Thursday, July 28, 2016

More Painting Advice from Degas

'Mountain Memories'           8x10         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $150
It really is amazing. We have the ability to retain so much information and to recall it at will. This ability can help us create stronger paintings if we let it. But we often don't allow it to happen. We become slaves to our references. If we work from photos they often become a crutch. It is a scary thought to put the photo away and work from our memory and experience with the subject  of the photo. But giving ourselves the freedom and permission to put the photos away can result in paintings that have more meaning. We tend to only include what we remember....what meant the most or made the biggest impression.

I happened to find another quote from Degas that made me stop and think as I finished today's painting.
“It is very good to copy what one sees; it is much better to draw what you can’t see any more but is in your memory. It is a transformation in which imagination and memory work together. You only reproduce what struck you, that is to say the necessary.”-Edgar Degas

my thumbnail from the small phone photo

For the painting in today's post I followed Degas advice quite by accident. I had a private student and we decided to do a paint-along using a photo she had on her phone. It was a scene from the Blue Ridge mountains, a place I have visited many times. We looked at the photo to create a quick thumbnail but then as we painted I could no longer see the photo.

I found myself transported to the mountains and my memories kicked in and guided my hand and my choices.  I realized that I really didn't need the photo at all. I just needed to channel my memories and imagination and create an interesting composition that expressed what I was feeling. It was a wonderful feeling. I was FREE from the restraints of the photo.

Try It!  Take a scene that you are intimately familiar with. You can use a photo to start the painting but then put it away and let your memories and imagination take over. See what develops. Trust yourself!

NEWS!!! My Sunday Studio video is now available on YouTube. I know that many of you requested the videos be shared to You Tube and now they are. I'd love for you to give it a thumbs up and subscribe to my channel! Here is the link:
I am planning to do another Facebook live broadcast this Sunday so if you are on Facebook stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Is it Finished? Thoughts on Finishing a Painting

'Silver Ribbons'           8x10       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $150
It was a great question. I had a discussion with an artist last evening about finishing a painting. She wondered if it was OK to leave areas at the edges of a painting unfinished. She told me she is a very detailed oriented artist and feels compelled to finish everything....meaning she likes to add the detail all over including up to the edges of the painting.  Leaving areas vague and unfinished just doesn't feel right. But is it OK?

Edgar Degas weighed in on the idea of leaving a little mystery and vagueness in our paintings when he said the following:

“A painting requires a little mystery, some vagueness, and some fantasy. When you always make your meaning perfectly plain you end up boring people.”

The plan and the painting before the finishing touches

I started this marsh painting as a quick demo and decided to add some finishing touches. As you can see in the above photo it is quite 'unfinished' at the bottom edges especially in the corners. I could easily continue painting the grasses and even go as far as have a more photo realistic finish. But I reminded myself of the Degas quote and asked myself what was important to the painting.

It was about the ribbon of water leading into the distance. It wasn't about the foreground grasses. I didn't need to finish and paint every stalk and blade of grass. I had permission to leave it mysterious and even a bit vague. A few carefully placed pieces of grass would invite the viewer to participate and fill in the rest of the details. The mystery in the foreground invites the viewer into the scene. They are not stopped by a wall of grass!

The Magic Frame
When the painting is placed into a frame it is even more clear that leaving the foreground a bit unfinished does not take away from the message of the painting. I was able to see where I needed to put the detail and more clarity....and it wasn't at the bottom corners!

Tip: I recommend keeping an empty plein air style frame in the studio and using it to evaluate paintings after they are completely blocked in. It will help you decide just how far you need to go and how much 'finish' you really need.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

From the Archives: Painting Daisies! Wildflower demo

'Daisies Make me Smile'             9x12              pastel            ©Karen Margulis
Daisies make me smile!  I love to paint them but I wasn't always successful. In fact anytime I tried to add wildflowers to a painting they would look childish. I didn't want that! I wanted my wildflowers to look authentic look like they belonged in the landscape and not just an afterthought. I wanted them to look as wild and free as I saw them.  But they always looked stiff and boring and a bit like a 5 year old painted them.

I didn't give up.  I just practiced and observed and tried different techniques.  I am still learning but at least now my daisies don't look like they were painted by a preschool child!  I have discovered ways to help me paint them better.  Last year I put together a step by step demo on how I paint daisies using a watercolor underpainting.

The demo is available as a pdf booklet in my Esty shop for $6. Click here for details 

The cover of the pdf booklet
I am sharing the demo again in anticipation of my upcoming Wildflower Demo at the IAPS convention next June. I am gathering reference images so you could say I have wildflowers on my mind!  This demo is 30 pages filled with 60 color photos. I have documented each step of the painting from the watercolor underpainting all the way through the layering of the pastels.  I extensively cover the watercolor underpainting stage....something I didn't always have great success with!  Through the many photos and my description you will be able to see how I work through the addition of pastel while preserving the underpainting. Here are a few sample photos:

close up photo of watercolor underpainting
sample from the pdf demo

This demo is a PDF file so you can either print it out and staple the pages into a booklet or just save it and follow on your computer or tablet. I know several artist who like to follow and paint along on their iPads.
I would love for you to take a closer look and consider giving this demo a try. I have 11 other demos available as well. They can be found in my Etsy shop.
Here is a link to the demos.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Tips for Painting More Expressive Foliage

'Island Oasis'           9x18        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $165

It is so tempting but I have to resist. I have to remind myself that when painting a landscape my goal is to paint my impression of the scene and not to make a photographic copy.

I don't have to paint every leaf on the tree for the viewer to know it is a tree. 

It isn't always easy though. Once the pastel is in my hand and I start painting the tree or shrub it is hard to know when to stop. How many leaves are really necessary and how can our trees and shrubs be more expressive?

the painting before refining the trees
 I took out an older unfinished painting from my pile. I liked the colors but the trees seemed unfinished. It was the perfect painting to practice painting expressive foliage. It only needed a little more work to refine the trees without overdoing them. Here are four tips that helped me finish the foliage in this painting:

  • Spray workable fixative to add texture to a painting. I sprayed the fixative on the trees and grass to darken and fix the color in place. I was then able to highly stumble some greens over the 'fixed' areas creating areas of broken color. The darks remain in place and peek through the added layers giving the suggestion of texture / leaves.

spraying workable fixative over the foliage and grass

  • Create volume in the trees by building up layers of darks and lights. Know where the light is coming from and keep only that part of the trees sunlit. If there are spots of light and dark all over the entire tree they will look too busy and flat. Build the form of the tree with value and temperature changes.
  • Carve the big tree and shrub shapes by painting what is behind these shapes. Painting the sky holes will allow the foliage to take shape. Don't forget to make sure you paint what is behind the isn't always the sky!
  • Add the finishing touches by painting a few leaf shapes. Use a firmer touch and harder edges on these leaves. Painting a few leaves will allow the viewer to read the whole tree. The viewer will fill in the details so we only need to suggest a few.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

See a Live Video Demo of this Forest Pastel Painting!

'Summer in Finland'           9x12          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $155
 It's Sunday Studio Time!  We have been wanting to try doing a Facebook Live video of one of my daily painting sessions and we finally had the opportunity. My husband Michael was using Facebook Live to share our Disney World trip with our daughter who couldn't join us. We thought it would be fun to make a video of me painting. I am calling it 'Sunday Studio Time' and I hope to make a new video every Sunday (when I am home.)  The first video was live on Facebook on Sunday but you can still watch the video on my Facebook page here:

I take you through the process of choosing a subject and getting the plan in place for the painting and narrate the painting process through the finish. The finished painting is 'Summer in Finland' a 9x12 pastel on Uart 400 paper.

my reference photo and thumbnail

I began with a very quick thumbnail and then selected my pastel palette. I did a dry wash underpainting using 4 pink and red pastels rubbed into the paper with pipe insulation.

the pastels I used for the painting

I invite you to visit my Facebook page and watch the video. You can still comment or ask questions and I will do my best to answer them as quickly as possible. I hope you enjoy spending some studio time with me!!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

How to Get Back into the Studio After a Break

'Dancing with Friends I'        5x7       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $50
I haven't been home much this summer. My studio has cobwebs and is in need of a deep cleaning. I miss my studio and the long leisurely days of nothing on the agenda other than painting. My travels and adventures were wonderful and they have filled my inspiration bank full to the brim and now I am anxious to get back to regular daily painting and blogging.

Sometimes it is hard to get back into a regular routine after a break from the usual painting schedule. The habit has been broken and other habits may have taken the place of painting. If you have been away from home there will be things that need your attention....bills, laundry, chores, catching up with family and friends. And you may feel rusty and unsure. It is easy to find excuses and painting gets put off.

Action leads to more action....working leads to inspiration. 
I find it is important to get right into the studio and paint something within a day of returning home. Paint anything! Something small and simple just to break the ice. Set a timer for 30 minutes and allow yourself the luxury of creating something. (I usually throw in the laundry and then paint something while waiting for the cycle to finish.)  The longer I put off painting the harder it gets to restart the habit. It is important to break the ice and pick up the pastels....the chores can wait 30 minutes!

'Dancing with Friends II'      5x7     pastel        $50
I just spent a wonderful week with my family at Disney World. It was so much fun seeing one of my favorite places through the eyes of my two year old granddaughter. They left for their home in Chicago today and as soon as they left I threw in the laundry and pulled out some old unfinished poppy paintings. The underpaintings were finished but they had been put aside. They were the perfect icebreaker paintings. Something fun and familiar. Now that the ice has been broken I can't wait to get back to my regular schedule!

Watercolor underpaintings on white sanded paper

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Photo Tour of Venice


I am currently at Disney World on a family trip so I am sharing a post I started in Italy that never published. Enjoy!

I intended to sketch in Venice. I thought I would find a great spot and spend hours with my sketchbook. It didn't work out that way though. There was too much to see! I had to make a hard decision.....sit and sketch and slowly savor a small taste of Venice or eat the whole cake and walk over 15 miles in two whirlwind days. I chose the cake. 

I had the perfect home base at the Hotel Royal San Marco. I took my camera and set off exploring with no map or plan. It's hard to get lost in Venice though it may take you longer to get where you are going with the many detours. There was a treasure around every corner and I was in heaven. Here are just a few photos.







Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Week in Croatia Workshop Report: The People

'Choosing Moody'         9x12        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $150
Croatia is a beautiful country. My week at the workshop was filled with wonderful views, comfortable accommodations and delicious food. All of this was amazing but in the end it was truly the people I met who made the experience complete. It started with Mario, his wife Minja and their  5 year old son(who's fantastic behavior impressed us all). They worked hard to make sure the workshop was perfect. Everyone involved made sure our needs were met and that we were enjoying ourselves. There was always time for a smile and a hug. We truly felt welcome.

It is nice to feel welcome in an unfamiliar place but in the end it is about the group of artists who come together to learn and share. This is my second international workshop (Finland last summer) and I love having a mix of artists from around the world. The artists in the group came from England, Belgium, France, Finland, Slovenia, Canada and two from the US. We all were bonded by a common thread....our love for pastels and art. Conversations were always  interesting and enjoyable. I loved it when the the talk would sometimes slip into French or German! I have much more to say on the topic of an international workshop so I will save it for a future post.

The painting in today's post was the last demo I did at the workshop. I like to do an 'artist's choice' demo giving the artists a topic to vote on. They all chose moody and foggy. We laughed since we had experienced nothing but warm sunshine and clear blue skies all week!

Enjoy a few photos of the people I met on this amazing adventure.  Be sure to visit the Pastel Workshop Croatia website to see who else will be teaching! 

Working hard in the studio

Honey brandy welcome toast on our dinner in the country. Our hosts were great and we danced  to gypsy music!

Our tour guide 

the fantastic hosts of Pastel Workshops Croatia!

my new friends hard at work 

The chef!

Group photo....some missing. I am on the right

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Week in Croatia Workshop Report 4: The Towns

'Hillside Towns Istria'          5x7     plein air pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $50
I only had 10 minutes. Mario and I decided that the overlook would be a great place for a demo. We were on a tour of the interior of the Istrian Peninsula in Croatia. I was excited. I had already looked at photos of the spot and knew it would be the perfect place for a demo and talk about aerial perspective. When our tour guide announced that we would have a 10 minute photo stop I gulped!  Ten minutes to set up, paint and clean up would be a challenge!

While the group wandered around taking photos I quickly set up. I love my Heilman box set up. It made it possible to quickly set up and clean up. I managed to finish the painting and clean up in about 15 minutes. It was exhilarating!  I may not have a perfect painting but I captured the essence and have a great memory as a bonus!

I loved the towns we visited during the workshop. They were each extremely photogenic. I could have stayed all day in any of them. We had time to tour and do a little shopping or sketching in the three towns over the week. I took out my watercolors in Rovinj. Most of the time however I was anxious to take as many photos as possible.

Enjoy just a small sample of the photos I took. I am so inspired and can't wait to paint some of these scenes!

Flowers everywhere. Truly picture perfect.

Old and majestic

I love cats

Notice the very slick some streets!

sketching the harbor after a delicious ice-cream sundae

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Week in Croatia part 3: The Sea

'The Calming Sea'        8x10     pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $150
I am happy to say I've been in the Adriatic Sea (Barbara the secret is ours)  Mario had been after me for a week to take a swim. We were staying just a few miles from the sea and went just about everyday. Some evenings for a swim and sometimes to paint and sometimes just to relax and sketch. I loved it. 

The beaches we went to were not typical sandy beaches. They were actually rocky with clear blue waters and reef areas. They were wonderfully designed for comfortable swimming and relaxation.  A Paved path ran next to the sea with a beautiful forest as the backdrop. There were paved stone patio areas with stars and other entries to the sea. Lounges and umbrellas were available to rent and many families set up under the trees.

Food was also available with several coffee /snack bars and outdoor seaside casual dining. I loved the snack cart that came around. He had ice-cream, hot dogs, popcorn available.

The views were wonderful and breezes under the trees were perfect. The painting in today's post was a demo I started in the workshop. The water truly was this beautiful combination of blues.  Enjoy a few of my favorite photos of the sea.

Is this heaven or what?

Scottish broom adds a pop of color and scent to the seaside landscape

I can't wait to paint this tree!

A good look at the patio and rocks

A nice spot

This is the middle of the Adriatic Sea as seen from my ferry ride from Venice Italy