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Saturday, October 19, 2019

Painting the Norwegian Woods with a Surprise Spice

'Norwegian Woods'               10.5 x 15.5              pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available $350
It was really a bonus. I didn't expect to stumble upon this magical place. I got off the ship in Bergen Norway with no agenda. I didn't plan to take a tour. I figured that I would wander around the town looking for photo opportunities. I had read about the funicular that went to an overlook on Mount Floyen and thought that might be an option. Fortunately I was off the ship early....even before the town shops were open. So when I found the funicular it had just opened and there was no line. I got on not sure what I would see at the top.

It was definitely worth the trip! Not only was the view of Bergen and the surrounding mountains and fjords spectacular, the wooded area at the top was laced with walking trails.....and goats! It was wonderful. The air was crisp and clear and everything glowed with the early morning sun.

I took a detour up one of the trails and quickly came across a little path that led to a Troll Garden. It was a wonderful and magical place that had hidden troll statues among the trees. It was a wonderful place and I could have spent the day there! Below is one of my photos and you can see the troll. I know I will be painting a lot more of this forest!


For this painting I wanted to capture the light in the forest. That was my WHY. I was afraid that the troll would not read like a statue and instead look like a badly painted figure! So I left him out this time and added a small tree in his place. But the painting needed something. I let it sit for awhile and came back to it with fresh eyes and an idea!

Laying in the Art Graf and the Derwent Inktense for the underpainting

I did a wash with some rubbing alcohol. 

I took out my dry erase board and wrote down my thoughts on what I needed to do to finish the painting. I decided to leave out the troll even a hint of him and add some of the wonderful red mushrooms I saw in the forest. Have you ever seen a red mushroom with white spots outside of a story book? I had not! They were simply charming and I decided they would be the perfect spice to complete my painting of this little slice of Norwegian woods.

My finishing thoughts

These red mushroom really exist!!

Doesn't this look like a fairy tale forest?

A close up. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Can Pastelmat Take an Alcohol Wash?

'Passing Sheep'                12x12               pastel                 ©Karen Margulis
available $250

I am home from the mystery cruise and finally had time to paint. We missed 5 pdf our ports due to bad weather but I saw enough beautiful scenery in Norway and Ireland to keep me busy for a long time! One of the first images that begged to be painted were the sheep I saw on my bus tours of the countryside around Belfast. I pulled out a sheet of white Pastelmat and cut it into a 12x12 square. I decided to do an alcohol wash. I have heard others say that Pastelmat isn't good for an alcohol wash. I have never had problems with it though. Here is some information from a previous experiment:

Does Pastelmat take a wet wash / underpainting?

Yes it does. I tried both 70% isopropyl alcohol and water with different results for each. But for both wet washes I didn't get the drips and happy accidents that I usually get on my favorite paper Uart. That is because of the cellulose fiber makeup of the paper. It is truly like a sponge. It grabs the liquid and doesn't let it move...or drip or mingle. So the wet wash allowed me to tone the paper but it didn't do anything interesting or exciting.
See blow:
I used alcohol on the left and water on the right.
 NOTE:  The alcohol wash side dried in under 10 minutes...longer than on Uart but much faster than the side washed with water. The water side took about 30 minutes to dry! It was like a wet sponge. The alcohol side also dried FLAT while the side washed with water had a buckle and wave. I was able to flatten it under heavy books.

I have also tried watercolor on Pastelmat in the past and the white paper was wonderful. The colors were bright and vibrant.  The sponge-like surface prevented any blooming or running so again no happy accidents. I happen to like happy accidents!

An alcohol wash underpainting on Pastelmat

close up of the sheep

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

It's Time to Paint Autumn Trees!

'Golden Moments'               12x9             pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available $175
 Every October for the past few years I have taught a workshop in Pecos New Mexico. This year I am going to the beach with friends instead. (I'll be sharing more on this later this week)  My trips to New Mexico in the fall have provided me with much inspiration and plenty of reference photos of fall foliage. I spent some time a few weeks ago creating lessons on painting trees for my Patreon Page. I had fun revisiting my New Mexico trip to paint seem trees for the videos and demos.

Today I released an in depth step by step demo of this aspen tree in its fall glory. I used a piece of 9x12 Art Spectrum Colourfix paper in a buff color. I did a wash with primary colors. You can see the complete demo on my Patreon Page. There is a $4 month pledge but I would love to have you join us!

You can also search my blog for Fall Trees to find a lot more information on how I paint fall trees with pastels. The search box is located on the right side of my blog.

Starting the underpainting

I love yellow!!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Confessions of a Seasonal Painter

8x10 pastel      sold

Enjoy this post from the archives!

I am a seasonal painter.  I love painting the landscape in every season. Every season has moments that inspire me.  I love the colors of fall. I LOVE painting snow. Spring brings flowers and summer brings long days and Queen Annes Lace.  But.... I only like to paint each season in that season. I can't wait to paint snow but I need to wait for winter. I am funny like that.

Maybe it is because being present in the season inspires me. When I am surrounded by the smells and colors of fall and the first crisp clear days I want to capture these feelings in a painting. Sure I can look at photos of snow in the heat of summer but unless I am on top of a snow capped peak somewhere in the arctic.....I don't feel inspired to paint it.

It's getting cooler in Georgia and the leaves are starting to turn. The smell of Cinnamon brooms and pinecones greets us in the grocery store. This is a sure sign of fall. It feels only right that I should paint autumn landscapes. 

The watercolor underpainting
The wonderful thing about being a seasonal painter is the excitement of revisiting a favorite subject as each new season arrives. It is always interesting to look back on previous years to see how I painted the season. How have I grown as an artist? Are my autumn trees changing? How? The answers to these questions are important. They help me understand where I have been and where I am going.

As fall arrives I begin my annual reflection and begin a new series of fall paintings. After a few weeks I will have exhausted this subject and will look forward to the next season.

Painting notes:  9x12 white Wallis paper with a watercolor underpainting.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Studio Essential: Sticky Notes!

'The Cloud'                18x24               pastel               sold

Enjoy this post from the archives!! It still has great tips!

Sticky Notes get a lot of use in my studio. I leave my notes everywhere. They help me stay on track. When they multiply too rapidly I know I need to slow down and prioritize but they do help me get my thoughts on paper.  One of my favorite uses for sticky notes is to help me resolve unfinished paintings.

Have you ever looked at an unfinished painting  and finally figured out what it needed but then forgot what that was once you had time to paint? 

Sticky notes to the rescue!  Yesterday I had a wonderful time teaching a workshop at the Cockerill Gallery in Austell Georgia. Ann Cockerill was fantastic and I had a chance to share with a group of talented artists!  I came home with three demos....almost finished but not quite. Each one served its purpose in my lessons but needed tweaking to be considered finished.

In the morning I set them up on easels in my studio and studied them. What did they need? What didn't they need? What did I need to do to resolve them?  As the possible answers and solutions came to me I wrote them down on a sticky note and stuck the note to my painting board.  Now when I get a chance to paint I won't forget my thoughts about how to resolve each painting!

Later in the day I had some time to paint so I returned to my paintings and notes and was able to put my ideas in action. Thank you Sticky Notes!

Painting notes: This was my lunchtime demo painted while my students enjoyed their lunch. It is on Uart paper 18x24. I blocked in the painting with reds and pinks and rubbed in this layer with pipe foam. I used Terry Ludwig pastels to finish

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

When You Have a Mess....Make Lemonade!

Lurie Gardens          12x12           pastel              ©Karen Margulis.           sold

 Sometimes you just have a mess on your hands. A failed painting or perhaps a study destined for the trash. And that is exactly where these things the trash.  But I have a thrifty side especially when it comes to paper.  I don't like to throw away good paper even if it is covered in a mess!

I know I have written about rescuing a failed painting before but I believe it bears repeating.  If you have a lemon on your hands.....

Make Lemonade!

Here I have a nice piece of Uart sanded paper. I had used it for my You Tube video on Mark Making
I didn't need the demo paper anymore and was about to trash it when I stopped.  I love this paper and I know it takes abuse so why not do something creative with it.

Out came the rubbing alcohol and my stiff well worn bristle brush.  I cut the paper into a square and washed in the pastel marks with the alcohol.  See the results below.

Look at all those yummy drips!  I even like this as an abstract. In fact I almost left it alone. Hmmmm now that gives me an idea! Let me write that down before I forget.
But instead I looked at it to see what it might become. I saw it as the perfect backdrop for some wildflowers.  I took out my wildflower photos and settled on one of Purple Coneflowers from my favorite garden...Lurie Gardens at the Art Institute of Chicago. I turned the paper upside down and took out my pastels.

Next time you have a mess....make lemonade! 

Monday, October 07, 2019

Can You Paint Oil OVER Pastel?

5x7  oil over pastel.      ©Karen Margulis

Enjoy this post from the archives! I am itching to get into my  oil paints again!

Last week I was working on a marsh commission in oil. I had some nice piles of paint that I didn't want to waste so I looked around the studio for inspiration.  On the table was a small pastel demo of a cloud. I had used this cloud to showcase the durability of Multimedia Artboard. 

I had wet and rewet this cloud painting many times and I had gotten it soaking wet several times!  It was still accepting the layers of pastel and had not warped or buckled.. I love this surface!  But I didn't really love the painting. It had served it purpose as a demo. But it wasn't over yet.  Out came my 'What If' attitude.

What if I used the remaining oil paint to paint over the pastel cloud? 

The original pastel painting
Not only did it work it was a wonderful way to work.  The oil paint went on smoothly.  I could see it wet the pastel and the color of the pastel mixed with the paint on the brush creating new colors. I got to have the experience of laying on thicker paint and seeing the texture of the brush of the things I miss with pastel.  The pastel painting acted like and underpainting giving me something to work with. It was so much better than facing a blank canvas!

The painting dried without a problem and I plan to varnish it as usual. The Multimedia Artboard held up beautifully.  I think that since I had fixed the layers of pastel with water it made the surface more stable. But after the fact I decided to do some research on putting oil paint over soft pastel. Here is what I found on the Pastel Society of America website:

The German expressionist painter Max Beckman sometimes combined soft dry pastel with oil. The pastel would be used as a preliminary sketch on the canvas. Oil paint can be applied over the soft pastel. The solvents in the oil paint will penetrate the soft pastel. Edges of forms sketched in pastel can be left exposed on the finished oil painted canvas. Even large areas of soft pastel can be free of oil paint application. Large areas of pastel would need protection with a light coat of a varnish-based pastel fixative, such as those made by Sennelier and Winsor & Newton. Do not use an acrylic-based fixative, such as Krylon or Lascaux on oil paint. Mask off the surrounding areas of the oil painting when applying the fixative.  

I had fun with this process and will definitely try it again!

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Demo from the Archive: Florida Wetlands

From the Archives:  Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pastel Demo: Florida Wetlands with Reflections

'Another Quiet Morning'              12 x 15 3/4'              pastel             ©Karen Margulis
It's funny how a picture just calls out to be painted. I was in the middle of several projects and going through my reference photos. One just stopped me in my tracks. I had to paint it and it couldn't wait. It has been awhile since I did a step by step photo demo so I kept my camera handy while I painted this one. Enjoy the progress shots and my commentary.

I am using a piece of white Pastelmat 12 x 15 3/4. I begin the painting with a quick drawing laying out my big shapes. This is a scene from a central Floirda wetlands and there are a lot of marsh grasses. My challenge will be to keep them simplified.

Next I block in the big shapes with some dark, light and middle values. I chose colors that were close to the final local colors. Underpainting colors are fun....sometimes I go with value or maybe bright colors or complements....there are so many choices. Today I felt like keeping it close to the local colors. I use a mix of hard and soft pastels. It is more about the right color and value.

I decide to wet the pastel with water to make a soft and dreamy underpainting. Since I am painting a lot of water and reflections, the wet underpainting gives me a head start. I use a soft wide brush. Pastel mat absorbs the water so you don't get the rips that other papers allow but I still like the soft underpainting.

Once the underpainting is dry I block in the darkest areas of the painting. I use several colors all the same value. I am using Terry Ludwig pastels with a few Unison and Nupastels.

Next I move onto filling out the trees. I use several greens to flesh them out and give them form. I  pull the tree colors down into the water. I also pull some lavender over the reflections to start the feeling of mist.

Once all of the trees and grasses are blocked in I paint the sky. I choose a pale yellow to represent the early morning light. I also put the same yellows in the water. At this point I was too involved in the painting to remember to take a photo! But it was just a matter of refining the painting and choosing where I wanted to put the most clarity and focus. I added tree trunks, sky holes and grass blades. The finishing touched were the current lines in the water.

Finished! I always forget how much I enjoy working on Pastelmat. It really allows for a bolder mark-making which I love.  Below is a close up of the grasses and current lines.

If you like this mini demo please share it with your friends! Click on the share buttons below!

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Tips for Simplifying Trees

'Secret Grove'                8x10               pastel              ©Karen Margulis
 It suddenly hit me yesterday when teaching a private pastel class. We often make things more complicated than they have to be. From everything to setting up and starting a painting to the actual painting process is always a challenge to keep things simple.

Take trees for example. I avoided painting trees for years because I believed them to be too hard....too complicated. I didn't know how to simplify them. I didn't know how to simplify anything involved with painting. I wish I had pictures of the huge cart of supplies I would haul to pastel class! Live and learn!

Trees don't have to be complicated. They are just shapes after all. Once I learned how to simplify a tree into a basic shape and then carve and mould it like it was a lump of clay, painting trees became doable. Now I enjoy painting trees. Starting and keeping things simple has been the key.

2.5 x 3.5 color study   pastel

Ideas for Simplifying Trees

  • Look at the overall shape of the tree. Is it oval? Square? Round? Triangular?  Does it have lots of little section of foliage?  Block in this big simple shape.
  • Pay attention to the silhouette of the tree....If it was just a big flat shape what would the outer edges look like? 
  • Make sure the shape you block in for the tree is an interesting shape. You want an interesting positive shape as well as have the shape around the tree (negative space) be interesting.
  • Don't let the symbol your brain has for a tree cause you to make a plain, boring and orderly shape.
  • Observe carefully. Be a good observer of trees. Pay attention to how they grow, what kind of foliage do they have? Where do their branches come from?
  • Practice, Practice and practice some more. Don't avoid what frustrates you. (but don't obsess about it either, balance practice with difficult subjects with subjects you have success with.)

Painting notes:  Today's painting is on Uart 500 with a value underpainting/alcohol wash. I used Terry Ludwig pastels. The texture is the result of workable fixative.

What's Happening on Patreon?
We are focusing on painting trees this month with lessons on Edges!!

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Pastel Demo: A Quick and Easy Start

'Simple Beauty'                 5x7              pastel                  ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase    
I needed to do a quick painting. I was testing a new technique. More on this tomorrow. I am in the middle of packing supplies for two workshops. I didn't really have time for a larger more involved painting. So I turned to one of my favorite ways to start a pastel painting. It is quick and it is easy. Enjoy the demo photos and commentary!

I begin on a piece of toned Uart paper 500 grit. I am working small, 5x7.  I do a quick sketch with a piece of dark blue Nupastel.

Normally I take a few minutes to choose my palette. This time I decided to use a tray of pastels that I had used for a larger painting last week. I had not yet put them away and they looked like they would work for my subject.

I begin by blocking in all of the dark shapes with a dark blue Nupastel #305

Next, I block in all of the light shapes. In this case that would be the sky. I use a pale peach.

Next I block in the area of the most intense color. This would be the bright section f golden marsh grass.

The next step is to fill in the rest of the paper with a medium value color. I chose a burnt orange to give some warmth to my Autumn marsh.

At this point I have blocked in the entire painting with the extremes. I know what will be dark, light , middle value and intense color. I develop the tree first with some cool greens in the shadows and warm greens in the sunlit side.

Next I develop the sky with a few light pastels....I use blues and peaches and creams. It is hard to see in this photo. I use the cream to make a few sky holes in the tree.

I decide to spray the foreground with some workable fixative so I can get a little texture. I want to suggest the scrub grasses and bushes with just a few strokes. Now it is really dark!

In this photo you can see where I am placing some lighter greens and peaches over the darkened foreground. I added some layers to the distant golden grasses including reinforcing the intense gold of the underpainting. I also add light to the tree with some warm yellow greens and oranges.

As usual I forget to take a photo as I am finishing the foreground. It was just a matter of adding a few grasses and some marks to indicate blooming weeds. I thought I was finished so I signed the painting. I put it in a frame to evaluate it and felt that the tree holes were to regular and the foreground needed a few more spices. I put it back on the easel for those final marks and then I was done!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

How the Magic Hour can Help Your Paintings

'Golden Hour Glow'        18x 24        pastel          ©Karen Margulis sold

'Blue Hour Silence'           11x14      pastel           ©Karen Margulis  
You know it when you see it.  It's commonly known as the Magic Hour by photographers but understanding it can help artists create more compelling paintings. Simply put the Magic Hour is the time period around sunrise and sunset when the light takes on qualities that make everything more interesting. Objects glow with color and light and shadows are more interesting.

I like to consider myself as somewhat of a photography buff so I am always aware of the Magic Hour. But I just learned something new that I want to share. There is actually a Golden Hour and and Blue Hour.  The Golden Hour is when the sun is just above the horizon such as just after sunrise and just before sunset. The light is warm and things just glow. The Blue Hour is the time just before sunrise and just after sunset. Both of these times create conditions that are ideal for taking reference photos or getting out to paint.
Photographers often wait to take photos for the Magic Hour and plein air artists often avoid painting during mid day when the light is flat and uninteresting. Whether you paint en plein air or just take photos to work from....waiting for the Magic Hour will give you much more interesting possibilities for paintings. Even a garbage can can be beautiful when glowing from a setting sun!  The problem is the Golden and Blue Hours are not precise and don't always last very long. I have an excellent tool to help!
  • I was so excited to find this tool online. It is a calculator for calculating the Golden and Blue Hour.  Simply put in your location and time of year and the calculator generates the time and duration of sunrise, sunset, Golden Hour and Blue Hour.  Now you can plan your painting or photography outings to coincide with the times of the Magic Hours!  Here is a link to the tool. I put in Moab Utah in August and these were my results.  
I am thrilled to find a calculator for the Magic Hour. Sure I always knew the times before and after sunrise and sunset were the most exciting....but it is good to know just how long these times actually last.  I hope that you will find it helpful. I encourage you to get outside at the Magic Hour and look for the light. I promise it will result in better paintings!