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Friday, October 20, 2017

First Look at Jack Richeson Handmade Soft Pastels

'On a Gray Day'        5x7        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
 I love hidden treasure. That's what happens when you get busy and things get hidden under piles of stuff. Today I was looking for something when I found a stash of Jack Richeson pastels that I had purchased at the IAPS convention in June. They were giving away samples but the colors were so luscious that I bought about 20 more. I chose some greens that I thought I could use as well as some bright 'spice' colors.

This post isn't a complete review of these pastels since I didn't do a full test. I only pulled out this collection of greens because I knew they would be perfect for the little study I was working on.

Jack Richeson Handmade Soft Pastels
My intention was to use these pastels as spices....that is the final marks on a painting. After my brief use today I think they will be great in this role.

  • The size is perfect. They are round and about 1 1/2 inches long. This is the perfect 'brush' size. Not to big and not too small.
  • They are firm and not at all crumbly. I pressed hard and the pastel stayed intact and didn't break.
  • They go on soft. Even though they aren't crumbly they are soft enough to leave a nice amount of pigment. My first impression is that they are on the 'buttery' side which means they feel soft and a bit creamy. I will test them some more to see if this first impression is accurate.
  • The colors are wonderful. At the convention they were all on display like a wonderful candy store. Between this booth and Terry Ludwig's booth we were all in trouble! I couldn't resist choosing a bunch of them. I also loved the little plastic cases that the pastels came in. These will come in handy for traveling with a few extra spices!
These hand rolled pastels are available at Dakota Art Pastels and they are on sale this week. I plan to do a more thorough review but it is a good time to buy some to try for yourself!

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Benefit of Using Mini Reference Photos

'Change in the Air'          8x10         pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $145
 I like mine small. Very small. In fact I like them so small that I can hardly see them especially with out my readers. I'm talking about reference photos. I am not anti-tablet or iPad but I do prefer a physical reference photo. But I want them small! This is my guiding principle when using photos.

The less you can see the more you are free to interpret what you do see.

Contact sheet of reference photos

That is why I like my reference photos small. I only want to see what is important. I can see the big shapes or maybe a color that excites me. I can see patterns of light and dark. Seeing the big shapes of light and dark form the bones of a strong painting.

I may not be able to see the tiny details but that actually allows me to concentrate on what is important. I won't get caught up in painting detail too soon. It won't allow me to put in more detail than is needed!
The reference photo used for this painting 3x2 inches!
Painting notes:  8x10 on Walllis warm mist discontinued paper. :(  with an assortment of Terry Ludwig pastels.

NEW ON PATREON TODAY! I have posted a new video demo of an intimate autumn landscape. This video is available to patrons who pledge the $4 a month for expanded content. Have a look: www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

How To Start a Painting With an Abstract Underpainting

'A Flash of Red'          8x10         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I'm not about to waste a good piece of Uart paper. So when I saw this piece on the pile I had an idea. It was covered with red and purple squiggly marks....the result of my recent video on mark making. It served it's purpose but I hated to just throw it away.

So as usual I put on my 'What If' hat and thought about how I could reuse the paper. The easiest thing to do would be an alcohol wash. So I poured some 70% isopropyl alcohol into a cup and took out a stiff bristle brush.  I scrubbed the alcohol into the pastel marks and let the liquid do its magic. I couldn't get rid of the heavy lines so they became a part of the new underpainting.

I'm not about to waste a good piece of paper!

When the underpainting was dry I was pleasantly surprised. It was actually kind of an interesting abstract painting. But in it I could see a red tree trying to emerge! It would be a great way to start my  intimate autumn forest scene. 

I usually have some kind of plan for my underpaintings. In this case I simply wet some colors and marks and let them become their own abstract design. I then responded to this abstract. It was a fun way to start a painting and one that I will definitely try again!

A little rubbing alcohol and voila!

The finished painting. Watch the demo on YouTube
NEW ON PATREON TODAY! I have posted a new video demo of an intimate autumn landscape (the painting at the top of this post)  This video is available to patrons who pledge the $4 a month for expanded content. Have a look: www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Try This Great Painting Exercise

'Fall Memories'            5x7         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $95
I got back on the ship with both my camera's memory card and my own memory full of beautiful images. I would have loved to paint plein air on our stop on Mount Desert Island Maine but our time was very limited. A friend generously offered to give us a quick driving tour and it was awesome. I did my usual 'drive by' shooting taking as many photos as I could while Alice drove.

Of all the images I took it was interesting that I recalled one particular scene more clearly. It was a stand of yellow trees against a moody, misty, cold and blustery day. The following morning I took out my small pastel kit and decided to paint this scene from my memory. I glanced at the photo of the scene on my camera and then put the camera away.

My smallest travel kit is the Heilman Single Sketch Box filled with Girault pastels

I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of painting without trying to be true to a photo. I was able to put in the details that I recalled. These are the things that really mattered to me.  I was able to create the scene using my imagination. I could arrange the elements and play with values and colors to create an interesting painting. It was liberating!

Try This: Pick a reference photo that YOU TOOK. Glance at it for a minute and then put it away. Now paint the scene pulling things from your memory and imagination. Have fun!

Girault pastels are wonderful. They look hard but go on soft!

Monday, October 16, 2017

The Benefit of a Mini Goal and Some Great News!

'Summer Perfection'         15x10       pastel       ©Karen Margulis

I am a firm believer in setting goals. But I call them Mini Goals. They are things that I hope to accomplish. They may be big things or maybe just a little thing. But they don't have any time deadline. I just keep plugging away and working everyday with the mini goal urging me on.

Mini goals keep me motivated. When I meet one I try to set another one. I don't put pressure on myself to meet the goal. I figure if I am working hard and still having fun I can't help but get better and eventually meet the goal.

Well I am thrilled (yes I am thrilled) to share that I met one of my mini goals. My painting 'Summer Perfection' was awarded an honorable mention in the 19th annual Pastel 100 Competition for Pastel Journal.  It has been a goal of mine for several years. I do enter every year and swallow my disappointment when I don't get in. I just keep plugging away. It feels good to have met this goal!

What goals have you set for yourself?  To give you an idea of my mini goals I'll take you back 13 years ago when I first began painting. I was at my first pastel exhibition for the Southeastern Pastel Society. I made a mini goal that I would someday get into that show. I got in the next year! My next goal was to become a member of excellence. And the goals went on from there pushing me to paint more and study more and paint more. Mini goals make me a better artist!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Sunday Studio Time: Intimate Autumn Landscape Demo Youtube Video

'Maine Woods'           9x12         pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I was so inspired that I had to get down into my studio to paint. The chores had to wait. Once I am home from a trip often life gets in the way of inspiration. This time I didn't let it! I threw in the laundry and immediately downloaded the photos from my New England and Canada cruise.

Once in the studio a printed put a few photos and pulled out my pastel palette for the intimate autumn landscape that begged to be painted. I thought it would be fun to paint live so we set up the iPhone to do a Facebook Live video of my painting. I had no idea how the painting would turn out but my goal was to show you how I respond to inspiration. Everything gets put on hold until I paint!

The small reference photo that inspired today's painting 

The photo above was my inspiration. You can watch the video demo here on my YouTube channel.

Click here to see the video on YouTube
We also filmed two more videos for my new Patreon page. I have over 200 patrons now who are enjoying the extra pastel and painting instruction and inspiration. If you haven't had a look at the Patreon page you can visit it here. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Great Way to Tone Paper for Pastel Painting

'Summer in Finland'             5x7             pastel              ©Karen Margulis

Enjoy this post from the archives while I am out of town!

Sometimes I just don't want to think. I don't want to think about underpainting colors or the best way to start a painting. Sometimes I just want to paint directly....no underpainting. No thinking.  I find that a middle value paper makes the best choice for these times. A nice warm toned paper allows me to paint directly without worrying about covering up a light or white paper.

I find that the light bits peeking through my layers can be distracting and a mid value toned paper helps me avoid the light bits!  If bits and pieces of the middle value tone peek through it is more pleasing. In fact it can unify and harmonize the painting.

Of course we can buy colored pastel paper and I do. But sometimes I want to use my favorite paper Uart, but I want it to be more of a middle value. Now I can!  

Art Graf pigment square....unusual and amazing!

I was introduced to this new product at the recent IAPS convention. My friend found them at the trade show and insisted that I have a look. I am glad I did and I am glad I bought the set.  These squares of rich water-soluble pigment create a most wonderful toned paper. And a little bit goes a long way!

They are thin square shapes like tailor's chalk only they are not chalk. They are not pastel either. In fact they feel a bit waxy. But they work like a dream to tone paper. Read more about them here:

It takes very little pigment to create a rich tone.  I tested all 6 colors on Uart sanded paper. I used the side of the Art-Graf to color the paper....lightly!  A brush and some water is needed to liquify and spread the pigment. It took some practice to figure out the right amount of water. More water equals a lighter tone. I got some drips and bubbles on some of mine because I was impatient. I liked the effect though!

I even mixed more than one bock on the same paper to make a custom color.  It was great fun and I loved the results.

 How does pastel react to the toned paper? I am happy to say that it was a great marriage. The pastel responded perfectly. The painting at the top of the post is on the sepia toned paper.  The pigment of the Art Graf did not fill the tooth of the paper. I am thrilled!  I am looking forward to using them to tone paper for my upcoming plein air workshops!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

More on My New Favorite Underpainting Technique

'Autumn Evening'         9x12         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $155
Here is a post from the archives:
I cannot resist an art store. So when my friend and I found ourselves in Santa Fe last week with some extra time to spare we made a stop at Artisans, an art store in Sante Fe New Mexico. We didn't really need anything but you never know what treasure you might find.

And I found a wonderful treasure! My favorite Art Graf squares in primary colors! You may have read about or tired these Art Graf pigment blocks. I have used the earth toned squares for underpainting and I loved the results. They are a strange thing....they feel waxy almost like a crayon but when applied to paper and wet with water or alcohol they EXPLODE with rich color.
It takes very little application to get a rich and dark resulting tone. They are fantastic for toning paper or for underpainting for pastels.

Art Graf squares in primary colors for wonderful possibilities

I had to buy this set of primary colors! I was excited for the possibilities since it is easy to layer and mix the pigment of the squares. I tried the squares for my aspen demo at my workshop  and I was thrilled with the rich results. (see  post here)
One evening at the workshop we had a paper toning party and all of the artists had fun using the Art Graf to tone paper and create underpaintings. We are now all fans! You can find the Art Graf squares on Amazon and I have also seen them online at Cheap Joes. Below you can see how I used the primary color squares for today's painting.

I applied the Art Graf lightly by coloring on my sanded paper (Pastel Premier white)

After wetting the pigment with water and a brush.

Starting to add pastel over the underpainting

The finished painting

Monday, October 09, 2017

How to Paint a Yellow Tree: Bonus Demo

'The Yellow Tree'      12x12       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
 Are you having fun painting the colors of Fall? I am having fun playing with using an intense underpainting to help give punch to my yellow trees. I used the Art Graf primary color squares for this underpainting and I love how they gave me a great head start!

TODAY'S TIP: You can use the medium of your choice for an underpainting but for yellow I like to underpaint with some yellow. It seems to help the yellows feel brighter and more intense.

Underpainting with Art Graf pigment squares
I have posted a mini demo for this painting on my Patreon page. It is available for all! I invite you to head over to my page to have a look at what we are doing!  www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Friday, October 06, 2017

When You Can't Stop Painting One Thing

'Pink Poppy Profusion II'          6x8           pastel on Uart Dark        ©Karen Margulis
available $125
I can't help myself. Sometimes I find something that I just can't stop painting. It may be a subject or a particular reference photo that grabs my attention. It may even be the first painting done from the photo that inspires more interpretation. No matter what the reason I can't stop painting!

Some artists prefer to paint new material and don't like to repeat a motif but I find repetition allows me to truly understand and become intimate with my subject. If Degas did it then it is a good practice for me too!

Just as a classical dancer repeats the same movements again and again, in order to achieve a greater perfection of line and balance, so Degas repeats the same motifs - it was one of the things that gave him so much sympathy with dancers. -Sir Kenneth Clark

My pastels used for the pink poppy series
Here are some tips for repetition of a motif

  • Choose a subject or photo that you LOVE. It should be something that you experienced. The passion for the subject is necessary!
  • Challenge yourself to interpret the scene in different ways instead of just copying the same painting over and over.
  • Keep things simple. In the early receptions I like to reuse the same pastel palette. It eliminates one thing from the planning and allows you to concentrate on composition and marks.

You are invited to check out my Patreon page for more painting tips and inspiration.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Have You Considered MOO Cards Lately?

Ireland plein air 5x7 pastel

 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!

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 10% off your first order.  Click here for the link.

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!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Another Great Hack from a Clever Student

'The Quiet Time'       8x10         pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I handed her a dish towel. And she took it but mentioned casually that she uses toilet paper.  Toilet paper! But of course! Another clever idea from my student. It is good practice to have something handy for wiping pastels before you make a mark. In fact it should become automatic. Make a mark. Wipe. Mark a mark. Wipe.

Why? Because pastels can pick up other colors as you paint. These colors can be deposited in other areas. Sometimes this is good and leads to interesting things. Most times it isn't good. Think about a dark green mark in a light blue sky. It happens if the pastel is not wiped off in between trees and sky! trull name.....PAINTING TISSUE.

So that means we do a lot of wiping! I use old dish towels and throw them in the wash when dirty. Other use aprons and wipe on the apron. My student uses toilet paper. Let's call it by it's rightful name .....PAINTING TISSUE.

Always handy Painting Tissue
You don't need a lot but a wad in your hand will help you keep your pastels clean as you paint. Pick up some painting tissue the next time you are in the Dollar Tree.....or stock up at your favorite warehouse store.

Thanks Linda for another great tip!

Monday, October 02, 2017

Try Some Unexpected Underpainting Colors

'River of Peace'           18x24         pastel           ©Karen Margulis

I was hoping to get to the easel today but last minute packing took over! So I am sharing a good post from the archives. I have scheduled posts for the time I will be away and I hope to do some posts from my trip if technology cooperates! 

I don't know why I haven't used this color before now. It is one of my favorite colors but I have never used it for an underpainting. But when I was planning my demo painting for my workshop yesterday a bright blue variation of turquoise caught my eye. I pulled four values of the color for my simple block-in. It would work for my lesson. 

Color will work if the values are right.

I was curious to see what would happen with a turquoise underpainting. I blocked in my big shapes with the four sticks. Dark trees, light sky and water and the two middle values for the ground and distant trees. I didn't get a photo of the block-in since this was a workshop demo but it was pretty! It was my favorite color after all.

The colors I used for the underpainting
The finished painting was actually quite true to the mood and feeling of the reference photo. The warm blues peeking through my foliage and grasses added just the right amount of coolness without being cold!

 It had been a cool and overcast morning on the grounds of Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey in New Mexico. We were taking an afternoon walk on the grounds in preparation for the week's painting retreat. We walked along the river's edge listening to the music of the water over distant rocks.....  I am left with such inspiring memories and photos and can't wait to go back in October!                  

close-up photo
 Unexpected colors maybe... but a fun result. Imagine what other underpainting colors could do to transform this scene. I think I'll try some warm colors next....but they will be unexpected. This is what painting is all about. Fun!

The painting at the end of the demo. I spent another 30 minutes once home in the studio
PAINTING NOTE:  This painting is on Canson Mi-Teinte gray paper. In my last two blog posts I gave suggestions for getting started with pastels. I suggested using good paper. Many pastelists prefer sanded paper. I like it too but I love Canson. The trick is to use good pastels and have a LIGHT TOUCH. It is easier to build more layers when the pastel is applied with a whisper.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Mastering Pastel Mark Making

'Under Moody Skies'         9x12        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $125
Once you have the tools it is a matter of refining techniques. A big part of the techniques involved with the pastel medium is mastering mark making or how to apply the pastel to get the effects you want.  We all have our own way of making marks. It is like handwriting....we all have our own personal calligraphy. Our marks and way we apply them are unique to us.

But there are some basic building blocks in mark making and once mastered they allow the artist to explore and discover their own silt of applying pastel.

I have three basic ways that I use to apply pastel. 

  • Whispering marks are those marks applied with the side of the pastel using a LIGHT TOUCH. A light touch allows for the artist to build many layers creating optical blends of color.
  • Shouting marks are those marks applied with a heavy touch. The paper is covered with thick pastel. I use shouting marks when I know I will not be adding another layer to the area. I can shout at any point in the painting but most often at the end for the final marks.
  • Dancing marks are those usually applied with harder pastels. They are linear marks used for detail such as grass. I like to let the pastel 'dance' across the paper and use BROKEN LINES. This makes more natural looking linear marks.

Can you identify the three types of marks I made?
How do you apply pastel? Think about the types of marks you make. Do you whisper or shout? Do you dance or do you something totally different?

Since a picture is worth a thousand words I made a short video demonstrating these types of three marks up close. The video is now available on my Patreon page for a sneak preview to patrons.

Check out my video intro on my new Patreon Page

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Five Tips for Painting Yellow Trees

'Aspen Gold'        12x16          pastel        ©Karen Margulis sold

The excitement is building. There won't be aspens but I hope to see the reds and oranges of fall! Next week Michael and I are taking a New England cruise from New York City to Quebec City. I've packed my sketchbook and my Heilman sketchbox and my camera. I plan on doing some Facebook Live broadcasts along the way and I have scheduled blog and Patreon posts in case I have technical difficulties!  Since I have to pack this weekend I am sharing a post from the archives on painting yellow. Enjoy!

Painting the yellow foliage is my challenge. I don't know about anyone else but I find yellows to be tricky with pastels. It is hard to get them as bright, clean and vibrant as I want to.  I am always looking for ideas to help me with yellows and I'd like to share five of my favorite techniques.

Gouache Underpainting

  • Try a yellow underpainting under the areas that will be yellow. It gives your yellows a head start. For this painting I did a gouache underpainting.
  • Use your softest pastels. The softer pastels have more pigment and I can get juicier marks with them. This way the yellows don't mix with the colors underneath as easily keeping the yellows pure. In this painting I took an extra step and dusted soft yellow pastel pieces on the painting and rolled them with a rolling pin to set them into the paper.  (see my post on this Dusting Technique HERE)
  • Try to mix warm and cool yellows in the areas that you are painting yellow. I find that if I place warm yellows next to cool yellows, the color looks more alive and vibrant.
  • When building up your layers of Yellow, start with a darker yellow or an orange yellow so the lighter and more intense yellows will stand out in contrast to these darker areas.
  • Use the compliment of yellow....Purple!  Using the complimentary color purple or violet next to the yellow intensifies it and makes it appear more vibrant. Be sure not to mix the yellow and purple or you will get muddy color.
I hope these tips are helpful. I use these techniques whenever I am painting things that have big areas of yellow such as sunflowers!  Do you have any tips for using yellow? I'd love to hear them.

Join us over on my Patreon page! The challenge this week is painting Yellow ! www.patreon.com/karenmargulis