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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!

Monday, February 01, 2021

Pop Up Poppy Painting Sale!

'Poppy Love'            8x10            pastel             ©Karen Margulis         available $155

Say it quickly! Pop Up Poppy Painting Sale! It's a tongue twister!  I have had a fu weekend in the studio painting some poppies for Valentine's Day. I love painting in a series so after the first painting I was compelled to do some variations on the theme. Now I have a pile of poppy paintings! I decided to do a little Pop up sale and offer these original pastel paintings at a reduced price: $155 for the 8x10 paintings and $75 for the 6x8 and 5x7 paintings. All with free shipping. 

To see the poppy paintings visit my Etsy shop and look for the Pop Up Sale section.

Would you like some tips for choosing the right red pastels for poppies? Click this blog link!


Saturday, January 30, 2021

New YouTube Demo Release! Let's Paint a Still Life with Sunflowers

I am painting flowers for Valentine's Day. I will have a pop up sale this week! In the spirit of painting flowers I am releasing a video demo from my Patreon Page. In the video I work from a photo and paint a pitcher full of sunflowers for our month long focus on the still life. 

Here is the link to the video on my Youtube challenge. I welcome your comments and I hope you will share it with your artist friends!


 It was fun to paint and I hope you enjoy the demo. After the camera stopped and I had time to step back I saw some things to adjust so that I could make sure I created a better visual journey for the viewer, a better feeling of depth and a better connection between background and subject. Scroll down to read more about the changes. 

The finished painting is 12x13 on Uart 400.

The first thing I did was to remove the handle of the pitcher and make it into a pot. I didn't like the way the handle looked. I could have fussed with it to get it right but in the end it wasn't important to the story and it was more satisfying to brush it out. Now it is just a piece of pottery!

  • I needed to create more depth within the flowers. I adjusted and refined some of the leaves making some cooler green in the leaves farthest away. I also added a darker blue under the largest leave to make it pop away from the pot. I used a variety of greens to refine the leaves. 

  • I refined the centers of the flowers on the right making them darker.

  • I refined the petals and added some to the right. I also add a couple of petals on the table. The reason for these petals is to move the eye around the painting by repeating the yellow. The petals on the right point us done to this area and we are drawn by the petals on the table. We then look back up to the large flower completing the circle. 

  • I pulled out a bright blue and added it to the center of the flowers as well as in the shadow on the table.

  • I add a few more marks of pale blue and violet in the background. I used linear marks to pull the ye into the painting. I chose to keep the background simple so the flowers can be the star. I decided that the background of trees in the photo would be confusing and too busy. 

Here is a close up so you can see my marks. Can you see the difference between the heavy yellow marks and those done with a light touch? This add contrast to the painting. 

 Please consider joining us on Patreon for a low monthly pledge of just $4! We covered the still life in September 2020 and you will have access to all of those posts and much more!

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Trying the Unison 120 Half Stick Pastel Set!

'MarshLight'             8x10          pastel       ©Karen Margulis     available on Etsy     $255

It is always exciting to get a new set of pastels. Even when you have a good collection it is is fun to try new pastels. In 2021 I will be reviewing three different half stick sets that are moderately priced. Last year I reviewed budget sets under $50 on my Patreon Page. This year I want to have a look at comprehensive sets that would be good for an artist on a moderate budget who is looking to quickly expand their pastel collection. Half stick sets are a great way to do this. (Of course Terry Ludwig pastels are my pastel of choice and I recommend them for every collection!)

In February I will be reviewing the Unison 120 Pastel half stick assorted set. I will be painting with it exclusively so I can really put the set to a test! I will also be using the set for some Plein air painting when I take them on a camping trip! I will report on my thoughts both here and on my Patreon Page!

I used the set exclusively for the painting in today's post. I was very pleased with the variety of colors, values and intensity of the sticks in the set. I didn't feel the need at all for a pastel outside of the set. The pastels packed a punch. I was able to layer them easily and they were the perfect blend of dry and smooth. 

Here is a photo of the set. The sticks are on the small side since they are half sticks so I will only be using them for 9x12 and smaller paintings  and of course small Plein air studies. I know I can always order full size sticks of the colors I use the most. 

You can find this set online at Dakota Pastels. Here is a link:

I actually painted on top of this much older painting. I sprayed it with workable fixative and painted right on top of the pastel which became a dry underpainting. I used the reference photo to make adjustments to the painting and to make it more interesting. It was a fun exercise and the pastels made it easy!


Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Joy of Painting on Black Paper!

                    'Among the Aspens'                12x9             pastel            ©Karen Margulis.   $275

It has been a challenging week in the studio. A big part of my day is spent on my computer and that faithful friend went on the fritz this week. I am not very tech savvy but nothing I tried was working. I was in a catch 22 (long story) In the end I did a factory reset and reinstalled the operating system. Fortunately I had a backup of my files! I have my fingers crossed that this is the fix and all will be well. So this week I spent very little time at the easel but I did manage to sneak a painting in for my sanity!

 I selected one of my aspen photos. I wanted them to to appear as luminous and vibrant as they did in real life. I had the answer in my paper paper. I pulled out a piece of Uart Dark 600 which was the perfect choice. Why paint on dark paper? Here are a couple of reasons I have shared before but are worth revisiting:

  •  VIBRANCY. Look at how bright and intense the pastels in the above painting appear on a black surface.  Pastels glow and come to life on a dark surface. Because the paper is black or dark....the lights and brights appear even lighter and brighter than they would on a lighter surface. (simultaneous contrast at work) 
  • TIP: When choosing a subject to paint on black choose something that will exploit the ability of the dark paper to make light and bright colors pop. Subjects such as flowers are wonderful candidates for black paper. 

  • CONTRAST: Black or dark paper can lead to stronger paintings. The dark tone provides the glue that holds everything together. It provides the much needed contrast with the middle and light values. If handled well the back paper can help unify shapes and prevent spottiness. I like to block in a painting with simple shapes of 2-4 values. These big areas of light and dark form the foundation for the detail and colors to follow. Working on a dark paper ensures that my darks are strong enough. (often we are afraid of pushing the darks too far and we end up with disjointed and weak paintings)
  • TIP: The Uart dark paper is dark but there are some pastels, notably the Terry Ludwig eggplant which is actually darker than the paper. I like to use these 'super darks' with restraint as accents. This makes the dark paper a perfect overall dark allowing my accents to pop!

If you'd like to learn more about Uart Dark check out my complete review here:

Here is a photo of the initial block in using a variety of soft pastels: Unison light and shadow set


Sunday, January 17, 2021

New YouTube Video: My No Fail Start!

      'Summer Buzz'                   9x16           pastel     ©Karen Margulis       available in my Etsy shop $295

Do you ever freeze in front of a blank canvas or paper? Do you ever wonder how to tackle a complicated subject? I have the answer! In my latest YouTube video I share an approach I take to start a pastel painting. It gives me a simple road map to follow . If I know my route and I have the directions it is easier to get going and to keep going!

Head over to my YouTube channel to watch the video. Follow the link below. Be sure that you like and comment and subscribe to my channel while you are there! Feel free to share the video with your artist friends!

In the video I start with a value thumbnail and then do an alcohol wash underpainting. Using the color purple! I do add some bees after the video and you can read more about that over on my Patreon Page!


Saturday, January 16, 2021

A Sad Commission Story

      'Sunrise Over the Marsh'  32 x 42            pastel      ©Karen Margulis    available in my Etsy shop  $900

I am not very strict when it comes to commissions. I don't require payment in advance or a deposit. I don't recommend it but I have never had a problem. I only take on commissions for subjects that I would paint anyway. In other words it is just another daily painting for me should the client not want it in the end. That has never happened. The only issue I have ever had were due to the wrong measurements by the client. This is now the second time this has happened even though I am very careful to make sure they know what size they need and ask them to consider the size of frames especially for large paintings. 

I painted and delivered two very large pastels in December without a problem so I eagerly started on this third large commission. It was a subject I loved and I was happy to paint it so large. The client settled on 32x42 landscape format after many back and forth communications. In the end it was not the orientation they wanted. It was a definite miscommunication and we are both at fault. Lesson learned. Big lesson learned! I guess it is time for a written contract with detailed requests. 

At first I was sad and disappointed. But I enjoyed painting and it truly gave me an excuse to paint large!I would do it more often if I had room to store finished paintings this size! Now what? I listed the painting in my Etsy shop. It is possible someone will be looking for a large marsh painting! Until then I am enjoying it in my studio!

Here are a few photos of the painting along with some closeups!  The painting is on Uart 400 cut from a roll. I used Nupastels for the first layers, Mount Vision pastels for the bulk of the painting and Terry Ludwig pastels for the finish. I did use the Nupastels at the end for some of the grasses. 


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Have You Tried a Black and White Underpainting?

                       'Forest Magic'          10x8            pastel           ©Karen Margulis     available $275

A black and white underpainting was an unexpected delight. I have been working with 3 and 4 value thumbnails and underpaintings but I decided to limit them to just two values. It suited my dramatic subject. 

You may have heard the quotes about two favorites are:

"Value does the work but Color gets the Glory"
"Value gives the form and Color provides the emotion"

If we can just get the values right then we can use any color and the picture will look correct. Easy enough?  Not always. Just what does it mean to "get the right value" ?  First we need to be able to see the values in our subject. Next we need to block in our paintings with a strong value map. We need to see the correct value and put them in the right place taking care not to be too spotty.

For today's painting I decided to make a strong value underpainting using a two value thumbnail using just black and white (notan) It was the perfect choice to allow me to capture the drama of the light and shadows in my forest scene.  Here is my notan:

I used Art Graf pigment squares on white LuxArchival sanded paper to create a wet black and white underpainting. You can see on the photo below the strong darks. In this photo I have started adding pastel layers. The black and white roadmap was helpful. It reminded me to keep the shadowed areas dark enough to allow the sunlit tree to glow. 


I used the Notanizer app on my iPhone to create the black and white thumbnail. I was able to adjust my reference photo to show black and white, notan as well as 3 and 4 values. It was fun to use! I review the app today on my Patreon Page.