Monday, June 26, 2017

Lesson From an Unintentional Underpainting: Weekly Inspiration

'The Quiet Time'         8x10        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $145
A interesting thing happened in the studio today. I didn't plan it. But I did embrace it. And what could have been frustrating turned into something joyful. It was time for my daily painting. I didn't really have a plan other than wanting to reuse a piece of paper from my reject pile. I pulled out a nice 8x10 piece of white sanded paper. It had a few blue and gold marks from an old demo. It would be the perfect candidate for an alcohol wash.  But I didn't get the results I expected.

The unintentional underpainting
I should have brushed off the pastel marks before using the alcohol. There was more pastel on the paper than I thought and as soon as the brush with alcohol hit the pastel it turned into a gummy blob.

Note: Alcohol washes work best with thin layers of harder pastels. Soft pastels such as Terry Ludwigs may get thick and pasty. Also....pure colors give more vibrant results.

Not only was my pastel turning into a thick mess, the light pastels I had used made it even more pasty. In a bit of frustration I took the handle of the brush and started drawing into the thick pastel mess. I started to see a marsh emerge! I started to get excited and continued drawing my big shapes with the brush handle.

When the underpainitng was dry I painted the marsh I had envisioned and the texture from the thick pastel and scratch marks worked beautifully in my favor. An important lesson was revealed.

"There's nothing quite as beautiful as the unintentional."
            Lyle Carbajal

Perhaps Bob Ross would call it a Happy Accident. But the lesson was clear. Sometimes things happen that are unexpected. We can either fight it or try to change it to our original plan.....or we can embrace it and let something more beautiful emerge.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

New Sunday Studio Demo: Blending and the Beach

'Sunday Afternoon at the Beach'       9x12      pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $155
 To blend or not to blend? Since I have been pondering this question this weekend it is only fitting that my Sunday Studio demo address this question. In my informal Facebook Live video I share my thoughts on blending and how you can be a more effective blender.

I demonstrate a beach scene to share some of the ways I use blending in my paintings. I blend sparingly and always with careful thought. Watch the video to learn more and then come on back to read about how I finished the demo painting.

Click this link to watch the video on my YouTube channel

I didn't add the finishing touches to the painting in the video. I like to stop BEFORE I think I am finished so I can make the finishing marks with careful thought.  Below you can see where I stopped on the painting along with my commentary on the finish.

Demo board with my reference photo and color study.

The pastels I used for the demo. Terry Ludwigs (McKinley Landscape set) Diane Townsend Mood for Green and misc. hard pastels for the grasses.

my color study. 4x6

The painting as I left it in the video

  • I refined the sky. I blended it more and added more defined cloud shapes.The finishing mark was the pop of pale turquoise near the horizon leading into the ground.
  • I refined and separated the distant bushes. I add a light cool green to them to push them back into the distance.
  • I refined the grass clumps by adding a rust color. I painted a few pieces of grass in the foreground clumps. I kept the grasses in the distance loose.
  • I refined the sandy path and added a few more shells
  • I added a touch of blue in the distance to suggest the sea.
I hope you have enjoyed the video demo. I will be out of town for a couple of weeks but would love your thoughts on what you would like to see next!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

An Important Lesson for All Artists

The Evolution of a Painting......Losing the Detail One Step at a Time
all available in my etsy shop
I went down into my studio with a plan. I had given myself an assignment for the weekend. I call it Friday Fun. I allow myself to paint for the sake of play and experimentation. There is no pressure to perform or do a 'good' painting. I give myself an assignment....something new to explore. But that is just a rough guide. 

Today I learned an important lesson. Play is important! But it is also good to let go and let the play and experimentation evolve. LISTEN to the voice in your head that is asking you the question 'What if?'

I went into the studio with a plan but the plan quickly changed and I gave myself permission to change direction. 

 My goal was to do paintings that broke my self imposed rule of no blending. I did a couple of these blended paintings but they quickly evolved into paintings with detail. I enjoyed the early stages of the blended paintings. It raised the question "What if I did a painting and just left it in that early state....What if I tried to do a more abstracted landscape?"

The first painting started me wondering What If?

I started down this road to more abstraction in the landscape and below are the results. I am not sure where it will take me but I do know I was filled with this wonderful feeling of excitement and anticipation for the next painting while doing these little studies.  I'm glad I listened and I am glad I played.

The second version has less detail      8x8 pastel    $75
 Below you can see how I tried to add less and less detail in each painting. (top left to bottom right)

"Children smile 400 times a day... adults 15 times. Children laugh 150 times a day... adults 6 times per day. Children play 4-6 hours a day... adults only 20 minutes a day. What's happened?"  Robert Holden

Friday, June 23, 2017

Friday Fun....Let's Break the Rules!

'All Paths Lead to the Sea'             11x14         pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $195
OK. So it's not really a rule. It's more like a recommendation. It is also a personal preference. But I have always been told NOT to do it. Blending pastels can be a polarizing issue. Should we blend or should we keep our fingers and tools away from the pastels? 

The first workshop I ever took was with Albert Handell. I could say I was baptized by fire.  I was very new to pastel and I will never forget Albert admonishing us..."Touch it Not!"  I learned to let the pastels do the blending and never blend with my fingers or tools.  Over the years I've relaxed and will blend the first layer and occasional a sky or use a finger to soften an edge. But I still never do much more than that.  

It was time to try breaking my own self imposed rule and blend away! By the way there are some very good reasons to avoid too much blending and I will address them in another post. But this weekend let's have some fun and blend our pastels!

Some blending tools...pipe insulation foam, foamcore, viva paper towel, rag
 Today's painting involved a lot of blending. I used my palm and some tools to blend. I began by blending the first layer and softly blended each subsequent layer. I was trying to get a soft and dreamy look to my painting. In tomorrow's post I will show you the tools in more detail. Below you can see the progress shots.

Blocking in the first layer on Canson Mi-Teintes moonstone
 I decided to work on Canson Mi-Teintes paper in the Moonstone color. I knew the unsanded paper would be easier on my fingers than sanded paper. I blocked in the painting with soft pastels (Terry Ludwig) The used a piece of pipe insulation foam to blend in the first layer.

Nicely blended

Next I worked on the sky. I blended it several times to get the sky clam and the clouds wispy.

Start with the sky
As the painting developed I added layers of gold and green rubbing in each layer until I got to the finishing marks. I couldn't resist adding a few grass marks on top of the blended areas. I am going to try another painting that I leave completely blended and see how I like it. It's all about trying new things and having fun!

Almost there!

Finished....then made corrections to the foreground grasses
YOUR TURN!  If you are not usually much of a blender you have permission this weekend to break your rule and blend away!  If you do a lot of blending try NOT blending to see what happens. :)

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Pastel FAQ: How Do I Choose Underpainting Colors?

'Woodland Reverie'          8x10       pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $195
The fun continues in KEMStudios. It is great to be home with nothing on the agenda other than paint for pure enjoyment. It is a perfect time for experimentation and new discoveries. Today's painting was done on the new Yi Cai sanded pastel paper and it is a good example for today's Pastel FAQ.

How do I choose the colors for an underpainting?  

That is a loaded question and an important one. Underpaintings or block-ins as I sometimes call them set the tone and mood for a painting. Of course the colors we choose for the underpainting will have an effect on the finished painting. Warm colors tend to give a sunny feeling while cool colors tend to promote a moody or cool feeling. That is just a general truth. There is a lot more that goes into choosing underpainting colors.

  • You can either choose colors that serve a purpose such as choosing local colors or choosing colors to promote depth or choosing simple value based underpainting colors.
  • You can choose colors that don't solve a potential problem but are just playful such as choosing bold colors or complementary colors....colors that are designed to promote visual excitement or just lead to wonderful happy accidents.
It is important that we experiment with many different underpainting choices rather than relying on the same color solutions for each painting. The more we do,  the more experiences we have... the sooner our color choices for underpaintings will become intuitive.

How did I decide what colors to use for the underpainting for this painting? I selected colors to serve a purpose rather than playful. I did cover up all of the underpainting because it was designed to serve only as my roadmap.

  • I used color to set up a value map. I chose dark blue for the dark areas of the woods and the shadows in the grass.
  • I used light values for the sky and tree trunks. (aspens) I used light pink for the lightest trunks and light blue for the trunks in shadow.
  • I used bright pink for the areas in the grass that will have flowers. This is to set up the massing of the little flowers.
Scroll down to see the development of the painting. I am using a beige  piece of Yi Cai sanded pastel paper. I used Nupastels and a wash with water. The paper bowed very slightly but flattened out as it dried. Note the interesting texture this paper has.

closeup detail
Note: I am loving the Yi Cai paper. I need to do more wet underpinnings on lighter paper. This one didn't really show up because the paper was a dark-mid value. I really enjoy how the pastels seem to go on like butter. I am able to get both nice thick textured marks as well as fine detail with harder pastels. The experiments will continue.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

First Look at NEW Sanded Pastel Paper!

'Forest Light'           8x10         pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $195

I really wasn't expecting any surprises at the IAPS pastel trade show. At least where paper was concerned. I knew Uart was introducing their new Uart Dark paper and new Uart boards. I had been able to try both of these great products before the convention. But I was surprised to see two papers that were completely new to me!  Aren't we lucky!  Choices are always a good thing. I tried one of the new papers and want to share my thoughts.


I was one of the first into the trade show and stumbled upon the booth for Yi Cai paper. I'm glad I did. Once I saw and touched this paper I decided to purchase 10 sheets. It's good I was early because the paper sold out quickly.

So what is Yi Cai paper? It is a sanded paper from China which has been in development for 20 years. It comes in 4 different paper types....standard sanded, premium sanded, velour sanded, and finest pastel paper. I'm actually not sure what type I bought. I think it is the standard paper.  See the brochure photo below. 

The back of the paper and the 4 colors I selected

I decided to test the paper with an 8x10 wildflower painting. I didn't do any type of underpainting. I was too anxious to try the paper so I jumped right in. (see demo below)  I will be putting the paper through testing so that I can report to you about how it takes wet underpaintings. I can tell you that the paper took many layers and had a slight texture in the first layers. There are also some sparkles to the paper. It must be from the type of sand they use. It is subtle but very cool!  I really enjoyed working on this paper and can't wait to try more.

Now you probably want to know where you can get this paper?  It should be available in th US soon. Here is the latest information I have and of course as soon as I hear more I will share it!

"We are in the midst of finalizing the collaborating partner in the States we will work with in retailing the papers and hope to announce it very soon!"

click to enlarge the brochure

Below are some photos of the development of the painting.

Step one: Drawing with Nupastels

Step two: Blocking in the trees and starting the dark forest

Look at the texture and the subtle sparkle of the paper

Building up the trees and adding depth to the forest

Blocking in the flowers with shadow colors

I am working on another piece of Yi Cai paper and this time I did a water wash. Stay tuned!!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

My InstaPick of the Week

'Morning Magic'          9x12        pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $145
It is time for my first InstaPick. I encouraged you last week to join Instagram and I want to thank all of you who found me there and followed me. I am having so much fun discovering new artists and I have several that I am excited to share with you. But my first pick is only fitting. I would not be where I am today without this wonderful and generous artist and friend......Marsha Savage!

I found Marsha online 12 years ago when I decided I wanted to take pastel classes. Fortunately she was teaching nearby and a new session was about to start. Finding Marsha and the class changed the direction of my life! Not only did she give me a solid foundation in painting and pastels, she went above and beyond technique to address the hard questions we face as artists.....why do we paint for example! She also fostered a wonderful and warm classroom environment and the artists in the class soon became my good friends. We even formed a group called the Art Spirits.

'Peaceful Interlude'        8x10    pastel     ©Karen Margulis     $145

My weekly classes with Marsha inspired me to paint everyday. I learned so much in those early days and feel fortunate that I had the opportunity to learn from such a giving and gifted teacher. It is now my privilege to pass on what I've learned (and continue to learn). Marsha talks about it being a journey and it truly is!

'Healing Waters'      14x11    pastel     ©Marsha Savage

You can see what Marsha is up to on her website and of course her Instagram feed. She shares her work and sometimes a step by step painting which is always fun to see. Have a look!

Instagram: @Marshasavageart

And you can also study with both of us this summer! We are teaming up to teach a plein air workshop in the North Georgia Mountains. We have a few spots open! Details below:

Team Teaching by Karen Margulis & Marsha Savage

This will be the third time Karen Margulis and I will be teaching a workshop together! Come join us this September. Karen and I will be teaming up to teach a 3 day plein air workshop in Blue Ridge Georgia. I have a wonderful rustic cabin on the river where we will paint, but we will also paint in some other wonderful spots....we know the secret spots!

Imagine driving  on peaceful country road. It winds it's way slowly alongside the river. You can smell the freshly mown hay and hear the gentle sounds of the river. As you round each bend the views get better. Soon you arrive. It is time to get settled in and take a deep breath of the sweet country air.

Imagine staying in this spot for three days. Painting. Learning. Laughing. Imagine being surrounded by other passionate artists. Artists of all abilities. Artists who just want to become better artists and who share the same passions as you.

This is a plein air workshop on Labor Day Weekend, Fri., Sat. & Sun., Sept. 1, 2, & 3. It is suggested if you are traveling from outside this area, you would want to arrange to stay somewhere close to Blue Ridge, GA arriving on Thurs., Aug. 31, and leaving on Mon., Sept. 4. And, we like to have the students over for a meet and greet that evening before. We can give you ideas or point you in the direction of accommodations.

Link to register for the workshop:

Link to Marsha's website:

Monday, June 19, 2017

How to Get Inspired to Paint

'Roadside Inspiration'           11x14           pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $225
Everything is moving right along. My weekly blog themes are slowly rolling out and I am excited and inspired by them. I have to work to find paintings and ideas to fit the themes and that in itself is filling me with inspiration!

Welcome to Inspiration Monday! Why not start the week out with some inspiration? On Mondays I will share a quote or practice that I find inspiring. It will be something that will hopefully guide my week and encourage greater creativity. So the big question is.....How does one get inspired to paint or find something that inspires a painting?  Here is a great answer from Matisse.

"Don't wait for inspiration. It comes while one is working"   Henri Matisse

The underpainting on Canson Mi-Teintes paper moonstone color
In fact while I was researching artist quotes on inspiration, quite a few said something similar. Inspiration happens when you are actually creating. It happened to me today. I was faced with an empty easel and a pile of reference photos. I couldn't decide what to paint. I guess I wasn't feeling particularly inspired by any one of them. I puttered around the studio finding excuses to start a painting. Finally I just picked a photo. It was a scene I loved but it didn't grab me right away.

Once I started painting things changed dramatically. All of the sudden I was engrossed in the scene. I recalled all the details of the day. I felt pulled into the scene and it became a part of me. Two hours of painting had passed and I realized something......I was inspired!  

Just starting the painting was enough. Once I was working the floodgates of inspiration was opened.

The pastels used for this painting....Terry Ludwig and Diane Townsend
Sometimes we face blocks. There are things in our lives that prevent us from painting. We feel uninspired. If it is possible to pick up a pastel and just start painting inspiration may just follow.