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
purchase painting on etsy $165
 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!


Monday, August 18, 2014

The Difference an Underpainting can Make

'Once Upon a Summer'          8x10          pastel          ©Karen Margulis
This painting is on gray Pastelmat with a Nupastel and alcohol wash underpainting
available on etsy $100
 Pictures are worth a thousand words. Click on today's paintings to have a closer look.  They are 8x10 demo paintings I did for a private class. The objective was to share two different approaches to starting a pastel painting. I wanted to show my student a very basic and simple approach using Canson paper and Nupastels. This is the way I learned. (Thanks Marsha Savage!)

I also wanted to share one of my favorite techniques for starting a painting...doing an alcohol wash. To keep it simple and compare and contrast the two techniques I painted both demos side by side using the same reference and palette of pastels.

The results speak volumes for the effect an underpainting technique and/or paper color can have on the look of the painting. Which version do you prefer?

'Summer Story'           8x10            pastel          ©Karen Margulis
This painting is on Canson Mi-Teintes burgundy paper with a Nupastel dry underpainting
available on etsy $100

Painting on left is on gray Pastelmat and painting  on right is on burgundy Canson

palette of pastels used for both paintings...Nupastels, Terry Ludwigs, UPS (unidentified pastel sticks)
What is your favorite underpainting technique? Do you vary the way you start each pastel painting?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Best Tool For Traveling Artists

'Caribbean Blues'              8x10            pastel          ©Karen Margulis
painting available on Etsy $125
Checklists are critical. They help me stay organized. They help me plan. They help me prioritize my day so I can be productive.  I especially rely on my checklists when I am going on a trip. It doesn't matter if it is a dedicated panting trip , the lists help me remember all the stuff I need to do and bring with me.

Every time I make a new trip to do and packing list I tell myself I should type it up and save it for the next trip. I am a pen and paper person so I like to write out my lists. So I never save them and I have to start all over again every time I travel.

This time I gave in to technology....surely there is a packing app for my iPhone?  Of course! There are many. I just needed to choose one!

I chose the app TRIP LIST by Enabled Apps (free version). It was mentioned in a recent issue of Travel and Leisure magazine so I gave it a try last night.

'In the Shade'           8x10        pastel   $125
Wow! I had so much fun making my packing list for my trip to Lake Tahoe this week. It was easy to start the list using the built in catalog of items that I might need. The catalog is divided into usual categories such as clothes, medicine, toiletries, outdoors as well as a to-do list. But what I loved about the app is that I could edit the items, add items, add details about the items and even add new categories.

If you are an artist and want to paint or do art while traveling then you need to have a additional items to pack. This app allows us to create categories for our art supplies and add these items to our packing lists.  With the Pro edition you can make and save lists as templates and then for each new trip you can adjust the items you want on the list. Now there is no excuse for forgetting an important's on the list!

 The app has other helpful features:
  • Unlimited number of packing lists or check lists. Besides a packing list, you can also make checklists of things to do before a trip or even shopping lists.
  • The app allows you to set reminders and alarms...for example why not set a reminder to check-in online for your flight?
  • You can check off items as you pack them so only what you need will show (so much nicer than a messy written list)
I am giving this app a bigs thumbs up. I consider a checklist an important part of a successful painting trip. This app makes packing for a trip or plein air outing fun and easy! Never forget something important again!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Magic of Green Pastels

'Summer Magic'         16x20          pastel           ©Karen Margulis
painting available $275 purchase here
 Greens can make us crazy!  Pastel artists can't really mix our own greens so we have to have a variety of green pastels in our collection.  (we can adjust our greens somewhat...more on this in another post)  Our green collection grows as we discover the limitations of our basic pastel sets.

  • We learn that the vivid artificial looking greens in the basic beginner sets can be too garish for believable landscapes.
  • We realize that in order to create depth (aerial perspective) in our landscapes we need a variety of warm, cool and neutral green pastels. We also need a range of values. Basic sets often only include mostly middle value bright greens. 
  • With practice we start to see the difference between warm, cool, intense and dull and we begin to understand where to use them. At first we may not see it. I know I didn't. Green was green and I couldn't understand why we would want (and covet) a full set of Terry Ludwig Greens!  But lots of practice has developed my sensitivity to green and I would LOVE that full set.

Having the right greens and using them in the right place can result in magic! I learned this first hand on my Iceland trip. I didn't have the right greens in my travel box!

'Emergence II'    8x10  plein air pastel     $150
Iceland was very lush and green. But I didn't anticipate just how cool those lush greens would be. I had my usual very limited travel set and my Gogh Box. I didn't have a lot of pastels so my selection of greens was limited. I just didn't have the right greens. I had a variety of light, middle and dark greens and a couple of cooler greens. But overall my greens were warmer yellowy greens.

I was in Iceland with no art store nearby so I had to make due with what I had. I was able to capture the values in my plein air studies but would have to wait until I got home to reinterpret these studies with a better selection of green. It was a valuable lesson!

Look at the difference the greens can make in a painting. The larger painting at the top is my studio painting. I used the smaller study as a reference and changed the selection of greens to better represent the lushness I saw.

I invite you to read my travelog about my trip to Iceland complete with photos and paintings. Links to each chapter can be found on my Pinterest board here. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Sharing Pastels with the World!

'Hope Valley'        8x10        plein air pastel           ©Karen Margulis
I love to travel. Any opportunity to take a trip and I am interested. So when I was invited to teach a private workshop in Lake Tahoe I happily accepted. I will be able to share the wonderful medium of pastels with a group of 6 friends. Only one of the group has pastel experience so I am thrilled to be able to introduce them to the medium. How wonderful to be able to take my pastels to those who want to learn. It will be a 2 1/2 day workshop with some extra time for sightseeing.

I love sharing with small groups. I am able to tailor the workshop to the specific needs and desires of the group. For this workshop I sent a questionnaire to the group which gave me the information I needed to plan the sessions. Since this group is new to pastels we will begin with the basics and then experiment with different papers and underpaintings. I am excited about experiences I have planned. They have requested nests and sunflowers which will be great first pastel subjects!

My supplies and visual aids ready to pack
I am excited to visit Lake Tahoe again. I was there a few years ago in the fall for a Richard McKinley workshop. It was a wonderful experience in a beautiful part of the country. It will be nice to experience another season and different colors.  The painting in today's post was one of the plein air pastels I did at the workshop. I keep it in my bedroom as a reminder of a wonderful workshop with Richard. I hope that I can pass on my enthusiasm for pastel with the group!

If you have a small group and wish to host a private workshop in your part of the world let me know. My suitcase is always packed! email me for more information.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Pastel Support I Love to Hate

'Take a Walk in the Meadow with Me'           8x10          pastel           ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase on Etsy $95
I hate it until I love it. It happens every time I use it. It's that kind of surface for me.
 I am talking about Multimedia Artboard or the pastel version Pastel Artist Panels.  I was first introduced to this surface at a workshop with Bill Creevy at the last IAPS convention. The workshop was about pastels and water. It was a lot of fun layering and layering pastels and water. We needed to use a surface that would take a lot of abuse. The Multimedia Artboard was perfect. It stood up to whatever we could throw at it. Bill joked that it would probably be able to withstand a bath of sulfuric acid!

But I have a definite love-hate relationship with this surface. My usual technique with pastels just doesn't work well on it.  The boards are very different. They are thin like paper but rigid like a board. They are flexible but can snap if bent too far. They have a resin thermoplast coating and are acid free, won't yellow or buckle when wet. They can be used on both sides. The Multimedia Artboard doesn't have any grit but the Pastel Artist panels do have a sanded side for pastels. You can use both for pastels and I sometimes add my own layer of pumice mix for grit.

close up detail of my painting done on Multimedia Artboard
I have found that this surface is at it's best when I want to build up multiple layers and especially when layering with wet media or fixative in between layers. I don't usually work this way so my paintings done with a light touch and few layers don't look finished for some reason. But all I need to do is take out some water and spray it or brush it and work at it and layer......the result can be exciting. I am able to build up interesting texture and I never have to worry about the paper buckling or not taking any more pastel. It just takes some time and TLC and I dislike it until it starts working then I love it!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

An Aha Moment about Simplification

'Join the Garden Party'         6x12            pastel            ©Karen Margulis
 Sometimes you just need to say it all. For me the ultimate goal of the painting is to simplify the subject. I want to leave a little mystery....something for the viewer's imagination.  It isn't always easy to do. It is easy to say Simplify...break it down into a few shapes...choose what's important. But how do we go about doing that?

I had a simplification challenge today. A student brought in a panoramic photo of her beautiful garden on the edge of a dark forest. It was filled with poppies and foxgloves and all kinds of foliage. It was a very busy scene. I thought it might be fun to do a watercolor underpainting to get us started. (we were doing a paint-along) Despite my efforts I ended up putting everything in the one painting! I considered brushing it all out and starting over but then it hit me.

I needed to say it all. I needed to capture the mass of busyness and color. I needed to get it out of my system before I could settle down and simplify. 

I was drawn to the scene because of the jumble of colors and textures. I knew it might be too much for one painting but I wanted to capture the busyness of the summer garden. So I left the painting alone and started another one. This time I chose to zoom in and focus on a small section of the garden. Now I was relaxed and it flowed. I had gotten the initial excitement out of my system!

'The Garden Party'             10x20       pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available for purchase on Etsy $150
This was the first painting which showed the panorama of the garden with all of the flowers and foliage and even some bumblebees. The painting at the top of the post was the second one I painted. I chose an intimate view of the poppies which simplified the painting.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Adding Pastel to a Watercolor Underpainting..demo

'Back to the Wetlands'            6x8             pastel          ©Karen Margulis
purchase this painting $50 here
You just have to sneak up on it. That's the best way to add pastel to a watercolor underpainting. The beauty of the watercolor is it's transparency. Add some opaque pastel and the contrast is wonderful. Add too much pastel and you cover up the watercolor and the effect is gone. It's a balancing act. When I do a watercolor underpainting I approach the pastel application like a cat.....softly and quietly.

  • I use a very light pastel is like a feather and it dances across the paper....lightly.
  • I start by matching the colors and/or values of the underpainting. I may layer other colors but I do it in stages...and with care.
  • Every mark has a purpose and it thought out. By the time I have done the underpainting I already have the composition and value map in place. Adding the pastel is done with thought. It is when I find myself making random marks...without thought...that I overwork the painting and cover up the underpainting.
  • I am not compelled to cover up all of the underpainting. If there is a section of watercolor that I like I will leave it alone or add just a whisper of pastel. Let it breath!

The watercolor underpainting done on mat board that has a coat of clear gesso for tooth

Adding pastel by starting with the dark areas.

Adding pale yellows to the sky and the water

adding blues to the distant land

Adding golds and oranges to the grasses

Adding a few blades of grass for the final touches
If you would like to try a watercolor underpainting or learn more about them check out my digital demo  on watercolor underpaintings. You can download this pdf booklet or follow along on your ipad or tablet. Available for $6 in my Etsy shop . Click here to see details.