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Sunday, November 17, 2019

How Did You Get Started with Pastels?

Revisiting pumpkins in 2013. Time for an update!

 It all began with a pumpkin....and an old box of Grumbacher pastels. It was in 2005 when I picked up my first pastel. It was at a one day pastel workshop at the community art center. I had decided that I wanted to take art classes. I had not done any painting since my dabbling during high school. I started with a watercolor class which was a disaster. Not one to give up easily I signed up for a one day pastel workshop.

I arrived with my little box of pastels from a high school class,  excited to try them. The teacher was a sweet woman who didn't teach us a thing about pastels. She had some gourds and pumpkins set up and basically all we did was paint them all day.  I was in heaven.

My very first pastel painting done in 2005

Here is my painting from that workshop and yes it took me hours!  And yes there are many 'issues'.  But I knew as soon as the pastel touched the paper that I was hooked. I wanted to learn how to use those pastels. And I wanted more of them. Lots more. I went home after the workshop and immediately googled pastel teachers in Atlanta. The first name that popped up was Marsha Savage. I got up my nerve to inquire about classes and as luck would have it the next session was about to begin.

I went to the class and the rest is history!  Pastel was definitely the right fit for me and Marsha was the perfect first teacher. She made class fun as well as taught us how to get the pastels to do what we wanted. I am still learning but now it is my privilege to pass on what I do know with other aspiring pastelists.  I'm glad I somehow managed to save my first pastel painting. It reminds me that practice does indeed help! (It is also time for a new pumpkin painting since the one in this post is from 2013!)

Today's painting is the demo I did for my pastel class in 2013. I set up some pumpkins for us to paint. Hopefully they too were  inspired to continue painting!

How did you first discover pastel? Share your story with us in the comments!

Saturday, November 16, 2019

What Can you do with a Pearlescent Pastel?

Someone recently asked me this question. The pearlescent and iridescent pastels are so tempting but how can you use them in your paintings? Here is a post from the archives!

I didn't expect it. But in the end I loved it.  That little piece of green pastel that somehow sneaks into my palette every once in awhile.  It is a deceiving little guy.  At a quick glance it looks like a nice mid value warm green. It is perfect for foliage.   As soon as it is applied to paper it's true nature is revealed.

It shimmers!  It is a like a gem. It is a pearlescent  pastel and it makes me smile!

a tiny piece of pearlescent pastel from Great American Artworks

As I layer this soft buttery piece of pastel it leaves behind a subtle shimmer.  The effect is more pronounced when the light hits the painting.  The camera seems to intensify the effect. It is actually more subtle in real life.

I love this little green pastel but it has to be used in small amounts. Like too much jewelry or cologne....a little goes a long way and too much can be overwhelming.  Here is a suggestion for using pearlescent pastels:

  • It is the element of surprise that makes a touch of shimmer special.  Rather than using a whole set of pearlescent colors in a single painting, break the pastels into smaller pieces. Now plant these pieces in your pastel box in the correct value and color area.  The next time you reach for a certain color and value you may end up with a little gem. It will add a nice touch of shimmer just where you need it!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Are You In a Paper Rut? Try This!

mini pastel 2.5x3.5    ©Karen Margulis

Are you in a paper rut?  Do you always use the same paper for every painting?  Do you have papers you love or maybe even dislike?  It may be time to shake things up and try some new paper!

It is always a good idea to stick with a paper or surface for awhile so you can get to know it. If you are always working on a new surface it is hard to learn what the pastels do on each type of paper. But sometimes it is good to change it up and try or revisit some other papers. I have an idea to make it easy and fun....


Get together with your pastel friends and have everyone bring 10 pieces of different papers all cut to ATC size of 2.5 x 3.5 inches.  Have everyone write the paper type on the back if they know.  You can use your paper scraps for these.  If someone doesn't have a variety of papers they can tone them or perhaps do random watercolor washes (on sanded papers)  Even non traditional paste papers are fun to try.

Put all the papers together and have everyone chose 10 pieces.  Now everyone has 10 new surfaces to try. Continue the fun by having a 'Painting Bee' where everyone sits around a table with a box of pastels painting on these miniature papers.

A pile of miscellaneous pastel papers all cut to 2.5x3.5 inches

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

How to Make Greeting Cards with Your Paintings

'Daisy Delight'           18x24          pastel          ©Karen Margulis.      sold

I like to keep it simple. I look for ideas that are low cost and low tech.  When I decided to make greeting cards of my paintings I didn't want to spend a lot of money or time making them.  I tried printing them on my own printer but my printer goes through color ink like water and eats more paper than it prints. (yes I need a new printer)  Printing my own cards didn't work for me.

I considered using a third party printer such as Zazzle , Fine Art America and Cafe Press. But I wanted to have the cards on hand and not worry about placing orders for cards. 

 I decided to make my own cards using photos of my paintings. I love the way they turned out!

a card rack I found at a thrift store

Each card cost less than 15 cents including the photo, card, envelope and clear bag. Here is what I do:

  • I order glossy 4x6 prints of my favorite paintings. I take photos of my paintings using a point and shoot camera and crop it in my Photo program.   I have had very good luck with Walgreens. I upload my photos to them online and pick them up at my convenience. I always wait for a sale on prints.
  • I use Strathmore blank greeting cards. I have used both the blank cards with deckled edge and the photo mount cards which comes with the adhesive. I use a glue stick for the regular cards. You can get a box of 100 cards with envelopes on sale at Jerrys Artarama for about $25. 
  • I sign each card under the photo for a personal touch.
  • I slip the card and envelope into a clearbag for protection. I get my bags at
  • The only drawback of not printing your card is that you don't have contact information on the back of each card. I will sometimes hand write my email and website or I include a business card in the bag.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

How to Store a Large Pastel Painting

How to Store a Large Pastel Painting

'Lavender Surprise'          16x20           pastel        ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $195

Bigger is better sometimes.  I love painting large but I don't do it very often. Mostly because of expense. I want to paint something everyday so smaller paper size and less pastel use fits my budget.  But every once in awhile I pull out a full sheet of paper and paint big. It is energizing and exciting.

But that leads to the other reason why I don't paint large.....How to store the finished large pastel paintings? The small paintings are easy. I just stack them in boxes with glassine paper in between each painting. But I don't have boxes big enough for anything larger than 16x20.

I have a system that is working for me....but I am now out of shelf space as you can see on the photo! When I finish a large painting I leave it attached to the foam core support and cover the painting with glassine paper.  I then stack the paintings on a shelf unit in my studio. If I were more organized and neater I could stack a lot of big paintings this way.

My shelf for larger finished paintings

Large paintings covered in glassine
Before I got the shelf unit I would stack the foam core/paintings against the wall in a corner of my studio. I sat them in the bottom of an empty box to help them stay in place.  The big shelf is a nice luxury. I am lucky to have a lot of space.

 How do you store large pastel paintings?  My method works well for me but I am aways looking for great ideas!

About today's painting:
This is 16x20 on Uart paper with a turpenoid wash underpainting.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Two Easy Ways to Transport Plein Air Pastel Paintings

A collage of plein air paintings done on a trip to Pawleys Island several years ago

It is always fun to come home from a painting trip and unpack the finished paintings. I like to lay them all out on a table and look at them as a group. Sometimes the paintings I really liked aren't as good as I remember and others look better than I thought.  It is a great way to relive the trip!  Painting a lot on a trip is great but how do you keep them safe when you are finished and while you travel?

I have tried a few methods of transporting finished paintings but have settled on two favorites.  I used to use a folder that I made from card stock with leaves of glassine stapled together. It was too flimsy.  Then I tried using two pieces of foam core with glassine sheets held together with binder clips. It was too bulky and it was difficult to look through the paintings without taking them all out.

'Marsh Impressions'        5x7     pastel  plein air  sold

Now I have settled on two methods for keeping my paintings safe.  I rarely paint larger than 8x10 so these methods work well. If I decided to paint larger I would probably bring a foamcore sandwich.

  •  For the 8x10 or 5x7's I like to use an inexpensive pad of tracing paper. I just slip the painting in between the pages. They stay safe and clean and if I want to look back through them I can do it easily.  I take the aded precaution of using a small binder clip to close the pad so paintings don't slip out. I also like to slip the pad into a clear poly envelope....the kind that have a string tie.

  • For anything smaller than 5x7 I find a small magazine or even better a local travel guide magazine. These are small and portable and readily available at stores and visitor centers. The glossy magazine pages don't harm the painting though I don't store them in the magazine. I remove the paintings as soon as I can when I return home.

UPDATE to this post from the archives: In addition to these simple methods I also like to use Profolios by Itoya which are portfolio booklets that I fill with my papers and finished paintings. It serves double duty!!

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Evergreen Tree Mini Demo

'Majestic'                 9x12              pastel               ©Karen Margulis
available $175
Painting evergreen trees can be tricky. Our brains are quick to recognize their familiar shape and before we know it we have painted the perfect Christmas tree! But careful observation will show us that trees are rarely perfectly shaped. It is important that we don't allow our logical brain to substitute the regularly shaped evergreen tree! It is easy if we just look

Over on Patreon I recently did a complete photo demo of this painting from Alaska. I'd like to share a few of the steps here so you can see how I approach painting the evergreens. Below is my reference photo.

I use a piece of Wallis warm mist paper. I liked the brownish orange tone which would give some warmth to the cool greens of the trees. In the first step I blocked in the tree shapes with a spruce blue Nupastel. I used a lighter blue green to block in the more distant trees and mountain so I could create some depth. 

In the next step I block in the rest of the painting. I use pale pink for the sky and red violets for the ground. This will give a visual connection between these two areas. 

After the block in it is just a matter of continuing to layer and refine the details. I use a variety of greens to give the trees depth and form. I use my set of Terry Ludwig pastels exclusively for this painting. It is good for more than flowers!

Here is the finish! In the end I put in some pink wildflowers to provide a path into the painting and to further the earth sky connection.

You can see the entire demo over on Patreon. Please consider joining!! It is just $4 a month!

Monday, November 04, 2019

My Favorite Underpainting Material

'Hanging On'             pastel        7x7           ©Karen Margulis         sold

I was recently asked to share my favorite underpainting techniques. I love to experiment but if I have to be pinned down Art Graf would be my favorite. Enjoy this post from the archives which shows you the Art Graf in action!

The best laid plans go astray when inspiration strikes. I am often asked how I come up with ideas for daily blog posts. It is easy when you have great blog readers who are a constant source of inspiration! One painting will often lead to another painting idea. Or a reader will ask a equation or make a comment that gets my wheels turning. The black underpainting idea has taken a life of it's own and so I feel I need to explore it while my interest is there.

It began with doing a black sharpie marker notan on my pastel paper. A reader comment led me to try a more archival technique and so I tried black pastel. I liked both and so I tried to think of other ways I could get an archival black underpainting. Readers suggested inks. I could try ink or thinned acrylic, gouache, oil and even watercolor. (and I will!)  But I have another product that I decided to try first.

Read more about Art Graf HERE 
Last month I started experimenting with Art Graf pigment blocks for toning paper. These crayon-like blocks of pigment are like tailor's chalk. But they are water soluble. A little bit of pigment, when wet with a brush, goes a long way.

I decided to try the black Art Graf block to block in my painting. I used it to lightly block in the dark areas of my design.

Art Graf applied lightly with a start to wetting it down with water

I then used a brush and water to liquify the pigment. I like how I was able to get some strong dark areas along with some softer drippy areas. When the underpainting was dry, the black areas were fixed into place. It would be a good base for my pastel. It did not fill the tooth of my Uart sanded pastel paper.

Liquified pigment with a brush 

I used the underpainting as a roadmap. I began with the dark areas and added some purples, greens and orange dark value pastels. The camera flash makes the photo below lighter than it really was.

Adding the darks

Next I added the light pastels in the sky. I used these lighter sky colors to start carving the shapes of the autumn trees.

Time for the lights!

The roadmap of values was a big help. It helped me keep my values close together. I avoided having too many different spots of light and dark. The underpainting helped me keep it all together. Starting with two values has been fun and so simple!  And thanks to my readers I have even more ideas to try!

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Ten Minutes to Better Trees!

It's all about getting the shape correct. No matter what our subject,  we can tell a lot about it by looking at it's shape or silhouette. This is especially true for trees. If we see a silhouette of a palm tree there is no way we could confuse it for a fir tree.  The shape and the outside contours of the tree give us the information we need.

When I paint a tree I begin by looking at the overall shape of the tree. Then I block it in with one value making a flat positive shape. As I develop the tree and add the background, I make sure that the negative shapes (sky holes) that I paint continue to describe the shape of the tree.
It is very easy to make an interesting tree shape into a boring one if we aren't being good observers. This has to do with our thinking brain taking over and giving us the simple symbol for a tree.  This is why we sometimes end up with 'lollipop trees' ! We have to practice observing and blocking in our trees carefully.  Lots of practice will help!

I am always looking for a way to make practice fun so I came up with this exercise: 10 Minute Trees!

  •  Begin with a piece of paper divide into quarters. Make sure that each section is no smaller than 5x7.
  • Have a selection of tree photos available. Try to have several variety of trees. It is best to have photos with  strong light and shadows. Don't worry about background.
  • Have your pastels ready. 
  • Set a timer for 10 minutes. The object of this exercise is to observe the tree and block it in using one value to start with. This is the positive shape. You then block in the background (negative shape) carving into the tree and creating skyholes.
  • Continue working on developing the tree from this block in stage until the timer goes off. Don't worry if you aren't finished. The goal is simply to get the shape correct. You should be able to tell what kind of tree you are painting by the shape!
  • You get bonus points if you do this exercise from life....either plein air or out the window of your studio!

  • Start with the big simple shape of the tree. Don't worry about details (or painting leaves)
  • Make sure the tree shape is a dark enough value and that it is flat...avoid spottiness.
  • Develop the tree by gradually layering color  (Save the highlights for last)
  • Carve into the tree with the background color to create interesting edges and sky holes.
  • If you have time to add details such as leaves....try to avoid putting in too many leaves. A few well placed leaves will allow the viewer to fill in the blanks.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Don't Be Afraid to Paint Animals!

'French Cows from Life'                5x7          pastel            ©Karen Margulis

I am getting ready to paint the sheep and goats from my Norway trip and I hesitating. They look hard to paint! But then I remembered and important lesson I learned a few years ago. I am sharing it again here. Now I will tackle those sheep!!

It looked daunting. But I really wanted to paint them. The cows surrounded our home base and wandered the fields near our home. I went out each morning with the intention of painting the landscape but I kept being drawn back to those cows! But I would I paint them from life. They were always on the move or were changing positions. Would I be able to paint fast enough? I hesitated.

But then I remembered advice given to me when I first started painting. I was taking a workshop with Terry Ludwig. And somehow the subject of painting things other than landscapes came up. I expressed my fear of including figures or animals in my landscapes. His answer was simple.

  "They are only SHAPES"

They are just shapes. That made sense. If I stopped calling them by name and just looked at the shapes I should be able to paint the cows. It wouldn't even matter how quickly they moved because I could quickly capture their shape and gesture. Once I focused on the shapes and values within the shapes I was able to get a good impression of those French cows.

Do you want to paint animals too? Starting in November we will be learning tips for painting animals over on my Patreon Page. I can't wait to share with you! Check it out at
here is a recent review of my Patreon Page:
"I am impressed with the way you teach and how you manage to get across some much information, while painting! Your patreon page is a treasure trove of knowledge and insights. I am just a hobbyist and a beginner and I am delighted to learn from you."

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Have You Seen My Painting in Pastel Journal this Month!?

'When Evening Falls'              16x20                 pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available $375
 It was a dream come true! When I was new to pastels I studied each issue of the Pastel Journal inside and out. I learned so much by reading the articles and studying the paintings. I was in awe of those artists and their work with pastels. I wanted to paint like they did! Never in a million years would I think that I would have a painting in and Pastel Journal article!

A few years ago it became a reality when one of my wildflower paintings made the cover! It was such an honor! (I have that issue framed)  I am proud to say that I have another painting in Pastel Journal. I am in such amazing company in the article about nocturnes in this month's issue.  Thank you very much to Anne Hevener for her wonderful article. I had so much fun painting my favorite subject at night!

I plan to do more nocturnes and it will be one of our Patreon topics in 2020!! Stay tuned and be sure to get a copy of this month's Pastel Journal or subscribe if you haven't already!

Sunday, October 27, 2019

My Favorite Tip for Painting Red Trees

'Autumn Walk ll'             9x12             pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available $175
I am at the beach on my annual artist retreat with friends. Enjoy this post from the archives! 

 Fall color is here!  I love yellow trees but there is nothing more beautiful than a brilliant red tree standing on its own. The red just draws me in. How can we possibly capture this red glow in a painting? Do we even have the right colors?  I have discovered a little tip that has help me capture the brilliant red with pastels. Just consult your color wheel!  Read on for details.

Light vs. warm reds
When I am faced with painting something red that is in sunlight I know I need to paint  a shadowed side and a side in the light. Let's take a red tree for an example. 

  • I choose a dark cool red for the leaves in the shadows and a brighter red for the rest of the foliage. Now there are some areas in the sunlight and my natural inclination is to choose a lighter red....which would be pink. (see photo)
  • Using pink will make the foliage red correctly but they won't have that warm red glow. The pale red/pink just looks washed out. So what should you do?

  • Take out the color wheel and look at red. Now ask yourself if red was going towards the light source (yellow) what color comes next on the color wheel?  Orange! So if I paint the red leaves a warmer color like red orange rather than a lighter color....I will have a glowing red tree!

So think warmer colors rather than lighter colors when you want to paint something lit by the warm sun!

Friday, October 25, 2019

Three Things to Do Immediately After a Trip

'When Summer Slips into Fall'           11x15            pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $225

An epic adventure needs to be savored. There needs to be a time of reflection and quiet. A time to take a deep breath and let the memories come. Little visual snippets to be enjoyed and processed before the reality of every day life hits.  I always say it would be nice to have a few days after a trip to do nothing but paint, look at pictures and reflect. This time I returned home on a holiday weekend so I do have some free time.

 Sometimes it just isn't possible. Work and responsibilities are calling.  If you are able to spare a day or two after a trip I recommend  that you do three things.

The underpainting for the first painting of Norway!

  • Take out the paintings you did on the trip. This sounds silly but all to often once we get back into our daily life the paintings we did get put in a pile and are never appreciated. These paintings no matter how well they turned out are a true piece of the trip. You put your heart and soul into painting them. You braved weather and experienced the scene with all of your senses. They need to be used. I tape my plein air studies on a big piece of foam core so I can see them as a group. Then I will use each one as a study for a larger studio work. DON'T WAIT to look at these paintings. Take them out right away. Plan to use them! On my recent cruse I didn't do any pastel paintings. Instead I filled a sketchbook with ink and watercolors sketches. I will use them as inspiration!

Ready to put photos in an album

  • Do something with the photos you took. One of the first things I do when I get home from a trip is download my photos and back them up. I also don't ever delete them off the card. I want at least three backups of my photos and I don't want to wait. I don't want to risk misplacing the card!   Next, do something with the photos. Print some out to use for painting references. Make a slideshow on your computer or tablet or YouTube. My Iceland trip deserved an extra step. A real photo album! Remember those?  I used a coupon and uploaded 200 photos to Walgreens and picked up my photos an hour later (I needed to go out for groceries anyway)  Nothing like almost instant gratification. I even lucked out and found a perfect photo album at the thrift store...brand new and sealed!  Tonight I will fill the album and share my trip with family over the weekend.
  • Unpack your Suitcase and do a load of Laundry. You will feel productive and it really does need to be done. I unpacked all non clothing items and put them on a table so I can sort and put away at my leisure. It was more fun to look at my paintings and photos than unpack so I compromised!