Karen Margulis – Journey Into Abstraction

Lots of you’ll know Karen Margulis and her work. (And if you happen to don’t, the place have you ever been?!) I’ve at all times admired Karen’s work in addition to her consistency in portray and dedication to instructing. I’ve usually considered inviting her to visitor weblog nevertheless it was after I began seeing Karen’s postings of wonderful and exquisite 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 type.

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

Karen Margulis, "Beautiful Ending," pastel
Karen Margulis, “Stunning 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 recent 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!


Firstly of every workshop I train, I discuss to the artists about type. 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 photographs. I discuss to them concerning the artwork journey we’re all on. 

Our private type and preferences fall on a scale from pure summary all the way in which 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 at all times 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 type as advised realism. It hasn’t modified from the day I picked up my first pastel again in 2005. My work have change 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 learn how 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 12 months. 

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

The 12 months started as common with an inventory of artwork objectives. As I often do, I requested my Patreon group what they needed to discover. Abstracts had been close to the highest of the listing. I added it to my listing 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’ [link: https://amzn.to/3MCNALi] and he was extremely advisable as an teacher so I signed up. It was excellent timing and simply the push I wanted. On the time I had no thought how this determination 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 liked the web course with Larry Moore. I liked the homework assignments and the weekly critique periods. I spotted simply how little I knew about abstracts and I used to be like a sponge every week absorbing information and completely devoting myself the homework assignments. I used to be seeing summary designs in all places. I used to be dreaming concerning the abstracts I might paint the following 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 realized about abstraction solely now with my pastels. It was as if a whole new world was open and I couldn’t get sufficient.

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

All through the winter my experiments with summary pastel portray continued however in non-public. It was a secret I wasn’t fairly able to share. I continued portray in my common type for my demos and Patreon classes however every time I had the possibility, 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 recognized 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 Pink,” 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 among my extra representational items

Artists had been enthusiastic about studying from me…..learn how to paint with extra expression was a favorite workshop subject. However I wasn’t recognized 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 at all times shared every part about my artwork journey….the great, 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 search out the suitable steadiness. I had an thought!

Spring arrived and it was exhibition season. There are a couple of exhibitions that I prefer to enter yearly and I sometimes enter a panorama with wildflowers. This 12 months I made a decision I might enter a few of my new abstracts. I chosen a couple of 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 slightly bit nervous after I entered the gallery on the IAPS exhibition which was held throughout the June conference. I noticed my summary ‘Wonderland’ hanging amongst so many different superb work. Would anybody be shocked that it was mine? 

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

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

What do I imply? I used to be pleasantly shocked to get a fantastic response to my summary portray within the present from my friends and mentors on the conference. One of many feedback I obtained that actually caught with me is that I used to be not predictable….that it was a very good 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 concept of being unpredictable however what about that scale I’ve been speaking about? I at all times thought that we’d transfer in between summary and photorealism however not that I might be in a couple of place on the similar time. Now I do know that it’s not solely potential however that working in two kinds helps me enhance each kinds of portray. One informs the opposite. I take what I learn about creating sturdy lifelike work and apply them to abstracts. Each require understanding learn how to successfully use composition, worth, colour, and extra. Taking part in with abstraction permits me better expression with my extra lifelike work. Shifting between the 2 kinds helps me and conjures up me. 

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

I lately learn a put up by the late Robert Genn on type and transferring between kinds. 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 type. Here’s a quote from Mr Genn that speaks to me: 

“My recommendation? If you find yourself getting in a sure route, go laborious. Give it every part you’ve obtained. 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 continues to be burning and I can’t wait to see the place it leads me. I can 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 probably the most about abstracts is that I can play to my coronary heart’s content material. I don’t suppose I’ve used the identical course of greater than as soon as. I start every portray with a unique strategy after which let the portray inform me what it wants. Lots of them have been completed on high 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 via many layers of moist and dry layers. I put in lots however find yourself overlaying it as much as simplify and make a stronger composition. I’m at all times enthusiastic about 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 in fact however for inspiration, I’m drawing on my previous representational work and the reference photographs that impressed them. I discover myself my photographs in a unique gentle. I’m 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 picture apart. My photographs and previous work additionally encourage the color palettes I take advantage of. Usually I’ll paint an everyday panorama after which do one other summary model utilizing the identical pastels. I’ve additionally completed it the opposite approach 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 enthusiastic about 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 by some means…a unique worth, temperature, or depth. 
Karen Margulis, "Into the Wild" progress shot 2
Karen Margulis, “Into the Wild” progress shot 2
  1. I take advantage of rubbing alcohol to moist down the pastel. I encourage drips!  Whereas the alcohol is drying I begin including extra pastel. I like the impact of the pastel within the moist areas. Once more, I’m at all times conscious of variation particularly in my mark-making.  With out fail I am going too far and add an excessive amount of stuff. I take advantage of 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 following day with contemporary eyes. I am going via the identical means of wanting 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 related 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. Yet one more….

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