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Friday, December 06, 2019

A Tip for Painting Small Pastel Paintings

'Fairytale Forest'              2.5 x 3.5 inches     pastel     ©Karen Margulis

I am getting back into painting minis. I call the small artist trading card size paintings 'mini's'. They are a standard 2.5 x 3.5 inches and they are so much fun to paint. I tend to paint these little guys when I travel and want to bring pastels but don't want my regular 'big' supplies. I also like to paint them when I am very busy with life but still want to paint. I can paint at the family room table and multi task!

But painting small can be a challenge. Especially if you are a detail oriented artist. It is possible of course to get fine detail especially by using pastel pencils but I like to paint in a loose and expressive manner so the pencils don't work for me. I will use my regular full size pastels but these are a bit unwieldy and take practice to get them to make tiny marks. I have a tip to solve the issue!

TIP: Make up a MINI Kit. I take a box lid and line it with a paper towel. I then pull out the little bits and nubs of pastels from my regular boxes and put them in my mini box. You know these bits.....the pastels that have either broken or are well used. They tend to fall in the cracks and get lost in my box so it is better to put them together. Whenever I come across one of these pastel pieces I throw it into the mini box. Now I have a box of assorted pastels that are just the right size to paint minis!

My mini kit also included precut paper, a piece of foam core support board, a pencil and some clear bags and precut foam core backing boards.

My set up when I paint mini pastels


This week on Patreon we are working on minis. I have shared videos and demos and plenty of tips. Join us and try the weekly challenge! Pledge just $4 a month for all this and much more!

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Help! My Painting Has Chicken Pox!

'One Peaceful Morning'               8x12              pastel               ©Karen Margulis
available $225
My painting had chicken pox. But I found a cure. It didn't last long. Let me explain! I should have been cleaning. (I'll start tomorrow) but a painting I had started yesterday was calling to me. I am very much into painting from my Norway photos these days. I started a fjord painting by doing an alcohol wash with some Jack Richeson handrolled underpainting pastel blocks.I used rubbing alcohol to liquify them. I will review these soon! Here is the underpainting.

8x12 on gray sanded paper
I gave myself permission to paint rather than clean and happily worked on the fjord painting. Let me set the scene. I was one of the first off the cruise ship and I made my way to the shoreline where I had spied a  beach from the ship. It was perfect timing. The sun had yet to make itself known to us at the head of the fjord. It was cold but I was bundled up so it was bearable. The beach was silent.  I watched as the sun rose behind me slowly illuminating the distant mountains. It creeped into the fjord slowly and soon everything was kissed with light and warmth. It was truly magical.

On the walk back from the beach I was greeted with so much paintable scenery. If course I had to get some photos of the lingering wildflowers. I crouched down low to take a few photos.  This is what I abundance of yellow flowers blowing in the breeze.

I painted what I remembered but studying the painting I realized that the floral abundance wasn't working. It looked like my painting had chicken pox! There were too many little spots of yellow and they were all over. I didn't know where to look. It was just too busy and overwhelming.

The paining after my first 'finish'

So I took out my old paint brush and began brushing out most of the flowers. Never be afraid to brush areas out. Sometimes it is not what you add but what you take away that improves a painting.
I also gave the grassy area a spray of workable fixative so I could redo the area. That was better but when I took the photo of the finished painting and loaded it onto my blog, it still was bothering me. Now I didn't have enough flowers!

The painting after the second 'finish'

So I added a few more yellow flowers and some more grass blades this time being more careful about their placement. I cured the chicken pox and now I am happier.  Remember if you have a painting with too many randomly placed flowers you will have a case of the chicken pox. A simple brushing with a stiff paintbrush is the cure!

The final finish!

Monday, December 02, 2019

My Top Five Reasons for Painting Small

'Light in the Woods'              9x12             pastel                ©Karen Margulis
available $225

Why would you want to paint so small?  This is one of the questions I get when someone sees me painting 2.5 x 3.5 inch mini pastels. I can think many reasons to limit the size of my paintings every once in awhile. I've boiled them down to 5.  Enjoy my latest pastel along with the mini study that inspired it  as I share 5 of my top reasons to paint small (2.5 x 3.5 inch artist trading card size)

1. Simplify. Limiting the size of the paper limits how much I can put in. It forces me to simplify and pick out the big simple shapes. It is easier to suggest details in a smaller space. This is great practice for seeing simply that can be transferred to larger paper.

2. Color Studies: Trying out color schemes on small paper saves time and frustration. It is quick and easy to try several color scheme possibility in a mini painting. I get a good idea of the color choices before investing time and supplies on a larger painting.

 3. Affordable: I love having small affordable originals for my collectors. These minis are affordable for anyone to add fine art to their home. It's a win-win. I learn from painting them and collectors enjoy collecting them!
4. Gifts:  Not only are mini pastels affordable for collectors they are great gifts for anyone. I love to gift my minis throughout the year but especially for the holidays. They are great to give to children as an introduction to collecting original art. I have also used them as table place cards for the holiday table. Put them in small frames for a great party favor!

5. Portable: This is probably my favorite reason for painting small.... I can take them with me anywhere!  I have a small pastel kit that I keep in a zippered book cover. It holds a small box of pastels, 2.5 x 3.5 inch papers, wipes and a small piece of foam core.....I can throw this in my car or backpack and I am ready to paint anywhere!

The 2.5 x 3.5 mini study

block in with Nupastel on gray asnded paper
This week over on my Patreon Page we are working on minis! I just shared a brand new video demo with tips for painting a mini in 6 easy steps! Come join us! Your $4 monthly pledge gives you access to three years of lessons and demos!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

One Thing Every Painting Needs

'Fairytale Forest'              9x12            pastel               ©Karen Margulis
available $250

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.

Enchanted Forest 9x12 pastel   sold

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

Today's painting at the top of this post is my most recent forest painting. This one is from Norway and it also has a good story behind it. I stumbled upon this troll garden at the top of a mountain. It was totally unexpected and magical! There will be more paintings from this special place!

Don't forget that my paintings are on sale until Monday! Original art makes a wonderful gift!! see the available work here: www/etsy.come/shop/karenmargulisfineart

Thursday, November 28, 2019

My Art Gratitude List

'Autumn Woods'            9x12           pastel               ©Karen Margulis
available $225

I have much to be thankful for. Family, good friends, good health and much more.  Today I wanted to do a twist on my list of gratitudes.  Being a full time artist has provided me with a whole new set of things to be thankful for. I'd like to share 10 of them with you.

  1. The gift of sensitivity.  I am grateful for the ability to look at the world in a different way. As I have developed as an artist so has my eye and sensitivity to subtle beauty.  I not only notice the obvious beauty like a fiery sunset, but I notice the simple things like a shaft of warm light across a meadow.
  2. My artist friends.  I love all of my friends but there is a special bond I share with my fellow artists. We just see things in a different way. Many of my artists friends were the 'different' ones in their family so when we get together and share so many things in common it is a great feeling. I love my artist friends!
  3. Art Supplies!  We love them and we need them to create. We probably don't need as many supplies as we crave (cavemen made art with burnt sticks)  But part of the fun of creating art is to try new supplies.  And who can resist a new box of gorgeous pastels!
  4. Travel.  I have always had wanderlust but being an artist gives me opportunities to travel. Trips to conventions, workshops and art events take me to new places to discover.  I am grateful for my good friends who love to travel and for the trips we take together.
  5. Collectors.  I approach my art by painting the subjects that I love but when a painting connects with someone and they are moved to have it hang in their home....there is no greater feeling of satisfaction. I am grateful for the people who enjoy my work.
  6. The internet.  Even though artists struggle with balancing time online with painting time, I am grateful for the ability to connect with so many artists and art lovers online.  Being an artist can often be a lonely endeavor and having an online community to share work and ideas has been invaluable to me.
  7. Enjoying my Day Job.  I am grateful for being able to work as an artist full time. I wake up every morning with a spark of excitement for the day. I can't wait to go down into the studio and go to work every day!
  8. Magic.  I am grateful for the chance to create something from nothing. It may not always be a success but just having the opportunity to turn a blank canvas into something.
  9. Books.  I love books, especially art books.  Being an artist gives me a good excuse to collect books. I need them. I need them for instruction and for inspiration. I think I'll buy a new book today!
  10. Sharing. I love to learn so I am grateful for the opportunities to learn from other artists but I learn just as much from sharing what i've learned with others. I love teaching and sharing on my blog and I appreciate all of you who visit every day to see what I have to share!
I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Painting information: Today's painting was inspired by my trip to Norway. It is 9x12 on MingArt sanded paper with Terry Ludwig pastels. It is available in my Etsy shop. If you are looking for a special gift consider an original painitng. My paintings are now 50% off through Monday 12-2-19.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Why Choose Colored Paper for a Pastel Painting?

'Memories of Autumn'                9x12               pastel              ©Karen Margulis
available $165

 I LOVE paper. Maybe that's one of the reasons I love pastel is because of the many papers to choose from.  I am always trying a new paper or paper color. I don't ever want to get into a paper rut.  I know artists who have a favorite paper and stick to it exclusively and it works for them.  I would be bored.

But sometimes the choice of paper is overwhelming especially when it comes to colored papers.  Many brands of pastel paper come in assorted colors. We can tone white or light papers to any color we want as well. So how do you decide what color to paint on?

It is important to realize that the color of the paper can make a big difference in the overall look of the finished painting.  It is never a good idea to go to your stack of paper and pick the one on top without regard to it's color. Here are some thoughts:

Blue Earth Pastels Nomad set

  • White paper is the hardest color to paint on. It is hard to judge values and everything will look extra bright. It is also challenging because the specks of white will show through in a finished painting which can be distracting and make your colors less intense.  Solution: do an underpainting or tone it.
  • Black paper is challenging for similar reasons but the black can make the colors really pop and can add interest when it peeks through. I like black paper!
  • Middle value papers are the easiest to work with. A medium gray paper is nice because the gray unifies a painting and it is easy to judge color and value. I like Wallis Belgian Mist with NO underpainting. I love Canson Moonstone which is a nice warm gray that works well in landscapes.
  • The color of the paper does effect the mood and look of the painting.  A warm color such as reds and oranges can create a warmer sunnier feeling. A cool color can help give the painting a cooler moodier look. In today's post, the top painting was done on a dusty purple paper and the bottom painting was done on an orange  paper all with the same pastels. The paper color changed the overall mood of each painting. I selected orange for my pumpkin painting because I wanted a warm feeling and I didn't want to fight the lighter bits of laughter paper. 
So treat the choice of paper color as part of your overall plan for the painting. Experiment with different colors so you know what they can do. Have fun with paper!

I buy my paper in full sheets and cut it down to smaller sizes. Most online stores allow you to mix and match papers so try a few different papers and keep a stash on hand!

Working on Canson Mi-Teintes orange paper

Monday, November 25, 2019

A Painting is Transformed by Care with EDGES

'The Golden Days'            11x14             pastel            ©Karen Margulis
available $250
 It pays to be careful with edges. They can really make a difference in the success of a painting. The subject of edges is not discussed as much as it should in my opinion. It is one of those concepts in painting that seems so simple that perhaps it doesn't need much attention. What is an edge? Simply put it is where two shapes meet in a painting. If you can see where the shapes join it is a sharp or hard edge. If you can't see where the shapes connect then that edge is soft.

There is a lot more to it but the important thing for us to remember is that we have to control the edges in our paintings. If an edge is hard then the eye is drawn to it....the contrast pulls our eye. If an edge is soft then we don't notice it. This gives us POWER! We can direct the viewers eye through a painting by our treatment of the edges.

The 'Before' version

Let's look at today's aspen painting. In the original version above most of the edges are soft and fuzzy. This gives the painting an overall fuzzy out of focus feeling. Nothing stands out. It is Blah. I used this painting in a Patreon video last month to demonstrate the power of edges. It actually had too many hard edges so I brushed off most of them. Today I reworked the painting with a concentration of making the edges work to pull the viewer around the painting. 

Look at the reworked version. Can you see where I made edges hard and where they are soft? 

You can get more lessons and videos about the topic of edges and much more on my Patreon Page.

Have you had a chance to visit my Thankful Event 50% sale in my Etsy shop? There are some wonderful paintings looking for good homes! Have a look! And THANK YOU to all who have made a purchase! click here to go to my shop

Saturday, November 23, 2019

What to Paint When You Have TOO Much Inspiration!

'Island Life'              9x12               pastel               ©Karen Margulis
available $175
I am a bit overwhelmed! After two month of travel I am filled with inspiration and thousands of reference photos. I don't really know where to begin because the trips were all so different.....from the cold and snowy fjords of Norway to the marshes of the South Carolina Lowcountry to the sunny Caribbean! I need some kind of plan but now the busy holiday season is upon us so I think I will resort to using my Inspiration Jar.

My inspiration Jar is filled with the photos I want to paint
I will fill this jar with small photos of the things I want to paint. I will mix up all of the trips. When I have time to paint I will randomly puck a photo. That is what I will paint! I can't really lose because I WANT to paint them all at some point. This way I can paint a variety of subjects that inspire me and perhaps a series will emerge!

The first painting was from the South Carolina trip. This was a wonderful getaway with my dear art friends. We have been doing this trip every fall for several years. I missed the last couple of trips due to workshops so it was wonderful to reconnect with my friends. I painted only oil paintings on this trip. I will share these in a post soon!

A warm and cool alcohol wash

There are still some special paintings available (some of my very favorites!) I'd love for them to have good homes so have a look and feel free to share the sale with your friends!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Gift of Art....My Thankful Sale with a Twist

The touch of a loved one. A kiss from a favorite pet. The sight of a beautiful place. There is not much else to compare to the sights, sounds, smells of your happy place. These things soothe the soul. I rank art right up at the top of my list of things that soothe my soul. Making art and looking at art.

I have a few pieces of original art in my home. Paintings from favorite artists that I have collected or traded when the opportunity arose. These paintings are treasures. I never tire of looking at them. I always seem to see something new when I glance at them. I learn from them and they make me smile.

It is that time of year again and  I would like to make the gift of art more affordable. Since I am not affiliated with any galleries I am able to set my own prices and while it is sometimes frowned upon in the art world I am going to have a sale!  But a sale with a fun twist.

I have put together a collection of my original paintings of all sizes and I will be offering them at 50% off regular price.The sale prices will be available until midnight on Monday DECEMBER 2nd. 

HOW: Visit my Etsy shop. All sale paintings are already marked with the 50% discount. Shipping is also free!! Click here to visit the shop:

BONUS TWIST:  Everyone who makes a purchase during the sale will be entered into a drawing to win the  9 x 12 ORIGINAL pastel painting shown below. Winner will be selected and notified by email at the conclusion of the sale. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Painting from A Watercolor Sketch

'The Other Side of the Sunset'              9x12               pastel              ©Karen Margulis
available $165
 I am finally home! I have been traveling for most of the last two months and while it has all been wonderful and amazing, it is good to be home. I don't have another big trip until March! (but then I will have a workshop every month after that....workshop schedule will be posted very soon!)

I plan to take this week to my studio organized and go through my reference photos. I'd like to plan to do a few series based on my recent travels. I am excited to get started! I am also working on plans for next year's Patreon page. I will be asking for suggestions for topics soon!

My watercolor sketchbook on the right

So we got in late on Saturday and yesterday was spent unpacking and doing laundry. By 5:30 I couldn't take it any easel was calling to me and I just had to paint something. I quickly took out. apace of paper and opened the sketchbook I kept on the trip to one of the watercolor sky study. I used the study for the painting. It was strange to use pastels after using watercolor and oil the last month! We will get reacquainted this week!

Thanks for your patience while I was away and I hope you enjoyed the posts from the archives. I will be back to posting here every other day with new paintings and inspiration!!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

How Did You Get Started with Pastels?

Revisiting pumpkins in 2013. Time for an update!

 It all began with a pumpkin....and an old box of Grumbacher pastels. It was in 2005 when I picked up my first pastel. It was at a one day pastel workshop at the community art center. I had decided that I wanted to take art classes. I had not done any painting since my dabbling during high school. I started with a watercolor class which was a disaster. Not one to give up easily I signed up for a one day pastel workshop.

I arrived with my little box of pastels from a high school class,  excited to try them. The teacher was a sweet woman who didn't teach us a thing about pastels. She had some gourds and pumpkins set up and basically all we did was paint them all day.  I was in heaven.

My very first pastel painting done in 2005

Here is my painting from that workshop and yes it took me hours!  And yes there are many 'issues'.  But I knew as soon as the pastel touched the paper that I was hooked. I wanted to learn how to use those pastels. And I wanted more of them. Lots more. I went home after the workshop and immediately googled pastel teachers in Atlanta. The first name that popped up was Marsha Savage. I got up my nerve to inquire about classes and as luck would have it the next session was about to begin.

I went to the class and the rest is history!  Pastel was definitely the right fit for me and Marsha was the perfect first teacher. She made class fun as well as taught us how to get the pastels to do what we wanted. I am still learning but now it is my privilege to pass on what I do know with other aspiring pastelists.  I'm glad I somehow managed to save my first pastel painting. It reminds me that practice does indeed help! (It is also time for a new pumpkin painting since the one in this post is from 2013!)

Today's painting is the demo I did for my pastel class in 2013. I set up some pumpkins for us to paint. Hopefully they too were  inspired to continue painting!

How did you first discover pastel? Share your story with us in the comments!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

What Can you do with a Pearlescent Pastel?

Someone recently asked me this question. The pearlescent and iridescent pastels are so tempting but how can you use them in your paintings? Here is a post from the archives!

I didn't expect it. But in the end I loved it.  That little piece of green pastel that somehow sneaks into my palette every once in awhile.  It is a deceiving little guy.  At a quick glance it looks like a nice mid value warm green. It is perfect for foliage.   As soon as it is applied to paper it's true nature is revealed.

It shimmers!  It is a like a gem. It is a pearlescent  pastel and it makes me smile!

a tiny piece of pearlescent pastel from Great American Artworks

As I layer this soft buttery piece of pastel it leaves behind a subtle shimmer.  The effect is more pronounced when the light hits the painting.  The camera seems to intensify the effect. It is actually more subtle in real life.

I love this little green pastel but it has to be used in small amounts. Like too much jewelry or cologne....a little goes a long way and too much can be overwhelming.  Here is a suggestion for using pearlescent pastels:

  • It is the element of surprise that makes a touch of shimmer special.  Rather than using a whole set of pearlescent colors in a single painting, break the pastels into smaller pieces. Now plant these pieces in your pastel box in the correct value and color area.  The next time you reach for a certain color and value you may end up with a little gem. It will add a nice touch of shimmer just where you need it!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Are You In a Paper Rut? Try This!

mini pastel 2.5x3.5    ©Karen Margulis

Are you in a paper rut?  Do you always use the same paper for every painting?  Do you have papers you love or maybe even dislike?  It may be time to shake things up and try some new paper!

It is always a good idea to stick with a paper or surface for awhile so you can get to know it. If you are always working on a new surface it is hard to learn what the pastels do on each type of paper. But sometimes it is good to change it up and try or revisit some other papers. I have an idea to make it easy and fun....


Get together with your pastel friends and have everyone bring 10 pieces of different papers all cut to ATC size of 2.5 x 3.5 inches.  Have everyone write the paper type on the back if they know.  You can use your paper scraps for these.  If someone doesn't have a variety of papers they can tone them or perhaps do random watercolor washes (on sanded papers)  Even non traditional paste papers are fun to try.

Put all the papers together and have everyone chose 10 pieces.  Now everyone has 10 new surfaces to try. Continue the fun by having a 'Painting Bee' where everyone sits around a table with a box of pastels painting on these miniature papers.

A pile of miscellaneous pastel papers all cut to 2.5x3.5 inches

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

How to Make Greeting Cards with Your Paintings

'Daisy Delight'           18x24          pastel          ©Karen Margulis.      sold

I like to keep it simple. I look for ideas that are low cost and low tech.  When I decided to make greeting cards of my paintings I didn't want to spend a lot of money or time making them.  I tried printing them on my own printer but my printer goes through color ink like water and eats more paper than it prints. (yes I need a new printer)  Printing my own cards didn't work for me.

I considered using a third party printer such as Zazzle , Fine Art America and Cafe Press. But I wanted to have the cards on hand and not worry about placing orders for cards. 

 I decided to make my own cards using photos of my paintings. I love the way they turned out!

a card rack I found at a thrift store

Each card cost less than 15 cents including the photo, card, envelope and clear bag. Here is what I do:

  • I order glossy 4x6 prints of my favorite paintings. I take photos of my paintings using a point and shoot camera and crop it in my Photo program.   I have had very good luck with Walgreens. I upload my photos to them online and pick them up at my convenience. I always wait for a sale on prints.
  • I use Strathmore blank greeting cards. I have used both the blank cards with deckled edge and the photo mount cards which comes with the adhesive. I use a glue stick for the regular cards. You can get a box of 100 cards with envelopes on sale at Jerrys Artarama for about $25. 
  • I sign each card under the photo for a personal touch.
  • I slip the card and envelope into a clearbag for protection. I get my bags at
  • The only drawback of not printing your card is that you don't have contact information on the back of each card. I will sometimes hand write my email and website or I include a business card in the bag.

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.