2018 Workshop Details Coming Soon! click here
Visit my Patreon Page for more painting instruction

Sunday, January 21, 2018

New Sunday Studio Video Demo: Painting a Marsh


'Adventure Awaits'             11x14         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $175
I'm back to my happy place! Painting every day without anywhere to go or to be. I will be home for the next few weeks and making the most of studio time. Today I had some time to do a new Facebook Live demo. I have uploaded the video to my Youtube channel so if you missed it live you can now watch it on You tube. Here is the link: 

In the video I paint one of my favorite marsh scenes from the South Carolina Lowcountry. I share tips for starting a painting using extremes and using a value thumbnail. I didn't add the finishing touches on the video but the photo at the top of the page shows the finish. Have a look at the photo below which is where I stopped. Can you see what I did to finish the painting?


Below are some photos of the painting in progress and my palette of pastels. You can see that I made a test paper of my color choices to see how I liked them. It saves me much aggravation and prevents mud by choosing colors in advance!


This photo shows the value thumbnail that I used to start the painting


Saturday, January 20, 2018

How To Start a Stronger Painting


'Windswept Dunes'          8x10        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $145
Start strong. End strong. That's all you need to do. There are many ways to start a pastel painting....wet underpaintings, dry washes, tonal...it can be overwhelming. I have a few go-to painting starts and I choose them based on the subject and the concept I have for the paintings. In this list of starts there is one that never fails me....BE BOLD. Let me explain what I mean.

When working with pastels it is a good practice to work from dark to light. I like to start by blocking in the darkest values in the painting. What I have learned that if I start with strong darks I have a better chance of having a strong foundation for the painting. If my darks aren't strong enough or if they are too spotty I will have to make corrections and too many corrections often lead to mud.

I have also discovered that if I start the painting with bolder color I will have a painting with more interesting color. Starting the painting with strong darks and bold even unexpected color will allow you to tone down and lighten. Remember you can always adjust the BOLDNESS but it is difficult to add them once the painting is underway.




My palette for today's painting
Today's painting is a good example of starting BOLD. The actual scene was somewhat subdued. I decided to do a dry wash underpainting using bolder colors than I really wanted. I used a bright turquoise for the water, a rich yellow gold for the sand and a bright lime green for the grass. I also used a rich dark blue for the dark areas. Once I rubbed in the first layer I added some rich purples and reds under the grass. These bolder colors will add interest to the green grass.

Remember......Start darker and bolder than your top layers.




The first layer is rubbed in for a dry wash


Adding more rich color under the grass



What's Happening on Patreon This Week
If you haven't tried my Patreon page this is a good week to check it out. We have been focusing on VALUE this month. Value is the key to a successful painting! This week's challenge invites you to edit and paint from my photo and share your results for feedback! Come join us! www.patreon.com/karenmargulis


Friday, January 19, 2018

Our First Camping Trip and a Painting

'Magical Morning'           9x13            ©Karen Margulis        pastel            available $155 
 I couldn't wait to get down to the studio this morning. I had this image in my head that wanted to come out!  I did bring my pastels on my trip to Florida but I never had a chance to get them out. That's OK. Sometimes you just need to experience things fully without worrying about photos or even painting. This was one of those trips!

It was a quick trip to Florida to pick up Bertie the Art Spirit. If you missed the post about Bertie she is our newly acquired pop up camper. We found a great deal in Florida but had to wait until last week to go down and get her. We decided to take her on a maiden camping trip to Disney World!  I grew up camping at Fort Wilderness so what better place to start our new camping adventure than Disney!

Ahhhh ....coffee and sunrise!
We picked up Bertie at my moms in Central Florida. We had a day before our camping reservation to open up the camper, clean it and make sure it was stocked with the necessary supplies. I brought some things but it turns out the Bertie was fully stocked including the much needed heater (yes we experienced below freezing temperatures!)

All set up and ready to relax!
Our first camping trip was a great success. My mom joined us and we had fun resort hopping and eating! No parks on this trip. We have a list of things we want to do to get Bertie ready for the next trip. Next time I will have more time to paint! But I did come away with some inspiration. Today's painting was one of those images I needed to paint. Read on for more about the painting.

A peak inside.....this is before we start some updating
Today's Painting: It was early morning, just after sunrise. I was on my way to the comfort station walking quickly through the woods in the cool morning air. As I emerged from the path I saw the trees glowing with warm light. There was a low mist rising behind the trees. The tall cypress trees looked a bit eerie without foliage and dripping in moss. But the light was incredible. It would be a good day.
9x13 pastel on Yi Cai paper

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A Simple Way to Start a Painting

'California Dream'           9x12        pastel         ©Karen Margulis

Options are great. We have many options for starting a pastel painting. We have many different types of papers and supports and colors. We can use pastel or most other media to start a painting. We can do a wet or dry underpainting. We have unlimited color choices at our disposal. Great isn't it?  Sometimes it isn't so great. Sometimes it can be downright confusing and daunting. How can we begin a painting without being overwhelmed by the choices? It is a challenge.

When I am in doubt I go back to my roots. I return to a very simple way to start a pastel painting. When I really want to make things simple I even choose the same middle value gray Canson Mi-Teintes paper. You can't go wrong with it.

It only takes four simple steps to start a painting that has good bones....a block-in that gives you all the information you need to build a successful painting. I demonstrate these four steps below:


STEP ONE:  I loosely draw the main shapes on my paper with a hard pastel. I then block in all of the DARK SHAPES with a dark value pastel. Sometimes I will use a couple of different colors that are the same value. In this scene I created a dark shape under the flowers to hold them in place. This is my dirt.


STEP TWO: Next I block in all of the LIGHT SHAPES. I will use either hard or softer pastels for the block-in. When I use softer pastel I make sure to use a lighter touch so I don't fill in the tooth of the paper. In this scene the sky and the flowers are the lighest shapes.


STEP THREE: Next I block in the shapes that will be the most INTENSE COLOR.  In this scene some of the flowers are a bright lime green so I block them in at this stage.


STEP FOUR:  The final step of the block-in is to cover the remaining areas with color of a middle value. The goal is to have a layer of pastel over the entire piece of paper. In this scene I used a middle value blue violet and gray violet to cover the remaining areas of the painting.

That's it! I am now ready to continue building the painting, adding layers of color and detail. What I just did was establish the boundaries of my scene. I know what the darkest dark will be as well as the lightest light and most intense color. It gives me a good framework to build upon. Simple and effective!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

How I Photograph my Paintings for my Blog

'June Meadow'              8x10             pastel             ©Karen Margulis

I have had some questions about how I photograph my paintings for my blog. I'd like to share this post from the archives:
 It has to be low tech and low maintenance. I want quality photos of my paintings for my blog but I don't want to spend a lot of time taking them. I need to point, shoot, upload and not have to do much editing. I have worked out a system that works for me. It is simple and takes little effort.

All I use is a point and shoot digital camera and take a photo of the painting while it is still up on the easel. Nothing fancy. I just point and shoot and keep the flash on.

My easel and current painting. When I am finished painting I take the photo
 Keep in mind this is the set up I use to take low resolution photos for blogging and for email. I also use them to print small photos and for my business cards.  If I need higher resolution photos I will increase the quality setting on my camera to high (about 10 megapixels)

  • I use a Panasonic Lumix digital camera set on a medium quality setting.
  • I always keep the flash on.
  • I don't use a tripod but I do have steady hands.
  • I stand about 4-5 feet from the painting and zoom into the painting. I don't crop it in the camera but leave a bit of the foamcore showing.(I will crop it when I upload the photo to my computer)
  • I have two fluorescent light fixtures over my easel area. I keep a warm and cool bulb in each.
  • This balance of light along with the camera flash results in color that is very true to my paintings.
  • I upload the photos to my computer. I have an iMac and use iPhoto. I crop the photo in iPhoto. Occasionally I need to adjust brightness, contrast or saturation which is easily done in iPhoto. 95% of the time I don't have to make adjustments.

My fancy lighting!
This system works well for me. Since we all have different lighting situations it will take some experimentation to find the correct balance of light to get the truest colors.  If your photos come out too warm or yellow....try turning on the flash and stand back about 5 feet.

Monday, January 15, 2018

What is the Best Grade of Uart Sanded Pastel Paper


'Listen to the Marsh Music'         18x24         pastel  on Uart 600     ©Karen Margulis
sold
 Enjoy this post from the archives!

Choices are great. But sometimes too many choices can be overwhelming. I love Uart paper and one of the reasons is the variety of grits that are available. Whether you like a rough toothy surface or a smooth velvety one,  Uart has a paper for you.

What if you don't really know what you like? If you haven't tried all of the grades of Uart paper how will you know which one is best?  I decided to put the paper to the test to find out the best grade.

The answer?  I like them all!  I recommend you give this little test a try so that you can experience them all for yourself. The best grade is the grade that gives you the results you want!  My test can give you an idea of what you might expect.  (click on photos to enlarge them)

Uart Paper Grade Test
 For the test I cut small pieces of each of the 7 available grades of Uart paper. You can get a sample pack of papers at Dakota Pastels.  For the control I decided to paint the same scene with the same pastels on each sample. I chose one of my personal favorite marsh paintings because I wouldn't mind painting it 7 more times!



  • The lower the number the rougher or toothier the surface. So 240, 280 and 320 are the roughest grits. For those of you who like Wallis paper these lower numbers have the closest feel to the grit of Wallis.
  • The lower the number, the grainer the pastel application. Click to enlarge so you can see the textured look to my marks.



  • The middle numbers 400, 500 and 600 are still toothy but not as rough as the lower numbers. 
  • 400 is a good compromise between rough and smooth.
  • These 3  are my preferred grades. I personally don't notice too much difference between these three so I am equally content using any of them. I would say that 400 and 500 are my favorite if I had to choose. 



  • 800 grade paper is quite smooth and velvety although it is still sanded paper. I noticed a much smoother application of pastel with little feeling of texture. If you need fine detail, this grade is your best choice.


I also decided to do a layer test. I wanted to know which paper grade held the most layers of pastel. I did the test on 240 and 800 grade. I was quite surprised to find that each grade easily took 21 layers. I expected that the rougher paper would take more layers than the smooth but this was not the case. They actually could have handled more layers without filling the tooth but I stopped at 21....that's a lot of layers!

I enjoyed discovering the subtle difference the grit could make. Overall I would be happy with any of the grades. Uart is my go-to paper. I find it to be very versatile and always gives me good results. (and takes a beating when I have to fight for those results!)

Read more about Uart paper on their website here.http://www.uartpastelpaper.com/default.asp I just bought my first roll and will soon blog about how I am flattening the rolled paper.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Remove the Rollercoasters from your Paintings!

'Blowing in the Wind'          12x18         pastel      ©Karen Margulis
 I couldn't quite figure out what was bothering me. The painting just wasn't working and it wasn't immediately clear why. It was a demo painting done at a recent workshop. The main focus of the demo was watercolor underpainting so I wasn't really paying as much attention to the pastel application or the composition. When I got the painting home I set it in my pile of unfinished objects.

It caught my eye the other day and I saw it as clear as day. How on earth did I miss it! I was getting dizzy just looking at it. I could picture myself in a rickety rollercoaster cart as it steadily climbed the steep slope to the top. My fear of heights took over. I wanted to get off!  That steep slope was in my painting. Look at the photo below.



My unfinished demo with a steep rollercoaster
Can you see the steep diagonal line of green? All my eye wants to do is ride that green line right up and off the paper....or down and out. Either way this diagonal is too abrupt and harsh.It is unnaturally straight. It really doesn't allow the viewer's eye to move from the background into and around the flowers.

It didn't take much to break up this line and mellow out the slope. I used some cooler greens to push back the hill and put in some sand using horizontal strokes to modify the diagonal so that it isn't as noticeable.

Tip: Watch out for rollercoasters in your paintings. Often steep diagonals all the way across the painting act as barriers. Rollercoasters can also be hills, trees or mountains that have a hard edge at the top creating the feeling of a rollercoaster pulling the eye right out of the painting.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

A Tip for Creating Colorful Lights in Pastel

'Silent Forest'          18x24        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $400
I took the pure white pastel out of my box. I rarely use it. When I need it I usually have to hunt for one in the studio. But I do love to paint white things!.......Clouds, snow, queen annes lace, sandy beaches all require white or do they.

I prefer to use what I call Colorful Lights. That is very light value pastels that are almost white but not quite. I keep a pale value pastel of every color on the color wheel. I am ready to paint anything white without using white.

Sometimes though you may not have a colorful light. Your lightest value may not be quite light enough. Then what? Well of course you could start a pastel order but while you are waiting you can use pure white to create your own colorful lights.

  • Choose the lightest value of the color you need such as yellow. Lay down a light layer of this pastel.
  • Now take your pure white pastel and lightly layer on top of the yellow. You will notice that the white will start to modify the yellow and it will appear lighter. 
  • You may need to go back and forth with the yellow and the white until you achieve the value you need.
I made a quick video demo of this tip and you can watch it for no charge over on my Patreon page. Here is the direct link to the video.https://www.patreon.com/posts/how-to-create-15937176

Friday, January 12, 2018

When Three Marks Make a Difference


'The Welcoming Committee'          6x11        pastel     ©Karen Margulis
available $145
Three little marks. That's all it needed. The results were clear. The painting was stronger and it was all due to the subtle addition of three little marks. Before I explain what I am talking about have look at the finished painting at the top of the page and the painting below. 
Can you spot the change I made?

Before the change
I actually thought I was done with the painting. I took a photo and posted it to my blog all ready to write a post about using Uart 280 paper. But when I looked at the painting on the computer monitor it jumped out at me. I wasn't finished after all! So back to the easel I went.

I only allowed myself three marks. I needed to fix the problem but I didn't want to get too fussy and ruin the freshness of the rest of the painting. By limiting myself to three marks I stayed in control of my repairs! It is a good practice when you are at the end of a painting to only allow three marks at a time and then stepping back. Three marks, step back. Three more marks, step back.

Did you see what I fixed? If you said I changed the large poppy on the left side you are correct. When I looked at the painting the first thing my eye went to was this large red flower that was going off the page on the bottom left. It wasn't so bad that it went off the page. The problem was that it was too bright and vibrant all the way to the edge of the paper. This intense area tends to pull the eye right to it and then off the page. It is a case of too much information too close to the edge of the painting.

 I needed to keep the viewer in the painting. This is where the three marks came in. I used a couple of green pastel and made three marks to subtly soften and hide the flower. Now I see the flower but I can also move past it and enjoy the rest of the painting.






Thursday, January 11, 2018

How to Sign a Pastel Painting


'Winter Light'       11x14         pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $165
It was an accidental discovery. Another use for a common tool is always exciting. Like when Stan Sperlak passed out his 'magic sterling silver pins' at a workshop a few years ago. They were really only stainless steel push pins from the office supply store but they were magical. Stan showed us how the pins could be used to scrape away pastel with precision. They are like tiny erasers. Ever since then I've kept a jar of pins by my easel.

Today I was using a pin to create some of the thin branches in my bare winter trees. The do a great job making painterly lines. It is like doing scratch art. When it was time to sign my name I still had the pin in my hand. Ahhhhhh why not sign my name with the pin! It worked! I'll add it to my toolbox.


Signature with precision
TIP: The pin signature works best when there is a dark layer of pastel under a lighter area. This way the scratched mark reveals the dark making the signature visible.

Stainless steel push pin perfect for signing or scraping away pastel for fine detail

creating fine branches with a push pins
I usually sign my name with the sharp edge of a hard pastel such as Nupastel in a contrasting color that harmonizes with the painting which also works well.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

What to Paint When you Don't Have a Clue

'Marsh Music III'          8x10        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $145
Have you ever spent your whole painting time trying to find something to paint? Sometimes I am just so filled with inspiration that I can't get to it all fast enough. But sometimes even in my stacks of photos nothing calls out to be painted. It can be frustrating and often leads to a standstill in our work. I have something that never fails to break me out of this 'Don't Have a Clue' painting rut.

Start an Exploration Series. See how many variations you can make of a favorite scene. 

An Exploration Series never fails to get me excited because I get to return to an old friend....my comfort zone with a twist. Read on for the details.


The start of an Exploration Series

  •  Choose a painting that you have enjoyed painting and that you are pleased with. For the best results choose something simple that you can reproduce in a relatively short amount of time. That intricate still life won't be a good choice but the simple landscape will work great.
  • Set the time limit that you will spend on each new painting. 30-60 minutes is ideal so that you don't get too fussy and lose interest in the project.
  • Plan to work on the series for a set number of paintings that you think is doable....say 10 to start with.
  • Paint the same scene but change something in every painting. Some ideas: change the underpainting technique, change the time of day, change the mood, change the color palette, change your mark making. Put on your 'what if' hat. The sky is the limit.
At the end of the set time put all of the paintings together and take note on what discoveries you made. I always find comfort in using the familiar to branch off and explore.

My latest Exploration Series started by accident but I am hooked. I am looking forward to getting in the studio each day to see how I can interpret my marsh!  Give it a try!


Trying a warm 4 value underpainting

Before adding the green stuff

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

What Makes an Effective Value Thumbnail

'Down in the Meadow'           9x12         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $145
Do you do your thumbnails? I never did a very good job at doing thumbnail sketches. They seemed like a waste of my time. I would rather just get to the fun part and paint. But I like to play when I paint. I don't want to think to hard. I don't want to agonize of every stroke, color and value choice.

A thumbnail a day makes it easier to play!

That's right. Doing a thumbnail makes it easier to let go and paint with passion and still have success. But the thumbnail has to be effective. It really isn't enough to scribble some lines and call it a thumbnail. Nor is it necessary to spend a lot of time on a painstaking mini sketch full of details. There is a happy medium and it really will help. Below I share some tips for a more effective thumbnail. One you can actually use to start your painting.

The reference photo
 In the photo below I am showing two thumbnails. These are Value Thumbnails using just 4 values....a dark, light and middle light and middle dark. The thumbnail on the left is not as useful as the one on the right. Why?

The difference between an ineffective value thumbnail and a useful thumbnail


  • A value thumbnail is best when the subject is simplified into 4-6 big simple shapes. The shapes should be connected or massed and assigned a value. The value should be what is MOST prevalent in the shape....example: a group of trees may have several values but has more darks than anything else so this mass of trees would be assigned a dark value. The trees will be modified as the painting develops.
  • A value thumbnail is more effective when it is small (between business card and post card size) and when you can see the borders of the sketch.
  • A value thumbnail works best when the shapes are massed in with solid flat marks. Scribbly loose marks make it difficult to see the values.


If you would like to see a step by step demo of this tree painting head on over to my Patreon page. We are studying value all month and you can join us for just $4. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis