Friday, October 21, 2016

Guess the Mystery Underpainting

'Just in Time for Gold'          9x12         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available  $155
How about a little weekend fun? Today's painting was done on Uart 500 grit sanded pastel paper as a demo for my recent workshop in Pecos New Mexico. I am planning on sharing more about the underpainting but I thought it would be fun if you tried to guess what I did. I'll give you some clues and you can write your guess in the comments. I will answer with details in Monday's post. (I have special visitors this weekend)

  • It is a wet underpainting.
  • I used a brush
  • It is an unusual product
  • It was a lot of fun!
I love playing with different underpainting techniques. I am often asked how I decide what technique to use. I will answer what, why and how for this painting on Monday and will share some other underpainting posts from the archives this weekend while I enjoy my granddaughter!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Do You Have Grass Box?

'Memories of the South'       12x18       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $165
I don't know what I would do without my grass box. I know my marshes and meadow paintings would not be as interesting. I know that it wouldn't be as easy to create painterly grasses. Keeping a grass box is a new habit of mine but I don't know what I was waiting for!

What is a grass box you may be wondering?  It is a small box of pastels that I use exclusively for painting the finishing touches in any marsh or meadow painting. Any landscape that has grassy bits can be a challenge. If you paint too many grass blades or make them too thick and regular you risk creating a fence of grass. A grass fence is a visual barrier. It can prevent the viewer from entering or moving back into a painting. A grass box makes it easy to always paint lyrical grasses.

My collection of grass pastels along with a small banker's clasp used for scratching grass marks in soft pastel passages.
What is in my grass box?

  • Some harder pastels such as Nupastels and Rembrandts. These pastels have more binder than softer pastels so they make a crisper mark.
  • Some harder Russian pastels given to me by a friend. These harder and round sticks make wonderful painterly grasses.
  • A variety of earthy colors for both green and dried grass. I add to this box when I find a grass color that I can't I've without!
  • A few 'spicy' greens...greens that are intense for those special bits of eye candy.
  • A metal Banker's Clasp that can be used to scratch grass marks into a passage of thick pastel.
Having a box of pastels that work well for those finishing marks in a grassy area is a useful tool but it also helps to practice making effective and lyrical grass marks. You may be interested in my blog article on painting grass here:

Painting Notes: This is one of the demo paintings I did for my recent workshop with the Piedmont Pastel Society. It is on Uart pastel paper with an alcohol wash underpainting.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Back From Nature ... A Plein Air Pastel Retreat


I have returned from nature! I am in Santa Fe getting ready to head home to Georgia tomorrow. It was a wonderful week at the monastery in Pecos New Mexico. Internet was spotty so I took a break from the blog to concentrate on the workshop and what a workshop it was!  I had 18 eager and talented artists join me for 4 days of plein air painting surrounded by spectacular scenery.

I was thrilled to have several artists from last years workshop return as well as two artists from my art cruise. It was also fantastic to welcome new friends. We had a great group and their enthusiasm was contagious. In the photo above we are posing after receiving a special treat. Terry Ludwig generously sent a box of pastel hearts with one of our Colorado artists. Everyone was thrilled with them and I know that orders will be placed. Thank you Terry!

The nice thing about having the workshop at the monastery was having all of our needs taken care of. We stayed on the property to paint and ate all of our meals together. We had a big common room available for demos, lessons and sharing. 

We had downtime as well and it was spent walking the grounds or relaxing on the patio just taking in the view. Since there was no tv and limited phone and Internet we had to entertain ourselves with good old fashioned conversation and laughs. Each evening we had an optional get together. One night we had fun toning paper!


I didn't do a good job taking photos of my demo paintings so I will photograph the ones I have when I return home. I am anxious to get back into the studio to paint. I have so many inspiring photos! I'll be back to regular blogging this week! Here is a look at our lodging.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

When Not to Paint and What to do Instead

Sometimes I just have to let go of the urgency to paint. I am always driven and inspired to paint especially when I travel but sometimes I need to make a choice. Do I paint or do I simply explore and gather images? Most of the time when I explore a new place I choose the latter.  If I only have a short time at a place I often channel my urge to create by picking up my camera rather than a pastel.

I challenge myself to search for interesting compositions and light with my camera. I look for compelling shapes, textures and color. I try to take photos that tell a story of the place. Sometimes it is said that one recalls more when it is experienced without a camera but I find it to be just the opposite.

Using my camera allows me to immerse myself in the scene with more sensitivity. Subtle things like light on a dried seed pod might be easily overlooked. But through the lens of my camera it is elevated.


I tend to take two kinds of photos when exploring. One is when I take many photos without regard to composition. These photos are for reference. They remind me of shapes,colors, textures. I don't care if they are 'bad' photos. They serve to remind me of the place.

The second type of photo is when I am thoughtful about composing an interesting photo. I slow down and take my time looking for the right light and composition. Both types of photos will be used for paintings but it is really the act of looking for subject matter that is the key to successful future paintings. Taking photos allows me to see with more sensitivity. I can get more material in a short amount of time.

I hoped you enjoy these photos from my visit to Salida Colorado. The camera I am using is a Canon G7x.


Sunday, October 09, 2016

Inspiration in Colorado


It was an inspiring day!  We began with a morning hike on S Mountain. It was filled with the things I love.....big views and scrubby brush! I took many photos that I know will inspire my work this fall. Next we walked along the river for more great scenery. One of the highlights of the morning were our gallery visits. We were fortunate that Joshua Been was in his gallery and we had a great visit.

Joshua's work is amazing and it was a pleasure to see it in person. It was fun to see how he works. He kindly posed for a photo in front of his easel. Check out the piles of paint! 

Joshua is also a generous teacher and innovator. He has designed plein air set ups that are light weight and compact. If you are in the market for a plein air set up I would recommend taking a closer look. He has also written a book called 'Learn to See, Learn to Paint' which I bought and can't wait to read!  I'll be blogging more about the book and special pen. Visit Joshua's website for more on what he offers.

The day wasn't over though! After lunch we took a drive and I was so inspired that I had to take out my pastels to paint when we got back to the house. I painted the neighbor's aspen tree that was holding on to a few yellow leaves. My fingers were itching to paint something after being filled with beauty!

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Another Option for Toning Sanded Pastel Paper

'Feel This Moment'         18x24             pastel         ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $450
It is time to tone some more paper. I love Uart sanded pastel paper but I prefer a middle value gray-brown paper for my quick landscape studies.  I like the way the color looks when it peeks through my pastel layers. It is not at all distracting so I don't have to do any kind of underpainting. I can just pick up my softest pastels and quickly respond to the scene in front of me. Back in the day my go-to paper for plein air studies was Wallis Belgian Mist. I had to find a replacement when it was no longer available and I have several ways I like to tone my Uart paper. I shared one option in last week's blog post. Here is another option:

My Belgian Mist substitute
One of my students came up with the idea of using her used pastel dust to tone Uart sanded paper. She saves her dust and made a pastel with it. It was a nice warm neutral gray similar to the belgian mist tone. I didn't get a photo of her sample but I do have a jar of collected dust so I will try my own.

In the meantime I decided I would mix some acrylic paint to match belgian mist and use it very thinly to tone some sanded paper. Before I got around to that I happened to be in Home Depot and found a small sample jar of 'oops' paint...samples that were rejected. It was very close to the color I wanted and best of all it was only 50 cents!  I toned a piece of Uart 240 grit....I found it to be the closet mach to the Wallis grittiness.

Result: It was slightly lighter when dry and also a bit warmer than the belgian mist. But I liked it. I put it to the test with a large painting 18x24 (see top)  I loved it!  I didn't do any kind of underpainting or block in for the painting. I just went right in with my soft pastels ( a mix of Terry Ludwig and Diane Townsend)  You can see places where it peeks through and I like the effect. 

UPDATE: Since I originally wrote this post I have discovered another good paint for toning paper. It is Atelier Interactive acrylic paint  in Toning Grey Yellow. Be sure you thin any acrylic paint so that it doesn't fill the tooth of the paper.

Friday, October 07, 2016

How to Add Shimmer to Your Pastel Paintings

'Quietly She Whispers'         6x6         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $95
 I couldn't leave town without trying them.  I finished my errands and packing in the morning so I could have some studio time. Yesterday I found a set of pearlescent watercolors at Hobby Lobby and had to get them. They were only $5 so I didn't have high expectations. You usually get what you pay for but you never know.....they might have been a great surprise.

Well you do get what you pay for and the watercolors were not exactly amazing. But they were kind of interesting. They were certainly beautiful in the pans but on paper they were very weak. I persevered and in the end the color dried light but with a subtle shimmer. Not bad actually.

cheap pearlescent watercolors

underpainting with the pearlescent watercolors
If you click on the underpainting photo to enlarge it you can see the shimmer. I decided to paint a soft moody and foggy landscape. I enjoyed the shimmer and it got me wanting more. I have several sets of pearlescent pastels so I grabbed my set of Diane Townsend metallic pastels. Now we were talking!

These pastels are supper soft and will cripple if you press to hard but they go on like butter and the shimmer is beautiful. It sadly isn't well captured in a photo. The shimmer is much more subtle in person.
Diane Townsend metallic pastels
If you want to add some shimmer to your pastels try a pearlescent underpainting and metallic pastels. These are other ways and I will share them in future blog posts.

And now for some shameless self promotion......Next week it will be time to register online for the 2017 IAPS convention. I am on the faculty and will be presenting a two hour demo on the Landscape in Bloom and a seminar on blogging for artists. Even if you are not interested in flowers I will be sharing and demonstrating many of my top LANDSCAPE tips and techniques. I am planning a fun and information packed demo!  Study the preview on the IAPS website so you will be ready to register! click here for the preview.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

A Must Have Treasure for Watercolor Underpaintings on the Go

'My Florida'          8x10         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $150
 I had to do it. I only have a day to unpack from Charlotte and repack for my workshop in New Mexico but I had to make  a trip to Hobby Lobby in search of a treasure. I am so excited that I found it (two actually and I bought them both)  If you follow my blog then you may know that I love using Cretacolor Aqua Briques for watercolor underpaintings. They are so rich and vibrant! Read more about them here.

I brought along my set of aqua bricks to my Underpainting workshop for the Piedmont Pastel Society. It is a bit of a big tin but worth it for the results so I don't usually mind making room for them. But imagine my surprise and delight when one of the artists in the class showed me her little Aqua Briques!  That's right. She found a small travel size set of Cretacolor Aqua Briques. The tin measures just 4x5 inches. I knew I just had to find a set. She had purchased hers at Hobby Lobby so I made the trek there today and found them! I did a happy dance!
Of course I had to try them out on a painting and now I am very behind in my packing!

I also found some other cool art stuff at Hobby Lobby but it will all have to wait until I get back from New Mexico!

Cretacolor Aqua Briques.....minis! Click here to see them at Blicks

The watercolor underpainting on white Pastel Premier paper

Art Haul from Hobby Lobby. Fun Stuff!

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Workshop Report Day Two

It was another busy day. We started the morning with more Underpainting fun. I began with s demo of an alcohol wash for a marsh scene. I love painting marshes for a demo because they provide material for much good landscape information. I try to fit in as much information as I possibly can!

After lunch we switched gears and tried extreme Underpainting which really isn't that extreme....just a simple way to start a painting. 
This evening was the reception for the Piedmont Pastel Society's Calendar show which I had the honor of judging. That was hard! There were so many great paintings. This is a great pastel Society and I love sharing with them. Now off to bed because tomorrow is another full day!


Monday, October 03, 2016

Underpainting Workshop Report day one


I love teaching! There is nothing better than sharing my passion for pastels with other like minded artists. I am here in Charlotte North Carolina teaching a workshop for the Piedmont Pastel Society. The theme for the workshop is The Mystery and Magic of the Underpainting.... one of my favorite topics. There is so much to share about underpaintings! 

We began with the most simple Underpainting I like to do ...notan block in with black. I used black Art Graf for my demo.


After a wonderful lunch we kicked it up a notch and did four value underpaintings. 
I have a great group of artists who are eager to learn and who are doing great work! I am looking forward to day two!

Note: I am posting from my iPhone using the Blog-go app which I haven't used in awhile so I have no idea how this post will appear. I was enjoying the Blogger app which is no longer available and doesn't work now that I updated my phone!

Saturday, October 01, 2016

A Great Idea For Daily Painting Practice

'Daisy Dance'         6x6       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $75
 Why paint just one when you can paint two? You already have the painting time set aside. You have your pastels out and your paper ready to go. What is stopping you from putting up two pieces of paper? I don't know why I don't do this more often!  It is a great way to learn by creating a variation on a theme.

I had a request for a daisy painting. I wanted to do a watercolor underpainting but the painting was only going to be 6x6. Did I really want to take out the watercolors and make a mess for one small painting? I was feeling lazy. Then it hit me.....why not paint two daisies paintings!  That would make taking out the watercolors worthwhile.

'Daisy Dance II'         6x6       pastel        sold

I had a great time with the daisies. Painting two at the same time allowed me to use the same pastel palette. I worked on them both at the same time and pretended that they were one big field of daisies. I suppose I could have painted one large painting and cut it in half but it would not have been the same. Painting two separate paintings allowed me to play with marks and composition to give each one variety. It was a fun learning experience and now I have two paintings for my effort!

The watercolor underpaintings on Uart pastel paper

The initial pastel layers

Starting to develop the flowers
I will be teaching a workshop for the Piedmont Pastel Society this week. I will do my best to post an update during the workshop. Then I head to  New Mexico for my next workshop!

Friday, September 30, 2016

One Option for Toning Sanded Pastel Paper

'Autumn in the Park'          5x7      pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $75

Sometimes I just don't want to think. I don't want to think about underpainting colors or the best way to start a painting. Sometimes I just want to paint underpainting. No thinking.  I find that a middle value paper makes the best choice for these times. A nice warm toned paper allows me to paint directly without worrying about covering up a light or white paper.

I find that the light bits peeking through my layers can be distracting and a mid value toned paper helps me avoid the light bits!  If bits and pieces of the middle value tone peek through it is more pleasing. In fact it can unify and harmonize the painting.

Of course we can buy colored pastel paper and I do. But sometimes I want to use my favorite paper Uart, but I want it to be a middle value. Now I can!  

Art Graf pigment square....unusual and amazing!

Option One: Art Graf Pigment Squares
I was introduced to this new product at the last IAPS convention. My friend found them at the trade show and insisted that I have a look. I am glad I did and I am glad I bought the set.  These squares of rich water-soluble pigment create a most wonderful toned paper. And a little bit goes a long way!

They are thin square shapes like tailor's chalk only they are not chalk. They are not pastel either. In fact they feel a bit waxy. But they work like a dream to tone paper. Read more about them here:

It takes very little pigment to create a rich tone.  I tested all 6 colors on Uart sanded paper. I used the side of the Art-Graf to color the paper....lightly!  A brush and some water is needed to liquify and spread the pigment. It took some practice to figure out the right amount of water. More water equals a lighter tone. I got some drips and bubbles on some of mine because I was impatient. I liked the effect though!

I even mixed more than one bock on the same paper to make a custom color.  It was great fun and I loved the results.

 How does pastel react to the toned paper? I am happy to say that it was a great marriage. The pastel responded perfectly. The painting at the top of the post is on the sepia toned paper.  The pigment of the Art Graf did not fill the tooth of the paper. I am thrilled!  I am looking forward to using them to tone paper for my upcoming plein air workshops!

Today's painting was done on a tined piece of art paper
Tomorrow I will share another option for toning sanded pastel paper.