A One-Track Mind


Wisconsin—February 2021. A scenic old-fashioned winter. Outside, white/white/white everywhere. Beautiful, but most of us in my circle of family and friends are saying “Enough!” Even my Louie (pussycat) is saying “Enough”. (I tend to be anthropomorphic about my cat; we talk to each other a lot.)

Both Louie and I spend a lot of time gazing out through the patio door to the garden and snowy landscape beyond. We watch the bird feeders, for different reasons. (Louie never gets out to fulfill his fantasies.) We wait eagerly for that first sign of life as March approaches, the moment when the returning morning sun blasts into my east-facing patio door, and our resident chipmunks emerge from their dens.

Meanwhile indoors, flowers! Green things, many colored things shooting up from the ground. Life is happening in my art corner. Lots of life emerging on Arches 140lb paper, and on YUPO paper as well.

The above flowers are blooming on a 20″ x 24″ sheet of YUPO—that mysterious poly-something, a kind of shiny non-porous plastic that artists either love or HATE! The “lovers” are those who enjoy throwing paint around (shades of Jackson Pollack) and then standing back to see what will happen.

The “haters” of YUPO are those artists who favor control over their paints, and strive for detailed and accurate representation—illusive and nearly impossible on YUPO.

The above rendering is a mutation. My mind was so entrenched in flowers that I just kept adding, layering, slathering, throwing paint like crazy on the poor sheet of YUPO. Suddenly I realized that I had a huge, gunked-up MESS! It was horrible, even disgusting!

Enter: one of the charms of YUPO. You can wash, even scour the paint off many times and get back to the original with just a twinge of tint. Had the above been painted on actual paper, it would probably have been destined for the bin—although I may have tried to redeem it with gesso.

Anyway, this mess got marched to the sink where it was washed and washed—drenched in running water. I did not scour—but rather just rinsed until the ugly stuff had disappeared down the drain, and what remained—my very first layer—was something I could live with. Then, realizing my tendency to overwork I quit without another stroke.

Flowers in February—blooming from a one-track mind.

Margaret L. Been — February 22nd, 2021

It has dawned on me that I paint the same things over and over: woods, individual trees, flowers, grassy meadows, mountains, water with an occasional boat, and sky with an occasional castle thrown in. Portraits escape me; I simply do not have that skill. I constantly try and fail to make a convincing portrait of my cat, Louie. (Meanwhile, Louie has a lot of fun chewing on my pencil!)

So I am happy with woods, and the rest of the list of landscape and nature scenes! But my goal is to render each tree, each mountain or whatever, different from the last. American watercolor artist Barbara Necchis warns against plagiarizing ourselves, and she is right on. I do try to reproduce techniques and methods I have used on work I’ve been pleased with—often to realize that whatever I did was accidental.

Above is a newly created mixed media 20″ x 24″ which I deemed suitable for framing. It hangs high in my living room, in a red frame. Similar from past work, yet different. Much redder. Meanwhile, I will keep working on Louie! Someday I may get him right!

Margaret L. Been — February 14, 2021

When I began my art journey 15 years ago, I ordered art books and researched everything I could about water mediums. Instinctively I knew that oils—perhaps the most classic of all paints—were off limits to me, given my asthma and some nebulous irreversible lung disease which is currently non-threatening.

Although I love the transparent quality of watercolor paint, I have always been inspired to add dimension and texture to my work. From the start, I attempted to build texture with watercolors, achieving some vibrant depths of color. But the rough and rugged visuals I was after were beyond my reach until, via the art books, I discovered gouache.

Gouache can be thinned with water to achieve some degree of transparency. But straight from the tube, gouache quickly provides layers of impasto—almost simulating the appearance of oils. Unlike watercolors, gouache can be layered light over dark. In the above painting done with gouache on a gallery wrap canvas panel, you can see that I started with a heavy layer of blues and greens, and then painted the vase, flowers, etc.

Like watercolors (but unlike acrylics) gouache can be scrubbed away. So I always spray the canvas renderings with an acrylic fixative. The fixative is available in matt and gloss; I prefer the less popular but more glitzy look of gloss. Of course no fixative is needed for paintings on watercolor paper (I use 140# or heavier) framed behind glass.

In the early years of artmaking, I used gouache sparingly—mainly to add touches of white or to camouflage a boo-boo. Then gradually I began to use more and more blotches of color, until now when I have a drawer packed with every possible color of Da Vinci’s 37ml professional gouache. On some occasions, as in the above painting, I use gouache exclusively.

Unlike acrylics which are death to brushes, gouache is kind to the watercolor brushes. When well care for, washed after every using and always positioned to dry “brush up”, the brushes may last forever. I have had most of my brushes for years, starting with a few excellent ones and building a collection.

And, gouache paint is amazingly inexpensive. It’s a win/win deal. 🙂 Gouache is good!

Margaret L. Been — February 4th, 2021


This is my favorite so far, of the FRACTURED LEAF PAINTINGS. The bird, left of center part way up, was a leaf when I removed the plastic film and leaves. (Scroll down to the entry before last, for an explanation of the process).

So I tweaked a beak and tail feathers. Pardon me: not tweaked, TWEETED. (I can hear your groans.)

A smaller bird is perched farther up. The leaf/bird painting is 24″ x 20″, framed, and hanging in my living room.

Margaret L. Been — January 17th, 2021

I call it a “foray” because acrylics are uncharted territory for me. I haven’t invested enough time in this much-touted medium to understand how to use it. There is huge frustration whenever I begin to apply acrylic paint to paper; the paint just sits there. It doesn’t go anywhere. Perhaps I am lazy, and a bit spoiled by watercolors which do a lot of the work for me.

Anyway, this pictured sample of my resolve to finally get acquainted with acrylic paint turned out to be a keeper. In fact, I liked the painting enough to have it professionally framed—something that has happened only once before. In that instance I had produced a piece too humungous for a ready-made frame.

The painting is called, “Prairie Dance”. I selected it for today’s entry because it reminds me that SPRING WILL COME!

Margaret L. Been — January 15th, 2021

Almost a year — and what a year! I had decided never to blog again, as I so love NOT having to sit at my computer, when I have so many fun hands-on things to do. But in recent days, a current issue surfaced that I simply had to address or I would not have been able to live with myself. Yesterday, I posted that issue on my NORTHERN REFLECTIONS blog. Today, because an art blog is the most fun of all, I am hereback again.

Ever since I can recall, I have been besotted with leaves–especially those that drift from the trees in autumn. As a child, I colored fresh-fallen moist leaves with my crayons, and then pressed the colored leaves onto white cloth with a hot iron. For decades I have been gathering the perfect specimens of autumn bounty, and drying them beneath pages of heavy books. In recent years, I have made collages with these dried leaves on gallery wrap canvas panels, adding acrylic paints and a final fixative before hanging on the wall..

So for me, leaf art is nothing new. But this last fall, I was tardy in my gathering. By the time I was rustling and crunching around in the fallen leaves they were mainly dried, curled, and FRACTURED. Thus the idea of “Fractured Leaf Art” was hatched. The results were so intriguing, so nurturing to my voracious appetite for the abstract that I may never look back!

There are no two Fractured Leaf Paintings alike. And the process is so basic that any six-year-old, given the need for patience between stages, can produce a painting to be proud of. Since I have many young people in my family, I am eager and excited to share THE PROCESS!

I quickly discovered that the best Fractured Leaf Paintings (in my opinion) are achieved on Yupo Paper–that odd, shiny surface that is not paper but rather a “poly . . . . something”, in other words a kind of plastic. I spray the Yupo with clear water, and then spread 2 or 3 watercolors of my choice randomly around the surface, tilting the piece and causing the colors to merge. Then I press the fractured leaves or pieces of leaves onto the wet paint–again randomly. To this beginning I sporadically add more paint colors and salt, and press plastic food wrap (like Saran) over the entire surface. With my fingers, I crinkle and bunch up the food wrap, creating bubbles, creases, and a myriad of lines. This whole bit gets weighted down with heavy books, jars of brushes, or anything else with heft.

After a couple of days, I tentatively remove the food wrap to see if the surface is dry. Obviously Yupo takes longer to dry than normal watercolor paper, because the Yupo is not absorbent. When everything is really dry, I remove the leaves and scrape off the salt with an old credit card. Voila! Fractured Leaf Art.

At this point the painting may need a little tweaking, perhaps some more paint or the emphasis of a few lines or branches along the creases made by the food wrap.* Or the piece may be gorgeous as is. In the above pictured painting, I did not tweak. To me the painting was just right in its natural state, and realizing my tendency to overwork my art I decided to add no more.

Always, when using Yupo I spray the work with an acrylic fixative. While not striving for museums, I do want my art to last for at least a couple of lifetimes.

So you might have a go at Fractured Leaf Art. I definitely live in a four season zone. (Wisconsin: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter/Winter/Winter.) Different locales have different trees, and it would be fun to expand my leaf knowledge. Perhaps my Florida family members will bring me some palm leaves.

Margaret L. Been — January 14, 2021

*When adding branches or lines, I have discovered a trick of using a DERWENT INKTENSE PENCIL which has been dampened, rather than a paint brush. The damp ink pencil adds a soft, blurry line rather than a harsh one. I favor organic as opposed to the popular geometric style of abstract art.

**An excellent Austrian fine artist does amazing paintings using all kinds of wild materials gleaned from her nature hikes. You can check out this mixed media artist and her books by GOOGLING her name, Waltraud Nawratil. You will not be disappointed.

Waiting for spring. Meanwhile, ideas keep surging through my head. Art concepts are ever stretching.

Since Joe and I no longer need a vehicle, we gave our well-used Honda van to a grandson who is a seminarian at a local theological center, and his wife and two year old daughter—whose name happens to be, believe it or not, Margaret Been.

A garage only has to sit empty (except for all the garden and home maintenance junk lining the walls) for a couple of days before brain seeds sprout. An outdoor room! An outdoor studio for art making and spinning gorgeous fibers into yarn. A place where kindred souls can visit, and neighbors can pause. Ever stretching!

This IS Wisconsin, which means the feasibility of enjoying a garage room is limited to the three summer months (given reasonable summer weather) and a few days at each end of the spectrum (given some surprise weather in spring and fall).

We put a small mock fireplace in the room. The decorative fireplace uses one light bulb to simulate burning logs, and a fan to blow a bit of hot air when desired—mainly for ambience, and not sufficient to handle our weather in a garage. (Indoors maybe!)

But dreams persist. Every day I linger for a few moments in this bit of summer heaven, just dreaming and thinking about family members and friends whom I will invite for art and fiber days.

I have two permanent art-making corners indoors, and I produce in these studios non-stop. Two spinning wheels, plus baskets of merino and silk in a riot of colors whirl constantly in our living room where the resulting skeins of yarn dangle from hooks and surfaces.

Art displays, a table on which to work, an area for storing brushes, paints, papers and additional art tools, another spinning wheel, and a (possible) lifetime supply of additional fibers join me in anticipating warm weather in the garage room.

My art goals are ever stretching as well—including a return to collage art between actual paintings. A few years back, I did a lot of collages from random materials and whatever abstract inspiration blossomed moment by moment.

Collages differ just as every artist is unique. Some are decidedly geometric; some feature words, photos, images of people and buildings, or symbols such as numbers. Others are more organic, kind of like an unkempt garden of color and flowing shapes. Or a messy landscape with tangled trees or turbulent seas. And mountains, plenty of mountains.

The materials are legion: gorgeous Oriental papers—Kozo, Mulberry and Rice Papers, and Japanese Lace; common old cheesecloth, tissue paper, and gauze; aluminum foil; ribbons, greeting cards, pieces of musical scores, and decorative gift wraps; wool fleece, yarn, string, and bits of fabric; seasonal and party napkins—with the backing papers torn off so the napkin design is translucent and delicate; acrylic and gouache paints—metallic and otherwise; dried leaves, flowers, twigs, and herbs; templates and stencils; poems; torn up bits of my paintings that didn’t impress me very much—-yet didn’t warrant the trash bin. Some of my kitty Louie’s fur from his grooming brush—with Louie’s permission of course!

And mediums: molding paste, gloss, matt, sand, glitter gel, gesso, bead gel, crackle gel, YES paste (although anything acrylic such as the above listed mediums plus acrylic paint acts as a glue).

Above is a sample of my collage art from a few years ago. It reminds me of some favorite things, and still hangs in our living room.

And finally, a collage of various paints and textured mediums.

Maybe our new summer garage room will facilitate the creation of more way out art! Meanwhile, Happy Stretching

Margaret L. Been — April 3rd, 2020

Still Here!

Memories of Manitou Springs, Colorado

We have nearly made it through another Wisconsin winter. Not a rough one, simply a bit long!

I began the new year with a passion for creating texture in my art. The above was one of the first renderings of 2020. It hangs over our piano, beneath a huge painting of rugged cowboys rescuing cattle in a crevasse—a treasure which I found at a thrift store years ago for little more than the proverbial song.

The mountains in my (16″ x 20″) “Memories . . . .” were formed with heavy modeling paste on YUPO paper which is not really paper; it is a kind of plastic with a slick, shiny surface.*

Then I added—almost dripped—the paints in various spots, jiggled the YUPO around, made a “cuppa Joe” in our beloved Keurig, and sat down to spin beautiful silk and merino yarn on one of my two Jensen spinning wheels. (Fibers—as in spinning and knitting—are another of my many passions.)

I love just letting the surface and paint do the work, with very little interference from “moi”. The results are frequently more delightful than products of obsessive meddling with brushes.

But I do use brushes also, and they can do wonderful things, especially with florals. I begin with watercolor, paint the flowers, and then add the background.** When this dries, I go back in with GOUACHE.

The gouache builds texture and dimension similar to the effect of oil paints. Sometimes I get carried away and the textures are layered so deeply that I spray the finished painting with an acrylic fixative, as the chalky gouache is otherwise apt to crack and flake away over the years.

Probably that would not happen to paintings immediately secured under glass, but the majority of my renderings live in protective plastc sleeves until switched around with framed works, given away as a gift, or (once in awhile) sold. When I paint on gallerywrap canvas panels, I always spray with a fixative because these are never framed.

Below is an example of a floral done with watercolor and many layered gouache accents.

Again and again, I paint flowers. I think of flowers day and night. Soon we will actually see them, springing from the ground! 🙂

Margaret L. Been — March 19, 2020

* Artists either love or hate YUPO. Often the “haters” are the purists who seek detailed perfection. I do not care for detailed perfection, so I am in the group that LOVES YUPO. Good thing I don’t hanker after perfection; I am incapable of achieving it !!!

**Watercolor rules (which I am very fond of breaking) dictate BACKGROUND FIRST. I normally do BACKGROUND LAST, having been greatly inspired and influenced by fine artist Barbara Nechis who usually paints the background last, because until her piece is finished she doesn’t know what kind of a background she wants.

Good reasoning! The color of the background is most compelling when chosen from colors in the completed subject. Seeing is deciding! Plus, it is so beautiful when damp background colors subtly phase into the body of the painting—either a still life or landscape.

There are days when we want to paint, but do not know what! Times of desire and determination, but no actual inspiration.

That is most apt to happen to me during the winter months, “winter” meaning Wisconsin—where I am not inclined to wander around outdoors in the sub freezing and sometimes sub zero weather—-whereas in spring, summer, and autumn I spend considerable time outdoors. Since most of my inspiration comes from nature . . . well you can complete the thought!

Unlike many Wisconsin people, I am a winter wimp—contented to enjoy the beautiful snowy views from our cozy home rather than on skis, or in an ice fishing shack on a frigid lake.

Of course there is always nature outside our windows, at the bird feeders and across a quiet park to a forest and prairie preserve. But there are still times without a specific subject in mind for painting! And this year the snow and cold came early to our Badger State*. Like in October.

On days without a subject in mind, I simply spray my paper, dab on some colors and let them rip—tipping and bending the paper to see what the paint will do. In the above case, I DID use a brush to create kind of a bowl shape—thinking perhaps the paint (plus a bit of India ink) would decide to make a still life. But that is ALL I did—except to jiggle the paper and then press plastic food wrap over the surface while the colors were still wet.

The next day, when I removed the plastic, I was astonished. There was the face and partial body of a kitty. The colors and plastic wrap had produced a kitty! This is especially amazing to me because ever since last March we have had the most wonderful feline pet—Louie—a precious gift to my husband and me, from one of our daughters.

Our Louie is not blue; he is a gorgeous gray and taupe tabby with black stripes and markings that match on each side of his body—like seams in a well tailored garment. But I have never been much concerned with realism in my art. And I do have a lot of photos of Louie, for realism!

Maybe there is something to our subconscious being involved in our art. But I’m satisfied to believe that the paint, covered with plastic wrap, did the job! Maybe some of you viewers see a canine friend in the rendering, rather than our Louie. That’s okay. We’ve shared our hearts and space with many dogs, as well!

Margaret L. Been — November 12, 2019

*Possibly some readers may not know why Wisconsin is called the “Badger State”. Back in the 1800s, Cornish miners settled here, and mined lead and tin from the hills along the Wisconsin River. Before they built homes, the early miners slept in caves dug into the hills—like the animal badgers prevalent in the area.

Hence, we are Badgers, and proud of it—even though some Wisconsinites cause confusion by walking around with a foam facsimile of a wedge of cheese on their heads. MLB

Summer’s Demise

There is no way I will spend much time indoors when summer is fleeting. Rain or shine I can be outdoors either on our roofed-and-sheltered-on-three-sides patio, or out in the gardens. Every possible ounce of soul food (plus actual vitamin D) is in the process of being stashed

Like our resident chipmunks scurrying hither and thither with their cheek pouches loaded, I am hoarding a storehouse of images with camera and paints. But rather than scurry hither and thither, I move as slowly and deliberately as possible—unwilling to miss any of the fragrance, sights, or sounds of summer’s demise.

This laidback mentality is something I desire to maintain year around, and often succeed—especially at my vintage age when life is carefree and just plain fun! But during summer’s demise, lazing around is no trick. It just comes naturally!

Even my paint brushes are relaxed. They scarcely move—letting the paint do most of the work with a bit of help from me tipping and bending the paper. With lots of juicy watercolor and gouache, the artist is simply a behind-the-curtains director—welcoming the ad-libbing and improvising that occurs on stage.

Such are the lazy days of summer’s demise. ENJOY!

Margaret L. Been — 9/4/19