2018 Workshop Schedule. New workshops added! click here for details.
Visit my Patreon Page for more painting instruction

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

How to Prepare for a Painting Workshop

'Summer Dreams'           8x10       pastel        ©Karen Margulis

The workshop is booked. The travel arrangements made. And now the time has arrived. Time to pack your supplies and prepare for the workshop.  I am all packed and ready to head to Vermont to teach a plein air/studio workshop.

This week I will be the teacher but I have been a student form many workshops. It started me thinking about how to best prepare for a painting workshop from the viewpoint of both a student and teacher.

Here are some thoughts:

  • Prepare your supplies.  Make sure you have the supply list and clarify any questions you have about supplies before you get there. Find out what equipment will be available at the workshop such as tables or easels.
  • If you have any new supplies such as a new easel or box....try them out at home to be familiar with your new equipment. You'll have enough to think about at the workshop without getting frustrated with your equipment. 
  • Make sure you can manage your supplies. If it is a studio workshop try to get your supplies condensed so you can fit everything in one cart of bag. You don't want to have to make several trips to the car. You also might not have a big space to spread everything out. This is especially important for a plein air workshop!
  • CONDENSE your pastels.  Not only does having several boxes of pastels take up valuable space, it is not the best way to paint. Try to get them into one box...a Heilman or Dakota traveler box is the ideal solution. See my post on this topic here.
  • Don't forget to bring something for your finished paintings. For smaller pastels you can use a pad of tracing paper. or make your own folder with glassine paper.
  • Bring a towel for the floor.....sometimes the floor is carpeted and even if it isn't a towel will cushion the blow for a dropped pastel!
  • Don't forget a NOTEBOOK and pen. I keep a separate notebook for each workshop I take and keep them all together on a shelf. This makes it easy to refer back to my notes. Some like to write notes in a sketchbook which works too!
  • Bring a CAMERA.  You will want to photograph the demos in progress if you can.  Not to mention any photo ops at the workshop location.
In addition to preparing supplies it is just as important to Prepare your MIND.  Reflect on why you are taking the workshop. What do you hope to learn?  Study the instructor's books, dvds, blog so you can have an idea of their teachings. It will make more sense when you hear it again in person!

Adjust your ATTITUDE.  It is most helpful to approach a workshop with an open mind. Be prepared to try things out of your comfort zone and to remember it is not about impressing the instructor with your skill but to learn new things!  Rarely do you do your best work in a workshop because you are in learning mode!

PLAN TO HAVE FUN!  A workshop is part of your journey and it should be fun! I am looking forward to meeting new friends and sharing with them. I'll repost back soon!

Monday, June 18, 2018

An Essential Color for your Pastel Box

'Undiscovered Beauty'         16.5 x 9.5          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $175

When in doubt add some purple. This is advice that I take to heart. I probably have some form of violet in every painting. It comes naturally to me because it happens to be one of my favorite colors. My other favorite is turquoise. But I don't use violet just because I like it....I use it because it just works.

Violet can be a great unifier especially when used in a grayed down muted or neutral form. These gray violets are essential components to a successful landscape. 
  • They knit more intense colors together and allow those colors to pop.
  • They are great for painting distant trees and mountains. They are essential to create believable depth in a landscape.
  • Use a form of violet anytime you are tempted to reach for a gray pastel (made from back and white) 
  • Mix vibrant purples with the gray purples for added interest. Spices!
  • Essential color for your box? As many violets as you can afford....red violets to blue violets, intense to muted. We can never have too many!

When in doubt use purple!
Of course purple flowers are a natural in the landscape. I love painting any type of purple flowers including lupines, bluebonnets and of course lavender! 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Make Time for Art This Summer

'A Beautiful Day'           16x20         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $250
It is time to plan for summer activities! I will be doing a lot of travel. I have two workshops and a bucket list trip to France on my schedule.  It will be a busy simmer but I want to make sure I have some downtime for art. I know I will have to work at making time. Here are some ideas that have helped me in the past. 
  1. Make it a goal or challenge yourself to paint of sketch every day. Keep a sketchbook or do a small painting everyday. One year I took a large calender and did a small sketch in each day's box.
  2. Make room for art. Set aside a room or a corner where you can leave some supplies set up and handy. You will paint more often if you don't have to spend time setting up and cleaning it all up after each painting session.
  3. Invest in some quality materials. They really do make a difference and your art is worth it! Order a sampler set of pastels or paper from Dakota Pastels.
  4. Read and participate in online art forums such as wet canvas. Facebook has many art groups to join. It is fun to post your work and get feedback as well as inspiration from all the wonderful art being posted.
  5. READ READ READ!  Always have an art book on your nightstand. I am working on compiling a list of my favorite art books to share.
  6. Subscribe to at least one art magazine and spend some downtime reading every page. I love getting my Pastel Journal!
  7. Check in on your favorite art blogs.
  8. Make a small art goal for yourself. Whether it is painting more often or entering a show...set a goal and go for it!
  9. Try a different medium or art form all together. I love crafty things but never make time to do them. Check in on Pinterest and pick a project to complete.
  10. Join Patreon and find artists to follow. I am having so much fun sharing on my page www. patreon.com/karenmargulis

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Magic of Negative Painting

'The Sounds of Summer'          20x25       pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $450
I wanted the flowers to pop. I wanted them to feel like they were growing right off the paper. I wanted to make space for the bumblebees to fly in and out of the flowers. But it wasn't happening. The flowers in my painting looked like they were pasted on top of the green foliage.  I need to find a way to pull the flowers away from the foliage.

I added some more detail to the flowers.I added a lighter pink to some of the petals. I darkened the flower centers. But I still wasn't getting the effect I wanted.  Then I remembered! If adding to the flowers wasn't helping I could adjust what was BEHIND the flowers. Why not make use of the Negative space.....clarify what was behind the flowers and foliage.

Before adding the negative painting marks
I picked up a dark cool green pastel and used it to paint the areas behind some of the leaves and flowers. I saw an immediate improvement. By darkening the space behind the leaves it made them appear brighter and lighter. They began to pop!

I used the same idea to paint more of the light blue sky around the flowers that were placed against the sky. In the original painting the top flowers were blending into the distant tree mass. As soon as I added some lighter blue marks behind the flowers (negative painting) they popped!
Scroll up to the top image to see the results of just a few negative painting marks.

a closeup of the dark negative marks
Remember.....you always have two ways to improve something in your painting....either change the object itself or change what is BEHIND the object.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

How Do You Paint Clouds When They are Always Moving?

'Peaceful Evening'        9x12         pastel          ©Karen Margulis
I love painting the sky! Next to wildflowers it is probably my most favorite subject matter to paint. I have learned much about painting the sky from books and some fantastic instruction. But I learned the most from direct observation. Simply being in tune with the sky and describing it to myself with art words has helped me immensely. I have also taken the next step and painted daily sky studies from life.

samples of some of my plein air sky studies

We are spending the month of June learning about painting the sky over on my Patreon page. One of the questions that has come up has to do with painting clouds. It is challenging to paint the sky from life. Especially when there are clouds. Clouds move. They are constantly changing and morphing. The colors change. The edges change. The shapes change. It is almost impossible to paint as fast as they change. That is where direct observation comes to the rescue.

When I paint clouds I scan the sky and make a mental note of the types of clouds that are present. I note the size, she, colors, edges of the clouds. And then I paint. I don't look back at the sky except for a few quick glances. I don't worry if the clouds have changed. I use the information I noted and design my clouds to suit the painting....I want a pleasing arrangement of clouds and interesting composition in the sky.  Because I have studied and painted the sky so much I am able to rely on my memory and my previous experience to paint an effective cloud and skyscape.

Go out this summer and devote yourself to the study of the sky and clouds. You will be putting valuable information into your memory that you can use when you paint the sky! Join us on Patreon this month for just $4 to learn more tips and techniques for painting the sky!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

When Are We Finished with a Painting?

'Looking for Fairies'            8x10        pastel on board        ©Karen Margulis
available $150
When is a painting finished? It is the big question next to how to begin! Finishing is tough. Leonard DaVinci said "Art is never finished, only abandoned". But how do we know when it is OK to abandon it? I was taught that a painting is finished when there is nothing more to say. That is good advice but even that can be hard to determine.  Sometimes we think we are finished and when we return to a painting after awhile we see things that we didn't have the experience to see earlier. Take todays painting.

I abandoned this painting at least 10 years ago. I thought it was finished. I didn't know what else it needed so I stopped. I was fairly pleased with it at the time. It went into my storage box filed under Southeastern landscapes.

Before clarifying the important areas
Recently I came across the painting while searching through the box. I pulled it out because it was done an a piece of Ampersand Pastelbord. I thought I could repurpose the board. I love Pastelbord for this reason. Since it is a hard masonite board it is easy to wash off or do a wet underpainting. It is easy to reuse them. 

But when I taped the board up at my easel I decided that I actually liked the painting even though it was an earlier work. BUT time and experience give me new insight and I could see what the painting needed to be stronger. It was a busy painting with a lot of marks and a lot going on but that didn't bother me so much. I wanted to capture the complexity of the forest interior.  The painting just needed some focus and clarity. It seemed kind of  busy and fuzzy all over.

Follow the arrows to see where I added clarity
All I needed to do was to create a visual pathway through the busy forest. I needed to give my viewers  some way to read the painting. I needed to show them around the forest. I needed to add clarity to the places where I wanted the eye to go. This was completed by using contrast. I used contrast of color intensity, contrast of value , contrast of edges.  Look at the painting in the photo above. Can you find those areas near the arrows where I made changes to the original painting? You can scroll up to see the original. 

TRY THIS: Take out an OLDER painting that you abandoned. (thought you were finished) Can you see a visual pathway? Are there areas that you can clarify? Are there areas that could be simplified? See how much you have grown as an artist!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

It's Not too Soon to Plan for IAPS and Apply for a Scholarship!

'Colors of the Southwest'        10x8       pastel      ©Karen Margulis
available $145
What are you doing next June 2019?  It's not too soon to plan a trip to Albuquerque New Mexico to attend the 13th Biennial convention of the International Association of Pastel Societies to be held June 4-9, 2019 at the Hotel Albuquerque. Details of the convention will be released this summer.
I will be going and this will be my 6th convention! I have been asked by many if it is worth going to. They are worried that is might be too expensive.  The answer is YES it is worth going and No it isn't too expensive if you plan it right. (and start a piggy bank) You even have a chance to win a scholarship for a free workshop at the convention. Details on the IAPS website here:http://www.iapspastel.org/ed_uct.php

Need some convincing? Read on.
 Why Should I go to IAPS?
  • The opportunity to see the rock stars of the pastel world in action.
  • The chance to see your favorite artists demo or take a one day workshop to see if you want to spend money on a longer workshop experience. At my first IAPS convention I saw a demo by Richard McKinley and I knew I needed to get to want of his week long workshops. (which I did and it was a highlight in my painting career)
  • The opportunity to try out and purchase the latest and greatest pastel supplies at the expo. All of you favorite vendors are usually there offering specials.
  • The chance to talk to your favorite vendors and have supply questions answered in person.
  • Visiting Terry Ludwig's booth at the Expo (also known as the Candy Store) and getting to make up your own box of pastels with all of his luscious colors available. 
  • Meeting your favorite pastel artists in person.
  • Meeting new friends and visiting with those you don't get to see very often.
  • Albuquerque New Mexico!  is a great place to visit. I always try to spend an extra day or two to visit some of the great places nearby. Santa Fe, Taos, Acoma Pueblo for starters!
  • Being immersed in a high energy atmosphere for a few days surrounded by others who share a passion for pastels! 
But I am not a professional artist or I am new to pastels....Should I go?
  • YES! for all of the same reasons as above. You don't need to be a professional of have a lot of pastel experience to get a lot from the convention offerings. Each year several of my students go and have a wonderful time and learn a lot.

OK I am convinced But I can't afford to go!
  • First remember that it is a business deduction if you are a working artist. 
  • Try to find a roommate to share the cost of the lodging. 
  • Breakfast is included in the cost of registration. I saved money on food by getting snacks and drinks and the nearby Walgreens. There is a wine shop and Bistro within walking distance of hotel that has great wines from New Mexico.
  • Start looking for airfare deals. Last time I got a great fare from Atlanta on a one day sale. I paid $200 round trip!
  • Check you change jar....those coins add up!  
  • Have an open studio Holiday sale and put the proceeds towards your trip!

Friday, June 08, 2018

New Youtube Video: Painting Monochromatic Trees

'The Blues'           8x10         pastel       ©Karen Margulis

Color is everything. Or is it?  Most of us are drawn to pastels because of the wonderful array of colors. They are all there in front of us. We don't have to mix them to see the possibilities. We want them all and we never have enough.  But color can also be our downfall.  You've heard it before:

Color gets the Glory but Value does the work.

If we don't get the values correct then all the colors in your box will not make the painting better. In fact the more colors we add to try to fix the painting the more we risk making mud.  Value studies are good. Value block- ins are helpful. Lots of practice seeing value is important. I have a great exercise to try. Why not try limiting your palette?

I love painting with ONE COLOR....a Monochromatic color scheme.  I pick a color and allow myself to use a full value range of that color. I give myself permission to use both warm and cool versions of my color. This gives me quite a few choices. 

Study for blue Trees
 Here are Three Reasons to Paint with one color

1. Working with one color helps the value challenged.  If you have trouble simplifying a busy scene into a few values often adding color choices to the mix makes it even harder.  Working with one color takes color out of the equation so that you can concentrate on getting the values correct.

2. Working with one color helps you become intimate with the color.  Not only is it easier to see value within one color it is also easy to judge color temperature.....putting a cool yellow next to a warm one makes the difference between them more clear. Is one closer to orange? Is one closer to blue or green? It is easy to see when they are together.

3. Working with one color is manageable.  Sometimes it is nice to keep things simple. Pick a color, any color and forget about all of the pastels in your boxes. Keep it simple and concentrate on your values or your composition or your strokes and mark-making. Give yourself one less thing to worry about!

Black and white reference photo

Check out the video demo of this painting on my Youtube channel. https://youtu.be/ct25FZJo2Fk

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Preserving a Watercolor Underpainting

'Dune Walk'            11x14          pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available $165
Enjoy this post from the archives:
It is elusive....that wonderful peek of watercolor under a thin veil of pastel. Sometimes I am successful and sometimes it doesn't go as planned. But I remind myself that the creation of a watercolor underpainting will influence the direction of my painting even if I completely cover it with pastel.

Still, that thought doesn't stop me from trying! I always approach a watercolor underpainting with the intent to allow a lot of it to show through the pastel layers. I want the wonderful drips, blooms and mingling of the paint to do much of the work.  But once I start layering pastel I often go farther than I wanted. Many a painting gets completely covered with pastel much to my dissappointment. How much pastel is too much? It is a personal preference. I love the contrast between the transparent watercolor and the opaque pastel so I want some of the watercolor to show. I've discovered some tips....

It is all about restraint. Work slowly and deliberately. Think about every pastel mark.

The watercolor underpainting and my reference photo

Here are some things I do to help me preserve the underpainting:

  • After the watercolor is dry I spend a few minutes evaluating it. Is there any area I love and want to be sure to save? Do I like the colors? Make note of these areas.
  • When I am ready to add pastel I begin by choosing colors and values that closely match the underpainting. I apply a VERY light layer so that I can hardly see the pastel. I will change color and value very gradually....small areas with a light touch. 
  • If I like the passage with this thin veil of pastel I will leave it and move on. In this way I don't get too heavy too quickly. I remind myself that it is OK to let the paper/underpainting show.
  • I find I most often overwork the pastel application  when I get too thick too fast. I then feel the need to keep adding heavier layers all over the painting. When I keep a light touch and work slowly I have more success.

close up detail 

The sky....just a thin layer of pastel
Painting notes: Uart paper with Terry Ludwig pastels and watercolor underpainting.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Overcoming One of the Biggest Challenges of Plein Air

'Palm Study'       5x7      pastel plein air     ©Karen Margulis

It can be overwhelming to paint en plein air. There is so much information to process. How does one choose a subject? How does one simplify? I just finished a quick video with information on using viewfinders and finding a subject to paint. It is available on my Patreon Page. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis.  In my research for the video I came across this older blog post that drives my point home. Enjoy this post from the archives.

Choosing a subject to paint and then simplifying the information is one of the most difficult tasks for a plein air painter. Sometimes it is best to see what can be removed from the scene rather than try to fit it all in.

Ask yourself....What is important and what can I ignore?

My first plein air demo of the workshop was done just after breakfast on our second day. It was a hot day and the sun was intense. There was not much shade so I decided it would be good for everyone to  stay on the patio in the shade of the big red umbrellas. It was a comfortable spot. There were things to paint but they were hidden. I decided that this would make a good lesson in simplification and elimination.

One of those big red umbrellas was in the way! And there were the tennis courts in the background. All things that were not important to my painting. I wanted to paint the palm tree.....more specifically I was interested in the light on the palm tree. I could see enough of the tree to put down these 'notes' on my paper. All I had to do was move slightly when I needed to see more. I reminded myself to look past the umbrella and the tennis courts. I took the information in the scene that I needed and ELIMINATED the distractions. This is something we as artists can do....the camera cannot!

Here are a few photos from the demo. Thank you to Mario from Pastel Workshops Croatia for the photos.

The palm tree in the evening from another angle

Monday, June 04, 2018

Three Simple Steps for Choosing Pastels for Plein Air

'Along the Rio Grande'              5x7              pastel         ©Karen Margulis
Enjoy this post from the archives:

Make it Work. That is my motto when it comes to downsizing my pastels for plein air. It's Tim Gunn's catchphrase for his fashion designers but it applies nicely to painting.  Once I realized I didn't need every pastel in my box for a plein air trip it literally lifted a huge load off my shoulders. I can take just enough pastels to fit in whatever travel box I am using. If I don't have the "right" pastel I will just have to make it work!

I do have a method I follow when packing for a plein air trip. It helps ensure that I have a good selection of pastels. It's as easy as 1-2-3. Follow along as I pack for my next great adventure...a painting trip next week with artist friends in Phoenix AZ.

making a list and checking it twice...step 2
Step 1:  Choose your Box.  I have a backpack size Heilman box which I love. I only bring it to longer workshops and classes. Usually when  I travel with pastels I prefer a smaller set up.( My favorite box is currently the Heilman double sketchbox. In the photos I am using Stan Sperlak's Gogh Box which was my previou ly used box)

 I usually cram my pastels into a cardboard box but I tripped over my tripod with  Gogh Box while it was closed and the box along with the cardboard box of pastels crashed to the floor shattering the box of pastels. I am going to test out this Great American box on this trip.

I rigged the Gogh Box to hold a small box of extras plus a working palette tray

STEP 2:  Choose Your Pastels. The formula is to have a dark, middle and light value of each color. You don't need a full stick of each. Smaller pieces are fine. I won't paint larger than 8x10 so small pieces of pastels will work.  I make a chart as I go through my pastels and mark off when I find the right color and value. I make sure I have a nice rich dark...My Terry Ludwig eggplant and a beautiful light value cloud pastel. I also consider the painting location and gear my color choices to the subjects I will paint.  This step takes time!

STEP 3: Test out Your Selections. Once I have my choices in the box I find a reference for the location I will visit and try a sample painting. I pulled a few of my Arizona and New Mexico photos to try out my color choices. The more quick studies you can do the more you will be able to tweak your choices. So far I am happy with my choices. I did the two paintings in this post with my selection. I will try a few more and then.....if I don't have it I will remind myself to Make it Work!

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Clouds and Skies Oh My!

'Skies Over Colorado'        9x12         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $150
Do you want to paint beautiful skies and clouds? I love painting the sky but I wasn't always successful with my efforts. I would end up with boring blue screens and potato clouds!  I wasn't happy with my results so I spent time working on skies. I observed the sky. Painted it from life and developed some tips to help me create more authentic skies and clouds.

I have shared my growth and my tips here on the blog over the years. You can use the search function on the blog to read these older articles. You need to go directly to the blog at www.karenmargulis.com. Look for the search box on the right. Search for sky or skies or clouds.

cloud close up

If you want your information delivered in an easy to read  format with even more content then consider joining my Patreon page. You may be on the fence about joining. You may not wish to pay a subscription (it is $4 a month and can be cancelled at any time) But know that I work very hard to provide a comprehensive instructional experience that includes weekly videos, demos, lessons, handouts, challenges and the chance to share your work for feedback. I love to share here on this blog and that won't change but I welcome your support over on Patreon as well! Our topic for the month of June is Clouds and Skies!

The palette used for my sky painting

Saturday, June 02, 2018

How to Craft Inspiring Painting Titles

'Let Freedom Ring'           8x10          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I have a Little Black Book. I have a new mission to keep it with me wherever I go. I plan to fill it with words. Inspiring words. Words that might lead to a painting or to a better painting title.  I have trouble choosing compelling and interesting titles for my paintings. I plan to solve this!

I used to keep a list at my desk of potential painting titles. Whenever I heard a good song title or perhaps a line from a poem I would jot it down on a stray piece of paper thinking they would be good painting titles. But I couldn't keep up with the stray pieces of paper!  So now I am using a small and thin notebook. Mine is a thin Canson sketchbook because I happened to have an extra. It is thin enough to slip into my bag so it can stay with me on my travels. The rest of the time it will stay on my studio desk ready to supply me with interesting title ideas!

About today's painting: This 8x10 painting is on mounted Uart board with a red dry underpainting.It is a scene from a trip to Nantucket Island several years ago.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Why I Liked Blue Paper for Painting Trees

'On to Distant Meadows'        12x9        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $155
 I am all packed and ready for my almost annual family beach trip. I wasn't going to bring any art supplies at all. But today I caved and threw in my mini watercolor sketch kit. Of course I will have my camera so I won't be without a creative outlet. Since I have already packed (I've packed or set aside my things for the next two trips as well) I had time to paint today just for fun.

I never let a piece of paper go to waste so I decided to repurpose the cloud demo I did for my Patreon page.  It is a piece of Canson Mi-Teintes gray paper (unsanded) To give myself a fresh start I simply rubbed in the blue and white pastel marks with a paper towel. Now I had a blue toned piece of paper.

The start of a new painting
I took out a photo from trip to Ireland and blocked in the darks with a 305 Spruce Blue Nupastel. I quickly built up layers of color on top of the blue. I used some Blair low odor workable  fixative in between layers. I often do this when working on unsanded papers. Below is a photo of the midway point of the painting.

I enjoyed painting on the blue toned paper. It actually made it look like the trees has some sky holes! Click on the photo below to enlarge it and see details of the blue paper peeking through the tree layers. I also like how bits of blue show up in the grasses making this area more interesting. Try blue paper for your next tree painting!

midway through the painting 

I am playing with signature ideas. I am looking forward to getting your input on how YOU sign your paintings. Add your thoughts in the comments.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Question for You About Signatures

'Spring Breeze'            8x10        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I am contemplating a signature change. I have been using my initial in a block letter format since my very first painting. I have my reasons for thinking of a change. Signatures are more important than we sometimes believe. At least I never gave too much thought about the impact my signature has on my painting and my art journey.

I want to explore this subject in more detail and I'd love your input for a future post. If you can help me by answering the following questions in the comment section below.

How do you sign your paintings? Full name, initials, one name?
What do you use to sign a pastel painting?
Where do you place your signature?

Thanks in advance for your help!  If you'd like to see a video demo of this painting you can see my Facebook live replay over on my Facebook page. Link is here.