Sunday, May 21, 2017

10 Things You Definitely Should Have in Your Backpack at IAPS

'Wide Open Spaces'          18x24         pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $400
 It's that time again! The IAPS convention is just around the corner and it is time to get organized. This will be my fifth time going to the biennial convention of the International Association of Pastel Societies. I'll be going as an instructor and representing the Southeastern Pastel Society. I've started my packing process. I've already shipped my boxes of demo supplies to a friend in Albuquerque and I have started to organize the rest of the stuff I need. I want to pack as light as possible but still have the things I need to be comfortable and productive.

One of the things I always have when I travel is some kind of day pack or bag. This bag has all the necessities to make a day of exploring enjoyable. When attending a convention such as IAPS it is great to carry a bag or pack so that you can enjoy the festivities and events without having to go back to your hotel room.  I'd like to share my list of the 10 things you should have in your day pack. (keep reading even if you aren't going to IAPS since these things are great for all general travel.

Be prepared and ready for fun!

Everything fits in the bag. I love Baggallini bags! 

1. Cell phone/ charger or power cube
Be sure to bring your smart phone. You'll want it to take photos, show your work, check time and weather. You might want a charging cube to charge your phone on the go especially if you are not staying at the convention hotel or don't have time in between sessions  Bring a camera or tablet for photos if you don't use your phone for photos.
Be sure to put your phone on silent during the demos and workshops and take photos only during photo breaks so as not to block the view.

2. Snacks
 Snacks are always good. What if you spend too much time in the expo and you're running late to your next session?....a healthy power snack will come in handy.... nuts, power bars, dried fruit , a little dark chocolate will help you power through a busy day.
Choose snacks that are small, packable and individually wrapped. Bring them in your suitcase or head to a grocery store in ABQ to stock up on snacks and water. Bring some plastic baggies for your extra snacks. I like to carry a mini pack of baby wipes for cleanup.

3.  Empty Water Bottle
 Keeping HYDRATED is the most important thing you can do to keep going strong at the convention. Remember the altitude in the city of Albuquerque is over 5000 feet above sea level and altitude sickness is real. Keep hydrated. You can buy water of course but I am bringing my own Hydro flask bottle that I will keep full and in my backpack or bag at all times.
Albuquerque is also in the arid high desert so things dry out quickly. Bring your favorite moisturizer.

4. A Goody Bag
 Bring an extra foldable bag or compact bag or duffle. The kind that folds up into tiny envelopes but opens to a good size.  You might want an extra bag to carry around the goodies you find at the expo or shopping excursions around ABQ and Santa Fe. They take up no space and come in handy!
These small foldable bags are available everywhere now for just a few dollars.
I love the compact daypack from Sea to Summit which can also serve as your day pack as well as for extra goodies!

5. A lightweight jacket or sweater
 It can be cold in the convention rooms and there is nothing worse than trying to stay warm and not being able to focus on the instructor or demo. It's hard to think about carrying  a jacket when it is so hot outside but you'll be glad to have it if the air conditioner is blasting.
The long range forecast is showing highs in the 80's and lows in the 50's so a jacket will also come in handy once the sun goes down.

6.  Sunscreen, sunglasses and hat 
You will want to pull yourself away from the hotel and convention activities to explore the area. (more on that in an upcoming post)  And when you do go outside be prepared for the high desert sun with sunscreen, lip balm with spf and sunglasses. Add some extra protection with a packable hat. You'll need it if you are going to spend time outdoors exploring or painting. The high altitude intensifies the effects of the sun's rays so be safe and use sunscreen, sunglasses and wear a hat!

7. Business cards....or calling cards
Make sure you have cards with your contact info and a photo of you or your work. You will want to exchange them with your new friends! If you don't have business cards they can easily be printed on your own printer or if you are feeling creative, illustrate your own! Be sure to keep plenty of cards in your daypack!

I get my cards through and I love them!

8. A notebook and pens
You'll want to take notes while in the demos and workshops so be sure to bring a slim notebook and a few good pens. I took so many notes one year my pen ran out of ink so now I bring several of my favorite pens. Throw in a copy of the daily convention schedule so you know what is going on and where to be.
I love my turquoise Moleskin notebook and Le Pen black pens. The notebook is slim and gets me in the Southwest mood!

9. Small sketchbook and pens
 Great for getting creative and making memories when you have some downtime. I don't go anywhere without a small sketchbook kit. I usually have some pens and some way to add color like the Derwent Inktense pencils and a water pen.
You might think you won't have time to sketch but it is a great way to do something creative after filling up on inspiration. I'd rather have a small kit that I don't use than regret not having one with me.

my small sketchbook kit

10. A comfort kit
 I like to put together a small pouch with comfort items such as pain reliever, bandaids, any other needed meds such as allergy pills, inhalers, etc., tums, feminine products, tissues, safety pins, Mints or gum for fresh breath. Don't forget an emery board. I always seem to need one! The kit keeps you from having to run back to the room for any needed necessity.
Putting all of these small comfort items in a zippered pouch makes for an organized pack and keeps them handy!

Did I miss anything important? Let me know what you keep in your bag in the comments. Also if you have any general IAPS questions let me know and I will answer them in my upcoming FAQ post.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

From the Archives: Thoughts on the Last IAPS Convention 2015

'Emergence'     16x20       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
inquire about availability
The anticipation for the IAPS convention is building. I am starting to get organized and thought I'd share this post from the last convention. I'll be sharing more convention tips over the next two weeks so let me know if you have any questions!

The boxes sat in the corner of my studio. They called out to be unpacked but I wasn't ready. I had just returned from almost two months of travel and was in the middle of planning for my fall classes. I didn't have time to open the boxes...even though I was curious.

Today I finally had a chance to open them and I would like to share the contents with you. The boxes contained the demo paintings I did at the IAPS convention in June. It was an amazing convention and I was honored and thrilled to be a part of it as an instructor. I did two presentations at the convention....a 3 hour demo on wildflowers and a 3 hour seminar on blogging for artists. I had a wonderful time sharing with artists who are just as passionate about pastels as I am.

During my wildflower demo I did three large paintings. In this post I am sharing my second demo....daisies done with a watercolor underpainting. I used Cretacolor aqua bricks for the underpainting and the painting is on Pastel Premier white sanded paper.

Group shot of the IAPS Master's Circle recipientsI was also honored to receive my Master's Circle medallion at the banquet. What a fantastic group of artists to share this honor with! We were all like kids as we received our award and cheered one another. It was an evening to remember!

Group shot of instructors and demonstrators

closeup detail of painting

I will be sharing the other demo paintings in upcoming posts. The convention was an amazing experience and I encourage you to make plans to attend the next one in June 2017!
Here is a report of the convention that you might like to read:

Friday, May 19, 2017

Changing Seasons is Easy with Pastels

'Summer Breeze'           16x20                  ©Karen Margulis
available $350
 I had a great idea and couldn't wait to try it. Last week I unpacked my box of supplies from my last workshop. I had a couple of demos that needed a second look. I love to take my demos and tweak them in the studio when I have a chance to slow down and think about what the painting needs.

I pulled out the demo below and wondered how I could change it. I love this scene and the color palette. I love the windy fall mood that it represents. But I had painted a similar demo for another workshop and I didn't want two similar paintings.

So I decided to change the season! Why not take the painting and turn it into a summer scene?
It is easy to do with pastel! Keep reading to see what changes I made.

The original demo before the change of season

  • I first evaluated the painting to see what I would keep. I liked the composition and the arrangement of the trees. I liked the movement in the sky and the bold energetic marks. I liked the way the grasses seemed to be blowing in the wind.These were the things I wanted to keep.
  • The first thing I did was to spray the trees and grasses with workable fixative. I like the warm colors and they would be perfect underpainting colors for the summer greens. The fixative would allow me to layer the green while keeping the warm colors in place.
  • Next I started adding green. I used some cool blue greens in the shadow areas and warmer yellow greens in the area that was getting more light. I added greens to both the trees and the grasses.
  • I liked the violets in the distant treeline but I decided to adjust it to blue green and blue. This pushed the painting closer to an analogous color scheme. I liked the blues better.
  • The sky....I needed to be careful not to do too much to the sky and ruin my fresh marks. All I did was add some blue green on top of the violet to echo the blue greens in the trees. I left the fun touch of pearlescent green.
  • Finally I added more detail to the grasses with some Nupastels and added some summer wildflowers. Voila! Fall skips winter and spring and turns into summer!
Try This: Do you have a landscape painting that you aren't quite happy with? Maybe a change of seasons is in order! Use the original painting as a base for the new one. Use your imagination and memory of another season to guide your new painting.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A New Mounted Surface from UART!

'Dancing with the Stars'            9x12           pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $165
It was perfect timing! My new Uart boards arrived on the same day that Uart announced this great new product. Of course I had to drop everything and try the new board. Working on this surface was a pleasure and I am looking forward to using them more often!

side view of the new Uart Premium Mounted Boards

What are they? Here is some information from the Uart website:

 "UART’s newest mounted boards are made from a strong PVC material that is the perfect solution for plein air artists or artists alike that are looking for the convenience of UART’s sanded pastel paper pre-mounted on what we believe is the most durable and dent resistant board on the market.

UART’s borderless mounted boards are only 1/8” thick and lightweight making it the right choice for artists on the go. Each board is mounted to the edge with UART Premium Sanded Pastel Paper allowing a consistent texture every time for pastel, charcoal and pencil, and is pH neutral, acid free and capable of handling any type of wet media including watercolor, alcohol and oil washes.

Premium Mounted Boards – (all sizes in inches)
  • 9 x 12
  • 12 x 16
  • 18 x 24
Available in different grades ensuring you can create with confidence, knowing that your paper has the same grade from corner to corner every time you sketch or paint.
Grades: • 240 • 280 • 320 • 400 • 500 • 600 • 800"
wet wash with oil paint and turpenoid
 So how did the boards perform? Here are my thoughts:

  • The most important thing to me is that the mounted Uart paper perform exactly like the unmounted paper. The new board passed this test with flying colors! I depend on the consistent nature of the paper and found that sometimes mounted paper doesn't always perform in the way that I expect. Not so with the new premium mounted boards. The pastel went on the same way it does on unmounted boards. No strange texture was present and I was able to layer as usual.
  • I put the board to the test using a wet a drippy wash with oil paint and turpenoid. It was a complete joy to do the wash without worry of buckling or bumpy paper. The board took all of this wet abuse and held up beautifully.
  • I didn't count but I was able to get quite a few layers on the board even with the oil stain. I used some very soft pastels including some super soft Senneliers. I still didn't fill the tooth of the paper.
  • I had fun with scraping pastel with a pin. The firm surface of the board allowed me to scrape without any issues.
  • I love that the paper is flush with the edges of the board. I always paint to the edges of my paper so I don't like having a border. I still taped the board to a bigger piece of foamcore using white artist tape hinges. This allowed me to paint to the edges with out the easel getting in the way.
  • The board is very lightweight which will make it good for travel and plein air excursions. I like that each board is individually packaged in a resealable clear bag. This bag will come in handy to carry a finished painting home from a trip or from workshops and classes.

close up detail
OK I'm convinced! Where can I get the new boards?

They are available online at Blicks and Fine Art Store. Here are the links: & and Rochester:

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Take the Green Challenge!

'All About Green'       8x10       pastel        ©Karen Margulis

Green. You either love it or hate it. Sometimes painting with green can be a challenge. With pastels it seems we never have the right green. No matter how many greens I have collected I am always searching for the right one. And even though I have a lot of green pastels how do I know which ones to use?......Which ones are warm? Cool? Neutral? And how about all of those vivid artificial or acid greens?

It's green overload! What is the solution?

Terry Ludwig Pastel 90 piece Green Set.....this should do it!

The solution isn't to keep buying greens. The solution is to get to know the greens you have! Take them all out of all of their individual boxes. Play with them. 
  • Group them by value....put the dark ones together, the light ones and middle values ones in their own piles.
  • Try to group them by temperature....which ones seem cool (more blue) Which ones seem warm (more yellow) Which ones are hard to tell (probably neutral) 
  • Group the artificial greens together....these are the vivid, intense artificial looking greens (spices)
  • Make some marks with the greens to see how they look on paper. Remember that they will appear different depending on the paper color and what they are next to. (simultaneous contrast)
Make notes about which greens you seem to lack. Now you won't just buy random green pastels you will buy green with a purpose. 

A very green underpainting. Pastel with alcohol wash

After you experiment and play with the greens in your collection, paint a very green landscape. Remember that in a typical landscape the cooler greens (and lighter) will be in the distance and they will gradually transition to warmer greens in the foreground. There are always exceptions but this is a good general truth.
Take the challenge to the next level and paint the same scene but vary the greens to create a different mood. Perhaps turn a sunny day into a gray moody day.

If you'd like some tips on using green in the landscape have a look at my pdf demo available for $6

Last days of my Spring Painting sale. Select paintings are available at 50% discount. See available paintings here:  Click on the Spring Sale section and use SPRING17 at checkout

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Using a Palette Knife with Pastels

'Mountain Magic'         18x24         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $375
 I sometimes crave it. I do what I can to achieve it. Texture. It comes so easily with oil and acrylic paint. It is harder to get the same effect with pastel. There is a trade off of course. Pastel excels at pure luminosity. But sometimes I want more texture in my pastel paintings. So I have to get creative.

Today I was craving some texture in the foreground of my painting when I spotted my old palette knife on the shelf. How could I use a palette knife with pastels?

Using a palette knife
I was working on an older painting that I uncovered in my archives. It actually was one of the demos I did at the last IAPS convention. Since I am in full on wildflower mode I thought it would be fun to add the finishing touches to the demo.

  • I already had quite a few layers of pastel in the foreground grassy areas of the painting. I took the palette knife and I scratched through these layers revealing the dark underpainting. I kept scratching using windswept strokes. My goal was to suggest movement of the grasses.
  • The next step was to use a bit of workable fixative and then to go over the grass with another layer of green pastel. The pastel didn't go into the grooves created by the palette knife which created real texture! Ahhhh I had some texture in the grass with a simple tool....the palette knife!

Close up of the texture in the grass. Click to enlarge
 There are other ways to create texture with pastels. You can make a textured support using a variety of materials such as pumice and gesso and pastel grounds by Golden and others. Do you have any technique for creating texture with pastels? I'd love to hear about them!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Take Note for Better Underpaintings

'Fields of Gold'        9x12         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $145
There really is no right or wrong. When it comes to underpainting colors every choice will give you a different result. No one result is the 'correct' choice. However we can make better choices. We can choose the underpainting colors that will better help us express our concept for the painting. 

It helps if you know what you hope to express with your painting. Ask yourself before you start....what mood do I want? What are the weather conditions? How do I want the viewer to feel?
Then choose colors that will help create the feeling you want.

some underpainitng notes

The next step is to figure out what those colors should be! You can certainly guess and take your chances. But a better way is to do small and quick color studies. I call it taking color notes.

  •  Color Notes are small and rough studies done on the same type and color paper that you will be working on. 
  • A simple way to take color notes is to draw 2-4 boxes on the paper. Begin the note taking by choosing some underpainting colors for each box. I like to do simple 4 value underpaintings or block-ins.
  • Think of color combinations that might work of your painting. Start with a warm underpainting or maybe a cool one. Try bold colors. Try colors to suggest depth. Pick random colors (more on this later)
  • Once you have filled your boxes with some underpainting color choices do a quick study on top with your final colors. In the painting above I layered the final local colors on top of the underpaintings.
  • Now select the underpainitng colors that best express your concept.
After doing this exercise I decided I like the mood created by the warm underpainting. I have already covered it up in the photo but the underpainting colors were 4 values of orange. The warm colors helped me express the warmth of the field of autumn flowers. 
That was fun! I think I'd like to try some of the other underpainting colors!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

New Sunday Studio Video...Painting a Wildflower Meadow

'Among the Thistles'           12x24          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $300
It was a great Mother's Day.  I got to do my favorite things.....poking around thrift stores and painting! I found some good art and travel books in the thrift store and got a chance to spend the afternoon in the studio. I decided to do a Facebook Live broadcast to share the development of today's painting 'Among the Thistles'.  You can see the video on my You Tube channel here:


Here are a few details of the painting to give you some background:

  • I am using Uart paper 500 grit that I cut into a 12x24 piece. I taped the piece to a piece of foamcore. I wanted a long and narrow piece of paper to capture this little slice of a meadow.
  • I did an alcohol wash underpainting with Derwent Inktense sticks and rubbing alcohol.
  • I used Terry Ludwig pastels mostly the Richard McKinley landscape set.
  • I used Blair Low odor workable fixative to build the layers of the grass.
  • I added the bumblebees at the very end of the painting using just a few simple marks.

I hope you enjoy the video. It is unedited in a very informal format but just imagine you are a fly on the wall of my studio watching me paint!

close up detail

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Have Fun with Photo Collages

A collection of 6x6 nest paintings          pastel on black paper          ©Karen Margulis
available $45 each
I have made a rediscovery. I forgot about this website and how much fun I had making photo collages of my paintings. I was recently reviewing my notes for my talk on blogging at the upcoming IAPS convention when I came across the link to   Picmonkey is a photo editor, graphic designer and collage maker. I have only used it for making collages of my paintings but I plan to explore some of the other features.

There is a free version and a premium version of PicMonkey.  I am happy with what I can do with the free version. They also offer a mobile app which I plan to explore as well.

Today I had fun with some bird nests. I love painting nests. They are the perfect subject for exploring mark making. For these little paintings I used 6x6 black Artagain paper. This paper is very smooth with no tooth at all. It is fun to paint on because it forces you to put a mark down and leave it alone. You can't get too many layers at all so it is a great challenge. When I was finished I took photos of each painting and put them in a photo collage with PicMonkey! Give it a try!

Wishing a very Happy Mother's Day to all of the moms! Relax and have a wonderful day!!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Spring Cleaning Studio Sale!

'The Plight of the Bumblebee'         18x24        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available in my etsy shop Spring Sale
Things have been piling up in my studio! What with workshops, trips and a wedding I have neglected  my commitment to better organization!  I have a good system for storing my finished paintings but every once in awhile I get slack and don't file things where they belong. So I am spending some time this week putting things back in order.

Maybe you'd like to help?!!  I would like to offer some of my larger paintings at a nice discount of 50%. I would much rather these paintings find a good home where they can be enjoyed rather than being stacked in my studio. Some of them are my favorites and I would love for them to come out from under the glassine!

I have 29 paintings available in the Spring sale section of my Etsy shop. To take advantage of the discount simple use the coupon code SPRING17 when you check out. To see all of the available paintings visit my etsy shop here: SPRING SALE on ETSY

Here are a few paintings that are available:




Thursday, May 11, 2017

Ten Steps to a Landscape on a Homemade Surface

'Salt of the Earth'            5.5 x 7.5          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $75
It was a 'what if' moment and I decided to act on it. I was packing supplies for my recent workshop when I decided I should show the group how I tone Uart paper. I also wanted to share a great way to make a homemade sanded surface. While I had the supplies out I figured that I might as well tone some extra paper......and why not make my own sanded paper while I was at it!

I took out a piece of Arches cold pressed watercolor paper that I had on hand for another project. I poured some clear gesso in a container and tinted it with a little buff color acrylic paint. I brushed it on the paper and the result was a very nice piece of sanded paper. Perfect for a painterly landscape. Enjoy the following step by step demo.

Step 1:  I toned the paper with acrylic paint mixed in clear gesso which has a slight grittiness. The heavy watercolor paper was perfect for this mixture.

Step 2: Working from a photo of a windswept landscape, I blocked in the big shapes with a Nupastel.

Step 3: I used one of my favorite ways to block in a painting by choosing four values of one color to block in the values of the shapes. This created a nice value map to work on.

Step 4:  Since the paper was so bumpy I decided to rub in this first layer to push the pastel into the paper. I was left with a nice soft dreamy underpainting.

Step 5:  The Shades of Nature set of Terry Ludwig pastels would be perfect for the mood of this scene. I only had to add a few other colors such as the blues of the distant tree line.

Step 6: I began by reinforcing the dark areas with a dark brown pastel. I also developed the distant tree line with several cool blue green pastels. I left them soft and out of focus.

Step 7:  Next I painted the sky using pale peach and light warm yellow. I rubbed in the first layer and then added fresh pastel. I made my marks angle down into the painting to direct the viewer's eye.

Step 8:  I began refining the ground plane beginning at the back with lighter and duller and cooler  greens. I added some brighter green to the shrubs using short blocky strokes.

Step 9:  I continued developing the grasses moving into the foreground with peaches and dull orange. I still used big strokes allowing the texture of the gesso to suggest grass.

Step 10:  In this step I finish the painting by adding some detailed grasses. I used harder pastels to make some linear grass marks.  The final touch was to add a few tiny yellow flowers in the foreground.

I enjoyed working on this surface. The texture didn't allow me to get too fussy. The best part is the cost! I had a big sheet of watercolor paper that I cut into smaller sizes. It was so easy to prepare and add texture to the paper. I will definitely be making more!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

More Tips for Painterly Grasses

'Discovery'            9x12          pastel over oil stain         ©Karen Margulis
available $165
It is so easy to paint stiff grass.  You know the kind I am talking about. Grassy areas that look too manicured. Grasses that look rigid and unnatural. The difficulty comes about because we tend to paint grasses the way we think they are ...the symbol in our brains for grass often resemble a green grassy fence.(think of how a child draws grass)  We don't always look as carefully as we should.  So my first bit of advice is to be observant and pay attention to the colors and movement of the grasses.  Here are someother tips to help you paint more 'painterly' grasses.

My chart of ideas for painting grasses
  •  Avoid painting individual blades of grass. Think instead of the big underlying shapes or blocks of grass. Pull out and paint a few blades. Allow the viewer to participate and fill in the rest. A few well placed blades will read as grass.
  • Using the long edge of a soft square pastel use the press and lift method to leave a print of a piece of grass. Do a few but be careful not too have them spaced too evenly or all marching in the same direction.
  • Use the top edge of a harder round pastel and roll it leaving a broken line of grass.
  • Lay down a block of color and then draw some lines of grass with a thin hard pastel. Draw a SENSITIVE line. Have a light responsive touch so the line isn't to thick or regular. Practice sensitive lines.
  • Paint on a heavily textured surface. Glide the pastel over the texture and it will look like grasses without putting in a blade!
  • Underpainting! I like to use an alcohol, turpenoid or oil stain and allow the drips to create the grasses.

This is an oil stain underpainting. The wonderful drips
make great grasses! In my painting I tried not to cover up all of the drips.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

A Simple Tip for Painting Grasses

'Meadow Riot'         5x7        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $50
When it comes to painting grass I can always use a good tip. So often grass comes off stiff and unnatural in a painting. Since I love painting scenes with lots of grass and tangles of weeds I am always looking for ways to refine the way I paint them. 

 I have several ways I like to paint grass. All of them designed to prevent the grass from becoming a stiff 'fence' of grass marks. This type of grass can often become a visual barrier in a painting. The viewer is prevented from entering into the painting. 

Today I am sharing one of my favorite techniques for painting grass: Negative Painting.
What is Negative Painting? Here is a definition found on the Craftsy blog:

Negative painting is a simple technique that involves applying pigment around an subject to give it definition. You'll add paint to surround the person, place or object, making it stand out because it appears lighter (or darker) than the background.

Grass on the left is painted with linear marks. Grass on the right is done with negative painting
When painting grass you can use the negative painting technique to create natural and believable areas of grass. In the example above you can see how the technique works.

  •  On the left I have painted the grass by making linear marks. The grass looks too thick and regular. In the example on the right I painted a larger block of grass using two pastels on their side. I did not paint individual grass marks. 
  • I then used the sky color to cut into the block of green.  I used the negative painting technique of painting what is behind the grass (the sky)  which allowed the individual blades of grass to appear.
Where else can you use Negative Painting in a landscape? It is a great way to create painterly passages in your work! Tomorrow I will share some other grass techniques.