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Monday, June 17, 2019

Overcoming My Fear of Painting Rocks

'On the Rocks'         18x6       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $150
Just like trees I avoided painting rocks. It is funny how we sometimes avoid the thing that we struggle with instead of doubling down and making an effort to improve. Sometimes the struggle isn't even is something in our head, something we told ourselves we couldn't do. Then we start to believe it and it becomes a reality.

For me it began with my first pastel classes and workshops. The instructors excelled at landscapes and trees and rocks in particular. I would look at my own poor renditions and would be frustrated. I had much more success with flowers. So I convinced myself that I was a flower person and trees and rocks were beyond my reach.

It took years but my trees gradually started to improve. Much of this came about because I was learning things such as not having spotty values and how to make green more interesting and how to create depth. Mastering basic art concepts definitely helped. And that takes time. It also takes practice. I painted every day so these concepts became intuitive and I became a more confident painter. I started to apply what I did well with flowers to my trees. But I still avoided rocks!

I had to convince myself that I COULD paint rocks if I wanted to. I simply had to observe them carefully and apply what I have learned over the years. I had to remind myself that rocks were like flowers.....shapes of color and value and edges.....If I could paint a flower I could paint a rock!

A close up of my rocks

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Step by Step to Beautiful Clouds: Photo Demo

'They Dance in the Sky'           9x12         pastel        ©Karen Margulis

I am in a Sky Painting mood! Maybe it was the wonderful skies I just experienced in New Mexico but I have several ideas going for sky and cloud paintings. I will share them this week. I thought you might enjoy this mini step by step demo from my blog archives. If you want to see a similar painting come to life in a video demo be sure to check out my newly released Sky and Cloud video on my YouTube channel.

Enjoy this demo!
I decided to paint from one of my photos from the Southwest. I took photos of my progress so enjoy the step by step demo.

I am working on a piece of great Canson Mi-Teintes paper on the smooth side. I begin by blocking in the big shapes including the bog cloud shapes since they will be large cumulous type clouds.

Next I paint the blue sky. I leave room for the larger clouds so I don't have to paint the light values of the clouds over the blue sky.  I make sure there is a transition of color from darker cooler blue to a paler warmer blue at the horizon.

After the sky is blocked in I work on the ground. I used a dark brown and dark green to block in the shrubs. I use three different ochre pastels to lay in the desert sand. I don't rub in any of this first layer because the gray tone of the paper works to unify the painting.

Time for the clouds! I begin with the shadow areas of the clouds and I layer ochre and violet to make a gray.

I add the lights on the clouds with a very pale yellow and peach. I lightly cover the shadow areas so they are not so dark and stormy.

Next I brighten the larger clouds with a vey light yellow (almost white) and pure white in a few spots.
The brightest clouds are directly overhead or at the top of the painting.

It is now time to work on the ground. The painting is about the sky so I need to downplay the stuff on the ground. I simplify the tangle of desert shrubs using simple shapes of greens.

I add some lighter sand colors to the ground and a touch of blue for a spice. I call the painting done and upload it to the blog. Then I realize I am not really done. So back to the easel for more work.

Now I am finished! I didn't like the bare hill in the center of the painting so I added some shrubs and a darker sand color. I also liked the hint of blue and how it suggested a little peek of water. I decided to extent the 'water' by adding a couple of marks of blue. I also used a darker color for my signature. I didn't like how bright it was.

Friday, June 14, 2019

When You Just Have to Paint the Clouds

'Clouds over New Mexico'           5x7               pastel                ©Karen Margulis

I am still recovering from an amazing time at the IAPS pastel convention in Albuquerque New Mexico. I am getting caught up but I am also reorganizing my studio to create a kid art section for my grandchildren. (more on that soon!) I will be doing a more comprehensive review of the convention but I wanted to share one of the quick paintings I did in my hotel room on the last day of the convention. 

We had a room on the 10th floor with an amazing view of the Sandia Mountains and a panorama of the sky. We were also blessed with some amazing skies while we were there.  On the last afternoon of my stay I was busy packing. I happened to glance out the window and saw the most picture perfect TEXT BOOK clouds and sky!  The clear blue sky was making the transition from dark and cool to lighter and warmer and the clouds were stacking up and getting more colorful and smaller as they approached the horizon. It was so cool to see these features in action. In fact it was so inspiring that I had to pull out my pastels to paint them!

I did a quick 5x7 study on white Pastelmat with Terry Ludwig pastels. I can't wait to paint some of the other wonderful skies that I experienced in New Mexico!

Picture perfect clouds over Albuquerque

Do you like to paint the sky and want some tips?

I just released a video that premiered last summer on my Patreon Page to my YouTube channel. Every once in awhile I will release an older video to keep my channel active. However new exclusive videos and video premieres are released each week on the Patreon Page. I hope you enjoy this video which was part of our month long study of the sky! Click on the link below to watch the video on painting the sky and clouds!

I used my set of Terry Ludwig pastels...available June 27!

Monday, June 10, 2019

Three Rules for Painting Commissions

'Majesty'.    11x14         pastel          ©Karen Margulis

You either love them or hate them. That seems to be the consensus regarding painting commissions. Some artists welcome commissions and enjoy creating custom work. Some prefer to steer clear of them. I happen to love them. I just finished a nine painting commission project which has been a a lot of fun.(today's blog paintings)  I have developed some simple rules to guide me through the commission process. This ensures that the entire process is stress free and enjoyable.

Whether you are a full time artist or just painting for fun sooner or later you will be asked to paint something special for someone. Having some rules or guidelines in place will make it easy! Here are mine.

  • No Down Payment. I like to keep things simple. I don't have a lot of requirements. I don't ask for a down payment before I start a painting because I will only paint something that others might want to purchase. In other words it cannot be so unique or bizarre that it would never sell. I have done many commissions and only one time was a commission cancelled while in progress due to illness of the client. That painting went on to win an award in an exhibition! Being free of any money takes the pressure off. I am simply painting for enjoyment and if the client is pleased then they pay.....I never have any problems with payment.
  •  Be Clear and upfront about what you will paint. I will only paint subjects I am comfortable with. I will only take commissions of places I have visited.  I prefer to work from my own photos of the place. I don't mind having the client suggest colors or give input but I decide if those suggestions will result in a painting that will stand on it's own....that someone else might like as well! A commission painting has to be something I would choose to paint on my own. That is what makes it fun and less pressure for me!
  • Emphasize that the painting will not be an exact copy of something else. It could be similar to a painting I have already done but it will never be an exact copy. I make sure the client knows this before I start. I usually paint small studies before painting anything large and email photos for approval before I start. This eliminates misunderstandings although it is important to also emphasize that the painting will not be an exact copy of the study either.
 Painting commissions has added a wonderful dimension to my life as an artist. Even though most of the contact with clients is online or by phone it has been great to get to know those who choose to purchase my work.  As long as I am clear about my expectations and my 3 rules.....commissions are very welcome!

Try This Fun Underpainting Technique! New YouTube Video

'A Walk on the Wild Side'               10x8             pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available $165

I have been wanting to do this for a long time. It was perfect timing. I had just enough wine left in the bottle for the experiment. It isn't enough for a full glass....really not much more than a sip. So I poured the white wine into a plastic glass and used it for an underpainting!

Did it work?  Watch the video to find out what happened!

Here is a photo of the resulting underpainting. Yes it did work and the results were fantastic! You can bet I'll be doing this again!

This is what pastel and white wine looks like!

a close up of the finished painting

Saturday, June 08, 2019

Do You Like Painting Challenges?

'Promises'               9x12              pastel               ©Karen Margulis
I work better under pressure. Give me an assignment or a challenge and I'm on it! Give me unlimited time and no agenda then I putter and fiddle and don't make much progress! So in that spirit I started a Pastel Challenge group on facebook several years ago. It is still there but it got too hard to manage so I stepped back and now it is not very active. There were other places online that I would go for support and challenges. I used to love and their pastel group. It was my online home. I learned so much from seeing other pastel work and reading the answers to pastel questions.

Now we have a whole new world of painting support with social media and online classes and workshops. YouTube offers an unlimited supply of information. We can be inspired by Instagram and Facebook groups and Pinterest boards. If you are the kind of artist that needs challenges and organized learning experiences you are fortunate to have it at your fingertips!  

A couple of years ago an artist friend introduced me to Patreon. I had never heard of it before but she thought that the kind of teaching I liked to do would be perfect for the Patreon platform. I jumped at the chance to share more in depth lessons and videos. My Patreon Page has grown and we now have a wonderful art community. I share about Patreon here on my blog from time to time because I am so excited about my Patreon lessons and I want to be sure my blog readers know where they can get expanded information.  And the best thing about joining is that is is cheap....just $4 a month and that there is NO commitment.You can easily cancel at anytime. You have access to ALL of the past lessons and videos and challenges once you are a member so that is now 2 years of pastel and painting information!

One of the recent challenges I issued was to paint from the photo below. It is a challenging photo but you should see the results!  I didn't share my version until a few days into the challenge so that everyone would paint their interpretation and vision. It was great fun!

Check out my page and consider joining us!

How to Overcome Rock Avoidance Syndrome

'Cool Waters'                 8x10            pastel               ©Karen Margulis
available $165

I have it bad. Rock Avoidance Syndrome. I find painting rocks daunting. Especially when they are a part of a busy forest and creek scene. It is sometimes hard to know where to begin. So I avoid them altogether. 

But then one day I realized. Painting a meadow filled with grasses and wildflowers is also busy. Why don't I have trouble painting  that subject? It is because I simplify it. I break the meadow down into simple shapes. I assign the shapes a value. I block them in and then I gradually add the detail. I look at shapes and values and color and I don't get lost in the tangle of the weeds. 

That is what I decided I needed to do with rocks and water. Slow down. Simplify and start with the big shapes.  It really helped me conquer a complicated subject! In the end I thoroughly enjoyed painting a scene that I have avoided!

The initial block in with Nupastels on Uart sanded paper

What's happening this month on Patreon?
We are continuing our exploration of water with a focus on beaches and sand and moving water and rocks. Check it out and consider joining the Patreon Community!

Avoid Potato Rocks!

Friday, June 07, 2019

New Video Demo: Try A Baby Wipe Underpainting

'Summer Friends'                 9x12                 pastel                ©Karen Margulis

I discovered this technique by accident. I was on a plein air outing and water to tone my paper but I didn't have any paper towels to do a dry wash. So I used a baby wipe and the results were surprising. In this new YouTube video I put the experiment to the test on a larger painting. Check it out!

For expanded commentary on this vide join us over on Patreon!

The reference photo for the demo painting

My signature Terry Ludwig pastel set 'Floral Landscape' available mid June 2019

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Splatter and Splash Your Pastel Paintings!

'Fun at the Beach'     18x12       pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $175

The painting needed some life. It wasn't bad but it was dull. There was no light or movement. I had set it aside and moved on. But then one of my Patreon members shared a painting on which she had splashed gouache. It brought back memories of my experiments with watercolor ON TOP of pastel. 

I wanted to try it again. This time I had some tubes of gouache so I squeezed out some yellow and white and mixed it with some water. The I loaded my brush and flicked it onto my painting. I had the painting upright on the easel on a piece of foam core. That was a good thing because I was flinging paint everywhere! It was fun and I discovered that the thin puddles of paint worked better than the thicker puddles. Look at the close up photo below to see the splashes. They turned into flowers!

closeup of splash 'flowers'

The original painitng was a bit dull 

Monday, June 03, 2019

How to Get the Pastel Stains out of your Fingernails

'Plein Air Peonies'            8x10           pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available $155

If you are a pastel artist you know what I am talking about. I don't use gloves but even with a barrier cream I will get dark pastel stains under my fingernails. Especially when using those super dark pastels! Sure you can scrub with a nailbrush and get the stains out....eventually. But what if you were going for a manicure and didn't want to be embarrassed?

You know the feeling when you know the cashier is looking at your hands wondering why you have dirt under your fingernails? Yea that feeling. I needed to get the stains out fast!

I decided to try sticking my fingers in a freshly cut lemon. I didn't know what to expect but it was nothing short of miraculous. My nails came clean and white after a minute in the lemon!  I was impressed. And I will be sure to always have a lemon on hand.

(While I was at it I squeezed some lemon juice on a stained pair of white pants that I had written off. I put the pants in the sun and after a couple of hours the stains were gone!)

Remove stains under your nails with lemon!

Sunday, June 02, 2019

The Pastel Supplies I am Taking to IAPS

Everything fits into a 10x8x2.5 zippered book cover

This is it! The ultimate pared down pastel kit for travel! I put it to the test last summer on a two week adventure to Provence France. It wasn't a painting trip so I didn't want to lug all of my Plein air pastel supplies even though I have also pared down that set up. But I also didn't want to be without art supplies at all! I knew I would have some downtime and I planned to bring a sketchbook. But I was worried that I would regret not having any pastels at all!

The kit in the photo was the perfect solution. I will be bringing it to the IAPS convention next week as well as my summer travels to Alaska! It is the perfect solution for those times when you want to paint but don't have the room or desire to bring a lot of pastel supplies. Everything I need fits into a zippered book cover that measures 10 x 8 x 2.5 inches. You could use any kind of small bag or even a soft side lunchbox.  Here is what I keep in the kit:

  • My Heilman single sketch box. The box fits perfectly in the book cover. It also holds enough pastels (more on this next). Before I invested in the Heilman box I used a small cigar box lined with foam. I LOVE the Heilman box though, It is well worth it!
  • Pastels. I haven't counted but I have two sets of Girault pastels broken in half. They are the two Richard McKinley Girault sets. I love these pastels for travel. They are small but sturdy and go on much softer than they look. LOVE! I also have a small piece of Terry Ludwig eggplant and a Diane Townsend light warm yellow. I love my Terry Ludwig pastels but I get more Giraults in this small box. I also packed a small Sucrets box with some broken pieces of hard pastels (Nupastels) for details and toning paper.  
  • A piece of 5x7 foam core in a clear bag for protection. The Heilman box acts like a pochade but I prefer to paint away from the box and clip my paper to foam core. I use bankers claps or binder clips to attach the paper to the board. This saves me from bringing tape. 
  • A few clear bags by to store the finished paintings. 
  • A selection of pastel papers cut to 5x7. 
  • A travel size pack of baby wipes. 
  • A few pieces of pipe insulation for dry underpaintings.
This kit has everything I need to satisfy the itch to paint! I don't mind making small studies on the go. I look for a table or a flat surface to work on so I don't need to bring any kind of easel. 

Over the years I have shared many versions of small travel set ups but this is by far my favorite. On my Provence trip I painted 40 5x7 paintings with this set up!  Why not put together your own Summer Travel Pastel Kit!

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Up Close and Personal with Poppies

'Poppy Memories'            2.5 x 3.5            pastel              ©Karen Margulis

I love a good zoom lens. When I am taking pictures I love to zoom in and get up close and personal with my subject. I love cropping and isolating the subject. I love focusing on just one thing allowing everything else to become less important. I am  also drawn to these quiet intimate vignettes when I am painting.  I love painting the big view...the vista....that big field of poppies. But then I am drawn in to a more intimate look.  I want to study a single poppy or two. I want them to become the star of the painting. I zoom in and bring them close for a more personal painting.

These paintings help me paint the larger view. Studying one or two blooms up close gives me so much more information about the flower. What shape is it? What is the growing habit? What colors are they? What kind of foliage does it have...foliage colors? I get the answers to my questions when I am painting close up views.

Another way that I get up close and personal with poppies is to paint a series of mini paintings. I cut down some paper scraps to 2.5x3.5 inches which is the standard Artist Trading Card size. Not only do these minis help me understand poppies better, I can use them as studies for larger works. 

It also helps to learn more about the flowers I am painting. Take the Red Poppy for example. Did you know that the wildflower Red Poppy is also known as Shirley Poppy, Flanders Poppy and American Legion Poppy?  These red poppies can be pink and white and they are not the same as the large red orange Oriental Poppies and smaller Icelandic poppies we see in gardens.

The Red Poppy is best known for the large meadows of poppies in Central Europe. They have become permanently linked to World War I where the fields of poppies disappeared during the war due to the unrelenting battles. You may recall the famous poem by John McCrae 'In Flanders Fields' written as he gazed at the fresh graves of his fellow soldiers in the poppy fields.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae

Written in Flanders on May 3, 1915
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

What Can you Paint with the Sennelier Plein Air Half Stick Set?

'Peaceful'              9x12           Pastel                         ©Karen Margulis
available. $165
It was a challenge. But it was also fun to use a limited palette of pastels. The end result worked and I learned some things along the way. The challenge was to put the Sennelier Plein Air Landscape half stick set to the test. I wanted to see if I could use this set alone to paint a landscape. I did allow myself to use a few harder Nupastels to supplement the 30 half sticks of Sennelier pastels. I used the hard pastels to blend areas as well as paint the details such as the marsh grasses.
 Below is a photo of the pastels I used for the painting.

What did I discover from this challenge?
  • Sennelier pastels are soft. They are softer than the Terry Ludwig pastels that I use the most. I like them but in the past have used them for final marks and top layers of a painting. It was challenging to use such soft pastels for the early layers. I had to be sure to use a very light touch so I wouldn't fill the tooth of the paper too quickly.
  • The half stick are not crumbly like the Sennelier full sticks which tend to crumble when the wrappers are removed. BUT they are not uniformly round and so it was hard to get a wide consistent mark. I needed to sand down a side of the pastel to make smoother marks. 
  • The set was suprisingly well rounded for having just 30 sticks. There were a few neutrals that helped balance the intense colors. The addition of the white and black gives the ability to layer to alter colors somewhat. I found having a few Nupastels really helped expand my palette (a low cost option)
  • Would I recommend this set for a Plein air outing? The jury is out until I can use the set for an actual plein air outing! I will plan to do that soon and will report back!

If you would like to see more details of this painting as well as paint along with me head over to my Patreon Page. This painting was our Paint Along painting for May. There are four videos that break the painting down into 4 parts allowing you to paint along at your own pace. Join us at the Silver level....cancel at any time!

My Demo Board

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

My Favorite IAPS Convention Story

Plein Air Hollyhocks from Old Town Albuquerque
 Where do I begin! This will be my 6th IAPS convention so I have a lot of stories! You may have heard or experienced some convention highlights yourself......the candy store, the Paint Around, the PastelWorld exhibition, the classes and workshops, the banquet!  But what about the other experiences....the ones you might not have heard about....the personal stories!

Imagine come to the convention hotel and immediately you know you are among kindred spirits. It is all about pastel! You are surrounded by all things pastel and you know that just about everyone you see is a pastel artist or part of the pastel world. It is amazing and at the same time a bit overwhelming. I remember my first convention. I was star struck when I saw my favorite pastel artists live and in person! They were the rock stars of the pastel world and they were there! I quickly discovered that they were happy to chat and share and really they were 'one of us!'

I have some stories about meeting my favorite pastel rock stars but today I want to share another story...this is probably one of my most favorite convention stories. It is all about making connections..making lifelong friends all because of a stick of pigment....pastel friends for life!

Read on for my story .....

Enjoying some chips and guac with good friends

Mario came all the way from Croatia! We painted over at Old Town.
It was the first full day of the 2017 convention. I had a light schedule since I had two presentations and I knew I would need to focus. I was taking a lunch break and standing in line for the lunch buffet in the hotel lobby. I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around expecting to see someone I knew or maybe someone who recognized me from my blog or YouTube. I was shocked when I saw who it was! No it wasn't someone famous. It wasn't a pastel rock star. It was a very unexpected good friend from Louisiana. I didn't even know that she was coming to the convention! We hugged and I truly was elated. She had a busy schedule so we planned to meet and get caught up after the sessions ended. We had a great time chatting whenever we could.

I met Becky because of pastel. She had come to one of my workshops a few years earlier and happened to stay as a guest of my host. We hit it off and had a great time both in and out of the workshop. She then came to my workshop retreats in New Mexico which further cemented our friendship. We connected and became friends because of pastel and for that I am grateful.

I have made so many connections with artists around the world because of pastel (and social media) These friendships have enriched my life in so many ways. So while the classes at IAPS are great, the trade show fun (and dangerous), it truly is the opportunity to make these special connections with your pastel tribe that makes this convention special.

Do you have a favorite convention story? Why not share it over on the Facebook convention group page! 

Just one of my favorite photos from the last convention I have a thing for ravens. 

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Beaches of Normandy

The Beaches of Normandy ...Impressions of France part 7

'Peace'                8x10              pastel                ©Karen Margulis
Today I am sharing this post from the archives.

We were in Normandy. The connection we have to this place was palpable.  From the US, Canadian and British flags flying alongside the French flag to the expressions of gratitude from the locals, it was hard not to be reminded of history....of D-Day. Even at the manor, a mile form the beach we imagined what it must have felt like to be in the village of Meuvaines during the invasion. Was the home used for the war effort?  We were reminded of history everyday. We felt it and it became real.

D-day was no longer just a movie or a book. The evidence was all around us. It was incredibly moving and emotional to stand on those peaceful ... and imagine the bravery of those who fought.

'Normandy Beach Impressions I'            5x7         plein air    $75

 We took a day to visit the beaches of Normandy and pay our respects. We began with a stop at Juno beach. This was the Canadian beach and since there were four Canadians in our group it was important to visit.  Here in an excerpt from

"On D-Day, June 6, 1944, “Operation Overlord”, the long-awaited invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe, began with Allied armies from the U.S., Britain and Canada landing on the coast of Normandy. On D-Day, the 3rdCanadian Infantry Division landed on Juno Beach. The Canadian assault troops stormed ashore in the face of fierce opposition from German strongholds and mined beach obstacles. The soldiers raced across the wide-open beaches swept with machine gun fire, and stormed the gun positions. In fierce hand-to-hand fighting, they fought their way into the towns of Bernières, Courseulles and St. Aubin and then advanced inland, securing a critical bridgehead for the allied invasion. The victory was a turning point in World War II and led to the liberation of Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany."

Juno Beach

Next we stopped at the American Cemetery memorial.  The cemetery sits high on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach. I was surprised at how high the bluff was. It was hard to imagine what it must have been like on D-Day. Seeing it firsthand was sobering.  Hearing the bells toll and seeing the rows and rows of crosses and stars was difficult. It was not an easy visit but I am glad we did it.

The bluff overlooking Omaha Beach

"There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: 
those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here."
Colonel George A. Taylor - 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division

For an interesting read about the beaches of Normandy and the D-Day invasion check out this article from the Smithsonian Magazine. Click here to read. 

The beaches of Normandy are now at peace. They are some of the most beautiful stretches of sand and sea that I have ever seen. Children now splash in the surf and play in the sand. Artists come to paint. I never really had Normandy on my bucket list but it now holds a special place in my heart and soul.