Monday, September 01, 2014

So You Want to Paint Faster?

'Coming Home'           9x12              pastel            ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting here $150
I guess you could say I am a fast painter. For better or worse it fits my personality. It works for me. It keeps me interested and keeps me learning. I enjoy getting a painting finished quickly and then moving on to something else. Not everyone works this way and in fact I have tried without much success to slow down and be more deliberate.  Working fast is not for everyone and in fact makes a good discussion topic for another day.

My Labor Day weekend Paint-a-thon is over with 10 painting finished in two days and the project brought up the question from a reader...."How do you paint so fast? I tend to take several days on a single painting and end up overworking it"

Such a great question. The answer has two parts: Training and Planning.
  • Training. I have been painting a daily painting for almost 10 years. Some days I may do more than one which makes up for the days I have missed. Being conservative I could say I have painted 3000 paintings or about a mile of paper. Not all were keepers but they all add up to training. Just as it takes training to run a marathon,  it takes practice to paint (and be happy with your results) Daily painting makes it easier for me to paint more efficiently and with confidence.
  • Planning. This is the key for me. I don't go up to a blank piece of paper without a plan. I have a concept for the painting. I have evaluated my reference and decided on a composition or design. I know where my big simple shapes will be. I pick out my pastels (color palette) before I begin. With a plan I am free to respond intuitively and quickly to my subject. Without a plan I would be experimenting and working out problems right on the painting and this often leads to overworking....and mud.
I often say that I work Slow then Fast then Slow. I take my time before I pick up a pastel to plan. Then paint fast. And finally slooooooow down at the end of a painting to make sure I have resolved it in the best way possible.

Below are the paintings done this weekend. All of them revolve around my recent trip out west except for one Iceland landscape that snuck in! They are available or will be soon in my Etsy shop. 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Why I Never Throw Away Pastel Paper

'The Heart Rises with the Sun'         9x12          pastel       ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting on Etsy $150. click here
It was the perfect opportunity to repurpose some paper. I am in the midst of my Labor Day Weekend Paint-a-thon and I have finished 10 paintings so far. I began the weekend by setting up 10 boards with various pastel papers. I wanted a variety of sizes and paper types just to keep things interesting.

On a whim I decided to try to use the 9x12 pieces of Canson Mi-Teintes paper that I had used for my pastel classes last week. We had been discussing value and color and I used the paper to show how to develop form with value. They were covered with pears!  I hate to waste paper, even Canson but these were really just scribbles. Not worthy of keeping.

What if I could make the pears into something better?

See all of my demo pears? What could they become?
When it was time to tackle the pears, I used a stiff brush to brush off a lot of the pastel. Then I used a piece of soft vine charcoal to draw my new concept.  I wanted to paint the edge of the forest. I was drawn to the brilliant warmth and light of the rising sun contrasting with the mysterious darkness of the forest beyond. This was the scene that greeted me each morning at my Lake Tahoe workshop.

I had to completely ignore the pears but was able to get the background dark enough to hide all traces of them. I did have to use some workable fixative to build up the dark layers. The fixative added a nice extra touch of texture though. In the end I had given new life to a piece of paper that was destined for the trash.

So next time you are about to wad up your paper and throw it out....think of how you might recycle it. It is worth a try!

***Tomorrow I will wrap up my Paint-a-thon and will share my thoughts on how I have come to paint so quickly.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Paint-a-Thon Day Two progress...How to Decide What to Paint

'Let the Path Lead You'           11x14         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
purchase this painting on Etsy $165
I woke up early for a Saturday. I was anxious to get down into the studio. More anxious than usual. I love a project with no pressure to finish other than to please myself. Yesterday I got a crazy idea to complete 10 paintings over Labor Day weekend. I do paint something everyday but this would be a stretch to finish 10.  But with no big plans or commissions or projects other than a family party on Monday I had time to paint just for me. I was happy to take advantage!

I began Friday afternoon and by Saturday afternoon I had 6 paintings finished and a theme was starting to unfold. This was turning into a wonderful adventure into a series!  I began the paint-a-thon with a mix of potential subjects from my summer trips to Iceland and Lake interesting mix.

But I decided to change direction half way through!

A watercolor underpainting on matboard with clear gesso

After the fourth painting I realized I had chosen to work on the Lake Tahoe ( really Carson Valley to be more accurate) paintings first and they went together so nicely. I loved seeing them together as a series. So I printed out some more of my reference photos to jog my memory and took out new paper (I will finish the Iceland paintings after this project)

So how do I usually decide what to paint?  I have over 33,000 reference photos on my computer....all my own from my travels. When I am looking for inspiration I will just pick a folder in iPhoto  and scroll through clicking and printing a batch of 12 contact sheet photos....whatever piques my interest. This is usually enough to jumpstart my painting ideas.  I always like to make notes to myself about what drew me to the concept for the painting. I did this for my 10 paintings for the paint-a-thon. 

Sometimes though the best laid plans are subject to change. I like to stay flexible and go with the new direction. I just never know where that path may lead me!

Stay tuned for more from my Labor Day Paint-a-ton! Now I am going back to paint!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Labor Day Paint-a-thon....The Challenge is on!

'In the Mountain's Shadow'          16x20         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
purchase this painting on Etsy $250 click here
I can't resist a challenge. I was planning a nice quiet Labor Day weekend...lounging and perhaps reading and heading to the lake for a family get together on Monday. But then I saw Stan Sperlak's post on Facebook. He showed a panoramic photo of his studio with easels filled with paintings in progress that he planned to work on over the weekend. There went my plans to lounge!  I was inspired.

Several of my paintings in progress for my Paint-a-thon

My studio with a painting ready to go on every easel....all 12 of them
I have 12 empty easels and no plans until Monday. Why not set up and paint 10 own Labor Day Paint-a-thon. So I pulled out some paper and boards and set them up at 10 of my easels. A couple of them are paintings that were unfinished demos....this would give me an opportunity to work on them.
  • Next I pulled out my reference photos and decided on the 10 subjects I would paint. I matched the photos to the paper. I was using a variety of papers and sizes.
  • Then I turned up my music ....loud....and went around the room with my soft vine charcoal blocking in the paintings...drawing in the shapes and lines of each painting. (I was listen to Of Monster's and Men which is my current favorite group) I also wrote down my concept for each painting on a sticky note to remind me WHY I wanted to paint the scene.
  • Next I worked on my first painting until it was finished. I will do one at a time until I hopefully get to all 10.

The first painting began as an unfinished demo. I was showing how to make interesting grays for the sky but the painting was unfinished and boring. I decided to redo it so I brushed out some of the sky and foreground. Using workable fixative I built up the trees and mountains and lightened the sky. I don't like to throw away paper so if I can redo a painting I am happy!

Painting Notes: 16x20 Uart paper with a variety of pastels. I used my Diane Townsend Terrages for the mountains.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

How to Quickly Tone a Support for Pastel Painting

'In the Half-Light of Dusk'        11x15            pastel            ©Karen Margulis
painting available $165 click here to purchase
Easy. Permanent. No Fumes. As soon as I read the label on the bottle of spray dye I knew it was worth an experiment. The bottle was given to me by a student awhile ago but I had put it away and forgotten about it. It is meant to be used for tie dye or dying fabric. My student was cleaning out her art supplies and thought I could use it. I don't know why I waited so long to give it a try!  What a quick and easy way to tone surfaces for painting.

I already had an idea for a painting and my support was on the easel. I was using a piece of mat board coated with clear gesso for some tooth. The surface was too white for my subject so I knew I needed to either tone the board or do some kind of underpainitng.

I was feeling lazy. A good enough reason to simply tone the board. I knew my painting was going to be mostly cool....the coolness of dusk at the edge of the forest. There would be lots of cool blue sage and dark cool pines. I decided that a red purple tone would work well with my palette.

Using spray dye to tone my support
The spray dye I had was a nice vibrant red purple. Perfect!  All I did was take off the cap and spray!  I sprayed the dye in the dark areas of the painting and I left the sky white. I loved how the dye left interesting drips and fine droplets. It dried within 5 minutes in front of my fan. It dried quickly and thoroughly. The red purple tone helped pull the painting together as it peeked through my pastel layers.

Now I need to get some more colors! Check out the S.E.I. Tumble Dye page on the SEI website. click here

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

How to Limit Your Pastel Palette

'Down in the Valley'             11x14             pastel             ©Karen Margulis
 Too many pastels. Too many choices. It can get us into trouble sometimes. While it is exciting to finally have a good assortment of pastels it doesn't really make painting foolproof. I used to think if I had the same colors and brands as the artists I admired I would do better paintings!  It doesn't work this way I discovered.

Having too many pastels or maybe not very many can be a challenge. It can lead to bad color choices...too many colors in one painting can destroy the color harmony and can easily lead to mud.

The solution is to limit your palette! 

Once I began to limit my palette and choose my pastels before each painting I started to have more successful paintings. I use a butcher tray and line my pastels in the tray. It is so much easier to keep track of the number of pastels that are being used when they are on the tray!  There is a trick to making this work though.

My Limited Palette for today's painting....Under 30 
The trick is VALUE!  That's right...the all important concept of value....or how dark or light a color is.  You have probably heard the quote "Value does all the work and color gets the glory" It is important to know that if we can get the value of our shapes correct we can use any color we want and our subject will look correct. You can paint an apple purple and it will look like an apple if the values are correct. You may not want to eat it but that isn't what is important here.

So I like to arrange my pastels on the tray by VALUE. I choose a variety of dark pastels for my dark shapes. Then I choose a variety of lights for the light shapes. The rest of the painting will be middle values. I like to use only two middle values if I can. See the photo above for the way I arrange my pastels according to how light or dark they are.

A limited palette selected and arranged by value is the key to making my time at the easel more enjoyable and more successful!

Painting notes: 11x14 on Uart 500 with an assortment of pastels, Terry Ludwig, Great American and a Diane Townsend light.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

An Amazing Way to Erase Pastel and Correct Mistakes!

'Summer in the Mountains'        9x12       pastel     ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting in my Etsy shop $145 click here
 It is so simple. I don't know why I didn't think of it before but Liz Haywood-Sullivan generously shared this amazing tip at her workshop in May. I just now got around to trying it out and I was blown away. This item will now be a studio staple from now on.

If you don't have some canned need to put it on your shopping list. It is the best tool by far for removing unwanted pastel from your paper. My usual method of removing unwanted pastel was to use a stiff brush and brush out the areas I wanted to fix. But that didn't remove all of the pastel. I know that some artists have luck with kneaded erasers but I never did.

The canned air removed the pastel all the way down to the paper! I was amazed! Let me demonstrate for you.

Here is a painting I wanted to fix. I didn't like how the shapes of the trees masses were so similar. They looked like bookends. I wanted to change the shapes. I tried to correct the shape by using sky color to carve into the trees but the pastel was too dark. All I did was make mud.

I remembered about the tip Liz gave us about using canned air. It is sold in office stores and is used as a duster for electronics. It shoots out a strong burst of air through a thin straw. This makes it very precise. You can use it to remove pastel with surgical precision.

Here you can see that I was able to remove the layers of dark purple and green from the trees all the way down to the bare paper (Uart)  Now I could easily make corrections without making mud!

I love this new tool. Now there is no need to fear you are painting something wrong....corrections are only a blast of air away! There is an important precaution though: USE THE CANNED AIR OUTSIDE AND POINT THE PAINTING AWAY FROM YOU! Do not use it inside. It will put a cloud of pastel dust into the air and you don't want to breath it all in. Be safe and go outside!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Taking Risks and Reaping Rewards

'The Front Garden'       8x10       plein air pastel            ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting on Etsy $100
 It wasn't an ordinary workshop. It was extraordinary! I really didn't know what to expect when one of my collectors asked me to come teach a workshop at her home in the Lake Tahoe area. She is also a pastelist and had a group of friends who were interested in learning about pastels.  I didn't have many details other than the group was mostly beginners. I had never met my hostess in person either. Everything was arranged by email. It was an adventure....and perhaps a risk...but nothing ventured, nothing gained. In the end we all gained!

All set up and ready to have fun!

I was glad I took the chance. I arrived to a warm welcome by the group to a setting that was picture perfect. Our base was a beautiful home at the base of the mountains with Lake Tahoe just over the ridge. We painted outside on the patio with the mountains and tall pines and sage forming a backdrop.

There was beauty all around and although it wasn't a plein air workshop (some had never even painted before) I did several plein air demos to illustrate important landscape points.

5x7 pastel demo on painting trees
purchase here $50

The beautiful Carson Valley

The scenery was beautiful but it was the group that really made the workshop special. They made me feel welcome and part of the group. They were excited for the workshop and eager to try something new. For three days we worked and played hard. We painted, wined and dined, painted some more and laughed...a lot.

The 'What if attitude' and fearlessness the group embraced showed in their paintings. They were fantastic. I knew it was a success when on the last day we were planning our next workshop together and everyone was asking for pastel purchase advice!

I know that every day life gets in the way and we don't always follow through on our intentions to paint more often. But I do know that after our week together we will all be looking at the world around us with fresh eyes. We will notice things like the glow of the rising sun on the pines....the many shades of blue in the sky... the eyes of an artist. The best reward for me was sharing this gift with a wonderful group of special women!  Thank you!

Early morning light 

The cool evening light
painting notes: both paintings were done en plein air on Uart paper using Mount Vision pastels. 

***Carol from UK I tried to answer your email about daisies but it came back as undeliverable. Please write again with your correct email! 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Secret to Better Pastel Painting

'Garden Party Time!'           6x6          pastel   ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase $65
It is in your hands. There isn't just one simple answer to becoming a better pastel artist. But there is actually a simple way to make great progress. It is called IAPS.  If you aren't familiar with IAPS let me introduce you. I owe much of my growth as a pastelist to this wonderful group. IAPS stands for International Association of Pastel Societies and it is a non-profit organization uniting pastel societies worldwide. IAPS holds exhibitions and a fantastic biennial convention all designed to promote the luminous medium of pastel.

The IAPS biennial convention is the secret to becoming a better pastel artist and it is almost time to register for the next convention to be held June 2-7,  2015 in Albuquerque New Mexico.  Attending the convention has so many benefits and I will be sharing them in upcoming posts....but the most important thing it did for me was to introduce me to my Pastel Family.

That's right! Did you know you had a pastel family?

Family support and help is so important for our success in any endeavor. Being an artist can often be a lonely journey. Many of us have art friends but few of us are fortunate enough to live in an area with many pastel friends. We are often on our own when it comes to pastels and learning how to improve. When you attend an IAPS convention you will be among your pastel 'peeps' . We take over the Hotel Albuquerque and the rooms and halls are filled with everything pastel for the week. Take classes and workshops, attend demos and seminars all from the best instructors. Shop for the latest pastel supplies in the candy shop, trade tips and share with other artists from around the world. Everyone at the convention shares your passion for pastels. The effect this experience can have on your growth is huge!

Are you intrigued and wish to learn more? Visit the IAPS website and have a look at the details and schedule. Registration and hotel reservations open on September 15th. click here for the preview.

Sneak Preview: I am presenting two programs at the convention. One of them is a 3 hour demo on Painting Wildflowers. I will share my techniques for painting both wildflower meadows and close up flowers such as the poppies in today's post.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Tahoe Workshop Report Day 3

'Morning Majesty'. 5x7. Pastel. Plein air

I had the best of both worlds this week. Not only did I get to stay in a beautiful home surrounded by breathtaking scenery, I got to teach a wonderful group of ladies who are now my 'West Coast' friends .....and I got to paint for myself in my downtime. I couldn't have asked for a better experience.

Today began with another beautiful sunrise. I got my coffee, grabbed my pastels and went out on the front steps to paint before our workshop began.n The light on the pines were gorgeous and the sun felt great as I painted the pines. I even found a lucky feather.

I used my Giraults for this little Plein air study.

We set up again on the back patio for the morning lesson and demo. I finished just as the winds began to howl. We had to move to the shelter of the front porch and garage for the rest of the day. Today we did value underpainting with an alcohol wash. The paintings done by everyone today were awesome! You would never have guessed that some had only picked up their first pastel 3 days ago. I was so proud of all of their hard work . It was especially gratifying when talk turned to buying pastels and meeting again next year. I knew then that they were hooked!

Thank you and welcome to the wonderful world of pastels! It was a fabulous time!






Friday, August 22, 2014

Lake Tahoe Workshop day 2

'Morning View'. 5x7. Plein air pastel.

Sunshine, mountains, pastels and lots of laughter. What more could one ask for? I woke up early to the barking of Megan, the resident chocolate lab. It wasn't her 'bear bark' though which was a good thing. Only last week a bear managed to crawl through the kitchen window before being chased off by the dogs. Such is life at the edge of the mountains.I'm kind of glad I missed it! That's a little too close for comfort!

After breakfast we set up our easels on the back patio. I did a quick demo of the morning view and shared some thoughts on my approach to plein air. The focus of this workshop isn't plein air rather it is an exploration of pastels. (Mostly beginners) This morning we would do watercolor underpainting and the chosen subject was sunflowers.

We had some sunflowers to paint from life and after my demo everyone got to work. It was a perfect morning with great paintings by everyone. We spent the afternoon sightseeing and taking photos of this gorgeous area before returning for an early evening demo.

The talk has begun about buying pastels and I can feel everyone's excitement to explore more....tomorrow we will do just that!

My demo of a sunflower with a watercolor underpainting on watercolor paper with clear gesso

I love the ingenious way of displaying the sunflower

Hard at work!


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Trip Report...Lake Tahoe Workshop

'Last Light'. 5x7. Plein air pastel. Karen Margulis

It's been an amazing experience so far and I've only been here a day. I was invited to Lake Tahoe to a private pastel workshop to a group of six friends. I didn't really know what to expect since everything was planned through emails but I have enjoyed every minute.

Our painting location at the beautiful home of one of the artist's is perfect. The view of the mountains is breathtaking. I couldn't wait to paint the view but it had to wait until the end of the first day. The group is mostly beginners so I began today with a basic pastel introduction. We covered a lot of material and everyone did some great paintings....some were their very first pastels! It was so much fun to see everyone excited about pastels!

Here is the view of my set up and our view! What a way to spend a day.


At the end of the day after we had finished cleaning up I decided to get a quick Plein air painting in. The light was fading quickly so I had to work fast. It felt great to paint the mountain that teased me all day! We have 2 more days and I look forward to getting out and exploring the area although this is the kind of view I could paint all week!