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Monday, August 03, 2020

Art Hack: Put a Push Pin in your Pastel Box

'A Bright Spot in my Day'                 9x12               pastel                 ©Karen Margulis
available $165

I am always on the lookout for art tools. It doesn't matter where I am shopping. I have even found great mini alligator clips at the grocery store! I call these finds my Art Hacks. I have found some great ones and have been introduced to many by my fellow artists.  I am introducing a new weekly blog topic devoted to these hacks. Enjoy this week's Art Hack!

Close up of the tangle of grasses and wildflowers

A few years ago I took a great workshop with Stan Sperlak and he introduced me to this week's tool.... a stainless steel push pin. Not your ordinary thumbtack or cheap-o plastic pin. These were long and substantial push pins. Humorously Stan gave us each one and called them sterling silver. We earned them at the end of the workshop!  I continue to use these pins in my work. Read on for the ways a push pin can be used for pastel painting.

Using a push pin for precision pastel removal

  • Push pins can be used to remove pastel with surgical precision. Simply scrape away the offending pastel mark. I painted my flower too fat. Instead of brushing it out all I had to do is scrape off some of the flower giving it a trim!
  • Push pins are great for straightening a horizon. It is challenging to get a nice straight horizon. The more pastel you add to make it straight the worse it can get. Use the pin to scrape away a thin line of can gradually get the horizon straight this way.
  • Push pins are helpful for adding texture. I used the tip of the pin to remove bits of pastel in my flower revealing the dark pastel layer underneath. This creates a feeling of texture in the bloom. In the daisy painting I used the pin to give the suggestion of veins in the petals. 
  • Push pins make great grasses and stems. Scrape linear marks into a grassy area to create the illusion of grass. You can also make a fine stem with a pin. See the photos above. It's like scratch art! Tip: You need a thick enough layer of pastel for this to work.
  • You can use a pin to attach your paper to your drawing board 
Order some push pins and keep one in your pastel box. How can you use a push pin in your work? Share in the comments!

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Do You Want to Paint More and Think Less?

'Summer Love'               8x6             pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available $75

Today I want to share the introduction post for my August Patreon content. I know many of you are already patrons and I am grateful for your support. If you were thinking of going us for just $4 a month, this month will be a fun time to join We are going to PLAY!

Buckle up friends! This month we will be painting fast and furiously!  If you are a 'fly by the seat of your pants' painter you are going to love it. If you are a more slow and methodical painter this month will have you going outside of your comfort zone. It is going to be a fun month of painting and learning and growth!
 It seems strange that I will be recommending that we paint this month without planning in advance but  I hope to convince you that playful quick studies are just as important to our growth as learning how to plan and use the basic concepts of good painting. And it is just plain fun!  Thinking is important. But sometimes we study and think too much and we end up overworking paintings and feeling frustrated. There is a time and place for everything and I will lay it out this month through lessons and demos.
Above is my finished demo painting done in the video.(available to patrons)  I quickly responded to this familiar scene and painted with my heart. It is 8x6 on MingArt paper.

  • As usual there will be a Monday demo which will either be a video or step by step photo demo.
  • There will be a new Paint Along series for Silver members
  • Silver tier copyright free reference photos and Saturday expanded lessons for silver members.
  • Pastel review: I will review the new Unison Light and Shadow set.
  • A new conversation starter
  • Art business 101 tip
  • Review of Dakota mounted boards
  • Friday challenges
  • Whatever else I find to support our content this month!
My personal plan is to paint a small 5x7 study every day this month. This is not a 30 day painting challenge that you see occasionally. I don't want to put pressure on anyone however if you are up to the task go for it!!  I do hope you will commit to painting at least 2-3 small studies each week. You can make it easier by preparing in advance. Spend a day getting supplies organized so it will be easy to pop into your painting place and paint a quick study.
  • Cut at least 20 pieces of paper down to 5x7 or 6x8. No smaller or larger. Any pastel paper will work. This is a great time to use the papers you don't like and have in a pile somewhere!
  • Gather some reference photos. I like to print them on inkjet paper and elect several photos and size them to fit 4-8 on a page. If you have photos ready to go you will be more efficient!
  • Put together a small box of pastels or select a limited palette to simplify your pastel choice. I will be using my set of Floral Landscape Terry Ludwig pastels. 

I'd love for you to join us on Patreon!! It is easy to join and easy to cancel if you find it isn't for you!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Solving the Problem of White Paper!

'A Moment of Silence'                12x14                   pastel               ©Karen Margulis

Sometimes white paper is just what you need. Sometimes it causes problems. I love using white paper for a watercolor underpainting. It works well with the transparency of the watercolor. Since the underpainting eventually colors the white paper it works well. I don't like white paper without toning or doing an underpainting because I find the white bits that peek through the pastel layers can be distracting.

I have been using white BFK Rives printmaking paper this month and thoroughly enjoying it. I have experimenting with adding tooth to the paper with clear gesso and Diane Townsend Dry Grounds. Both work well but there is still the problem of white paper. I tried something that solved the problem and I can't wait to prep more paper!  What did I do? I tinted the clear gesso with acrylic paint!

Tools for the painting

I poured a bit of clear gesso in a cup and added a few drops of inexpensive craft acrylic paint in a nice medium warm gray tone.  I took this idea farther by applying the tinted gesso to my paper with a cheap brush in the direction of the elements in my painting. I was painting a scene from Yosemite that included cliff faces and smooth water as well as trees. I made brush marks to help describe these shapes. Look at the photo below to see the results.

Not only did I tone my paper covering the white, I added texture and tooth to a smooth paper! Problem solved!

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Paint Along Video Demo Now Available!

I have been creating monthly Paint Along videos on my Patreon Page since 2017. The Paint Alongs are comprised of four video demos in which I break down the painting process  from the planning stage to finishing touches. The goal is to simplify and slow down the pastel painting process. This allows artists of all levels to benefit. 
I am now making some of these Paint Along videos available to you as one complete video. This included PDF booklet provides you with the private video link as well as contains supporting photos and expanded information.
Usually the videos on my YouTube channel are under 30 minutes. This doesn't give me time to expand on each important step to my process. The Patreon Paint Along series allows me to slow down and spend time on each stage of the painting process. They have been a fun part of my silver tier on Patreon and I am excited to share one of my favorites with you. It is now available in my Etsy shop. The cost is $15 which includes the link to the private 1 hour 20 minute video and PDF booklet with supportive information including supply list and reference photo. 

The private video link is located inside the PDF booklet. Once you purchase the booklet on Etsy you will be able to download the PDF file. You can view this booklet on your device or print it. The video link is on the first page. 

The finished demo painting is on Canson Mi-Tientes burgundy paper. 

Here are a couple sample pages from the PDF booklet

Consider joining me on Patreon for access to all of the Paint Alongs and much more.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Building a Painting on an Abstract Design

'High Country Magic'.                   18.5 x 20                   pastel                     ©Karen Margulis  
available $325          

I always begin a painting with a loose out of focus underpainting. I like to have mystery and softness everywhere. It allows me to build the painting and add clarity where I want the viewer to look. While the underpainting is loose it still has the basic shapes of my subject. For my latest painting I decided to take it even further. I decided to build a painting on a pure abstract design. It was an exciting way to start a painting without the fear of a blank piece of paper!

I had a large piece of Canson sanded paper the I used for a recent sky and cloud demo. I never waste paper so I knew I would repurpose it. I decided to create an abstract with a blue theme. It was quite liberating!

The paper after the sky demo

After I played with blue pastels!

I suppose I could have left it as an abstract but I had a vision! I wanted to transform the blue shapes into something more concrete. I looked through my wildflower reference photos and found a scene from Colorado. The deep blue sky reminded me of the blues in my abstract. I took it from there and created a mountain landscape with wildflowers. There is really nothing remaining of the abstract but it allowed me to start the painting without fear. It gave me something interesting to work with. It was fun and if I can have fun painting this joy will hopefully come through to the viewer. 

Starting the landscape with a dark blue Nupastel

Saturday, July 25, 2020

How Can You Use a Palette Knife with Pastel?

'Another Blue Sky Day'                16x20                  pastel               ©Karen Margulis
available $325

 I get on these kicks sometimes. I try something on a whim and I like the results.....and the process. So I want to do more! I am on a texture kick this week. The one thing that is somewhat difficult to do with pastels is to create raised texture. Think palette knife paintings done with oil and acrylic. I love the look and feel of thick paint. It suits some subjects so well.

Thick texture is a challenge with pastels but there are some workarounds! Clear gesso is a simple way to get a bit of texture in your pastel paintings.

I have written about using clear gesso but this time I am adding a new twist!  I decided to take a an older demo painting and reimagine it with clear gesso. I know this works to give a bit of grit to paper and I know that when the gesso mixes with the pastel of the original painting it makes a thick muddy mixture. It is fun to use this as a base for the new painting but this time I decided to add more texture......with a palette knife!

Using a palette knife to drag through the thick paint and gesso

I knew I wanted to paint a close up of wildflowers with a tangle of grasses. I used the palette knife to drag through the gesso to create the grasses and stems. I had so much fun! When the gesso dried I was left with ridges. These ridges allowed the pastel to skip over the grooves showcasing the texture.  See the photo below!

close up of the texture and pastel

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

New YouTube Video: Have You Tried this Unexpected Paper?

'Peaceful'                  9x12               pastel              ©Karen Margulis
available $175
 Just posted! A new demo video on my YouTube channel. I'd love for you to check it out. I would love for you to subscribe to my channel. I am close to having 30,000 subscribers and I would love your help to get me there.  Please share with your art friends and art groups!

My blue and purple flower box

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Painting a Series on Unexpected Paper

'Promises I'             8x10                 pastel                 ©Karen Margulis
available $165
We are exploring the easy printmaking technique of the monoprint over in my Patreon group. In preparation I ordered several sheets of BFK Rives printmaking paper.  I have occasionaly used this paper in the past for pastels and I remembered how much I enjoyed the feel of this soft paper. It is not the paper we usually think of for painting with pastels but it is an unexpected pleasure! I decided to do a quick series to get to know the paper better. I am sharing the results here along with how I prepared the paper.

The painting at the top of the post is done on untreated paper. The paper is smooth and soft but still took plenty of layers of soft pastel. I was using Terry Ludwig pastels.

The painting below was done on paper treated with an application of clear gesso. It gave the paper subtle texture and tooth.

'Promises II'                 8x10              pastel             ©Karen Margulis            $165

Te painting below was done on paper treated with Diane Townsend Dry Ground. This too gave the paper some subtle tooth without taking away the soft and springy feel to the paper.

'Promises III'                     8x10                pastel               ©Karen Margulis              $165
Conclusion: I remember liking this paper when I first tried it and now I know why. It may not be for everyone. If you tend to have a heavy touch yet want a lot of layers the smoothness of this paper may be frustrating. But if you like unsanded papers and use a lighter touch you should give this paper a try!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

This Time Last Year: Why I Paint Plein Air

'Garden Magic'               7x5           pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available $100

I am camping this week so I am sharing a post from the archives. Enjoy!

This could have only happened on a plein air outing. Painting from photos is my mainstay but I know I miss out on so much when I stay inside my studio to paint. There is magic out in nature.....even when it nature in the middle of a big city. I have painted coneflowers many times from my photos but I don't think it will ever be the same after I experienced painting them from life and experiencing the magic. 

Michael and I had flown to Chicago a couple of weeks ago to drive our kid's car and two cats down to Atlanta. Our son Corey, wife Grace and three grandchildren have moved to Atlanta! I will miss visiting them in Chicago but wouldn't trade a thing to have them close to home. We only had a day in Chicago before heading back with the car and cats so I wanted to visit my favorite place in ....Lurie Garden next to the Art Institute of Chicago. I love this natural prairie garden and I have seen in in every season. This time I brought some pastels so I could paint.

Painting in the shade at the Lurie Garden in Chicago
It was a hot day so we found a bench in the shade. I could see some of the white coneflowers at the edge of the garden bed so they became my subject. I brought my Heilman Single Sketchbox  which I keep filled with Girault pastels....the perfect set up for painting on the go. I had a 5x7 piece of foam core and several pieces of 5x7 paper cut. I don't use an easel when I do this kind of plein air on the go. I simple clip the paper to the foam core and hold it while I paint. It keeps me from getting caught up in the details and only painting what is important to me.

I had worked on my painting for 15 minutes or so. My penchant for people watching was a distraction. It was a busy summer day in the city and there was a lot to take in. But I managed to get the information I needed for the painting. Just as I was ready to clean up a butterfly landed on my knee. I was sitting crossed legged on the bench. It was very odd....almost as if she was looking at my painting. I didn't want to move to take a photo but the butterfly didn't budge. After about 5 minutes I took out my camera and got some photos. She still didn't move. I decided to keep on working on the painting because I didn't want to disturb her. After about 15 minutes she flew away. I feel like she gave me her step of approval. It was truly a special moment tin time.

Pure Magic!

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

When You Want to Give a Painting a Head Start

'Canyon Light'              16x12                  pastel              ©Karen Margulis
available please ask
 The very first underpainitng technique I ever tried was a simple alcohol wash. I loved it but thought I was cheating! It seemed as if my painting was half done after the underpainting was dry! I have now experimented with many underpainting media and techniques but I still enjoy the good old alcohol wash. So when I was starting this complicated and daunting painting a felt the need for a head start. I needed to do an underpainting that would simplify the complex and five me a roadmap and head start! The good old alcohol wash was the perfect answer. 

Here is the resulting underpainting. I used Nupastels and 70% rubbing alcohol.

the finished underpainting on Uart sanded paper. 

  • An ALCOHOL WASH is simply a technique used to liquify pastel creating a wet underpainting. Using a paintbrush and 70% rubbing alcohol the artist wets the pastel creating a wet wash. Pastel can also be liquified with water and Odorless mineral spirits with slightly different results. ( I have also used vodka which works great!)
  • Sanded paper or paper that can take a wet wash is needed. Note that some sanded papers do not take a wet wash. (LaCarte)
  • It is best to use a harder pastel for an alcohol wash. The softer pastels with more pigment than binder tend to get thick and gummy when wet. I have had success with softer pastels when I apply them very lightly.
  • Take your time! You are turning pastel into liquid gouache take advantage of this and slow down and use the brush to paint! Use brushstrokes to help describe what you are painting. It is not just a matter of getting everything wet....slow down and make the underpainting just as important as the pastel application.
  • Embrace the drips! One of the wonderful things about wet underpaintings is the opportunity for the unexpected! Let the pigment drip and mix and mingle!

This week on Patreon I share a step by step photo demo of this painting! Join us!

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Rewards of Turning Around

'No You Go First'                pastel             ©Karen Margulis             sold 
 These days I find myself reminiscing of the wonderful adventures I had with my art friends. I am so fortunate that I never said no to a trip! I have plenty of memories to get me through these times of staying close to home. Here is one of those special memories.

We were on the final leg of our three week tour of the Southwest.  We were driving from The North Rim of the Grand Canyon to our last stop of Sedona and dare I say we were a bit road weary. I sat in my spot in the back seat with my camera always on stand- by looking for arroyos.  I had discovered the art of looking ahead at a possible cut in the land, raising the camera and just shooting. It was hit or miss but it helped the miles go by faster.

Suddenly I saw something to shake me out of my hypnotic state. At least I thought I saw something. "Stop Holly! Turn Around!"  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a cropping of large red rocks with some black specks on top.  "I think I saw a bunch of Ravens!"  We had been on a raven watch for three weeks so this would be a find!  Holly willingly pulled over as soon as she could and turned around. As we retraced our route we all kept our eyes peeled for that rock with black spots.  Just as I started to think it had been a mirage we came upon the rock. It was actually a huge rock. And yes there were ravens perched on top.

But these were not just any ravens....they were baby ravens! And they were trying desperately to fly. We safely pulled off the road and sat in the car quietly watching. The three big fledglings took turns hopping up and down and flapping their wings. Every once in awhile one of the ravens would catch some air and hover over the rock before touching back down.

We sat in awe for a good 30 minutes taking many photos with our super zoom cameras. It was a magical sight when one of the babies finally got the nerve to leave the rock and fly off. Soon the others followed and all was quiet once again.  We sat quiet as well. Afraid to speak lest we break the spell. "This is a moment that calls for some chocolate",  I said as I passed out the fudge I had been saving for a special time.  We got back on the highway and I once again took up my position as lookout. Always ready for the next magical sight....and always ready to turn around!

Painting Notes:  This painting is on Uart paper with Terry Ludwig and Diane Townsend pastels. There is no underpainting.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Have you Tried Sauce Drawing Crayons?

'Last Summer'               9x12                pastel                ©Karen Margulis
available on Etsy $165

I got a surprise in the mail a few weeks ago! A collector sent me a box of sauce. No not pasta sauce......Sauce drawing crayons. She thought I would enjoy them for painting grasses. I had never seen them before so a little research was in order. Here is some information from the Fine Art Store website:

This is a medium from the Dark Ages - few of today's painters have had the opportunity to work with it. Sauce was a nearly-extinct medium that offered a full ten value tonal range. In the tumult of the last century, Sauce was all but lost to the world's artists. It survived only in Russia. It is a stick much like a soft pastel, but when applied to paper, it gives a sensation of warm silk, slightly greasy but not oily. Breaking the Sauce down into its powder form can add to the versatility of its use. Each wooden boxed set contains 10 sticks which measure 7/16"x1-1/2".

My box of sauce!
I review these sticks over in my Patreon group and use them in this rock demo painting. I am thoroughly enjoying them for my rock paintings this month! They do have a silky feel and go over layers of soft pastel with ease! I will definitely use them for grasses as well as rocks. It is always fun to try something new (to me) and find they do add to my paintings!

Before adding the details
Visit my Patreon group for our month long focus on rocks!

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

My Must Have Tool for Harmonious Color

8x 10               pastel                  ©Karen Margulis            sold

Color.  The very thing that draws us to the pastel medium is the thing that can get us into trouble. If you get too many colors going on in a painting it can lead to Color Chaos.  It's so easy to do.  All of the wonderful colors are right there in our boxes. It is just too convenient to pick up color after color with wild abandon. Before you know it you end up with a painting full of unrelated colors.

There is a solution. It takes a little bit of planning and discipline but the resulting color harmony is worth it! 

1.  Have a plan for your color and do some small color thumbnail studies.

2. Work with a limited palette and choose the pastels you will use before you start painting.

For the past 10 years I have gotten into the habit of pre-selecting the colors I will use for a painting and arranging them by value on a butcher tray.  This helps me keep a limited palette and not be distracted by the overwhelming number of pastel in my studio box.

Sometimes I would also do a small color study but like doing value thumbnails I wasn't consistent with them.  But I realize that when I do the value and color studies the resulting paintings tend to be more successful.  It will now be a part of my painting process. I will consider them as a dress rehearsal for the actual painting....the warm up!

Using a limited palette

The problem is what do we use to put these preselected pastels in so they don't roll away and stay accessible? You could use a box lid which works great or maybe some paper towel on your work surface but I have a better solution.........I use butcher tray palettes. I get mine at They are sold in the palette section and are used by artists to mix paints. They are made of enamled porcelain. Why are they great for pastels?
  • They are sturdy and will last forever unlike a cardboard box lid.
  • They are easy to clean! I keep a washcloth in my tray to cushion the pastels but the tray does get dusty after awhile. It is simple to wash it out!
  • The sides of the tray keep the pastels safe from rolling off the table.
  • Keeping the pastels contained in the tray allows easy access. 
  • It conveniently hooks under the adjustment knobs of my Black H Frame easel. 

Sunday, July 05, 2020

My First Look at LuxArchival Pastel Paper

'As Far as the Eye Can See'                 8x10              pastel               ©Karen Margulis
available $165

I was excited to get my recent order of goodies form Dakota. I had a gift certificate burning a hole in my pocket! I selected a new Unison pastel set that I will be reviewing soon. I also ordered a pack of new pastel paper....LuxArchival sanded paper. I gave a piece a try today and so far I am quite pleased. Here are my thoughts after one painting:

I can't wait to do another painting! It handled like a dream and it is the first paper that reminded me of Wallis sanded paper. Many artists were sad when Wallis went out of production especially the white paper. White paper is so useful for wet underpainting such as watercolor. It allows the paint to appear cleaner and more vibrant than gray and even the pale yellow papers available.

 Lux paper claims to accept wet underpaintings without buckling or changing the sanded surface. I was hopeful but skeptical. After a very sloppy watercolor underpainting I was pleasantly surprised to see the paper dried perfectly flat! Hurray! This is a game changer when you want to paint without using mounted paper.

I also liked the slightly aggressive grit. It grabbed the pastel and was very even yet it wasn't too rough. Again it feels much like Wallis. 

I will be ordering some larger pieces of this paper and will enjoy doing a more through review soon!

watercolor underpainting

Here is a link as well as information from the Dakota Art Pastels website:


Origin: France
Colors: 1
Sizes: 8"x 10", 16"x 20" & 24"x 36"
Weight: 300gsm
Introducing a new Professional Sanded Art Paper developed by colored pencil artist Alyona Nickelsen of Brush and Pencil.
LuxArchival is an excellent surface for Soft Pastel! The base paper is 100% Cotton, Acid-Free, Lignin Free, and a substantial 140 lb./300 gsm weight. The Archival surface will not yellow, darken or deteriorate in any way and will last 100+ years.
The sanded surface has an aggressive 400 grit, is even and consistent without any visible pattern. The extremely durable White surface handles any dry media, holds many layers of pastel, handling erasures, corrections and reworking without damage to the paper.
Suitable for ALL liquid underpainting mediums: handles Water, Alcohol and Odorless Mineral Spirits without buckling or softening the surface.
LuxArchival is available in White only and in three sheet sizes. Rolls of 48” x 5 yards will be available later this year.

Friday, July 03, 2020

The Secret to Painting Delicious Food! Watermelon Demo Video

'Summerlicous'             8x10              pastel               ©Karen Margulis
available $165 

We have been eating a lot of watermelon this summer. It is the favorite food of our granddaughter so we always have some on hand. I thought it would be fun to paint some watermelon to kick off the holiday weekend!

I made a video of the demo and in the video I share the secret to getting the watermelon to look frosty and juicy! Click on the link below to see the video on my YouTube channel. Please feel free to share the link to your friends!


A sneak peek at the secret! Iridescent pastels!

I began the painting with a wet underpainting using Derwent Inktense sticks and water