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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!
www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

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.

TRY THIS:
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!


Monday, April 02, 2018

Painting Titles That Work

'Cannot be Tamed'        9x9         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $155
Paintings deserve a good title. I admit that I am not the best at naming my paintings. Usually the titles are afterthoughts. And usually the titles are just descriptive like 'Morning Marsh' or Summer Meadow'. I do realize that titles should be given with thought. I know that when I like someone's work, I also look at the title and I am drawn to the more evocative titles. A title such as 'Kingdom by the Sea' is more interesting than 'The Sand Castle'. These evocative titles give me a little more insight into the artist and the painting. As Robert Genn says in his post about Painting Titles "... titles serve to confirm what's seen but also to add knowledge, insight, and a glimpse into the author's mind-set." Genn says artists should take the time to determine what they are trying to say with their paintings and if the titles they choose supports or detracts from their purpose. 

So today instead of naming my daily painting something generic and boring like 'Dunes by the Sea' (which was my first thought). I took a few minutes to think about what my story was for this painting. What did I want to say? What did I want my viewers to feel? For this painting it was all about the weather...the moody and somewhat stormy sky with hints of rough weather in the sea. It was about the wildness of the seashore. So I chose 'Cannot be Tamed' for the title. This fits my concept much better and when the title fits the concept it elevates the painting.

 Robert Genn talks about five types of titles we can consider: Sentimental, Numerical, Factual, Abstract and Mysterious. He suggests considering each kind for your painting and seeing which title type fits your intent the best. That takes time and effort but don't your paintings deserve it?

How do you name your paintings? It is a topic of discussion over in our Patreon FB group and I wanted to get some more input. Feel free to share your ideas in the comments.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Revisiting a Favorite Spring Motif

'For Every Bird a Nest'            11x14          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $175
 I love painting nests! Every year when spring rolls around I get the itch to paint a nest!  We were lucky last year to have several birds nesting in our yard so I got some new reference photos. One of the things I love about painting nests with pastels is that I get to be a bird. Yes that is what I said! I get to think like a bird.

I use my pastels to lay the foundation for the nest. And then I slowly and carefully build the layers weaving colors with linear marks. Some thick. Some thin. Around and around I go weaving the ends of straw. Tucking in bits here and there. My marks are gradually getting finer and tighter making a soft and strong home for the eggs.


close up detail of nest
I will be working on more nests this week including preparing a video demo and a step by step photo demo for my Patreon page. There is much to be learned from painting a nest!
Using a variety of marks to build a nest
Here is a wonderful little poem by Emily Dickinson


For every Bird a Nest—
Wherefore in timid quest
Some little Wren goes seeking round—

Wherefore when boughs are free—
Households in every tree—
Pilgrim be found?

Perhaps a home too high—
Ah Aristocracy!
The little Wren desires—

Perhaps of twig so fine—
Of twine e'en superfine,
Her pride aspires—

The Lark is not ashamed
To build upon the ground
Her modest house—

Yet who of all the throng
Dancing around the sun
Does so rejoice? 

Friday, March 30, 2018

Thoughts Behind a Daily Painting

'Just the Beginning'         9x9          pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $155
Sometimes it works. We have a concept in mind for a painting and it comes together. We make the choices that lead to the mood or feeling we wish to express. I wanted to create a painting that captured the fleeting moment when dusk slips into evening. The moment when a hush falls over the landscape. It is a soft quiet time. We start to hear the night noises emerge and the dampness of evening approaching. That is what I wished to create today.

I began with a 9x9 piece of Uart 500 grit sanded paper. I wasn't sure how I would start the painting until I had the paper up on my easel and I spotted a few Derwent Inktense sticks that I had left out on my shelf. The colors were perfect. Red violet , violet and blue. They would make a good underpainting especially when I wet them with rubbing alcohol.

Underpainting with Derwent Inktense blocks and rubbing alcohol
I put on some music....one of my favorite movie scores 'The Theory of Everything'. It allowed me to slip into the landscape and become a part of it.  I enjoyed responding to the underpainting with a limited palette. The dark values of the land and the brightness of the twilight sky made me believe in the scene. I was pulled into it and before I knew it I found myself completing the painting. When I thought I was finished I stepped away and then it occurred to me......I needed some fireflies! I added a few and called it finished.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Color Inspiration from a Thrift Store Find

'In Search of Beauty'       8x10       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $125
"I'm up to my ears in work, for the trees are in blossom" Van Gogh
Inspiration and painting ideas come to me in some unusual ways. Yesterday I made a stop at one of my favorite thrift stores on my way home from errands. I took a quick glance through the books as I always do and was excited to find a book on Van Gogh's flowers. I was tempted to put it back. I have so many books on Van Gogh and I was pretty sure I had one on his flowers......but maybe not this same book. So I quickly leafed through the pages. One particular painting stopped me in my tracks.

It was Van Gogh's 'Pink Peach Trees'. I didn't remember ever having seen it before but it called to mind the wonderful colors of our Georgia Spring. In fact I immediately thought of my front yard and my cherry trees that are in full bloom.





I was inspired! The book went into my cart and I rushed home to so I could paint. I decided that I would be guided by Van Gogh's peach tree and use his same palette of colors. I chose some pastels that were close to the colors I saw in Van Gogh's painting.



I dove into the painting and just let go. I let myself glance at the painting in the book form time to time but mostly I just responded and let my own cherry tree emerge. I had so much fun that I painted another one. It was such a fun experience....acting on unexpected inspiration!

'Pink Passion'        8x10        pastel      $125

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

A Trick for Repurposing Pastel Paper


'Dance with Me'          9x12        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $150
My quest continues this week. I am getting ready to participate in a paintout on St George Island in Florida. I want to fill my Heilman box with my new Great American pastel set. I am working on some Florida landscapes to put the set to the test. So far I am pleased with the set (Richard McKinley 91 half stick set)

I decided to repurpose a piece of Wallis that I had used for a quick cloud demo at my last workshop. I wanted to keep it simple but the chalky clouds and blue sky of the demo didn't lend themselves to my subject matter. It was difficult to see past the clouds! I was tempted to pul out a clean piece of paper when I had an idea!

Just turn the paper upside down and sideways!

The remnants of a cloud demo on a good piece of sanded paper!
 I brushed away the thickest pastel and rubbed the rest into the paper with a piece of pipe insulation foam. I then turned the paper. Now I wasn't distracted by the original cloud shapes. I was left with a blueish toned piece of paper ....ready for anything!

I used a blue Nupastel to draw some the arrangement of palm trees making sure I had a variety of sizes and spacing. What a fun way to repurpose paper!

Just brush it out and turn it around!

Here is the painting before I added the final spice marks. Scroll up to see them.
We are exploring color schemes on my Patreon page. Can you tell what color scheme this painting is?