Friday, January 30, 2015

3 in 5 Art Challenge Day 1....Trees

'Magic of the LowCountry'           16x20          pastel           ©Karen Margulis
I am on a cruise this week. The internet is slow and expensive at sea so I am taking a technology break. While I am away I thought it would be fun to share some of my favorite work. If you are on Facebook than you probably have seen the 3 in 5 Art Challenge that has been going around. It is like a chain letter for artists!  If you are nominated you post 3 paintings for 5 days. Each day you nominate another artist to share. The challenge has resulted in an explosion of wonderful art on my Facebook timeline. For the next few posts I'd like to share my 3 in 5 paintings here.

I was nominated last week by my good friend Marsha Savage. Marsha was my first pastel teacher and she is a wonderful teacher and artist. She paints the most magnificent  trees. For my first post I decided to share some of my own tree paintings.  I hope you enjoy them.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

How Music Can Help Improve Your Paintings

'Summer Evening II'         11x14          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
purchase $165
I have been on a roll. It has been all about painting Iceland. In February I will be presenting a program with Sharon Weiss about our travels to Iceland for the Southeastern Pastel Society. I wanted to have some new studio paintings. I had sold many of the Iceland paintings done right after my June trip. It was fresh then. I painted with much emotion.

What happens when the freshness of the memories starts to fade? Sure I have photos but how would I be able to get back into right frame of mind to paint with feeling?

The answer is MUSIC. Not just any music though. I find that music evokes past memories. Just a certain smells can take you back to your grandmother's has the same power. If music can take you back to a place in your mind that brings your memories to life....your paintings can only be a better response to a flat photograph.

Listening to the music I played during my painting sessions right after my trip has the power to bring me back to that time. That music calls up all of my memories of Iceland. I spent the month after my trip holed up in my studio painting and writing about my trip. I put together a playlist on Spotify. I included some Icelandic groups as well as the Walter Mitty soundtrack. All I need to do is turn on this playlist and I am back to Iceland. It works and works well! I was able to paint 5 new Iceland paintings over the weekend and I look forward to sharing them.

If you missed my travelog to Iceland you can now read it and see my photos and paintings on a new blog. I invite you to have a look.

Today's painting: 11x14 on Canson. This is a scene from our dinner cruise on Breiðafjörður bay.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

It's January...Must be Time for a Cruise

'Shell Seeker'            8x10           pastel           ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $125
 January was always our get-away time.  For 21 years my husband Michael and I worked together with our family childcare and petsitting businesses. January was slow for petsitting as many of our clients had already traveled over the holidays. It was the perfect time to get away to somewhere warm. We usually chose to take a Caribbean cruise.

I loved it then and love it even more now that I paint. I see the same islands with fresh eyes....the eyes of an artist. I get to spend leisurely days at sea with nothing to worry about but the next meal. I read all of the books I have been meaning to read. And I paint....lots of minis. Everyday I paint on my lounge chair...soaking up the sun and feeling the sea breeze.  I sketch. There is no better people watching and sketching opportunities than on board a ship. Best of all...people on a lounger tend to stay still!

So we are off to Florida to board our ship. We will visit islands we've never seen...Aruba, Curacao and Bonaire. I have my pastels packed and books loaded on my kindle. I have scheduled some blog posts so please keep visiting while I am away!

the gouache underpainting
This painting was the demo for my evening class. I did a gouache underpainting and the goal was to use as little pastel as possible to finish. The paper is Uart 280 grade and you can definitely see the rough texture in the paper. Compare this to yesterday's beach painting on Uart 500!

my old Pelikan gouache pan set

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Try Gouache Pans for Underpaintings

'Dog Beach'           11x14           pastel           ©Karen Margulis
 Have you tried starting a pastel with a watercolor underpainting?  How about Gouache? It is a great way to begin. It not only gives you a head start on your painting, it helps you loosen up.  A watercolor or gouache  underpainting is full of surprises. You can guide it but you can never completely control it. Giving up the control leads to more expressive paintings.

There is one thing that I have discovered. You don't need expensive watercolors or gouache sets to get good results with an underpainting.

My Pelikan gouache pan set
Sure, the higher quality artist grade paints will have stronger pigments and resulting colors will be more vibrant. But there are some inexpensive sets that do a decent job. They are perfect to try if you don't  want to invest in expensive materials. My favorite set is by Pelikan. They offer both a transparent watercolor set or opaque gouache set for  $10-$38.

I use the gouache set and love the vibrancy of the colors. Here is a description from  
"These watercolors from Germany are made from high quality pigments of the finest grain size. Easily soluble, they deliver good lightfastness with brilliant, dense colors."
A new gouache underpainting still wet! 
I only do watercolor/gouache underpaintings occasionally.  I am not a watercolorist either. I have learned by doing. I am still learning how to get the best results. I do know that the more I do them the better they will be and for $20 it is well worth the fun!

Today's painting is on Uart with a gouache underpainting.(not shown, I forgot to take a photo)

Monday, January 26, 2015

Paint Along Monday: Painting a Sea Gull

'Meet Me on the Boardwalk'              5x5             pastel              ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting here $50

Sometimes the painting just paints itself. Sometimes it is a struggle. I painted some Arctic Terns the other day and everything flowed. Every mark was the right one. I had so much fun I thought I would paint a Laughing Gull for today's demo. It wasn't as easy as the terns! At one point I brushed out my gull and started over. Sometimes it's the best choice.

I am using a 5x7 piece of Pastelmat paper. I love the way the pastels go on this paper. It doesn't seem toothy but it really holds many layers.  I like it a lot.

I do the initial drawing with a piece of compressed charcoal.Because I didn't want my gull to be tiny I decide to let his tail go off the paper. I may decide to crop to a square so I draw a line to indicate the square.

My pastels are in a butcher tray. They are from my weekend paintings but looked like they would work for the gull. I add a few grayed purples. I have a mix of Terry Ludwig, Diane Townsend and Mount Vision pastels.

I start the painting with the plan to make a value map. I block in all of the dark areas first. I also start the background with a middle dark purple and a bright yellow.

Next I put in all of the lightest areas. I don't use my warmest, brightest light pastels. I want to reserve them for the ending marks. I pick pale values of purple,  blue and yellow.

Now I fill in the gull with some middle and middle light values. Everything has one layer of pastel. Next it is time to refine the gull and add details.

I decide to work on the background some more. I want to keep it loose and suggestive of  boardwalk.

I continue adding color to the gull. I add the lights. Something is going wrong. I have lost the shape of my bird. I could keep adding pastel layers to try to fix the shape and get the right lighting.....but the more I add the muddier I make it. It is going to be overworked if I don't stop.

Sometimes it isn't about adding more to fix problems.....sometimes it is about TAKING AWAY. So I take out a brush and brush off the gull. Goodbye gull.

I have a ghost image of the gull in place. I use my compressed charcoal to redraw my gull. This time I make him smaller. As I add pastel he will grow so I will start smaller this time.  With the drawing in place I repeat the above steps....darks, then lights, then middle values. I finished with the details of the eye and some spices of pure color.

I am finished. I am trying to decide if I want to leave it as a 5x7 which shows more boardwalk or as  a 5x5 crop? One shows the gull and his environment whereas the crop is more about the gull. What do you prefer?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Why I love Being a Painter

'Back to Iceland'      11x14          pastel            ©Karen Margulis
purchase painting on Etsy $150
 There is nothing else like it. Imagine traveling between Iceland and Maine and back to Iceland without ever leaving the house. Such is the life of an artist. We get to perform magic every time we pick up a brush or stick of pastel. We can go anywhere we want. We can create any reality we wish. We don't have to wait for perfect weather or great light. We can invent our own.  We can make meadows bloom. We can move mountains. We can even change trees into mountains.

I love being a painter.  This weekend was one of those fun magical weekend of painting. On Friday night I got into a mini marathon of painting from my Iceland photos. (I'll share them soon).  I was on a roll and was trying to choose my next subject when this Maine Lupine painting caught my eye. I had painted it in September but all of the sudden it spoke to me. It said it needed to be Iceland.

The original Maine Lupine painting
 That would be an easy swipe of the magic wand. It looked a lot like Iceland and some of the places we painted. All I needed to do was change the treeline into a distant headland and remove the trees on the left. I also decided to crop the painting to 11x14.  I like it better. There is nothing like being a painter!

There is a P.S. to this story. When I was writing this blog post I had to find the photo of the original painting. I went back to the September blog post and saw that the painting actually started life as an Iceland landscape. I didn't like how it turned out so I had turned it into a Maine landscape. No wonder it wanted to be Iceland!

The original original painting when it was Iceland!

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Finding Inspiration in an Unlikely Place

'Down by the Sea'           8x10           pastel             ©Karen Margulis
available $125
I didn't go there looking for inspiration. I did go because I was looking for treasure. And I found more than treasure today. It was my weekly mindless trip to the Goodwill down the street. I love poking around thrift stores. It is the thrill of the hunt. Sometimes I have a particular search in mind and other times I just go to clear my head.

Today I had no real goal. I was just procrastinating. I needed to pack and clean the house since my cruise is this week. A quick run to the thrift store would be all I would do and then I would get to my chores. But instead I found some treasure and came home inspired to paint. The cleaning would have to wait!

Today's thrift store finds...a paper cutter, some cool treasures and a big book on Monet

I found some interesting items today. The first is a Dahle Personal rolling trimmer for $4.54! It has an $80 value but it is priceless for me and all the paper I cut.  Next I found some interesting items....a punched tin mirror with doors. I have been wanting one of these mirrors. This one is copper and gold. Price $2.52.  Next is a strange item which appears to be some kind of Native American or tribal piece. It is light color hide on a handle with leather stitching. I need to research this. Price $1.91.

Lastly,  I found a great book on Monet by Sandro Sprocatti. It is large with many nice color plates. Price $1.91.

I came home with my treasures with an idea brewing. Why not use the paper cutter to cut some paper and then paint something using a color palette inspired by something in the new Monet book.

Inspired by Monet's palette
I opened the book to a beautiful beach painting and selected pastels to match the colors I saw in the painting. I then found one of my own beach photos to work from.  Once I picked the pastels I closed the book so I wouldn't be influenced by anything other than the color palette.  My beach scene was similar to Monet's without the addition of boats, buildings and people. It was a fun afternoon. Now I have to go pack!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Art Challenge: The Many Moods of Green

'I'll Take the Path on the Right'           8x10            pastel          ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $125
Green. You either love it or hate it. Sometimes painting with green can be a challenge. With pastels it seems we never have the right green. No matter how many greens I have collected I am always searching for the right one. And even though I have a lot of green pastels how do I know which ones to use?......Which ones are warm? Cool? Neutral? And how about all of those vivid artificial or acid greens?

It's green overload! What is the solution?

Terry Ludwig Pastel 90 piece Green Set.....this should do it!

The solution isn't to keep buying greens. The solution is to get to know the greens you have! Take them all out of all of their individual boxes. Play with them. 
  • Group them by value....put the dark ones together, the light ones and middle values ones in their own piles.
  • Try to group them by temperature....which ones seem cool (more blue) Which ones seem warm (more yellow) Which ones are hard to tell (probably neutral) 
  • Group the artificial greens together....these are the vivid, intense artificial looking greens (spices)
  • Make some marks with the greens to see how they look on paper. Remember that they will appear different depending on the paper color and what they are next to. (simultaneous contrast)
Make notes about which greens you seem to lack. Now you won't just buy random green pastels you will buy green with a purpose. 

After you experiment and play with the greens in your collection, paint a very green landscape. Remember that in a typical landscape the cooler greens (and lighter) will be in the distance and they will gradually transition to warmer greens in the foreground. There are always exceptions but this is a good general truth.
Take the challenge to the next level and paint the same scene but vary the greens to create a different mood. Perhaps turn a sunny day into a gray moody day.

If you'd like some tips on using green in the landscape have a look at my pdf demo available for $6

Thursday, January 22, 2015

My Favorite Color Tool

'Under the Spell'               8x10               pastel                ©Karen Margulis
click here to purchase $125
It is serendipity. I've had some questions about color and color wheels so I thought it would be a good time to share a post on one of my favorite tools....the Analogous Color Wheel. It helps me choose spice colors or to check my intuitive choices. It just so happens that I wrote this post exactly a year ago. I hope you enjoy it.

 I am not a good cook.  I might be if I cooked more often but I'd rather paint.  So my cooking suffers. I do know a few basics about cooking though and it is always interesting to discover similarities between cooking and painting.

 Every Painting Needs a Little Spice 

I like to say that every painting needs a little spice. Sometimes a color note or a bold mark....something unexpected and enjoyable.  Like herbs and spices when cooking....

 Used properly they will enhance a dish.  Used in the wrong amount or in at the wrong time in the cooking process they can ruin a dish.  The same is true for those color notes.  The wrong colors or too much can hurt a painting rather than help it.

Using the Analogous Color Wheel to find my Spices
 A good cook wouldn't sprinkle an herb or spice on a dish without knowing how it works with the other ingredients.  Well maybe they would and maybe they would get lucky.  But they have a better chance of success with a delicious result if they know their ingredients.

Painters who choose random colors or just keep adding colors to a painting hoping to make it better risk  color chaos.  If you have a boring painting or one that just 'needs' need to know your spices.  It is better to know what colors will work as spices rather than just guess.

I love using the Analogous Color Wheel to Choose my Spices

  • For spices I often turn to using the discords of my dominant colors in the painting.  The Analogous wheel makes it easy to find them, just dial in your dominant color!
  • The discords are colors that located equidistant on the color wheel from the dominant hue and from each other. 
  • They add  visual excitement (spice).  
  • They need to be used in small amounts and in the right place....usually in an area of interest.
  • Like herbs and spices they can be added in the beginning and cooked in the layers of pastel or they can be added at the end.
  • It is very easy to over spice a painting. Go slow and easy and step back as you add spices to make sure you aren't overdoing it.

How did I use the Color Wheel to choose my colors for this painting?  
I worked on Uart 800 and blocked in the painting with Nupastel rubbed in with pipe insulation.  I decided my dominant color was yellow orange with the complement blue.  The discords were red violet and blue green. I used red violet for the block in. It got cooked and only shows in a few places.  At the finish of the painting I added a few small touches of the red violet and blue green for my finishes touches.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Three Problems Found in Reference Photos

'The Other Side of the Island'             8x10            pastel             ©Karen Margulis
purchase this painting $125
Photos can inspire wonderful paintings. Photos can also lead to bad paintings. They are loaded with things that can create problems if they are copied into a painting. Sometimes they are obvious but sometimes they are sneaky. I am always on the lookout for these potential problems.

There are three things that I have found to cause the most problems in a painting. The photo below is a good example of all three!

Bad color, too sharp and needed elements

  •  Photos don't always capture true and accurate colors. Often the typical point and shoot camera set on auto doesn't capture the subtleties of the colors in the landscape. Green is a typical example. Often photos of green landscapes show the greens to be the same color and value from the foreground to the background. If we copy this color it can lead to a flat landscape with no depth or atmospheric perspective. Photos also sometimes don't get proper exposure for the darks and lights in the same picture....this leads to overly light skies and shadows that are too dark. My photo has all of these issues...lack of true colors, no change in the greens, darks too dark and lights too light.

  • Cameras record things as they are, not how we see them. The resulting photos often have detail and clarity everywhere. In reality our eyes focus on only one thing at a time the rest is out of focus (we don't even realize this unless we stop and focus on one thing and try to see what is around it)  If we paint everything in crisp sharp detail it doesn't feel natural.  If I want to have depth in my paintings I have to over ride the photo and make sure things in the distance have less detail than things in the foreground.
  • Photos often include elements that don't translate well in a painting. There are often things that are better left out. I call these things 'half trees'. These are objects that appear unnaturally on the edges of a photo...maybe half or less of a tree or bush, or maybe an overhanging branch.  I ask myself if the element needs to be in the painting (hold my thumb over it) If it does I make sure I put in more than half. Most of the time I leave it out.  My photo has a branch coming in on the left and a big weed sticking up from the bottom. I don't need either element.

first version of the painting
Painting Notes: 8x10 on gray canson. I started the painting with colors close to those in the photo. I found them to be too dull I didn't get as much depth as I wanted. I did leave out the branch and weed! I decided to spray the painting with workable fixative and add another layer of more intense colors.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Inspiration for All Artists

'Blue Highways'               5x7             pastel            ©Karen Margulis
painting available here $95
 An inspiring quote feeds the soul. Sometimes it comes at just the right time. Sometimes we just aren't ready for it. I like to give my class an art quote each week. I often will print them on small slips of paper so they can put them up on their easel. I didn't have a quote for this week. But I was confident something would come to me.

And it did. A wonderful quote from Mary Whyte fell out of a folder as I was cleaning the studio. It was just the right words I needed to read and share.  I strongly believe in what Mary says and it is a helpful reminder to all artists but especially we who paint from photos.

"Never undervalue your emotions. They are the force behind every great work. You must strive to paint ideas and beauty, not things. Merely copying objects will lead to work that is journalistic rather than poetic, and the results will be paintings that never stand out from the crowd. When you paint  throw your whole heart into the creation and watch what happens."
-Mary Whyte

dry underpainting on Uart 600
I painted today's painting from one of my photos but I drew on my experience and feelings more than I copied every bloom and blade of grass. I was transported back to the day I took the photo. I was on a road trip out west with my VIP friends. It was early morning and we decided to get off the interstate and follow along on the access road. It was a wise decision. Yes it took us a lot longer to get there but we saw so much beauty what we would have missed if we were going 80 mph. This field of blue wildflower was one of the spots of beauty on the blue highway.

Do you paint from your heart? Or do you let the reference photo get in your way?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Paint Along Monday: Painting a Poppy Meadow

'Prairie Music'             8x10            pastel             ©Karen Margulis
painting available here $145
It's Paint Along Monday and I am in the mood for wildflowers. I went through my photos and found one that spoke to me. I have painted red poppies but not many pink ones. I also like the moody sky in the photo. Soft, Pink and Moody Sky....that will be the concept for the painting.

I cut a piece of UArt 500 sanded paper and taped it to my board. I spent a few minutes choosing the pastels I will use for the painting. As you can see it is a limited palette...some darks, some dirt, some flower colors, some sky colors and some grass colors. That's it.

Next I open Spotify and choose my painting music. Music influences my mood and how I respond to the painting. I wanted moody and soft so I chose my new favorite soundtrack from  'The Theory of Everything' by Johan Johansson. Time to paint. 

I decide to do an alcohol wash for the painting. I picked an assortment of pink pastels in 3 values. I apply them lightly using the side of the stick. I wash the pastel in with a brush and some rubbing alcohol. Why did I choose this technique? I was painting a tangle of wildflowers and grasses. I wanted the painting to be loose and free. I knew the drips of an alcohol wash would give me a start to some suggested grasses. I picked pinks because I will have pink flowers and also I knew the warm red pink color would make my green grasses more exciting (complements)

After the underpainting is dry I begin the painting by reinforcing the dark areas. I want to create a subtle path for the eye under the grasses with my darks. I also add some more peachy pink over the underpainting. This will be the dirt.

 After I block in the darks I move to the lights. The sky is the lightest part of this scene. I put down some grayed purples for the moody sky and add some yellows. I blend these layers using a pale blue gray pastel. I don't blend with my fingers!  I add some lighter yellow at the horizon. The sky is finished.

Oops. I got into my zone here and forgot to take a photo! What I did was block in the grasses first. I begin with the distant grasses and used a gray green. I varied my greens to create and interesting mass of grasses. See the nice dark shape underneath the grasses? Next I blocked in the flowers with the darkest pink/red that I saw. Dark to light.

I finish the poppies by layering a few different values of pinks using the side of the pastel. I end with the pale pink on the edges of the flowers. This is an overcast day so I want the flowers to be softly lit with cool light. (I so sunlit flowers differently)

I continue adding touches of suggested detail. I put in some yellow flowers. I add some broken 'lyrical' lines for the stems and taller grasses.  I am almost finished. I want to keep the painting fresh so I will stop and step back to see what what else the painting needs. It is so easy to overwork and put in too many blades of grass at this point. Stop to smell the flowers!

I decide to add a few spices. These are marks that I apply with a heavier touch. They are meant to be points of interest in the painting. I put in some heavier marks of coral pink. I add some blue violet flowers. They are not in the photo. Why did I decide to add them? Comment below and let's get a discussion going!

I hope you enjoyed today's demo. Please share this post if you did!