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Sunday, August 19, 2018

A Summer Painting Assignment

'Summer Love'         6x8       pastel        ©Karen Margulis

School is starting for many. The stores are filled with Halloween decorations and fall attire. Where does time go?  But then I realize it is still August! Summer is still with us. In fact we are just out of the so called Dog Days of Summer...those hot and sultry days that leave us feeling lazy.

dog days. the sultry part of the summer, supposed to occur during the period that Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at the same time as the sun: now often reckoned from July 3 to August 11. a period marked by lethargy, inactivity, or indolence.

I love autumn and the changing of the seasons but there is no need to rush it. I am pledging to enjoy these long hot days of August. I want to savor the sights, smells and tastes of summer. A delicious garden tomato or a ripe juicy peach. The smell of freshly mown grass. The buzzing of the bees. The fields overflowing with my favorite wildflowers. All the things that inspire me and make my heart sing.

Then followed that beautiful season... Summer....
Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new created in all the freshness of childhood.
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Join me in savoring the last month of summer. I am giving myself an assignment and I invite you to join me. I am making a list of my favorite summertime memories. I will then choose one each week as inspiration for a painting. I'll begin with my favorite summer motif.....Queen Anne's lace.

Enjoy and paint the lazy days of summer!

Friday, August 17, 2018

A Few Tips for Painting Poppies

'Taos Poppies'           6x6         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $95
I love to paint poppies and have discovered some tips to achieve a more painterly flower. I have blogged about painting poppies before but I thought you might enjoy these tips!

  • I don't draw the flower first. I simply draw a circle shape where I want the flower to go. Then I use the SIDE of my pastel to paint large shapes that make up the petals. If I draw my flowers I tend to want to color them in and they look stiff.
  • I use three or four values of the poppy color to develop the flower. Even if I don't see it in the photo I like to begin with a dark, brick red shape (for red poppies). I add middle values to create the form.
  • I avoid using a pale or very light value red to paint the highlights. I find light pastels with too much white in their makeup lead to washed out flowers rather than vibrant flowers.
  • If I want my poppies to appear sunlit I will use a warm color such as red-orange for the light areas.
  • I consider the background as I develop the painting.I don't wait until the end and throw in a background. I often use a color found in the poppy OR in the case in this painting I added a pop of turquoise in the flower after I put in the background.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Don't Throw Away Those Pastel Bits!

'Island Time'         8x10        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $150

It is an inevitable result of painting. Pastels wear down. They break. We are left with bits and pieces of once favorite colors. My big studio box is filled with these tiny pieces. I can't bear to part with them. But they are really too small to use. Or are they?

Don't throw them out! Bits and Pieces of pastel can be used. We can always crush them and make new pastels. I have not done this but it is on my list of things to try. I use my pastel bits in two ways. I save them for my tiny travel kits.  I also put them in my 'spice jars'.

My collection of pastel spices
Every painting needs some spice. I consider spices the small finishing touches. Those bits of eye candy that help lead the viewer through the painting. Little spots of color that the viewer can savor. Spices can also be small areas of texture from a heavier application of pastel. Little bits and pieces of pastel are the perfect size to make these small spicy marks.

When my pastels get too small to hold comfortably I put them in little containers. I like to use plastic baby food containers. They are small, can stack and allow quick and easy access to the pastels. Any color can be used as spices. It depends on the painting. If you are organized you can keep colors separated. I am not that organized so I tend to have a mix of colors in my spice containers. I choose the spice color by scanning my containers and choosing the color that I think will work.

My color choices are mostly intuitive but if I am not sure of the right spice color I will use a color wheel. See my post on choosing spice colors here.

The photo below shows the painting at the end of the video demo I did for my Patreon page. This is before I added the spices. Can you see what I added?

Before the final spices

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Just Let Yourself Go!

'Lavender Gone Wild'           11x14        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
I was struggling. I had this vision of what my painting should look like and it just wasn't working. I had already done a small study of the lavender fields at dusk and it worked on a smaller scale. But I wanted to try it a bit larger. I took out a piece of white Pastelbord and started with an alcohol wash. (you can see a quick video on my Instagram @karenmargulis)

It was a struggle once I started applying the pastel. Part of the reason was the surface. I don't use Pastelbord very often and it accepts the pastel in a way I am not used to. But part of the reason was also the subject itself.  My concept was interesting with a sunset glow over the dark blue violet lavender.....but my composition wasn't very interesting. Even my non- artist husband noticed that I had created three even boring sections. See the painting below.

I wasn't happy with the painting even though I signed it. 

I wasn't happy with the painting but I had spent all day off and on fussing with it. That is a lot of time  for me. I really didn't want to give up but I was tired of the painting. I decided to just let myself go wild with some texture. What could I lose?

I brushed off some of the pastel and applied some clear gesso to the trees and lavender. Look at how dark it became! That was ok because now I had some good dirt as a base. I needed to let my ideas percolate....and let the gesso dry. Since I had such a frustrating day in the studio I decided to paint a few minis while watching TV in the evening. I redeemed myself with those (I'll share them soon)

The dry gesso over pastel

In the morning I looked at the painting and realized that I could totally change the composition very easily. I didn't need to keep the sunset theme either. Inspired by one of my minis I started over. I blocked in the shapes of the new composition with a piece of Nupastel. It was more interesting and the brighter purples made me happy! The texture also worked to create the suggestion of the lavender and grasses.

In the end I was much happier with the painting. I could have easily stopped yesterday unhappy and frustrated with the painting relegated to the discard pile. But I allowed myself permission to brush it off and start over. I allowed myself to just let go and see where it led me. It was more fun than being frustrated!

The new composition over the old painting

a close up of the lavender texture

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

How to Improve Your Summer Green Paintings

'Sweet Summer Meadows'         10x8        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
Yesterday I went crazy with green. I wanted a very green forest scene. I wanted the viewer to be enveloped in greens. So I did an underpainting with the local color of green. It worked.  But usually I am looking for relief from too much green in a landscape. I am looking for ways to make the green more interesting and easier on the eye.

This painting demonstrates how I used another color UNDER the green to make it feel more natural and interesting. I wanted to infuse my meadow with warmth and sunlight so I chose a warm color for the underpainting. I also used clear gesso to add texture to the meadow.

close up detail of the texture
Here are the pastels that I used for this painting. I blocked in the big shapes of the underpainting with these pastels and created a value map. It was easy to follow my map to build up the layers of the meadow.

A range of values for the underpainting

click to enlarge and see the texture
It is interesting to compare the very green painting with this tempered green landscape! It is nice to know we have options in underpainting.

You can see a detailed step by step photo demo of this painting today on my Patreon page. It is $4 a month to join but now is a good time to check it out. Cancel at anytime! www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Monday, August 13, 2018

When to Use Local Color for an Underpainting

'Forest Reverie'            9x12          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $165
 I rarely use the local color for underpaintings. One of the wonderful things about doing an underpainting or block in for a painting is the chance to infuse the painting with interesting and unexpected color.  I will usually choose limited palette of color for an underpainting. The colors I select are designed to enhance the local colors of the painting. I always think about the mood I am trying to create and choose colors accordingly. They might be complements to the local colors or they might be all warm or all cool or all bold.....but they are rarely the local colors I see in my reference.

 But sometimes I will decide that the local colors will be my best choice.  Today I decided to use the local colors that I want to use in the painting for the underpainting colors. It was a very rich green forest scene.....very very green. In fact that is what excited me the most.....the wonderful array of greens in the forest. I usually seek relief from too much green but not this time.

 To achieve this overwhelming feeling of green I needed to use green in the underpainting.

Derwent Inktense Sticks
I was working on a piece of MingArt sanded paper (a piece I purchased at the last IAPS convention) I decided to do a wet underpainting using Derwent Inktense Sticks. My set had a great selection of greens! These sticks are wonderful for underpaintings. It takes very little pigment to create a rich and vibrant underpainting. They explode with color when wet.

Blocking in my forest with the Inktense sticks
 I used water and a bristle brush to liquify the Inktense. You could also use rubbing alcohol but water was the most handy and I had time to wait for it to dry.

The resulting underpainting after brushing in with water

The colors in the underpainting were perfect for the very green forest. To build up the painting I simply elected soft pastels that matched the underpainting. I had a roadmap of color and value.

Midway through the painting
It was interesting to use the local color of green all throughout the painting process. But it would be interesting to paint this forest again using colors OTHER than the local color for the underpainting. Maybe I will do just that!

Join us over on my Patreon page if you'd like to explore the wonderful world of the underpainting.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Workshop Opening! And a Transformed Demo

'Sunshine Makes Me Happy'          12x16        pastel      ©Karen Margulis
available $195
I'm not sure I remember what the original intent of the demo painting was. It happens like that sometimes. A demo goes through changes as it is led by the questions and discussions of the students. Demos are not always meant to be finished and framable. They are meant to demonstrate the concepts that are being taught. I came home from a workshop in June with a couple of unfinished demos. I decided to work on one of them today.

Have a look at the unfinished demo painting below. The first thing I notice is the big boring empty sky! The horizon was low so usually this is a good opportunity for an interesting sky.

The unfinished demo
 I decided to transform the painting into a field of sunflowers. The original bright yellow green grass reminded me of sunflowers in the distance. I needed to add interest to the sky first. I brushed off some pastel in the spots where I wanted some clouds. This made it easier to add the light values of the puffy white clouds.

Adding clouds to make a more interesting sky
To transform the field I sprayed some workable fixative and refined the trees. Since I was now painting a scene in Provence I transformed the distant trees into the tall thin Cypress trees found in the area. I added a few marks to suggest some farm buildings and then it was time for the sunflowers! I used different types and sizes of marks to indicate the flowers in the distance and the foreground flowers. Can you see what type of marks I made? I wanted just s suggestion of flowers without getting too detailed and bust. So I stopped. It was a fun transformation!

Due to a cancellation I now have an opening in my upcoming plein air workshop in Lexington Kentucky. It is short notice but I'd love for someone to join us! The dates of the workshop are August 23-25 from 9-4. The cost is $300. Send me an email if you are interested! karenmargulis@gmail.com

Friday, August 10, 2018

Behind the Scenes of a Painting: The Freedom to Change

'A Breath of Fresh Air'           11x14           pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $175
 It is never in stone. Just because we start out with one idea doesn't mean we have to stick with it. We might even actually get to the end of a painting and still make a significant change. If it leads to a better painting we have to give ourselves permission to make changes. We have to overcome the fear we sometimes have of brushing out something that is not working.

I experienced this freedom to change today. I had some time in the studio and wanted to paint but I didn't want to start something new. So instead I pulled out a demo I did for my workshop in Vermont this past June. Have a look at it in the photo below. It had some marks from transport. And because it was a demo I was now looking at it with fresh eyes. It had decent enough bones but I thought it needed a change. It really needed some color! It needed some lupines!

The original demo painting before I changed the flowers
That is one of the things I love about painting. I have the freedom to alter reality. I could plant lupines in a meadow that had Queen Annes Lace. We sometimes forget that we have this freedom to make changes! I took out a stiff bristle brush and brushed out the busy flowers. It was looking better already!

I sprayed the foreground with some workable fixative and started adding some blues and pinks for my Lupines. I did have another reference photo of some lupines I saw on a walk during my workshop and I used the photo to refresh my memory. I also refined the tree and added brighter greens to the grasses. It truly was liberating to make an unexpected change but a change that made the painting more interesting.

Simplify by brushing off the busy stuff
closeup of the lupines

Thursday, August 09, 2018

How to Reach your Art Goals with Mini Goals

'Things of the Spirit'          9x12         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $250
 Have you seen it yet? I have an article in the August issue of Pastel Journal! I was so excited to get my copy and I quickly thumbed through it to find my article. I had to see it to believe it! You see it has been one of my mini goals. And I am thrilled to say that it has been achieved.

Mini goals have been behind my growth as an artist. Mini goals have kept me going when I was frustrated and overwhelmed. Mini goals gave me hope and made me see that I was actually making progress.....even when it seemed as though I wasn't.

What is a mini goal? It is just a simple goal that I would set for myself to gauge my progress with the pastel painting learning curve. I started painting almost 13 years ago and it wasn't always easy. But I found if I set a small goal it would spur me on to work harder.

I remember my first goal very clearly. I had been only painting for a few months and I went to the pastel exhibition of the Southeastern Pastel Society. I was blown away by the paintings in the show! I remember standing there and wishing I could paint like that. Right then and there I decided that I would enter the show the following year. I had my work cut out for me! But I worked hard. I went to classes and workshops and I painted every day. Not only did I enter the show, I had a painting accepted! My mini goal program was born!

Every year after that I set another small goal. Some were easier to achieve and some were just long term goals. Many were goals I never really dreamed would I would accomplish like getting signature status in PSA and teaching at the IAPS convention. But I persevered and kept on plugging away and kept reaching the goals I set.

My Pastel Journal article is about using Art Graf pigment blocks
One of my most recent goals was to write an article for the Pastel Journal. Over the years I had been a part of various articles. I even had my coneflower painting on the cover a few years ago! Now that was a thrill! But one of my mini goals was to actually write an article.  When I was asked to share more about using Art Graf I accepted with much pleasure!  Now I am moving on to my next mini goal.

Do You set goals?  Having a goal in mind helped me stay focused on improving. My goals were simple and achievable at first. Meeting a goal was exciting and it encouraged me to keep going. I never set a time limit though and this is key!   Often we are very hard on ourselves. We have such high expectations. We often want overnight results and we are frustrated when improvement doesn't happen fast enough. Having small but achievable goals as well as bigger long term goals will give us hope!

I challenge you to set a small but achievable goal. But don't forget that while the goals are out there to encourage us we must never forget to enjoy the process of learning! When we are enjoying every stage of the journey the time will fly by and the goals will be met!

click on the photo to enlarge

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Are You Open to Beauty? Inspiration of the day

'Mountain Poppies'         8x6       pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $95

It is a common complaint. Finding something to paint is a stumbling block for many. Before I give my two cents on this topic I will share a wonderful quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
"Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not." Ralph Waldo Emerson
 This quote strikes a chord with me as I am always reminding myself and my students that beauty is everywhere. We should be able to find something that touches us and inspires us wherever we look. We have to approach our search for inspiration with the mindset that there is beauty in everything. We only need to be open to it....to really SEE it. It isn't enough to just look around us. We need to feel the beauty and be sensitive to it.

I don't use beautiful and perfect reference photos for my paintings. I use small crummy photos.  This allows me to pull out the beauty that I see inside of my mind and put it into the painting. I have discovered that  bad photos lead to my best paintings. My favorite places to paint are not the most spectacular. They possess a quiet and simple beauty that speaks to me because I am open to them.

The inspiration for today's painting came from a small section of a very busy photo I took in Vermont. The poppies were a small part of a large busy garden and they were past their prime. But they planted the seed of inspiration and my memory of poppies took over. 

close up 
The next time you are searching for painting inspiration remember Emerson's words. Beauty is there. We just have to have it in our hearts so that we can see it and then paint it!

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

How to Use a Chipped Pastel

'Purple Haze'       36x24        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
My favorite purple pastel had a chip. It was just a little nick on one of the edges.  But when I made a broad sweeping mark I ended up with a linear mark in the middle of my swoosh of color. Normally this would be a moment of frustration. There is nothing worse than getting a wobbly uneven mark when you want a nice smooth one. And I normally wouldn't be too happy about a chip in my Terry Ludwig pastel. But this time the mark I made made me stop. Instead of feeling defeated I had an AHA moment!

If one chip made a linear mark what would a few chips do? A few well placed chips could very well make a wonderfully expressive and painterly lavender bush! 

Making a few tiny nicks in my pastel with a palette knife

I quickly found a palette knife and made a few tiny nicks in the edge of the pastel. I made sure they were not spaced evenly and that they were not too deep. I tested the mark on a piece of scrap paper before using the pastel on my painting. It worked just like I thought it would so I used it on my painting. It was a darker purple and I used it at the base of the lighter purple lavender clumps. It worked like a charm. The marks were more interesting than I had made individual linear marks.

I now have a use for a chipped pastel! In fact I will probably chip my pastels more often. And I certainly won't let a rough and uneven pastel get me frustrated again....I will put it to work!
Note that after a few passes the nicks were smoothed out through use on my sanded Uart paper so it isn't a permanent situation!

Look closely to see the market made with the nicked pastel

This was only part of the build up of the lavender in this large painting. I used workable fixative and even lavender essential oil to build up texture in the lavender clumps. I also did use some linear mark making for the final details. And yes you can smell the lavender!

Closeup. Click to enlarge

Trying to get a photo that shows the scale of this large painting!

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Sunday Studio Video Demo: Using a Notan Underpainting

'The Magic Hour Returns'         8x10       pastel      ©Karen Margulis
In case you missed this one....here is a post and video from the archives. We are studying underpainitng on my Patreon page and I will be adding more videos like this one! 

It was Sunday Studio time once again. Time for another Facebook Live broadcast of a daily painting. I had a great time sharing and answering questions for the 100+ viewers who tuned in. For those of you who missed the broadcast it is still available on my YouTube channel here:

Here are a few behind the scenes photos and thoughts of the painting before I started  the demo.

This painting was started in a different manner than last week's forest demo. Instead of a 4 value color underpainting I decided to work on white paper and do a black and white underpainting. I wanted to enhance the contrast of the dark shapes of the trees against the light sky of the sunset.
I began with a black and white 2 value thumbnail (notan) This simplified the busy reference photo.

To create the black underpainting I used Art Graf pigment blocks. It take very little coverage of the dry pigment to make a dark rich underpainting. I wet the pigment with a brush and water. The sanded Pastel Premiere paper worked well with the water wash with no buckling.

The black and white underpainting

The pastels used for the demo: Terry Ludwig pastels with a couple of Diane Townsend Soft form pastels.
I love this particular scene and plan to make it into a series. I will see how many ways I can interpret this marsh and tree scene. I find one of the best ways to paint with more expression is to find a subject that you love and that you are intimately familiar with and paint it over and over. Your voice can't help but emerge!

Thanks for watching and sharing the video! I appreciate you all so much!!

Join us on Patreon www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Saturday, August 04, 2018

My New Favorite Painting Technique

'Deep Purple Haze'           8x10         pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $150
 I get on these kicks sometimes. I try something on a whim and I like the results.....and the process. So I want to do more! I am on a texture kick this week. The one thing that is somewhat difficult to do with pastels is to create raised texture. Think palette knife paintings done with oil and acrylic. I love the look and feel of thick paint. It suits some subjects so well.

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

I wrote about using clear gesso last week. I enjoyed the results so I decided to take another older failed painting and reimagine it with texture. Here is the painting. If you look closely I already trued the clear gesso trick. The painting was just 'meh'. It needed a new life and of course I saw lavender growing in the filed!

The older painting that needed some help

Look at the photo below for a close up look at the texture created by another layer of clear gesso. What the clear gesso does is liquifies the pastel making dark mud. That dark mud gives me a nice rich base of 'dirt' so I can plant my lavender.

In this painting I made linear marks in the gesso with a brush handle while the gesso was wet. It really added to the texture! Be sure to use CLEAR gesso and not regular white gesso. The clear has a bit of grittiness to it that regular gesso does not have.

close up detail of the texture.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Painting Provence part 8....Unexpected Treasures in Goult

'Market Day in Goult'         5x7         pastel       ©Karen Margulis
It was one of those unplanned days that turned into one of the best days of the trip. By the end of the first week of our adventure we were more than ready for a stay at home day. It was perfect because it was market day in our village of Goult. And we could walk to it! We planned to head up to the market at 9:00 am . That was the extent of our plans for the day.

'The Cheese Man'         5x7      pastel     $95
Our home was just down the hill form the village center. We gathered up our market baskets and headed into town.  The first booth we came to was a clothing booth. That was unexpected and very intriguing. The clothes were wonderful....all lightweight cotton and linen in wonderful colors and prints.  Perfect for the hot simmer days we were experiencing. We all spent time trying on clothes in the makeshift fitting room in a van! Yes I did buy a wonderful lavender color linen shirt.

The colors of the market!

Another popular item at the market was table linens. There were piles of colorful tablecloths, napkins and dish towels. I wish I had bought a tablecloth. But it is probably a good thing I didn't . I don't think it would have fit in my extra duffle bag!

The market in Goult was very much a local happening. At least in the early hours it seemed to be a meeting place for the locals and their dogs! I could have pulled up a chair and watched and maybe sketched them all day.....but I had shopping to do!

Meet and greet time!
Even though the market in Goult had wares such as clothing, jewelry, toys and more it also had many purveyors of food and wine! As we wandered around filling our baskets with wares...it hit us....we should be buying some of this glorious food!

So we put our heads together and made plans for an impromptu picnic. One of us went to purchase a rotisserie chicken. These looked amazing.....cooking on a giant rotisserie on a truck. Someone else picked out some special cheeses. Another chose some kind of olive spread. And of course we needed some produce....some delicious tomatoes and the sweetest strawberries ever.  One of us picked up some wine and I head over to the boulangerie to get a baguette (and of course some dessert)

sausages were just some of the wonderful foods available at the market

Here I am with my market basket and my baguette

I loved this poster at one of the shops

We were going to pack our treasures into the car and find a picnic spot.......but when we got back to the house we realized that we had one of the best picnic spots in the area! Our very own pool deck!  We quickly rearranged the furniture and set up our special picnic lunch.

It was the best lunch ever! Eating the wonderful food and drinking wine at noon was decadent. Listening to the music of the cicadas and the bees and laughing with good friends made it even more special. I think we all ended up taking a long nap to top off a perfectly unplanned day!

Treasures from the market

OMG! The strawberries were tiny jewels of sweetness

And of course......dessert is served!