am aways looking for great ideas!

About today's painting:
This is 16x20 on Uart paper with a turpenoid wash underpainting.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Two Easy Ways to Transport Plein Air Pastel Paintings

A collage of plein air paintings done on a trip to Pawleys Island several years ago

It is always fun to come home from a painting trip and unpack the finished paintings. I like to lay them all out on a table and look at them as a group. Sometimes the paintings I really liked aren't as good as I remember and others look better than I thought.  It is a great way to relive the trip!  Painting a lot on a trip is great but how do you keep them safe when you are finished and while you travel?

I have tried a few methods of transporting finished paintings but have settled on two favorites.  I used to use a folder that I made from card stock with leaves of glassine stapled together. It was too flimsy.  Then I tried using two pieces of foam core with glassine sheets held together with binder clips. It was too bulky and it was difficult to look through the paintings without taking them all out.

'Marsh Impressions'        5x7     pastel  plein air  sold

Now I have settled on two methods for keeping my paintings safe.  I rarely paint larger than 8x10 so these methods work well. If I decided to paint larger I would probably bring a foamcore sandwich.

  •  For the 8x10 or 5x7's I like to use an inexpensive pad of tracing paper. I just slip the painting in between the pages. They stay safe and clean and if I want to look back through them I can do it easily.  I take the aded precaution of using a small binder clip to close the pad so paintings don't slip out. I also like to slip the pad into a clear poly envelope....the kind that have a string tie.

  • For anything smaller than 5x7 I find a small magazine or even better a local travel guide magazine. These are small and portable and readily available at stores and visitor centers. The glossy magazine pages don't harm the painting though I don't store them in the magazine. I remove the paintings as soon as I can when I return home.

UPDATE to this post from the archives: In addition to these simple methods I also like to use Profolios by Itoya which are portfolio booklets that I fill with my papers and finished paintings. It serves double duty!!

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Evergreen Tree Mini Demo

'Majestic'                 9x12              pastel               ©Karen Margulis
available $175
Painting evergreen trees can be tricky. Our brains are quick to recognize their familiar shape and before we know it we have painted the perfect Christmas tree! But careful observation will show us that trees are rarely perfectly shaped. It is important that we don't allow our logical brain to substitute the regularly shaped evergreen tree! It is easy if we just look

Over on Patreon I recently did a complete photo demo of this painting from Alaska. I'd like to share a few of the steps here so you can see how I approach painting the evergreens. Below is my reference photo.

I use a piece of Wallis warm mist paper. I liked the brownish orange tone which would give some warmth to the cool greens of the trees. In the first step I blocked in the tree shapes with a spruce blue Nupastel. I used a lighter blue green to block in the more distant trees and mountain so I could create some depth. 

In the next step I block in the rest of the painting. I use pale pink for the sky and red violets for the ground. This will give a visual connection between these two areas. 

After the block in it is just a matter of continuing to layer and refine the details. I use a variety of greens to give the trees depth and form. I use my set of Terry Ludwig pastels exclusively for this painting. It is good for more than flowers!

Here is the finish! In the end I put in some pink wildflowers to provide a path into the painting and to further the earth sky connection.

You can see the entire demo over on Patreon. Please consider joining!! It is just $4 a month!

Monday, November 04, 2019

My Favorite Underpainting Material

'Hanging On'             pastel        7x7           ©Karen Margulis         sold

I was recently asked to share my favorite underpainting techniques. I love to experiment but if I have to be pinned down Art Graf would be my favorite. Enjoy this post from the archives which shows you the Art Graf in action!

The best laid plans go astray when inspiration strikes. I am often asked how I come up with ideas for daily blog posts. It is easy when you have great blog readers who are a constant source of inspiration! One painting will often lead to another painting idea. Or a reader will ask a equation or make a comment that gets my wheels turning. The black underpainting idea has taken a life of it's own and so I feel I need to explore it while my interest is there.

It began with doing a black sharpie marker notan on my pastel paper. A reader comment led me to try a more archival technique and so I tried black pastel. I liked both and so I tried to think of other ways I could get an archival black underpainting. Readers suggested inks. I could try ink or thinned acrylic, gouache, oil and even watercolor. (and I will!)  But I have another product that I decided to try first.

Read more about Art Graf HERE 
Last month I started experimenting with Art Graf pigment blocks for toning paper. These crayon-like blocks of pigment are like tailor's chalk. But they are water soluble. A little bit of pigment, when wet with a brush, goes a long way.

I decided to try the black Art Graf block to block in my painting. I used it to lightly block in the dark areas of my design.

Art Graf applied lightly with a start to wetting it down with water

I then used a brush and water to liquify the pigment. I like how I was able to get some strong dark areas along with some softer drippy areas. When the underpainting was dry, the black areas were fixed into place. It would be a good base for my pastel. It did not fill the tooth of my Uart sanded pastel paper.

Liquified pigment with a brush 

I used the underpainting as a roadmap. I began with the dark areas and added some purples, greens and orange dark value pastels. The camera flash makes the photo below lighter than it really was.

Adding the darks

Next I added the light pastels in the sky. I used these lighter sky colors to start carving the shapes of the autumn trees.

Time for the lights!

The roadmap of values was a big help. It helped me keep my values close together. I avoided having too many different spots of light and dark. The underpainting helped me keep it all together. Starting with two values has been fun and so simple!  And thanks to my readers I have even more ideas to try!

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Ten Minutes to Better Trees!

It's all about getting the shape correct. No matter what our subject,  we can tell a lot about it by looking at it's shape or silhouette. This is especially true for trees. If we see a silhouette of a palm tree there is no way we could confuse it for a fir tree.  The shape and the outside contours of the tree give us the information we need.

When I paint a tree I begin by looking at the overall shape of the tree. Then I block it in with one value making a flat positive shape. As I develop the tree and add the background, I make sure that the negative shapes (sky holes) that I paint continue to describe the shape of the tree.
It is very easy to make an interesting tree shape into a boring one if we aren't being good observers. This has to do with our thinking brain taking over and giving us the simple symbol for a tree.  This is why we sometimes end up with 'lollipop trees' ! We have to practice observing and blocking in our trees carefully.  Lots of practice will help!

I am always looking for a way to make practice fun so I came up with this exercise: 10 Minute Trees!

  •  Begin with a piece of paper divide into quarters. Make sure that each section is no smaller than 5x7.
  • Have a selection of tree photos available. Try to have several variety of trees. It is best to have photos with  strong light and shadows. Don't worry about background.
  • Have your pastels ready. 
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes. The object of this exercise is to observe the tree and block it in using one value to start with. This is the positive shape. You then block in the background (negative shape) carving into the tree and creating skyholes.
  • Continue working on developing the tree from this block in stage until the timer goes off. Don't worry if you aren't finished. The goal is simply to get the shape correct. You should be able to tell what kind of tree you are painting by the shape!
  • You get bonus points if you do this exercise from life....either plein air or out the window of your studio!

  • Start with the big simple shape of the tree. Don't worry about details (or painting leaves)
  • Make sure the tree shape is a dark enough value and that it is flat...avoid spottiness.
  • Develop the tree by gradually layering color  (Save the highlights for last)
  • Carve into the tree with the background color to create interesting edges and sky holes.
  • If you have time to add details such as leaves....try to avoid putting in too many leaves. A few well placed leaves will allow the viewer to fill in the blanks.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Don't Be Afraid to Paint Animals!

'French Cows from Life'                5x7          pastel            ©Karen Margulis

I am getting ready to paint the sheep and goats from my Norway trip and I hesitating. They look hard to paint! But then I remembered and important lesson I learned a few years ago. I am sharing it again here. Now I will tackle those sheep!!

It looked daunting. But I really wanted to paint them. The cows surrounded our home base and wandered the fields near our home. I went out each morning with the intention of painting the landscape but I kept being drawn back to those cows! But I would I paint them from life. They were always on the move or were changing positions. Would I be able to paint fast enough? I hesitated.

But then I remembered advice given to me when I first started painting. I was taking a workshop with Terry Ludwig. And somehow the subject of painting things other than landscapes came up. I expressed my fear of including figures or animals in my landscapes. His answer was simple.

  "They are only SHAPES"

They are just shapes. That made sense. If I stopped calling them by name and just looked at the shapes I should be able to paint the cows. It wouldn't even matter how quickly they moved because I could quickly capture their shape and gesture. Once I focused on the shapes and values within the shapes I was able to get a good impression of those French cows.

Do you want to paint animals too? Starting in November we will be learning tips for painting animals over on my Patreon Page. I can't wait to share with you! Check it out at
here is a recent review of my Patreon Page:
"I am impressed with the way you teach and how you manage to get across some much information, while painting! Your patreon page is a treasure trove of knowledge and insights. I am just a hobbyist and a beginner and I am delighted to learn from you."

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Have You Seen My Painting in Pastel Journal this Month!?

'When Evening Falls'              16x20                 pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available $375
 It was a dream come true! When I was new to pastels I studied each issue of the Pastel Journal inside and out. I learned so much by reading the articles and studying the paintings. I was in awe of those artists and their work with pastels. I wanted to paint like they did! Never in a million years would I think that I would have a painting in and Pastel Journal article!

A few years ago it became a reality when one of my wildflower paintings made the cover! It was such an honor! (I have that issue framed)  I am proud to say that I have another painting in Pastel Journal. I am in such amazing company in the article about nocturnes in this month's issue.  Thank you very much to Anne Hevener for her wonderful article. I had so much fun painting my favorite subject at night!

I plan to do more nocturnes and it will be one of our Patreon topics in 2020!! Stay tuned and be sure to get a copy of this month's Pastel Journal or subscribe if you haven't already!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

My Favorite Tip for Painting Red Trees

'Autumn Walk ll'             9x12             pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available $175
I am at the beach on my annual artist retreat with friends. Enjoy this post from the archives! 

 Fall color is here!  I love yellow trees but there is nothing more beautiful than a brilliant red tree standing on its own. The red just draws me in. How can we possibly capture this red glow in a painting? Do we even have the right colors?  I have discovered a little tip that has help me capture the brilliant red with pastels. Just consult your color wheel!  Read on for details.

Light vs. warm reds
When I am faced with painting something red that is in sunlight I know I need to paint  a shadowed side and a side in the light. Let's take a red tree for an example. 

  • I choose a dark cool red for the leaves in the shadows and a brighter red for the rest of the foliage. Now there are some areas in the sunlight and my natural inclination is to choose a lighter red....which would be pink. (see photo)
  • Using pink will make the foliage red correctly but they won't have that warm red glow. The pale red/pink just looks washed out. So what should you do?

  • Take out the color wheel and look at red. Now ask yourself if red was going towards the light source (yellow) what color comes next on the color wheel?  Orange! So if I paint the red leaves a warmer color like red orange rather than a lighter color....I will have a glowing red tree!

So think warmer colors rather than lighter colors when you want to paint something lit by the warm sun!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Three Things to Do Immediately After a Trip

'When Summer Slips into Fall'           11x15            pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $225

An epic adventure needs to be savored. There needs to be a time of reflection and quiet. A time to take a deep breath and let the memories come. Little visual snippets to be enjoyed and processed before the reality of every day life hits.  I always say it would be nice to have a few days after a trip to do nothing but paint, look at pictures and reflect. This time I returned home on a holiday weekend so I do have some free time.

 Sometimes it just isn't possible. Work and responsibilities are calling.  If you are able to spare a day or two after a trip I recommend  that you do three things.

The underpainting for the first painting of Norway!

  • Take out the paintings you did on the trip. This sounds silly but all to often once we get back into our daily life the paintings we did get put in a pile and are never appreciated. These paintings no matter how well they turned out are a true piece of the trip. You put your heart and soul into painting them. You braved weather and experienced the scene with all of your senses. They need to be used. I tape my plein air studies on a big piece of foam core so I can see them as a group. Then I will use each one as a study for a larger studio work. DON'T WAIT to look at these paintings. Take them out right away. Plan to use them! On my recent cruse I didn't do any pastel paintings. Instead I filled a sketchbook with ink and watercolors sketches. I will use them as inspiration!

Ready to put photos in an album

  • Do something with the photos you took. One of the first things I do when I get home from a trip is download my photos and back them up. I also don't ever delete them off the card. I want at least three backups of my photos and I don't want to wait. I don't want to risk misplacing the card!   Next, do something with the photos. Print some out to use for painting references. Make a slideshow on your computer or tablet or YouTube. My Iceland trip deserved an extra step. A real photo album! Remember those?  I used a coupon and uploaded 200 photos to Walgreens and picked up my photos an hour later (I needed to go out for groceries anyway)  Nothing like almost instant gratification. I even lucked out and found a perfect photo album at the thrift store...brand new and sealed!  Tonight I will fill the album and share my trip with family over the weekend.
  • Unpack your Suitcase and do a load of Laundry. You will feel productive and it really does need to be done. I unpacked all non clothing items and put them on a table so I can sort and put away at my leisure. It was more fun to look at my paintings and photos than unpack so I compromised! 

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

How Do You Make Your Mountains Majestic?

'Evening Comes to the Fjords'                9x12            pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $175

As we slipped silently through the narrow passage in the fjords I was in awe. We sat in the observation lounge of the ship which had panoramic floor to ceiling windows at the bow of the ship. It was the best place to be.... out of the biting wind with the ability to see the majestic snow covered mountains unfold in front of us. We sailed so close to the steep slopes that we could almost touch the waterfalls as they tumbled down the sheer cliffs. 

How would I ever capture this majesty in a painting?!

The observation lounge was the best spot on the ship

When I got home one of the first images I wanted to paint was a view of the fjords as we sailed into the sunset. I chose a piece of 9x12 Wallis paper from my stash. I enjoyed revisiting this scene from my trip but felt the painting was lacking something. SCALE!  I wasn't getting the feeling of how high the mountains really were. I needed to show the viewer how small we were and how tall the mountains were. 

 I needed to add something for scale. I remember seeing  many little red fishing shacks and small cabins on the steep sides of the mountains. So I took out a red Nupastel and made a couple of marks at the bottom of the distant hillside. It was a very subtle mark but the small size of the 'shack marks' started to give a sense of the immenseness of the mountains. 

Next I will paint the fjords on a much larger piece of paper. That will also help show scale! Stay tuned!

Before adding the small red buildings 

A closeup of the marks used for the buildings

Monday, October 21, 2019

This Month's Paint Along is on Purple Paper!

'Old Timers'                 16x20              pastel                 ©Karen Margulis
available $250

I don't know what possessed me. But when I saw this piece of bright purple paper I knew I had to use it. It actually was a good choice for my subject of yellow green trees. The purple paper would make the yellows more interesting because they are complementary colors. The challenge would be getting enough layers on the unhanded surface. This is a piece of Canson Mi-Teintes unsanded paper. 

What I learned: The color of the paper can make I difference in your painting. It can either enhance it or even lead to bad color harmony! Choose the color of your paper with care.

Purple paper!!!

If you are a Patreon member be sure to check out this month's paint along video series. I take you step by step from the planning stages to the finishing marks! Share your work on the community page for feedback.  Join us at

Making a plan

Sunday, October 20, 2019

New Video Demo with the Blue Earth Pastels Nomad Set

'A Wee Bit of Ireland'               11x14            pastel              ©Karen Margulis
available $250

It was a cold rainy day yesterday so it was perfect to stay inside the studio and paint! I decided to do a video of one of my paintings. This is a scene from trip to Ireland. I used the Blue Earth Pastels Nomad set and a few Nupastels for the painting.  I invite you to my YouTube channel to watch the demo:

If you liked the video I'd love for you to give it a thumbs up and comment. And be sure to subscribe to my channel! I appreciate your support!! Please share with your artist friends too :)

Blue Earth Pastels Nomad Set available at Dakota Pastels 

You can read all about Blue Earth Pastels on the Dakota website. I do like this set. It is a bit muted which is actually better than it having too many bright intense colors. I will blog more about the set soon!  Here is the link:

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Painting the Norwegian Woods with a Surprise Spice

'Norwegian Woods'               10.5 x 15.5              pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available $350
It was really a bonus. I didn't expect to stumble upon this magical place. I got off the ship in Bergen Norway with no agenda. I didn't plan to take a tour. I figured that I would wander around the town looking for photo opportunities. I had read about the funicular that went to an overlook on Mount Floyen and thought that might be an option. Fortunately I was off the ship early....even before the town shops were open. So when I found the funicular it had just opened and there was no line. I got on not sure what I would see at the top.

It was definitely worth the trip! Not only was the view of Bergen and the surrounding mountains and fjords spectacular, the wooded area at the top was laced with walking trails.....and goats! It was wonderful. The air was crisp and clear and everything glowed with the early morning sun.

I took a detour up one of the trails and quickly came across a little path that led to a Troll Garden. It was a wonderful and magical place that had hidden troll statues among the trees. It was a wonderful place and I could have spent the day there! Below is one of my photos and you can see the troll. I know I will be painting a lot more of this forest!


For this painting I wanted to capture the light in the forest. That was my WHY. I was afraid that the troll would not read like a statue and instead look like a badly painted figure! So I left him out this time and added a small tree in his place. But the painting needed something. I let it sit for awhile and came back to it with fresh eyes and an idea!

Laying in the Art Graf and the Derwent Inktense for the underpainting

I did a wash with some rubbing alcohol. 

I took out my dry erase board and wrote down my thoughts on what I needed to do to finish the painting. I decided to leave out the troll even a hint of him and add some of the wonderful red mushrooms I saw in the forest. Have you ever seen a red mushroom with white spots outside of a story book? I had not! They were simply charming and I decided they would be the perfect spice to complete my painting of this little slice of Norwegian woods.

My finishing thoughts

These red mushroom really exist!!

Doesn't this look like a fairy tale forest?

A close up.