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Remember the Light!

rollicking-autumn

At one point the above rendering looked exceedingly dark and dreary:  blues, greens, and browns—nice colors but in need of some life.  As I often do, I thought of the late artist, Thomas Kincade.*  In one of his books, he shared that his favorite part of every painting was at the very end, when he added the light.

Now recalling Kincade’s work, I think what he had in mind was a subtle, airbrushed glow of light and not the Van Gogh-ish streaks you see here.  But light is light.  With all due respect to Kincade who obviously was extremely gifted, I really love Van Gogh—and inexperienced as I am, it shows.  So streaks of light transformed this work from a dreary rainy day in late summer to rollicking autumn.  And that’s what I’ve named the piece:  Rollicking Autumn.

Margaret L. Been — 9/14/16

*I believe that Thomas Kincade was a tremendously sensitive man with a huge soul.  His tragic end stands in contrast to the content of his art—which, although not the kind of thing I like to hang on my walls, is quietly soothing and nostalgic.  His life was a sobering testimony to the travesty of fame and success á là Hollywood with all its phony glitz and deceptive glamour.

The Look

The Sound 6.JPG

It’s possible that many of you readers are not ancient enough to remember the 1930s and 40s Big Band leader, Glenn Miller. His band was known for its one-of-a-kind sound, explained by the following quote from Wikipedia:

“Miller . . . realized that he needed to develop a unique sound, and decided to make the clarinet play a melodic line with a tenor saxophone holding the same note, while three other saxophones harmonized within a single octave.”

This technique worked beautifully, and Glenn Miller’s music contrasted with other Big Band era “greats”, due to its quality which I can best describe as “mellow”.  And I was there, growing up with the Saturday Night Hit Parade during WWII.

Unfortunately, Miller and the plane he was flying in that war were lost over the English Channel in 1944.  But his smooth melodies live on.  In 1954, a film was released of Glenn Miller’s life, THE GLENN MILLER STORY starring Jimmy Stewart in the lead role.

What in the world does a Big Band sound have to do with art?  Not much, except that I have been thinking of Glenn Miller a lot lately.  I recall the film, and can still hear Stewart alias Miller saying:  “I have got to find ‘the sound’!”   Evidently Miller experienced the sound in his head before he realized how to create it.  Likewise, regarding my art I have been visualizing and saying, “I have got to find ‘the look‘!”

The look I’ve envisioned is textured, rich in color nuances, and layered to resemble an oil painting without the oils.  Oils would not make my lungs happy.  Water soluble oils?  I have tried those, with no success.  As with traditional oil paints, the water soluble oils take a long time to dry.  I simply do not have space in my studio to begin new paintings while works in progress to sit around forever  and a day drying.

Acrylics?  Call it irrational, and I guess it is.  But, I JUST DO NOT LIKE ACRYLICS.  They are fine in the hands of other artists, but my hands can’t handle them.  And open medium notwithstanding, the acrylics dry too fast?

So what is JUST RIGHT?  What can achieve the look with none of the above?  Of course you know from my past entries, it’s GOUACHE!  But gouache on watercolor paper has limits, texture-wise.  My Glenn Miller epiphany?  Gouache on Gallerywrap Canvas Panels.

I begin by generously covering the panel with gesso, streaking the brush in whatever direction suits me, to create lumps, ridges, and other textural marks.  That’s the foundation for “the look”.  Then, when the gesso is dry I apply a thin wash of watercolor in various shades which I want to feature in the finished picture.

When the watercolor wash is completely dry, I take my time with the gouache and I may spend a week on one painting.  Gone are the days when I thought I had to bang out several works in a week.  My walls and shelves are loaded with my art, and I can afford to slow down—savoring the pleasure of each stage, analyzing carefully after the initial color fling, and working deliberately to improve each section of the painting.  I purposefully leave dabs and ridges of gouache to build up in areas while smoothing out other parts of the painting.  I strive for polishing detail on some of the canvas while leaving other parts vague and blurry.  This augments the look I desire to achieve.

Now maybe you are saying, “Yes, but . . . .”  And you would be right, considering Gallerywrap Canvas Panels are normally to be left unframed.  Gouache is a rather moisture-vulnerable medium to hang in the open air, especially in Wisconsin’s “good old summertime”!  However, a thorough spray job with an acrylic fixative takes care of the “but”.  No longer vulnerable, my sprayed gouache panels are sealed—if not forever, at least for a very long time and certainly a lot longer than I will be around.

I know that touching art is a huge NO-NO!  I would never do that in a gallery, museum, someone else’s home, or any other place featuring art.  But I can’t resist occasionally touching my sprayed panels, with the back of my hand of course—so that no fingerprints will be left behind.  Along with the look, I enjoy the feel!

Margaret L. Been — September 10, 2016

Note:  My photography is limited in its representation of art.  First I took the picture with my I-pad and emailed it to myself.  The colors were nothing like the original; only the primaries showed, with no innuendoes of color.  Then I tried my I-phone, and that was no better.  Finally I got out my digital camera, and the above was the best I could manage—better than the pad and phone, but still lacking in the multitude of subtle shades on the painting where colors phase into their neighbors. 

Since the panel is a vertical hanging rectangle, I couldn’t include the whole job in the photo without the wall showing on each side of the painting.  And texture shows up best in real life as well.  If you are in the neighborhood, you are welcome to drop in and see for yourself.    :) 

Argyl.JPG

Now and then I get the above question—always in response to that rare effort with which I’m really happy.

Some of my paintings are okay (no more than that), and some are (in my opinion) frame-able.  But occasionally (once in a red moon?) something happens that actually delights my heart.  Like this one which I have titled “Recalling Argyll”.

In this case, along with other paintings which have evoked the “How did you do that?” query,  I had to answer an interested friend with my standard reply:  “I honestly don’t know!”

What I do know is that I nearly pitched the thing in my wastebasket.  It went through several yucky stages, compounded by the fact that I had nothing whatsoever in my mind when I began painting.  Often that works beautifully, especially with transparent watercolors on YUPO paper which happily does its own thing and produces surprising results when you keep your paintbrush in check or use it lightly.

But in the above case, the transparency got buried too quickly in layers of gouache.  Gouache is my ever-ready friend, but here I let it get overly friendly.  In lieu of simply pitching the work, I decided to just let it alone so the mess of gouache could dry properly—no easy task in our famous Southeastern Wisconsin summer humidity.

Several days later, I revisited the mess and gave it one last fling—this time globs of white gouache blotched randomly to cover up the muddiest layers of the original paint.  And instantly the scene popped out at me:  Argyll.

Back in 1993, Joe and I rented a car and drove (actually Joe did all the driving since it was on “the other side of the road”) 2200 miles–mostly on back roads in Scotland, England, and Wales.  I was raising sheep here in Wisconsin at the time, for wool for my hand spinning and because I love animals—even the silliest of varieties.  So we had planned ahead to stay at sheep farms on this trip of a lifetime.

We landed at Glasgow, and spent our first two days and nights on a farm in Argyll—a  familiar household name in my childhood home.  My Grandma Kate was a Campbell* and pointed proudly back to some 11th century Duke of Argyll.

How did I do this painting?  If I can think up a more helpful answer in addition to the explanation of ruining a painting with piles of gouache and then blotching it up with white paint, I’ll let you know.” 🙂

But maybe Argyll popped up because in 1993 I felt a deep down sense of belonging there, either due to the 11th century Duke or simply because Argyll is a poignantly beautiful part of the world.

Margaret L. Been —August 3rd, 2016 

*If you read Scottish history, you will discover that the Campbells behaved atrociously to the Mac Donalds—something I would hope will stay buried in the past.  Anyway, here is my peaceful finale:  They came to the USA, where the Campbells made soup and the Mac Donalds made hamburgers.

(Do I hear groans?)

Many Moons

Another another.jpg

And still more

I did a bunch of blood moons which are now stashed away on my recycle pile, and finally came up with these two.  The bottom one of the above is my favorite.  I was unable to work in the red sky (which was across the entire eastern horizon that night) and still have the moon pop out prominently.

A lot of artists recommend doing a series of renderings of any subject that strikes us as unforgettable.  That is obviously what has been going on here continually, considering the wall-to-wall garden paintings in my storage closet as well as on our walls!  Now the moons are hanging in our dining area to add some contrast.

Meanwhile, my Joe has encouraged me to set up another studio at our dining room table.  Currently gallerywrap canvasses, and acrylic paints and brushes are dominating the dining table annex—with bins of collage papers, fabrics, and random odds and ends stored under the table.  Fortunately there is still room for dining at one end. 🙂

Margaret L. Been — July 11, 2016

Blood Moon!

Blood Moon 1

Two nights ago, around 12:30 a.m., I woke up and as I often do in summer, wandered into our living room to open the patio door and step out to enjoy our nocturnal garden and courtyard.  I was “stun-gunned” by the sight that greeted me:  a blood red moon rising in a bluish purple and red sky, over the wildlife preserve to the east beyond our park.  I should have run for the camera, but—to employ a corny fictional expression—I stood transfixed.

The red moon was not fiction.  In the sky, traces of distant lightning flashed.  Minutes later the lightning moved in close, followed by gentle thunder and a steady, quiet rain which lasted until dawn.  Meanwhile, I went back to bed, thinking the red color had something to do with the stormy atmosphere—not surprising given our infamous SE Wisconsin summer humidity.  The previous day had been a scorcher.

The next day I couldn’t get that mysterious and almost eerie scene out of my mind, and I began trying to capture the experience of that sky at my paint table.  Above is my first attempt.  As I worked, I recalled reading in the Bible about blood moons.  Joel 2:31 states:  “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”

Some preachers have connected recent blood moons with immediate fulfillment of the End Times prophecy.  But many diligent Bible scholars agree that this concept does not hold water.  In his 2014-published book, BLOOD MOON RISING, Mark Hitchcock wrote:  “. . . don’t get caught up or carried away in any speculation about some great cataclysmic event in 2015 surrounding the appearance of the blood moons.”

Obviously we are now after the fact of 2015, and although filled with plenty of global tragedy 2015 was very sadly just like many other years—unless you call the appearance of Donald Trump in the political circus a “great cataclysmic event”.  (He may think he is exactly that, but I for one do not.)

Regardless, the sight of a blood moon was a rare privilege which I’ve never before experienced, and may never enjoy again.  I did a bit of GOOGLING on the subject, and see that the June, 2016 phenomenon has something to do with the full moon occurring around summer solstice.  Not being a scientist, I can’t divulge any more than that from what I read—except that the Algonquin Indians called the June full moon the “Strawberry Moon”, not due to color but rather for the obvious reason of ripening strawberries.  That was an understandable and enjoyable bit of information.

Actually the June moon I witnessed did look something like a huge strawberry.  My subsequent attempts to improve the above “start” of a painting are even worse than the first, and I now wish I’d quit while I was ahead.  Here are Blood Moons 2 and 3:

Blood Moon 2

Blood Moon 3

Pretty awful.  I should have known not to round out the moon and create variety in the sky with (of all things) yellow and blue paint.  Those colors on top of the red turned the sky a yucky brown.  Duh!  Yellow and blue make green, and green plus red equals brown!  My great grandkids know that, because I demonstrated it for them.

I’ll keep working on this, and if not satisfied I’ll simply begin again.  Maybe I’ll let it all dry, and then try remedying the mess by adding water soluble oils.  Artist Barbara Nechis shares that she always finishes a painting, even when she knows it isn’t going well.  She finds that working on a perceived failure gives her the freedom to attack it wholeheartedly—and sometimes the results are surprisingly acceptable.  Barbara encourages her readers (and DVD viewers) by adding “It’s only a piece of paper”.  🙂

So I will continue messing about with my piece of paper, or I’ll start a new one of the blood moon.  If I come up with something frame-able, I’ll post it on this blog.  But please do not hold your breathe.  If you never see this effort again, we’ll move on to something else—maybe more flowers.

Wise artist, Barbara Nechis has also said, “When we try to compete with nature, nature always wins.”

Margaret L. Been, June 27th, 2016

Rustic Vase 3.jpg

. . .  just keep on painting   Perhaps I’m not the only artist who occasionally hits a wall—the wall of questions and doubts.  We writers call that “writers block”, something I have never allowed to discourage me; I kept right on writing through the block.

So it’s logical to approach a painter’s wall the same way, and keep right on painting through the wall.  While doing this recently, I had the following dialogue with Myself:

————————————————————————-

Myself:  Who am I to call myself an artist anyway?  I simply began painting 10 years ago, at age 72.  Never went to art school.  Never thought I had any talent—just a love for art.

I:  Shame on you for thinking that way.  You, of all people.  You are always telling others that everyone has an artist inside them, and they should have the courage to try it if they have the desire!

Myself:  But lately it seems that I am plagiarizing myself.  All I’m painting are flowers, and sometimes I wonder if flowers are the only thing I’m certain that I can paint!

I:  Lots of people paint the same thing over and over.  And lots of artists love to paint flowers.  Have you ever heard of Monet?

Myself:  Are you comparing me to Monet?  Shame on YOU!

I:  Of course none of us is comparable to him.  We are all different, and that’s the way God intended us to be.  But we can study the GREATS, and learn from them!  You are always telling other people to do that.  Yikes!  Why don’t you practice what you preach?

Myself:  Okay.  I get it.  I should encourage myself the way I like to encourage other people.  I’ll keep plugging along with my brushes.  I do love art with a PASSION!

I:  Good for you.  Now you are talking sensibly!  And even if you are on a flower painting roll, you can look for a different emphasis—like varying your colors or background, and finding a fresh focus of interest along with the flowers.  Then suddenly you’ll inadvertently (or maybe on purpose!) stick a cabin, fencepost, river, or trail in among the flowers.


Whew!  That’s over.  This week Myself took the advice of I, so We will switch to the first person voice.

I spent a couple of evenings browsing through my flower art books to see what might make a difference.  The idea of working on the background (or in the above result, the surround) grabbed me.  As always, I let my colors blend on the paper—and then added every texture agent I had on hand (salt, granulating medium, texture medium, crackle medium, dabbing with tissue, etc.).  That was so much fun, so I gave the vase the same cavalier treatment.  And named the painting “Rustic Vase”.

Now I will pass on some encouragement to YOU—the Reader*.  If you tend to hit a wall, don’t let it slow you down.  Just keep on painting through the wall!

Margaret L. Been — June 9th, 2016

*My stats page shows that you Readers are all over the world—on every continent and on many islands as well. This excites me more than I can say.  :)

Carmela's Lilacs again again again

What is more enjoyable than coffee or tea and mellow conversation shared with a friend, in any kind of weather?  My friend, Carmela, came for a morning visit last week.  It was warm and sunny, but early enough in the day to sit outdoors yet still savor hot, strong coffee.  Later, we would have switched to iced tea.

Carmela brought an armful of lilacs, white and shades of lavender, from her yard.  I don’t think she realized that lilacs are a huge passion of mine.  She simply and instinctively brought the perfect gift—beautiful, fragrant, and in season.

Later in the day I began to paint the lilacs, which by then were comfortably at home in a vase of cool water.  Since I normally let the paint do a lot of the talking, somehow an illusion of a great blue heron flew into the piece.  Can you see the heron?  His presence suggests that there is water nearby, as the heron lives on fish.

We do have plenty of water here in Lake Country, and great blue herons fly over our roof constantly en route between our myriad of lakes.  But maybe the above painting, “Carmela’s Lilacs”, is a flashback to our home up north where we lived for eight years, beside a bay with plenty of great blue herons in our neighborhood—and huge, ancient common lilac bushes pressed against the front deck of our home.

Margaret L. Been — May 26, 2016