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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Three Steps to a Large Painting

'Wetland Colors'            12x12            pastel            ©Karen Margulis
Sometimes things have a way of working out. I love when that happens. As I was working on my two large Queen Anne's Lace paintings  I had a request for a large marsh painting. The collector had seen one of my recent Lowcountry paintings and loved the colors. He gave me the freedom to create another marsh using the colors he liked. That's the kind of commission I like.  The best part was the colors were the same ones I was using in my wildflower paintings! Half the preparation was done!

The painting needed to be big and square so we decided on 30x30. I was on a roll with the big pastel paintings!  I have had some questions about how I was able to paint the wildflowers so quickly. It may seem quick but the key is in the preparation and being methodical in my approach. The preparation took time so that I was able to paint quickly and intuitively.

I break down my approach into three steps: preparation, block-in and finish. I follow these same steps on any size painting but it is even more critical in a large painting. I don't want to experiment and fiddle on a large expensive surface. I want to know in advance what I will be doing.

Ready to paint with my study done and pastels selected


  • I prepare several ways. First I prepare the surface. In this case I cut another piece of Uart from my roll and flattened it. All I did this time was put it under heavy books for a few days. While waiting for my paper to uncurl I painted a smaller study. For a large painting I use the study for my reference NOT a photo so the study painting is important. It allows me to work out my composition, values, colors. 

  • I also choose my palette. I select the pastels I will use for the painting. For this commission I used the same pastels as I used in my wildflower commission so it was easy! 

  • For the composition I needed to adjust the original painting that inspired my collector from landscape to square format. The study allowed me to work out the flow of the creek in the new format.

  • When I am happy with the study I am ready to move to the big painting. I prepare myself mentally by taking a deep breath and putting on appropriate painting music.

The block in and rub in


The next step is to cover the entire piece of paper somehow. I could choose to do a wet or dry underpainting but the important thing is to cover the whole surface. I want to have a head start on the painting. The underpainting doesn't have to be perfect so it allows me to approach the big blank paper without fear. It also allows me to see the whole painting and make corrections before I get too much pastel or too invested in any one section of the painting.

For this painting I did a dry underpainting with Mount Vision pastels that I rubbed into the paper with a piece of foam pipe insulation.

Starting to add more color


The underpainting supplied the composition, values and a start on interesting color. It is a road map. The rest of the painting goes quickly if all of the preparation was done well.  In a landscape I typically begin with the dark areas. I then move onto to the sky. Next I work my way from background to foreground. I keep things big and simple. Only at the very end of the painting process do a add any suggestion of detail.

I have my colors selected and my values mapped  so there is nothing to distract me from the task on hand....painting!

The finished 30x30 on the easel

This is the finished 30x30. Compare it to the 12x12 study at the top of the post


Sandi G said...

This is the best , most concise description of how to create a pastel painting ! Just when I thought you have given us all , you are giving us more !
I want to print this post out and hang it next to my easel as a step by step reminder !
Thanks again Karen ! A beautiful painting Too!

Anonymous said...

Karen, I love your work and your blog. You are an exceptional help to other pastellists! Would you give some insight to how you will frame your large paintings? I noticed that for the commission hospital paintings they didn't want them mounted. How did you mount and frame them? Tanks so much, I can't tell you how much I've learned from you! Paula

Karen said...

Thanks for the comments!!! Much appreciated! I have had a lot of questions regarding framing the large paintings. I don't know how they will be framed but as soon as I find out I will be sure to pass it on.

If anyone has framed large pastels and would like to share please let me know!!

Xristina said...

Hi Karen, am following your very interesting blog now some months and I want to express you how valuable I find all these pastels and paintning insides you share with us! Thank you so much!!! Reagrds, Christina