Thursday, December 08, 2016

Making Art Wherever You Go

I've been in Chicago for a week now. It's been an exciting week! I came to help my son and daughter-in-law. My grandson was due last weekend but they had a big craft show at the same time. Everything went smoothly though. I worked the show while my grandson Jamie Alan was born!

I decided to stay here a bit longer to visit and have some Grammie time with Greta  and Jamie! I am having a great time but miss my pastels. So last night I had to improvise. Making art doesn't wait!

I had my little watercolor set and some paper with me so I thought it would be fun to paint a rainforest (more on this later!) I found some of Greta's crayons and decided a wax resist would be fun! It was! I'm going to try it with Greta today! 
I'll be back in the studio Sunday and regular posts will resume! 







Sunday, December 04, 2016

How to Display Pastel Paintings without Frames

'Desert Light Study'        5x7       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $95
 It's a Daily Painter Dilemma.  What to do with all of those little paintings? I needed to find a good way to display and share the best of them. I store the paintings in boxes layered with glassine paper but when I want to share them at workshops I wanted them to be easy to see and protected as well.

I need  a good compromise! I think I found one.  A way to display unframed pastels while keeping them protected...and no frames are needed!

Crystal Clear Bags to the rescue!

A painting with it's foamcore and clearbag package
I've actually used this method of displaying pastels for years. And I can vouch that paintings left in the bags for years are no worse for wear. Here is what I do:
  • Order a selection of Crystal Clear bags to fit your painting sizes. I usually allow for a bag slightly larger than my painting size so it fit's snugly.  What are Crystal Clear bags? They are high quality clear bags with an adhesive flap seal. They are acid free and archival safe. They come in an huge array of sizes. I order mine from clear
  • Cut a piece of foam core the size of the painting. Slip this piece of foamcore into the bag.
  • Slip the painting into the bag. The foam core backing will provide support. Since it fits snugly in the bag there is no need to tape the painting to the board. Also the snug fir means the painitng won't move around and get smudged.
  • I take an extra step and include a preprinted slip of paper with my contact information and care instructions. I suggest that the bag be cut off and pulled away from the painting. You can take the painting out without cutting the bag if you are careful.
Yes you do get some residual pastel dust on the inside of the bag but it isn't enough to make a difference. The key is to make sure the painting and foamcore fit snugly inside the bag. You do not want the painting to be able to slide around.

To give you an idea I order bag B75 for my 5x7 paintings. They measure 5 7/16 x 7 1/4

A basket full of recent 5x7 pastel paintings
I have selected some of my favorite paintings and packaged them in clear bags. I put them into baskets so collectors can easily look through them and actually touch them without smudging them.

Final Days! Take advantage of my 50% discount on paintings in my Etsy shop. Use coupon code THANKFUL50 at check out.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

When Are You Good Enough for the Good Paper

'Making Tracks for the Big Hill'               18x24              pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase$350
While I am in Chicago I am sharing favorite posts from the archives. This post dresses a question I am asked often. Enjoy!

The Good Paper sits on the shelf waiting for the right time. It sometimes seems as if this paper is as precious as gold. I contemplate using it and then I hesitate. I need a better painting idea. I don't want to mess up and waste it. So it sits and gathers dust. 

What is Good Paper and when is the right time to use it?

Good Paper is different for all of us. It depends on our preferences. For me the Good Paper is my small stash of Wallis paper. It has become precious to me since I can't get it (hopefully that will change soon) For those new to pastel the Good Paper is usually any of the sanded papers. Because the sanded papers are more expensive than unsanded papers such as Canson, they become precious.

" I am not good enough for the sanded paper" " I'll wait until I am better" "I don't want to mess up and waste the sanded paper"  So often I hear this from new pastelists.  I have some advice and I am taking it to heart myself.

Good Paper will help you become Good Enough.  If you have tried a certain paper and you like it but you feel you aren't worthy of it, go take it out or order some more and USE it!  It will make you feel good and you will often have less struggles.....painting becomes more enjoyable and so you paint more and the more you paint the better you get.......Good Paper helps you become Good Enough!

close-up detail of the sledders on the Big Hill

I took my own advice today. I have a few sheets of Wallis white paper. I don't know what I am saving it for but I decided I would use the whole sheet for a painting.  The paper isn't going to get better with age so why not enjoy it. I did enjoy it!

TIP:  If the cost of sanded paper is a concern keep in mind that sanded papers and boards can be washed off, wet down, sprayed. They can take all kinds of abuse.  If you don't like what you have done....reuse the paper and start over. In the end it is actually more cost effective than the less expensive unsanded papers. 

My palette for today's painting
LOOKING FOR HOLIDAY GIFTS? my sale ends on Monday December 5th. I am offering 50% off paintings in my etsy shop with coupon code THANKFUL50

Friday, December 02, 2016

Painting a Snow Scene in 6 Easy Steps

'City Kids'           8x10        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
Since I am in Chicago waiting for my grandson to be born I am posting some favorite posts from the archives. Enjoy!

Greta is a city kid. Even though she isn't quite two years old she goes to her neighborhood park everyday. She has a group of friends already and I can just imagine the day when they will be old enough to go on the sledding hill. This painting is dedicated to my granddaughter and all of the city kids out there! 

I took some step by step photos as I painted this one. Here are my steps and my thoughts as the painting developed.

I chose a homemade support which is mat board coated with gesso and pumice mix. It is white. I did a quick drawing with a pink Nupastel. My reference photo inspired me but I made changes to create a better composition.

I blocked in the painting with big simple shapes of neutral pastels. I selected muted colors from my 'neutral drawer'. These are all grayed down muted colors such as blue-grays and muted purples. You can see the texture of the pumice in this photo.

Here is a shot of my Neutral Drawer. I keep these colors together so I remember to use them. Next to other more saturated colors these pastel get overlooked. Some may even think of them as ugly or dirty. I love their soft subtleness.

I decide to rub in this first layer of pastel to fill in the rough texture of the support and to create an out of focus underpainitng.

For this painting I choose to work on my center of interest first. The children going up the sled hill are my center of interest. Anytime you add a figure to a painting the eye looks at the figure first. I want to make sure they are well placed and developed before I spend too much time on the less important parts of the painting.

Next I develop the trees and suggest window in the distant buildings. I am still using my neutrals. I did use some saturated colors on my figures. I also add some blue and lavender shadows in my snow.

 I work on the snow some more. I use a dull rose for the distant snow and some brighter whites in the foreground snow. I also make some footprints in the snow. I also add a few lamp posts and light the lights....since I was going to make it snow.

I add the snow using pastel dust. I decide to add some smaller figures in the distance since my two stars seemed a bit lonely!  I also changed the color of the turquoise sled to yellow to echo the lights in the distance. Now I am finished!

LAST CHANCE!!  I have several snow scenes available in my etsy shop. Paintings are now 50% until Monday December 5th. Use coupon code THANKFUL50 at checkout.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Tips for Painting Large Pastel Paintings

'Surrounded'                18x24                   pastel                  ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase on Etsy  $350
From the archives:
 It's fun to be the teacher. I get to ask my students to do things they might not otherwise do. I remember that one of my  college professors did this. The class was children's literature. He assigned us a project that involved interviewing our family and writing a family history. He admitted it had nothing to do with the course but he knew we would value the results. I cherish the interviews I did with my grandparents and I cherish my book! I am grateful to that professor.

So I hoped my class wouldn't be too mad at me for assigning a day to paint large! I was also hopeful that they would value this exercise! I was excited to see everyone come to class with their 18x24 paper attached to big pieces of foamcore. This was going to be fun!

2.5 x 3.5  quick color study
I have a very talented group of artists and I had faith in them. I knew that they would do well with a larger scale painting. Some had never painted larger than 8x10. I was right. Midway through the class the paintings were taking shape and looking great.  And within an hour and a half, most were just about finished. The paintings were awesome and I think I have some big painting converts!  Here are some of the tips we discussed:


  • Planning is the key! Don’t begin painting without a plan: concept and black & white thumbnail, then color choices.
  • Choose your palette in advance. 
  • Do a small color study to test your palette
  • Start with an underpainting to get a head start and use less pastel. I like Mount Vision pastels for large painting block-in.
  • START BIG: paint the big shapes first. Keep things big and simple for as long as possible.
  • Save the details (decoration) for the end
  • MOVE! Allow your arm and whole body to get into the painting. Think Big bold strokes.

Permission to stop after about 20 minutes

Evaluating the painting and writing down the changes to make

I have not addressed the mechanics of painting large pastel paintings.....what kind of support? To mount or not to mount? How to frame?  I am compiling information for a future post so I'd love to hear from you large scale pastelists! Please share your tips if you'd like!

A hard working and talented group of artists!
Don't forget to visit my etsy shop for my Thankful Art Event. Original art makes a great gift and 50% off is a great deal! Use coupon code THANKFUL50 at checkout.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tips for Painting Sand in Pastel

'Beach Dreams'        11x14       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $165
I am on my way to Chicago today eagerly awaiting the birth of my grandson. I will be sharing some of my favorite pastel landscape tips over the next few days. Painting sand is a fun challenge. Today I share some tips for painting beautiful sand.

11x14 pastel available in my etsy shop

From the archives:
  It has been awhile since I painted the beach so it has been fun for me to take out my big stack of beach photos and paint!  When I asked my students to write down two questions about painting the beach the most popular questions were these:

How do you paint sand that looks granular?  How do you know what colors to use in the sand?
There is actually a simple answer to this question. With pastels we usually work dark to light and it is no exceptions for painting sand which tends to be a light value.
  • The problem we often have is that we start painting the sand with a color that is close to what we want or the local color. Then we end up with a big area of very light value sand color and it looks flat and boring. Remember....dark to light!  
  • So I like to start painting my sandy areas with a darker and more intense color than I plan on ending up with. I layer the colors getting gradually lighter ad brighter. I also sometimes do an underpainting in a brighter bolder color. 
  • Then when layering the pastels I use a very light touch so that the darker layers show through. These darker bits are what gives the granular look to the sand. LIGHT TOUCH is the KEY!
My Cheat Sheet for Painting Sand
 How about choosing sand colors?  Remember that the colors of the sand will vary greatly from beach to beach depending on the make-up of the sand. Coral based sands can be pink or white, shell based sands can be golden or bleached white. There are grey sands, peach sands even black sand beaches.
Once I decide the color of the sand I choose several values of the color so that I can build up my layers making the rich texture I discussed above.

Visit my Etsy shop this week for the THANKFUL ART EVENT. A big selection of paintings are available at a 50% discount. Use coupon code THANKFUL50 when you check out. Link to shop:

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How I Photograph my Paintings

'A Midwest Bouquet'          8x10         oil on panel       ©Karen Margulis

Photo taken with my old faithful Olympus C-5060 RIP

I get this question all of the time so I thought it would be good to retrieve this post from the archives!

Yesterday was a sad day.  My old faithful digital camera finally died.  It served me so well over the last five years of daily painting and blogging.  I used it every single day to take photos of my paintings. It always took clear crisp photos with accurate color. I knew the day would come when it would just give up and yesterday it was time. It actually still works but the photos have thick lines running through them and the colors are washed out and warm. I changed cards, batteries, checked all the settings and still no luck. I may play with it some more but I might as well get used to another camera.

I am often asked how I take photos for my work. It is so much easier than you might think. I don't have an elaborate photo set up and I don't use a tripod. Keep in mind the photos are for use online so they are not high resolution.
  • For pastel paintings I photograph the painting while it is still on my easel. I use a point and shoot digital camera set on high quality. I do use the flash. I have had good luck with accurate colors (until the camera began to go south)  The lighting near my easel is two fluorescent ceiling fixtures with both warm and cool bulbs.  I don't use a tripod but my camera had a very short shutter lag so I don't have to be that steady. I don't zoom all the way into the painting. I get close to the edges but crop it in photoshop.  I load the picture onto my PC and open it up in photoshop where I will crop it to the painting's size.  Sometimes I will need to adjust the color or contrast but more often it is quite true to my painting.  If I need to take a higher resolution photo for a show entry I change the camera's setting to the highest quality and largest file size. I might even use a tripod.
  • Photographing oil paintings is a little trickier. The flash helps illuminate my pastels but it can't be used on wet oil paints without producing glare. I have experimented with a variety of set-ups and I have found a simple set-up that is working. I have a window in my studio with north light and this area also had a warm overhead fluorescent light. I set the painting upright on a table next to the window and the combination of light works well. I take the photo without flash being careful to hold the camera steady. If you tend to shake then I would recommend a tripod. I then load the photos onto my PC and crop it in photoshop. For the painting in today's post I used this set up. The paint was still wet.  
Have a look at today's  oil painting.  The top picture was taken today with my replacement camera. This is a Lumix DMC-ZS1.  I bought it a couple of years ago for the 12z optical zoom but I haven't used it much because the lcd screen is awful in bright light. There is no viewfinder so when I was using it outside I was basically shooting blind.  A serious problem for taking landscape reference photos!  But I think it will do just fine inside taking photos of my paintings.  The color straight out of the camera on automatic was slightly cooler than the actual painting  but I will be able to make some adjustments to get it just right. The Lumix actually took a crisper cleaner looking photo than the one I took the other day with my Olympus before it died. (see bottom photo)  So while sad for losing an old friend, I think I will be able to get used to a new camera!
How do you photograph your work? I'd love for you to share your tips in the comments!

Update: I have been using the Lumix since I wrote this post back in 2012! It is a faithful daily companion and I will be sad when it's time is up!

Monday, November 28, 2016

Painting Small on the Go

'Country Lane'     France plein air      5x7    plein air       ©Karen Margulis
available $95

 I found some treasure! I was going through a box of my paintings when I stumbled upon a box of plein air studies. Looking at them brought back a flood of great memories. There is nothing like a plein air painting to revive memories. Looking at a painting done on location gives you so much more information than looking at a photo. When you paint on location you experience the place with all of your senses....You feel the heat or cold. You hear the birds or water or whatever else is nearby. You smell the freshly cut grass or the small of the forest or the ocean.....You are fully present and involved.

When I took out this little pile of 5x7 paintings it all came back. I could recall the details of the time and place. I am always surprised at how colorful I see things in real life. All of these memories and 'notes in pastel' will help me when I do paint from photos.  I keep it simple and paint small when I travel. 5x7 is the perfect size to take notes in pastel!

If you haven't taken your pastels outside to paint I highly recommend that you give it a try. Even if you look out the window from the comfort of your studio or home. Any amount of time spent painting from life will improve your work!

Here are a selection of plein air studies done in the last couple of years. Fun treasures to find!

New Mexico     5x7    pastel

France        5x7     pastel

Sweden    5x7    pastel

Lake Tahoe 5x7 pastel

Lake Tahoe 5x7 pastel

Croatia demo  9x12 pastel

Enter to win this 8x10 pastel painting!

This year I would like to make the gift of art more affordable. Since I am not affiliated with any galleries I am able to set my own prices and while it is sometimes frowned upon in the art world I am going to have a sale! This is a sale to say THANK YOU and it is a sale with a with a fun twist.

I have put together a collection of my original paintings of all sizes and I will be offering them at 50% off regular price. The sale prices will be available until midnight on Sunday December 4th. 

HOW: Visit my Etsy shop Holiday Sale section CLICK HERE FOR SALE  Use the coupon code THANKFUL50 at checkout to receive the discounted price.

BONUS TWIST:  Everyone who makes a purchase during the sale will be entered into a drawing to win the  8x10 original marsh painting at the top of today's post. Winner will be selected and notified by email next week.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

An Easy Tip for Color Studies and a Cyber Monday Treat

'A Walk on the Beach'           8x10        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $150
 I am home from a wonderful trip to California. After the laundry was done I couldn't wait any longer. I just had to paint. I was so inspired by the gorgeous scenery and I wanted to paint while it was all fresh. I printed out some photos and selected one from our stop in Santa Barbara.

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.

Using a Sticky note pad for 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! Please note that the coupon code is THANKFUL50. I had the wrong code in yesterday's blog post. Have a look at the paintings....I just added more to the event.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

My Tips for Choosing Subjects to Paint

'Taking the Back Roads'          9x12         pastel      ©Karen Margulis
available at 50% off click here for sale paintings
It can be overwhelming sometimes. How to narrow down subject matter and find things to paint? It begins with knowing yourself. Choosing things that interest and excites you is most important. We have to paint what we love.....not what we think others will want or love. So self reflection is in order if you aren't sure what subjects that excite you the most.

For me there is a simple secret to choosing things to paint. I take the back roads. I have learned that it is along the back roads that I find the things that speak loudly to me. If I can find a place away from the hustle and bustle, somewhere close to nature, then I will find my truth. I love to paint the quiet places. The places and things that are often overlooked. There is nothing more exciting to me than a dried patch of weeds! The colors and textures and mystery beg to be painted. All I have to do is slip away to these quiet places and just simply look. Beauty will be found!

'Pink Hush'        11x14       pastel

I have been going through my boxes of paintings this week in preparation for a major studio clean-up. I have uncovered paintings that I haven't had a chance to share. Some of them are just studies. Some are demos. Some were unfinished. I was struck by a common thread though.....the ones I liked the most were those paintings inspired by the back roads! I will keep this in mind the next time I am looking for things to paint!

What do you most like to paint? Where do you find your inspiration? Make time this weekend to gather some reference of your favorite subject!

'Southern Marsh'         11x14      pastel
I am sharing many of these paintings in a special Holiday Art Sale. I want to make art available to all so I am offering a selection of these original pastels for 50% off regular prices. If you make a purchase you will also be entered to win the 8x10 painting below. Sale ends Monday at midnight.

'Gentle Journey'    8x10 pastel
enter to win this painting by purchasing a sale painting 

click here to see sale paintings.
50% off selected paintings in my etsy shop. Use coupon code THANKFUL50 at checkout

Friday, November 25, 2016

Thank you with a Twist

'Indian Summer Warmth'        8x10      pastel       ©Karen Margulis
enter to win this painting. details below

The touch of a loved one. A kiss from a favorite pet. The sight of a beautiful place. There is not much else to compare to the sights, sounds, smells of your happy place. These things soothe the soul. I rank art right up at the top of my list of things that soothe my soul. Making art, talking about art, reading about art and of course.....looking at art.

I have a few pieces of original art in my home. Paintings from favorite artists that I have collected or traded when the opportunity arose. These paintings are treasures. I never tire of looking at them. I always seem to see something new when I glance at them. I learn from them and they make me smile.

This year I would like to make the gift of art more affordable. Since I am not affiliated with any galleries I am able to set my own prices and while it is sometimes frowned upon in the art world I am going to have a sale! This is a sale to say THANK YOU and it is a sale with a with a fun twist.

I have put together a collection of my original paintings of all sizes and I will be offering them at 50% off regular price. The sale prices will be available until midnight on Sunday December 4th. 

HOW: Visit my Etsy shop Holiday Sale section CLICK HERE FOR SALE  Use the coupon code THANKFUL50 at checkout to receive the discounted price.

BONUS TWIST:  Everyone who makes a purchase during the sale will be entered into a drawing to win the  8x10 original marsh painting at the top of today's post. Winner will be selected and notified by email next week.

visit my etsy shop to view sale paintings and use coupon code THANKFUL50 at checkout

I would love for these paintings to have good homes and spread joy. Thank you for having a look and for taking time to read my blog!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

!0 Things for an Artist to be Thankful For

'Thankful'           18x24       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $350
I have much to be thankful for. Family, good friends, good health and much more.   Being a full time artist has provided me with a whole new set of things to be thankful for.  I'd like to share 10 of them with you.
  1. The gift of sensitivity.  I am grateful for the ability to look at the world in a different way. As I have developed as an artist so has my eye and sensitivity to subtle beauty.  I not only notice the obvious beauty like a fiery sunset, but I notice the simple things like a shaft of warm light across a meadow.
  2. My artist friends.  I love all of my friends but there is a special bond I share with my fellow artists. We just see things in a different way. Many of my artists friends were the 'different' ones in their family so when we get together and share so many things in common it is a great feeling. I love my artist friends!
  3. Art Supplies!  We love them and we need them to create. We probably don't need as many supplies as we crave (cavemen made art with burnt sticks)  But part of the fun of creating art is to try new supplies.  And who can resist a new box of gorgeous pastels!
  4. Travel.  I have always had wanderlust but being an artist gives me opportunities to travel. Trips to conventions, workshops and art events take me to new places to discover.  I am grateful for my good friends who love to travel and for the trips we take together. I am also thankful for the opportunity to travel and share the wonderful world of pastels with new friends around the world!
  5. Collectors.  I approach my art by painting the subjects that I love but when a painting connects with someone and they are moved to have it hang in their home....there is no greater feeling of satisfaction. I am grateful for the people who enjoy my work.
  6. The internet.  Even though artists struggle with balancing time online with painting time, I am grateful for the ability to connect with so many artists and art lovers online.  Being an artist can often be a lonely endeavor and having an online community to share work and ideas has been invaluable to me. Being active on social media has led to many connections and new friendships! 
  7. Enjoying my Day Job.  I am grateful for being able to work as an artist full time. I wake up every morning with a spark of excitement for the day. I can't wait to go down into the studio and go to work every day!
  8. Magic.  I am grateful for the chance to create something from nothing. It may not always be a success but just having the opportunity to turn a blank canvas into something.
  9. Books.  I love books, especially art books.  Being an artist gives me a good excuse to collect books. I need them. I need them for instruction and for inspiration. I think I'll buy a new book today!
  10. Sharing. I love to learn so I am grateful for the opportunities to learn from other artists but I learn just as much from sharing what i've learned with others. I love teaching and sharing on my blog and I appreciate all of you who visit every day to see what I have to share!

I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Just in case you want to get a head start on your holiday shopping.....
I am thankful for my blog readers and all of those who have purchased a painting or a lesson or perhaps attended one of my classes. To show my appreciation I am offering the opportunity to choose one of my paintings at a 50% discount. An original work of art is a special gift for someone special (including yourself!)  Visit my Etsy shop and any painting in the Holiday Sale Shop Section is 50% off with coupon code THANKFUL50  Here is the direct link.