Monday, July 24, 2017

Some Important Thumbnail Advice

'Walk on the Wild Side'            9x12          pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $165
It was a great point. Since we have been discussing thumbnail sketches I wanted to share my exchange with a fellow artist. She commented about my Saturday blog post on the importance of doing thumbnail sketches.  Here is what was said:  

 " There seems to be several ways  to do a thumbnail ....a bit confusing!"

 I agree! It can be confusing. Every artist has their own way of doing thumbnails. And if you study from other artists pretty soon you will have learned several different approaches. There are no right or wrong ways to do a thumbnail. Some may be more effective than others. Some might work for you but not for me.

My advice to my reader was to find a way to do thumbnails that makes sense and works and stick with it at least until you master it. We run into problems and get confused when we try too many things without mastering any.

Starting the painting using the thumbnail. The reference photo is on the right.

I have been using the same thumbnail technique consistently for the past several years. I do a small 3-4 simplified value study. I now sometimes to a 2 value study. I like to use index cards and I like to draw a box for my thumbnail. That's it. I haven't varied from this method. I am comfortable with it and I know it helps me simplify and give the painting a good start.

It is easy to get confused when presented with too many choices. Pick one. Master it. Then worry about trying something else.

Remember this:

"You can do anything but not everything"                                           David Allen

My three value thumbnail on an index card

I did a wash with Caran D'Ache Neocolor II crayons and water

The dried underpainting....ready to paint!

The first layers. I started with the darks.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Three Good Reasons to do Your Thumbnails

'A Beautiful Life'         8x10      pastel      ©Karen Margulis
available $145
It is friendly reminder day! Maybe you have been very good and consistently do thumbnails or small value studies before painting. Or maybe you are like me and often skip this important step.  I don't know why I don't make it a part of my studio painting routine. I do thumbnails for plein air and I know they help.  As I shared the importance of doing black and white thumbnails with a student it reminded me just how much they do help!

I use an index card and mat board frame for my thumbnails

Remember to take the time for thumbnails. They don't take long and it will be worth the effort. Here are three reasons:

A simple 4 value thumbnail 

1.  Thumbnails save you time and paper.  It is much better to figure out if your composition will work in a quick study than to waste good paper making corrections to a composition with issues. In my thumbnail (above) I saw immediately that the mountain shape was the same as the shape of the treeline. I also didn't like the shape of the water. I made adjustments when I blocked in the painting.

2. Thumbnails help us simplify a busy reference. My photo was filled with lots of bushes and trees...lots of spots of light and dark. The black and white thumbnail allowed me to simplify the busy stuff into a few bigger simple shapes.

3. Thumbnails make you a better artist. Doing thumbnails is like doing pushups....they make you a stronger painter. They are  exercises that gradually build your ability to see value and shapes and what makes a good design.  Thumbnails add don't neglect them!

If you would like to explore more about doing thumbnails and a method for using them you might like to read my thumbnail posts here:
Five Steps to a Good Thumbnail
How to Make Thumbnail Studies Fun

Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Fun: Embrace Paper that you Hate

'Discovering the Magic'       9x12      pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $145
Hate is a strong word. I try not to use it. Maybe I should say strongly dislike but when you are painting on a paper that you struggle with it is easy to say the 'H' word! I am often asked about my pastel paper likes and dislikes. I try to be diplomatic with my answer because everyone has their own preference. If I hear a student complain about a paper brand I usually try to encourage them to find a way to make the paper work....try another pastel type for example. 

But I am going to share a deep dark secret......I do have a paper that I strongly dislike. I today I thought it would be fun to confront my aversion and make it work. And in the end I discovered something new.....I don't really dislike the paper at all!

my reference photo
Usually when we don't like the way a paper is performing it is because we just don't have enough experience working with it. Remember the first time you tried your favorite paper? Was it love at first mark? Did it take some time to discover the idiosyncrasies of the paper? Often we give up on a paper before we discover what works best with it.

For today's Friday Fun painting I decided to try a piece of my nemesis.....Art Spectrum Colourfix. It has not been a favorite of mine and so I haven't bought any in years. I was recently given some paper and pastels (more on this soon) and there was a pack of Colourfix in the pile.  It was time to revisit this paper. Scroll down to see the progress on this light blue piece of colourfix 9x12.

Now it is your turn. Do yo have a paper that you strongly dislike? Maybe you have a piece or two hidden away somewhere. I challenge you to have some fun and try painting it this weekend. You might be pleasantly surprised as I was. Colourfix wasn't as challenging as I remembered it.

*****The response to my question about signing your work has been fantastic. I will need more time to compile all of your answers. Thank you so much for your response!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

When Do You Sign a Painting

'Return to the Marsh'          8x10          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $145
 Does signing a painting mean you are finished? For me it is usually the last thing I do. It prevents me from fussing and potentially overworking a painting. When I feel like I have nothing more to add to a painting....when I decide that another mark will not make a difference....I stop and add my signature.

Signing my painting is an important ritual. It means I am feeling good about it. It means I will stop and evaluate before making another mark. Signing slows me down!

After I sign the painting I take a break. I give myself some time and distance. I leave the painting on the easel and glance at it from time to time. I will return to it and touch it ONLY if I know exactly what I need to do. Usually I never touch it again. It's funny how a painting is often finished before we think it is. Signing and stepping back keeps the painting from being 'finished off'.

My signature is my initials....Karen Elizabeth Margulis

I am working on a blog post and video on signing paintings and I'd love to hear from you. If you'd like to share your answers to the following questions pleas do so in the comments.

1. How do you sign your name? Initials? Full name? First name only?
2. What do you use to sign your name?

Isn't this the coolest bag? 
My friend dropped by today to give me this wonderful birthday gift. It is monogrammed with my signature and I just LOVE the color! My friend and I call ourselves 'bag ladies' We can never have enough bags!

Painting notes:  8x10 on Uart 500. Schminke pastels for the yellow flowers. Terry  Ludwigs and Diane Townsend for everything else.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Treat for Artists!

'Garden Party I'         8x8          pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I have rediscovered the joy of listening to podcasts while painting and puttering around the studio. I might as well be filling my brain with interesting art related talk while I work!  Last week I decided to tune into one of my favorite programs on Blog Talk radio 'Artists Helping Artists' with Leslie Saeta. The topic of the day was "What We can Learn From the Top Artsits Blogs"

I was organizing supplies and listening to the program stopping now and then to jot down something interesting. It was a great topic and I was happy to learn of some blogs I wasn't familiar with. As I listened I was completely surprised to hear my name mentioned! I was one of the blogs being shared on the show! What fun!

In the last few days I've been going back and listening to some of the programs I missed. They are all filled with great information and Leslie and her cohosts are so enjoyable. It feels like you are listening to old friends!

Below is the link to the program on top art blogs.  You can also visit Leslie's website and the section on AHA or Artist Helping Artists. 
You are in for a treat if you haven't tuned into AHA yet. Do you have a favorite art related podcast to share?

'Garden Party II'       8x8       $145
Today's Painting Notes:  Both of these paintings are on Uart 500 grit. I was experimenting with a square format and decided to paint a pair!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Tip for Painting a Very Busy Landscape

'Down in the Clover'             10x8         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $175
I've decided I like my meadows wild and free. The more tangled and out of control the more I intrigued I am. It isn't easy to paint though. I don't want to totally tame it but I also don't want to get lost in the busyness of the scene. We know it is important to simplify. But how do you simplify and still keep the feeling of the freedom of the flowers and grasses of the meadow? The answer is easy.

Paint the flowers and grassy stuff last.

Too often we get excited about the colorful flowers and interesting shapes and textures of the grasses. We rush to put them into our painting. The problem we run into is that the flowers are not anchored.....they are floating on an unfinished background. We then have to add all of the grassy stuff and before we know it we have a overly complicated overworked painting.

In today's painting I simplified the busy meadow by painting the big simple shapes of the background first....the trees and the dirt. Scroll down to see the progress shots.

my reference photo....another Maine summer meadow

block in of the big shapes using three values

Staring with the trees and the sky

midway through the painting
Once I have painted the background trees and sky I spend time working on the grass underlayer. Notice I don't paint the detailed grasses and leaves yet. Instead I paint some purple dirt color and green grass color all with big broad strokes. I also start to indicate the shape and color of the flowers.

Then and only then will I  put in the details of the grasses and flowers. I use harder pastels for these calligraphic marks. I am free to put in as much detail as I want. For today's painting I decided to put in more detail in the grasses than I usually do and had a great time!

close up
Painting notes: 10x8 art paper that I toned medium brown with thin acrylic paint.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Permission to Paint What you Love

'Seek and You Shall Find'       8x8         pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available  $125
After the camera stopped I slipped into the zone. I found myself getting lost in the tangle of flowers and grasses that I was creating. I wove the grasses with thin strokes of hard pastels. I added flowers and softened others. I was transported into the scene that I had visited many many times. I was at home and I was having fun! That is what happens when you paint with passion and intimate familiarity.

Yesterday's demo painting

I painted Queen Anne's Lace for yesterday's Facebook Live broadcast. If you have watched it you know that I didn't do the finishing marks on the video. I needed to allow myself to get to the place where I could let go. How do we get to this point of intuitive passionate painting?

 Paint a lot and paint your passion.

Last week I blogged about painting miles of canvas. We all know the importance of painting a lot. Daily painting truly made a huge impact on my progress. But things really took a leap forward when I started painting what I LOVE.

I am passionate about wildflowers. I LOVE painting them. I give myself permission to paint them over and over again. It is what allows me to be intimate with them and paint them with passion.  For today's painting, I simply took the demo underpainitng from yesterday's video and tried to interpret it in a different way. Just another day in the studio!

the underpainting done with Art Graf Carbon Disc

TRY THIS: This week why not paint the thing you are most passionate about. Paint several variations on the same reference. Let go!

Note: There is certainly a place for painting subjects that you don't love for the sake of learning certain things. I don't do that often enough. Push outside of your comfort zone of course. But be sure to make time to paint what you are passionate about.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

New Video Demo: The Magic of Painting on Black

'A Beautiful Secret'          11x14           pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $185
There is a story behind this painting. I shared it on my Facebook Live video Sunday afternoon and I will share it again in another blog post because it makes me smile! I had so much fun painting this live on Facebook. It is not a perfect video. We had some technical difficulties. But the information is there and if you'd like to see this painting develop you can see the video on my YouTube channel.

Link to the demo on YouTube:

The painting began with a plan. I changed the format of the photo and chose to do a landscape orientation. I did a black and white thumbnail to work out the composition.

My reference photo and my black and white thumbnail

I was interested in capturing the drama of the dark trees behind the flowers so I decided to do a black underpainting. I used an Art Graf carbon disc pigment black washed with water. I love these Art Graf squares!

An underpainting on Uart paper with Art Graf Carbon Disc wash
I got as far as the photo below in the video demo. I stopped at this point because the painting needed some thinking time before I could add the final touches.  It is very hard to explain how I make these final marks. I find I get lost in this part of a wildflower painting and I simply have to let go and let my hand take over. It is a lot of adding detail and taking some away....a lot of back and forth!

In an upcoming live demo I will JUST do a finish to a painting so that you can see that part of the painting process.  I hope you enjoy the demo!

The demo as I finished the live demo.More work needed.

The aftermath!


Saturday, July 15, 2017

More Painting on Black and a Camping Story

'Firefly Magic'           8x10        pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $150
We almost didn't stay.   We arrived at the campground and got the tents set up and unloaded our gear. It was hot and steamy. Even though out campsite was deep in the woods there was no relief. Not a breath of air. We ate lunch and tried to let the kids take a nap. It wasn't working. Too hot. So we went on our planned hike instead.

On the way back from the hike, the subject on all of our minds came up. "Would it be so bad to wimp out and just go home?" We decided that it would be OK and we returned to the campsite with a new purpose. We would make our dinner and then head back to the comfort of home.

Dinner was wonderful. We made hot dogs on sticks over the fire. We actually lit the fire without the benefit of lighter fluid. We felt good about that. Grace made a pot out of tin foil for our beans. Hot dogs and beans never tasted so good. Baby Jamie was content. Greta was running around the campsite playing with her camping dolls. And as the sun set it was getting cooler.

Then Grace brought up the question on all of our minds. "Would it be silly of us to change our minds and stay?"  Of course not.  Corey and Grace left to get more ice and water while Greta and I made a fairy house in the perfectly located tree stump. As dusk fell I noticed the woods getting darker and the most magical thing taking place.

The forest was quickly becoming illuminated by fireflies!  Hundreds of them. Maybe even thousands. I had never seen so many fireflies. It was truly a magical moment to cherish. (and to capture in a painting!)

Here are some progress shots of today's painting. It is 8x10 on a dark charcoal piece of Yi Cai sanded paper.

The start along with my reference photo

Block in of the extremesL darks, lights and most intense color

First layers

Almost finished....need to add the fireflies
Have you tried painting on a black or dark surface? Tomorrow I will share an easy way to make your own black paper.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Fun: Painting on Black

'Outside My Window'         11x6       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $75
There is something magical about painting on black paper. I don't do it often but when I do I am always pleasantly surprised at how exciting it is. Black is bold. It is dramatic. It allows colors to pop. There is nothing shy about black paper and it can rub off on you. It can make you feel bold, exciting and dramatic!

Don't be shy! Take out a piece of black paper or tone a piece with black pigment of any kind. (more on this tomorrow) Choose something simple and colorful and have some fun.

I used a piece of the new Uart Dark paper. It was introduced at the recent IAPS convention and should be available this fall!  I took some progress photos to show my approach to working on black. Note that I didn't have to block in darks because they were already there! I did use some Terry Ludwig eggplant to restore some of the darkest accents.


Below is a chart I put together showing a variety of black surfaces available. 

A variety of black papers for pastel painting