Karen Margulis – Journey Into Abstraction

A lot of you’ll know Karen Margulis and her work. (And for those who don’t, the place have you ever been?!) I’ve all the time admired Karen’s work in addition to her consistency in portray and dedication to educating. I’ve usually thought of inviting her to visitor weblog nevertheless it was once I began seeing Karen’s postings of fantastic and delightful abstracted flowers on social media that I knew I wanted to ask her to inform us about her journey into this new world.

Karen is thought for her representational work of wildflowers but it’s clear to see the place she’s been headed. Her new work evolves naturally from her extra acquainted fashion.

Take a look at these two items. They’re each impressions of flowers however the second looks like a transition between the outdated and the brand new.

Karen Margulis, "Beautiful Ending," pastel
Karen Margulis, “Lovely Ending,” pastel
Karen Margulis," Living Free," pastel
Karen Margulis,” Dwelling Free,” pastel

Earlier than handing you over to Karen Margulis, first, a bit about her.

Karen Margulis Bio

Karen Margulis is a up to date panorama painter. She works in most portray media however has achieved recognition for her pastel work. She has exhibited her award-winning work all over the world and has been reviewed by Pastel Journal for her wildflower work. She is a signature member of the Pastel Society of America and an Eminent Pastelist recipient of the Worldwide Affiliation of Pastel Societies. 

Take it away Karen!


Initially of every workshop I educate, I discuss to the artists about fashion. Most come to my workshops as a result of they wish to loosen up and transfer away from being too caught up in copying their reference images. I discuss to them in regards to the artwork journey we’re all on. 

Our private fashion and preferences fall on a scale from pure summary all the best way to photorealism. We’d transfer up and down the size as we develop as artists however these shifts are often small and incremental in a single route or one other. I’ve all the time been simply to the left of the center of the size. My panorama work had been representational however certainly not photorealistic. I might characterize my fashion as advised realism. It hasn’t modified from the day I picked up my first pastel again in 2005. My work have turn into extra refined however didn’t transfer too far on the size. 

Till now. 

There was a nagging little voice that has been tempting me to the summary aspect of the size. It began a number of years in the past however any makes an attempt I made to strive summary portray had been disappointing failures. I simply didn’t perceive the best way to paint a profitable summary. I put that nagging voice on the again burner and continued portray my representational landscapes. However one thing shifted this yr. 

Karen Margulis, "Paradise Discovered," 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 8x8 in
Karen Margulis, “Paradise Found,” 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 8×8 in

The yr started as typical with an inventory of artwork targets. As I often do, I requested my Patreon group what they needed to discover. Abstracts had been close to the highest of the record. I added it to my record and figured I wanted to study extra about abstracts so we might discover them collectively. As luck would have it I noticed that Larry Moore was providing a six-week on-line course on summary portray. I had his ebook Fishing for Elephants and he was extremely beneficial as an teacher so I signed up. It was good timing and simply the push I wanted. On the time I had no concept how this choice would change the course of my artwork journey!

Karen Margulis, "Paradise Found," 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 8x8 in
Karen Margulis, “Paradise Discovered,” 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 8×8 in

I cherished the web course with Larry Moore. I cherished the homework assignments and the weekly critique classes. I spotted simply how little I knew about abstracts and I used to be like a sponge every week absorbing data and completely devoting myself the homework assignments. I used to be seeing summary designs all over the place. I used to be dreaming in regards to the abstracts I might paint the subsequent day. It was completely invigorating and thrilling. I used to be hooked. 

Karen Margulis, homework sheet from abstract workshop
Karen Margulis, homework sheet from summary workshop

We painted with gouache for the course assignments. That was enjoyable however I needed to translate what I used to be studying into pastel. So when the course ended, I started my exploration of what I had discovered about abstraction solely now with my pastels. It was as if a complete new world was open and I couldn’t get sufficient.

Karen Margulis, "Study in Purple," 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 8x8 in
Karen Margulis, “Research in Purple,” 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 8×8 in

All through the winter my experiments with summary pastel portray continued however in personal. It was a secret I wasn’t fairly able to share. I continued portray in my typical fashion for my demos and Patreon classes however at any time when I had the prospect, I performed with abstracts. By the spring I felt like I used to be onto one thing with the abstracts. I used to be hitting my stride and discovering methods to summary the themes I used to be most identified for…..panorama with wildflowers. It was the start of my Floral Fantasy sequence. It was time to share them. That was the difficult half. 

Karen Margulis, "Fantasy in Red," 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 8x8 in
Karen Margulis, “Fantasy in Crimson,” 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 8×8 in

I had labored laborious to construct a fame as a grasp of pastels. My representational ‘advised realism’ landscapes introduced me recognition. I achieved signature standing with the Pastel Society of America and Eminent Pastelist standing with the Worldwide Affiliation of Pastel Societies. I developed a following on social media and began a Youtube and Patreon channel. 

Karen Margulis, "Among the Fireflies," pastel
Karen Margulis, “Among the many Fireflies,” pastel. One in every of my extra representational items

Artists had been considering studying from me…..the best way to paint with extra expression was a favorite workshop subject. However I wasn’t identified for portray abstracts. How would this go over with my followers? Was it okay to make such a drastic leap on that summary to photorealism scale? I had all the time shared every thing about my artwork journey….the nice, dangerous and the ugly! I began a weblog again in 2005 to share my journey so I wasn’t shy about sharing. I simply wanted to seek out the correct steadiness. I had an concept!

Spring arrived and it was exhibition season. There are just a few exhibitions that I prefer to enter yearly and I usually enter a panorama with wildflowers. This yr I made a decision I might enter a few of my new abstracts. I chosen just a few that I felt good about and hit the enter button. After which I waited. 

Karen Margulis, "Wonderland," 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 12x12 in
Karen Margulis, “Wonderland,” 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 12×12 in

To my shock and delight, I had entered 4 exhibitions and I had an summary chosen for all 4. Two ended up successful awards. It was a validating expertise however the second of fact would come once they had been seen for the primary time by my friends and my collectors! I used to be excited and a bit of bit nervous once I entered the gallery on the IAPS exhibition which was held through the June conference. I noticed my summary ‘Wonderland’ hanging amongst so many different wonderful work. Would anybody be shocked that it was mine? 

Karen with her painting "Wonderland" at the IAPS convention in 2022
Karen along with her portray “Wonderland” on the IAPS conference in 2022

I discovered an vital lesson throughout that conference. It’s okay to maneuver round on the fashion scale and it’s a good factor to remain unpredictable. 

What do I imply? I used to be pleasantly shocked to get an ideal response to my summary portray within the present from my friends and mentors on the conference. One of many feedback I acquired that basically caught with me is that I used to be not predictable….that it was factor to push and discover and never be afraid to share work that isn’t what everybody is aware of and expects. I by no means considered myself as unpredictable nevertheless it does sound thrilling! 

Karen Margulis, "Fall Fantasy," 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 12x12 in
Karen Margulis, “Fall Fantasy,” 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 12×12 in

So now I’m embracing the thought of being unpredictable however what about that scale I’ve been speaking about? I all the time thought that we would transfer in between summary and photorealism however not that I might be in a couple of place on the identical time. Now I do know that it’s not solely attainable however that working in two types helps me enhance each types of portray. One informs the opposite. I take what I learn about creating robust reasonable work and apply them to abstracts. Each require realizing the best way to successfully use composition, worth, colour, and extra. Taking part in with abstraction permits me larger expression with my extra reasonable work. Transferring between the 2 types helps me and conjures up me. 

Karen Margulis, "Beach Dreams," 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 12x12 in
Karen Margulis, “Seaside Desires,” 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 12×12 in

I not too long ago learn a put up by the late Robert Genn on fashion and shifting between types. He shared the story of an artist who felt the necessity to decide on a method and keep it up versus the artist who moved round and experimented with a couple of fashion. Here’s a quote from Mr Genn that speaks to me: 

“My recommendation? If you end up stepping into a sure route, go laborious. Give it every thing you’ve acquired. Additionally, take a look at your focus work as exploration, not product. When your flame burns down, smile, begin once more on one other.”

~ Robert Genn

Karen Margulis, "Fire and Ice," 2022, pastel on UART, 12x12 in
Karen Margulis, “Hearth and Ice,” 2022, pastel on UART, 12×12 in

I’m going to take that recommendation and run with it. My summary flame remains to be burning and I can’t wait to see the place it leads me. I will likely be taking an in-person workshop this fall with Larry Moore on portray massive abstracts. I’ll be bringing my pastels!

Karen Margulis, "Bliss," 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 8x8 in
Karen Margulis, “Bliss,” 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 8×8 in

Data on my summary course of 

I believe what I’m loving essentially the most about abstracts is that I can play to my coronary heart’s content material. I don’t assume I’ve used the identical course of greater than as soon as. I start every portray with a distinct method after which let the portray inform me what it wants. A lot of them have been carried out on prime of failed work that I’ve washed with rubbing alcohol. The ghost picture guides my marks. 

Typically I start with a line drawing with black charcoal or black pastel after which start constructing layers. The portray then goes by many layers of moist and dry layers. I put in loads however find yourself masking it as much as simplify and make a stronger composition. I’m all the time occupied with how the viewer’s eye will transfer across the portray. I’m additionally aware of variation in my shapes, values, colour, and mark making.  

Karen Margulis, "Meadowland no 2," 2022, pastel on LuxArchival,12x12 in
Karen Margulis, “Meadowland no 2,” 2022, pastel on LuxArchival,12×12 in

I’m nonetheless exploring after all however for inspiration, I’m drawing on my previous representational work and the reference images that impressed them. I discover myself taking a look at my images in a distinct mild. I’m taking a look at closeup sections to see the design and the attention-grabbing shapes and patterns. I incorporate these shapes into the early layers of the portray after which I set the photograph apart. My images and previous work additionally encourage the color palettes I exploit. Typically I’ll paint an everyday panorama after which do one other summary model utilizing the identical pastels. I’ve additionally carried out it the opposite method round! 

Here’s a typical development. These are the steps I took for my portray ‘Into the Wild’

  1. I begin with a chunk of 12×12 in piece of LuxArchival. (I want a paper or board that can take abuse.) I used black charcoal to attract some flower shapes. I’m occupied with variation and motion. 
Karen Margulis, "Into the Wild" progress shot 1
Karen Margulis, “Into the Wild” progress shot 1
  1. I begin layering pastel by including color to the shapes and the background. I don’t repeat a color anyplace. If I wish to use a color in one other place I’ll change it one way or the other…a distinct worth, temperature, or depth. 
Karen Margulis, "Into the Wild" progress shot 2
Karen Margulis, “Into the Wild” progress shot 2
  1. I exploit rubbing alcohol to moist down the pastel. I encourage drips!  Whereas the alcohol is drying I begin including extra pastel. I really like the impact of the pastel within the moist areas. Once more, I’m all the time conscious of variation particularly in my mark-making.  With out fail I’m going too far and add an excessive amount of stuff. I exploit alcohol and brush or spray alcohol to rewet areas to simplify. I additionally scumble pastel over dry areas to knock again busy areas. 
Karen Margulis, "Into the Wild" progress shot 3
Karen Margulis, “Into the Wild” progress shot 3
  1. At this level, I let the portray relaxation and are available again the subsequent day with recent eyes. I’m going by the identical means of trying on the shapes and eye motion. 
Karen Margulis, "Into the Wild" progress shot 4
Karen Margulis, “Into the Wild” progress shot 4
  1. For Into the Wild I noticed that among the flower shapes had been too comparable and organized in a row…..boring! I made some changes to those flower shapes and I used to be completed!
Karen Margulis, "Into the Wild" close-up
Karen Margulis, “Into the Wild” close-up
Karen Margulis, “Into the Wild,” 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 12×12 in


Wow and extra wow! I let you know, I simply LOVE this new route Karen has taken. I can’t wait to see what’s going to occur after the workshop on massive abstracts she’s taking this Fall. I’m sooooo excited!! Thanks Karen for sharing your journey with us!

Have questions for Karen? Ask away! Have feedback? We’d like to see them.

Till subsequent time,


PS. That ebook Karen was speaking about? Right here it’s:

PPS. Another….

Karen Margulis, "Dreamland," 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 12x12 in
Karen Margulis, “Dreamland,” 2022, pastel on LuxArchival, 12×12 in