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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

How to Prevent Overworking a Painting

'A Chance of Snow'               11x14                  pastel             ©Karen Margulis

 Am I done yet?  It's one of the most difficult things about painting. How do we know when we are finished? Overworking is all too easy. You may have heard the saying that it takes a group of artists to paint a painting....one at the easel and the others to say when it is time to stop.

What happens when we are alone in our studios?  How can we tell if the painting is finished? First, is is very important to step back frequently (see yesterday's post for tips)  But what do we look for when we step back? How will that help us determine when the painting is done?

Everyone needs a simple and inexpensive tool that I like to call The Magic Mat.

Time to step back and evaluate the painting 

The Magic Mat is simply a plain black mat. I had my framer friend cut them to fit the standard sizes from 5x7 up to 16x20. I use the mats when I am in the end stages of my painting. The black mat allows me to evaluate the painting. It eliminates the clutter on my board and draws my eye into the painting.  Richard McKinley uses black tape around a painting which does the same thing and is much more portable. The mats are great to have on hand in the studio.

The mats are magic because very often they allow us to see that a painting is closer to being finished than we thought. They prevent us from fiddling and overworking. Viewing a painting with a magic mat makes easier to see what needs to be done or changed. Sometimes it is nothing at all!

The Magic Mat at work
How did the Magic Mat help today's demo painting? It allowed me to see that I had made an arrow of dark leading the viewer out of the page. I also noticed a dark band at the bottom of the paper that I didn't like. I didn't like the colors in the trees. I was able to then go back and make the needed corrections. If I didn't step back and have a way to isolate the painting, I might have fussed and fiddled until the painting was mud!

close up detail of trees

Painting notes: Today's painting was done on a warm gray piece of canon mi-teintes paper with a variety of Nupastels, Ludwigs and Townsends.


Tim Moore said...

Karen, not really related to the magic mat,which i use a version of..but i noticed you work your painting all the way off the paper,onto the support..How do you mount your paper for working ?..I currently use the painters blue tape, tape it all around the paper,then peel off when i am done. I use some foam boards i picked up at a garage sale years ago...do you put tape behind the paper?..maybe a future blog post?..thanks

robertsloan2art said...

This is beautiful! I love the way your finishing touches brought a gust of wind in from left to right, it gave the painting a sense of motion and blurred the trees just enough to make the whole piece bitter cold. Memories flooded me, I could almost feel slush in my boots.

That's a cool technique with the black mat. I love doing that, usually keep some black mats around to check how things look - you managed to articulate something I've done for years. I love the way a painting just pops against a black mat, especially if it's colorful. But even when the colors are muted, it always gives a frame that sets it apart from the world to shine with its own light.

Leora LaGraffe said...


Karen said...

Thanks Tim and Rob for commenting!
Tim, Great questions and ones I had not addressed. I will discuss tape and attaching paper in my next post!

Catherine said...

Coming from a watercolour background, I am used to white mats for evaluating the work in progress. Have you ever tried white Karen and if so, could you explain why you prefer black?

Another little tip for your blog readers: My husband made me 2" wide "elbows" out of thin flat white plastic material. They are especially helpful for messy pastel dust because they are cleanable and I can use the two elbows to frame up almost any size of support for evaluation. :)

Karen said...

Catherine, Thanks for the great tips! I use white mats too. I like the way the black makes the colors pop but white is good too. Richard McKinley uses black tape.

I love your plastic elbow idea. I need to make some of those!! Do you know what the material is or where I could find it?Thanks or sharing.

Catherine Selinger said...

Hi Karen
My husband says it's called 'sheet vinyl'. It's a bit shiny, flat and relatively thin, it's thinner than matboard. Almost like a heavy piece of paper or thick cardboard. We purchased a large sheet of it at a local sign company. My husband made various (standard) sizes of rectangular 'mats' using this stuff and it simply washes off clean when it gets grimy as it is not porous. He reminds me to tell you that he cut it with a VERY SHARP, BRAND NEW XACTO BLADE being very careful to cut it against a solid straight edge so that the blade doesn't slide around and cut your fingers.
The idea came to me when I was using the blank reverse side of a cheap little 8" white plastic ruler (made of the sheet vinyl) that had been produced by the sign company. They were giving these out as little promo items. I thought this would be great to have two of these things so I can frame up a corner area. It said "Signs Banners. Decals, Ad Specialty Products." That's when it hit me.. why don't I see if they can just sell me the material and we can just cut it to any size we want?
Yes we artists are quite resourceful!
It works great! Let me know if you are able to source it near you. If not, I will investigate further for a product code or something.
How happy I am to be able to help YOU out with a little tip. I've learned many from you! :) And apologies for delay. I did not see your message for a few days!