Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Gift of Art..a Sale with a Fun Twist

'Gentle Journey'              8x10           pastel           ©Karen Margulis
enter to win this painting. details below
The touch of a loved one. A kiss from a favorite pet. The sight of a beautiful place. There is not much else to compare to the sights, sounds, smells of your happy place. These things soothe the soul. I rank art right up at the top of my list of things that soothe my soul. Making art and looking at art.

I have a few pieces of original art in my home. Paintings from favorite artists that I have collected or traded when the opportunity arose. These paintings are treasures. I never tire of looking at them. I always seem to see something new when I glance at them. I learn from them and they make me smile.

This year I would like to make the gift of art more affordable. Since I am not affiliated with any galleries I am able to set my own prices and while it is sometimes frowned upon in the art world I am going to have a sale!  But a sale with a fun twist.

I have put together a collection of my original paintings of all sizes and I will be offering them at 50% off regular price. The sale prices will be available until midnight on Monday NOVEMBER 30. 

HOW: Visit my Etsy shop Holiday Sale section CLICK HERE FOR SALE  Use the coupon code HOLIDAY50 at checkout to receive the discounted price.

BONUS TWIST:  Everyone who makes a purchase during the sale will be entered into a drawing to win the  8x10 original marsh painting at the top of today's post. Winner will be selected and notified by email next week.

I would love for these paintings to have good homes and spread joy. Thank you for having a look and for taking time to read my blog!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

10 Things for an Artist to Be Thankful For Today

'Thankful'           18x24       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $350
I have much to be thankful for. Family, good friends, good health and much more.   Being a full time artist has provided me with a whole new set of things to be thankful for.  I'd like to share 10 of them with you.
  1. The gift of sensitivity.  I am grateful for the ability to look at the world in a different way. As I have developed as an artist so has my eye and sensitivity to subtle beauty.  I not only notice the obvious beauty like a fiery sunset, but I notice the simple things like a shaft of warm light across a meadow.
  2. My artist friends.  I love all of my friends but there is a special bond I share with my fellow artists. We just see things in a different way. Many of my artists friends were the 'different' ones in their family so when we get together and share so many things in common it is a great feeling. I love my artist friends!
  3. Art Supplies!  We love them and we need them to create. We probably don't need as many supplies as we crave (cavemen made art with burnt sticks)  But part of the fun of creating art is to try new supplies.  And who can resist a new box of gorgeous pastels!
  4. Travel.  I have always had wanderlust but being an artist gives me opportunities to travel. Trips to conventions, workshops and art events take me to new places to discover.  I am grateful for my good friends who love to travel and for the trips we take together. I am also thankful for the opportunity to travel and share the wonderful world of pastels with new friends around the world!
  5. Collectors.  I approach my art by painting the subjects that I love but when a painting connects with someone and they are moved to have it hang in their home....there is no greater feeling of satisfaction. I am grateful for the people who enjoy my work.
  6. The internet.  Even though artists struggle with balancing time online with painting time, I am grateful for the ability to connect with so many artists and art lovers online.  Being an artist can often be a lonely endeavor and having an online community to share work and ideas has been invaluable to me. Being active on social media has led to many connections and new friendships! 
  7. Enjoying my Day Job.  I am grateful for being able to work as an artist full time. I wake up every morning with a spark of excitement for the day. I can't wait to go down into the studio and go to work every day!
  8. Magic.  I am grateful for the chance to create something from nothing. It may not always be a success but just having the opportunity to turn a blank canvas into something.
  9. Books.  I love books, especially art books.  Being an artist gives me a good excuse to collect books. I need them. I need them for instruction and for inspiration. I think I'll buy a new book today!
  10. Sharing. I love to learn so I am grateful for the opportunities to learn from other artists but I learn just as much from sharing what i've learned with others. I love teaching and sharing on my blog and I appreciate all of you who visit every day to see what I have to share!

I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Just in case you want to get a head start on your holiday shopping.....
I am thankful for my blog readers and all of those who have purchased a painting or a lesson or perhaps attended one of my classes. To show my appreciation I am offering the opportunity to choose one of my paintings at a 50% discount. An original work of art is a special gift for someone special (including yourself!)  Visit my Etsy shop and any painting in the Holiday Sale Shop Section is 50% off with coupon code HOLIDAY50   Here is the direct link.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

To Print or Not to Print

'Fall Splendor II'         12x12     lithograph       ©Karen Margulis
available $45
Every once in awhile I get the print questions. Do I offer prints of my work? How do you suggest making prints or where should we get them made?  This is one area that I confess ignorance. I have never been interested in learning the ins and outs of getting prints made. I guess when it comes down to it I'd rather be painting. When you paint every day you are producing quite an inventory of originals. I could never imagine adding to this with prints. It just isn't something I choose to do.

But I am not at all against having prints made of my work. I just choose not to do it myself!  I do have work available through a few commercial print companies. They provide prints to retail, hospitality, interior design, etc. It has been fun to work with these companies because I never know where my work might be placed. (once in a movie!) In case you are wondering how I got involved with them....they discovered my work online and contacted me.

I am very particular with the companies I work with. I want to be sure the prints are quality and true to color. One company sent me prints for my personal use. I just uncovered them on a shelf and thought I would share them here and in my etsy shop. The prints are 12x12 lithographs. They were commissioned to be a pair of autumn trees. I have the originals and can vouch for the quality of the prints!  

original pastel  6x6   $75
original pastel 6x6    $75

Do you want to learn more about getting prints of your work made? I discovered a wonderful resource that should answer all of our questions! Have a look at Cory Huff's wonderful website The Abundant Artist. I did a search for 'prints' and found a wealth of information on the ins and outs of prints and print on demand for artists. Here is the link:

'Fall Splendor I'         12x12      lithograph       $45

Monday, November 23, 2015

Yet Another Underpainting Experiment

'Hanging On'            7x7              pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase $95
The best laid plans go astray when inspiration strikes. I am often asked how I come up with ideas for daily blog posts. It is easy when you have great blog readers who are a constant source of inspiration! One painting will often lead to another painting idea. Or a reader will ask a equation or make a comment that gets my wheels turning. The black underpainting idea has taken a life of it's own and so I feel I need to explore it while my interest is there.

It began with doing a black sharpie marker notan on my pastel paper. A reader comment led me to try a more archival technique and so I tried black pastel. I liked both and so I tried to think of other ways I could get an archival black underpainting. Readers suggested inks. I could try ink or thinned acrylic, gouache, oil and even watercolor. (and I will!)  But I have another product that I decided to try first.

Read more about Art Graf HERE 
Last month I started experimenting with Art Graf pigment blocks for toning paper. These crayon-like blocks of pigment are like tailor's chalk. But they are water soluble. A little bit of pigment, when wet with a brush, goes a long way.

I decided to try the black Art Graf block to block in my painting. I used it to lightly block in the dark areas of my design.

Art Graf applied lightly with a start to wetting it down with water

I then used a brush and water to liquify the pigment. I like how I was able to get some strong dark areas along with some softer drippy areas. When the underpainting was dry, the black areas were fixed into place. It would be a good base for my pastel. It did not fill the tooth of my Uart sanded pastel paper.

Liquified pigment with a brush 

I used the underpainting as a roadmap. I began with the dark areas and added some purples, greens and orange dark value pastels. The camera flash makes the photo below lighter than it really was.

Adding the darks

Next I added the light pastels in the sky. I used these lighter sky colors to start carving the shapes of the autumn trees.

Time for the lights!

The roadmap of values was a big help. It helped me keep my values close together. I avoided having too many different spots of light and dark. The underpainting helped me keep it all together. Starting with two values has been fun and so simple!  And thanks to my readers I have even more ideas to try!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Using a Notan as an Underpainting...Another Technique to Try

'Twilight's Last'              8x10           pastel          ©Karen Margulis
If I can make it simple I am happy. This week I seem drawn to moody landscapes so my simple underpainitng discovery is coming in handy. I am drawn to the contrast between the light of the sky at dusk and the darkness of the landforms. I need to be sure that I capture this contrast in my painting. 

A Notan is a simplified design using just black and white....dark and light. Using a notan is the perfect way to start a painting that needs to have a strong contrast of dark and light.

Earlier this week I posted a painting done with a notan underpainting. (see it here) I used large sharpie black marker to make the notan right on my pastel paper. It worked well and I was excited. 

But then someone asked me if the sharpie was acid free and archival. I had not considered that actually so I did a little research on the Sharpie website and while some of the pens are listed as acid free......the magnum sharpie was not. So if this is a concern for you please be aware. I decided to try another similar but archival technique.

A simple underpainitng of dark and light

I took out a black pastel! I rarely use black pastel but I do have them laying around. Black can look lifeless in a painting especially if used in large amounts though I do think it can be exciting if used well. I decided that I would use the black pastel to block in the dark shapes in my painting. I used a piece of gray canson mi-teintes paper. I left the paper untouched in the light areas.

The beauty of the sharpie marker was that it didn't mix and contaminate the additional pastel layers. I needed to make sure my black pastel wouldn't mix and make the other colors dirty. So I rubbed the black pastel into the paper with a piece of pipe insulation foam and them I sprayed it with workable fixative. I used Blair low odor spray.

Now my black underpainting was fixed and I was ready to develop the painting.

I began by reinforcing the dark areas. Again, the light and dark notan allowed me to keep my darks dark enough and my lights light enough.  I used several colors in the dark areas keeping the values close together. I then moved onto the lightest area of the painting, the sky.  From there it was just a matter of subtle shifts of color and playing with marks until I was satisfied.

This technique worked great so now I am happy to have an archival way to create a simple notan underpainting!

close up detail
Keep your underpainting questions coming! I am working on something fun and I need your help....I welcome any and all questions having to do with underpaintings.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

What 11 years of Daily Painting Has Taught Me

'Return to Sanibel Island'          8x10       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
purchase $145
 I didn't think it was too bad. In fact I thought it was a good effort. I remember having fun and that  was the most important thing. Painting everyday had quickly become a habit and my preferred subjects were anything related to the beach. Sanibel Island and Wildwood New Jersey were my favorite places to paint. I had been painting for about 8 months when I painted the Sanibel landscape below. It was time  to revisit this scene to see what 11 years of painting had taught me. It was an enlightening exercise. (the redo is the painting at the top of the post)

The original painting done in 2005

Daily Practice has paid off!  I have learned a lot about what makes a good painting....composition, value, color theory, pastel techniques. I have learned about creating the illusion of depth. I have learned to be sensitive to color and light.  Much of what I learned was from books and other artists. We all can gather information and study.......but the true key to growth is putting this information to work.  It takes practice and many many paintings and using this knowledge in order for our paintings to improve and show growth.

I still have a lot more to learn. Maybe I will try this scene again in 10 more years. Actually I think I will revisit it every November!  Below I will break down the things I learned and changed in the remaking of the painting:

  • I have learned that I don't need to copy the reference photo. In fact I never copy a photo anymore. I use it to start the painting but I quickly stop looking at it. It becomes more important to make the painting work and not worrying about being true to the photo. In the older painting I was still very much in the early stage of learning to paint and being very literal to my photos. I copied what I saw rather than make better choices. In the revised version I added more palm trees, changed the direction of the path and changed the shapes and layering of the distant bushes.....all done to create a better composition.
  • I have learned how to create a better sense of depth in a landscape using the principles of aerial perspective. In the older painting I tried to make the distant trees cooler but they are too blue and not believable. They are also all the same color and value and the shapes don't overlap. In the revised painting I used cooler and neutral and lighter greens for the distant trees. I also changed the way the shapes overlap creating more depth. I also changed the colors and marks from the foreground into the background....all designed to give the illusion of depth.
  • I have learned how to create better pathways. The path in the old painting appears to go uphill. I changed the direction of the path and made it get thinner and flatter in the revised painting. I also changed the colors from front to back....all designed to make the path look like it is going back instead of up in the air.
  • I have learned to do better sky holes! This has taken much practice and restraint. I have learned to slow down and pay attention to the negative spaces in trees and other elements of the landscape. These subtle refinements make all the difference in the final painting.

my underpainting on gray canson mi-teintes paper

Friday, November 20, 2015

How to Use a Notan in an Unexpected Way

'Magic in the Air'             9x12           pastel         ©Karen Margulis
purchase here $150
It's a powerful tool that we all should embrace. Thumbnail sketches done before painting is one of the easiest things we can do to improve our work. Thumbnails help us simplify our subject. They help us create a stronger design. They help us establish a framework of values. The details should come later. We need to frame up the house before we can put up the walls and decorate!

Usually I like doing simple four value thumbnails for my landscape paintings. The 4 value thumbnail is based on the idea that most landscapes can be simplified into four values ...light, dark and two middle values. (John Carlson... Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting)

Notans are even more simplified. A Notan is a thumbnail or study containing only two values. Dark  and Light. Black and white. It is a simplified massing of shapes and value. To create a notan we have to decide whether the shapes in our scene are mostly dark or mostly light. The middle values are shifted to either black or white. Deborah Paris has written a wonderful article about Notan. Read it here. 

I decided to try doing some notans . A black Sharpie marker would be the perfect tool.  I chose the Magnum Sharpie which has a big chiseled tip to help me create big simple black shapes.

my notan created with sharpie black markers

The Magnum Sharpie worked great for my little notan thumbnail. I used a 4x6 index card for the notan. I used a regular sharpie to draw in a few of the thinner tree shapes. I liked doing the notan. It made it easy to see the shapes. I could see if I had interesting shapes and arrangement of dark and light. It was also quick to thumbnail excuses!

But then I put in my "what if" hat.  What if I used the Sharpie and created the notan right on my pastel paper? I have not had the pleasure of watching Tony Allain paint but friends have told me he will sometimes use sharpie markers to start a painting. What a great idea! I could use the sharpie to mass in my big dark shapes. I was curious to see how it would work as an underpainting for a landscape.

I selected a piece of gray Canson Mi-Teinte paper for my painting. The sharpie marker worked well on the paper and I was able to block in the dark shapes of the trees and the dark shape leading through the meadow. I also used the thin sharpie to draw some of the tree branches.  I now had a nice value map to follow.

It was simple to reinforce the dark areas with pastels that were close in value to the black shapes. I could easily see if a pastel was too light when placed on top of the black marker shapes. It helped me keep my dark shapes strong which was important in order to create the illusion of the glow of the setting sun.

Sometimes it seems like we have too many choices when starting a painting. Using a notan and then actually recreating the same notan with marker as an underpainting is an unexpected but simple way to give a painting a strong start!

Can you help?  I am putting together a new program this year and need your questions about underpaintings. If you have any questions about anything to do with underpaintings send them to me at I appreciate your input!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

What Were You Thinking?!! Inside a Painter's Mind

'Deeply into the Meadow'          16x20          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available  $250
Did you ever wonder what on earth goes on inside the mind of the artist as they paint?  What does an artist think about? How do they decide what colors to use and what marks to make? Do they have some kind of inner dialog? What do they talk about in there??

When I paint I usually have some kind of inner dialog. I talk through my decisions and choices especially at the start and finish of a painting. Often in the middle stages I can loose track of my thoughts and work more intuitively.....IF I have planned well and know my direction.

Today I thought it would be fun to share my thought process for this painting. I want to share with you what in the world I was thinking!  I hope you enjoy my inner dialog.

plans for the painting 
This painting was a demo done for my recent workshop in Beatrice Nebraska. The demo was to show how I do a watercolor underpainting for a pastel.  Before I left for the workshop I prepared for the demo by making a plan for the painting. Here is what I thought about for the planning stage:

  • I chose my reference photo to suit the technique I wanted to share. I know that a drippy and serendipitous  watercolor underpainting would suit the subject which was a tangle of weeds and wildflowers.
  • I did a quick black and white value thumbnail with markers. I used 4 values to simplify the subject and create a strong base for the painting. The dark shape is invented to suggest a pathway into the painting and to provide something for the flowers to hang onto.
  • I selected my color palette. I actually cheated sort of.....I wanted to pack as lightly as possible so I planned to have all of my demos utilize the same limited palette. This scene was easily adapted to this palette of colors. To make sure it would work I did a small color study. I liked the results so my plan was in place.
  • I also prepared the paper for the demo and packed my watercolors and brushes. I chose white paper (pastel premiere) to exploit the transparency of the watercolor. 

small color study......2.5 x 3.5 inches    $35

quick black and white thumbnail
 The actual painting went quickly because of the time and thought I put into the plan. It allowed me to verbalize out loud my thoughts as the painting developed. I don't have progress shots but I will share some of the key things that I thought about as I painted.

  • I used Cretacolor Aqua Briques for the underpainting. I knew I wanted to make the underpainting as dark, rich and vibrant as I possible could so I began with painting in the dark shapes.
  • My goal was to preserve as much of the watercolor as possible so I approached the painting with a very light touch. I built up the dark areas first.
  • In many areas I preserved the watercolor by whispering pastel in the same color and value as the underpainitng. The sky is an example. If you look closely there is only a thin layer of blue pastel over a blue watercolor underpainting. 
  • The placement of the flowers.....I put the largest flowers in place in the initial drawing and underpainting. But many of the smaller flower shapes are added as the painting develops. I don't really plan them rather I 'feel' them. I place them where I think they will best fit the flow and movement of the eye. I trust my intuition. (sometimes I am wrong and then I brush out and try again)
  • Color...I was working with a limited palette that I had to make work. I only thought about keeping the values in the right place and not breaking up the value masses too much. The limited palette is actually quite liberating. I am able to play with marks rather than worry about color. I used both light marks and heavy marks to add variety and interest.
  • I wanted to move the limited color around so I decided to add some blue marks to the flowers thus connecting the blue of the sky into the meadow. 

adding a spot of blue 

interesting texture created by a change in mark making

Allowing the watercolor to show
So that's what I was thinking about! What do you think about when you paint?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Favorite Color Tool Comes to the Rescue

'Waiting for Winter'            9x12             pastel           ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $145
Color choices are not always easy. Especially if one wishes to be more expressive with color. It is easy enough to look at a reference and find the colors to match what is in the scene. But what if we want to go beyond this color? What if we don't want to copy the colors in the photo exactly? Maybe we even wish to change the colors completely? How can we play with color yet still be successful?

Color sense can be developed. The more we know about color...the more we understand the color wheel and color relationships....the more fluent we will be with using interesting and exciting color. No, it does not always come easily but it can be nurtured.

Color wheels and other tools can help and I have a favorite.

Using the Analogous Color Wheel
 I have blogged about this color wheel in the past.
Here is a link:

I decided to use this color wheel for today's pastel class demo. We are working on Color and color schemes. We worked on monochromatic, complementary and triadic schemes before trying an analogous color scheme.
I love working with analogous color.....using colors that are next to one another on the color wheel. They are restful, calming and work well for many landscapes. The problem is they can also be a bit too restful and calm. Sometimes they seem to lack a little punch or excitement.

 The Analogous Color Wheel comes to the rescue by suggesting colors that will add to the scheme and create a more pleasing painting. According to the information printed on the wheel "... a painting should have most of its colors on one part of the color wheel along with neutral grays to enhance them and a small amount of the dominant hues's correct complement."

How does the wheel work?

For today's demo I decided to use the wheel to create a more interesting analogous scheme....I call it Analogous Plus.

  • I am disregarding the colors in the reference photo and I choose Green, Yellow Green and Blue Green as the dominant hues. I turn the wheel placing them at the top.
  • The wheel suggests that the complement of the green is red violet (not that this wheel is based on the Munsell color system (another blog topic!)
  • I decide to use the complement of Red violet for the first layer (underpainting) I use 4 values of red-violet.
  • I used various values of green, blue green and yellow green to develop the painting. I use both pure intense green and grayed down neutral greens.
  • Discords are also suggested by the wheel. Discords are the spices....colors used in small amounts often near the center of interest. Discords add interst (spice) to the painting. The discords suggested for my scheme is red-orange and blue-violet. Can you see where I used them in my painting?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mini Week. Six Steps to a Mini Pastel

'Morning on the Marsh'             2.5 x 3.5           pastel              ©Karen Margulis
Have I convinced you yet? Have you tried painting a mini? Mini Week continues with a look at a simple way to paint small. There are so many ways to paint with pastels. There are hard pastels, soft pastels, Pan pastels, pastel pencils.....anything goes. It can be overwhelming. Sometimes I just want a simple method. This is a quick look at my favorite method ....6 Steps to a Mini. 

1. Quick light drawing of the big shapes with pencil.

2. Block in the dark shapes.

3. Block in the light shapes.

4. Block in the most intense color.  

5. Fill in the rest of the paper. Usually middle value.

6. Continue developing the painting and clarifying the focal area.

This is a quick look at this technique. It is a helpful way to simplify a busy reference photo and it works for any subject. I painted a snowman for my class showing them how this method still works!  If you would like to see it in more detail you might like to explore my pdf demo available on Etsy.