Thursday, July 20, 2017

When Do You Sign a Painting

'Return to the Marsh'          8x10          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $145
 Does signing a painting mean you are finished? For me it is usually the last thing I do. It prevents me from fussing and potentially overworking a painting. When I feel like I have nothing more to add to a painting....when I decide that another mark will not make a difference....I stop and add my signature.

Signing my painting is an important ritual. It means I am feeling good about it. It means I will stop and evaluate before making another mark. Signing slows me down!

After I sign the painting I take a break. I give myself some time and distance. I leave the painting on the easel and glance at it from time to time. I will return to it and touch it ONLY if I know exactly what I need to do. Usually I never touch it again. It's funny how a painting is often finished before we think it is. Signing and stepping back keeps the painting from being 'finished off'.

My signature is my initials....Karen Elizabeth Margulis

I am working on a blog post and video on signing paintings and I'd love to hear from you. If you'd like to share your answers to the following questions pleas do so in the comments.

1. How do you sign your name? Initials? Full name? First name only?
2. What do you use to sign your name?

Isn't this the coolest bag? 
My friend dropped by today to give me this wonderful birthday gift. It is monogrammed with my signature and I just LOVE the color! My friend and I call ourselves 'bag ladies' We can never have enough bags!

Painting notes:  8x10 on Uart 500. Schminke pastels for the yellow flowers. Terry  Ludwigs and Diane Townsend for everything else.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Treat for Artists!

'Garden Party I'         8x8          pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I have rediscovered the joy of listening to podcasts while painting and puttering around the studio. I might as well be filling my brain with interesting art related talk while I work!  Last week I decided to tune into one of my favorite programs on Blog Talk radio 'Artists Helping Artists' with Leslie Saeta. The topic of the day was "What We can Learn From the Top Artsits Blogs"

I was organizing supplies and listening to the program stopping now and then to jot down something interesting. It was a great topic and I was happy to learn of some blogs I wasn't familiar with. As I listened I was completely surprised to hear my name mentioned! I was one of the blogs being shared on the show! What fun!

In the last few days I've been going back and listening to some of the programs I missed. They are all filled with great information and Leslie and her cohosts are so enjoyable. It feels like you are listening to old friends!

Below is the link to the program on top art blogs.  You can also visit Leslie's website and the section on AHA or Artist Helping Artists. 
You are in for a treat if you haven't tuned into AHA yet. Do you have a favorite art related podcast to share?

'Garden Party II'       8x8       $145
Today's Painting Notes:  Both of these paintings are on Uart 500 grit. I was experimenting with a square format and decided to paint a pair!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Tip for Painting a Very Busy Landscape

'Down in the Clover'             10x8         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $175
I've decided I like my meadows wild and free. The more tangled and out of control the more I intrigued I am. It isn't easy to paint though. I don't want to totally tame it but I also don't want to get lost in the busyness of the scene. We know it is important to simplify. But how do you simplify and still keep the feeling of the freedom of the flowers and grasses of the meadow? The answer is easy.

Paint the flowers and grassy stuff last.

Too often we get excited about the colorful flowers and interesting shapes and textures of the grasses. We rush to put them into our painting. The problem we run into is that the flowers are not anchored.....they are floating on an unfinished background. We then have to add all of the grassy stuff and before we know it we have a overly complicated overworked painting.

In today's painting I simplified the busy meadow by painting the big simple shapes of the background first....the trees and the dirt. Scroll down to see the progress shots.

my reference photo....another Maine summer meadow

block in of the big shapes using three values

Staring with the trees and the sky

midway through the painting
Once I have painted the background trees and sky I spend time working on the grass underlayer. Notice I don't paint the detailed grasses and leaves yet. Instead I paint some purple dirt color and green grass color all with big broad strokes. I also start to indicate the shape and color of the flowers.

Then and only then will I  put in the details of the grasses and flowers. I use harder pastels for these calligraphic marks. I am free to put in as much detail as I want. For today's painting I decided to put in more detail in the grasses than I usually do and had a great time!

close up
Painting notes: 10x8 art paper that I toned medium brown with thin acrylic paint.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Permission to Paint What you Love

'Seek and You Shall Find'       8x8         pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available  $125
After the camera stopped I slipped into the zone. I found myself getting lost in the tangle of flowers and grasses that I was creating. I wove the grasses with thin strokes of hard pastels. I added flowers and softened others. I was transported into the scene that I had visited many many times. I was at home and I was having fun! That is what happens when you paint with passion and intimate familiarity.

Yesterday's demo painting

I painted Queen Anne's Lace for yesterday's Facebook Live broadcast. If you have watched it you know that I didn't do the finishing marks on the video. I needed to allow myself to get to the place where I could let go. How do we get to this point of intuitive passionate painting?

 Paint a lot and paint your passion.

Last week I blogged about painting miles of canvas. We all know the importance of painting a lot. Daily painting truly made a huge impact on my progress. But things really took a leap forward when I started painting what I LOVE.

I am passionate about wildflowers. I LOVE painting them. I give myself permission to paint them over and over again. It is what allows me to be intimate with them and paint them with passion.  For today's painting, I simply took the demo underpainitng from yesterday's video and tried to interpret it in a different way. Just another day in the studio!

the underpainting done with Art Graf Carbon Disc

TRY THIS: This week why not paint the thing you are most passionate about. Paint several variations on the same reference. Let go!

Note: There is certainly a place for painting subjects that you don't love for the sake of learning certain things. I don't do that often enough. Push outside of your comfort zone of course. But be sure to make time to paint what you are passionate about.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

New Video Demo: The Magic of Painting on Black

'A Beautiful Secret'          11x14           pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $185
There is a story behind this painting. I shared it on my Facebook Live video Sunday afternoon and I will share it again in another blog post because it makes me smile! I had so much fun painting this live on Facebook. It is not a perfect video. We had some technical difficulties. But the information is there and if you'd like to see this painting develop you can see the video on my YouTube channel.

Link to the demo on YouTube:

The painting began with a plan. I changed the format of the photo and chose to do a landscape orientation. I did a black and white thumbnail to work out the composition.

My reference photo and my black and white thumbnail

I was interested in capturing the drama of the dark trees behind the flowers so I decided to do a black underpainting. I used an Art Graf carbon disc pigment black washed with water. I love these Art Graf squares!

An underpainting on Uart paper with Art Graf Carbon Disc wash
I got as far as the photo below in the video demo. I stopped at this point because the painting needed some thinking time before I could add the final touches.  It is very hard to explain how I make these final marks. I find I get lost in this part of a wildflower painting and I simply have to let go and let my hand take over. It is a lot of adding detail and taking some away....a lot of back and forth!

In an upcoming live demo I will JUST do a finish to a painting so that you can see that part of the painting process.  I hope you enjoy the demo!

The demo as I finished the live demo.More work needed.

The aftermath!


Saturday, July 15, 2017

More Painting on Black and a Camping Story

'Firefly Magic'           8x10        pastel          ©Karen Margulis
available $150
We almost didn't stay.   We arrived at the campground and got the tents set up and unloaded our gear. It was hot and steamy. Even though out campsite was deep in the woods there was no relief. Not a breath of air. We ate lunch and tried to let the kids take a nap. It wasn't working. Too hot. So we went on our planned hike instead.

On the way back from the hike, the subject on all of our minds came up. "Would it be so bad to wimp out and just go home?" We decided that it would be OK and we returned to the campsite with a new purpose. We would make our dinner and then head back to the comfort of home.

Dinner was wonderful. We made hot dogs on sticks over the fire. We actually lit the fire without the benefit of lighter fluid. We felt good about that. Grace made a pot out of tin foil for our beans. Hot dogs and beans never tasted so good. Baby Jamie was content. Greta was running around the campsite playing with her camping dolls. And as the sun set it was getting cooler.

Then Grace brought up the question on all of our minds. "Would it be silly of us to change our minds and stay?"  Of course not.  Corey and Grace left to get more ice and water while Greta and I made a fairy house in the perfectly located tree stump. As dusk fell I noticed the woods getting darker and the most magical thing taking place.

The forest was quickly becoming illuminated by fireflies!  Hundreds of them. Maybe even thousands. I had never seen so many fireflies. It was truly a magical moment to cherish. (and to capture in a painting!)

Here are some progress shots of today's painting. It is 8x10 on a dark charcoal piece of Yi Cai sanded paper.

The start along with my reference photo

Block in of the extremesL darks, lights and most intense color

First layers

Almost finished....need to add the fireflies
Have you tried painting on a black or dark surface? Tomorrow I will share an easy way to make your own black paper.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Fun: Painting on Black

'Outside My Window'         11x6       pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $75
There is something magical about painting on black paper. I don't do it often but when I do I am always pleasantly surprised at how exciting it is. Black is bold. It is dramatic. It allows colors to pop. There is nothing shy about black paper and it can rub off on you. It can make you feel bold, exciting and dramatic!

Don't be shy! Take out a piece of black paper or tone a piece with black pigment of any kind. (more on this tomorrow) Choose something simple and colorful and have some fun.

I used a piece of the new Uart Dark paper. It was introduced at the recent IAPS convention and should be available this fall!  I took some progress photos to show my approach to working on black. Note that I didn't have to block in darks because they were already there! I did use some Terry Ludwig eggplant to restore some of the darkest accents.


Below is a chart I put together showing a variety of black surfaces available. 

A variety of black papers for pastel painting 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Joy of Revisiting Old Subjects

'Jewels of the Meadow'         11x9        pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $150
Do you remember photo albums? Perhaps you still print your photos and put them in an old school album. I haven't done that in years! Instead of albums I have been making books with my photos when I get around to it. I love the books but there is something special about looking at memories in a photo album.

I am finding all kinds of treasure in my studio clean up. Today I came across a photo album of a family trip to Nantucket and Maine. It might be the last 'real' photo album I put together. It was the last family trip we took before the kids went off to college. We would take a big road trip every summer and saw much of the USA together. For this last trip we let the kids decide where to go and they chose to return to Maine.

an old school photo album! That's us in the photo on the left.
 I flipped through the album enjoying the memories of a wonderful trip. There were a few photos that I had already used as painting references. But it had been awhile....12 years ago when I was new to painting! In fact one of them was probably the first wildflower painting I ever tried. I decided to revisit this old friend and paint it again.

Reference photo for today's painting

  • It was fun to see that I enjoyed the same point of view in my old photos....looking up through the grass! I was able to relax and enjoy this subject and put to use the things I have learned over the last 12 years.
  • I knew that I needed to override the information in the photos this time to create the illusion of depth. I made the distant trees lighter and cooler than they were in the photo. I adjusted the greens in the grass using lighter duller greens in the distance.
  • I had fun designing the placement of the flowers to create a visual pathway back into the distance. When I first painted this scene I was very literal and copied the flowers exactly as they appeared in the photo.
  •  I was also able to use new and better supplies. I didn't have the wonderful Yi Cai pastel paper or the selection of pastels that I now have. A combination of Terry Ludwig and Diane Townsend pastels made painting a pleasure. I was able to achieve the marks I wanted because of my tools. 

closeup detail
Even though I have painted this scene before there are many more photos in this album that I have not yet painted. Looking at them brings back great memories that I would love to paint!  
Do you have an old photo album filled with treasures? Would they be inspiration for new paintings? 

painting notes: 11x9 on Yi Cai sanded pastel paper with an assortment of Terry Ludwig, Diane Townsend and Nupastels for the grasses.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Finding the Good in a Bad Painting

'The Secret Garden'            8x10         pastel        ©Karen Margulis
available $150
 It is day two of the Great Summer Studio Clean up. Things are progressing nicely. I spent the morning organizing my finished paintings. I store them in boxes and they had become mixed up over the last year. It was fun to sort through old paintings. Some were fun to see and surprised me but many were just plain bad....I ended up with a big pile of BAD.

It is a good thing to have bad paintings. That means you are making progress. It means that you are learning what makes a painting strong and when it isn't working. Bad paintings are a sign of growth.

We have to paint miles of bad paintings before we can consistently paint good ones.

Yet I can't bring myself to throw out a bad painting. Not only do I not want to waste good paper, I want to learn from my mistakes. I want to challenge myself to see the good parts of a painting and build upon that.

An assortment of unfinished paintings to be recycled
This afternoon I needed to take a painting break so I selected a painting from the recycle pile to rework. I am still excited about exploring the reference photos I took in Chicago so I found an old painting that I could turn into a summer prairie garden. Let's look at the good I found in this dull painting and how I transformed it.

Old plein air painting rescued from the recycle bin....a bit dull

  • The old painting had a nice lead in pathway and I like the strong tree line. Both of these elements were in my new reference photo. Otherwise the painting was too busy and overly warm. It needed help!
  • I brushed down the painting leaving a ghost image of the scene. I then sprayed it with workable fixative to restore some tooth. This was a piece of Pastel Premier sanded paper.
  • I reinforced the dark trees and added some dark 'dirt' in the meadow. I slightly adjusted the path.
  • I changed the color of the sky to a warm early morning yellow and cut into the tree line changing the shape and type of trees.
  • I worked on the trees adding the greens of summer. I added a blue green to the distant trees.
  • Next I worked on the grasses and flowers. This is a naturalized prairie garden in the city. This park provides inspiration for many of my paintings and it was wonderful to paint it in it's summer glory.
  • The flowers were just starting to bloom while I was there adding a bit of color to the wonderful green grasses.

Try This: Can you find something good in a painting that you think is bad? Play up the good part and make it into something new!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

How to Have Success on a Textured Surface

'Summer Perfection'       16x10        ©Karen Margulis
available $185
The Big Summer Cleanup begins today. My studio has been sadly neglected. It has been a busy year so far and things have gotten out of control. I have paper and pastels and supplies spread out everywhere and I need to get it organized. 

I started moving things around this morning and found a nice textured board that I made and never used. It was an odd size 16x10 but I knew it would be perfect for a painting I had in mind. 

The Great Cleanup quickly came to a halt so that I could paint while the inspiration was fresh. That's OK. I'll start cleaning in the afternoon.

The first layer with the distracting white bits

 The surface I found is a piece of mat board that I covered with a mixture of gesso and powdered pumice with a little bit of water to make the concoction the consistency  of cream of wheat. I spread it on with a cheap brush. I enjoy using random brushstrokes.  I love working on a textured surface but sometimes the texture is challenging to work with.

You can see in the photo above that the pastel skips over the grooves created by the pumice mixture brushstrokes.  The white board is showing all over and that bothers me. I could just keep layering pastels and eventually the white would get covered. But I risk making mud. So instead I RUB in the first layer.

The first layers rubbed in and ready for more pastel

I used a piece of pipe insulation foam to push the first layer of pastel into the grooves of the board. In the photos above you can see the difference the rubbed in layer makes. No more distracting white or light paper spots.  My texture what quite rough so I added a second layer of pastel and rubbed it in as well. The next step was to add fresh pastel. I did not do anymore blending or rubbing.

The pastel will still skip over the grooves but now there is color in the grooves. It works especially well in areas of grass. The textured surface gives the illusion of grassiness without the distraction of the light color surface showing.  Have a look at the close ups photos below to see the effects of the texture.

If you are working on a very light colored surface with texture it is a good idea to tone it or push the first layer of pastel into the grooves of the texture.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A Tip for Working with Reference Photos

'Greeting the Morning'           8x10       pastel       ©Karen Margulis
available $145
I was excited to get home to have a better look at my pictures. I just spent a wonderful week in Chicago visiting my kids and grandkids. It was all about quality Grammie time but I did manage to get some reference photos of some of my favorite places in the area. There are several parks and gardens that I like to visit and this was the my first summer visit. The wildflowers were starting to put on a wonderful show! I took hundreds of photos. Now what?

I usually work from my reference photos in the studio but I am old school and like to use printed photos. I don't enjoy working from my iPad because the photos are too bright and in focus. I can see every detail in perfect clarity. You might think this would be a good thing but for me it isn't.

If I see the detail I am tempted to paint the detail. I would rather interpret a bad photo than copy a perfect one. This allows me to make the subject my own.

inspiration from my trip
 One of the first things I do when I return home from a trip is print out a few photos. Since I take so many pictures I don't want paper copies of all of them.

  • I load them all on my iMac in the Photos program. Then I scroll through and click on the photos that catch my eye. I try to choose 10 to 12 photos. 
  • I then print them as a contact sheet using regular inkjet paper. Each photo is about 2x3 inches.
  • I cut the photos apart leaving a small border and put them together in a labeled envelope. I try to keep categories of photos together.
  • Next I shuffle through the photos. Usually one will speak to me and that is the one I use!
  • I will usually go through the pile of 10-12 photos for a week or so until I feel like I have exhausted the subject for the moment. The photos are then filed for future use.

close up of the flowers
TIP:  Try Paper photos!  I enjoy scrolling through photos on my phone and tablet but there is something about holding the photo indoor hand that brings me closer to it. It is easier to hold a small paper photo to study it. I like to take my time to make thumbnail sketches from the paper photos. It is also easier to clip a small paper photo to my painting board. I like leafing through paper photos when I am looking for inspiration. I like to feel and touch of paper over the brightness of a screen.