Sunday, May 01, 2016

Cloud Studies at Sea

I am back on the road again... Or should I say back on the sea again! This time for some r&r time with my mom. I brought a suitcase full of art books and projects I want to work on. Things I never seem to find enough time for. Today was devoted to cloud study and luckily Mother Nature cooperated! 

I will be teaching a sky workshop in Florida next month so I worked on my plans but also took time to paint the morning clouds in my sketchbook. I am really enchanted with my small watercolor set lately!  I have a lot to learn and at times it can be frustrating but the happy accidents are worth it! 

I also enjoyed using the sketch n wash pencil that Tom Lynch have out at his demo at 
he Plein Air Convention.

Once again I am loving the sketchbook time. It is so relaxing I find I am slowing down and getting lost in it.

I will do a more thorough post on my sketchbook and supplies when I get home. It is time to get ready for cruise elegant night. Tomorrow I think I'll take out my pastels!
P.s. If you think I cruise a lot .....I just ran into a couple that we met on my art cruise in February and another couple with 295 days at sea! 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Five things I learned from an Art Road Trip

'Flying High'      5x7    pastel      ©Karen Margulis
available $75
We must have said the same thing every day. At some point in the day Marsha and I would look at one another and exclaim how blessed we were to have the opportunity to do what we love. The chance to travel and paint and teach with a great friend was a trip of a lifetime. We spent 17 days driving over 2000 miles and living out of a suitcase (or two). I came away from the experience filled with inspiration and enriched more than I can possibly express.

Yesterday I wrote about the five ways that I was enriched by attending the Plein Air Convention. Today I'd like to share five ways the road trip out west enriched my life as an artist. Enjoy my thoughts that are in no particular order of importance.

a collage of beautiful skyscapes captured from the car

1. Have your camera ready at all times!
We both had our cameras out and ready to shoot at all times. I got some of my favorite shots of the trip from the car as we drove at 70 mph. I love taking photos and not just for painting references so keeping my camera ready was a must!

Packing as light as I could for 17 days of painting and teaching

2. Pack Light....and then reevaluate and pack even lighter!
It is my goal to pack light but I am also the type of person who needs to be prepared for anything. That mindset tends to be anti-light!  Added to the fact that we needed extra supplies to teach a workshop added to the load. We laughed when we needed two bell carts to get all of our gear to the convention hotel. In hindsight I could have done without a lot of what I brought. Packing light should be a priority because it gives you so much freedom....and less to keep up with.  It is now my goal to cut my load in half for the next trip.

We managed with just two bell carts!

My suitcase exploded! The aftermath of 5 busy convention days!

3. Bring a sketchbook
There is always room for a small sketchbook and a pencil and if you pack it just right you can even put together a small kit with watercolors,pens and pencils. I enjoyed the time we took to simply sit in a beautiful spot and sketch. I know that when I look at these sketches I can recall every detail of the place more intensely than looking at a photo of the same place. A sketchbook is worth it's weight in gold.

sketching the bluebonnets in Texas

sketching the saguaros in the Saguaro National Park

4. Bring some good snacks
You never know what food you'll find on the road so a bag of good snacks is important. One night after 9 hours on the road we just didn't feel like going back out to eat so we relied on our trusty snack bag for some apples and peanut butter.  Good snacks made the road trip better. ( I will admit that I was tired of apples and peanut butter after 17 days but they did serve a good purpose!)

Road food

5. Don't forget a small pastel kit
I had my sketchbook. I had my larger Heilman box and tripod for the convention and workshop so I wasn't sure if I needed to throw in my smaller Heilman sketchbox. I packed it at the last minute and I sure am glad I did! There were days when I just didn't feel like dragging out my tripod and getting set up. It was easy to find a spot, open the sketchbox and paint. I will never leave this kit at home again. It took up little space and was always ready if I found time to paint.

I brought my sketchbox to the Old Tucson paint out.
It was a fantastic experience. I encourage everyone to plan a road trip with art friends. It doesn't have to be an epic 17 day adventure. Even getting away for an overnight with like minded friends will be something that you will always cherish.

If you missed our trip report head over to for the full report.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Five Ways I was Enriched by the Plein Air Convention #PACE16

'Cliff Study'         5x7      plein air pastel       ©Karen Margulis
Five seems like a good number. It was the 5th Annual Plein Air Convention. It had been 5 years since I had attended the last convention. So I happily accepted Marsha Hamby Savage's challenge to list 5 things I took away from this year's convention. Except five is not nearly enough! I had to narrow it down for the challenge. I decided that I would go through my notes and pull out five quotes that touched me in some way....they were 'Bright Spots'.  These are things that I heard during the many demos and presentations that made me pause. There is so much more but this is a start! Enjoy my take-aways along with my photos and bonus quotes.

"Out of Sight is Out of Mind"   Eric Rhoads

1.    "People don't always READ"  Eric Rhoads. 
During the second day of art marketing bootcamp Eric cautioned us not to post unfinished or paintings- in- progress on social media because people don't always read the commentary and may assume that your unfinished work is actually your finished/best work!

"To be loose you have to understand design, sculpture and calligraphy" Jove Wang

2.  "Even = Boring"  Jove Wang
Even though Jove's amazing demo was done with a translator this gem was spoken loud and clear. Jove emphasized the importance of design in a painting as well as the calligraphy of brushstrokes. Jove's demo was a visual treat with much yet to absorb.

"Allow Yourself Freedom to Fail"   Matt Smith

3.  "Override what you see to create the ILLUSION"  Matt Smith
There were many pearls of wisdom in Matt's demo but this one spoke to me. It reinforces how important it is to master the basics so that we can create a believable landscape.

 "If you are painting but not pushing yourself you are just performing" Bryan Mark Taylor

4. "Performance is not Practice"  Bryan Mark Taylor
Bryan Mark Taylor's presentation was truly an AHA moment for me and I am currently 'geeking out' on anything I can read about the topic of practice. I am still digesting this and figuring out how to make  changes in my routine. Life Changing!

"Too many stories in a painting is too much"  George Strickland
5. "Don't put a James Michener novel in an 8x10" George Strickland
I loved George's demo and was happy that he had helped me out in the field and gave me some great tips. His quote says it all about simplification and the importance of knowing what compels you to paint a scene.

Tomorrow I will share five things I learned from an art road trip! 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

An Important Tip for Getting the Most from an Art Workshop

'The Desert is Blooming'         5x7         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $75
Sometimes you get lucky. You are taking a class or watching a demo or maybe even attending a conference and you are bombarded with great information. It isn't really possible to process it all at one time. It is sometimes even difficult to get good notes and watch at the same time. It can be a dilemma! Should we sit and listen and watch or try to take notes?

We all learn in different ways and I happen to learn best when I listen and take notes. So I have gotten pretty efficient at taking notes during a presentation. But so often these copious notes would be forgotten. When I returned home from the event life would get in the way and the notebook went on the shelf.....the pearls of wisdom forever hidden.  NOT ANY MORE! I have an important tip that I want to share. It is something I learned at the Plein Air Convention.

Taking lots of notes...and some sketches too.
This tip was found among the paperwork given to the convention attendees. I thought it was a good tip and I am glad I remembered to follow through. It was suggested that we reserve a page or two at the front of our notebook to record anything that really stood out to us....something we wanted to be sure to remember and act on when we got home. Such a simple idea!

I found that during the demos and presentations there would be ideas that really spoke to me. They might have been new concepts or new ways of explaining something or maybe even a great idea I wanted to try. I decided to call them 'Bright Spots' as in light bulb AHA moments. As I heard a Bright Spot I recorded it in the front of my notebook. I ended up with 15 really great ideas that are no longer buried in the pile of notes. It will be much easier to act on them now.

Sure I got much more information than 15 ideas at the convention, but these were the things that really stopped me in my tracks. If I can come away from a conference or workshop with tangible ideas that I can act on and not forget then it was definitely a successful event!

'Desert Spring'       5x7      pastel      $75
The next time you are at a workshop or anywhere you are taking notes....try this idea of recording the Bright Spots and see if it makes a difference!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Success with a Watercolor Underpainting

'Under the Desert Sun'          8x10          pastel        ©Karen Margulis
I guess I was never quite patient enough. I have had some success with watercolor underpaintings and I knew a few tips and tricks courtesy of watching Richard McKinley work his magic....but the failures far outnumbered the successes. I didn't let it stop me from trying but I wasn't going about it the right way.

The Plein Air Convention opened my eyes in many ways. I have a book filled with notes that I haven't even had a chance to review but I know that I am on the verge of some wonderful things that will help both my paintings and how I teach!  It all began to click at the last paint out of the convention.

under the pavilion with my fellow artists
I was feeling energized yet a bit tired from several very early mornings in a row. So I was content to just sit at the picnic table to paint. I usually am in a hurry to paint as many studies as I can. Perhaps it was because I was tired or maybe it was because I had been painting the desert for several days and was settling down....but I was moving very slow.

Slow was the key! Taking time with a watercolor underpainting is the key to success. (I knew this already but rarely slow down long enough to do it!) Taking time to let the darks dry before adding another wash...Adding layers of colors and letting them mingle.....using a thin brush to draw into dry areas....slowing down to allow things to happen and allow myself to enjoy the painting process was an amazing experience.

the finished watercolor underpainting
When the watercolor was finished I was almost reluctant to add pastel. I wanted to save it as a reminder of what I try to accomplish every time I do a watercolor underpainitng. In the end I did add some pastel but not much. It was a wonderful day of painting for me and one that I will always remember.

There is a lesson in my story and I actually learned it several years ago but I wasn't quite ready. This lesson was driven home by some of the things I learned at the convention and now I am not only ready to implement them but to pass them on to others. (more on this soon)

Monday, April 25, 2016

My Secret Plein Air Weapon

'Take Me to the Meadow'        5x7        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $75

I didn't expect it. But in the end I loved it.  That little piece of green pastel that somehow found its way into my travel pastel box. It is a deceiving little thing.  At a quick glance it looks like a nice mid value warm green. It is perfect for foliage. As soon as it is applied to paper its true nature is revealed.

It shimmers!  It is a like a gem. It is a pearlescent  pastel and it makes me smile!

a tiny piece of pearlescent pastel from Great American Artworks

As I layer this soft buttery piece of pastel it leaves behind a subtle shimmer.  The effect is more pronounced when the light hits the painting.  The camera seems to intensify the effect. It is actually more subtle in real life.

I love this little green pastel but it has to be used in small amounts. Like too much jewelry or cologne....a little goes a long way and too much can be overwhelming.  Here is a suggestion for using pearlescent pastels:

  • It is the element of surprise that makes a touch of shimmer special.  Rather than using a whole set of pearlescent colors in a single painting, break the pastels into smaller pieces. Now plant these pieces in your pastel box in the correct value and color area.  The next time you reach for a certain color and value you may end up with a little gem. It will add a nice touch of shimmer just where you need it!
  • I am now going to refer to this little piece of green pastel as my secret plein air weapon. Without fail, a touch of the green shimmer in my plein air studies give them an added special touch.

Several pastel manufacturers make pearlescent or iridescent pastels including Sennelier, Diane Townsend and Great American Artworks. I have them all!  The green in the painting is a Great American. See the set on link here.

'Desert Sparkle'         5x7       pastel
available $75

Sunday, April 24, 2016

How to Create a Collage of Your Paintings

Plein Air Studies from PACE16 Tucson, Arizona      all pastel   ©Karen Margulis
The first thing I did when I got home was to start my laundry. I find the longer I procrastinate unpacking the harder it is to tackle it. Diving in and getting it done is the best approach. The second thing I did was to take out all of the paintings I did during the Plein Air Convention. My husband was surprised that I didn't have more for a 2 1/2 week trip but I reminded him that help of that was spent in the car driving from Atlanta to Tucson! The rest of the time was spent teaching a workshop and attending convention sessions. So overall I was pleased with what I accomplished. It was time to make a collage!

5x7 pastel study

It is always a good thing to take some time to review the work you do over the course of a few weeks. It helps you to see what you did well and what you might need to work on. One way to do this is to physically set out your paintings ....line them up against a wall and study them. Take notes. Is there a common thread that runs through all of them? Is there something that you are doing consistently well...or not so well?

Ideally, this evaluation should be done every few months. There is a simple way to do this instead of taking the paintings out physically.....create a digital collage. I learned about a wonderful website that allows you to make a free photo collage when I was doing Leslie Saeta's 30 in 30 painting challenge. She recommended Picmonkey  and it is a great way to make an easy collage of your work. This collage can be used in many ways...make cards, Facebook banners, promotions of all kinds. It is also an excellent way to see a collection of your work all in one place!

All you need to do is visit the PicMonkey website and select Collage. Next you upload the photos you want to use and choose a layout. You can change the size and color of the border. Be sure to save your collage when you are done.  Have fun with making a collage of your own paintings!

a collage of my paintings for my Facebook cover photo

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Colors of the Desert


It's a long drive home from Tucson to Atlanta but we are almost there. Our three week adventure is coming to an end. I am filled to the brim with inspiration and ideas. My wheels are turning! I have so much to share from tips to new supplies to new's hard to know where to begin. I think I will start with laundry and then take pictures of my paintings. I am planning some blog posts to take you more in depth into the trip. I will share them with you in the coming days. 


I will leave you with a thought......many see the desert as brown, dry and dull. I saw a desert filled with color and it wasn't just the occasional cactus flower. I saw color and beauty everywhere. I was captivated by the big skies and wide open spaces. Plein air is all about seeing what things look like live and in the light effects colors and how simply being present in a place effects the way you see it. Photos can't tell the whole story. Look at the photo above and my painting of the same place done en Plein air. It is an eye opening comparison. And while I knew the importance of Plein air work, this trip has made it even more clear.  

Stay tuned for more from the adventure. 

Visit for more on our trip

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Painting in the Desert ... The Saguaros


It was the final day of the Plein Air Convention and I wanted to paint the Saguaros. All week long I tried putting them in my paintings. They are tricky to paint. I found it challenging to make them look they belong in the landscape without being too contrived. I decided it would be good to settle down and just paint one up close.


The last day of the convention was devoted to an all day paint out at Picacho Peak State Park. Many of the artists had left but there was still a good size gathering at the park. Marsha and I arrived early and I staked a spot under the pavilion. It was a great shady spot with beautiful views. Soon I was joined by other artists and we had a great time painting together. 


I had fun doing a watercolor underpainting for my cactus painting. I think I had just as much fun with the underpainting as the pastel application. I also enjoyed watching the birds perch on the top of my cactus model. How do they do that?


Here are the few pastels I used for my cactus. I tried not to cover the watercolor!  I actually painted two more paintings and I will be sharing more in upcoming posts. We are heading home tomorrow and will be on the road for a few days!



Monday, April 18, 2016

Plein Air Convention two

The days are going by so fast! They are so full of things to do and see that you can't possibly do them all and manage to eat and sleep! I am taking lots of notes and I am excited about the great things I am learning! 
After a full day of seminars and demos Marsha and I got our painting gear together and headed out to catch the late afternoon light. We decided to stay on the hotel grounds because it is so beautiful with lots of things to paint.

While I was waiting for the light to get dramatic I did a few quick studies. I decided to try a thumbnail technique that Jove Wang showed us in his demo .

He did a quick black and white sketch he called a 'Drawing Sketch' and then another small quick sketch with color notes. He used these sketches to remind him of his initial excitement and concept. 
It was a fun process. 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Painting with 900 Artists!

We were up before the sun today. The Plein Air Convention opened with Art Marketing Bootcamp followed by some fantastic demos and presentations. I have pages of notes with lots af great ideas! 

It was an action packed morning and after lunch we were ready to get outside to paint.  Today's paintout was on the grounds of the hotel. The views were wonderful! Marsha backed the car right up to the best spot and I painted in the shade of the car! 

We were early do got some advice from Grorge  Strickland and Bruce Gomez. Soon artists arrived and they were set up everywhere! It was so much fun! I decided to do small studies and I painted  four of them. 

We ended the day on a great note with a nice dinner with a wonderful fellow pastelist and faculty member Tom Chistopher. Stay tuned to more from the 5th Annual Plein Air Convention!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Plein Air Warm Up at the Plein Air Convention

I was having painting withdrawal! It's been a week without daily painting and I was itching to get out my pastels. The Plein Air Convention didn't officially open until 4:00 so we had time to paint in the morning. I thought about setting up on the resort grounds but decided I liked the view from our balcony so that made it very easy!

I set my Heilman sketch box on the patio table and contemplated the view. I had quite a few choices so I decided it would be best to paint a few 5x7 studies. 

I blocked in a warm value underpainting on Uart and rubbed it in with pipe insulation. You can see my box had an assortment of pastels mostly Girault and Terry Ludwigs. I didn't pick pastels for the desert so I was hoping that my range of colors and values would work.

I managed to do 3 paintings before I needed to clean up and have lunch. The vendor expo opened at 1:00! I did get a few non pastel goodies but I'll report on that tomorrow. I've got to get up early to be at Marketing Bootcamp at 6:30 am!