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Monday, December 11, 2017

Inspired to Size Up...Thoughts and Ramblings

'Winter Magic 3'         16x20         pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $275
When I painted the mini study I knew I wanted to go larger. I enjoyed the shapes and colors in the little study. It happens every so often that I am painting the minis for enjoyment and one just begs to be painted larger. I don't always act on my inspiration. I am usually too busy or caught up in another project. So I set this mini aside thinking I'd get to it someday.

That someday was today! The mini sold and I had to ship it to it's new home. It was now or never! So I took out an 8x10 piece of Yi Cai paper. I knew that I had the better chance of getting the same feeling by using the same paper/ color as the study. I already had my winter pastel palette out so I was ready to go.

Look below at the study and my 8x10 version. I had to remind myself that one of the things I liked about the study was the looseness and freshness of my marks. It was harder to replicate in a larger size because I had more ground to cover. I had to make myself stop because I knew I was going too far. Now that I see them both on my computer monitor I can see that I used more of the brighter orange in the larger pieces. I don't dislike it but it doesn't have the impact of the smaller painting where the orange and blue are used in just a small amount. If I were to do another version I would keep this in mind.

mini study        2..3 x 3.5     sold

'Winter Magic 2'     8x10       pastel      available $145

Then I decided I wanted to go even larger. I decided to use a piece of brown Canson unsanded paper because I didn't have a large enough piece of the Yi Cai paper. Paper does matter! In this case the unsanded paper didn't give me the same effect as the Yi Cai paper. It's not bad....just different. I tried to keep my marks fresh but again found myself getting caught up in too much detail.  made myself stop. I had said everything I wanted to say and I was starting to ramble!

I am not finished with this image. It really is speaking to me so I think I will explore it some more. I have some ideas for variations on this theme and I will share them as they develop.  I am sharing my thoughts and ramblings today so that you can see that part of my studio time is play time....it is 'what if' time where I experiment and evaluate and try to learn and grow.

Do you have an image that begs to be explored further? Why not make it a project!

sizing up to 16x20  on Canson Mi-Teintes

the aftermath

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Three Steps to Finishing a Painting

'Winter's Palette'          11x14       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $175
It happens for every painting. I get to a point where I don't know what else to do. This is the time to stop! It doesn't mean you are finished but it does mean it is time to take a break and come back to the painting with fresh eyes.

When I am painting for a demo or for a video I am multi- tasking. I am painting and at the same time trying to explain what is going on inside my head. I get to the point where I need to step away and this is when the camera usually has to stop rolling. This is when I can slow down and really think about the steps I need to take to finish the painting.

I just posted the video demo for this painting on my Patreon page. The video stopped with the painting in the photo below. After we stopped filming and I took a break, I came back to the painting and refined three areas. Read on to see what I did to finish the painting.

The painting before the final marks

  •  Refine the Center of Interest or Most Important Area: I decided that the darker trees on the left were my focal area. I needed to refine this area while letting the other areas of the painting to have less information. I added more negative spaces in the tree trunks and more sky holes.
  • Create the Lead In to the painting and most important area. I needed to have a pathway for the viewer's eye to travel to my focal area. I enhanced the patterns of light and shadow on the snow and I added some detail to a few of the golden shrubs.
  • Add the Spices. I wanted to give the viewer a little treat when they arrived at the focal trees...a little eye candy! I chose red violet to paint some little accent marks on the tree trunks. 

See the 20 minute video demo on my Patreon page. $4 monthly subscription. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

I did a quick color study to test my chosen palette

My reference photo Crested Butte, Colorado

Friday, December 08, 2017

Taking Advantage of Rare Georgia Snow

'Shimmering Noon of Winter'          8x10        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $145
 In the words of the weatherman "This storm has over performed expectations". It wasn't supposed to snow as much as it did. It's been snowing all day and is scheduled to keep on snowing through the night. I feel like maybe I channeled this snow. I've been painting snow all week long. So I am thrilled to have a chance to get out and paint it (OK I took pictures and came back into my warm and cozy studio!)

After a walk with my iPhone camera I came inside to see what inspired me. It was the grouping of pine trees in my neighbor's back yard that grabbed my attention. I took out a piece of Yi Cai sanded paper because I have some left in my stash and I have been wanting to use it.

I thoroughly enjoyed painting while listening to the radio reports of the Atlanta snow. Since it was still snowing I decided to add some falling snow to my painting.  I will be sharing tips for painting falling snow in some upcoming posts here and on my patreon page.

That was a fun day! I can't wait to get outside tomorrow for some reference photos.

close up detail

The neighbor's yard. I liked the trees.

Glad I found my snow boots!

Thursday, December 07, 2017

A Tip for Naming a Painting

'This Frosty Morn'            9x12         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $155
Being a daily painter has it's challenges. Some of the challenge include finding the time to paint.  and finding daily inspiration and motivation.  Once over these hurdles the biggest challenge of all comes in to play.....Naming the paintings!

I've done experiments on painting names. I have found there to be a definite increase in interest in paintings with unusual or interesting titles vs. paintings with generic titles. So it pays to spend time giving our paintings good names. But it can be hard to come up with appropriately interesting names. I have a tip that has opened up a world of painting names.


Lately I have been making a list of possible painting names based on poems. As I need to name the painting I just consult my list until I find a good match to the painting. Today's painting stumped me. Should I call it 'Snowy Day' or maybe 'Winter Day'?  I could only think or boring generic titles. I needed to read some winter poetry for inspiration! Since I usually paint in series it is easy to find poems that fit my series.

  •  I just do a google search for poems that fit my theme such as 'Winter Poetry' 
  • I spend time reading through some poems and write down words or phrases that speak to me.
  • I keep this list on my desk in the studio and consult it when it is time to give a painting a name.
  • Be sure to cross off the the title as you use them!
Painting notes: 9x12 on gray Canson Touch paper with Terry Ludwig and Diane Townsend pastels.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A Clever Idea for Displaying Small Paintings and Business Cards

'The Park in Winter'         2.5 x 3.5          pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $25
I found it by accident. I was rummaging around in my storage area when I spotted the sad little tabletop tree. It was dusty and forlorn but I brought it in anyway. It sat on the floor of my studio for a few days when suddenly I had an idea. Why not decorate the tree with my mini pastel paintings! I had a small string of battery operated lights on a wire. It had some tiny clothespins and would be perfect to use on the tree. 

I had some of my mini paintings already packaged in clear bags so it was easy to clip them to the wire. I loved the results. Then I thought.....why not clip my business cards on the tree. I use business cards by Moo.com and have my paintings printed on the front.  Both of these ideas would be perfect for an open house of studio tour or even gallery display. It could be adapted for year round use as well. Creative possibilities abound!

A fun display with some battery operated lights and mini clothespins

'Winter Hush'       2.5 x 3.5     pastel       $25

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Exciting Announcement! On the Road with Karen

'Holiday Road'          6x8         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $95
I'm taking the show on the road! Michael and I are the proud new owners of a cute little pop up camper we are calling Bertie the Art Spirit. Bertie is in Florida awaiting pick up in January. She needs a little TLC and updating and then she will be ready for us to hit the road by Spring.

Introducing Bertie The Art Spirit!

We love to travel and explore. I love to paint and share my love of pastels with other artists. Bertie will allow us to combine these passions. We want to take Bertie on the road to camp and discover places where I can meet and share with other artists. I would love to plan pastel workshops or even demos along our route. 
  • It could be a workshop or demo for an art group or an informal workshop for a group of artist friends. 
  • It could be a multi day workshop or a one day intensive. 
  • Your choice of Plein air or studio or combination workshops.
  • I am flexible. All I need is a room for a workshop and a group of enthusiastic artists! 
  • If you are my contact person you'll receive a 50% discount on the workshop fee. If you host me in your home or studio your workshop is free.
We are in the beginning stages of planning our trips so if you have any ideas send me an email. karenmargulis@gmail.com  I will send you more details and we can start the ball rolling! We have February, April, August, September and November 2018 open for adventure!

On Patreon today The step by step demo for yesterday's winter landscape painting available for all

Check out the step by step demo today on Patreon

Monday, December 04, 2017

How to Simplify Winter Trees

'Winter Mosaic'          9x12         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $155
It wasn't the best subject to paint for a demo. But in the end it held an important lesson about choosing reference photos and making them work.

Photos are best used for inspiration. But you need to know what the inspiration is!

I was drawn to the photo that inspired today's painting. There was something about it that was exciting. It certainly wasn't the multitude of tangled branches and trees. I was so captivated by the wonderful contrast of the yellow light at the horizon agendas the darks of the trees. In fact I didn't even notice how busy and complicated the photo looked until my friends pointed it out. "I would have never chose that photo! " they told me.

I didn't notice the challenging aspects of the photo because I was so focused on the light at the horizon. That was a good thing though because I had a concept for the painting. I wanted to portray this light and the drama of the touch of warm light against the dark and cold. Knowing what I wanted to say allowed me to decide how I would say it.

my reference photo
I took a few minutes to think about how I would go about getting my message across. I decided I needed to simplify the trees and branches and even the snow on the ground. I would go crazy trying to put in all of those branches and they weren't really necessary.This would allow me to focus on depicting the light.

How to simplify?  I blocked in the big tree shape with a piece of charcoal. This gave me a nice two value underpainting....dark and light. I added some darker value neutrals to the tree mass before breaking up the big shape with the sky color. It was a slower than usual process as I used negative painting to carve the branches into the tree. I had more control this way and didn't get a tangle of  branches that looked stiff and unnatural.

For the distant bare trees I didn't paint individual branches. Instead I used a very light touch and added a middle value shape. This light touch allows the sky color to peek through giving the illusion of bare trees.

Starting with big shapes of light and dark and gradually carving into the shapes was a great way to depict winter trees. It helped me keep them simple and I didn't go crazy trying to copy all of the branches in a way to busy photo. The fun part was capturing the subtle yellow glow that drew me to the photo in the first place.

You can see the development of this painting this week on my Patreon page!

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Best Heilman Pastel Box Ever and New Video!

'City Kids'            8x10        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I finally had time to make a new Sunday Studio video! For this video I paint a fun winter cityscape with children sledding. I share some tips for painting snow and suggesting detail in a cityscape. I also share information about a great new pastel box by Heilman Designs. I hope you enjoy the video and be sure to scroll down form more information on the new box!

Link to the video demo on YouTube https://youtu.be/r5wpJ1-Bb2g

My working board for the painting
I really do believe it. If you have all of your pastels organized by color and value in one place you will be able to paint much more efficiently allowing more time to be expressive and less time hunting for the right pastel. I LOVE Heilman boxes. They are durable and beautifully made boxes. They protect my pastels while keeping them organized. I have had my backpack box for 12 years and it has been one of the best art investments I have made.

I have added to my box collection with the two sketchbox sized boxes. The double sketchbox has been my go to plein air box and the single sketchbox is perfect for travel. I thought it could't get any better but I was wrong!  There is a new box in town and it is the PERFECT size.  Introducing the Mini Pack. It is sized in between the backpack and double sketchbox in size and I am in love with it! Read on for details. 

NOTE: I have not yet loaded my new box with pastels so I will document this process and share it here soon!

My Heilman Boxes: Backpack, double sketchbox, single sketchbox and the Mini Pack

A closer look at the Mini Pack

Here is some information about the Mini Pack box from the Heilman website. www.heilmandesigns.com

Mini Pack Pastel Box

The Heilman Minipack is a compromise between the Sketch box double and the Backpack.  It is about 3 lbs. empty and hold about 135 full sticks.  It has three divided areas on each side.  It is drilled for the Heilman easel and fitted for mounting standard tripod coupler.  It is deep enough to carry Pan Pastels.  Ready for any venue, mountain trial, city sidewalk, populated workshop where space and weight limitations need a light box capable of a good working palette of colors. This box is a workhorse of modest dimensions, fitting easily into tote bag, carry-on or backpack.  Sets up with a minimum footprint and tucks nicely into small painting situations.

Size closed “9 3/8 “ x 11 ¼”
Size open 18 ¾’ x 11 ¼”
Depth 1.125”
Weight  Empty 3 lbs.
Weight  Full 5.5 lbs.
Capacity 135   ½” x 2 ½” pastels

Saturday, December 02, 2017

How Long Should You Let a Painting Sit?

'Through the Woods'          12x18           pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $195
You know what they say about fresh eyes. If you are struggling with a painting or not sure you are finished, set it aside and come back to it later with fresh eyes. But how long is long enough? Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes away from the easel....stepping back, getting a snack and coming back with more clarity. Sometimes the answers elude us. It takes more time and growth as an artist for us to see what will be obvious at some point. The more we study and paint the easier it will be to see the obvious.

It is hard to grasp the idea that someday we will know what to do to resolve a stubborn painting. It seems so out of reach. But it will happen with perseverance. So there really is no rule or guideline on how long to leave a painting alone. It depends on the artist. 

Sometimes a painting will surprise you. It will show you that you really have grown! It happened to me today! Have a look at the painting in the photo below. It was painted last year. I liked it. I thought I had done a good job. But when I pulled it out of my winter painting pile today I saw some things that I could have done better.  I put the painting on my easel and made a few subtle adjustments. Look carefully at the painting below and then read my comments to discover my 'fixes'.

The original painting before the subtle adjustments
  • The creek was going uphill especially in the background. It wasn't sitting level with the ground. It was a slight incline and one that I didn't notice last year but it was a bit unsettling. I used some dull snow color to carve into this distant creek to level it. 
  • The creek was leading the eye but was it where I wanted the eye to go? The strong dark creek in the distance was leading the eye directly to the orange bushes. That part was OK but then where would the eye go? I didn't plan for that part. I needed to pull the eye back over to the right side of the painting. So I dulled and softened the end of the creek and I added a tiny subtle line of blue leading back to the trees on the right. I hope to suggest the water sneaking back over to the right.
  • Now the right side of the painting was too fuzzy! The light trunks of the trees needed to have a bit more clarity. It was a fine line. I didn't want them to shout for attention but I did want there to be a little more to see. I refined a few of the trunks and added some fine branches with a pink Nupastel.
  • The snow wasn't as crisp as it should be. The snow in the foreground needed to be a bit more crisp and bright in a few places. I wanted to have some contrast between the softness of the snow with a few spots of crisp snow. I added some heavy marks of a brighter light pastel creating a pathway of subtle contrast. 

Close up of the areas I adjusted

Friday, December 01, 2017

My Favorite Tip for Painting Snow in Pastel

'Winter Song'    11x14         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $165
 It's December and I am ready to paint one of my favorite subjects.....The Winter Landscape. I love painting snow and bare trees and the muted subtle colors of the winter landscape. Every year I get recharged and energized by the winter landscape and can't wait to get into the studio and pull out my winter photos. I do another important task before I start a new winter series......

I make up a SNOW TRAY! The snow tray makes painting snow more efficient and successful.

What is a snow tray?  It is simply one of my butcher trays that I fill with all of the colors I think I might need to paint the actual snow and the shadows on the snow. I don't pull colors for trees or sky or water....only the SNOW colors. And it is important to note that I try to avoid using pure white. I prefer using very pale/light values of color. Look at the photo below and see what colors you can identify.

There are reasons behind all of these color selections for both the shadows and the snow colors. In the  month of December I will  share more about painting the winter landscape both here on this blog and with expanded information with even more tips, videos and information on my Patreon page.

Here are some of the topics we will be covering: Aerial perspective in snow, shadow color in snow, bare trees, painting falling snow, painting white without white, using pure white to create colorful lights, the power of neutrals in the winter landscape, painting snowmen, figures in the winter landscape and more!

close up of my little cardinal
 Painting notes: 11x14 on mounted Wallis (old piece) with Terry Ludwig and Diane Townsend pastels.

Consider trying Patreon for the month of December. It is $4 for the month. If you find that it isn't for you it is very easy to cancel your subscription before the end of the month. We are building a great community and would love for you to join us! www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Don't Just Use One Dark Pastel!

'Late Summer Marsh II'         8x10        pastel      ©Karen Margulis      sold
 It's all about the layering. That is my favorite part of painting with pastels. It is so easy to layer colors to create rich and interesting passages. There is no smudging of wet paint and you don't have to wait for paint to dry.  As long as you use a light enough touch and paper with some tooth you can easily layer many layers of pastel.

I never use just one pastel stick to paint anything. I alway see how I can get more interest and complexity through layering multiple pastel sticks. The trick is using a light touch but also using pastel colors that are very close in value in each section.

My selected pastels for today's painting

In the photo below you can see how I developed the dark areas of the trees shapes in my painting. I could have easily used a dark green pastel to paint the shadowed areas of the trees but that would be boring. Instead I selected several dark colors that are all very close in value. I am using two dark purples, a dark blue and two dark greens. You can see that they all optically blend together to make a more interesting dark.

A nice selection of rich darks
You can use this same idea to build up the layers in all areas of your painting. I do the same thing when painting the sky for example. Take full advantage of this wonderful quality of the pastel medium!

What's on Patreon today? If you liked this tip you can see the full step by step photo demo of this painting on my patreon page. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

New Video: Hack for Attaching Paper to a Support

'Late Summer Meadow'       5x7       pastel       ©Karen Margulis       sold

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. And sometimes a video is worth millions! Last month I made a video showcasing my favorite hack for attaching pastel paper to a support board. I have blogged about it before but a video shows it better than a blog post can. I made the video for my patrons on my Patreon page. It is too good of a tip not to share with everyone though so I made the video public on my Youtube channel. You can see it here:

Look carefully for my tape hack!

I've got exciting news to share regarding future workshop opportunities. We will be hitting the road soon and hope to meet you there. More details to come!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Must Have Book for Your Art Library....Holiday Wish List #2

'Misty Morning'           16x20         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $250
"Pretend you are dancing or singing a picture. A worker or painter should enjoy his work,else the observer will not enjoy it. It is not good to wear lace that was a drudgery to someone to make. The lace, as well as the picture, should be made in joy."  Robert Henri
Robert Henri's The Art Spirit is a book that every artist and art lover should have on the shelf. It is a book filled with the wisdom and advice of Henri who was a revered teacher and artist. The book is a collection of his teachings, notes and critiques. 

Read more about Robert Henri here http://roberthenrimuseum.org/

Not only does the book give Henri's technical advice to painters, it is full of inspiring words of wisdom about life and art. It is the kind of book that can be picked up and opened to any page. Every page has a pearl of wisdom and gives food for thought. It is a book that can be read over and over. I keep my copy on my night stand and pick it up whenever I need a bit of inspiration. The quote about singing a picture is typical of the little gems on every page of the book.
Here is the link on Amazon. Add it to your wish list if you don't already own it. Take it out and reread it if you have it on your shelf! 

Starting in December on Patreon....Art Book of the month Club! We will be reading Art & Fear next month. Join us to read, get inspired and share with your fellow passionate artists! www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Painting notes: Today's painting is a finished demo from my Michigan workshop. It is 16x20 on Uart 400 with a variety of soft and hard pastels, mostly Terry Ludwigs. 

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Best Set of Terry Ludwig Pastels ...Holiday Gift List #1

'When in Doubt'              9x12         pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $155

 You know you want them and you know you need them. Yes you do NEED them. Good pastels make a big difference and Terry Ludwig pastels are some of the very finest pastels made. They are my personal favorite. And if you love them as much as I do or are ready to give them a try.... NOW is the time while they are on sale. All sets are now 20% off until December 31st. Visit the Terry Ludwig website to see all of the sets as well as the bonus goodies available if you make a purchase.

Now for the big question.... what is the best set to choose? I'm tempted to say the answer is ANY set is the best set especially if you don't have any at all. But that isn't what you want to hear! I get it. Pastels are expensive and you want to be sure you get the set that is best for your needs. Unfortunately the only set that will meet all of your needs is the FULL set. And because that is out of reach for many artists we have to choose a set to start with. And that is the answer. One set is going to be the start of your collection. As you grow as an artist you will want and need more pastels. There really isn't one 60 piece set that will be enough forever but there are some great choices to get you started. Here are some ideas....
My Favorite Well loved Terry Ludwig set....the Richard McKinley Landscape set

  • If you don't have any good soft pastels then you really need the basics. Maggie Price Basic Value 60 piece set is a great starter set. It has a good range of colors and values and will form a good core set of pastels.
  • If you paint landscapes and you have some pastels already then a 60 piece landscape set is a great choice. There is a plein air landscape set, a Marsha Savage landscape set and a Richard McKinley landscape set and an arid landscape set. I love them all so it is hard for me to recommend one over the other. My advice is to visit the website and look carefully at the sets. Which set of colors are you drawn to?  Which set has colors you like to use? What type of landscapes do you tend to paint?  Generally speaking the Arid landscape is great for the desert southwest or any arid country. The Southeast set is great for the green and humid southeast. The plein air set is a great general landscape and the Richard McKinley set is great if you are lacking in atmospheric neutrals. (I used the Richard McKinley set for today's painting. I find I can paint just about any landscape with this set)
  • If you have a good start with pastels but feel like you are lacking greens....start adding to your green collection with any of the green 30 piece sets. You will have to evaluate your own pastels to see what you are lacking but I find that the neutral greens are always needed and lacking.
  • If your budget won't accommodate a larger set consider starting with one of the 14 piece sets. Best Loved Basics are great and who doesn't need more violets? The Most Requested Violet set is a must! When in Doubt.....use purple!
What is your favorite Terry Ludwig set and why? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Today's painting started as an unfinished demo on Canson paper
Today on Patreon: I show you a quick video tip on how to paint tree branches that look subtle and painterly. Check out Patreon here www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Sunday, November 26, 2017

A Tip For Choosing Color and a Cyber Monday Treat

'Garden Delight'         16x19       pastel     ©Karen Margulis
available $225
Before I start a painting I always like to select my pastels. I want to have a limited palette. But how does one decide what pastels to use? I like to see how my color choices will work. It is better to see this BEFORE starting the painting rather than testing and potentially overworking the painting. The more you test and try colors on the painting the more you risk getting muddy and dull results.

A sticky note pad for taking color notes

I like to do small color studies before I start a larger painting but sometimes I am anxious to get started and don't take the time to do a mini painting. I have a solution.....I make color notes. I make a mark with the colors I think I want to use. This way I can see how my color choices work together. It saves a lot of frustration...and paper.

IMPORTANT: Color notes need to be done on the same color paper as you will be using. For example making color notes on white paper when you will be painting on black will give you conflicting information. For today's painting I was using a middle value tan paper so my color notes need to be done on the same color paper.

TIP: Sticky notes make a great surface for color notes. I was excited to find a pad of tan sticky notes the same color as the tan that I used to tone Uart paper. It was the perfect size and color for my color notes. The bonus was that I could stick the note next to my painting for reference. I got my sticky note pad at the Dollar Tree.

My Thankful Sale is still on until Tuesday.  Have a look at the paintings....I just added more!