Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Magic Word for Artists

'Summer Love'         9x12       pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $165
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 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

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Bumpy or Smooth? A Side by Side Demo on Canson

'Summer Fields are Calling'       5x7      pastel      ©Karen Margulis
available $75
 I am back to daily painting practice. I am going to give myself assignments for each painting. It is part of my focused practice which I will be sharing more about in the coming weeks.  Today's assignment: Paint on both the smooth and bumpy side of Canson to compare and contrast. I decided to paint the same scene with the same pastels for a better comparison.

As much as I love sanded papers I am equally drawn to unsanded surfaces such as Canson. Every once in awhile I just like to paint directly with soft pastels with no underpainting. It is enjoyable. In fact the painting that just was awarded an exceptional merit award was done on Canson with no real underpainting.

'Summer Fields 2'       $75
Many artists don't enjoy working on Canson. They either don't like the textured bumpy side or feel they can't get enough layers.  I have written about tips for having success on Canson. (search my blog for canson articles) So today I decided to do a side by side mini demo on both the smooth side and the bumpy side of Canson Mi-Teintes paper. I hope you enjoy!

The bumpy side is the painting on the left. The smooth side is the right. The textured side is considered the correct side but many don't enjoy the regular texture. You can click on any photo to enlarge and see a close up.

I blocked in each painting with soft pastels using 4 values of violet. I then rubbed in the pastel with a piece of pipe insulation foam. It was especially helpful on the bumpy paper.

Reinforcing the dark areas  and painting the sky with a few different pale blues and a light pink at the horizon.

Beginning to add the green on top of the violets. I had to use a light touch so I could get enough layers on this unsanded paper. I don't really notice much difference in how many layers each side of the paper will take. It feels similar.

I sprayed the bottom half of the paintings with workable fixative so I could darken the foreground and get a feeling of texture over the dark areas.

I lightly applied some golds and greens over the 'fixed' areas. The bumpy side definitely gives a feeling of more texture although some feel it is too regular and mechanical. Click to enlarge.

Finally I added the finishing touches....the flowers and a few blades of grass. The flowers are are not planted randomly. They are placed deliberately where they will help move the viewer's eye through the painting.

Which version do you prefer? Answer in the comment section. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

When You Just Have to Paint

'Friends'              8x10         pastel         ©Karen Margulis

It was a weekend filled with inspiration and fun. On the roller coaster of the life of an artist this weekend was definitely on the 'up'.  Richard McKinley was in town to judge the show for the Southeastern Pastel Society.  I was honored to take home an Exceptional Merit award for my painting and it kept getting better!  I volunteered to help Nancy Nowak on the workshop committee so I got to help at the workshop. Of course my ears and eyes were wide open gathering the many pearls that Richard shared over the two days I was a helper.  As usual Richard was amazing (and entertaining ;) 

The only challenging part of being a volunteer and not a student is that Nancy and I didn't get to paint. It was hard to hold back! I was itching to try some of the things the group was doing and of course Richard's fantastic demo was so inspiring. I had to wait until I got home this evening and then I threw my bags on the bed and went right down to the studio to paint. I feel better now!

Block in on matt board with gesso/pumice surface

One of the projects the group worked on was creating texture in an underpainting using acrylic ground or clear gesso. This is a technique I have done before and I happened to have a prepared board ready to paint. I decided to visit a favorite subject of mine.... the Lowcountry marsh.
I love how the texture allows me to suggest grasses. I will be doing more with this technique and will share details!

Rubbed in the first layer

starting the layers

my reference photo

Saturday, May 21, 2016

From the Archives: How to Sign a Pastel Painting

'Morning on the River'            5x7            pastel            ©Karen Margulis

It is the moment of truth. Signing the painting can be nerve wracking. Will my signature look good? Will to be to big and clunky? How should I sign my name? What should I use to sign the painting?  All of these thoughts go though my mind when I am ready to sign.

I want to get the signature right because it is an important element in the painting. It becomes a part of the composition. If it is in the wrong place, or the wrong color, too big or too small it can effect the painting. It can through off the balance. It can draw too much attention away from the subject. If it is too small or too close to the edge it will not be visible at all!

Quick Tip:  Decide on how you will sign and stick with it. Full name? Initials?  Find the tool that works best (see samples below) Practice your signature over and over until it becomes effortless. When it is time to sign pick a spot that balances the composition and sign with authority and pride!

A few signing tools: pencil, Nupastels, pastel pencil

 The signatures above were done with the sharp point or edge of a hard pastel such as Nupastel.

The signature in the painting at the top of the post was done with a sharp pencil. The pink signature above is a sharp pastel pencil.

My signature choice: I decided early on to use my initials. It was quick and easy. The drawback is that people new to my work can't really look my name up. (if you google KEM artist I do come up second but this has taken some time!) I decided to make my letter 'E' with only three lines because I thought it looked cool. I sometimes use pencil to sign on a very light painting. Usually I choose a pastel pencil or sharpened Nupastel. I choose a color that is used in my painting. I make sure the color stands out from the background. I also make sure my signature is not too dark or too thick and heavy. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Advice for Surviving a Juried Art Exhibition

'A Special Kind of Quiet'         18 x 24       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $500
You have probably heard it before. A painting that was rejected for one show gets in another prestigious exhibition. Or a painting that doesn't win an award wins Best in Show in another exhibition. It happens. I've had something like this happen.  So if your painting was rejected or you don't get a prize it is helpful to keep this in mind. It might ease the sting a little.

I have been rejected from many shows over the years. I have had paintings accepted and not won a prize. ( I am always happy just to get in though) It can be an emotional roller coaster and it can really get you down if you let it. I usually allow myself a day to feel disappointment but then I put those feelings aside and concentrate on becoming a better artist. It is all a part of the growth process.

Tonight is the opening reception for the Southeastern Pastel Society's 17th International Exhibition. There are some fantastic paintings in the show and many more great paintings that didn't get in. Some will win awards and some will not. A juried show is full of ups and downs for everyone. Sometimes the whole process of entering, rejection, winning, and not winning can seem overwhelming .

I happened to come upon this quote today which is a good one to keep in mind for those who are entering or are considering entering juried shows.

" Prizes are nice, but the real competition is with yesterday's performance."  
   Irwin Greenberg

Prizes can be acceptance into a show as well as prizes given at the show.Both are nice but they are not a measure of your success as an artist.  Competition can be good if you can keep the ultimate prize in mind....your own personal growth as an artist. Be the best artist you can be at the moment and the rest will fall into place.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Behind the Scenes...A Landscape on Canson

'Watching Life Unfold'           18x24         pastel          ©Karen Margulis
Today is the day!  It is the best day of my job as awards chair for the Southeastern Pastel Society. Today I meet with our judge Richard McKinley as he judges our exhibition. I have collected prizes from many wonderful vendors all year and tomorrow they will be awarded to some very deserving artists. It is fun to collect prizes but the best part of the job is meeting the amazing artists who serve as our judges. I will report back tomorrow but today I would like to share my post about the painting that I have in this exhibition. Enjoy!

I decided to take progress photos of the painting so I hope you will enjoy this mini demo. I used a piece of Moonstone color Canson Mi-teintes paper which I find to be good for quick paintings....except for some reason I wanted to go large! I cut the paper to 18x24 and taped it to my board.

I did a quick drawing with a pencil indicating the major shapes and flow of the painting. I like to visualize how the viewer's eye will travel through the painting.

I blocked in the big shapes with some Nupastels. I chose these colors based on value and a start to some of the intense colors that I want to peek though my pastel layers.

I rub in this first layer with a piece of pipe insulation foam. A reader recently wrote and asked me what this is made of and I don't really know. I threw out the bag and haven't had a chance to research it. I know that it works without shredding!

Next I block in the dark shapes with softer pastels. I spray them with workable fixative so I can get a feeling of texture in the foliage. I add some mauves and pinks in the meadow. Next I begin the sky.

I didn't intend to have a pink sky. I thought it would be a pale sky....maybe pale blue or even pale yellow. But the underpainting color was pink and I really liked it. So I went with the pink and pulled my marks down leading into the meadow.

The next part of the process it to work from back to front painting grasses and trying to create depth with the colors I choose and marks that I make.

Once I got to the foreground I started to add more detail and clarity to the foliage. I don't put detail at the edges or bottom of the painting. This area is out of focus so we can move into the important parts of the painting.

The last step is to add the final details....the icing on the cake which are the beach roses. I save them for last so that I can place them where they will lead the viewer into the painting.

That was fun! Now that I got that out of my system I can return to my panels!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Rescuing the Ugliest Underpainting in the World

'Back to Iceland'            9x12        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available here $160
The colors looked wonderful in the box. What's not to love about beautiful pure color?  But when I used them to block in my painting I had a scary mess.  Well it certainly looked like  mess but I actually had a method to my madness. I had a plan but I needed to see if my idea would actually work. It sure was an ugly underpainting! 

It was an experiment using a limited selection of a pastel brand that I had not yet tried. I can't even remember when I got this set of Charvin Water Soluble Pastel Painting Sticks. They looked and felt like a hard pastel stick with the claim of being useful for wet and dry painting. You can use them on damp paper or create washes with them. I decided to try them with a water wash underpainting.

The issue was the color selection in my box. They were all intense pure middle value colors. I usually like to do a value based underpainting and these sticks didn't allow for much of a value change. So I layered colors with the plan to create colorful grays.  My subject was a cool moody cloudy scene from my 2014 trip to Iceland. I needed some colorful grays to paint the moody sky.  The colors looked scary until I wet them with water.

Water wash on top of the Charvin pastels

As I wet the brush and mixed the layers of color the magic began. I was surprised at the wonderful drips that started to happen and the way the colors mixed and mingled. My underpainting was taking on a life of it's own. I saw some compositional issues that I needed to adjust  (horizon in the middle!) and I did the correction by drawing into the wet paper with the pastel. Fun!

My unmounted Uart paper took the water wash without a problem and within an hour it was dry enough for me to continue painting with my regular soft pastels. I enjoyed working on top of the underpainting and leaving some of the colorful grays alone!

close-up detail
I call this painting 'Return to Iceland' because I am getting ready for my next adventure in June....visiting my artist friend Elinros in Iceland! I am excited to return to Iceland and have her share her world with me! More on this adventure soon.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Why It's Good To Be a Frustrated Artist

'River of Inspiration'         16 x 20        pastel         ©Karen Margulis     available $250
 No one told me it would be so hard! It has gotten easier but there is always a challenge to overcome. That is one of the reasons why I love being an isn't easy. So when I am successful it is very gratifying. I can clearly recall my earlier days of frustration. The days at the easel when the learning curve seemed too steep to climb. The days when I thought maybe I should try another hobby.  I am happy that I was able to find ways to get through the hard parts. I decided that it was actually a good thing to be frustrated. 

When handled correctly frustration can lead to growth as an artist.

close-up detail
I have been following a post on facebook by an artist who is experiencing frustration after having information overload at the recent Plein Air Convention. Many are chiming in expressing how challenging it is to get back to painting after experiencing so many wonderful demos. Feelings of frustration, confusion and self-doubt are common complaints of artists who are in learning mode.

It's not so bad when we first start painting. We just don't know what we don't know. It is when we start learning about all that goes into creating a good painting that our progress can be stopped by the fear of the learning curve. Frustration sets in. This is great news! This means that we are learning. We just need to push through it and keep painting. After awhile we overcome the frustration until the next challenge. And through it all we become better artists.

When you are experiencing frustration, embrace it and keep painting!
  • Tackle one concept at a time. For example if you are frustrated by value, find exercises that will help your understanding. Don't try to learn it all at once!
  • Paint often. Go ahead and embrace the paintings that don't work out....they are part of the growth process.
  • Take a break. Sometimes a break is needed to allow information to sink in. You will return to the easel refreshed. (just don't stay away too long and be sure to keep studying)
  • When you paint remind yourself that it is only paper and no one needs to see the studies!

Today's Painting: My demo from my Uart Underpainting workshop. Uart with dry wash underpainting

Sunday, May 15, 2016

When the Sand is Blue...A Lesson in Observation

'Deep Breath'            9x12         pastel          ©Karen Margulis
Sand comes in many colors.  If you told me there was  such a thing as blue sand I am not sure I would believe it. I've seen white sand, black, yellow, peach, pink and even violet sand but I don't think I ever saw blue sand.  The truth is that the sand can be blue.  In certain light and conditions light colored sand can appear to be blue. Sand in shadows and sand without direct light will appear blue and violet and maybe even green. It isn't the local color we assign it...the color is determined by the conditions.

It is a matter of really seeing the true colors of things and not just jumping to the local color that we have assigned to those things.

When I started painting this sunrise beach scene my brain was trying to tell me that the sand was a pale creamy value...we would consider it  a 'white sand beach.'   But if I were to use a white or pale cream pastel the painting wouldn't look believable. I would have a sunrise sky with daytime 'sunny' sand. To put the sand in shadow I needed to override what my brain was trying to tell me and be a better OBSERVER.

close up detail of sand

When I took a deep breath and really looked at the sand I could see that it was definitely cool and blue. Yes I knew it was 'white sand' but it looked blue in the cool shadows of the sunrise. I painted the sand blue and the illusion of the rising sun was created.

sunrise pastels
It seems strange to paint a blue sandy beach but it is what I saw.  It is important to turn off the part of your brain that gives you the accepted local colors and really allow ourselves to see the color as it really appears. This will result in a painting that is more authentic.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Try This: An Interesting Technique for Painting Grass with Pastels

'Hidden Marsh'      12 x 18        pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available $165
It was all about the texture. One of my favorite things about my foray into the world of oils was the ease of creating texture. I crave texture in my pastel paintings. I do what I can to give the illusion of texture. Building layers of increasingly soft pastel and working on a prepared textured surface are just two ways.  But what about on regular sanded paper such as Uart?  Sometimes I want more physical texture!

Yesterday I was doing laundry when something on the shelf caught my eye. It was a tube of Gel n Dry medium from Sennelier.  Bill Creevy used it during his IAPS workshop several years ago. I bought a tube but never used it much. It was time to take it out and see what would happen!

Unfinished demo that needs help

I had the perfect candidate for the experiment. It was an unfinished demo from my Chicago Uart workshop. It was a quick demo to illustrate the effect of underpainting colors. It had decent bones but needed help. It needed texture in the marsh grasses!

Giving Sennelier Gel n Dry Medium a try
 I squeezed out some of the Gel n Dry into a container and with an old bristle brush applied the medium to the foreground grassy areas.  It wet the pastel and made it much darker and richer.  I brushed the medium on with random brushstroke. The soft pastel became like paint. I then used the end of the brush handle to draw lines into the wet pastel. I could see the brush handle cut through the pastel leaving tracks. I was getting physical texture!

After the Gel n Dry

I let the painting dry overnight. I am not sure how long it actually took to dry but it was at least 3 hours so this is not a quick technique. It was nice and dry in the morning and my unmounted Uart paper was perfectly flat. The wet medium had no effect on the paper which is good to know.

I reworked the painting adding layers of green and peach pastel over the grassy areas. I was excited to see the pastel stick to the raised areas leaving the dark values in place. I had raised pieces of grass courtesy of Gel n Dry. Cool!

Pastel on top of the grooves left by the Gel n Dry medium

more textured grass