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Friday, September 25, 2020

Using My Reconstituted Pastels

                                 'In the Pink'            12x9            pastel          ©Karen Margulis

                                                            available in my Etsy shop $165 

I don't know why I was so stubborn. I cleaned out my big pastel box two years ago and promised I would make pastels from the bits and pieces I collected. Two years have passed and no pastel making video! I put it off because I thought it would be too messy and time consuming. I didn't want to bother. Why did I wait!!?? I finally decided to jump in and make some pastels from my old bits and pieces and I am now addicted!  It wasn't hard at all. It wasn't even as messy as I had imagined. ...and the results were wonderful. I couldn't wait to paint with my 'new' pastels!

To be clear I didn't make pastels from scratch. That is another process. All I did was reconsitiute the pastel pieces I already had. All you need is a way to crush the broken pastels or pieces into dust and some distilled water. I used a mortar and pestle but you can use a plastic bag and rolling pin. You can easily find directions online or watch my video on my Patreon Page but the process is simple. Slowly add some distilled water to your dust and mix it into a dough. You need dough like pastry and not cream. Form the dough into a desired shape. I rolled mine and cut pieces with a palette knife. Let the pastels dry for 2-3 days before using. That's it!

I made some greens and I love the colors! I decided to use them for a bouquet of flowers. The greens are perfect for the foliage. I have some great ideas for other special pastels and I will share them soon!

Join us on Patreon! We are sharing our pastel results and the paintings we are doing with our reconstituted pastels.

                                                       I love these 'new' green pastels!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Take a Painting Break by Painting Something You Love

                 'Lost in the Weeds'                       10x13                 pastel             ©Karen Margulis                                                                               available in my Etsy shop $175                                                                       

After a month out of my comfort zone  it was time to get back into the weeds! I had fun pushing myself to paint the still life. It is a great month so far on Patreon with so much wonderful work being shared by the group. As the month draws to a close I just wanted to paint some tangled weeds and let go!  This is a great way to work and grow. Spending time with the unfamiliar helps you do a better job with the familiar.

I decided to use an older watercolor underpainting for my tangled scene. The underpainting had similar shapes found in my new reference photos and was filled with rich darks. This dark would form the foundation for the composition and would hold all the details in place. In a field or meadow I like to think of this dark block in as the DIRT. The dirt holds onto the roots and prevents the grasses and flowers from floating.

I enjoyed letting go and responding to this painting intuitively building the layers and layers of dirt, grass and flowers. It is so liberating to paint things that are not perfect and don't have to be perfect to look good. I'll take a patch of weeds anyway over a vase or pitcher of flowers. It is a great learning experience to change gears but it always feels good to come home. 

a closer look

Using a watercolor underpainting 


Monday, September 21, 2020

Have You Seen The PSA 2020 Enduring Brilliance Exhibition?

One of the things that helps me grow as an artist is to study the work of those with more experience and whose work inspired me. There is no better way to see what is happening in the world of pastel then to see the annual Pastel Society of America's exhibition. Usually held in New York City, this year it is all online. I am thrilled to share that one of my paintings was accepted into the exhibition and received and award! (more on this below)  Please follow the links so that you can enjoy this wonderful exhibition in the comfort of your home!

Pastel Society of America 2020: Enduring Brilliance at The Butler Institute Online 
This exhibition, drawn from The Pastel Society of America’s annual fall exhibition, features works by some of the nation’s premier pastel painters. The Pastel Society of America (PSA) is the oldest organization of its kind in the nation. A primary mandate of the PSA is to provide a forum for the exhibition of works by the most accomplished pastel artists in the United States and abroad. Since 1972, the PSA Annual Exhibition: Enduring Brilliance!, held at the National Arts Club in New York City, has been the premier event for pastel artists worldwide.

To see the entire exhibition click here: 

To see all of the accepted paintings in the Butler Institute follow this link:…/pastel-society-of-america-2020-end…/

To see a slide show of the award winning paintings click on the following link. I enjoyed 'flipping' through this virtual catalog! 

Here is a closer look at my accepted painting. 'Morning at the Pond'. It is 9x12.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Don't Throw Out That Painting! Do A BIG FIX!

                            'Take Away the Blues'                14x11          pastel         ©Karen Margulis

                                                              available in my Etsy shop: $165

I know the frustration of a dud. I have had more failed paintings than successful ones. I know how it feels to be dejected and to think that I have just wasted precious paper and supplies. Very early on in my painting journey I decided to change my mindset. If I was going to get better at this painting thing I knew I needed to practice....a lot. That meant many bad paintings before perhaps a few good ones emerged from the dust! It also meant that I couldn't hoard my supplies. I needed to use them. Having pastels get smaller became a sign that I was on the right track rather than cringeworthy! I also decided that I wasn't afraid to use my 'good' sanded papers because I could always repurpose the paper if the painting was a dud. 

So over the years the bad paintings piled up....literally piled up in a box (or three!) I have a lot of failed paintings waiting to be reused. From time to time I will pull a piece out from the pile and do what I now call a 'Big Fix'.  I will either try to rescue the original painting armed with new knowledge and experience or I will wipe off the painting and start with something new. 

I have shared the different ways I repurpose paper here on the blog. For today's painting I used the easy method of a light alcohol wash. I took an older failed bird nest painting and brushed on a very light wash of rubbing alcohol. I did not brush off the pastel first but it was not very thick. I did like the original underpainting which had some interesting drips so I didn't want to cover it all up. I just wanted to restore the tooth of the paper and tone it with the colors in the nest painting. The results are in the photo below. 

Now I needed to decide what this new underpainting could be. I was working on the still life for my Patreon group so I looked through my reference photos and found the perfect candidate.....a vase of blue hydrangeas! All I needed to do was to turn my paper to portrait format and the flowers were already there! I loved the out of focus background and it would be just the thing to set off the flowers!

I began with a light pastel pencil drawing of the new subject. and I was ready to paint!  I thoroughly enjoyed incorporating the remnants of the old painting into my new one! Another Big Fix is in the books!

Don't allow yourself to feel frustrated by the duds! They are markers on the road to your success. Don't throw them away. Save them for another day!


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Lesson in Seeing: Look Behind You

           'Just Around the Bend'               9x12             pastel            ©Karen Margulis   available $165

  Before I started painting my hobby was photography. While my kids were small it was an easy way to get in touch with my creative side. Back then we learned on a manual camera with slide film. It was not very forgiving. You didn't want to just keep taking photos in hopes of getting a good one like we can now  with digital. You had to plan. You had to anticipate. You also had to be lucky sometimes.  I am glad for this lesson in patience. It was also a lesson in learning how to see. I learned how to see the light. These lessons served me well as I transitioned into painting.  I was reminded by an important lesson this weekend. 

We were on our maiden camping trip with our new camper Joy. (More on this soon) It was a quick weekend trip to test the camper's systems. It was a mostly overcast weekend so when sunset time rolled around we weren't very hopeful. We decided to take a walk....just in case. We were rewarded for our efforts.....almost. We could see a glimmer of fiery light through the trees but we couldn't get close enough. We decided to hop in the car and drive around the bend. We were on a lake with many fingers of land so it was hard to know which way to go. 

We drove a few miles and it just got darker. No sunset. Then we rounded the bend and there it was....a fiery sunset up close and personal. We stopped and I took lots of photos and then I remembered the lesson I learned in my photography days and later reinforced by Stan Sperlak in his wonderful workshops.....ALWAYS LOOK BEHIND YOU. Don't forget to turn around and see what is happening behind you. It is often just as spectacular or interesting then what is in front of you. In this case it was. The formally 'brown' tree trunks were glowing orange from the setting sun. It was mesmerizing and it inspired my first painting from our camping adventures.

I began the painting with a black and orange wet wash on gray MingArt sanded paper. 9x12. Here is one of the photos I took of the view behind me!


Monday, September 14, 2020

Exploring the Still Life on Pastelmat Paper

'In the Kitchen II'              12x9            pastel            ©Karen Margulis

I had a scrap piece of orange Pastelmat already attached to a board so I decided to use it for todays painting.  As soon as I touched pastel to paper I remembered just how unique this surface is. It is soft and velvety  and the pastels go on oh so smooth. I just feels nice. It is a pleasure to work on. I don't use Pan Pastels but I understand it is a perfect match for the pans. Here are some things I noticed:

  • The paper accepted both hard and soft pastel equally well. And as I said before, it feels good....the pastels just glide on.
  • I found I had more success when I made bold and direct strokes. The paper does take several layers but I found that the marks want to stay in place rather than be blended. (this is a good thing if you tend to over blend)
  • I was able to use fixative with success. I decided midway through the painting to change color scheme so after a little fixative I could add more pastel. However some spots got too slick from fixative and I could get pastel on top.
  • I didn't use a wet underpainting today but I do remember that while the paper takes a wet underpainting, the cellulose fibers seem to suck in the wet. You tend not to get the drips and blooms like you get with other papers.
PASTELMAT® is a premium card surface (360gsm / 170lb) specially developed for pastelists. Its unique velvety surface, made from a fine coating of cellulose fibers, has the ability to grab and hold multiple layers of even the softest pastels.
PASTELMAT® significantly reduces the need for fixative, which means that colors remain vibrant and fresh once applied. It has the added bonus of being gentle on both fingers and blending tools. It is acid free and lightfast.
PASTELMAT® is ideal for use with all dry media - pastel sticks, PanPastel, pencils and charcoal. It is also water resistant which means that it can be used with wet media – such as acrylics and watercolor for washes and mixed media techniques.
Overall I do like Pastelmat. I always forget just how much I enjoy it. I would like to get some more to see what else I can discover. Do you use Pastelmat? I welcome your thoughts!

 Here are two links to other posts I wrote about Pastelmat paper:

Six Reasons to try Pastelmat

Pastelmat Review

We are exploring the still life over on my Patreon group. You can see this apple painting as a step by step demo! Just $4 for the monthly pledge.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Back to the Easel with Sunflowers!

           'Sunny Days'                12x12               pastel                  ©Karen Margulis        available $195

Wow! It has been almost a week since I painted and posted on my blog! It has been a crazy busy week. I had set aside the week to work with my online workshop students. That kept me busy. It was great fun and a success. Look for another opportunity to join another group soon! Not only was I busy with the workshop, My daughter and son-in-law moved into their new home. We spent lots of time packing....moving and unpacking with help from family! If that wasn't enough we found our dream camper and needed to pick it up and figure out where to park it while the driveway was being prepared. (the camper story is long and I will write about it soon) Whew!

I finally have a breather today and got back to the easel. I am working on a hydrangea painting on top of a failed still life. This week is Sunflower Week on Patreon so I painted some sunflowers before things got so busy including this 12x12 painting. You can see a video demo of this painting on my Patreon Page. It was a lot of fun to interpret a reference photo of a pitcher of flowers. My pitcher turned into a vase!

Below you can see the palette of pastels I used for the painting. It was the same palette that I used for my last pear post with a few additions of yellows and oranges. I will be using the same palette for a few more paintings this month!

 I hoepen to get back into a regular posting schedule and I will be sharing the news of the new camper soon!

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Lessons From a Still Life

             'In the Kitchen'                  8x10                pastel           ©Karen Margulis        available $155 

I remember this class like it was yesterday. It was back when I offered weekly classes in my studio. Those were wonderful times! We usually painted landscape and I began each class with a demo. This class was different. They came into the studio with the easels all rearranged in a circle and in the middle was a set up of pumpkins and gourds....a still life! There were a few moans and groans but everyone was game to try something different. At the end of the class we felt exhilaration for having trued something nee...working form life and stitching our painting muscles. Here are some of the things we discovered. 

  •  We learned that painting a still life wasn't all that dreadful. In fact I would say that some of us really enjoyed the still life and might even be inspired to paint more of them.
  • We learned that we all have our own unique viewpoint and painting style. This was even more obvious when we painted the same things. Have a look at the bottom photo to see what I mean!
  • We learned that painting a still life can help strengthen our skills of observation. Especially when we had to paint from our sketches and notes. (we had 10 minutes to sketch and 20 minutes to paint...and so on)
  • We brainstormed and decided that painting a still life can help us with important painting skills such as composition, value, seeing color, drawing is a great way to paint from life in the comfort of the studio.
I am repeating this focus on the still life again only this time my Patreon group! If you would like to stretch your painting muscles and dip into the world of the still life consider joining us this month. It is only $4 for the lower tier or $6 for all of the lessons, videos and paint along. You can cancel at anytime.  Check it out and join the fun

The painting I am sharing is the fist video demo of the month on Patreon. It is 8x10 

Monday, August 31, 2020

Tips for Painting Grasses with Pastels

'Looking In'                   12x17              pastel               ©Karen Margulis         available $225               

My grass painting has evolved. I have gone through the stages from painting every blade of grass with stiff fence-like marks to big swaths of green with no detail. As my style evolves the grass goes along for the ride! Lately I am interested in getting more depth in my grassy areas of a painting. Even in closeup viewpoints I want the viewer to feel like they could put their hand in the grass and not just on the top layer.  To do this I have to build up many layers of complexity.
You can see this painting in a video demo on my Patreon Page. 

Here are a few tips to help your treatment of grass in a painting.

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

       I used a small quick response study along with a reference photo to inspire my painting.

Check out my Patreon group at 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Have You Tried an Oil Stain Underpainting?

              'Stop for the Magic'                     9x12             pastel          ©Karen Margulis       $175
Ahhhh the smell of oil paint and Gamsol filled my studio today. It made it feel like a real art studio somehow. Pastel is an odorless medium and I forget how much I love the smell of paint.  I took the oils out this month to share the technique with my Patreon group. 

I love to experiment and change things up!  Different papers, different pastels and different underpainting techniques are all things I look to try. This month I decided to do an oil stain underpainting. It has been awhile since I have used this technique but I do love it. Read on for some tips on making the best of this technique.

Tools of the trade


  •  Paint: a few tubes of oil paint. I only use alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue and cadmium yellow medium and mix the colors I need. I don't use white since I want my colors to be rich and transparent. I don't use black either but mix red and blue for a nice rich dark.
  • Brush: I use a cheap bristle brush because I like to scrub the paint and the sanded papers are hard on a brush!
  • OMS: which stands for odorless mineral spirits. You can use your preferred brand. I use Gamsol or Turpenoid. Do not use the Turpenoid in the green can. In my experience it doesn't dry as well especially if you use it to do a wash with pastels. You will also need a can or jar for the OMS.
  • Paper: You need a pastel paper or board that can get wet. I prefer Uart paper. Ampersand Pastelbords are an excellent choice as well. For today's painting I used Pastelmat which wasn't my favorite choice. I didn't get the drips I usually get with Uart paper.

closeup of the oils stain

I love the vibrancy of the oil paint. It makes a rich and colorful underpainting. The trick is getting the paint the right consistency. I call it an Oil Stain because you want to get the paint the consistency of wood stain. I use the OMS liberally when mixing my paint and make a puddle of color the consistency of stain or tea.  If it is too thick the painting will fill the tooth of the paper and you won't be able to layer much pastel. If it is too wet it will just run and it won't stain the paper.

TIP: If you can see brush marks in the paint then it is too thick....thin it with more OMS. Practice, practice and more practice will allow you to know just how much OMS is enough.

As the paint dries the magic begins. The best underpaintings will result in interesting drips that look like root systems.  The Pastelmat absorbed the paint so quickly that it didn't drip. It was a bit disappointing but I still loved the vibrancy of the oil paint and it gave me something colorful to respond to.

The painting in today's post is the Paint Along demo this month for my Patreon group. Paint along with me!

Friday, August 21, 2020

Video Demo: How to Paint More Vibrant Reds!

      'Power in Memories'                 5x7                   pastel          ©Karen Margulis        available $100

 Returning to favorite subjects is always a good idea when doing quick response studies. It helps you get to know your subject. One of my favorite motifs is poppies. Whether they are close up and intimate or in a meadow filled with flowers, I always learn something new when I paint them.

Last year I made a video of a close up poppy demo. I discuss how to get more vibrant reds. If you missed this video you can watch it on my YouTube channel. The link is below:


YouTube is a great resource! If you have not checked out the wealth of art videos on YouTube be sure to give it a try. I have a YouTube channel and I try to post something new every week. This is in addition to my regular Patreon videos and lessons. I'd love for you to subscribe to my YouTube channel and check the notification bell so you know when I upload a new video!  

                                                                       The demo painting!

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

15 Minute is all you Need!

        'Sunny Days II'                  5x7                   pastel                  ©Karen Margulis.     available $100

It has been awhile since I did this fun little exercise. It is just what the doctor ordered! Take a reference photo and paint 4 quick studies based on the photo. Set the time to 15 minutes for each study. It is a great little exercise if you want to do the following:

  • paint more
  • paint faster
  • paint looser
  • paint with more passion and expression
  • paint what you love without guilt
  • add more miles of paper or practice without spending a lot of time
  • overcome fear
  • build confidence
  • break out of a block 
  • break free of a rut
  • explore without fear of wasting good paper
  • explore color
  • explore mark making
  • discover new approaches
  • discover new compositions for familiar subjects
And I could go on but you get the idea. This is an exercise that I need to do more often. Many artists already do it and many instructors do some variation of the exercise in their classes. I call my version 15 Minute Explorations. They can be done as a warm up before painting or a wind down after painting. Or they can be done on their own during your studio time

        'Sunny Days'                            5x7              pastel            ©Karen Margulis.          $100 


Monday, August 17, 2020

New YouTube Video. How to Paint without a Plan!

          'Forest Light'                   pastel                   ©Karen Margulis       available $155

Planning a painting leads to a better chance of a successful result. But sometimes I just want to paint! I have one quick question I ask myself that helps me get started with a painting without a lot of planning time. I also often answer this question and then do a quick response study. In this video I show you a demo based on one of these quick response studies. 

                               Click on the link below to see the video on my YouTube channel. 

Join us over on my Patreon group if you would like to explore the idea of doing quick response studies!


Thursday, August 13, 2020

Trying a New Set of Pastels!

                'Nothing But Dreams'                 9x12            pastel            ©Karen Margulis    available $165

I finally did it! I got into my new set of Unison pastels. They had been on my desk for a couple of months now! I had a gift certificate to use for Dakota Pastels so I treated myself to a new set by Unison ....the Light and Shade set. It looked intriguing. I like to have a variety of colorful lights and colorful darks and that was the focus of this set! I will be doing a video review next week in my Patreon group but I always like to use or try to use a new set exclusively so I can get to know it better. 

I loved my first look at this set and I can see me using these colors a lot but more likely as part of my main collection rather than a stand alone set. If this set had another row of middle dark values it would be perfection!

                                              Yes I take the labels off and break them in half!

We are also doing oil stain underpaintings this month so I decided to use one of the underpaintings for this forest scene. I love the interesting drips that the oil stain gives. 

Here is the painting at the almost finished stage. I needed to supplement the set with a few middle value greens and yellows. 


I will be sharing more about this set in the coming days as I explore it even more! Have you tried this set? How do you like them? 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Do This Every Five Years!

       'Sanibel Island'                    8x10               pastel                 ©Karen Margulis      available $165

I have been painting for 15 years now. Sometimes I feel like I have just begun. The time has gone by so quickly. It has been a wonderful journey so far and I know I have much more to learn. Every once in awhile I like to take time to look back to see how far I have come. I have an ongoing 5ish year project. I paint an updated version of one of my earliest painting. I use the same size 8x10 and use the same reference photo. I don't look back at the older versions. The results have been interesting!

Have a look at the older versions. I can see how my approach and understanding of the basics of painting has changed over the years. I will look forward to the next 5 years!

How long have you been painting with pastels? Is it time to paint an  updated version of one of your early paintings? Is it time to start your own five year project?

This is the 2013 version

This is the original painting done in 2005

Paint and learn online with a great group! Join me on Patreon for lessons demos, videos, challenges and more! This month we are working on painting small studies. It is the perfect time to jump in and join us!