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Friday, December 15, 2017

Do You Have an Icing Pastel?

'Winter Wishes'         11x14        pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $165
Do you say Icing or frosting?  Is it a regional thing? I guess I use both terms interchangeably but not being much of a cook or baker I am not sure what is the proper word. But in the pastel painting world I will call it Icing the Cake!  What am I talking about?

ICING: That moment when you get to put some thick pastel in your painting as a final highlight or accent mark. Like when you add some thick snow to a tree in a winter landscape.

You can use any light value pastel for your icing but there are some pastels that do a better job than others. The softer the better. You can create icing with a hard pastel but it is very hard to get the thick texture that a super soft pastel will give you. My favorite Terry Ludwig and Diane Townsend pastels will work but this is the time for me to take out my ICING PASTELS.

I find the Sennelier and Schmincke pastels are too soft for the way I paint. But I do love them for making those final icing marks. It takes little effort to get a nice thick juicy mark! That is a mark that leaves a measurable amount of pastel on the paper.

Do you have Icing pastels? Check out this chart on Dakota Pastel's website. It lists pastels in order of softness.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Ten Great Gift Ideas for Pastel Artists

'Holiday Cheer'          8x10        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $145
It's that time of year! Have you made an artist's wish list? Perhaps you are starting to think about setting goals for 2018. I always begin the new year with a good studio cleaning and nothing spurs me on better than having to find ha home for some new supplies! Here are a few suggestions to get you started on your wish list.

1.  Any size Heilman Box. The ultimate gift besides a full set of your favorite pastels is a great pastel box. I use and recommend the Heilman Box. Click here to see my recent review.

2. Any set of Terry Ludwig pastels. The ultimate pastel! This is my favorite pastel brand and any set would be a treat. If you are on a tight budget consider the smallest sets. The 14 Most Requested Violets is fantastic. All sets on sale through December 31. www.terryludwig.com

3. Cretacolor Pencil Lead holder. This fun drawing tool is a great addition to any artist's supply box. Read my recent blog post about this fun tool here. Find it here:https://www.amazon.com/Cretacolor-BC31036-Ergonomic-Lead-Holder/dp/B0049V37C4

4. Analaogous Color Wheel. Everyone who sees me use this color wheel wants one. It is a great tool for helping resolve color problems or choosing a palette for a painting. Read my blog post about the wheel here. http://kemstudios.blogspot.com/2015/11/my-favorite-color-tool-comes-to-rescue.html

5. White Artist Tape and Dispenser.  I can't do without my tape dispenser for my roll of white artists tape. it makes life so mush easier since I use this tape every day! Read all about it here: http://kemstudios.blogspot.com/2012/01/my-most-indispensable-studio-gadget.html
Buy one on Amazon click here.

7. Diane Townsend Pastels. I love all pastels but next to Terry Ludwigs I would have to add some Diane Townsend soft form pastels to my list of favorites. Add a few to your collection! http://www.townsendpastels.com

8. Art Graf Artist Tailor's Chalk. These are not at all like they sound! They are a must have for underpaintings. I love the earth tones and the primary color sets. Read about them on my blog here.

9. Hand Care Basket. Artist hands take a beating! From handing pastels to the frequent hand washing they need a lot of TLC.  I like to first protect my hands with Gloves in a Bottle barrier cream.  I wash my hands with Lava soap and a nail brush. And finally I apply a good quality had cream. My favorite is Weleda Skin Food.

10. Sketchbook by Hand book Journal Co.  Just in time for starting a sketchbook habit. I love these little sketchbooks. They come interesting sizes that fit easily in your bag. Perfect for sketching on the go! http://www.globalartmaterials.com/travelogue.html

Do you have anything you would like to add to this list? Add them in the comments!

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

A Great Tool for Drawing: Holiday Wish List Item

'Sparkle'       7x11           pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $125        
Everyone who sees me use it asks me about it. I love mine! If you are looking for a fun tool for drawing look no further. This wooden lead holder by Cretacolor is so much fun to use. I love using it to do my initial drawing when starting a painting. It is also great for doing thumbnails.

It is called Cretacolor Ecologic Wooden Lead Holder. It is available on Blicks.com for $9.98. Here is the link: https://www.dickblick.com/products/cretacolor-ecologic-wooden-lead-holder/ 
Why I Like It
  • It has a nice feel, solid and heavy. I like the thickness of the holder better than a thin pencil.
  • No sharpening needed. The lead is easily replaced and pushing on the end of the holder will release more lead until it is gone!
  • You can use graphiteor charcoal lead replacements. I love the graphite which is quite soft and dark.
  • Great for travel. It is a multipurpose tool. I bring it on painting trips and use it in my sketchbooks as well as for thumbnails and starting a painting.

On Patreon Today: See my quick video of this lead holder in use. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Magic of Using Neutrals in a Winter Landscape Painting

'Glistening Splendor'            9x12       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $175
It was time to take out the Mouse Box. That's right I have a mouse box of pastels. It is really just a tray filled with my extra neutral or grayed down pastels. I call them the Mousey colors because they are the soft and dull colors that we tend to overlook....the mousey quiet colors. We love the pure, bright intense colors. They grab our attention but they need the balance of the quiet neutrals. The winter landscape is filled with these subtle and beautiful mousey neutrals or grays. They came in handy for today's painting.

My reference photo is from a trip to Crested Butte Colorado a few years ago

Here are some of the things I kept in mind as I painted with these neutrals:

  • Value is the key to success. You can really use any color if the values are correct. I tried to keep my shapes simple with cohesive value. (not spotty)
  • Since I don't have exciting color to spice up the painting I relied on punching up the contrast for interest.
  • I looked for neutrals that had color rather than pure grays. The mix of subtle colors was more interesting than grays made from black and white.
  • Gray day skies may seem white but I look for the subtle color in the white. I used a pale blue gray for this painting. Consider pinks,lavenders, yellows, blue-gray, even pale green for a 'white' sky.
  • I tried to create more interest through my mark-making. I also used an iridescent pastel in the tree trunks. When you don't have color....you need to find other ways to make the painting interesting.
  • I used a gray-blue toned board to keep the entire painting neutral but consider toning the surface with a more lively or intense color. It will provide some interest when it peeks through the neutrals.

My box of Neutrals or Mousey colors are perfect for the winter landscape
Patrons! head over to my Patreon page if you would like to see the step by step photo demo of this painting. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis  Join us! It is $4 a month subscription and we's love to have you!

Monday, December 11, 2017

Inspired to Size Up...Thoughts and Ramblings

'Winter Magic 3'         16x20         pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $275
When I painted the mini study I knew I wanted to go larger. I enjoyed the shapes and colors in the little study. It happens every so often that I am painting the minis for enjoyment and one just begs to be painted larger. I don't always act on my inspiration. I am usually too busy or caught up in another project. So I set this mini aside thinking I'd get to it someday.

That someday was today! The mini sold and I had to ship it to it's new home. It was now or never! So I took out an 8x10 piece of Yi Cai paper. I knew that I had the better chance of getting the same feeling by using the same paper/ color as the study. I already had my winter pastel palette out so I was ready to go.

Look below at the study and my 8x10 version. I had to remind myself that one of the things I liked about the study was the looseness and freshness of my marks. It was harder to replicate in a larger size because I had more ground to cover. I had to make myself stop because I knew I was going too far. Now that I see them both on my computer monitor I can see that I used more of the brighter orange in the larger pieces. I don't dislike it but it doesn't have the impact of the smaller painting where the orange and blue are used in just a small amount. If I were to do another version I would keep this in mind.

mini study        2..3 x 3.5     sold

'Winter Magic 2'     8x10       pastel      available $145

Then I decided I wanted to go even larger. I decided to use a piece of brown Canson unsanded paper because I didn't have a large enough piece of the Yi Cai paper. Paper does matter! In this case the unsanded paper didn't give me the same effect as the Yi Cai paper. It's not bad....just different. I tried to keep my marks fresh but again found myself getting caught up in too much detail.  made myself stop. I had said everything I wanted to say and I was starting to ramble!

I am not finished with this image. It really is speaking to me so I think I will explore it some more. I have some ideas for variations on this theme and I will share them as they develop.  I am sharing my thoughts and ramblings today so that you can see that part of my studio time is play time....it is 'what if' time where I experiment and evaluate and try to learn and grow.

Do you have an image that begs to be explored further? Why not make it a project!

sizing up to 16x20  on Canson Mi-Teintes

the aftermath

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Three Steps to Finishing a Painting

'Winter's Palette'          11x14       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $175
It happens for every painting. I get to a point where I don't know what else to do. This is the time to stop! It doesn't mean you are finished but it does mean it is time to take a break and come back to the painting with fresh eyes.

When I am painting for a demo or for a video I am multi- tasking. I am painting and at the same time trying to explain what is going on inside my head. I get to the point where I need to step away and this is when the camera usually has to stop rolling. This is when I can slow down and really think about the steps I need to take to finish the painting.

I just posted the video demo for this painting on my Patreon page. The video stopped with the painting in the photo below. After we stopped filming and I took a break, I came back to the painting and refined three areas. Read on to see what I did to finish the painting.

The painting before the final marks

  •  Refine the Center of Interest or Most Important Area: I decided that the darker trees on the left were my focal area. I needed to refine this area while letting the other areas of the painting to have less information. I added more negative spaces in the tree trunks and more sky holes.
  • Create the Lead In to the painting and most important area. I needed to have a pathway for the viewer's eye to travel to my focal area. I enhanced the patterns of light and shadow on the snow and I added some detail to a few of the golden shrubs.
  • Add the Spices. I wanted to give the viewer a little treat when they arrived at the focal trees...a little eye candy! I chose red violet to paint some little accent marks on the tree trunks. 

See the 20 minute video demo on my Patreon page. $4 monthly subscription. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

I did a quick color study to test my chosen palette

My reference photo Crested Butte, Colorado

Friday, December 08, 2017

Taking Advantage of Rare Georgia Snow

'Shimmering Noon of Winter'          8x10        pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $145
 In the words of the weatherman "This storm has over performed expectations". It wasn't supposed to snow as much as it did. It's been snowing all day and is scheduled to keep on snowing through the night. I feel like maybe I channeled this snow. I've been painting snow all week long. So I am thrilled to have a chance to get out and paint it (OK I took pictures and came back into my warm and cozy studio!)

After a walk with my iPhone camera I came inside to see what inspired me. It was the grouping of pine trees in my neighbor's back yard that grabbed my attention. I took out a piece of Yi Cai sanded paper because I have some left in my stash and I have been wanting to use it.

I thoroughly enjoyed painting while listening to the radio reports of the Atlanta snow. Since it was still snowing I decided to add some falling snow to my painting.  I will be sharing tips for painting falling snow in some upcoming posts here and on my patreon page.

That was a fun day! I can't wait to get outside tomorrow for some reference photos.

close up detail

The neighbor's yard. I liked the trees.

Glad I found my snow boots!

Thursday, December 07, 2017

A Tip for Naming a Painting

'This Frosty Morn'            9x12         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $155
Being a daily painter has it's challenges. Some of the challenge include finding the time to paint.  and finding daily inspiration and motivation.  Once over these hurdles the biggest challenge of all comes in to play.....Naming the paintings!

I've done experiments on painting names. I have found there to be a definite increase in interest in paintings with unusual or interesting titles vs. paintings with generic titles. So it pays to spend time giving our paintings good names. But it can be hard to come up with appropriately interesting names. I have a tip that has opened up a world of painting names.


Lately I have been making a list of possible painting names based on poems. As I need to name the painting I just consult my list until I find a good match to the painting. Today's painting stumped me. Should I call it 'Snowy Day' or maybe 'Winter Day'?  I could only think or boring generic titles. I needed to read some winter poetry for inspiration! Since I usually paint in series it is easy to find poems that fit my series.

  •  I just do a google search for poems that fit my theme such as 'Winter Poetry' 
  • I spend time reading through some poems and write down words or phrases that speak to me.
  • I keep this list on my desk in the studio and consult it when it is time to give a painting a name.
  • Be sure to cross off the the title as you use them!
Painting notes: 9x12 on gray Canson Touch paper with Terry Ludwig and Diane Townsend pastels.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

A Clever Idea for Displaying Small Paintings and Business Cards

'The Park in Winter'         2.5 x 3.5          pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $25
I found it by accident. I was rummaging around in my storage area when I spotted the sad little tabletop tree. It was dusty and forlorn but I brought it in anyway. It sat on the floor of my studio for a few days when suddenly I had an idea. Why not decorate the tree with my mini pastel paintings! I had a small string of battery operated lights on a wire. It had some tiny clothespins and would be perfect to use on the tree. 

I had some of my mini paintings already packaged in clear bags so it was easy to clip them to the wire. I loved the results. Then I thought.....why not clip my business cards on the tree. I use business cards by Moo.com and have my paintings printed on the front.  Both of these ideas would be perfect for an open house of studio tour or even gallery display. It could be adapted for year round use as well. Creative possibilities abound!

A fun display with some battery operated lights and mini clothespins

'Winter Hush'       2.5 x 3.5     pastel       $25

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Exciting Announcement! On the Road with Karen

'Holiday Road'          6x8         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $95
I'm taking the show on the road! Michael and I are the proud new owners of a cute little pop up camper we are calling Bertie the Art Spirit. Bertie is in Florida awaiting pick up in January. She needs a little TLC and updating and then she will be ready for us to hit the road by Spring.

Introducing Bertie The Art Spirit!

We love to travel and explore. I love to paint and share my love of pastels with other artists. Bertie will allow us to combine these passions. We want to take Bertie on the road to camp and discover places where I can meet and share with other artists. I would love to plan pastel workshops or even demos along our route. 
  • It could be a workshop or demo for an art group or an informal workshop for a group of artist friends. 
  • It could be a multi day workshop or a one day intensive. 
  • Your choice of Plein air or studio or combination workshops.
  • I am flexible. All I need is a room for a workshop and a group of enthusiastic artists! 
  • If you are my contact person you'll receive a 50% discount on the workshop fee. If you host me in your home or studio your workshop is free.
We are in the beginning stages of planning our trips so if you have any ideas send me an email. karenmargulis@gmail.com  I will send you more details and we can start the ball rolling! We have February, April, August, September and November 2018 open for adventure!

On Patreon today The step by step demo for yesterday's winter landscape painting available for all

Check out the step by step demo today on Patreon

Monday, December 04, 2017

How to Simplify Winter Trees

'Winter Mosaic'          9x12         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $155
It wasn't the best subject to paint for a demo. But in the end it held an important lesson about choosing reference photos and making them work.

Photos are best used for inspiration. But you need to know what the inspiration is!

I was drawn to the photo that inspired today's painting. There was something about it that was exciting. It certainly wasn't the multitude of tangled branches and trees. I was so captivated by the wonderful contrast of the yellow light at the horizon agendas the darks of the trees. In fact I didn't even notice how busy and complicated the photo looked until my friends pointed it out. "I would have never chose that photo! " they told me.

I didn't notice the challenging aspects of the photo because I was so focused on the light at the horizon. That was a good thing though because I had a concept for the painting. I wanted to portray this light and the drama of the touch of warm light against the dark and cold. Knowing what I wanted to say allowed me to decide how I would say it.

my reference photo
I took a few minutes to think about how I would go about getting my message across. I decided I needed to simplify the trees and branches and even the snow on the ground. I would go crazy trying to put in all of those branches and they weren't really necessary.This would allow me to focus on depicting the light.

How to simplify?  I blocked in the big tree shape with a piece of charcoal. This gave me a nice two value underpainting....dark and light. I added some darker value neutrals to the tree mass before breaking up the big shape with the sky color. It was a slower than usual process as I used negative painting to carve the branches into the tree. I had more control this way and didn't get a tangle of  branches that looked stiff and unnatural.

For the distant bare trees I didn't paint individual branches. Instead I used a very light touch and added a middle value shape. This light touch allows the sky color to peek through giving the illusion of bare trees.

Starting with big shapes of light and dark and gradually carving into the shapes was a great way to depict winter trees. It helped me keep them simple and I didn't go crazy trying to copy all of the branches in a way to busy photo. The fun part was capturing the subtle yellow glow that drew me to the photo in the first place.

You can see the development of this painting this week on my Patreon page!

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Best Heilman Pastel Box Ever and New Video!

'City Kids'            8x10        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I finally had time to make a new Sunday Studio video! For this video I paint a fun winter cityscape with children sledding. I share some tips for painting snow and suggesting detail in a cityscape. I also share information about a great new pastel box by Heilman Designs. I hope you enjoy the video and be sure to scroll down form more information on the new box!

Link to the video demo on YouTube https://youtu.be/r5wpJ1-Bb2g

My working board for the painting
I really do believe it. If you have all of your pastels organized by color and value in one place you will be able to paint much more efficiently allowing more time to be expressive and less time hunting for the right pastel. I LOVE Heilman boxes. They are durable and beautifully made boxes. They protect my pastels while keeping them organized. I have had my backpack box for 12 years and it has been one of the best art investments I have made.

I have added to my box collection with the two sketchbox sized boxes. The double sketchbox has been my go to plein air box and the single sketchbox is perfect for travel. I thought it could't get any better but I was wrong!  There is a new box in town and it is the PERFECT size.  Introducing the Mini Pack. It is sized in between the backpack and double sketchbox in size and I am in love with it! Read on for details. 

NOTE: I have not yet loaded my new box with pastels so I will document this process and share it here soon!

My Heilman Boxes: Backpack, double sketchbox, single sketchbox and the Mini Pack

A closer look at the Mini Pack

Here is some information about the Mini Pack box from the Heilman website. www.heilmandesigns.com

Mini Pack Pastel Box

The Heilman Minipack is a compromise between the Sketch box double and the Backpack.  It is about 3 lbs. empty and hold about 135 full sticks.  It has three divided areas on each side.  It is drilled for the Heilman easel and fitted for mounting standard tripod coupler.  It is deep enough to carry Pan Pastels.  Ready for any venue, mountain trial, city sidewalk, populated workshop where space and weight limitations need a light box capable of a good working palette of colors. This box is a workhorse of modest dimensions, fitting easily into tote bag, carry-on or backpack.  Sets up with a minimum footprint and tucks nicely into small painting situations.

Size closed “9 3/8 “ x 11 ¼”
Size open 18 ¾’ x 11 ¼”
Depth 1.125”
Weight  Empty 3 lbs.
Weight  Full 5.5 lbs.
Capacity 135   ½” x 2 ½” pastels

Saturday, December 02, 2017

How Long Should You Let a Painting Sit?

'Through the Woods'          12x18           pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $195
You know what they say about fresh eyes. If you are struggling with a painting or not sure you are finished, set it aside and come back to it later with fresh eyes. But how long is long enough? Sometimes all it takes is a few minutes away from the easel....stepping back, getting a snack and coming back with more clarity. Sometimes the answers elude us. It takes more time and growth as an artist for us to see what will be obvious at some point. The more we study and paint the easier it will be to see the obvious.

It is hard to grasp the idea that someday we will know what to do to resolve a stubborn painting. It seems so out of reach. But it will happen with perseverance. So there really is no rule or guideline on how long to leave a painting alone. It depends on the artist. 

Sometimes a painting will surprise you. It will show you that you really have grown! It happened to me today! Have a look at the painting in the photo below. It was painted last year. I liked it. I thought I had done a good job. But when I pulled it out of my winter painting pile today I saw some things that I could have done better.  I put the painting on my easel and made a few subtle adjustments. Look carefully at the painting below and then read my comments to discover my 'fixes'.

The original painting before the subtle adjustments
  • The creek was going uphill especially in the background. It wasn't sitting level with the ground. It was a slight incline and one that I didn't notice last year but it was a bit unsettling. I used some dull snow color to carve into this distant creek to level it. 
  • The creek was leading the eye but was it where I wanted the eye to go? The strong dark creek in the distance was leading the eye directly to the orange bushes. That part was OK but then where would the eye go? I didn't plan for that part. I needed to pull the eye back over to the right side of the painting. So I dulled and softened the end of the creek and I added a tiny subtle line of blue leading back to the trees on the right. I hope to suggest the water sneaking back over to the right.
  • Now the right side of the painting was too fuzzy! The light trunks of the trees needed to have a bit more clarity. It was a fine line. I didn't want them to shout for attention but I did want there to be a little more to see. I refined a few of the trunks and added some fine branches with a pink Nupastel.
  • The snow wasn't as crisp as it should be. The snow in the foreground needed to be a bit more crisp and bright in a few places. I wanted to have some contrast between the softness of the snow with a few spots of crisp snow. I added some heavy marks of a brighter light pastel creating a pathway of subtle contrast. 

Close up of the areas I adjusted

Friday, December 01, 2017

My Favorite Tip for Painting Snow in Pastel

'Winter Song'    11x14         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $165
 It's December and I am ready to paint one of my favorite subjects.....The Winter Landscape. I love painting snow and bare trees and the muted subtle colors of the winter landscape. Every year I get recharged and energized by the winter landscape and can't wait to get into the studio and pull out my winter photos. I do another important task before I start a new winter series......

I make up a SNOW TRAY! The snow tray makes painting snow more efficient and successful.

What is a snow tray?  It is simply one of my butcher trays that I fill with all of the colors I think I might need to paint the actual snow and the shadows on the snow. I don't pull colors for trees or sky or water....only the SNOW colors. And it is important to note that I try to avoid using pure white. I prefer using very pale/light values of color. Look at the photo below and see what colors you can identify.

There are reasons behind all of these color selections for both the shadows and the snow colors. In the  month of December I will  share more about painting the winter landscape both here on this blog and with expanded information with even more tips, videos and information on my Patreon page.

Here are some of the topics we will be covering: Aerial perspective in snow, shadow color in snow, bare trees, painting falling snow, painting white without white, using pure white to create colorful lights, the power of neutrals in the winter landscape, painting snowmen, figures in the winter landscape and more!

close up of my little cardinal
 Painting notes: 11x14 on mounted Wallis (old piece) with Terry Ludwig and Diane Townsend pastels.

Consider trying Patreon for the month of December. It is $4 for the month. If you find that it isn't for you it is very easy to cancel your subscription before the end of the month. We are building a great community and would love for you to join us! www.patreon.com/karenmargulis

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Don't Just Use One Dark Pastel!

'Late Summer Marsh II'         8x10        pastel      ©Karen Margulis      sold
 It's all about the layering. That is my favorite part of painting with pastels. It is so easy to layer colors to create rich and interesting passages. There is no smudging of wet paint and you don't have to wait for paint to dry.  As long as you use a light enough touch and paper with some tooth you can easily layer many layers of pastel.

I never use just one pastel stick to paint anything. I alway see how I can get more interest and complexity through layering multiple pastel sticks. The trick is using a light touch but also using pastel colors that are very close in value in each section.

My selected pastels for today's painting

In the photo below you can see how I developed the dark areas of the trees shapes in my painting. I could have easily used a dark green pastel to paint the shadowed areas of the trees but that would be boring. Instead I selected several dark colors that are all very close in value. I am using two dark purples, a dark blue and two dark greens. You can see that they all optically blend together to make a more interesting dark.

A nice selection of rich darks
You can use this same idea to build up the layers in all areas of your painting. I do the same thing when painting the sky for example. Take full advantage of this wonderful quality of the pastel medium!

What's on Patreon today? If you liked this tip you can see the full step by step photo demo of this painting on my patreon page. www.patreon.com/karenmargulis