Saturday, April 25, 2015

Painting Poppies....Some Thoughts

'Poppy Heaven'              8x10              pastel             ©Karen Margulis
I went to Texas and was in Poppy Heaven! Yes the Bluebonnets were blooming and they were beautiful but the site of acres of poppies really stopped me in my tracks. The day after my workshop my host Marsha took me on a wonderful tour of the area. I had a 6:30pm flight and we fit in a lot of sightseeing. 

We began with a stop at Wildseed Farm wildflower farm in Fredericksburg. It was a dream come true for me. I had visited their website many times dreaming of my own wildflower garden. When we pulled into the parking lot I was overwhelmed by the fields covered in blooming poppies. I must have taken hundreds of photos. I have a lifetime supply of poppy references.

I love to paint poppies and have discovered some tips to achieve a more painterly flower.

  • I don't draw the flower first. I simply draw a circle shape where I want the flower to go. Then I use the SIDE of my pastel to paint large shapes that make up the petals. If I draw my flowers I tend to want to color them in and they look stiff.
  • I use three or four values of the poppy color to develop the flower. Even if I don't see it in the photo I like to begin with a dark, brick red shape (for red poppies). I add middle values to create the form.
  • I avoid using a pale or very light value red to paint the highlights. I find light pastels with too much white in their makeup lead to washed out flowers rather than vibrant flowers.
  • If I want my poppies to appear sunlit I will use a warm color such as red-orange for the light areas.
Here are a few photos from my visit to Wildseed Farms.

Friday, April 24, 2015

What To Do with Plein Air Paintings?

'Bluebonnet Spring II'                 8x10              pastel               ©Karen Margulis
Not every plein air painting is a success. That is why I like to think of my paintings done on location as studies. It removes the pressure to create a framable painting. The experience of painting outside is reward enough. The experience of involving all of the senses will influence  paintings done in the studio.

I usually have a rule for my plein air paintings. I do not allow myself to touch them back in the studio. I leave them alone so I can learn from them. If I try to fix my 'mistakes' or try to make it better  I will often destroy the freshness and authenticity that they have. I prefer to paint a new variation based on the study. I make note of the things I would change in the study and then start fresh. It is a much better learning experience.

Every once in awhile I break my rule!

The original plain air painting....a demo from my Texas workshop
The painting above was a demo I did for my Texas workshop. It was the kind of painting that turned into an instructional tool. I used it to illustrate a few different concepts and answer questions. So in the end the painting was a confusing mix of things. It served a purpose but it wasn't authentic or true to the scene anymore.

Not one to throw out good paper I decided to use the bones of this painting to create a new interpretation.

  •  I found a photo taken near the demo location. It was a bit closer in and included some bluebonnets.
  • I brushed out some of the pastel and sprayed the bottom half with workable fixative. 
  • Now primed for new pastel I let the photo guide my new interpretation.
The new interpretation works because I already had big simple shapes and a solid value map. All it needed were a few adjustments to the trees and bushes and the addition of bluebonnets in the foreground.

a photo of a scene from the demo location

Brushed out, sprayed with fixative and ready to go!

*******I need your help! ************
I am working on my blogging presentation for the IAPS convention. I want to be sure I answer the questions that a potential blogger might have. If you want to start a blog or revive an existing one what questions would you like to have answered?  Email me with any questions. They will be answered here and in the workbook I am writing. Thank you!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

My Favorite Spicy Pastels

'Texas Spring II'              5x7           pastel           ©Karen Margulis
painting available $50
I love pastels. Hard, soft, square or round. I can find a good use for just about any brand of pastels. Sure I have my favorites. Certain brands work best on certain surfaces. Some brands are better for underpainting. Others are best for finishing touches. I call my finishing marks spices.  Done well, they are the marks that make an ordinary painting into a more intriguing painting.

I was very happy that my recent merit award for my painting 'Sunshine on a Cloudy Day' included two boxes of Schmincke pastels. These are my favorite pastels for adding the finishing spicy touches to a painting.

My award from Chart-pak....a nice box of Schmincke pastels
Schmincke pastels are quite soft. I find them to be very rich and creamy. In fact they are so soft and rich that when applied heavily they can create texture almost like oil paint. I use them sparingly and usually for my final marks. Look at the painting in today's post. I used the yellow and violet Schmincke pastels to paint the flowers. I simply rolled the pastel across the paper and it left a trail of thick creamy marks. The perfect spice...just a sprinkle of rich color.  I like to have a variety of spicy Schminke colors such as bright yellows, reds, violets and greens. I love their blues as well. I'm going to enjoy this new set!

The Schmincke website has a great flyer with information and a color chart of their soft pastels. Click here for the pdf.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Reflections on a Plein Air Workshop

'A Special Part of Texas'                 9x12                pastel            ©Karen Margulis
It was everything I imagined it would be and much more. I have always wanted to see the Texas Hill Country during the Bluebonnet season so when my friend Marsha Young invited me out to do a plein air workshop I couldn't resist. Marsha has a wonderful gallery in Dripping Springs Texas, Butterfly Gallery. She hosted the group and planned our plein air locations. She also arranged for our lunches each day. Her hard work and perfect weather ensured the workshop was a great success.

I was excited to meet my group of 12 artists. Many traveled to the workshop. Some from as far away as Minnesota! It was a great group which always makes a workshop fun. We painted hard and laughed and ate and hopefully learned a lot as well. I know that I was impressed with everyone's work!

'Texas Spring'          6x8        pastel

Marsha had selected some great painting locations for the workshop. On the first day we painted in the studio. It was a good opportunity to demo and share my usual working techniques and plein air tips. It was a practice session and we were ready to paint the next morning at the wonderful Mt. Gainor Inn.  Here is a quick video  from our day at the Inn:

Our second plein air day began at Charro Ranch Park in Dripping Springs. This was a great place for some intimate landscape vignettes of trees and wildflowers. My paintings in this post are demos from this location.

We had lunch reservations at the famous Salt Lick restaurant and spent the afternoon painting in the gardens. Here is a quick story which sums up the wonder of this whole experience....Just as we were finishing our feedback session at the end of the day a man strolled up to the group and stopped. I was a bit worried that we had overstayed our welcome and were about to be shown the gate. But I was wrong. It was the owner of the Salt Lick. He wanted to thank us for painting on the property. He shared his story and his dream for artists to come paint. He welcomed us back anytime as well as extended an invitation to paint on their other local properties. It was Texas hospitality at it's finest!

I know I will be back again some day!

Demo at Charro Ranch Park

Monday, April 20, 2015

Dripping Springs Texas Workshop Report Day 2

                             'Road to the Bluebonnets '          6x8        Plein air pastel

Time sure does fly when you're having fun! I'm a day behind in my workshop report but we are having a wonderful time. Day two arrived with clear skies and promises of a sunny and hot day. I was relieved after hearing the thunder and rain late into the night. It was our first plein air day.

The crew of twelve students, Marsha and I headed out into the country to the Mt. Gainor  Inn. It is a peaceful spot with views of the Hill Country and bluebonnet meadows. We couldn't ask for a better place to spend the day painting. 

                               'Heavenly Hill Country'.             5x7.            Pastel 

We experienced Texas hospitality at its finest all day. The owners of the inn Laurie and Jerry were happy to have us and took great care of us with drinks and a wonderful lunch spread of sandwiches, fruit and hot from the oven raspberry and key lime bars!

The group did some wonderful paintings. It was a relaxed day surrounded by beauty. More tomorrow.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Dripping Springs Texas Workshop Day 1 Report

  'Beyond the Trees'.     11x14.     Pastel

I'm having a great time in Texas! It was day one of a 3 day workshop in Dripping Springs. I am hosted by the Butterfly Gallery and the talented owner and artist Marsha Young and her husband David. 

Today was our studio day. I have 12 fantastic students who worked very hard and did some great paintings. Tomorrow we head outside for an introduction to plein air Karen's style!  We are expecting good weather so fingers are crossed! 

I did two demos today showcasing an easy 6 step approach to simplifying a painting and also a pastel with a watercolor underpainting.(below)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

One of my Favorite Wildflower Painting Techniques

'Freedom'          11x14            pastel        Karen Margulis
painting available $165
Never has watching paint dry been more fun. There is nothing wishy washy about it.  It's bold. It's rich. It is usually quite magical to watch.  When I want to start a painting with a bang this is the underpainitng technique I turn to.....Oil Stain Underpaintings!

'Save the Bees'            8x10            pastel          ©Karen Margulis
It is simple to do. All you need is a few tubes of oil paints, stiff cheap brush and some odorless mineral spirits (OMS). You also need to use a surface that can get wet. I used Uart for today's paintings.  It is called oil stain because you are basically staining the paper with the thinned oil paint. If the paint is applied too thickly it will fill the tooth of the paper and you won't be able to add much pastel.

detail of painting. Notice the drips of the underpainting
Here are a few tips for Oil Stain Underpaintings
  • Use a limited palette of paint colors. You are less likely to mix muddy color with only a few colors. I use red, blue and yellow.
  • Avoid using black or white paint. You want nice thin and transparent color. Adding white will make it opaque and chalky. Black can be dull.
  • Make sure your paint is thinned with the OMS (I use Gamsol)  I like for the paint to be the consistency of tea.  If you can see your brushstrokes in the paint then it is too thick.
  • If the paint is thin enough, the underpainting should dry in under an hour.
  • Begin with the darkest paint. I like to mix red and blue for a nice dark purple.
  • As the paint dries and the OMS evaporates, you will hopefully see interesting weblike drips occur.
  • When the underpainting is dry,  it is time to add pastel. I use a very light touch and build up my layers... very slowly. I will leave areas of the underpainting untouched if I like the way it is working.

several underpaintings done at the same time

I don't often do oil stain underpaintings because there is a bit of clean up involved. When I do, I often do serval underpaintings at once. Not only does this save clean up is always good to practice underpainting techniques. The more you do....the better they will be.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Quick Tip: 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. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Finish a Painting with Care with this Quick Idea

'Old Friends'                18x24            pastel               ©Karen Margulis
painting available $500
 I am really starting to like this idea. I shared it in a recent post and I am using it more frequently. I plan to use it for every painting. It is a simple idea really. But it solves the common problem of overworking a painting and knowing just when to stop.

I like to stop painting before I think I am done. I paint until I feel like I am almost done. When I am not sure what else I need to do that is the perfect time to stop. Many times if we keep going at this point we are making marks that might not add anything to the painting.


Then what? I usually walk away or do something else and come back to the painting with a fresh eye. Then I can decide what if anything needs to be done to finish the painting. I then WRITE these things down. I use a small dry erase board but post it notes or a sketchbook all work. If I don't write them down I will not only forget what I wanted to do I will often be sidetracked and do more than I NEED to do.....overworking the painting.

Here is an example:

The painting above is almost finished. I liked the colors and the freshness of the marks. I wanted to keep that feeling but on closer observation I saw some issues to address. I wrote them down on my dry erase board below.

On my dry erase board you can see I had written down the concept I had for the painting. This helps me decide if I was successful. I decided that I was and I still liked my working title of 'Old Friends'. Here are the things I decided to address:

  • I wanted more texture in the grass
  • I needed a few spices in the grass and spices in the trees. I wanted to make sure the eye moved around the painting.
  • I needed to break up the solid area in the bottom left section of the trees.
  • I want to put a nice royal blue accent in the trees just because!
When I had a chance to return to the painting I was able to remember what I wanted to do which helped me to do only these things and STOP!  Yes, I really like this idea!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Simplifying a Marsh...Painting Tip

'Into the Marsh'                11x14    pastel          ©Karen Margulis
Painting available here $165
My goal is to keep it simple. I love painting the marsh because it is such a challenge to simplify and I love the challenge.  Marshes are essentially a sea of grass. Miles and miles of grass. It is easy to get lost in rendering every blade of grass. I speak often about leaving a little mystery in a painting.  If I paint every blade of grass where is the mystery?

Here is a tip for painting marsh grasses:  Think of the marsh grasses as big shapes of grass color. Not individual blades.  Keep these shapes big, simple and intact until the very end of the painting. Then a few well chosen blades can be pulled out of the shapes.

my black and white thumbnail

I begin the painting with avery simple value study. I only use four values to define the big simple shapes I see. As I layer the pastel I keep these shapes intact. I may change colors but I keep the values the same as my study for as long as I can.

It is only at the end of the painting process do I add a few blades of grass. I think about the best placement of these pieces of grass. They act like lines. Lines pull our eyes in a certain direction. I want to be sure the lines I create with my grass lead the viewer's eye where I want them to go.

 I paint individual blade of grass in a few ways. One way it to carve them out of a block or big shape of grass. In the photo above I used the color of the water to negatively paint some grass. Paint the color behind the grass to do the carving.

Another way to paint grass is to add them on top of the big shape. I try to make my lines painterly or lyrical. I want them to look natural and not stiff. I allow the thin edge of a pastel to dance and create a lyrical line.

TRY THIS: The challenge at this point is to have restraint. It is all too easy to get carried away. Allow yourself to put in only three pieces of grass at a time. Step back and evaluate. If more is needed, paint only three more before stopping and so on. Stopping to evaluate will hopefully prevent you from overdoing the grass!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Lighten the Load on your Next Workshop or Trip

'Time for Bluebonnets'             8x10          pastel           ©Karen Margulis
purchase here $125
It is almost here. I will be heading for Dripping Springs Texas next week to teach a workshop. I will be hosted by Marsha Young at her wonderful Butterfly Gallery in Dripping Springs. We will have one studio day and two plein air days. Marsha has found some wonderful spots to paint including a B&B and a winery. My fingers are crossed that the weather will cooperate and that we will see some bluebonnets.

Packing for a workshop is part of the fun. I love to pack. To me it is an art form of it's own. I love bags and suitcases and have more than any one person could ever need.  My family calls me a bag lady and I suppose that is true. But there is one thing that I have learned to embrace.....

I don't need to bring every bag on a trip! I need to pack light.

The block in for today's painting

I can enjoy the experience so much more if I don't have to lug around and keep up with multiple bags of stuff. I have downsized the painting supplies I bring and downsized the clothes and other misc. stuff I bring. It feels great!

I'll discuss packing art supplies in another post. Today I'd like to share some of the wonderful packing tips for clothes and other travel necessities that I have found online. I put them all together on a Pinterest board. Visit the board to check out the tips. It isn't too early to start planning to lighten the load on your next trip or workshop!  Click here to visit the Packing Tips board. 

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Make Corrections to a Pastel with this Simple Tip

'The Way to the Beach'              9x12            pastel               ©Karen Margulis
painting available  $145
It really isn't that hard to do. Pastels are very forgiving. I like that. I can be fearless when I paint because I know I can always change things that aren't working. There are ways to fix the problem areas. A stiff paintbrush does a good job of brushing them out.  Brushing off the pastel isn't usually enough to get all the way back to clean paper but it is often enough to remove enough pastel for corrections. Making the corrections is the hard part. Especially if you don't remember what pastel sticks you used in the painting. You can easily make things worse!

Here is an simple tip for successful corrections: Keep all of the pastels you are using for the painting where you can see them! Don't put them back until you are finished with the painting.

Today's painting reminded me of the usefullness of this tip. I wanted to paint the road that runs in front of the beach house my friends and I rent on Pawleys Island South Carolina. I decided I wanted the telephone poles in the painting. So I put them in.

The first finish. The pole on the right has to go.

When I uploaded the photo and looked at it on my computer monitor (a great way to see problems) I decided I didn't like the big pole on the right. The wire was also in the wrong spot. They needed to go. So back to the easel I went with a stiff paint brush in hand.

The pole on the right is on it's way out!

I brushed out the pole and the wire. I was able to get most of the marks removed. There was a slight ghost image of the pole but I knew I could cover it up. Fortunately I always keep the pastels I am using for a painting out in a tray. This is my working palette. It was very simple to find the pastels I had used for the areas behind the pole. All it took were a few marks with the right pastel and the pole was history. This fix would not have been as easy if I had to hunt for the correct color and value.

Bonus Tip: If you want to remove even more pastel .... down to the original paper try to use some canned air that is used to clean electronics. You can get precision removal with the thin straw that comes with the can!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

A Compact Plein Air Set Up for Pastel

'The Path on the Left'             6x6             plein air pastel           ©Karen Margulis
purchase this painting here $65
 It has to be compact and light. Everything has to fit in my backpack. Over the years I have continuously downsized my plein air set up. I remember the days of dragging a rolling cart filled to the top with painting supplies. Set up took forever. I could never find what I wanted in the cart full of unnecessary stuff.  It was discouraging and plein air wasn't something I enjoyed.

Until I downsized! Now I have several different downsized plein air set-ups. I keep them always ready. The type of painting situation helps me decide which set up to bring.  Today I will share my Compact Travel Light Set Up.

'Blue Ridge Memories'          6x6       $65
Travel Light Kit: Heilman double sketchbook pastel box, Heilman easel attachment,  Oben AT3400 tripod

Everything fits in my Orvis backpack with room to spare. I will always carry this on the plane. I have room for extra travel needs such as my toiletries and iPad mini.  I use an Oben AT3400 tripod which folds up to 16". It will fit in the backpack but sometimes I put it in my checked bag if I want extra room in the backpack.

Heidi checks out my set-up. Here you can see the inside of the Orvis backpack. I love this pack because it sits so well without flopping over. I used it to weigh down my tripod using a mini bungee cord. It also has plenty of outside pockets.

This is all of my gear. I am using a Heilman double sketchbook pastel box. I put the metal ease attachment into a small stuff sack to keep it protected. I have my backing board with bankers clips. This is actually a hard plastic board which will hold paper. It is called an Artworks Book from Easel Butler.  I have a pouch for baby wipes, a zippered pouch for miscellaneous supplies such as tape, watercolor set, alcohol, fixative. I also have 2 black portfolio folders by Itoya. I use these to store my paper and the finished paintings.

Here is the Heilman box open. I have an assortment of Terry Ludwig pastels on the left and Girault pastels on the right. I do vary the selection depending on my location.  I don't preselect my pastels before I start painting since my palette is already limited!

Here is the entire set up. I was asked about the stability of this set up. I did notice some shaking but I am a fairly aggressive plein air painter so I did hold onto the board to steady it some. If I was a kind and gentle painter it wouldn't be as noticeable. It really didn't bother me. I am trading size and weight for complete stability and to me it is well worth it!

Next week I am taking this set up with me to teach a plein air workshop in Dripping Springs Texas. This will be the ultimate test so I will report back with my thoughts.

If you'd like to see this set up in action watch my plein air demo video on YouTube click HERE


Heilman Designs
Easel Butler Artworks Book
Itoya Original Art Portfolios