Category Archives: Landscapes

Learn How to Paint a Winter Landscape in Pastel


‘Winter Silence’              8×10             pastel             ©Karen Margulis         SOLD
I like to paint winter landscapes in the winter. Some prefer to paint them in the heat of the summer. A bit of respite from the heat. I can understand that. I like to paint a warm summer beach to take the chill off a cold winter day.  But I still prefer to paint winter when it is cold.  I feel like I can relate to the cold iciness of the snow when I actually feel cold. And it helps to be able to observe the snow and the bare winter trees live and in person!
It was cold outside when I painted this demo. It has been cold everywhere including Georgia!  I enjoyed painting it and I am excited to share the detailed demo notes in my latest download available in my Etsy shop.  I love sharing my mini demos here on the blog but these monthly demo downloads allow me to go in depth and share step by step my thoughts and techniques.
This demo focuses on how to paint the colors in snow and snow shadows and how I create the illusion of detail without really putting in a lot of detail….suggestions of detail is what I try to do.  Bare winter trees are the perfect subject for minimizing detail.
This demo is 22 pages with 40 color photos. It is available as a PDF download for $6. You can view or on your computer or print it out. Here is the link to the Winter Demo
If you haven’t tried my monthly pastel demos I have the last 5 available in a bundle for $24 here.
The front of my Demo PDF



suggesting bare winter trees
shapes and colors = suggested detail


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A Simple Technique for Painting Snow with Pastels

‘On the Way to Grandmother’s House’             9×12          pastel         ©Karen Margulis

click here to purchase $125

Want to paint snow with pastels?  Forget about trying to paint every snowflake. I have a quick and easy way to create a snowy landscape.  All you need is a very light value pastel and something with a sharp edge. I like to use a palette knife.  A piece of glassine or tracing paper is helpful but you could do without it in a pinch. Read on for details.

I am using a light gray piece of Canson Touch paper that I also coated with some clear gesso for a bit more texture. I used only my softer pastels, Terry Ludwigs and Diane Townsend lights. I blocked in the darkest shapes with some blues and purples.

I block in the sky with pale pink and pale yellow bringing it down into the trees.

I finished the snow covered foreground and mid ground using blues for the shadows on the snow and pale yellows and pinks for the snow color. I don’t use pure white at all.

I refine the trees by using the sky color to create some airy and lacy branches. I also lightly draw in some branches with the sharp edge of my pastel. I refine the trunks and aadd some bits of color to the trees. Now I am ready for the falling snow.

I lay the painting flat. Using my flat palette knife and a pale pale pastel (not white) I shave the pastel over the painting where I want some snow to fall. I dig into the pastel stick to create some larger snowflakes. Once I am satisfied with the amount and placement of the snow I put down the piece of glassine paper and press down with my palm all over the paper to push the pastel dust into the paper. I also use the palette knife to push the bits of pastel into the paper. I also use the palette knife to draw in some branches like scratch art.

Voila…now you have falling snow!  Easy and a lot of fun!



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Making a 30 Day Art Plan

‘Sledding in the City’          11×14              pastel           ©Karen Margulissold

It is so easy to get overwhelmed. This is the time of year many of us set goals for our art journey. Whether we are professionals or just paint for fun it is good to have something to work towards.  We can call them goals but sometimes this makes it seem like a chore. I like Lori Woodward’s approach to goals…..she calls them ‘wants’ as in “I want to be a better artist.”  You aren’t measured or graded on how well you do to meet your goals. Instead it is up to you to follow through because you really want to paint better.

It is still easy to be overwhelmed with a big list of wants!  How can we manage to work at our wants and still have fun?

How about simplifying the list.  I love what my friend Marsha Savage is doing.  She is setting a 30 day plan for her art to-do list.  Breaking the tasks into monthly chunks makes it less daunting than working on a huge list.  I have things I want to accomplish but they take time and effort to achieve. Having monthly tasks helps keep me focused.

One of my ‘wants’ was to achieve Master Circle status with IAPS (International Association of Pastel Societies)  It took a few years of entering shows and getting my work accepted but I did it!  I will get my medallion at the next convention in 2015. The hard work was worth it!

If you have art wants give a 30 day art plan a try. Make it simple and manageable so that you can work towards achieving your own personal wants.

IAPS Master Circle letter Yay!!

About today’s painting:  I am starting a series of Winter in the City paintings and this is the first. It is 11×14 on yellow Pastelmat paper.

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How to Paint More Expressive Paintings part one


‘Marsh Walk’           6×6         pastel       ©Karen Margulis   sold

It’s the number one question I am asked.  ”How can I loosen up?”  or ” I am too tight, get too detailed and then end up overworking the painting. What can I do to keep my paintings fresh and loose?”

So I have given the question much thought and read what others have to say about it. (Jackie Simmonds has an excellent blog post about painting loose here) I have come up with five things we can do to help us achieve looseness. I will be sharing them in my classes and workshops but I thought it would be fun to give my blog readers a peek into my weekly pastel class and see how we will apply these 5 things.

First I would rather use the word ‘expressive’ rather than use the term loose. I think expressive is a better way to describe what I try to do and that is express my feelings about the subject, suggesting a lot of the detail and interpreting my subject rather than copying it.  Loose can be interpreted as being sloppy, all soft and painted fast which isn’t always the case.

Here is what we are doing in class this week. Feel free to follow along and comment below on your experiences!


My demos of 7 minute paintings
We began class with a discussion about the importance of study and painting practice. We talked about Robert Genn’s term for artists who are blocked or frustrated with their work because they have a lot of knowledge about painting but not enough time at the easel for this knowledge to become intuitive. It is called ‘Educosis’ Read more about it here.  Don’t you love it?
How can we make time to paint more often in our busy lives? One way is to do smaller timed paintings. We started class by doing 10 minute paintings. We then did a 7 minute painting. We did 3 of them.  It is amazing what everyone did with just 7 minutes to paint. There is no chance to get bogged down with copying details in this short time. The paintings were fresh and spontaneous.
It was also an excellent way for us to warm of after a class-free summer!  I am encouraging my students to fit in more of these timed paintings in between classes. (more on my incentive plan in a later post)
students painting fast and furiously!


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Why Travel is Good for an Artist

‘Taking the Back Roads’            11×14              pastel         ©Karen Margulis
purchase this painting here $165
 ”Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.”  Seneca

I am in trip planning mode. In another life I must have been a travel agent. I love planning trips as much as taking them. Usually I start planning my next trip on my way home from the current trip.  I have always loved to travel. When our kids were younger we would take three weeks each summer to explore the National Parks. That was wonderful.

But now that I paint Travel takes on a  new dimension. I am not just a tourist seeing the ‘must see’ sights. I see every place with fresh eyes. Even the ordinary sights become extraordinary when discovered on a trip.  Traveling makes you more aware of your surroundings. All of your senses become more acute. You notice more. Even if you  choose not to paint on a trip you are absorbing it all. It enriches you. Let me give you an example: Today’s painting is from a photo I took on a road trip to Wyoming. We took the backroad one morning and came across this pasture.
reference photo…somewhere in Kansas


We pulled over to take photos. It was peaceful and the morning light was so soft and beautiful.  If we were at home we might have zipped pass this place, too busy with life to notice. But on a trip we were relaxed and in tune. Our cameras ever ready for the next best shot. We noticed the ordinary.
And even now, three years later I can look at the photo and recall how I felt at our discovery. The sights, sounds and smells. Those heightened senses stayed with me.
Yes I can certainly be more aware of my surroundings at home but there is something about travel that sends a signal to my brain that it is time to wake up and soak it all in.
What’s in the works for the coming year?  NJ, Pawleys Island, Caribbean cruise, and in 2014 possibly Nantucket, Monhegan Island and a Fall trip somewhere to see Aspens. And of course several trips to Chicago to see my kids!
What’s your next trip?
Today’s painting:  Uart 600 paper with an alcohol wash with Terry Ludwig pastels, the Marsh Savage Southeast Landscape set.
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Painting a Stormy Day Landscape

‘After the Storm’      8×10       pastel    ©Karen Margulis

Sometimes I am compelled to paint something that I didn’t plan.  Circumstances intervene and inspiration strikes.  I had intended to paint another cat today with a more involved background but as I listened to the radio with the storm reports from Sandy I went in another direction.

We didn’t experience the storm here in Georgia although it has been very windy and cold here the last couple of days. It is the wind and the storm that inspired today’s painting. I wanted to paint something that captures the feeling of a windy day….the clearing of a storm with promise of a new day.

It was with a sense of urgency that I searched for that last piece of black sandpaper that I had been saving.  I knew the black smooth surface would work for the mood I wanted to create.  This painting is from my imagination and is more an emotional response to the weather rather than a depiction of an actual place.

I’ll get to the cat painting but sometimes there is a painting in you that you just have to get out. It may not even turn out well but it is the process of creating that is important. Don’t ignore that voice in your head that tells you what to paint. It is this voice that helps you put your emotions into a painting. It is no longer just a painting exercise. You are painting from your heart.

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Pastel Landscape on Textured Surface

‘Meadow Walk’         8×10       pastel       ©Karen Margulis

I love texture!  A great way to introduce texture to a pastel painting is to use a textured surface. Most commercial  pastel papers have a smooth and even surface. Even the roughest sanded paper tends to have an even surface. That is why I love using my own prepared surfaces. I can make them as rough and irregular as I want.  I don’t use my own surfaces that often because I don’t take the time to make them. It isn’t hard to do so I really need to make them more often. I love painting on them!  If you would like to see photos of the development of this painting visit my Daily Painting blog here.

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Red Rock Canyon Plein Air Painting

‘The Spirit is Calling’              8×10            pastel

I have seen the light! Never has the benefits of painting outdoors been so clear to me. There are so many lessons I learned at the 1st Annual Plein Air Convention. It was inspiring, informative, motivating and just fun to be around so many people with the same passion for painting that I have. I will be sharing some of the wonderful things I learned over the next week but I would like to begin with the most important lesson. Painting en plein air really does help you see better.

The term “plein air” (derived from the French, “open air”) is used to describe painting that is done outdoors, directly from nature. Plein air painters seek to capture the varied, shifting effects of light and atmosphere on the landscape.

I have always enjoyed painting outdoors but I just didn’t make enough time to go out. I figured my photos would be good enough. But I know now that if I really want to become a better painter, I need to paint outdoors more often. If you would like to see more plein air paintings from my trip to the 1st Annual Plein Air Convention visit my daily painting blog here.

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Southwest Landscape Moab, Utah

‘John Wayne Country’                 8×10               pastel            ©Karen Margulis

The landscape of the Southwest is calling to me! I am so glad that I decided to attend the 1st Annual Plein Air Convention in Las Vegas. Next week I will have an opportunity to paint in Red Rock Canyon and I can’t wait. Not to mention all of the wonderful artists who will be there…both the instructors and the attendees.

I am working this week on desert landscapes so I can test my pastel box of colors that I plan to bring. Yesterday I did a painting that depicts the red rocks with intense late afternoon light. I was going for the glow on the rocks. You can see the painting HERE. For today’s painting I wanted to capture the more subtle colors of the desert. I did need to add a couple of new colors to my box so I am glad I am testing this week!

If you would like to see a step by step demo of this painting, visit my daily painting blog HERE

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Magical Sunset Pastel Painting

‘Dancing into the Sunset’                11×14      pastel         ©Karen Margulis

“Pretend you are dancing or singing a picture. A worker or painter should enjoy his work,else the observer will not enjoy it. It is not good to wear lace that was a drudgery to someone to make. The lace, as well as the picture, should be made in joy.” Robert Henri

Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit is a book that every artist and art lover should have this book on the shelf. It is a book filled with the wisdom and advice of Henri who was a revered teacher and artist. The book is a collection of his teachings, notes and critiques. Read more about Robert Henri here
Not only does the book give Henri’s technical advice to painters, it is full of inspiring words of wisdom about life and art. It is the kind of book that can be picked up and opened to any page. Every page has a pearl of wisdom and gives food for thought. It is a book that can be read over and over. I keep my copy on my night stand and pick it up whenever I need a bit of inspiration. The quote about singing a picture is typical of the little gems on every page of the book.

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