Friday, September 19, 2014

Tip for Suggesting Objects in a Landscape Painting

'Time for Quiet'            11x14           pastel
click here to purchase $175
I used to be a landscape purist. I would not add anything man made to my landscape paintings. No buildings, telephone poles or people. Nothing but the landscape. It wasn't because I was making a stand or felt strongly about being a purist. It was actually because I didn't know how to put man made stuff in my paintings without them looking silly or childish.  It was easier to leave them out!

But then I realized what I was doing wrong.  I was DRAWING these man made things instead of PAINTING them.

They didn't look like they belonged in my painting because they didn't fit in with the rest of my marks. They were too detailed and called attention to themselves.  I didn't really want that to happen because the painting was really about the landscape and not the man made things in them.  This things were supposed to add flavor to the landscape but not dominate it.

close up detail of distant buildings
I discovered a trick for suggesting man made objects rather than rendering them in detail. All it took was a simple change in the way I held my pastel.  I started using the pastel on it's side to make small marks to suggest things rather than using the point of the stick to draw them.

Look at the buildings in the close-up photos. They are just chunky marks made with the side of my pastel. I didn't draw them first. If I did I would have been tempted to color them in and add windows! They are in the distance so we wouldn't see the windows!

Be sure your suggested objects are in scale with the rest of the landscape. You don't want a house to tower over the trees!

More suggested buildings
Painting Notes:  Both marsh paintings are on Canson Mi-Teintes Touch paper with no underpainting. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Overcoming Procrastination and Getting Stuff Done!

'Desert Homecoming'              8x10            pastel              ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase $100
 I have lists and notes to myself everywhere. There is so much I want to do. So many ideas to try. I usually am pretty good about moving forward and tackling my lists but sometimes everything seems to come to a screeching halt. Nothing gets done.

I read a great article this morning by Jack White on what kills an art career. It got me thinking. He suggests that too often artists don't have success because of procrastination. They may be afraid of failure or what others will think so they don't do anything. They don't even try. (read the whole article here)

This is true for many. I can also be a big procrastinator and it drives me nuts sometimes. But it isn't fear of failure or worrying about pleasing others that causes me to procrastinate.  For me it is a feeling of being overwhelmed that can stop me from moving forward.  Too many projects, ideas and piles of notes can be paralyzing. Instead of tackling things I do nothing. I waste time. I spend too much time on Facebook or reading the news as my pile grows larger.

Today I decided to try a new idea to help me stay focused and get things done.

My big ToDo board
It is a simple white board. A big one. I put it up on a spare easel so it is in clear view. I condensed all my little notes and lists and put down all of the things I needed to do on the board. In the past I have tried keeping lists and using organizer apps but they weren't visible enough. Too easy to ignore!  So far the white board has been a big nag......I can't ignore it. I have accomplished a few of the things I have been putting off and took great pleasure in erasing them from the board!

What do you do to help you overcome procrastination?

Painting notes: today's painting is on my homemade surface (details coming soon) with Terry Ludwog's arid landscape set.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Great Place to Paint People

'Umbrella Drinks'            5x7           plein air     pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available on Etsy $50
The sweat was pouring down. The sunlight was almost blinding. The music was loud. It was hot on deck but I was in heaven. It was the first afternoon of a seven night Caribbean cruise and I had a week ahead of me to relax and paint.

I pulled out my smallest travel pastel kit (available soon) and got to work. The first thing that caught my eye was the poolside bar and two very colorful women who were already celebrating. They had on the brightest neon coverups and were drinking a fun umbrella drink.  I had to work quickly before they got up to continue dancing!  It was going to be a great cruise.

That was in June.  It was a great cruise but since June was such a busy month I have not had a chance to share the paintings I did. I love painting the landscapes of the islands from the deck of the ship. But I realize that I really enjoy painting the fellow passenger and the island locals.  A cruise ship is a great place for drawing and painting people. I usually fill a sketchbook with my people sketches. (see my blog post here with my sketches)  There is such a variety of shapes and sizes and poses on board a ship. You need to work quickly so it is great practice in gesture drawing.  If you are not a sun lover you can sit in the shade to sketch. You will be treated to a constant parade of interesting subjects to sketch or paint. I love it!

Cruising is such a good value if you are flexible and pay attention to the deals. I just got the best cruise deal ever and since I am flexible with my time I have decided to take advantage. I got a 5 night cruise for 2 for total cost of $630 with a $400 on board credit. That makes the price only $115 for me for 5 nights!  I can't buy groceries for that! My mom and I will enjoy a November cruise and I will have fun painting more people!

I have a great cruise travel agent so let me know if you'd like his contact information!

All paintings on this page are available in my Etsy shop. Click here for details.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Pastel Demo ....Seven Steps to a Marsh

'Into the Marsh'              15x21         pastel           ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase $150
The challenge of Green!  How to make a very green landscape interesting? If we stick with only the local colors of green it can be overwhelming. Green needs relief. The day I learned Richard McKinley's 'Secret of Green' was an eye opener.  My green landscapes would never be the same!  One of the ways I like to add interest and relief to my green masses is through the underpainting or block-in stage. 

Today I'd like to share the seven step marsh demo that I did with my Tuesday Pastel class. Enjoy!

STEP 1:  I do a simple line drawing with charcoal to indicate my horizon line and a few big simple shapes.  I then block in each shape with a warm color. I chose red (the compliment of green) I used four values of red choosing a different value for each shape depending on it's location in the landscape. I rub in this first block in layer with a piece of pipe insulation. I am using gray Canson Mi-Teintes Touch paper.

STEP 2:  Next I take out my softer pastels and reinforce all of the dark areas. I use three different colors that are all the same value and layer them. This creates a more interesting dark area. Notice how I expand my darks so that they are connected and Not spotty.

STEP 3: I add some cooler greens to the distant treeline to establish the tops of the trees. Now I can put in the sky. I use about 4 colors that are close in value and layer them until they blend to create a luminous sky. I chose pale peaches, pinks and yellows for my sky. I then add these same colors to the water using horizontal strokes.

STEP 4: I finish the distant trees adding some skyholes. Now it is time to work on the grasses. Before starting on the greens I decide to put down some more reds and salmon pinks. I consider this the 'dirt' and it will help make the greens more interesting.

STEP 5: Starting at the back I put down the green grasses being careful to vary the colors and vary my strokes to help create the illusion of depth.

 STEP 6:  I decide to add a few small houses in the distance. These are made with very simple one stroke marks.

STEP 7: The final step is to complete the grass. I spray the foreground with rubbing alcohol to fix the darks before adding big strokes for the grass. The final touches are a few thinner blades of grass in a few key spots. Every mark has a purpose at this finishing stage.

close up detail of the buildings

Monday, September 15, 2014

Reflections on Plein Air Painting

'On Top of the World'            11x14       plein air pastel         ©Karen Margulis
painting available for purchase $165
It isn't always easy. There is the hauling and set up of equipment. The challenge of dealing with the ever changing weather and light. Then there are the bugs....sometimes lots of those.  Perhaps that is what makes painting on location so valuable. Because it isn't always easy and because all five senses are involved.

Every time I return from a plein air outing I am reminded of how valuable it was.  I may not have liked the paintings I did while on location but I know they were done with passion and joy. When I get them back in the studio I am always surprised at how much emotion I have managed to capture. Looking at them reminds me of the moment they were painted....the wind, the sun, and even the bugs. These things cannot be produced from copying a photo. When painting on location I am never more alive. That can't help but get transferred to my paintings.

"Everything that is painted directly and on the spot has always a strength, a power, a vivacity of touch which one cannot recover in the studio... three strokes of a brush in front of nature are worth more than two days of work at the easel." (Eugene Boudin)

'Over the Ridge'          8x10        pastel  $145
Painting outside is not for everyone. If you don't enjoy it or can't for whatever reason do the next best thing. Go outside with a sketchbook or maybe just yourself. Take time to paint what you see in your mind's eye. What colors do you see? What are you feeling? If you had paint what would you do? Just go outside and experience the things you love to paint without a camera. Live it and it will show in your work!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Three Reasons to Try a Plein Air Paint-Out

'September Meadow'               6x6         plein air   pastel   ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting here  $50 
I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend. I came home relaxed, renewed and inspired. I participated in a plein air painting event in Blue Ridge Georgia this weekend. The was my 4th year participating and it was the largest turnout of artists yet. There were 45 artists participating and over 70 paintings turned in for the exhibition and awards.  We painted in beautiful locations from Thursday to Sunday and turned in our framed paintings on Sunday afternoon. Participating in the paint out was a wonderful experience and I highly recommend it to artists of all levels. Here is why:

1. Relaxation: Yes I go to a paint-out to relax! It is an opportunity for me to get outside to paint. I find painting to be the most relaxing activity so to combine it with the Great Outdoors is the perfect combination. I am not stressed or concerned with the competition aspect of a paint-out. I like the excuse to be able to paint all weekend with nothing else on the to-do list.

2. Renewal: A plein air event is the perfect opportunity to meet up with like-minded people....other artists who love to paint. We are fortunate that we have a great network of artists in our area. No matter what the medium or level of experience, everyone is welcome. I have met some wonderful friends and spending time painting with them and catching up is a welcome change from the solitary time spent in the studio.

3. Inspiration: I come away from a plein air event inspired. How can you not be inspired by seeing 70 paintings created in the space of 3 days!  Oil, watercolor, pastel and many different approaches and interpretations. It is so much fun to see.  I also leave a plein air event with a heightened sensitivity....I notice more than usual. I have fine tuned my eye from having painted for 3 days outside....and that experience will continue to help my work!

The 3 paintings I turned in for the exhibition

Painting Notes:  The painting in today's post was one of the plein air pieces that I did. It is 6x6  pastel on Somerset paper with clear gesso.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

How a Pair of Scissors Can Improve a Painting

'Under the Summer Sun I'         6x6          pastel           ©Karen Margulis
It was time for the scissors.  I got carried away with the bits and pieces in my painting. I had forgotten about the whole thing....the big picture. How do those bits fit in? Did the whole painting work or had I gotten too busy?  I sure was having fun but I wasn't satisfied with the results.

I left the painting on the easel. Maybe the answer would come in the morning. 

The 12x18 painting before the scissors 

I came down to the studio the next morning and was dismayed to see that the studio fairies had not paid a visit. The painting sat on the easel untouched. It still bothered me.  It was too fussy. I could brush it out and rework it.  Sometimes it is a matter of taking things away rather than adding pastel and more 'stuff'  that solves a problem. Brushing out would certainly simplify the painting.

The problem was I liked all the bits and pieces. I just didn't like them all together! If I brushed them out I would lose the things I really enjoyed. It was time for the scissors.

'Dancing with the Sun I'        6x6
I rarely resort to the scissors. But sometimes a painting is just too much for itself and it needs to be divided. My sunflowers needed trimming.  The painting was 12x18 so it would be easy to cut it into 6x6 and 4x4 squares.  It worked out perfectly. Each square was interesting to me.  I used a ruler and sharp pencil to mark and cut my squares. A sharp pair of scissors and a steady hand and I had 7 paintings instead of one!

Tip: If you decide your painting is a candidate for cropping be sure you don't just make equal divisions. I like to use mats in different sizes to visualize the crops. It just so happened that I was able to make equal divisions for the sunflowers. It doesn't always work that way! Mats help you decide on the best parts of the painting.

'Sunny Patch I'    4x4

'Dancing with the Sun II'          6x6

'Under the Summer Sun II'         6x6
All of the sunflower squares are available in my Etsy shop. Visit my shop here.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Why Painting is like Planning a Good Party....part 2

'A Bright Spot in my Day'                16x20             pastel            ©Karen Margulis
purchase this painting here $195

 A memorable party has a lot to do with the chemistry of the invited guests. A good mix or balance of personalities can make or break the party. Too many high energy people ....and the neighbors may complain. Too many quiet people can be a bore.

Paintings are like that. Think about color. Too much bright, intense, loud, pure color can lead to a painting that doesn't hold the viewer's attention for long. I love the  quote  is "All color is No color". If everything is screaming for attention, where do we look?  On the other hand too much dull, neutral or grayed down color can be beautiful but could also be uninteresting without a little spice.

In my post yesterday I introduced Mr. Red and Ms. Gray.....they represent pure color and grayed color or neutrals.  A painting benefits from having both quiet areas and spicy areas. Just as a party benefits from high energy 'Life of the Party' (Mr. Reds) people and quiet but interesting people.(Ms. Gray)

Underpainting with pastel and water
I try to have a balance of both in my paintings.  Not an equal amount but a balance. If I have a painting with a majority of intense pure color I want to be sure to have a smaller amount of dull or neutral colors to balance and set off the intensity of the pure colors. If  I have a quiet painting with a lot of grayed down colors I try to incorporate a smaller amount of brighter intense color for spice.

detail showing intense color next to quiet color
Today's painting has a lot of bright color....fuschias, purples, bright greens. I tried to balance this with the addition of some grayed colors such as the dull purples and muted greens. Yesterday's painting of the red rocks was overly dull and boring. See it here. I had too much grayed or neutral colors and no spice. In my redo I changed the shapes of the mountains and added some more intense color to the sunlit mountains and sand.

Painting notes: I did a water wash on 16x20 Pastelmat using bright colored Nupastels.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Why Painting is Like Planning a Good Party....part one

'Red Rocks Rediscovered'             8x10              pastel             ©Karen Margulis
click here for purchase $100

A lot of thought goes into planning a good party. Where to have it, what to serve and most importantly, who to invite!  A painting is like that too. Lots of thought is needed for a successful outcome. Sure we can wing it....but having certain things under control makes it more enjoyable....both a party and a painting! 

When planning a painting I begin with the design. How will I compose my scene? What are my big shapes and how will I arrange them. Next I concentrate on the values of each shape. What is dark? Light? Medium?  And finally I worry about color. That is where the party planning really starts.

What colors should I invite to my Party?

the original plein air painting done at the first Plein Air Convention
 I will tell you my answer in tomorrow's post. But here is a clue and something to think about. Tomorrow I will introduce you to my friends...Mr. Red and Ms. Gray.  Have a look at the paintings on this page. The original was a plein air painting that had issues. Try to guess what the issues were and see how I tried to resolve them in the painting at the top of the page.  Be sure to visit my blog tomorrow for my answer!

Meet my two friend Mr. Red and Ms Gray!

Monday, September 08, 2014

Taking Liberties with a Reference Photo

'Stormy Sunset'             12x18            pastel                ©Karen Margulis
 I am getting close. In fact I probably would do away with reference photos all together if I didn't enjoy taking the photos so much. I would love to take the jump away from using photos for my paintings. I have done a few paintings from my imagination but one of the things I would like to work on is painting from my imagination.

For now I do work a lot from my photos. But I take liberties with them. They serve to jumpstart my imagination and often once I get the painting started I find I am not even looking at the photo. It already did it's job. Now my imagination takes over.

close up detail
Take the photo for today's painting. It is a very poor quality photo. I love the scene....the moment I captured. But the photo has exposure problems. The sky is washed out and the foreground is way too dark. On top of that my printer was running out of ink causing the foreground to be a series of gray lines!  If I was trying to copy this photo I would be in trouble!

My reference photo
But I don't copy photos. I interpret them.

 I remember the evening I tool the photo. I was in Cape May NJ with friends. We were in a restaurant enjoying a good meal. It was cloudy when we went in and soon the winds picked up. A big storm came on quickly. Everything was blowing and the wind was howling. A crack of lightning was followed by the lights going out in the restaurant. It was some storm! We finished by candlelight. After the meal we head out to the car. We were greeted by a glorious and unforgettable sight.....A fiery sunset over the bay. It was completely unexpected and exceptionally beautiful. That was over 10 years ago. before I started painting.  But the memory of that evening is still vivid and that memory helped me interpret my bad photo!

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Getting Past the Ugly Stage in a Painting....pastel demo

'Hidden Beauty'            9x12           pastel             ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting on Etsy $150

It is a common affliction. Most paintings go through it. It tests the mettle of the artist. Many paintings get detoured to the trash bin and never see their full potential. It's commonly called The Ugly Stage. It can come on quickly. A painting is started and looks promising. It has some good things happening. All of the sudden it takes a turn for the worse. The composition may have changed. The colors may not look right. It looks downright scary. The Ugly Stage.

It is tempting to just give up and send the ugly thing to the trash. But it is important to realize that this is just a stage in the painting. It isn't resolved. It would be nice if a painting looked wonderful at every stage of it's development and I suppose it happens for some. But for me I have to power through the uglies and THINK!

When a painting reaches the uglies....I have to think about what it needs. Values, drawing, composition, color? What can I do to resolve any of these issues?  I don't like to give up. I learn from working hard at resolving an ugly painting!

Today's poppy painting went through an ugly stage. I was ready to throw it in my pile. The problem was the paper/pastel combination. Read on to see how I solved the problem and uncovered the painting's potential.

my reference photo

I decided to use a piece of Richeson sanded paper that I had in a sample pack. It was white so I thought a watercolor underpainting would be perfect for the red poppies. I liked my underpainting and I was excited to start with my pastels.

I knew I wanted bright bold colors so I took out my set of Diane Townsend Pure Color set. I love this set! I started by blocking in the dark reds in the flowers. Immediately I realize that the Richeson paper is very toothy. It was eating up my pastels. With dismay I watched the piles of dust fall into my tray but I kept going.

Next I added some dark greens for the shadowed area of the grasses and foliage. I was not liking the coverage of the pastels. I couldn't get good coverage because of the roughness of the paper. But I didn't want to press any harder. Hmmmm My painting was officially UGLY. I didn't like it at all and I was frustrated with the rough paper.  Trash it or power through? What could I do? My problem was the paper so what could I do to solve it?   I remembered that I had purchased a set of Richeson soft pastels at one of the IAPS conventions. Maybe they would work better on the Richeson paper? I pulled them out.

 The Richeson soft pastels are on the left and the Diane Townsend pastels are on the right

moving past ugly and ready for details
That was the answer!  The Richeson soft pastels are large and feel creamy. They went into the crevices of the paper with ease. Now I was getting the coverage I needed. I was enjoying the painting and the paper!  I always remind my students that they should not ever hate a paper or is just a matter of finding the right combination. I found the right combination for this painting and it helped me move past the dreaded Ugly Stage!