Sunday, October 19, 2014

On Seeing Colors....Is Dried Grass Brown?

'Autumn Comes to the Island'            8x10           pastel         ©Karen Margulis
purchase here $150
 How fortunate we are as artists. Even something as mundane as dried grasses can be seen as beautiful. Many would pass them without a second look. What is interesting about dead grass?  It's brown and ugly! But when we begin to see things through the eyes of an artist even the ugly becomes beautiful.

Brown is beautiful because brown is not just brown. Brown is purple and blue and orange. Brown stuff has subtle and beautiful colors. We just need to look carefully and allow our eyes to really see it.

close-up detail
I had a new student come to my studio this week. I was so excited to learn she had never painted before. She wanted to be an artist. She wanted to paint and she was coming to me for a lesson on pastel painting. The most rewarding part of the lesson was helping her to begin seeing things as an artist. We discussed how as beginners we tend to see and paint things the way we think they are...we are very literal and true to the shapes and colors that we learned as children.....such as tree trunks are brown and leaves are green and the sky is blue. But we can start to see things how they really are and when we do we are enriched and our paintings become more personal.

As I painted the demo for my student she asked why I didn't choose brown for the dried grasses. I didn't see them as brown but then I realized that I have learned to put aside what I think and allow myself to really see. I know that she will start looking at dead grass in a whole new light. And I am happy to share this discover with a new artist!

painting notes: 8x10 on Uart paper with a dry wash underpainting.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Secret to an Affordable Painting Trip

'Chamisa Impressions'               8x10             pastel     plein air         ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase $150
I am always looking for tips that make travel more affordable. The more I can save the more I can go! I got lucky on my recent trip to Abiquiu and the Richard McKinley workshop. Not only did I save money by sharing a rental car with a great new friend (Thanks Kris!)....we discovered how to save a lot of money on essentials...making this workshop trip more affordable.

The secret is Walmart....or really any discount or big grocery store.  We were able to stretch our food budget by stocking up on breakfast and lunch items. Since meals were not included in the workshop we were on our own. In the end we only had to purchase dinner each night.

Breakfast on the Go!
We knew we were going to an area that only had one convenience store, one restaurant and a pizza place. Limited options.  We decided to stock up before we left Santa Fe. We were going to go to Whole Foods which is great but can be pricey.  We settled on Walmart since they have good food prices and other essentials. I spent $50 and had plenty of breakfast, lunch and snack items. (I even brought snacks home...I had no time to snack!)  Here are some of our tips:
  • Water: you need to drink a lot of water on a painting trip. We saved money and space on water bottles by purchasing a jug of water and a cheap funnel to fill a couple of bottles each day.
  • Coffee:  a lot of hotels have individual coffee makers in the room. The coffee isn't always good but it is the lack of enough sugar and half and half that I miss. I bought some sugar and some Mini Moos half and half containers. They don't need to be refrigerated. Coffee was so much better!
  • Breakfast: We bought individual serving size oatmeal cups. All we had to do was heat some water in the coffee maker. Add a banana (and some powdered donuts) and we had breakfast!
  • Lunch: We bought peanut butter and jelly, bread, chips, apples and other goodies for lunch. I also bought some baggies, paper towels and plastic silverware so each night I could make a nice lunch. 
  • Wine Time: we had to go back to Whole Foods for the wine because our Walmart wasn't a Super Walmart. But overall we got everything we needed and more at our Walmart stop!
The Walmart stop is great if you have to fly to a location and can't bring all of the food and drinks with you. When I travel by car we do the same thing but sock up before we hit the road!

How do you save money when traveling? Feel free to share by commenting below!

Friday, October 17, 2014

My Plein Air Process and all of my New Mexico Paintings

'Ghost Ranch 3'               8x10               pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available here $150
 Fast and Furious. That is how I feel when I am out painting on location. I want it all so I paint quickly. In yesterday's blog post I discussed my three goals for plein air painting. Today I'd like to share some insight into my typical process.

  • I paint small, no larger than 8x10. 
  • I paint directly with soft pastels, rarely doing an underpainting. I will sometimes tone the paper with pastel rubbed in or do a dry block-in.
  • I paint quickly establishing the big shapes first and then any needed details. Each painting takes from 20 minutes to an hour to finish. 
  • I don't use my typical light touch layering technique. Instead I use a firm and direct application of pastel. I shout instead of whisper.
  • I never go back and work on a painting in the studio. I leave them as studies.

 I painted 30 small studies (8x10 and 5x7)  while in New Mexico. Here they are in collages. Enjoy!

'Late Day Majesty'       5x7     pastel     $100

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Three Goals for Plein Air Painting

'Rain Dance'            10x12         pastel              ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting here $155
The weather forecast changed drastically. We were supposed to have 5 days of warm Blue Sky days. Then it changed. Bad weather was on the way and there was a chance for cloudy skies and rain. I wasn't happy about the rain but secretly I rejoiced about the possibility of clouds.  I love blue skies but clouds can make things so much more interesting.....and challenging to paint.

I have three goals for plein air painting and they all come together on an interesting weather day. It happened in Iceland and it happened for me in New Mexico. The forecast called for 90% chance of thunderstorms. The morning arrived with clouds....but also peeks of sun. It made for the most interesting painting conditions. I painted fast and furiously trying to meet my painting goals.

The group set up to paint the iconic view over Ghost Ranch
 Every artist who paints on location has their own reasons for painting outside. I have my own and they can be summarized into three goals:

  •  Work Quickly. As Richard McKinley reminded us...."It is vast and wonderful and we can't have it all"  I want it all but I know it can't all go into one painting. I scan the location and find a spot that offers several potential paintings. I choose to work quickly so I can paint more than one view. Working quickly also helps me better capture the mood and light of the place before it changes.
  • Work Small. I consider my plein air paintings studies. They are my notes in the form of a picture. I am taking notes on the colors and shapes and light that I see. Working small allows me to take more notes!
  • Just be out there. I don't listen to music when I paint on location. I want to involve all of my senses as I paint. I relish the wind, the sun, the cold and even the bugs. They are all a part of the experience. These things make the place real. They stay with me and help color the way I will interpret my reference photos back in the studio. 
The interesting weather really energized me. I managed to finish 10 studies on that wonderful day! These studies will continue to inspire me now that I am back home.

'Ghost Ranch 3'          8x10       pastel        plein air         $150

My photo of this amazing view!
Painting notes: The top painting is the studio painting done on Uart paper. The bottom painting is an 8x10 plein air painting done at the same spot. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What to do After a Workshop or Painting Trip

'A Magnificent Day'                12x18              pastel             ©Karen Margulis
 Get in the studio and Paint!

It isn't always easy to do. When returning from a workshop it is all too easy to get caught up in the business of everyday life. There are errands to run. Unpacking. Laundry. Emails to read. All of the sudden the high from the workshop has been zapped. The inspiration and excitement from the workshop experience or trip quickly fades.

Don't let it happen. Make time to paint. Make time to have some quiet reflection on the experience. Do it while the memories are fresh. Take advantage of the high to keep going.  When I return from a workshop or painting trip I follow the same routine:

'Ghost Ranch 2'              8x10         pastel         plein air   $150

  • The week after arriving home, I schedule myself lightly if I can. The first day home is spent on unpacking, laundry, email and any catch up duties. I download my photos. I unpack and photograph my paintings. Catch up with family and love on my pets. I am the queen of multi-tasking so I can get it all done.
  • In the evenings I review and often rewrite my workshop notes. If I do it right before bed I find I percolate on the notes in my sleep. I want to revisit the notes while the information is still fresh.
  • By the second day home I make time to paint. I paint both from my photos and from the plein air studies done at the workshop. I do not touch my plein air paintings. I leave them as they are....fresh from the location. If one is unfinished, I start a new painting based upon the study. I want to have the visual reminder of my experience. I don't want to overwork it in the studio losing the emotion of the moment.
  • I will try to devote at least a couple of weeks to the subject matter from the trip. I like to work with it while it is fresh and while I am excited about it. It only reinforces what I experienced on location.
Painting Notes:  The top painting was done in the studio from a contact sheet reference photo from Abiquiu. The bottom photo is the plein air field study from the same location. In the studio I had more time to develop the painting. I could study the cloud shapes at my leisure without them changing. The plein air study captured the light and colors of that moment. Both are on Uart paper with a value block-in with warm colors.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Great Book For Painting Clouds...Become a Cloud Connaisseur

'At Day's End'                 12x18             pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available here $165
 Clouds are not always white and fluffy. But ask someone to draw a cloud and often they will be hard- edged white cotton ball shapes. It is the universal symbol for a cloud!   If we want to move beyond painting symbols we need to become cloud connoisseurs. We need to spend time looking at clouds of all kinds.....and really seeing them. Study them. What colors make up the light and shadow parts of clouds? Where is the light coming from and how does it effect the appearance of the cloud? Do they have soft or hard edges? How do they interact with the sky?  How do the weather conditions effect the type of clouds that appear?

I am learning to be a cloud connoisseur. I love visiting places where I have a clear view of the sky. I can't get enough of the clouds. There is so much to learn!  That's why  I was excited to find a great book on clouds at the Albuquerque airport. It is called 'The Cloud Watcher's Handbook' by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. This wonderful book is a handbook for cloudgazers.  It is full of great photos  and information about cloud types and other sky related phenomena. The book assigns points for spotting the various cloud types and gives you space to record your observations and keep track of your points.It makes learning about clouds into a game.

'The Cloud Collector's Handbook' by Gavin Pretor-Pinney
 What I love about this book is that it makes you more knowledgable and AWARE of the clouds. No longer are they just clouds....those white puffy things.  They have names and they form in certain conditions. The information in the book will help me paint more authentic and believable clouds. It hals already made me a better observer of clouds. I finished the book on the plane. As I closed it and looked out the window I spotted a cloud formation that I had never seen (or noticed) before. I know that cloud type now! It's called Radiatus and they form along the direction of the wind. They are also called 'Cloud Streets' and they are loved by glider pilots.

Paint with knowledge....paint with understanding. Knowing more about clouds will help you paint them better!

Radiatus clouds or Cloud Streets

Up in the sky with Crepuscular Rays
Painting notes: 12x18 on Uart paper with a 4 value block in with soft pastel rubbed in with pipe insulation foam.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Being Resourceful.....Art Supplies from Trash

'Deep in the Chamisa'        8x10           pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $150 purchase here
 It's hard to look at trash without seeing it as potential treasure.  It always comes back to wondering how I could use it for art. I made a trash to treasure discovery on my trip to New Mexico last week. It seems many hotels are going to the individual serving size coffee makers in the guest rooms. It works for me. I am not really a coffee snob. I just need some cream and sugar (I brought my own) So the coffee maker at the Abiquiu Inn was just fine. It was the kind of coffee maker that came with an individual coffee pod and disposable plastic tray.

One morning I made my coffee and was about to throw out the used coffee pod and plastic tray when I had a brain storm. The little plastic tray would make a great holder for my pastels in progress. At home I use a butcher tray but when I travel I downsize and don't bother bringing a tray.

   I miss having a tray!

I use the tray to keep the pastels I am working with separate from the the other pastels. This helps me keep my palette limited and more harmonious. It prevents me from using every stick in my box in the painting!

A great little pastel holder
 I threw the little plastic tray in my backpack and was thrilled to use it. It took up very little space in my bag and I just threw it out at the end of the day. Each morning I made my coffee and kept the plastic tray for my paintings. I was a great way to repurpose my trash!

close up detail
Painting notes: This painting is 8x10 on white wallis paper with a watercolor underpainting. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Discovering Our Voice

'Desert Color'. 5x7. Pastel. Plein air

A funny thing happened to me in New Mexico. I can't really explain it but when I was out painting on location I went on auto-pilot. I was working quickly because the conditions were changing fast. Once I decided on my composition and did a quick thumbnail my thinking brain took a backseat. I can't explain how I chose the colors or how I put down my marks.

I was in that very wonderful place of responding to the scene. All of my daily painting practice and study came together. I didn't agonize or overthink things. I just painted with wild abandon and it was the best feeling in the world.

'Where the Chamisa Grows'. 8x10. Pastel

It was exhilarating while I was painting but at the end of the day nagging thoughts would crop up. 'Shouldn't I slow down and be more deliberate? Shouldn't I tone down my colors? Would it be better if I had more refinement or if I was more tonal? I shared my thoughts with Richard and I came away with the best advice. Keep doing what I am doing. It is me. My way of expressing myself. The mechanics are there and the color works. He said if it didn't work we would need a pill to fix it and I'd have to take the medicine.

That was such liberating advice! Imagine the freedom to know it's ok to be who you are! It seems we are always trying to get better but often we try to change too drastically because we think it would be better if we painted in a different way. Once we discover our voice....the style that fits much happier we will be if we work on being the best we can be without trying to change that voice!

Bloggers or future bloggers take note: this post was written on my iPad at 31,000 feet as I flew home from New Mexico. I used the Blogsy app. Blogging canbe done anywhere and I will cover this and much more on my art blogging seminar at IAPS in June!


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Last Day in New Mexico....Painting Clouds

'Sky Watching'. 5x7. Plein air. Pastel

This week was just what I needed. When I arrived I wasn't sure what I needed. I only knew that I wanted to paint in New Mexico and learn what I could from Richard McKinley. As my friend Kris put it, we were open to whatever it was we needed. It will take awhile to process it all and let it filter. I learned a lot! I filled my notebook with the many pearls of wisdom that Richard so generously shares. I also learned from the other wonderful artists in the workshop. As I process and go through my paintings there will be more posts about this very special week.

Today I watched the sky. I can't get enough of the sky and it's many moods here in New Mexico. As we drove back to Albuquerque my camera was focused out the window and it was drive by shooting at it's finest.

By the time I arrived at the airport hotel (I fly home in the morning) I was itching to paint the clouds. I checked in and grabbed my back pack with my Gogh box. Since I didn't have a car I had to make due with the view from the parking lot. If I sat down on the grass and looked through the hotel and the car wash I could see the distant peaks of the ancient volcanoes of the West Mesa. I could also see the sky!

'Sky Watching ll'. 5x7

Sitting on the ground with the Gogh Box ang Girault pastels on my lap, I painted two studies of my sky view. It wasn't as peaceful as Abiquiu but if I want to paint believable clouds I need to paint them live and in the moment. I need to see the colors and shapes and how the clouds interact with the sky. I couldn't pass up the chance to paint these wonderful skies before I left.

I will be back in June for the IAPS convention and I look forward to seeing the new friends I met at the workshop. It was wonderful to paint with you all!



Friday, October 10, 2014

Painting in Between Storms....Abiquiu Adventure Continues

'Storm Watchers'. 5x7. Pastel

In a Plein air workshop there is always a Plan B. We hoped we wouldn't have to resort to it. The weather forecast seemed to change hourly and luckily the 80% chance of rain went down. Our best chance of good weather was between 8:00 and noon so we arrived at the location overlooking Ghost Ranch early.

The stormy weather pattern may have been nerve wracking to track but it sure gave us drama to paint. The clouds were amazing. The landscape herein Northern New Mexico is dramatic under blue skies but I'll take the stormy skies any day. What an inspiring combination!

'The Other Side'. 8x10.

I couldn't get enough of the sky. I painted fast and furiously trying to take it all in. We painted from 8-6 and I ended up doing 10 paintings! The scenery was too good to stop. We did stop for awhile when a big storm hit. Fortunately we were under cover and Richard saw it coming on radar. Gotta love technology!

The rain started just as Richard was ready to begin an oil demo. He had to wait. The Rain came down so hard that his subject had disappeared in the rain!

Waiting for the rain to stop

Tomorrow is our last day. We will paint in the morning and have critique after lunch. I can't believe how fast this week has gone! I have lots to share!


Thursday, October 09, 2014

Painting Abiquiu .....Down by the Chama River

'Down by Big Eddy'. 8x10. Pastel

Big Eddy was the spot to be today! Luckily we all arrived early and were setting up to paint down by the river when the other art group arrived. It was a workshop led by Bob Rohm. Our group had first dibs but there was enough beauty for everyone to paint.

'Chamisa at Big Eddy'

I was torn. I loved the river but I was also very drawn to the chamisa. It was everywhere! The chamisa or rabbit brush had bloomed early and was past it's prime but it was still beautiful. The textures and colors of t he brush and salt cedar trees kept pulling me in. I could have painted them all day! It was challenging to simplify them. While we ate lunch Richard did a pastel demo of the chamisa. It was so inspiring! More on this in my wrap up post.

At 4:00 we headed to the next location, the Yellow Place. It was hauntingly beautiful. Since it was a cloudy day there was no sun to illuminate the rocks but I loved the distant views and moody sky. I took lots of pictures and decided to call it a day. While I would have liked to set up and paint one more it was time for a little mid-week downtime. I will be refreshed and raring to go in the morning rain or shine. ( yes they are calling for rain!)

At theYellow Place



Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Ghost Ranch ... Painting Pedernal and Interesting Skies

'Take Me to Pedernal'. 5x7. Pastel

We woke up to cloudy skies. I really didn't mind. I love the blue skies of New Mexico but I love interesting skies even more. The clouds put on an ever changing display today. I was torn. Should I paint the land or the sky? I decided to do both. I can't get enough of this landscape so my mindset is to take as many notes as I can. My little field studies are my notes.

We began day 2 of the workshop at Ghost Ranch. We met on the upper Mesa and got right to work. Richard made the rounds several times always with good advice. I chose to paint Pedernal the flat top mountain so loved by Georgia O'Keeffe.

After lunch we had an extended critique session of our work we had done so far. It was wonderful to see how we all interpreted the landscape in such different ways. What a great group of artists. Of course I learn so much from group critiques and always appreciate Richard's pearls of wisdom.

In the afternoon we moved locations and Richard began the session with a wonderful oil demo. I do need to take mine out and practice! I got some great oil tips and also had time in the afternoon to do a few studies. This time I enjoyed painting the sky.

'Parting View'. 8x10

The week is flying by! Tomorrow is another full day with two more painting locations! Stay tuned!


Abiquiu Adventure....the workshop begins

'The View From Above'. 5x7. Pastel

We painted from morning until the sun sank behind the cliffs. It is a dream come true. The opportunity to paint in such an inspiring place with a group of artists who are passionate about what they do is priceless. Today was the first day of the workshop with Richard McKinley and since this is a mentoring or next level workshop the morning meeting was short but filled with great advice. Richard issued us a challenge for the week: To be more conceptual....go more present.....go beyond the mechanics of painting....go farther!

Our first painting location was a spot high above the Chama River. Yesterday I painted at the river I was like a raven soaring over the river as it rounded the bend. It was fantastic. I did 4 studies and had a wonderful time.


The second location was pure magic. We left the river around 3:30 to get set up at Plaza Blanca also known as the White Place as named by Georgia O'Keeffe. I had been to the White Place before but we only stood at the overlook. One must go down into the arroyo and close to the white cliffs to fully appreciate the beauty of this place . And one must come when the late afternoon sun does it's slow dance across the white cliffs turning them lavender and blue with slivers of light. It was truly magical and will become a treasured memory.

The White Place at 4:00

Richard talks about his painting and the importance of going back to a place. A valuable lesson!

Tuesday is another very full day of painting! Stay tuned!


Sunday, October 05, 2014

Abiquiu Adventure Day 2 ...Exploring O'Keeffe Country

'Off the Beaten Path'. 8x10. Plein air Pastel

The day was ours to explore. And explore we did. It was a full day of exploring and even some painting. I met up with my new friend Kris in Santa Fe. We had arranged to share a rental car and it worked out perfectly that we came early and shared the same ideas about soaking in all of the scenery. I had a book with me called 'Touring O'Keeffe Country'. We used it along with recommendations from Richard to plan our tour. We started out at The White Place and ended up at the Rio Chama where we set up to paint. In between we made lots of photo stops.

Kris at the White Place

The Rio Chama

It was a good plan to come early, get aclimated and have some time to see the landscape before the hard work of the workshop begins. And it will be a week full of painting....two to three locations each day! I'll report back tomorrow on the first day of the workshop.