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Friday, August 05, 2016

Behind the Scenes: A California Landscape

'Coastal Dreams'          9x12        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
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 It's funny how things change. A few years ago I wouldn't have given this reference photo a second look. It was taken on a trip to California several years ago. I took hundreds of photos but only painted  from a few. But for some reason this photo caught my eye as I scrolled through my file of 40,000 photos. It begged to be painted.

In this post I take you behind the scenes and invite you into my studio as I share my thoughts as this painting developed.

My reference photo along with my pencil notations

I decided to use this photo for a private class demo. We were focusing on creating depth and leading the viewer through the painting. I thought it would make a good example of both. The first thing I did was evaluate the reference photo for possibilities. I saw some things I wanted to change. All changes would hopefully lead to a better composition and painting.

Random Planning Thoughts

  • To create more depth I added another layer to the landscape with an additional distant headland.
  • I decided to bring this headland in at an angle leading into the painting. (see pencil mark) the existing headland was angled down which I felt pulled my eye out of the painting too quickly.
  • There are some distant short trees that are barely visible in the photo. I wanted them to be visible so I drew around them in pencil so I would remember to include them. Having the trees visible would allow me to paint land in between and behind them creating more depth.
  • I changed the direction of the water/creek to make it more interesting and  a better pathway for the viewer.
  • I decided to keep the flowers in the foreground low. In the photo they are tall and spindly. I could have made them taller but it was just a personal decision to keep them low. I would arrange them so that they would draw the eye into the painting.


my pastel palette is a combination of Terry Ludwig and Unisons with a few misc pastels
 Random Thoughts

  • I selected a middle value gray piece of Canson Mi-Teintes paper 9x12.  I like this paper for a landscape. The gray is harmonizing when it peeks through the layer of pastels. I began with a four value underpainting using violet. I chose violet because I knew I would have a lot of yellow in the painting and the complement of purple would make a pleasing combination.


  • Since I took the time to plan the painting and choose the pastels I would use, the painting was more enjoyable and pain free!  I follow the same process for most of my paintings: I blocked in the darkest areas first....the trees and creek banks. I then painted the sky and water. Next I added a layer of yellows and golds to the grass areas followed by greens. Finally I added the flowers in the foreground making sure that some of them had more light and clarity.


  • I didn't use all of the pastels I had selected. I had more greens in my tray but chose to keep the palette limited to the golden grasses of Autumn. The yellow greens and orange greens were a better choice.


  • Working with a Happy Accident: When I was blocking in the tree shapes I used turquoise because I wanted a cool blue. But on paper it appeared too bright. It was wrong. But the more I looked at it the more I liked it. How could I make it work? I covered it up but then reintroduced some small turquoise marks at the base of the trees ...turquoise eye candy. I love turquoise and violet!
  • I added a few blue violet marks in the grass echoing the color that is in the distant head lands.


close up of the flowers....just marks
I hope you have enjoyed my behind the scenes random thoughts!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank so much. I enjoyed reading this post. I am hoping to do your workshop next month in Blue Ridge, GA!

Studio Catalina said...

I have used Canson paper, but it doesn't have enough tooth compared to U-Art. Especially if I use an underpainting. What techniques do you use on your Canson paper for your underpaintings that keeps the tooth? And how many layers are you able to use?

Karen said...

Thanks for commenting. I have a very light touch and tend to build up only s few layers even on Uart. I will use workable fixative to give a bit more tooth if I go too far . I have done some posts about painting on Canson which can be found on my blog with the search box. Thanks again!

Peggy said...

Karen, thanks for the reference photo! It really helps me see how you translate reality into creative art!

Anonymous said...

I love learning from you! You make it so easy! Thank you for inspiring me yet again...:-))

Susan