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Thursday, March 05, 2015

Why You Should Get to Know Your Paper

'Under the Desert Sun'             18x24             pastel             ©Karen Margulis
painting available for purchase $250
I just returned home from a fantastic visit to Phoenix, Arizona.  I was there to do a demo and teach a workshop for the Arizona Pastel Painters Association. I loved every minute of my visit. What a fantastic group of artists! It was a pleasure to share with them.

The theme for the workshop was 'How to Loosen Up and Add Spice to Your Paintings'. It was all about simplifying our subjects and learning ways to interpret our reference photos rather than copy them. It was so exciting to see everyone (21 artists) go outside of their comfort zones and try new techniques and exercises. Their work was impressive. We could have easily held a nice show of the finished work!

It is always wonderful to share but so often teachers receive back even more from their students. And so was the case in Phoenix. Not only did I pick up so great tips from my conversations with the group... I learned a valuable lesson about paper.

Know your Paper!

Getting set up for my demo
Get to know your preferred paper before you try another type or brand. It is great to experiment but jumping around from paper to paper doesn't allow you the chance to know how each paper really performs. You need to use a paper over and over until you know what to expect. You want to know without a doubt how your pastels will work and how to get the effects you want. 

When you are familiar and comfortable with a paper then you will better understand how the paper choice influences the outcome of your painting. The same way of working doesn't always get the expected results on an unfamiliar paper. Paper really does matter!

I know my paper. My go-to paper is Uart 500 and I know how it performs for me. I am comfortable with it and know what to expect when I use it. It never surprises me. Except for at my demo in Phoenix! 

I decided to buy Uart Board for the demos thinking it would be easier to carry and put up on the easel. Not such a good idea. I rarely use mounted Uart and I didn't expect that the mounted Uart acts differently than unmounted Uart paper.  Somehow the texture of the conservation board comes through and creates a totally different feel to the paper. My pastels didn't go on smoothly and there was a lot of texture peeking through. You can enlarge these photos to see the texture. 

'Along the Chama'                18x24           pastel             $250
I didn't  mind the texture. In fact I kind of enjoyed it but it meant I needed to work a bit differently to get the painting the way I wanted.  It will require some more experience until we become better friends.

So often we don't give much thought to the paper we use. Maybe we choose the paper on the top of the pile or use a paper because we don't like it and have lots of it and we want to use it up!   But paper does matter. It will effect how the painting looks. Make it a priority to get to know your paper. I know I will!

I'd love to come teach a workshop in your area! Let me know if you are interested in learning more! click here to send me an email.


robertsloan2art said...

Oh yes! It makes a huge difference whether a paper is mounted or not.

It's a bit late to stop rotating papers and surfaces. Once I had the spending money to try them and the range of papers we're lucky to have now, I went wild and tried everything. I can't even say I have one favorite.

There are those I use a lot and keep coming back to. Art Spectrum Colourfix is still one I love in part for its variety of colors. Uart is starting to grab a big chunk of my heart for its variety of grits. Wallis is annoying and I have to be in the mood to layer and layer and layer for a long time on the same painting to want to use it.

And sometimes I go back to unsanded papers, of them Canson Mi-Tientes is still a favorite. Of the coated papers, ClaireFontaine PastelMat and Colourfix Suede (very similar) are great especially with Pan Pastels or pastel pencils for a kind of sketchy look, or combined.

It depends on what I want to do with them. I'm not painting in one specific style. I have different effects I get on different types of papers. As I get more skilled, my processes get faster and more concise, more poetic. I don't have as much time per painting as I did before my health declined. That forces conciseness.

But, just like how I fix my lunch or get dressed or anything else, it's all also affected by my disabilities. Having a range of possibilities in reach means that on a given day I can do what is in reach. Some papers take more effort than others. As mentioned, Wallis has more layering needed so I'd have to have a really good day to work on Wallis. I'll spend longer on the painting and also want to work larger.

So I change up what I do in part responding to the weather, my joints, whether I have a cold, how much dust I can handle (least dust is Pan Pastels or pastel pencils, most is very soft ones like Sennelier or Terry Ludwigs) and how much cleanup. How papers handle artistically and how much dust gets generated in the process varies too.

So that's like everything else. Good advice that works for 99% of the people reading it - eat light, exercise regularly, take long walks, etc. - can mess me up bad. I'm still adapting to body conditions that are weird and if I limited myself to one paper, I would be cutting off all the possibilities of the days when I'm up to using something that takes more work but I love it just as much.

I always take the soft option. What it is varies per day though on dancing around five different conditions. Something that was hard last week might be easy today and vice versa. If my joints are aching but my nose isn't running I'll do one type of thing, if I've got body energy but can't deal wiht dust it's another, right now with a cold I feel like puttering with watercolor and maybe at most Pan Pastels on something bloody smooth but I know when the cold goes away I'll itch for bold scribbles on coarse sanded paper just because I miss it.

Your mileage can vary. Will vary. It falls in the same category as the rest. Doing things the hard way is sometimes for me the only way and feels like the soft option because the easy way won't work at all. The easy way for an abled person is get to know one paper so well you can completely trust what it's doing.

The crazy Robert way of trying them all and remember experiments will eventually make you that familiar wiht all of your regulars, take longer with more botches and botch saves along the way, but get to the same place.

And on that, I noticed that a lot of times my best paintings come from something coming out really bad and I have to do a botch save, make it work anyway, get it "Decent" and the crazy idea or move that made it work makes it shine. I fell into that rhythm too with all the experimentation. Every time I paint it's an experiment.

Jo Castillo said...

That looks like a great place for a workshop! Those who attended were very lucky to have you for a teacher. Thanks for sharing.

Hortys Kid said...

I would love to see some of the attendees artwork from the workshop. Maybe next time. I read your blog daily and enjoy seeing your work.


Karen said...

Thanks for the comments!!! Robert I always appreciate your thoughts!!
Thanks Jo! It was great fun!

I didin't post pictures of students work because I didn't have any except for small group shots and I didn't have a chance to get permission. I would never post anyones art online without having their permission!

HappyPainter212 said...

I love your use of color in this painting. I can't really tell you had any trouble with the paper but I have heard others say the same thing about UArt mounted papers. Thank you so much for sharing this.

Hope Thompson said...

I just used the uart 400 mounted paper. I did a heavy watercolor painting underneath it so I didn't seem to have any problems. What I find useful is that it will have that "support behind it when I frame it.

Robert, you have my empathy. I too have many small disabilities, that add up to one big one. I know the challenges well! But, for me, the painting is what keeps me sane with all the healthcare issues I have....:o)))

I have a question for you Karen, or anyone that would like to comment. Does anyone use velour paper? I have never tried it. Since it is expensive, I am hesitant to use it. Anyone who has experience with it, I would be curious to know the advantages and disadvantages of it.

Thanks in advance.

rroseman said...

On my way to phoenix next Saturday for a week and looking for good places to hike and paint...any suggestions for good locations ? How do you modify your palette for that area from the southeast ?

Karen said...

I wish I knew about painting spots in the Phoenix area. I was inside my whole visit!! As far as adjusting palettes I always look at photos or Google street view of the area I will visit and evaluate my colors that way. My fav set for the SW is Terry Ludwig Arid Landscape set!

Hope Thompson said...

Regarding a good painting spot: Sedona is not that far from Phoenix. If I remember correctly, maybe an hour or so? That is where those lovely red rock formations are. Plus they say it is a very spiritual place. I remember it was an easy drive. Hope that helps.

Urban Wild said...

Well, after the comment I left on the post about Uart paper, I'm going to have to retract my statement and get to know the Mi-Tientes paper a bit more before I give up on it! (I hate to admit that I'm the impatient type, but it's a major fault of mine.)Thanks for another brilliant post! I am learning so much from your blog and videos!