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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Using Homemade Surfaces to Spice Up Your Painting

'Winter Woods'           8x10          pastel          ©Karen Margulis
 I love bad photos. Dull poorly exposed and blurry photos make me happy.  I wouldn't want to put them in a photos album but they make the best reference photos!  Why is this?  A bad photo gives me permission to make it into a better painting. If the photo was National Geographic material then I might be tempted to copy it. How would I be able to improve upon it?

A bad photo on the other hand can give me just enough information to get my imagination going. It might have a piece of something that inspires me to get me started. My goal is to make the painting that is better than the photo. If someone tells me my painting looks just like the photo...then I have failed.

reference photo
Take today's painting. The photo shown above was my reference photo. My son took it on a walk in a Chicago park.  To be fair his photo was actually good. But my crummy printer cropped it and did a terrible job reproducing the colors. I could have painted from my iPad where the photo looked good. But then I wouldn't feel the same freedom I have when I looked at the bad photo.

It was the warm light peeking through the trees that initially attracted me to the scene so that is what I started with. I decided that a warm red textured surface would be just right for my vision. Since I am experimenting with homemade surfaces I decided to use Susan Ogilvie's recipe. Visit Susan's website at

Making a homemade surface using the Susan Ogilvie recipe
 Susan's recipe uses Golden's Fine Pumice gel, some water and some powdered pumice.

  •  I prepared a batch by mixing some of the Fine Pumice Gel with water and stirring until the pumice separates. Then I add pumice powder and stir. I start with a teaspoon and adjust until the mixture is the consistency of heavy cream. 
  • I use a piece of Gatorfoam for my support that I have already primed with a coat of regular acrylic gesso. 
  • I tone this board by squirting some Golden liquid acrylic paint and spreading it around with a brush.
  • Once dry I apply the pumice mixture with a wide stiff brush using random brushstrokes.
I loved using this surface. It gave me an exciting surface to work on and didn't let me get bogged down with too many details. 

Tomorrow I will share another recipe as well as my next Friday Feature You Tube video!


eM said...

Magnificent pastel painting!! The colors are great. I agree the bad photos are the best reference photos I have no pleasure from copying the ideal photo.

Karen said...

Thank you very much! Now to convince my students!

Anonymous said...

It's amazing to see where you go, considering what you started with.

Karen said...

Thanks Patti! It's fun!