Sunday, September 24, 2017

New Video Demo on Uart Dark Paper!

'Autumn Grace'            9x12         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $165
I've been doing some house painting on the weekends. It hasn't left me with time to do a Sunday Studio Live demo. This week we made time! I decided to do my demo painting on the new Uart Dark paper since I have been playing with it all week. It was perfect for an autumn landscape!  The painting went through a transformation after the demo and I will share the finish in this post. You can see the entire demo on my Youtube channel. Here is the link:

The planning board
Demos are interesting. I am trying to talk about what I am thinking. Sometimes I can't keep up with myself! And sometimes a painting needs me to step back and look at it....something I don't do during a demo especially one being filmed!  So as promised I took some time to evaluate the painting and made some changes. Below I will explain what I did to finish.

The demo where I left it at the end of the video

  • The painting had potential but on review I felt that it had too much going on. The bright yellow tree competed with the busy foreground patches and grasses. Sometimes it isn't what you put in but what you take away! So I simplified the foreground with some big bold strokes and a little workable fixative.
Simplified foreground
  • I needed to find a way to lead the viewer through the grass and shrubs to the big yellow tree. I had another photo of this location that showed a creek. That's what I wanted! A simple ribbon of blue water as a leading line. I put in some blue strokes and continued to add grass and shrubs forcing myself to keep it simple.
  • I refined the trees with some brighter yellows and a few linear marks for tree trunks. Finished!
That was a lot of fun. I hope you enjoyed the video and the finish. Perhaps you would like to try a similar landscape?  I have exciting news coming tomorrow. Here is a sneak peak.....I have a new page on which will allow me to share more in depth instruction, videos, handouts and more. Check it out at . I will be adding a step by step demo and much more to this page.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Cloud and Sky Refresher

'Under Sunny Skies'         16x20       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $350
As much as I love the close up world of the intimate landscape I am equally drawn to the drama of the sky. So when my private student asked for some sky and cloud tips I was excited to oblige. I gave her my condensed run down of my favorite tips for painting the sky and clouds and then put it together in the above demo painting.

I'd like to share one important tip that will help you paint more authentic and believable skies....skies and clouds that are air and gas....skies that have depth and clouds that float seamlessly in the sky.


Go outside and look up. Take notes. Do a sketch. Even better do a pastel study. Look at the clouds and the sky and ask yourself descriptive questions....what colors, values, shapes, edges do I see? Make mental and physical notes of your answers. All  of this sky study will help you when it comes to painting the sky. 

You can get a refresher on painting the sky and clouds in pastel in my PDF demo available in my Etsy shop. I also have a video on YouTube on painting a cloudy sky.

First layer block in stage
Tip: Leave space for the big clouds! Block in the cloud shadows before the lights.

Mid stage. Time to evaluate and see where the clarity will be

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Brilliant Hack for Sorting Pastels

'Softly Goes the Day'            9x12       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I love teaching! Sometimes I learn just as much as I share. It was the case the last couple of days. I had the privilege of sharing with a wonderful artist and new friend form South Carolina. Linda came to my studio for a two day private session. I love having these in depth one on one workshops. Not only do we get the chance to cover a lot of material I have the opportunity to get to know the artist. 

And I learned much from Linda. I started a list of tips and ideas she shared with me but this one was the best!  When she arrived at my studio she was holding a round thing covered in tin foil. Did she bring cookies I wondered? I was intrigued and quite surprised when she removed the foil to reveal a wonderful tray of pastels!  

I thought it was interesting and very pretty but I didn't immediately see the brilliant solution she had for sorting and bringing her pastels to my class.

I love this hack for sorting pastels!
On closer inspection I saw that she was using the sections of a catering tray as a color wheel!
  • The tray was a sturdy multi compartment tray from the deli department of the grocery store. (she had thrown away the lid before she thought of this hack)
  • A Pocket Color Wheel fit perfectly in the center of the tray.
  • The sections were lined with paper toweling.
  • Using the color wheel as a guide the pastels were sorted by color, value and temperature. 
  • The lighter value pastels were placed at the wide end and were arranged by value to the darkest pastels at short end of each section.
  • The color wheel serves as a guide for each section. 
  • The pure colors and neutrals are kept together. Though the center could be used for the neutrals.

Closeup of the green and yellow section
I love this hack because it makes use of a relatively easy to find tray. Here are some more reasons to try this hack.
  •  It is a great way to sort and organize pastels without the expense of a box. I like it even though I have a box. It would make an efficient working pastel tray for the studio. It isn't that practical for travel unless you are driving to and from class.
  • Taking time to organize your pastels in this manner is a great way to see what you need. You can see what colors, temperature and values you are missing and then make a list to order open stock or a set that has the missing pastels.

A big thank you to Linda for sharing this idea with me. I hope you find it as helpful as I do!

Today's Painting notes: This is a 9x12 pastel on Moonstone Canson Mi-Teintes paper. This is one of the demos I painted for this class.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

When Color Takes a Back Seat

'Drama on the Marsh'          4x6        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
Why didn't I think of it! I had a great question from a reader who asked if I tried doing a black and white painting on Uart Dark. I didn't. With pastels sometimes we are so focused on color that we forget about the subtle beauty of a simple black and white image.  I was waiting for a private student to arrive so I decided to try a quick black and white study.

I keep a small box of black, white and gray pastels. The grays are what I call ash gray....made from black and white. They are not the wonderful colorful grays found in some pastels sets. These are the typical grayscale grays. I use them to illustrate how using darks, lights and grays with COLOR will lead to more interesting paintings. They would be perfect for my little study!

a variety of black and white pastels

I selected a moody photo of clouds over a marsh. It would translate well into black and white. There was a good range of values and shapes. The black paper gave me a head start because I didn't have to fight the paper color to get my dark shapes solid and cohesive. If you look at the painting you can see the paper color in the bottom left corner. Click to enlarge.

see the paper color in the bottom left corner.
After I finished the black and white study I painted another version this time using the local colors I saw in the photo. I really enjoyed the simplicity of the black and white version. Having to choose only value and not worry about color freed me to play with mark making and enjoying the process of painting.
Another version with colorful darks,lights and grays

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Exploring Wet Underpaintings on Uart Dark

'Autumn Mosaic'         9x12       pastel on Uart Dark       ©Karen Margulis
available $165
 There is something very satisfying about wet underpaintings. Holding a brush and watching pastel melt and drip or moving wet paint around the surface is also very liberating. Even if I end up covering the underpainting with pastel, the act of creating the underpainting feels great.

I probably do some kind of wet underpainting for half of my paintings. I love all types of wet underpaintings from simple alcohol washes to experimenting with unexpected media such as oil paint or oil pastel crayons. I love using Uart paper because I have good results with these wet underpaintings. So I was anxious to try a wet underpainting on the new Uart Dark. I am happy to report that it passed all of my tests with flying colors!

Putting Uart Dark to the wet underpainting test
For the test I used an unmounted piece of Uart Dark 500 grade. I used both water and alcohol and a variety of media. My main concern was how the paper would hold up. My results:
  • The unmounted paper was taped on four corners to a piece of foam core board. It did not buckle or wave or wrinkle when wet with both water and alcohol. The liquid did not seep through to the back of the paper. 
  • The sanded surface retained the grit. The water and alcohol did not make the paper gummy or remove the grit.
In my tests the Uart Dark performed the same as regular Uart sand color. 

Blocking in color with Caran d'Ache Neocolors II crayons
 Continuing my experiment I used a piece of Uart Dark 500 grade and did a wet underpainting using Caran d'Ache Neocolor II crayons and water. I liked how the Neocolors stayed vibrant in my test. They didn't disappoint me. The allowed me to block in the big shapes of my composition and set up the color. The underpainting provided me with a roadmap. The Uart Dark performed flawlessly.

In the end I covered up much of the underpainting with pastel. There is nothing wrong with that! Even though it is desirable to let underpaintings show or peek through it isn't the end of the world if it gets covered. The underpainting was an was a set up and allowed me to start the painting without fear and hesitation!

Wet with water

Blocking in the darks once underpainting has dried

Painting the sky and all of the dull colors....brighter colors to come!
Read more about Uart paper on their website here:

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

A Closer Look at a Great New Paper

'Under the Summer Sun'       12 x 9      pastel  on Uart Dark 800      ©Karen Margulis
available $165
The first thing I did with the new paper was to paint on it. I wanted simply to respond to it without overthinking.  Next I put it to my paper test. I was more deliberate and analytical. I tested how the paper responds to harder pastels vs. softer pastels. I also did a layer test. I wanted to find out how many layers the paper would take. Finally I painted the same thing using the same pastel palette on each of the 4 grades of paper. I've been playing with the new Uart dark sanded pastel paper this week and having a great time!  Below are my results.

All 4 test paintings together in a collage

My test strip. Click to enlarge for detail
  • How dark is it?  The paper is called Uart Dark and the level of darkness varies according to the grade of the paper. The two lower grades (rougher) 400 and 500 are the darkest.They are considered black. The 600 grade is slighter lighter and is called dark charcoal. The finest grade 800 is called charcoal and is slightly lighter. The higher the grade, the smaller the pigments are. I find the variation in darkness to be so slight and subtle that it made no difference at all in my paintings. 
  • How do pastels perform on Uart dark? The good news is that both hard and softer pastels perform EXACTLY THE SAME on the dark paper as they do on regular Uart sand color paper. Pastels go on easily and layer well.  There is no struggle to get pigment from even the hardest pastels. You get the benefit of the consistency of the Uart you love with the new dark color.  I truly forgot I was working on black because the paper felt so familiar to me. 
  • How many layers does Uart Dark take?  I put each grade to the layer test. I used my box of 30 Terry Ludwig yellows and started layering. I used my usual light touch. I got to 26 layers without a problem. I layered dark over light and light over dark. I was able to build layers without the pastel completely filling the tooth of the paper and getting slippery. I could have added more layers but more than likely we don't really need to use more than 26 layers! A painting would probably loose freshness. It's good to know that the paper can take it though!
  • What is the difference in the various grades? Besides the subtleness in the darkness of the grade there is also a difference in the amount of grit or roughness. Think of how regular sandpaper is graded from smooth to rough. I found that I didn't paint differently on the various grades and my results are similar. Click on the photos below to enlarge. The smoother paper does allow one to get finer detail. The rougher paper allows for more suggested texture. I like all grades and again found them to be the same as regular Uart sand color paper.

Final thoughts: I love the new dark paper. I will still use the sand color Uart and choose my paper color depending on the subject. I love having choices and having a dependable and consistent paper to choose from!  NEXT UP: testing wet underpaintings on Uart dark.

Today's Painting Notes: The painting at the top of the post was done on Uart dark 800. I chose to blend the sky to eliminate the bits of black peeking through. I wanted a calm sky to contrast with my busy weeds!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Two Important Reasons to Try Dark Paper.... A First Look at Uart Dark

'Daisies'         4x6       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
 Keep those great questions coming! The next few days will be devoted to my tests on the new Uart Dark sanded paper. Your questions are helping me put the paper to the test!  Before we explore dark paper any further let's address the question of why would we want to work on dark paper in the first place!  There are many reasons artists like black or dark toned paper but my favorite reasons are VIBRANCY and CONTRAST.

My pastel palette on a black cloth. Look at how vibrant they look!

  •  VIBRANCY. Look at how bright and intense the pastels in the above photo appear on a black surface. This same level of vibrancy can be achieved on a black or dark surface. Pastels glow and come to life on a dark surface. Because the paper is black or dark....the lights and brights appear even lighter and brighter than they would on a lighter surface. (simultaneous contrast at work) 
  • TIP: When choosing a subject to paint on black choose something that will exploit the ability of the dark paper to make light and bright colors pop. Subjects such as flowers are wonderful candidates for black paper. 

New paper leads to new explorations! Uart Dark comes in
four grades: 400, 500, 600, 800
available at Dakota Art Pastels

  • CONTRAST: Black or dark paper can lead to stronger paintings. The dark tone provides the glue that holds everything together. It provides the much needed contrast with the middle and light values. If handled well the back paper can help unify shapes and prevent spottiness. I like to block in a painting with simple shapes of 2-4 values. These big areas of light and dark form the foundation for the detail and colors to follow. Working on a dark paper ensures that my darks are strong enough. (often we are afraid of pushing the darks too far and we end up with disjointed and weak paintings)
  • TIP: The Uart dark paper is dark but there are some pastels, notably the Terry Ludwig eggplant which is actually darker than the paper. I like to use these 'super darks' with restraint as accents. This makes the dark paper a perfect overall dark allowing my accents to pop!

The photos below show the progression of today's painting. I have repeated the same painting with the same pastels on each grade of Uart Dark. I will share the results in tomorrow's post.

Blocking in the darks and starting some mid value green

Adding the bright yellow centers and the darkest accents.
See how they pop on the black paper!

Adding the lights using a pale blues

Painting a simple background of greens allowing the paper tone to peek through

Adding some warmer lights on the petals and a few details.

Finished painting on Uart Dark 500
As an experiment I painted the same daisies using the same pastel palette on regular sand color Uart. Can you see a difference? Did the black paper change the look of the painting? 

Painting on regular Uart 500 sand color

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Choosing Paper Color for a Painting

'Windy Reverie'          6x8          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $100
I love new supplies! I am having fun working on the new Uart Dark sanded paper. I am working on a comprehensive review and I will share my experiments here this week. Today's painting of Queen Anne's lace was done on a piece of Uart dark 500 grade which is a black sanded surface. Paper color does make a difference!

I pulled this post from the archives on paper choice. I'll be back tomorrow with more on Uart dark!

'Good Morning Marsh'            11x14          pastel        ©Karen Margulis

It begins with a piece of paper. That is one of the first things I decide on before I start a painting. Will I use paper or a board?  Will I choose sanded or unsanded?  Will I be doing an underpainting or toning the surface?  My choice will effect the outcome of the painting.

I often hear students tell me they just choose the next piece of paper on the pile. Or Use up whatever scraps they have. Or use the cheapest paper because they aren't good enough for the good stuff (that's for another discussion!)

If you don't put thought into your paper choice you are doing your painting a disservice.  Paper choice can make or break a painting.  One of the biggest things to consider is the color of the paper.

Many brands of pastel papers comes in colors. I usually play it safe and choose the warm middle value colors. These warm grays seem to work well with most subjects and I don't mind having the color peek through the finished painting.

This is important!  The color of the paper will end up peeking through your layers of pastel unless you apply pastel very dense and thick.  So you want to be sure the color you choose will work with the colors in your subject.  These little bits of color can enhance your subject or help create a certain mood.

The color of the paper will also effect your judgement of values so this is something to be aware of when you choose a paper color.

So the question is What color paper should you use? Here are three pairings done with the same pastels but in different paper colors. Observe the subtle changes each color gives the painting.

(from top to bottom) Burgundy Canson, Brown Canson, blue gray Canson

There is no rule or 'right' paper color to use. It depends on the mood you want to create. The more you experiment and try different colors the easier it will become to make more intuitive color choices.

*TIP*  If you aren't sure what color will work best with your subject, take some time to do some quick color studies on the paper choices to compare and contrast. These little 4x4 paintings helped me decide which color I like best for the bigger painting.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

I Need Your Questions About Uart Dark!

'Light in the Forest'         6x8        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $95
You all have the best questions! I'd love for you to chime in and ask questions about a new product. I just got some of the new Uart Dark and I have been playing with it. I am working on  putting it to the test and writing a review. I would love to know what questions you have about this new sanded surface.  

In case you haven't heard, Uart has a new sanded paper called Uart Dark. It comes in four grades 400,500, 600 and 800. The lower grades 400 and 500 are darkest and are called black. The 600 and 800 are slightly lighter and are called dark charcoal and charcoal. 

If you have questions about this new dark paper let me know either in the comments or by sending an email to  I will answer in my blog. Your questions will also help me with my video review. Thank you in advance.  

Below is a quick 6x8 study done on Uart 500 Black.

Drawing the big shapes with a Nupastel

Blocking in the dark trees

Blocking in the big sections of aspen foliage....dark and dull to begin

Adding the light tree trunks....they really pop on the black paper!

Putting in the sky

Adding more color to the tree trunks and adding more color to the foliage

Refining the foreground

Asking brighter yellows to the foliage and adding some detail
Also adding a brighter blue to the sky.