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Tuesday, April 06, 2021

When Your Final Marks Matter

       'Summer Light'                    9x12                    pastel                 ©Karen Margulis         $265

I thought I was finished! I had a piece of Uart Dark sanded paper and knew it would be perfect for a new daisy painting. I love how light values and bright colors pop on the dark paper. I also enjoy how easily the pastel glides on the sanded surface. I wasn't disappointed. I painted the daisies and experimented with using a variety of marks. It was fun. I thought I was finished and moved on to another painting.

But something bothered me when I saw the painting on my extra easel where I had moved it. It seemed kind of blah. Sure the white petals popped against the dark paper but I felt like something was missing. The painting needed some warmth. It needed some sunshine. It also needed more depth. And finally it needed some purple!

I put the painting back on the easel and pulled out the 120 Schmincke half sticks I am using this month and made some marks. I was very thoughtful about these finishing marks. I added some warmer greens to the foliage and stems. I added a warmer light yellow to the white petals. I added warmer and darker yellows to the flower centers. I was happier but something was still missing. 

I pulled out two violet pastels and added hints of purple wildflowers. No they were not in my reference photo but the painting was calling for some purple so I obliged. Now I am happy!  Be sure to slow down at the end of a painting and make some thoughtful finishing marks. It can make a big difference!

Look at the two paintings together. Can you see where I added marks?

You can see a video demo of this painting over on my Patreon group.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Join Me for a Month of Wildflowers!

     'Summer Dreams'                   8x10              pastel          ©Karen Margulis          $255 on Etsy

I have been in a bit of a slump. I have been painting but not with the usual excitement and joy. When this happens it helps to either take a break or paint something that I truly love! I have done both. We went camping twice last month and we have another trip planned for later this week. We are testing our equipment for a month long adventure this summer. More on that to come!

I also spent time this week painting the subject that always gives me joy.....wildflowers! I have missed painting them. It is always fun to see what time away form a subject will bring to my paintings. I plan to experiment this month and try new things with my flowers. Some might work and some may be a failure but I am excited to try them and that is what is important!

I hope you will consider joining me this month in my Patreon group for some fun demos and lessons on painting wildflowers. I know many of you are already patrons and I thank you for your support! This is a good month to give it a try if you want to paint wildflowers. Remember it is just a $4 or $6 pledge and you can cancel at any time. Here is a preview of this month's content:

Welcome to a new month of inspiration and painting instruction and fun! This month we will be putting our last three months of bootcamp to work. We will apply value, color and composition to paint believable, natural landscapes with wildflowers. I will be sharing my strategies for painting beautiful flowers in the landscape both close up and as a part of the landscape.  It is the perfect subject because we don't have to be perfect to paint something as wild and free as wildflowers! Prepare to let go and have fun!

The month I am working with a set of 120 Schminke half stick pastels. I am testing several half stick sets this year. They are a great way to boost your pastel collection!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

New Video Demo Release: Does Paper Color Matter?

There really is no right or wrong. When it comes to choosing paper color every choice will give you a different result. No one result is the 'correct' choice. However we can make better choices. We can choose the paper color that will better help us express our concept for the painting. 

It helps if you know what you hope to express with your painting. Ask yourself before you start....what mood do I want? What are the weather conditions? How do I want the viewer to feel?

Then choose colors that will help create the feeling you want. We are experimenting with paper color over on my Patreon group. This yellow wildflower painting was one of my recent demos. I painted the same subject with the same palette of pastels on two different paper colors. The left side is blue Canson paper and the right side is a dull orange piece.  Can you see the difference the paper color can make?

I am releasing a video demo I made last year for my Patreon group. I recently was asked how to choose paper color...does the color of the paper we use mater? The answer is yes! Head over to my YouTube channel to watch the demo. Be sure to hit the like button and subscribe to my channel. Click on the notifications bell to be notified when a new video is released!


Thursday, March 25, 2021

Tips for Working on a Textured Surface with Pastels

      'Begin Again'                   8x10                 pastel              ©Karen Margulis       available $255

I love working on homemade boards but I don't love how they can eat up my pastels. I know I could apply the grit with a sponge brush for a smoother surface but I like the rough and random texture created by a stiff brush. I can be frustrating working on a rough surface but I have some tips to help!

I made my board by brushing on some clear gesso that I had tinted with medium brown acrylic paint. I used a stiff hardware store brush and made random brushstrokes on my 8x10 piece of mat board. Clear gesso has a slight grittiness. If you want an even rougher surface you can add powdered pumice to the gesso. 

  • To give myself a head start I do an alcohol wash underpainting to establish the value masses as well as a bit of color. The alcohol did not effect the surface. This underpainting allows me to start the pastel painting with a base in place. That is less surface that I need to cover with pastels. 

  • Next I use hard pastels to block in the same areas. I use dark blues for the trees and some reds and oranges for the foreground. At this point it was obvious that the pastels were not covering the surface completely. The pastel marks were not filling in the grooves of the gesso brushstrokes. This is where it can get frustrating! 

  • I take a piece of pipe foam insulation and rub in this first layer of hard pastel. That is the secret!This pushes the pastel into the grooves making the subsequent layers go on more easily. Less pastel is needed and the softer pastels will not be shredded! Below is a photo of this first layer once it is rubbed into the surface. 

I am now ready to continue layering the layers of softer pastel. I am using Terry Ludwig pastels for this painting. In the photo below you can see the texture of the original brushstrokes. I don't want to fight this texture! I want to embrace it. 

In this  step I use a black Nupastel to paint some of the branches of theses early spring trees. Some are bare and some have only a hint of foliage and flowers. I also block in a suggested pathway through the foreground. This will be covered with grass and flowers but it will hold the foreground together. 

I was still struggling a bit with the texture in the sky. I felt like it was fighting for attention with the foreground and trees. Everything was so busy!  I decided to blend in the sky making it solid and quiet. Now the texture is not visible in the sky.
TIP: You can also use some sandpaper and sand areas smooth. This gives you more control over the amount of texture in certain areas of the painting. 

Below is the finished painting. I really enjoy the texture in the foreground. It helped to make a potentially boring area more interesting! I am happy that I had the tools I needed to work with the texture and embrace it!


Friday, March 19, 2021

How to Make Your Palm Trees Glow

       Seaside Sunset                   12x9          pastel                   ©Karen Margulis        available $265

I was captivated by the light! We were walking in a small seaside park on a paved trail. It wasn't my kind of park since it was quite manicured with neatly mowed grass. I prefer wild and weedy!  But I couldn't ignore the light of the setting sun. It even made the shaved shrubbery beautiful. I noticed a collection of palm trees that were glowing with warm sunlight. I took a photo for future inspiration.

I decided to paint the trees but I needed to first eliminate the clutter. There was a big condo building behind the trees. It wasn't important to my story. I was interested in capturing the glow! I did two things to make this happen:

  •  I began the painting with a warm underpainting. I chose 3 values of red and did an alcohol wash n Luxarchival paper. The warm red will help to establish the warm colors in the sunlit trunks. It also serves to unify the entire painting as well as make the greens more vibrant!

  • The red underpainting gave me a head start but it was my pastel selection that made the glow as intense as I remembered. I used a very limited palette. See the color swatches below. They were selected from my Terry Ludwig Floral Landscape set. Notice there are mostly cool colors....blues and greens. There are a few warm colors and this contrast of warm and cool helped to promote the glow. 
  • TIP: Using warmer and more intense colors in the sunlit area made the trees glow. If I had used lighter value colors the effect would not be as strong. 

 You can see a complete photo demo of these palm trees over on my Patreon Page:

Friday, March 12, 2021

New Video Demo Release: Using a Tunnel Composition and Listening to your Painting

Today I am releasing a new video demo! The video begins with a focus on creating a tunnel composition but my painting started to talk to me. Do I listen to it? Click on the link below to watch and  find out! 

Here is a photo of the underpainting stage. I used Nupastels and rubbing alcohol for a wet wash.  I used a warm and cool underpainting to help create a strong feeling of light and shadows. The painting is 9x12 on Uart sanded paper. 

Here is my reference photo. I took some liberties with the photo with my main goal to simplify all of the foliage! 

 Be sure to give the video a thumbs up click the bell  for video updates. I would love for you to subscribe to my Youtube channel!

Monday, March 08, 2021

Value Underpainting Made Simple!


   'Southern Beauty'                      14x20                 pastel                ©Karen Margulis       available $400

I was browsing for art supplies online after filling my cart with some needed tape and fixative. I like to browse to see what might be new and interesting. I came across some sample sets of Rembrandt pastels. I don't know if they are a new product but I had not seen them packaged this way. They offered several color families and each set included five pastels arranged by value from dark to light. Best of all they were affordable at $5.97 a set! I ordered several sets. 

I was excited by my find because I thought they would be perfect for value underpainting. I don't typically use Rembrandt pastels because I find them a bit to hard for my liking but they would be perfect for both wet and dry underpainting! It also takes the guesswork out of choosing pastels by value. 

Find these Rembrandt sample sets here:

I used the Burnt Sienna set for an underpainting for my latest Florida inspired painting. The warm tones gave just enough interest for my very green landscape. I did a dry underpainting because I was working on Daler Rowney Murano unsanded paper. (another great value). I do think that the dark in the set might not be dark enough for every subject but that is an easy adjustment!

If you would like to see the complete demo head over to my Patreon group. It is today's step by step demo. It is just $4 a month to join and you can cancel at anytime so I invite you to check it out!

Monday, March 01, 2021

What Does a Butterfly Have to do with Composition?

'Winter Wildflowers'              8x10           pastel           ©Karen Margulis      available $250

I haven't been able to paint as much as I would like lately. We went on a camping trip and stumbled on another project. More details to come this week but it has been keeping us very busy! So it felt great to paint again this weekend. I started with a 3 hour livestream presentation and demo for the Arkansas Pastel Society and ended with creating some videos for my Patreon group. Of course I selected one of my Florida camping photos for inspiration. I was pleasantly surprised to see some wildflowers clinging to the dunes in February! They became my first painting subject of the month.

This month on Patreon we are focused on composition. It is our Composition Bootcamp month and I am excited to share some of my ideas for creating stronger composition. I came up with an interesting way to remind us what we need to consider as we design and can we keep the viewer engaged and moving through the painting? I will be sharing tips this month but here is a visual.....

Imagine a butterfly flitting through your landscape painting. You need to give your butterfly places to rest...interesting areas to explore before moving on to the next interesting resting place. Can you imagine that? (if you are a patron be sure to watch the video today for a reminder)

In my wildflower painting I designed the painting to have strong dark shapes under the grass to gently direct the eye through the painting. I placed the flowers in such a way that a butterfly (or the viewer of your painting) hav a way to move through the painting by resting on some interesting areas. 

Join us on Patreon fro much more on composition this month!


Friday, February 26, 2021

Try this Fun Challenge! Paint Mont Sainte-Victoire!

                           'Cezanne's Muse'         8x10         pastel          ©Karen Margulis

I recently read an interesting article about Cezanne. Since we have been focused on painting mountains on Patreon this month I was intrigued by his fascination with his muse Mont Sainte-Victoire. I thought it might be fun to try to paint the mountain in my own style! 

I did not get to see Mont Sainte-Victoire on my trip to Provence. (it is definitely on my return bucket list!) but I was able to find a copyright free reference photo on Pixabay Here is a link to my search:

I used this photo from Twalerio. Click on the photo to make larger. If you are looking for a fun painting project this weekend why not paint Mont Sainte-Victoire in your style! We are sharing our results on my Patreon Community page if you are a member. I am also starting a thread on my Facebook page and I welcome you to share your version there!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Using Pastelmat for my Latest Paint Along Demo!

'Evening Magic'           11x15        pastel         ©Karen Margulis      available on Etsy $375

Every time I pull out a piece of Pastelmat paper I wonder why I didn't do it sooner. I had one last piece in my pile and I decided to use it for my February Patreon Paint Along. After I was finished I placed an order for more Pastelmat. I thoroughly enjoyed how nicely the paper paired with the new set of Unison half sticks. This month we are concentrating on color and mountains and this demo painting covers both! The Pastelmat allowed me to be bolder with my marks and I was able to place a mark and leave it alone!
Here is some information on Pastelmat. You can read the entire review on this blog post: 

What is Pastelmat paper?

Pastelmat is a paper for pastels made by Clairefontaine. It has a unique surface that feels smooth and velvety but takes a surprising number of layers of pastel. It is acid free, archival, lightfast,water resistant and comes in 8 colors. Here is some information taken from their website:

PASTELMAT® is a premium card surface (360gsm / 170lb) specially developed for pastelists. Its unique velvety surface, made from a fine coating of cellulose fibers, has the ability to grab and hold multiple layers of even the softest pastels. 
PASTELMAT® significantly reduces the need for fixative, which means that colors remain vibrant and fresh once applied. It has the added bonus of being gentle on both fingers and blending tools. It is acid free and lightfast.
PASTELMAT® is ideal for use with all dry media - pastel sticks, PanPastel, pencils and charcoal. It is also water resistant which means that it can be used with wet media – such as acrylics and watercolor for washes and mixed media techniques.

Is it a sanded paper?

It is sanded paper but it feels much like very smooth sandpaper.  The surface is on a nice heavyweight card 170 lb. It is made from a matrix of finely woven cellulose fibers. (think sponge)

Does it take a dry wash/underpainting?

Pastelmat does take wet underpaintings and washes. I have experimented with the paper and report on my findings below. 
TIP: Wet underpaintings work best on white or very light color papers. They don't show up well on dark or even the middle value colors.

If you would like to see the 4 part video demo head over to my Patreon group. You can join for $6 and cancel any time!

The photo below shows the limited palette I used for the painting. 


Friday, February 19, 2021

What Should You Do With a New Box of Pastes?

Imagine just got a brand new box of pastels. They are gorgeous. The colors are amazing and they sit in pristine condition all nestled in foam in a pretty box. You drool. You show them off to your pastel friends. They drool.  Now what do you do?

You DON'T do what I did with this beautiful set of Great American pastels.  I  kept them pristine and unused in their box for three years!  I would take them out to show students what they looked like. I highly recommend this set by the way.  The palette Richard McKinley has put together is wonderful.(he also has selected a set of Terry Ludwig pastels which I also love)

But the time came eventually to get these pastels out of the original box and get them ready to paint with rather than stare at!  We all face this issue. We get a new box of pastels and we aren't' sure of the best way to store them.  Here are a few of my tips:

  • The absolute best way to paint is to have all of your colors in one box such as a Heilman or Dakota box, organized by color and value.  Even if you make a box it is much better to have them all in the same box rather than having to cart around several boxes and hunt and peck for the right pastel color/value. So no matter how pretty they look in their box...take them out and introduce them to your other pastels!
  • Next you have to do some pastel surgery. You need to break them into smaller pieces without the wrapper. Some pastels come in small enough manageable shapes. For example I don't break Terry Ludwig or Diane Townsend pastels. I like to have smaller pieces because I like to make larger swaths of color. 
  • Take the wrappers off or break off a piece. With the wrappers on and full size, I tend to want to draw with them rather than paint.  For these Great Americans, I was able to snap off about 1/3 and pull it from the wrapper. The wrapper and the rest of the pastel stays in the original box and the piece goes into my working box.

  • Next take your unwrapped piece of pastel and put it into your working box. (organized by color and value is best)  I usually put all new pastels into my big box. Occasionally I will get a special set such as this McKinley set that I want to keep separate.  I like to challenge myself and use a particular palette for a painting.  I keep some cigar boxes on hand that I line with foam for these separate sets. I have a Stan Sperlak set, Terry Ludwig Arid landscape, Jimmy Wright Great American set that I like to keep separate.
  • Do you mix hard and soft pastels together?  Yes and no.  I like to keep my Nupastels in a separate box all mixed together since I really only use them for underpaintings. I keep Giraults separate since the are so small. Other than that I mix them all together. If you are brand new and don't have a big selection I would but them all together until you build up your collection. Than you can put the very hard sticks in a separate box.

Today's painting was done using only my newly prepared Richard McKinley set. I just love these pastels! 

Monday, February 15, 2021

The Secret to Painting Luminous Reds

It's the season for Red! I love red so it is easy to get excited about painting red things. Red can be overpowering though. And since I like to build up my color with layers of pastel I don't want to jump right in with the 'Power Red'.  I have a technique for working with red that allows the most vibrant reds to really glow.

The color chart above shows my technique. The trick is to start layering with a duller and darker red. I sometimes even begin with a dark purple. Here I began with a dark brick red. I selected two other dull cooler reds for the middle layers. I reserved the most vibrant and warmest (orange) reds for the final layers. You can see these bright reds better when they are layered over the dark cool reds. In contrast if you just go right to the brightest red it isn't as interesting!

Depending on how much warm light there is in your scene you could take it a step further and add some red orange and even push it to go with some orange and yellow orange as I did in the poppy painting. You are moving toward the yellow of the sun!

I have a digital PDF step by step demo of this painting available in my Etsy shop. Click here for the link

Friday, February 12, 2021

Turning on the Light! Fixing a Dark Painting

      'A Light in the Forest'                  11x14           pastel               ©Karen Margulis        available $325

I love how easy it is to fix a pastel painting. I struggled with a demo painting last month. My goal was to create an unequal spacing of values.....using more darks than light. I thought a forest scene with some mysterious light trickling in would be the perfect subject. But I just wasn't happy with the outcome.  Have a look at the original painting below. It ended up being a bit too dark and mysterious! Instead of throwing it away or putting it in my pile of discards I decided to make a fairly drastic change. 

I liked the bones of the painting. I liked the idea of the light and shadows but I imagined a warmer forest bathed in the warm sunlight of the setting sun.  It was easy to make such a drastic change!

  • I began by brushing off some of the green layers with a stiff brush. This left a ghost image of the tree shapes. 
  • I gave the entire painting a light spray of workable fixative. This allowed the darks to be anchored and gave me a base to build the warmer colors. This dark base was just what I needed.
  • I started adding warm colors beginning with dark reds and gradually getting warmer and more intense. I ended with the intense orange marks.
  • I also worked from broad marks to smaller details. The last marks were the grasses and smaller light flowers. I used hard pastels for the grass marks and a pale yellow soft pastel for the flowers. 
  • I did use the workable fixative occasionally in between layers. This gives the look you see in the rough texture. I like this technique for suggesting foliage and grasses. 
That was so much fun and so satisfying! I know the frustration of a painting that just doesn't please you. I know many have told me that it is satisfying to just throw these 'duds' out in the trash. Some artists even have burning parties! I find it to be more satisfying to tackle a failed painting and do what I can to make me happier. I learn more than I would have if I threw it away! Don't be mad at those duds....tackle them and don't be defeated! 

Monday, February 08, 2021

Online Livestream Demo: Exciting Color in the Landscape


I am sharing an opportunity to join a livestream demo with me! I will be conducting a 3 hour online talk and pastel demo on color for the Arkansas Pastel Society. Since it is a livestream they are able to open registration to all and there are some spots available!

 I will begin the livestream with a talk sharing the four tips I use to get more exciting color in my landscape painting. I will them apply the tips to a full demo. I am not painting these yellow trees but it will be a landscape painting!  If time allows I have a second mini demo planned! You will also have the opportunity to ask me questions through the live chat feature of the livestream. Once you register you will receive the link to the livestream a few days before the stream begins. 

I am sharing a screen shot of the registration form which has more details. I hope you will join us!

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Fixing Color Gone Wrong in a Painting

                 'Summer Breeze'                10x8             pastel             ©Karen Margulis      $255

I had fun with this painting!  It was an exercise for Patreon. We are working on color this month with Color Bootcamp! I pulled out an old wildflower painting that had crazy color! I don't know what I was thinking. It looked like I had used every color in my pastel box and it showed. There was nothing harmonies or pleasing about it. The color chaos created a dull muddy look as well when the layers mixed and turned gray.

I have learned some things about color since that disaster of a painting and I put them to work on a redo! I liked the general composition of the flowers so all I did was brush off some of the layers of pastel with a stiff old paint brush. I also gave the painting a light spray with some workable fixative. I then slowly brought back the painting this time using much more RESTRAINT with color!

Can you see what I did differently? Scroll up and have a look at the new painting. All of the bones are there and the crazy color actually made good 'dirt' under the greens. Instead of the spots of orange and purple I stuck to one extra flower color of red violet. I toned down the greens and used only a few marks of intense greens for interest. 

Note: One other thing I did was to simplify my marks. I had spots of color all over which led to a disjointed painting. I simplified the marks and made large areas of color instead of small spots everywhere!


It is Color Bootcamp month so if you would like a refresher or some tips on achieving more harmonious color consider joining us this month! It is just $4 or $6 for the bonus lessons and Paint along!