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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Do You Have a 'What If' Attitude?

'Happy Birthday'                 8x10                pastel               ©Karen Margulis
available $150

 This summer is the summer of 'What If'.  I have always approached painting with a willingness to try new things. But it seems I am asking the 'what if' questions more than ever. And it is very liberating and a lot of fun. Who know where my new discoveries will take my work. As my friends like to say it is all about the journey.

I am planning to encourage this 'What If Attitude' in my students this fall. I want us all to approach our paintings without fear and without hesitation. I want us to be able to feel free to ask ourselves questions as we paint and try different act on the ideas we come up with without being afraid that we aren't 'doing it right' or that people won't like what we are doing.

A 'What If' attitude is when you ask yourself the question 'what if' or 'what would happen if'. For example I am often asked by students about the colors they should use for an underpainting. I tell them there is no magic formula and that we must try out many variations before our choices become intuitive. So asking yourself "What if I used complementary colors' or "what would happen if I used cool colors in my underpainting?" are the kinds of questions that help you discover your own solutions.

Take this piece of cake for example.

 This cake painting started out as yellow flowers. I didn't like it so I tried all kinds of things to make it better. I spritzed it with water, I added more pastel, I washed it off, I added Golden Acrylic ground for texture. But it still was awful. I didn't give up though and asked myself 'what if I turned the flowers into a piece of cake?' So I wet it all down again and started over. I liked the cake and I like the residual texture from the old painting.
But it was still lacking something. So I asked myself "what if I used some Golden's coarse molding paste and applied it to the cake like icing?" And the best thing happened. The paste picked up the color of the pastel and I was able to move it around and paint with it. It dried the color of the pastel and I was able to scumble fresh pastel over the dried paste. 

The What if attitude led to a wonderful discovery for me. And oh was it ever fun!

And a note about materials: all of this abuse wouldn't have been possible without using a Pastel Panel by Multimedia Artboard. I absolutely LOVE this surface!

Monday, July 15, 2019

New Video Demo with Tips for Painting Larger Pastels

'Summer Under the Palms'               18x24                 pastel                ©Karen Margulis
available $250

I have been in the mood to paint large. So yesterday I had some time to paint and selected a photo from my recent vacation to Florida. I wanted to paint an impression of palm trees. Painting them larger gave me the freedom to be expressive with my mark making. It truly was liberating and fun!
I made a video of the painting process and also shared three tips for painting larger pastel paintings. 

Click on the link below to watch the video!

The pastels I used for the Floral Landscape set of Terry Ludwig pastels and some hard pastels by Charvin

I buy Uart paper by the full sheet and occasionally by the roll

Sunday, July 14, 2019

What Color is a Good Underpainting Color for Green?

'Palm Tree Impressions'           8x10              pastel                 ©Karen Margulis
available $165
 I had this vision that I wanted to paint. It was a row of palm trees that I saw on my recent trip to Florida. I didn't want them to look detailed. I wanted a fun impression. But it was a very green scene. It needed some relief form the green or it would be a boring painting. What color would work for the underpainting?

I know that the secret to interesting greens is to use a variation of red and some violet. But what if I used red violet? How would that work? The only way to find out was to give it a try. Used some water soluble hard pastels by Charvin. I had received this set of pastels as a prize and always forget to use them. They are great for underpaintings. I did a wash with some water and the result was a bright but fun underpainting.

My underpainting on Uart 400 grit. 
The trick was to leave some of the red violet underpainting showing! I used broad and chunky marks keeping with my goal of not getting too fussy. When I was happy with my trees I added back some of the red violet for some spice marks. Can you see them?

Note: This would be an interesting painting to use for an experiment with underpainting colors!

Friday, July 12, 2019

Have you Tried Multimedia Artboard?

'Summer Memories'         8x10         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
 I was leaving for Chicago but I had to get my daily painting in!  I didn't have anything planned so I looked in my box of random papers and found a piece of Multimedia Artboard that looked interesting. I haven't worked on this surface in awhile so I decided to give it a try.

I first tried Multimedia Artboard several years ago at a Bill Creevy workshop at IAPS. I forgot how much fun it is  to use. If you are looking for a support that will not wrinkle and warp, a surface that is practically indestructible then you need to give this board a try. I remember Bill telling us that even acid wouldn't destroy it! All I know is that it will take all the abuse you can dole out.

Multimedia Artbboard makes a sanded surface for pastels as well as a non sanded surface. It is as thin as paper but stiff and very light. I found the sanded surface not gritty enough for me so I had taken the liberty of brushing on my own pumice and guess mix. I tinted some boards red violet and some orange.

Read more about Multimedia Artboard here:

Multimedia Art Board with tinted pumice-gesso ground
I selected a piece of the purple toned board. I was excited to see how the random brushstrokes would work for my painting. I liked the texture but decided to push the first layer of pastel down into the grooves. I used my fingers. I used several applications of workable fixative to build up layers and create more texture. 

 Since this board take a lot of abuse I could have easily done a wet underpainting. In fact I could do as many wettings as I wanted and this surface would not buckle. This is the kind of surface that should net be thrown away. There is always something that can be done to rescue a failed painting even if it means trying another medium on top!

Note: I recently used a board for my experiment with Micaceous Iron Oxide paint by Golden and it was wonderful!!

Block to enlarge and see texture
Tip: Multimedia Artboard is almost indistructible however it can and will snap if you try to bend or fold it too far. Other than than....anything goes!

Monday, July 08, 2019

A Simple Tip for Saving Money on Pastel Paper

'Take me There'            8x10          pastel           ©Karen Margulis
You know you want it.  Sanded papers. Pastels and sanded pastel papers make a wonderful combination but paper can be expensive.  You might think that you aren't good enough yet to spend the  money on sanded paper. You might not be able to find it easily in your local art store or of you do it is only sold in the pricey pads.

I haven't bought a pad of sanded paper in years.  Instead I purchase my paper by the sheet and cut it down to smaller sizes. It is a huge money saver and I can mix and match paper brands.  It is even a better value when I use the VIP coupons that the big online art stores offer by email.

Cutting down sanded paper is easy.  All you need is a ruler, pencil and some scissors!

You don't need a paper cutter or cut it with an exacto knife.  A pair of sharp scissors does the job very nicely.  The paper will eventually dull the scissors and when mine get dull I buy another pair at the dollar store....for $1.  I thought I would buy a nice pair and sharpen them but the dollar scissors work great!

I like to buy full sheets 18x24 of Uart paper. (my favorite) I leave them as a full sheet until I need paper. Sometimes I will paint large and use the full sheet. Sometimes I like 16x20 or 11x14. Most of the time I cut a sheet into smaller pieces. I can get four 8x10's from one sheet.  I use the remaining scraps to cut some minis (2.5x3.5)

Buying sanded paper by the full sheet can cost anywhere from $6 to $15 a sheet depending on the sales. I always wait for a coupon. Consider getting together with friends to split a paper order. (splitting pastels is also another great way to add to your collection)

My favorite online stores are They have always been quick to deliver and correct any issues and as they always have everything a pastel artist needs and great customer service!

Today's painting:  8x10 on Uart with a value alcohol wash. This was a demo showing how to create a path into a painting. 

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Packing Pastel Supplies for any Trip!

'Summer Breeze'        2.5 x 3.5        pastel       ©Karen Margulis

If you have followed my blog then you probably know I have made it a priority to downsize my pastel supplies for traveling. I have been through so many boxes and bags and easels that I have lost track. I have come to the conclusion that there is no one size fits all solution for plein air set ups and supplies. Every trip is different. Some trips are not even dedicated painting trips so how do we decide what to bring?

No matter what the purpose of a vacation or trip it pays to keep your supplies light and simple. I call it Plein Air Lite.

My pastels supplies

No matter what kind of trip I am taking I always throw in my Heilman single sketchbox (Love!) I will be able to paint some 5x7s as well as my minis (2.5 x 3.5) Everything fits into a soft sided lunch box. I have a 5x7 portfolio book filled with paper which doubles as a finished painting holder, a piece of foamcore backing board, baby wipes, a washcloth to protect my painting surface and some mini Bankers's clips to clip my paper to the board.

The small zippered pouch on the right hold the precut paper for my mini paintings and an extra packet of wipes.

The Heilman box along with wipes, towel, backing board and paper/holder  fit in the lunchbox
Along with the pastels I sometimes bring some sketching tools for the times when I just want to sketch.In the photo below I have a small sketchbook and watercolor postcards along with a set of Caran d'ache watercolor pencils and a water brush as well as some black vision pens. These sketching supplies vary depending on my mood and supplies I am playing with!

The lunchbox with pastels and the zippered pouches all fit nicely in my backpack. I also have room for some art books and magazines. I have all of the supplies I need for a creative and relaxing....and LITE vacation. I can easily throw one of these items into my beach bag to backpack when going out for the day.

Below are a few mini pastels. I like to do these small studies using the lunchbox pastel kit. Each one measures 2.5 x 3.5 inches.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Revisiting my Review of Uart Dark Sanded Pastel Paper

'Under the Summer Sun'              12x9          pastel            ©Karen Margulis
It's all about paper this month! We are exploring pastel papers over on my Patreon Page and one of my test papers was Uart Dark. I forgot how much fun this paper was! I'd like to share this post from the review of Uart Dark. Enjoy!

The first thing I did with the new paper was to paint on it. I wanted simply to respond to it without overthinking.  Next I put it to my paper test. I was more deliberate and analytical. I tested how the paper responds to harder pastels vs. softer pastels. I also did a layer test. I wanted to find out how many layers the paper would take. Finally I painted the same thing using the same pastel palette on each of the 4 grades of paper. I've been playing with the new Uart dark sanded pastel paper this week and having a great time!  Below are my results.

All 4 test paintings together in a collage

My test strip. Click to enlarge for detail
  • How dark is it?  The paper is called Uart Dark and the level of darkness varies according to the grade of the paper. The two lower grades (rougher) 400 and 500 are the darkest.They are considered black. The 600 grade is slighter lighter and is called dark charcoal. The finest grade 800 is called charcoal and is slightly lighter. The higher the grade, the smaller the pigments are. I find the variation in darkness to be so slight and subtle that it made no difference at all in my paintings. 
  • How do pastels perform on Uart dark? The good news is that both hard and softer pastels perform EXACTLY THE SAME on the dark paper as they do on regular Uart sand color paper. Pastels go on easily and layer well.  There is no struggle to get pigment from even the hardest pastels. You get the benefit of the consistency of the Uart you love with the new dark color.  I truly forgot I was working on black because the paper felt so familiar to me. 
  • How many layers does Uart Dark take?  I put each grade to the layer test. I used my box of 30 Terry Ludwig yellows and started layering. I used my usual light touch. I got to 26 layers without a problem. I layered dark over light and light over dark. I was able to build layers without the pastel completely filling the tooth of the paper and getting slippery. I could have added more layers but more than likely we don't really need to use more than 26 layers! A painting would probably loose freshness. It's good to know that the paper can take it though!
  • What is the difference in the various grades? Besides the subtleness in the darkness of the grade there is also a difference in the amount of grit or roughness. Think of how regular sandpaper is graded from smooth to rough. I found that I didn't paint differently on the various grades and my results are similar. Click on the photos below to enlarge. The smoother paper does allow one to get finer detail. The rougher paper allows for more suggested texture. I like all grades and again found them to be the same as regular Uart sand color paper.

Final thoughts: I love the new dark paper. I will still use the sand color Uart and choose my paper color depending on the subject. I love having choices and having a dependable and consistent paper to choose from!  NEXT UP: testing wet underpaintings on Uart dark.
Today's Painting Notes: The painting at the top of the post was done on Uart dark 800. I chose to blend the sky to eliminate the bits of black peeking through. I wanted a calm sky to contrast with my busy weeds!


Friday, July 05, 2019

Yes You can Wash Off an Old Painting on Pastelbord!

'Into the Lavender'          8x10         pastel         ©Karen Margulis

 I posted a video on Facebook and Instagram and got an interesting response. Why would I do it?!! I was washing off an old painting in the sink. I scrubbed at the pastel with a brush and watched the painting disappear down the drain. It felt great! But why????

The original Old painting done of a piece of Pastelbord

Sometimes a painting just doesn't please us. We may have worked and reworked and still we aren't happy. We could throw it away. But when it is on a piece of sanded paper or board it is much better to wash off the old painting and start with a fresh idea. Not only will we have a new outlook we save money!

My painting was several years old. I remember it vaguely as an experimental piece. I discovered just how much I had experimented when I couldn't wash off the ink and marker! But the painting never really pleased me and it went into my recycle pile.

Since it was a piece of Pastelbord which is a hard board sanded surface, I knew I would be able to wash the painting of under running water. I took out an old stiff brush and put the painting in the sink. I usually have very good luck getting most of the painting removed. There may be a light stain or ghost image left. In this case I had a hard time because I had used permanent inks (I had forgotten) I was left with a more of the original painting than I wanted but I managed to use it to create a completely new painting.

I filmed the redo of the painting as a demo. You can see it on my YouTube Channel. Here is the link: 

The pastels I used for the new painting

The painting as it looked at the end of the demo

a close up of the end of the pathway

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Happy Independence Day! And Thoughts on Painting New Subjects

'Taste of Summer'              9x12            pastel                ©Karen Margulis
available $175
 An idea popped into my head today and I had to drop everything and give it a try. I wanted to paint something in honor of summer and Independence Day. I wanted to use my new Floral Landscape set. BUT I didn't want to paint flowers. One of my goals for the set of pastels is to see how versatile my selections are. Have plans to paint many different subjects with the set. I know it is good for more than just flowers. So what about watermelon!?

Watermelon is the perfect summer motif. It actually isn't my favorite summer fruit. Give me a sweet juicy peach and I am in heaven. But I'll take some watermelon if it is sweet. But could paint watermelon? And more importantly could I paint watermelon with just my Floral Landscape set?

I found a very old reference photo. I attempted the watermelon back in 2005 without much success. This time I decided to do a watercolor underpainting. I used Cretacolor Aqua Briques on white Colourfix sanded paper. The underpainting gave me a good start.

Watercolor underpainting on white Art Spectrum Colourfix paper

I began the pastel application by blocking in the darks. I continued to build layers from dark to light and from big simple shapes down to the smaller details. It really wasn't any different than painting a floral landscape and the set had all the right colors and values.  That was fun!

I need to do this more often....pushing myself to paint things I don't usually paint. I love painting landscapes and wildflowers but I also need to explore other ways to interpret them. Perhaps moving away from them will allow me to return with fresh eyes!

Starting with the darks

Close up of the texture

Tha pastels in the Terry Ludwig Floral Landscape set

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

How to Create a Mood in a Landscape Painting

'Summer in the North'            12x9             pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $165

 The possibilities are endless. I approach each blank piece of paper with eager anticipation. I feel empowered. I am about to create something from nothing. Hopefully it will be something compelling, or interesting or beautiful. It is up to me. I have the power to take a scene and create the mood I wish to express. And I don't have to be true to the scene. I can tweak it if I want.

I can make a landscape look bright and sunny. I can make it gray and moody. I can change the season or time of day. It's such a wonderful thing to be an artist!

There are many ways to create a mood in a painting but one of my favorite techniques is a simple four value underpainting. The mood is created by the colors that are selected for the underpainting.

color blocks to help evaluate underpainting colors
There is no right or wrong color to choose for the underpainting. Each choice will result in a different feeling to the painting because the underpainting colors will peek through the top layers. This will effect how the top layers will appear. For example warm colors underneath tend to create a sunnier, warmer feeling. How do we choose the underpainting colors?
  • Practice. The more we experiment and try different underpainting colors, the more intuitive our choices will become. Practice!!
  • Color Studies and Color Blocks are a quick way to judge how an underpainting color will appear. Choose a color and pick 4 values of the color. Make little blocks of color on a scrap piece of paper the same color as the paper you will paint on. Now choose the colors you might use for your top layers. Lightly layer the top colors over the underpainting blocks. Think of theses as quick test strips. It is better to try out colors in small blocks than experiment on your painting! ( I learned this great tip from Doug Dawson)
For the marsh painting in this post I wanted a moody, gray day feeling. When evaluating possible underpainting colors I decided the purple gave me the mood I was after. I blocked in the painting with four values of  Violet. You can see it peek through and unify the whole painting. 

TRY THIS: Cut 4-8 small pieces of paper.  4x6 or 5x7. Find a simple subject. Do at least 4 paintings using a different color for the underpainting in each study. Allow 15 minutes for each study. Compare your studies....what mood or feeling did each color create?

A cool color underpainting

I Used my set of Terry Ludwig pastel exclusively for this painting. This is the new Floral Landscape set available at

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Have you Tried Micaceous Iron Oxide for Pastels?

'Summer Love'           10x8            pastel            ©Karen Margulis
available $165
I love my artists friends! They have the greatest ideas. Every time I teach a workshop I come home with a new tip. And now with my Patreon Page I am learning things every day from my patrons! Last month I got a great tip from a Patreon artist. She uses Micaceous Iron Oxide to make a home made pastel support. I had no idea what it was but it sounded intriguing. I looked it up and the next time a placed an art supply order I added a jar of the stuff. I just tried it for the first time. WOW! Thank you for sharing this with us! 

I made a video of my first experiment with the Micaceous Iron Oxide. Click on the link below if you'd like to see. If you are a Patreon member I will be sharing this video with EXPANDED commentary at some point this month. 

So what is this magic material? It is actually a metallic acrylic paint by Golden. The makeup of the paint has metallic pieces that are like mica sense the name. When it is applied to a surface it is a dark metallic with a slight grittiness and sparkle. Very cool! You can thin it with medium or water but I used it straight from the jar. A little went a long way. I applied it to a piece of Multimedia Artboard but you can use any surface that can take wet paint!

Applying the MIO

Look carefully for the sparkle!

Saturday, June 29, 2019

How to Paint a Sunny Landscape with Pastels

'Roadside Delight'                 8x10             pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available $165
Painting a sunny day is all about having the right colors. The right color choice is important for both the underpainting and for the pastel layers. I have learned the hard way with muddy and dull results! Here are three tips for painting a landscape that captures the warmth and clarity of a sunny day.

  • Kiss your painting with sunshine! By this I mean use warmer and more intense colors when you paint the sunlit side of any element in your landscape instead of just using lighter values of the color. For example if I want a red poppy to look like it was in a sunny meadow I would use a warm red orange to paint the sunlit portions of the flower (not a pale red which makes the blooms look cool and washed out)
  • Use warm colors in the underpainting. You can get a head start on a sunny landscape by using warm colors....reds, oranges, yellows in the block- in or underpainting. The warm colors peeking through the pastel layers will add a bit of sunny warmth and interest to the landscape. 
  • Make sure your sky represent a bright clear sunny day. Be sure to use clear blues rather than dull gray blues. Make sure the values of the blues you use are not too dark.  Clear pure blues will give the sky a sunny feeling whereas the gray blues make the sky look 'dirty' or moody. Save them for an overcast or moody day. 

My new Terry Ludwig pastels 'Floral Landscape set' has the pastels you need to paint a sunny day and a moody day. Stay tuned for the next post to see a moody day painting.

starting the painting on MingArt sanded pastel paper

Midway through the painting and you can see the warm underpainting colors

The column of blues on the far right are the clear blues and the second column has some grayed blues.