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Saturday, February 14, 2015

What to do When You Don't Know What to Paint

'In the Poppy Field'               6x8             pastel          ©Karen Margulis
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 It was one of those days. I wanted to paint but I didn't have anything in mind. Nothing. I took out a few photos. I took out some paper. Nothing was speaking to me. I was close to calling it a day. But then I decided to put on my 'What If' hat.  I needed a play day. I needed to try something unexpected. It was time for an experiment.

I taped up a 6x8 piece of white Wallis paper and pulled out a reference photo of some poppies. I needed to find an unexpected way to start the painting.


I looked on my shelf of spare pastels and supplies and found a small set of Art Spectrum pastels. I don't even know where they came from. I had never used them so they would be perfect for my experiment. I took a few of the pastels out and did a fast abstracted underpainting. It was fun and I was now feeling warmed up!

My reference photo


I wanted to cover up the white of the paper so I thought it might be fun to spray the pastels with some rubbing alcohol. I put some of the alcohol into a spray bottle and started spritzing the painting. In some areas I sprayed more until the pastel was wet enough to drip. I let it drip.


The wet pastel seemed thick. I looked on my shelf and saw a palette knife. What if I used the knife to move the thickened pastel around? I found that I could spread the wet pastel like icing. I could even draw lines into it. I drew the poppies with the palette knife. This was fun!

The pastel was still pretty wet so I took a paper towel, balled it up and blotted the entire painting. The paper towel left interesting marks.  I now had an interesting underpainting.


I began layering pastel once the underpainting was dry. I added the background trees and sky. I put in the poppies with several red pastels. I was now using all of my usual pastels which are mostly Terry Ludwigs. I found that the palette knife action created interesting texture. It helped me suggest the grasses.  I finished the painting by adding more grasses and tiny bits of other wildflowers.

In the end I had a painting that made me smile. I had fun experimenting. It was a bit like cooking a dish with whatever is left in the pantry. Pulling things out and mixing them together until they worked.

4 comments:

robertsloan2art said...

Oh that sounds like fun! It reminds me of a couple of times paintings started because I found a piece of paper I didn't remember I had or some pastels I hadn't used for a while or ever. Sometimes anything can be a starting point!

Sue Grilli said...

Karen- oh poppies are one of my favorites! And I love how you worked through this painting. Lovely!

Hope Thompson said...

As always, I was very interested in this under painting technique! I will definitely give it a try!

Kaethe Bealer said...

Sounds like a lot of fun! I had fun just reading about your process! Your painting was a success as well! Thanks for sharing it!