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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Great Subject for Exploring Color Temperature

'Miles of Poppies'         8x10        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $145
Color temperature is a concept that didn't come easily for me. It was like value....I thought I knew what it was but I didn't really see it. I would wonder what all the fuss was about. Why did I need to see and understand color temperature? Looking back I realize that it was a concept that I wasn't ready to master. My brain was busy on other painting concepts. After all there is only so much we can 'get' at one time. It eventually clicked.

We are working on color temperature this week on my Patreon page. One of the suggestions I shared was to take each color family and pull all of the pastels of that color out of your box. Then take some time to arrange the pastels into piles of warm and cool. Sometimes it is easier to judge the temperature of a pastel when it is a part of a group.  In the photo below you can see how I arranged the red and green pastel by temperature.

I arranged my pastels from cool to warm before I started painting
Some subjects make good use of color temperature. A landscape with depth is a great example. To create the illusion of depth one of the things that we need to do is make sure we use cooler colors in the distance. A meadow filled with red flowers can be a challenge. How do you make both warm and cool colors recede? In my poppy meadow I used cooler lighter greens in the distance and duller cooler reds for the distant poppies. Having the pastels arranged in my tray helped me stay on track with color temperature.

I share mark making and color temperature tips in my latest video demo
If you would like to see the development of this painting you can see the video on my Patreon page. It is just $4 a month and you can cancel at any time! Come join us! In May we will be exploring Plein air with pastels. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

You Need These and Today is the Day to Get Them!

Florida Plein  Air Study       5x7      pastel        ©Karen Margulis

 I want my business cards to be keepable. What's the point in giving out business cards if they end up in the garbage. Business cards need staying power. You never know when your art or services may be needed. If your business card is a keeper it is more likely to be there when the need arises.

I am a big fan of Moo.com. I love their business cards and I am always trying the latest products.  I was excited to try the new square business cards. They measure about 2.5 x 2.5 inches. I got my first order and love them so much I ordered another set! I also love the regular MOO size cards which are slightly larger than a standard rectangular business card size.

Square cards are cool!

I think these cards will be keepers! I decided to showcase about 50 different wildflowers paintings on the front of the cards. The great thing about moo cards is the ability to use up to 50 different images on one batch of cards. There is no set up fee or extra image fees. It is a very simple upload process. The back of the card has my contact information. You get full color printing on both sides for no extra charge.

I am very pleased with the printing and color reproduction. The card stock is heavy and feels expensive. You can even upgrade to an even more luxurious card stock.

The quality of Moo cards is wonderful
If you don't have business cards or need to get new ones consider giving Moo cards a try. If you use this link to create your cards you will get 20% off your first order.  Click here for the link. If you have purchased cards from Moo then you won't want to miss their sale. Everything is 30% off and the sale ends on April 25, 2018.

If you don't have business cards or make your own, treat yourself to some really nice business cards. You are your own brand and your business cards reflect you as an artist. You DESERVE nice business cards!
Moo comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Something for everyone!

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Secret to Painting Wildflowers

'A Little Sunshine'          5x7        pastel        ©Karen Margulis      sold
What is the secret?  I admit that I don't have all the answers but I do know what has worked for me. The secret for painting wildflowers for me is that I paint them often and with passion.  Paint what you love. Paint your truth. I have heard this advice many times. Figure out what it is you are drawn to. What makes your heart race? What compels you to capture it on canvas or paper? 

Whenever I see a patch of wildflowers I get inspired. It doesn't matter where I am. For some reason I am drawn to the flowers. That is what I want to paint. Last week was a perfect example. I was painting on St. George Island surrounded by beauty. Should I paint the dunes or the sea? Or Should I paint the lighthouse... a favorite motif. I looked at the scene in front of my easel and it was the small patch of beach sunflowers that caught my eye.

If you look closely at the photo above you might see the flowers! Ignoring the lighthouse I zoomed in and painted the flowers. And I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

My secret for painting any subject well:
  • Paint what you love. Sure, you need to stretch and paint other things to help you learn and grow as an artist. But always make time to return to your favorite subjects.
  • Paint what you know....or really get to know your favorite subject. Study it and paint it over and over. I can't tell you how many variations on this same closeup flowers that I have painted. I vary the technique,color palette, composition....and with each painting I get to know the flower even better. I never tire of painting them because they move me
  • Plan and then paint with Passion!  When I paint a field of wildflowers I start with a plan so  that when I paint I can paint with passion and just intuitively respond to my painting. I don't want anything to slow me down like choosing colors and making composition decisions. 
What subject makes your heart sing?  How many times have you painted it? The more you paint it, the more you will make it your own and your own unique style will emerge. I think I will go paint some more wildflowers!

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Some Tips for Painting Poppies

'Poppy Heaven'              8x10              pastel             ©Karen Margulis
I am painting poppies this week and have a new video in the works. In the meantime I hope you enjoy this post from the archives!

I went to Texas and was in Poppy Heaven! Yes the Bluebonnets were blooming and they were beautiful but the site of acres of poppies really stopped me in my tracks. The day after my workshop my host Marsha took me on a wonderful tour of the area. I had a 6:30pm flight and we fit in a lot of sightseeing. 

We began with a stop at Wildseed Farm wildflower farm in Fredericksburg. It was a dream come true for me. I had visited their website many times dreaming of my own wildflower garden. When we pulled into the parking lot I was overwhelmed by the fields covered in blooming poppies. I must have taken hundreds of photos. I have a lifetime supply of poppy references.

I love to paint poppies and have discovered some tips to achieve a more painterly flower.

  • I don't draw the flower first. I simply draw a circle shape where I want the flower to go. Then I use the SIDE of my pastel to paint large shapes that make up the petals. If I draw my flowers I tend to want to color them in and they look stiff.
  • I use three or four values of the poppy color to develop the flower. Even if I don't see it in the photo I like to begin with a dark, brick red shape (for red poppies). I add middle values to create the form.
  • I avoid using a pale or very light value red to paint the highlights. I find light pastels with too much white in their makeup lead to washed out flowers rather than vibrant flowers.
  • If I want my poppies to appear sunlit I will use a warm color such as red-orange for the light areas.
Here are a few photos from my visit to Wildseed Farms.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Interpreting a Landscape en Plein Air

'Uncovered Beauty'            8x10          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $145
 There are no rules! That is what I love about plein air painting. Most of the time when I paint en plein air ....outside from life...I try to be true to the scene. I try to capture the colors and mood of what I see. I treat my paintings as studies, as notes. They will later help me paint from the photos I took and to make my paintings feel like that particular time and place.

But sometimes I don't want to be true to the scene. I want the scene to inspire me and I want to simple respond to my painting. This is what happened for this plein air painting. I posted a photo of the painting on my easel on Facebook and I received several comments asking how I decided on the interpretation of the scene. I'd like to share my thoughts behind the making of the painting.

The block in with pastel. I did a dry wash to block in some color.
  • I was attracted to several things in my view. I liked the grouping of palm trees in the distance. I also liked the scrubby and sandy area leading to the trees. In this scraggly area of grass and sand there were patches of beach sunflowers. Of course I liked them!
  • I decided I would zoom into the palm trees. They would be my focal area. I would arrange the grass and sand and create an interesting lead in to the palms. I would expand the sand and arrange the flowers in interesting masses.
  • I blocked in the painting with warm colors for the grass and sky and cooler violets for the trees that were behind the focal trees. My thought was to have a warm sunny feeling. The painting is 8x10 on italian clay Pastel Premiere.
  • This is when the painting started to change my mind. I was really enjoying the warm yellow sky in my block in. In reality the sky was a clear deep blue. I could have changed my sky to match what I saw but instead I kept the warm yellow and added a gray blue violet giving the painting a completely different mood from the reality. I just went in the direction that my underpainting was suggesting.
  • We all can do this! There are always things that crop up in our paintings that suggest things that go against our plans or photo or scene. We just have to give ourselves permission to play...permission to see what happens if.... I'm glad I listened to my painting.

another plein air painting form the same location

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

How to Paint a Dreary Day

'Shall We Dance'         8x10           pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $145
 We didn't have a choice. It was a gray rainy day but we had to make it work. The organizers were apologizing for the weather as if it was something that could be planned or changed. Secretly I was excited about the weather. I like a beautiful blue sky day at the beach but I love a moody day at the beach! So I was quite content to find a sheltered spot to paint. It was going to be a great week!

I am home from a wonderful week on St. George Island Florida at the first St. George Island Printout. I was one of 15 artists who were invited to come paint for a week. It was an awesome experience. The island is beautiful and the people so warm and welcoming.  The organizers did a fantastic job putting together a very successful plein air event. I was honored to take part....and paint the many moods of the island!

'Passing Storm'        8x10        pastel        $145

  •  The first consideration for painting a dreary day is to find a sheltered spot to set up. Especially with pastels. A few sprinkles won't hurt but a downpour would not be good for a box of pastels!  I found a covered picnic pavilion at the state park. It had great views of the dunes and the sky. It also offered protection from the wind. I decided to use my Heilman box as a table easel without the tripod since it was very windy. It worked great!

  • The next consideration is to find the right colors to capture the moodiness of the weather. The sky was overcast. The kind of day when the sky would look white in a photo. But as I observed in reality there was a lot of subtle color in the sky. On a dreary day the colors can actually appear quite vibrant since the overcast sky acts like a giant lightbox. Careful observation will reveal colors that photos won't always capture.
  • On a dreary day you have time to paint without having to chase the light. You have the ability to work at a slower pace if that is your preference. I like to work quickly so I can gather as much information as possible.
  • Be prepared to work small and quickly if the skies and conditions are changing. I like to work smaller on a dreary day with changeable skies so that I can capture the changing colors and moods.

Below are the quick studies I did as a storm moved in and out. They are each 5x7 on Uart and Pastelmat.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Why Choose a Blue Underpainting for Bluebonnets?

'The Lone Star'           9x12           pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $155
Underpainting choices can be confusing.  Do we always want the complementary color underneath? Not always. Using the compliment is a good solid choice. It provides the added excitement of the complement where it peeks through the painting layers. But it isn't the only choice we have. Today I need to decide on a color to block in my bluebonnet painting. I knew I wanted to do a value block in as a dry wash. I evaluated my choices.

  • I could choose the complement red of the dominant color of green...so a red undepainting.
  • I could choose complements of each shape....so orange under the blue areas and red under the green areas.
  • I could set up the painting for aerial perspective and choose lighter and cooler colors for the distant shapes.
  • I could choose a color hat would give me a head start on the flowers....so blue would be my choice.
I decided on the last option of BLUE. Have a look at the underpainting. Used a piece of pipe insulation foam to rub in this first layer. I am working on Wallis warm mist seconds.

Why Did I choose blue?
Because I knew I wanted to create the feeling of masses of bluebonnets going into the distance. I didn't want to paint every single bloom. I wanted to SUGGEST the masses of flowers and only show a few in detail. I knew that if I used a blue underpainting I would be able to allow bits of the blue to show through the final layers. Where this blue color shows it will give the illusion of more flowers hidden in the grass. Blue became a shortcut to creating an illusion!

Friday, April 13, 2018

Lessons to be Learned from Painting a Bird Nest

'Time to Nest'          9x12         pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $145
 "Wow that was easier than I thought it would be!"  My student seemed surprised at her success in painting a nest.  The nest photo certainly did look complicated and full of detail...all of that intricate weaving of twigs, straw and other bits and pieces.  Where does one begin?  I reminded her that we need to first look at the big picture. We need to see the underlying shapes and patterns of light and darks. We blocked in the nest with these big simple shapes before we even thought about weaving in the details. "Think like a bird" I told her.  We want to build a nest that will be solid and will protect the fragile eggs. We needed to put in this structure before we could put in the bits and pieces.

It occurred to me that the thoughts I shared with her about painting a nest could easily be applied to painting other subjects. No matter what we choose to paint, it helps to see the big picture and build the nest (painting) from the strong simple shapes before getting caught up in the detail. Here are some tips:

  • Look at the Big Picture.  How will you place the subject?  What are the simple underlying shapes?
  • Don't start with the straw!  You weave in the details later in the painting process. These bits and pieces will need a structure to hold them together.  Block in the big shapes first and connect your value shapes whenever you can....this is the glue that holds the painting together.
  • Gradually build up your painting to the finish. Incrementally add and refine your shapes until you get to the level of detail that you are happy with. 
  • Take chances and trust your instincts. Play with color and texture and weave them into your painting.
  • Stop when you have said enough. Once your nest is built and you have decorated it with some details...step away.  You don't need to put in every piece of straw for the painting to say 'Nest'.

The variety of marks I made to build my nest
If you would like to see a full video demonstration of this nest painting head over to my Patreon page. The subscription is only $4 and you will have access to a new video every week!

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Do You Have Mark Making Envy?

'My Friend Raven'               5x7                  pastel                ©Karen Margulis

 It happens to me. I admire a painting. I study it. Maybe it is the color palette I like. Maybe it is the subject. But often it is the the marks...the way the pastel is applied. Oil and acrylic has brushwork. We admire an artist's brushwork. In pastel we don't call it brushwork  but the way an artist applies the pastel is often known as mark-making.

The way an artist makes marks is unique to that artist. It is like handwriting. No two artists have the same calligraphy or application of pastel just as no one has the same handwriting. 

When mark envy occurs we often wish we could make our marks the way we see others do. "If only I could apply the pastel like __________"  We could try to copy but ultimately it wouldn't be authentic. It would be forced. We all have natural tendencies in our way of making marks. Some of us like linear marks, some of us like big broad strokes. Some have soft feathery strokes.

close up of linear marks
I like to remind myself that I have my own natural way of making marks. The best advice I can give is for you to discover your natural tendencies and EMBRACE  your own personal calligraphy. Make the way you apply pastel your own statement.  I have some more thoughts on mark-making which I will share in upcoming blog posts.

What is your personal calligraphy? Line up 5 recent paintings. Look at them and try to define the types of marks you made....linear? Side stokes, Light hand? heavy hand? Bold marks? delicate marks? Write down your observations.

What choices do you have? Sometimes it is fun to try different types of marks. This allows you to see what feels the most comfortable. Try a simple subject such as an apple and do several small studies changing the type of marks you use.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How to Save a Blog Post

'Summer Heat'          8x10      pastel         ©Karen Margulis

Have you ever wanted to save a blog post? Maybe you don' have time to read it. Or maybe it has a good idea that you want to try or something you want to remember. Did you know you can save any blog post as a PDF file? Once you have a file you can save it to a folder or even print it if yo like paper copies.

There are a few ways to convert a web page into a pdf file and it depends on your device and operation system and browser. I found an easy to follow how to article on wikihow. Here is the link:

I used a triadic color scheme of blue green, yellow orange and red violet
For today's painting I was exploring color schemes. I wanted to move away from local color so I chose a triad of YO BG RV. It really gives an interesting warm feeling to my meadow!

Monday, April 09, 2018

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Pastel

'Breathe Deeply'          8x10        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
It is all here! Well maybe not everything but there is a treasure chest of pastel and painting information right here in this blog! I have been blogging since 2005 and every single post is still online!

In the early days this blog was just a way for me to keep accountable to my goal of daily painting. As I studied and took workshops I began to share what I was learning. Several years ago I began to teach and so the blog has evolved into a teaching tool. It is now packed with information about painting and pastels.

Did you know that you can search this blog?
If you get the blog by email you are not seeing the information and links that you would see if you went directly to the blog. Take a look at the actual page here: www.karenmargulis.com . Look  at the column on the right for the search box. If you have any pastel questions just search with some keywords and you will see everything I ever wrote about that topic!

What if you don't have time to search and want your information in a more organized and orderly format?
I have you covered! You may have heard about Patreon. It is a platform that allows creators to share information in a very easy to use format. The content is available to you....the patrons for a small subscription. My subscription starts at just $4 a month. Your support gives me the freedom I need to continue creating great content. One of the features of the silver level is the weekly curated blog posts. I do the work for you and choose links to articles related to our studies.
At the silver level you are also entered into a monthly drawing for an original painting. The painting in this post is April's selection.  Consider giving Patreon a try! www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Giving Painting New Life

'The Wonders of Life'      12x16           pastel      ©Karen Margulis
available $165
 Sometimes it is fun to paint without a plan! When I teach I always stress the importance of planning. It is important. It helps to have an idea of your concept, your composition, your values and color palette. But sometimes it is also fun to just paint and see what happens. Today was one of those days.

I took out an old painting that was never really finished to my satisfaction. It was done on a Pastelbord which is a hard surface. It would be easy to repurpose this board. The first thing I did was to tape up the board sideways. I didn't want to be influenced by the previous painting.

I turned an old BAD painting sideways
 Next I brushed off some of the pastel so it wouldn't get gummy in the next step. I decided to do an alcohol wash with rubbing alcohol. I brushed in the alcohol letting it drip. I also used a spray bottle with alcohol to move some of the wet pastel around. I was left with a dark and mysterious underpainting. Now I had to figure out what to paint! What did this underpainting suggest?

the dried underpainting
 To me I was a meadow filled with wildflowers on a sunny blue sky day. I wanted a high horizon. I thought about putting a barn in the top right dark corner. I used a Nupastel to draw my main shapes.

I blocked in my darks and went to work on the meadow and that is when things got interesting! Instead of the blue sky that I was planning.And I started to see a glow on the horizon.I started to see the dark shapes as trees and not a barn. The pink shape in the underpainitng suggested the glow of light.  It wanted to be a different painting. So I listened. I enhanced the glow and worked with my new mood and time of day. The painting then took on a life of its own and I just responded. Sometimes it is liberating to paint without a plan.

enhancing the glow on the horizon

Friday, April 06, 2018

Uncovered: Iceland Plein Air Studies

A collage of some 5x7 plein air studies from Iceland
I took a little trip to Iceland yesterday.....Only down memory lane though. I am preparing for my participation in the St. George Island Florida Paintout and I uncovered a portfolio book of plein air studies from Iceland!  I don't know how I missed taking them out of my portfolio book after the trip but it was a fun discovery.

I spent an amazing 10 days a couple of years ago visiting a good friend. Elinros is a talented artist and we spent our days exploring and painting and binge watching art videos. It was heaven! Of course Iceland is amazing but spending time with a good friend was priceless. So seeing these little studies brought back happy memories.

If you would like to read about how I pack paper for plein air trips have a look at this post from the archives: https://kemstudios.blogspot.com/2015/05/packing-for-plein-air-trip-part-one.html

'Iceland Study'      5x7      pastel

5x7    pastel
I have 10 5x7 Iceland painting currently available in my Etsy shop. Click here to see them all www.etsy.com/shop/karenmargulisfineart

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Why Should We Explore Color Schemes?

'Rolling In'            8x10          pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $145
 Every once in awhile I take out my favorite book on color and play with color palettes and color schemes. I don't usually choose my pastels for a painting according to a specific scheme. I tend to choose my palette with colors that I hope will tell the story of my painting....set the mood and tone with color. It is more of an intuitive process. But that process can lead to stagnation. Before I know it I am choosing the same colors for every painting. That is when working with color schemes comes to the rescue.

A page from my favorite book on color:
"Exploring Color Workshop 3oth anniversary edition" by Nita Leland
Exploring other color schemes and color combinations makes us more aware of the possibilities of color. It allows us to see other ways of choosing harmonious color that is interesting and exciting.  The more we experiment and explore, the more information we have to make intuitive colors choices that work.

For today's painting instead of just randomly selecting pastels I decided I would use a triad of red, blue and yellow. I chose my pastels based on what Nita Leland refers to as the Modern Low Intensity Palette. This is a R,B,Y triad that is based upon using modern pigments of Quinacridone Gold, Perylene maroon and Indathone Blue. For my painting, I selected pastels that closely matched these colors. I did add in a few greens so it isn't technically strictly RBY. The result was a palette of colors that I wouldn't normally select but one that perfectly captures the mood I wanted to convey.

My pastel selections using the Modern Low Intensity Palette
Exploring color schemes and trying new color palettes feeds our brains with color information that we can use to expand the way we use color. It is well worth the time and effort and it should be an important part of your development as an artist.

Join us this month on Patreon! We are continuing our exploration of color with demos, lessons, videos and weekly challenges. You can see the step by step demo of today's painting and much more for just $4 a month. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

What do you do when you Painted a Shortcut?

'Garden Delight'         16x18         pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $195
It was a tricky situation. I was painting a demo and trying to teach a lesson. Whenever  I do a demo my goal is to have the painting illustrate my point and not make it perfect. Most of the time I end up getting close to finishing the painting. Often I just need a few clarifying marks.

This demo painting was an interesting case. I was talking about not making flowers to similar and perfect......and what did I end up with? Similar and perfect looking flowers! I didn't even notice it until I took it out of my unfinished painting pile.

The painting at the end of the demo

The symbol for a daisy-like flower
We paint shortcut often without even being aware of it. What are shortcuts? They are the symbols or ideas we have about the way familiar objects appear. Our thinking brain develops these shortcuts to help us navigate the immense amount of information in our world. For example we typically have symbols for trees....either Christmas tree or lollipop shapes. For daisy-like flowers we have the symbol in the above photo.  When we paint these shortcuts our paintings are not as interesting than we really observed what was really in front of us.

I had painted shortcuts. I needed to get back into the painting and mess up those flower petals! I looked more closely to my reference photo and saw how unruly the petals of the coneflowers were. I readjusted and added clarity to the painting and called it finished!

close up of the flowers
TIP: If you find yourself painting shortcuts slow down and look. Tell yourself to observe and paint what you see and not what your brain is telling you!