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Friday, February 16, 2018

Make Time for Exploration Studies

'Drama in the Sky'      10x10        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available  $155
 I love getting milage from my favorite reference photos. I know many artists who prefer using new references for each painting. Once it has been painted, they are satisfied. I am quite happy to use a reference for many paintings. In fact it is a challenge for me to discover how many ways I can interpret the same scene. I call these paintings Exploration Studies.

I begin a series by making time to work up thumbnails with possible compositions. I think about how I can change the scene by changing the format and changing the focus. I developed a worksheet to help me visualize my possibilities.

Planning Worksheet
I begin the series by choosing one of the thumbnails to develop into a painting. It is such a good feeling to know that I have several more good ideas waiting in the wings. This prevents me from trying to put EVERYTHING I am excited about into one painting. This leads to stronger paintings.

Today's painting is my second exploration study. It is on 10x10 white Pastelmat paper. The focus was on the sky and I enjoyed creating some drama in the sky and keeping the ground quiet.

A quick thumbnail sketch for my 2nd exploration.
The focus is the sky!

The first painting done from the photo.
The focus was the buildings at the back of a meadow
You can find my Planning Worksheets in my Etsy shop Link here

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Exploring the Color RED

'Fantasy in Red'        5x7      pastel
Here is another Valentine's Day post from the archives. I am teaching a workshop this weekend!

I wasn't sure what I wanted to paint. I was busy packing for a winter get-away with my daughter. We are headed to Crested Butte Colorado for a little  relaxation before she finishes up her last couple of months of student teaching. I wasn't really focused on doing a daily painting but while organizing art supplies to take on my trip I found a piece of scrap paper with a poppy demo. My mind starting buzzing. Inspiration was born!

Some of my red pastels
 Why not play with red on Valentine's Day!  I decided to take the demo scrap and turn it into a painting. It was on a 5x7 piece of Uart so it had potential. I believe the scrap was used to show a student how to create light on a red flower and tree trunk.

the demo scrap
I grabbed a spray bottle of rubbing alcohol and spray the demo until the pastel began to drip. I took a paintbrush and started moving the wet pastel around. The result is below.

After an alcohol spray
Once the pastel was dry I was ready to rework the demo and paint some poppies from my imagination. I took out my tray of overflow red pastels and had fun exploring the various shades of red and pastel brands. It was a fun way to end a day of packing and organizing.

You just never know when inspiration will strike and where it comes from so stay open and go with your whims!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Let's Paint with Red!

'Love Red'         7x5       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
I love red. It isn't my top favorite color but I enjoy painting with red. There is something special about pushing a soft piece of red pastel into the paper and getting a rich vibrant mark.  So in honor of Valentine's Day I decided to paint with red.

I had a scrap piece of Uart paper that I had done a quick poppy bloom demo for a student. I decided to take some water to brush in the pastel. I had some watercolor handy from another project so I added a bit of red watercolor. Then just for fun I sprinkled some kosher salt all over the wet pigments.
The result was a cool underpainting. Perfect for some poppies.

The underpainting with watercolor, pastel and salt
 I really like the underpainting so I didn't want to cover it all up with pastel. I decided to paint the poppy blooms first then see what the background needed.

I still like the underpainting background!

 I decided it didn't need much so I very lightly scumbled some peach pastel keeping with the red theme. I added hints of a few stems and called it finished. That was fun!  How about painting some poppies? Here is a tip:

Progression of color for a red flower

  • Instead of using just one red pastel for a poppy consider building the bloom from dark to light and cool to warm.
  • Start with the darkest value violet or cool red that you see. I like to use purple and brick red for the shadowed part of the flower.
  • Increase the intensity and warmth of the reds as you layer the petals.
  • Use the side of the pastel to paint larger chunky petals.
  • Paint the petals in the direction that they would emerge from the center....how they grow.

If you like these tips and want more poppy tips have a look at my PDF demo available in my Etsy shop for $6. Link here:https://www.etsy.com/listing/263334117/pastel-painting-lesson-demo-pdf

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

An interesting Watercolor Technique

'Meadow Walk'         11x14       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $165
 I think I will call it Watercolor Overpainting!  I'm sure you have heard of watercolor underpainitng for pastels. I love starting a pastel painting with a watercolor underpainting. But I unearthed an old painting that reminded me of another way to use watercolor with pastels. Water color splattered on top of the pastels! Take a closer look:

close up of watercolor splatters
The white and pink flower marks are really watercolor spots. To do this I painted my meadow and red poppies with pastels. I wanted to add a suggestion of smaller less distinct flowers. I loaded my paintbrush with watercolor and I tapped the brush over the lower meadow in my painting. (I covered the area that I didn't want to splatter with a piece of paper) I did use some white gouache to mix with my watercolor to make the colors more opaque.

It was a fun effect and I must try it again!! It is fun the things you discover when you play!

Today's painting was an older one and although I liked the flowers there was much that could have been better! I made some corrections and you can see them in the revised painting at the top of this post!

Before reworking the painting. See details of the changes on my Patreon page.

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Tip for Dealing with The Big Empty

'Beyond the Meadow'         9x12         pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $155
It was a large expanse of mostly nothing. Sure there were flowers but they were so thick that they really weren't very interesting. It reminded me of a large meadow filled with both but grass. I call it THE BIG EMPTY.....that large expanse of nothing important that occurs often in a landscape foreground to mid ground. How we deal with The Big Empty can make or break the painting.

The question we must consider is how we will have the viewer move from the foreground into the painting and through the big empty? Our focus may be in the distance but we need to create a visual pathway to transport our viewers to this focus. Have a look at the reference photo for today's painting. (below)

my reference photo
The horizon was just about dividing the scene in half so I decided to raise the horizon to put more emphasis on the buildings and less on the sky. That left me with another problem.
The Big Empty!  I now had to deal with the large expanse of flowers that were not really very interesting in my photo. They were arranged in horizontal bands and if I painted them this way they would have created a barrier for entry into the painting. A fence of yellow flowers!

To deal with the Big Empty I created a SUGGESTED PATHWAY of dark that meandered under the flowers and grasses. This dark zig zag mass along with an arrangement of flowers to provide contrast would subtly lead the viewer through the meadow to the buildings in the distance.

TIP: Create visual pathways with areas of contrast to lead your viewer through the empty spaces.

My value thumbnail with the suggested pathway of dark
If you enjoyed this tip you will find an expanded exploration of composition and tips for leading the viewer through your paintings. This week there is a video demo of this painting as well as a new step by step photo demo and a bonus video on spices. I would love your support so I can continue to provide helpful content! www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

a quick color study 2.5 x 3.5 inches

Friday, February 09, 2018

Dealing with TMI in a Reference Photo

'Through the Bluebonnets'         9x12        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $155
If you work from photos you may have run into this problem.  TMI. Too Much Information. Extra trees, unnecessary fence posts, garbage cans...you know what I mean! Often we get caught up in copying the photo and get frustrated trying to fit it all in and make the painting work. We forget that we have a powerful tool. We have the artistic license to edit the clutter in a photo and make changes if it leads to a better painting.

Edgar Degas reminds us to edit and compose in his quote.

"Even in front of nature one must compose"

Have a look at my reference photo below. When I first looked at it as a possible reference I thought it would be perfect. But on closer inspection I realized that there was some unnecessary information TMI that didn't support my concept of walking down a path lined with bluebonnets. I needed to edit! What might you change in this photo?

In our weekly challenge on Patreon we used this photo to create new compositions. We had some very thoughtful results and it was clear that dealing with the clutter and giving ourselves permission to make changes opens up a whole new world! Here are some ideas for changing this photo:
  • Change the format from landscape to portrait or maybe even square or panoramic.
  • Zoom into one small section and make it the focus.
  • Lower the horizon and make the sky play a bigger role.
  • Change the time of day or conditions for a different mood.
  • Eliminate the road and make it a meadow filled with flowers.
  • Change the shapes and sizes of the trees. 
  • Choose a tree to be the focus and downplay or remove others.

The step by step demo of my interpretation is available on Patreon. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

What Do You Do When Nothing Inspires?

'Shine Your Light'           9x12         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
I've been organizing my reference photos this week. I have over 50,000 photos on my computer. All from my travels. Occasionally I open a folder and print a few that speak to me at the moment.  So my collection of printed photos has slowly grown. I should have no problem at all finding inspiration!

But sometimes I get lost. I have too many choices. I can't focus on just one image. I putter around and my painting window quickly closes. What does one do when everything and nothing inspires? When you can't make a decision?

I put away the photos and look around the studio. I find inspiration in often unlikely places when I open my mind and my eyes.

How do these pastels inspire?

Today I put away the piles of photos. I was overwhelmed with the choices. I was feeling defeated. As I was cleaning up a box of plein air studies caught my eye. I had taken them out for a private class. I looked through them and was drawn to one of the 5x7 studies. It brought back memories of a wonderful day paining in Ireland. What if I used this painting as my inspiration?

I pulled out a piece of light blue Colourfix sanded paper and went over to my easel. Then I spotted the tray of pastels left out from yesterday's painting. The palette was perfect for my painting idea. It was serendipity! My excitement returned and I was filled with inspiration. It was a good day in the studio once I allowed myself to be open to unexpected possibilities. 

5x7 plein air field study from Art in the Open Ireland Summer 2017

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Find Out How a Ghost Image is Helpful

'Emergence'          9x12         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $145

The paper was too good to throw away. The painting was certainly ready for the bin but I wasn't about to toss a perfectly good piece of paper. So it went into my pile to be used another day. Sometimes I try to rework a painting making changes to the existing  painting. Sometimes I have lost interest in the painting and just want a fresh start.

The unfinished and abandoned painting.

I don't even remember what this sunflower painting was for. I don't know why I didn't paint to the edges. But I was no longer interested in making it work. The paper was good though. It was a piece of Wallis seconds. I bought some of these warm mist seconds last fall. I didn't dare waste it!

I decided to keep it simple and I used a piece of pipe foam insulation to rub in the pastel. It removed much of the thicker pastel leaving a faint ghost image. I sprayed this ghost image with workable fixative so that it would darken and not mix with my next pastel layers.

The ghost image ready for a new life!
 This ghost image was the perfect way to start a new painting. Ghost images are helpful!

  • Ghost images take the pressure to perform off the table. There is no fear of ruining a precious clean piece of paper because there is already something there.
  • Ghost images are less intimidating because they are often messy and even ugly. You can't really make it any worse!
  • Ghost images help you loosen up and paint with more freedom and expression because your painting is already mysterious and free. The ghost image gives you a head start.
  • Ghost images often lead you in unexpected directions or even suggest things for your painting concept.
My ghost image gave me a head start on my daisy painting. The colorful dark mass was perfect for my dirt and the light shape at the top of the paper allowed me to visualize where the light would be coming from. There were even very light leftover sunflowers which would become hidden flowers in my scene.

The pastels I used for this painting.
 Check out the video demo on my Patreon page!
This week's video demo is now up on my Patreon page. I show you how this daisy painting evolves from start to finish. Give my page a try. Cancel at any time.

Heidi hanging out under my easel

Monday, February 05, 2018

Watch Out for This Sneaky Painting Problem

'Where Bumblebees Play'        12x16          pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $165
It happened without my permission. It was so sneaky that it took me YEARS to see. I was fooled by my own brain and it happens a lot. Sometimes I catch it and sometimes it slips in undetected.  But it is critical that I pay closer attention. In fact it happens to all of us when we paint and awareness is the cure! I am talking about our intellectual brain wanting to put things in order.

Our brains tend to want to organize and put things in order. This is why we end up with rows of similar size and shapes trees and regular spacing between objects. But we enjoy looking at paintings where there is asymmetry and variety. 

We have to be aware of this tendency and fight it....and always be on the lookout for things that are too organized and symmetrical. Have a look at today's painting. It is an older painting that I found in my studio clean up and just reworked.  Look at the photo below. This is the original. Can you spot the issues with the daisies?

The original: How many lines of daisies do you see?
When I painted this I didn't notice the perfect tic tac toe board of daisies. But my intellectual brain had done a good job at being sneaky and coming in to organize my flowers. Look at how perfectly symmetrical they are! The three center daisies are all the same size and shape. They are lined up in a vertical row. There are actually four horizontal rows of daisies. And I  thought I had done a good job! Whew! Back to the drawing board to throw the daisies out of whack!

In progress: Erased the bog center daisies and marked off new placements
What did I do? I brushed out the middle large daisy. I drew circles in the spots where I wanted to add new daisies. I made different size circles to remind me to vary the size of the flowers. I wanted to add some height to move the eye up onto the sky space. I also wanted to keep some daisies with more clarity and detail and let some have softer edges so that they disappeared into the foliage. I adde a couple of bees just for fun!

LESSON LEARNED! Always be on the lookout for that sneaky part of your brain that likes order. 

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Finishing a Painting and How to Remove Distractions part 2

'Come Smell the Roses'          5x7       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $95
It's like looking through a window. When you are looking at something through a window do you notice the curtains or the color of the wall or the carpet? Most likely the answer is NO! You are looking at the scene outside the window and everything else goes away. They are distractions but you don't notice them.
(photo of a busy support board)

That is the beauty of putting a mat or mount or frame around a painting that is almost finished. The mat or frame removes the distractions around the painting. The mat/frame becomes a window and now you can clearly see the painting and evaluate it more easily. Your support board color and all the marks on this board can no longer influence how you see your painting.
When you haven't isolated your paintings from these distractions they actually become a part of the painting!

Now you can clearly see the painting and look at the important considerations of your design, values and color. You can see how the edges of your painting work with the frame. Are there awkward shapes? Is there any hard edges leading the eye off the painting?  How does the viewer travel through the painting? The window onto the painting helps you answer these questions.

What if I don't want to carry mats or frames when I travel, paint en plein air or go to class? 

Black artist tape as a frame
 Try this great tip I learned from Richard McKinley. When I took workshops with Richard he would often use black artist tape to create frames around finished or almost finished paintings. The artist tape is easy to remove and of course easy to throw in with your painting supplies.
Get your black artist tape on Amazon or other online art stores.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

Do You Have a Magic Mat?

'A Chance of Snow'               11x14                  pastel             ©Karen Margulis

 Am I done yet?  It's one of the most difficult things about painting. How do we know when we are finished? Overworking is all too easy. You may have heard the saying that it takes a group of artists to paint a painting....one at the easel and the others to say when it is time to stop.

What happens when we are alone in our studios?  How can we tell if the painting is finished? First, is is very important to step back frequently.  But what do we look for when we step back? How will that help us determine when the painting is done?

Everyone needs a simple and inexpensive tool that I like to call The Magic Mat.

Time to step back and evaluate the painting 

The Magic Mat is simply a plain black mat. I had my framer friend cut them to fit the standard sizes from 5x7 up to 16x20. I use the mats when I am in the end stages of my painting. The black mat allows me to evaluate the painting. It eliminates the clutter on my board and draws my eye into the painting.  Richard McKinley uses black tape around a painting which does the same thing and is much more portable. The mats are great to have on hand in the studio.

The mats are magic because very often they allow us to see that a painting is closer to being finished than we thought. They prevent us from fiddling and overworking. Viewing a painting with a magic mat makes easier to see what needs to be done or changed. Sometimes it is nothing at all!

The Magic Mat at work
How did the Magic Mat help today's demo painting? It allowed me to see that I had made an arrow of dark leading the viewer out of the page. I also noticed a dark band at the bottom of the paper that I didn't like. I didn't like the colors in the trees. I was able to then go back and make the needed corrections. If I didn't step back and have a way to isolate the painting, I might have fussed and fiddled until the painting was mud!

close up detail of trees

Painting notes: Today's painting was done on a warm gray piece of canon mi-teintes paper with a variety of Nupastels, Ludwigs and Townsends.

What's Happening on Patreon
This month we are focusing on composition. Our first Weekly Challenge is off to a good start and there will be new videos and step by step demos. Come join us! ($4 a month cancel at any time!)

Friday, February 02, 2018

Some Fun with a Few Pastels

'Pleasant Field'          8x10       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $145
Painting time is my reward for a long day of cleaning. The Great Studio clean up continues with one small corner now uncovered and organized. I will give you a tour when I am all done. Todays focus was my easel area. I have a shelf unit next to my easel with my frequently used painting supplies such as workable fixative, brushes, clips and extra pastels. Lots of extra pastels. 13 years accumulation. I went through the boxes and labeled them so I could see what I have. I discovered some forgotten treasures such as a box of misc Unison pastels.

Yummy greens and violets!
Also found a piece of Wallis Belgian Mist with the beginnings of a raven painting. I knew I had to use the green Unisons so I taped up the piece of paper and pulled out a very green reference photo. What could be more fun than a summer meadow with clover? The Wallis paper and green and violet Unisons would be perfect.

I turned the paper upside down and started a new painting
 I really enjoyed the Unison pastels for this painting because it allowed me to play with a variety of marks. The colors were perfect for the summer grasses and flowers.

  • I used the sticks on their sides for the block in. I wanted wide and loose marks beginning with the darkest values.
  • My marks got increasingly smaller and more controlled as I painted the thicker grasses and flowers. 
  • The final marks were fine dancing linear marks. The top edge of the round Unisons allowed me to get fine controlled lines.

The block in of big shapes

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Do You Have POOP in your Studio?

'Morning Dune Walk'         10x10         pastel     ©Karen Margulis
available $155
It's late in the day but I couldn't resist. I have been slogging through boxes and piles of stuff in my studio storage room. It is a big room that used to be the garage. We converted to a teen hang out room for the kids and I inherited it when they left. It was the perfect 'junk' room. A junk room is like a junk drawer only it is a room! Have a peek if you dare!

My JUNK Room
My plan is to make better use of this space and move my finished paintings,workshop and shipping stuff out of my studio making more room to organize my art supplies. It is a daunting task! For those of you who have wondered how I manage to blog everyday this is how.....I don't spend time organizing on a daily basis but it always reaches a point of no return and it has to be done for my sanity!

So I discovered today that I have a big pile of old paintings. POOP. Pile of Old Paintings. Old and not very good. But some have good bones, some have good ideas just unfinished, some are so bad but the paper is still good. I don't throw out old unsuccessful paintings. They just go in the POOP pile. Today just for fun I picked a painting out of the pile and decided to rework it.

Fresh from the Old Painting Pile
I put the painting up on the easel. It is probably about 8 years old. I liked the colors but saw some problems I needed to address. I wrote my observations down on an index card so I would know what to work on.

I broke up the rollercoaster in the back and added brighter sunlit sea oats. I used some shouting marks on the bushes to add some contrast to them and to pull the eye up through the dunes. I adjusted the shapes of some of the bushes especially the front bush with some negative painting. It was fun to come back to an older painting and go at it with different eyes. I wonder what I'll find on the POOP pile tomorrow?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Advice to Frustrated Artists

'Marsh Secrets'         8x10         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $145
The great 2018 Studio Clean up continues. In between emptying shelves and going through boxes I was answering questions and commenting on paintings on my Patreon page. One particular post got my attention and brought back some vivid memories of frustration.

The artist expressed frustration and disappointment with the paintings they were doing despite studying and daily practice. Still their paintings were not turning out like they envisioned. I remember very clearly those same feelings. I remember looking at my paintings and wondering why they didn't match the pictures in my head! I was determined to paint better and I worked hard but I had to let go of my impatience and just enjoy the journey.

I put the advice I gave myself and to the artist into words and I'd like to share them with you. And the painting in today's post....it is a rework of an old painting from my days of frustration. See the original below. I bet you can critique it! It was a good feeling to rework it with the knowledge I have gained over the years.

The original painting done in 2006 or so

Advice to a Frustrated Artist

You have the tools....you see value. You have color sense, you have the technique of mark making with pastels. Now you just need patience and perseverance and practice. The more you paint without pressure to perform the more fun you will have and the sooner it will all come together. I do have some advice.....you need to paint what moves you. It is great to have the ability to copy but you want to express your own ideas. To do that you have to have ideas and subjects that you are passionate about. Pick something and practice painting that. When you paint what you love your own voice with come through. I understand your frustration and disappointment but with practice and time it will all become intuitive. It is more important that you take the pressure off of yourself and enjoy the journey. Embrace where you are at this moment.

a little marsh surprise