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Sunday, December 18, 2016

Favorite Paintings of 2016: Sunset and Weeds



'Magic in the Air'             9x12           pastel         ©Karen Margulis
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This painting was another experiment and the result was a surprise. The painting grew on me...so much that I decided to enter it into the IAPS exhibition in Boston. Not only did the painting get accepted, it was used for the IAPS brochure. It remains my most favorite painting of the year. In the next few days I will be sharing five of my 2016 favorites along with the original blog post. (I am traveling again this week!) Enjoy this post from the archives:

It's a powerful tool that we all should embrace. Thumbnail sketches done before painting is one of the easiest things we can do to improve our work. Thumbnails help us simplify our subject. They help us create a stronger design. They help us establish a framework of values. The details should come later. We need to frame up the house before we can put up the walls and decorate!

Usually I like doing simple four value thumbnails for my landscape paintings. The 4 value thumbnail is based on the idea that most landscapes can be simplified into four values ...light, dark and two middle values. (John Carlson... Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting)

Notans are even more simplified. A Notan is a thumbnail or study containing only two values. Dark  and Light. Black and white. It is a simplified massing of shapes and value. To create a notan we have to decide whether the shapes in our scene are mostly dark or mostly light. The middle values are shifted to either black or white. Deborah Paris has written a wonderful article about Notan. Read it here. 

I decided to try doing some notans . A black Sharpie marker would be the perfect tool.  I chose the Magnum Sharpie which has a big chiseled tip to help me create big simple black shapes.


my notan created with sharpie black markers

The Magnum Sharpie worked great for my little notan thumbnail. I used a 4x6 index card for the notan. I used a regular sharpie to draw in a few of the thinner tree shapes. I liked doing the notan. It made it easy to see the shapes. I could see if I had interesting shapes and arrangement of dark and light. It was also quick to do....no thumbnail excuses!

But then I put in my "what if" hat.  What if I used the Sharpie and created the notan right on my pastel paper? I have not had the pleasure of watching Tony Allain paint but friends have told me he will sometimes use sharpie markers to start a painting. What a great idea! I could use the sharpie to mass in my big dark shapes. I was curious to see how it would work as an underpainting for a landscape.



I selected a piece of gray Canson Mi-Teinte paper for my painting. The sharpie marker worked well on the paper and I was able to block in the dark shapes of the trees and the dark shape leading through the meadow. I also used the thin sharpie to draw some of the tree branches.  I now had a nice value map to follow.

It was simple to reinforce the dark areas with pastels that were close in value to the black shapes. I could easily see if a pastel was too light when placed on top of the black marker shapes. It helped me keep my dark shapes strong which was important in order to create the illusion of the glow of the setting sun.


Sometimes it seems like we have too many choices when starting a painting. Using a notan and then actually recreating the same notan with marker as an underpainting is an unexpected but simple way to give a painting a strong start!

Can you help?  I am putting together a new program this year and need your questions about underpaintings. If you have any questions about anything to do with underpaintings send them to me at karenmargulis@gmail.com. I appreciate your input!




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