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Sunday, January 26, 2020

Have You Tried this Pastel Trick?

'Early Snow'               6x8         pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available on Etsy $125
Did you know that you can make just about any kind of paper into a surface that will accept pastel? Most pastelists prefer a paper or support with tooth so sanded pastel papers are very popular. But you can add to the grittiness or add grit to a paper or support by  brushing on some clear gesso. The clear gesso has just enough grittiness to make a sanded surface! And it is inexpensive!

So you have tried the clear gesso trick. But you may be less than satisfied with your results. Perhaps the texture isn't as obvious as you want or maybe it is making it hard to paint over. I've got some ideas on how you can make the most of the texture from an application of clear gesso.

Here are some links to past articles on clear gesso in these links:

To clarify the use of the clear gesso I'd like to add that it can be applied to paper or support board before painting as a preparation or it can be used on top of pastel layers but it will liquify and darken the pastel creating a dark textured underpainting. Don't put it on top of pastel if you don't want to obliterate the painting!

adding some clear gesso to some canvas panels
Today's Painting is done on a canvas panel that was already gray. I added some clear gesso for extra tooth.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Does Paper Color Matter?

'Hidden Meadow II'.              12x9         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $175

There really is no right or wrong. When it comes to choosing paper color every choice will give you a different result. No one result is the 'correct' choice. However we can make better choices. We can choose the paper color that will better help us express our concept for the painting. 

It helps if you know what you hope to express with your painting. Ask yourself before you start....what mood do I want? What are the weather conditions? How do I want the viewer to feel?

Then choose colors that will help create the feeling you want. We are experimenting with paper color over on my Patreon group. This yellow wildflower painting was one of my recent demos. I painted the same subject with the same palette of pastels on two different paper colors. The left side is blue Canson paper and the right side is a dull orange piece.  Can you see the difference the paper color can make?

The blue or cool version on the left and the orange warm version on the right

Have you tried my Patreon group yet? I am so excited about the plans I have for 2020 and I would love for you to join our warm and welcoming group. Not only will you get a guided program of weekly videos, lessons and challenges, you will have access to over 2 years of lessons! All for just $4 a month. It really is a bargain and I work hard every day to ensure the content is fun and accessible!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

New Video Demo: I Take a Crazy Photo and Paint a Normal Painting!

'A Moment of Silence'.           12x12            pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available $250
 I thought it would be fun to make a crazy photo. I put one of my winter reference photos into a photo editor and chose a crazy filter. The photo was cool.....the sky was lemon yellow and green. But I never got around to the crazy colors. Instead I decided to use the photo but create a painting with more realistic colors of a winter landscape.

I took a video of the painting and you can watch it on my Youtube channel. Here is the link:


If you enjoyed the vide I hope you will give it a like or comment. Your involvement helps me grow my channel! Thank you!!

Here is the selection of pastels I chose from. This is a tray of neutral pastels and they are important for a winter landscape especially one with natural colors!

Here you can see my crazy photo. I am thinking I should still try to paint it ....just for fun!

Saturday, January 18, 2020

How Do You Know When a Painting is Finished?

'Dream Catcher'                9x12               pastel                  ©Karen Margulis
available $175
 Art is never finished, only abandoned.

I came across this old demo painting (below) this week and it called to be finished. It was part of a lesson on seeing big shapes. I don't remember if I thought it was finished at the time but even if I did I could see now that it really was not finished. It was abandoned. But now with years of painting practice under my belt I could see what it needed.

This brings up a question we often ask do we know when we are finished? And if art is never finished then aren't we in trouble?   
A better question is How do we know when to stop? The usual answer I hear is that we should stop when we have said all there is to say....or when we don't know what another mark will add to the painting.  Stop. 

Have a look at the original version of the painting. I am pretty sure that several years ago when I painted this I thought I was finished. I had made my point about simple shapes and I like my bold marks. But as we paint and learn and grow we also change. I looked at the painting now with different eyes. I felt that it looked unfinished. It needed more clarity. I have learned to slow down and be more deliberate about final marks. So I gave myself permission to work on it and now the new version pleases me more and I knew it was time to stop. 

Who knows how I will feel about the painting after a few more years but for now it tells the story of the shapes of the desert and I don't know what more I would add.  That was an interesting exercise and an eye opener about the idea of finishing a painting.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Lesson for you and a Lesson for me!

'A Hike into the Woods'             9x12              pastel            ©Karen Margulis
available $225
 I knew better. But I did it anyway. I have done paintings in the past where a dirt path looked more like water than dirt. It happens when we use colors found in water to paint the path.....especially when we uses blues and violets.  It is somewhat of an optical illusion but the brain sees a ribbon shape of blue and labels it as water despite the other clues in the painting that says it isn't water.

Here is what happened. I painted this scene for my step by step Monday Demo for my Patreon group.  The initial painting is posted below.  Right away someone commented that they thought the pathway looked like water running downhill. I took a second look and could see how it did indeed look like it could be water.  I knew it was a steel gray stone path mostly in the shadows. I knew that in real life it looked very blue.....but I didn't consider how it might look to someone who wasn't on the path with me! I was tied to my memory and to the colors in the photo. I took the painting out and changed the color to make it more like dirt.

Lesson for me: Step away and make sure what I paint makes sense and doesn't have to be explained. Remember that blue pathways can look like water!

Lesson for you: Don't get so caught up in your photo and your memory of things that you stop thinking of how the viewer will see your painting. won't always be there to explain things to your viewer. So things that look odd should be changed or eliminated even if that is how they are in real life.

The palette I used for this painting

Is this a stone path or water? The original demo before the changes to the path
If you liked this mini lesson consider joining us over on Patreon. We will be exploring more tips for painting pathways this week!

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

An Experiment with Random Texture

'The Forest Beckons'             24x18            pastel              ©Karen Margulis
available $425

I put on my 'What if' crown and put my idea to a test. I wondered what would happen if I only wanted texture in one area of a painting. I know this has been done by other artists but for some reason I never think to try it. It was time.

Last fall I took a photo of this wonderful textured tree on my trip to Norway. I was fascinated by the light color of the bark and the branches which seemed to beckon me to enter the forest behind her.  What if I applied something to my paper ONLY on the tree to give it texture that contrasted with the rest of the painting?

I took out my jar of Golden Micaceous Iron Oxide. This is acrylic paint with a shiny dark gray grit. It is a nice way to tone a paper and give it tooth at the same time. See a video demo with this product here

I took out a piece of 24x18 Uart sanded paper and did a quick oil stain underpainting. I liked it but then I had the idea of adding texture!  I used a brush and painted the tree with the paint. I wasn't concerned about the consistency which is on the thick side right out of the jar. I wanted the texture! 

Click to enlarge underpainting
 It took a few hours for the paint to dry because I had applied it fairly thick. When it was dry I got to work with my pastels. Here is a shot midway through the painting process. This is the ugly stage! I needed to keep going.

I kept going! I really enjoyed painting over the textured tree trunk. It allowed the mark appear like magic! This textured tree really comes forward and has a bot of a 3 D feel to it.  It was a lot of fun and it opens up so many possibilities for random texture!

Below is a close up photo of the textured tree. What do you think? Would you try random texture?

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Revisiting the Lavender Field: The importance of Artistic License

16 x 20 Pastel                  ©Karen Margulis              sold

I hope my friends Jayne and Holly will remember this place. We stumbled on it on our road trip out west a few years ago. We were somewhere in Kansas and saw a sign for a lavender farm so naturally we made the detour. We had to go down several dirt roads and it was hot and dusty. When we arrived at the location no one was there and there was a very small overgrown field with some not so happy lavender plants...nothing was in bloom. We took some photos and there were some great dragonflies...but the detour was a bust.

 One of the great things about painting though is the opportunity to make something out of nothing. I took my photo of the sad lavender field and filed it away. Over the years I have pulled out the photo and painted from it but I used my artistic license. I painted the field in full bloom! Painters can do that! 

I recently revisited this scene and did a new larger painting. It is 16x20. Once again I was reminded of the importance of an artistic license. Often things in nature are not perfectly composed with perfect light. Photographers have to either wait or get creative with composition (or photoshop) But painters have the ability to make changes and use the reference photo as a jumping off point. I love that about painting!

I did an oil stain underpainting which is a rich and vibrant way to begin

The pastels I used for the painting

Friday, January 10, 2020

Try A New Way of Seeing this Year! New Video Demos!

'An Old Soul'             12x9            pastel                ©Karen Margulis
available $175
 A new year brings new beginnings. Many of us start the new year with great intentions. We all want to do better with our goals but often life gets in the way and we fall back into old habits. Don't be too hard on yourself. Feeling bad and even guilty about not following through isn't productive. Instead, when you find yourself lamenting that you aren't keeping up with your intentions, DO something about it.

Spend a few minutes on your art. You don't need to paint. You don't need to do something big. Listen to a podcast. Read a chapter of that art book you've had on your shelf. Do a few thumbnail sketches. Watch an art video! If you are a member of my Patreon group there are weekly challenges you can join and over 100 videos to watch!  Do one small thing for your art and feel good about yourself. Remember slow and steady gets results and your art journey is not a race but a journey to savor and enjoy!

If you missed this video demo have a look at my Patreon Page.

If you are not a Patreon member we'd love to have you but you can still see some of my videos on my Youtube channel and I just released a new video demo here:

At my easel!

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

The Deadline is Coming! Enter Today!

'Dreaming in Color'                14x11               pastel               ©Karen Margulis

Are you thinking about entering the 36th IAPS Juried Exhibition? It will be held in Dunedin Florida and as always it will be amazing! If you are thinking of entering do it now! The deadline is January 10!  I am in the studio today looking through my latest paintings and making a decision what to enter.

Are you thinking of entering? Do you wonder how to decide what to enter? It isn't easy. We become so emotionally attached to our work that it is difficult to be objective sometimes. And even if we are totally objective it doesn't mean that a strong painting will be what the juror responds to. Here is my process for deciding on work to enter. 

When I finish a painting I usually keep it out on one of my extra easels for awhile. I will glance at the current paintings from time to time. If a particular painting continues to give me joy then I may set it aside and not offer it for sale. It goes into my pile of possibilities. When the deadline to an exhibition approaches I pull out the pile and evaluate the paintings. I look for a good composition and color harmony. I look to see if the eye moves through the painting. And I look for the story. I am still intrigued? Do I want to spend more time with it? In the end I select the paintings that have an emotional pull for me. Maybe these aren't the 'winners' but if they make me smile then I can feel proud of my entries no matter what the decision of the jurors. 

TIP: If you are thinking of entering but not sure if you are ready, just do it! No one has to know the outcome and you will gain valuable experience! Here is the link for more information:

Oil stain underpainting on Ampersand Pastelbord

Monday, January 06, 2020

What to do with a Commission Fail

'Renewal'                  18x24                  pastel                 ©Karen Margulis
available on my Etsy shop  $450

It was bound to happen. I don't take on commission very often but I have always had a successful experience. The last two have been failures. Not the paintings necessarily but meeting the expectations and the vision of the client. It is difficult to know exactly what is in the mind of those who commission our work. We can assume they are familiar with our style and subject matter but that isn't always enough. Sometimes what they have in their head is not what you create and then the commission is a failure. 

In my most recent commission I went against my better judgement and tried to paint something that really wasn't my typical style and palette. I thought I understood what the client had in mind. But even as I painted it I knew I wasn't being true to my own style....too fussy and too bright.  Below is the finished commission that was rejected because it wasn't what the client  had in mind. It is 18x24. Sometimes a client gives you the opportunity to make adjustments but in this case it was a flat out no thanks. And no I didn't get any money up front because I never have any problems. But instead of feeling defeated I was excited that it was a no.

Now I could use this paper to create something that made me happy! Pastel is so versatile and I knew I now was given the freedom to play!

The rejected commission 18x24 on Uart
 The first thing I did was brush off the thickest areas of pastel. The I took a cheap brush and some clear gesso and painted over the pastel. You can see how the gesso liquifies the pastel and makes it into a darkish blob. But now I had a dark textured surface to reinvent the painting. The gesso did not buckle the unmounted Uart paper at all.

New beginnings with clear gesso
 I selected a photo of some trees from a hike a took in Norway. It had a similar arrangement of trees and color palette as the commission AND it was something that spoke to me personally I drew in the big simple mountain shape and tree shapes.

I had fun redoing the painting with my new vision. The texture added to the feeling of grasses and foliage and allowed me to keep things simple and not fussy.  I was able to incorporate more neutrals using the brighter greens as accents. It was a fun painting and it allowed me to find joy in a disappointing experience.

Lesson I learned: I will now only accept commissions that resonate with me with the client giving me full reign. I still will not ask for money in advance because if a client is not happy with my work I'd rather repurpose the paper!  I don't really do many commissions so it really isn't  a big concern.

The new painting

A close up of the texture created by the clear gesso.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Why Take an Art Workshop this Year?

I guess I am just a perpetual student. I love to learn new things. I am happiest with my nose in a book or listening to a good lecture and taking notes. Maybe that is why I also love teaching. It gives me the chance to be creative with the information I share and design workshops that lead to lifelong memories! This week I am preparing for several upcoming workshops so I thought I'd share my thoughts on why taking workshops is a good thing.

One of the things I love about painting is that artists are never done learning. It is not something we totally master. We may develop technical skills but there is always room for learning and growth. I like to take workshops.  I choose my workshops carefully and make sure I don't take too many too closely spaced. Time is needed to digest what is learned. Too much information from too many sources can be confusing. But chosen wisely a workshop can have many benefits.

  •  A workshop exposes us to new ideas and techniques which can lead to new discoveries even for the most experienced artist.
  • We often learn just as much from the other artists in the workshop. I always learn tips from my fellow artists...not to mention meeting new friends who are as passionate about painting as I am.
  • It's good for your brain!  It is important to go back to learning mode every once in awhile. Hearing things you know explained in a different way can lead to breakthroughs and aha moments and we are never too experienced to have those!
  • Workshops can be a time of forced immersion in art. Sometimes life gets in the way and we don't get to paint as much as we want. A workshop gives your days of uninterrupted painting time. It can really jumpstart a good routine.
  • Workshops help me learn how to be a better teacher. It is humbling to be a struggling student...going back to that place helps me understand my students and what they are feeling in my classes.
  • Workshops lead to lifelong friendships and memories. These experiences add to the fabric of our experiences. The more we experience the richer we will be and the better we will be able to express ourselves through our art.

I love taking workshops! I also love teaching and the many workshops I have taken over the years have made it possible for me to grow as an artist and now to be able to share the things I've learned with you! I have a busy year ahead with workshops and other fun travel (more on that soon) and I hope it will be my pleasure to have the opportunity to meet and share with many of you!

Have a look at my 2020 workshop schedule and see if there is one near you. Workshops are all studio workshops except for one plein air workshop in Pennsylvania. Each workshop will include two demos each day with plenty of time for you to paint with my help at your easel. The focus of the workshops will be on painting with more expression and I have plenty of helpful and fun lessons planned. The workshops are suitable for artists at any level from beginner to advanced!

Each group has their own registration procedures and time tables for registration. Consult the flyer below for more information. I am not handling any registrations for these workshops but I will do my best to answer any questions you might have. 

Friday, January 03, 2020

Video Demo and Tip for Painting More Often

'The Magical Meadow'               9x12             pastel                ©Karen Margulis
available on Etsy $195

There is nothing worse than having a bit of time to paint but getting nothing done! It is easy to do. You wander into the studio and start puttering....organizing pastels and paper, trying to decide what to paint.....before you know your time is up and you have other obligations.

I have an idea to help you be more efficient with your painting time. An Inspiration Jar!  I made a new video and choose a reference from my jar and paint a demo. Click on the link below to see the video on my YouTube channel.  

 No Puttering Approach to Painting!

If you like the video consider subscribing to my Youtube channel and give it a thumbs up while you are there!

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Do You Want to Improve Your Paintings this Year?

'Apres Ski'                 6x6              pastel                   ©Karen Margulis
available $150

I now have two full years under my belt and it has been so much fun to share with you. Perhaps you are already a member of my group on Patreon. Maybe you don't know what it is or if it is a good fit for you. (If you are already a member....a huge thank you for your pledge. Your support allows me to keep providing great content!)

What is Patreon? Simply it is a platform that allows me to easily upload videos and photos and PDF links and more so I can provide in depth online instruction. I like to say it is my blog on steroids! To access this content you pledge your support of either $4 or $6 a month. A $6 pledge gives you bonus content and a monthly paint along video series. 

What if it isn't for me? You can easily cancel your pledge at any time. Even if you use a fraction of what is offered it is well worth the $48 for the year! And I appreciate your support!

What do I get for my pledge? Ongoing online instruction and the support of other like minded artists! Each month I have a theme or unit of study. I offer a weekly demos, weekly challenges, member critiques and so much more. We have a Community page that allows you to share your work and ask others for feedback. We are a warm and welcoming group!

The best part of my group is that you also have access to all of the past content! Over 100 video demos and so much more. I am sharing the index of our past topics so that you can see what you can access. 

OK How do I join? Go to my Patreon Page at Follow the instructions on the page and you are in!!

I am proud of the work I have put into building my group and I appreciate the kind words of my Patrons. Here are just a few testimonials. 
  • Our "community" time has come to be one of the best parts of each day.

  • Thank you Karen for sharing your paintings, your wonderful teaching and multitude of information. I have learned much more then I thought possible

  • Thank you so very much for all the amazing instructions in whatever was they come. 
  • Learning from you is one of my biggest joys and motivation! 

  • Another year is fast approaching us.and I have to say Karen I have absolutely enjoyed all of the content this year over on Patreon especially the paint along's. I have learnt so much from you this year.

  • Every paint along painting that I have done I feel that I am getting better and a lot more confidence in my materials.

  •  I knew I had hit “pay dirt” by finding Karen. My artwork has really improved watching her videos and doing assignments and getting feedback from all of you.

  •  I have painted more this past year than I ever have and I believe I have grown as an artist since joining Karen’s Patreon page. Karen and this group have inspired me to paint, paint paint! 

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Making Time for Art in Busy Times

'Magic'                    9x12                pastel                   ©Karen Margulis
available $195

It can be done. Carving out some time to paint in the midst of the busy holiday season isn't easy but it is possible. I am in the middle of my annual studio and home clean up. I have stuff everywhere but I am making progress. On top of the clean up project I am working on plans for workshops and Patreon content for 2020. I have other trips and projects to prepare for and I am trying to get ahead of the eight ball! 

You would think there was no time to paint. But my easel calls to me. I can fit it in if I think about painting time a bit differently. I can certainly find 20-30  minutes to paint. It is the perfect break from cleaning. Painting a quick study gives me a break, satisfies my pastel craving and allows me to access the intuitive painter in me.  Often we do better work than we thought possible if we limit our time spent on the painting. We don't have time to over- think!

A quick alcohol wash gave me something interesting to respond to

Today I took a break after lunch and spent 30 minutes working on this painting of weeds at of my favorite intuitive paintings . I had already done the underpainting by doing an alcohol wash over a Patreon demo color swatch chart. I never waste a good piece of paper! And because I was intimately familiar with this subject it was easy to slip in and paint. I also used the palette of pastes that I had out for the Patreon demo. 

The block in done in the first 5 minutes. The rest of the time was for resolving the details. 

Quick studies are made for busy times. Pastels make it easy to paint and leave things alone. Clean-up is too easy.  It is a great habit to start. Make time for a painting break. You'll be glad you did!

Happy New Year!! Wishing everyone a wonderful creative and inspiring new year!! 

Consider joining my Patreon group this year! I have some great content in the works and it is a great way to connect with other pastel artists!

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Finding Inspiration In Small Pieces

'Lavender Magic'            9x14         pastel            ©Karen Margulis
available $195
 It was a quiet day. My studio was clean and organized and I was looking for something to paint. I am not usually at a loss for inspiration. My problem is the opposite. I have too many ideas for paintings! I sometimes can't decide because I am overwhelmed. One of the things I do is keep an Inspiration Jar which I have blogged about . Click here to read.  But today I came across another great idea for inspiration shared by Tony Allain.

Tony shared his tip on Facebook and I am so glad I saw it today. I adapted it a bit but here is the main idea: Make a small viewfinder. Matboard works great. Use the viewfinder on your reference photos to discover small areas that could be made into paintings. I have done this in the past but I use artist tape to tape off my new composition within the photo.

This is a great way to find simple areas in complicated reference photos or to get more milage from a favorite reference!  I found a long narrow section of one of my Provence photos. It was the perfect size for a piece of black scrap  paper I had. See below. 

Thanks Tony for sharing your tip! I am sure I will use it more often!

My 'new' reference photo ad paper. It is Black Canson Mi-Teintes paper. 

This is the first layer of the painting,