. . . and time for a warm weather studio in what used to be the garage. Wonderful on rainy days, with the garage door up and that glorious fragrance of rain without getting wet!

Blessed with 14 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren*, I love to hostess art days in the garage. We make huge messes and have a blast. With Papa Murphy’s Pizza just down the road, it can be a double blast!

Here is a fun and really lovely project that most anyone can enjoy–3 or 4 year-olds as well as adults. It’s really a collage–but I call it PAPER NAPKIN ART. You need paint (acrylic works well for this project), paper napkins, a gallery wrap canvas panel (I prefer the ones with a cradle of at least 1 and 1/2 inches deep) and an acrylic spray fixative.

On the back of most every paper napkin, there is a backing sheet–at least 1, and sometimes 2 as in the case of the above pictured lovely rose-patterned napkins which I found on AMAZON.

Peel the backing sheet or sheets off the napkin. When there are 2 papers this takes patience, but they will peel off.

When as many napkins as you need to cover your panel are ready, then paint the panel with colors of your choice. I like to use more than 1 color, as the colors will show through the napkins beautifully and I enjoy the variety and contrast. In the above sample, I used yellow and a soft coral paint. The original roses on the napkins were a very light rose color..

Apply the napkins while the paint is very wet, and press the paper into the paint with some kind of a roller. I have a brayer, but HEY–you could use a bottle or even that thingy the toilet paper roll fits on.

When the surface is dry (this often takes time on a Wisconsin summer day) you can add flourishing touches of paint, if so desired. Otherwise wait a day or two more, and when you are certain your piece is totally dry, spray with the fixative. Gloss and matt are available; I always go for 2 or 3 coats of the glitz.

Here is another sample–a different napkin and paint colors. The options and varieties are endless!

TOO MUCH FUN! Happy Spring!

*Our great-grandchildren range from age 1 to 18. The 18 year-old, Elijah, has just completed his Basic Training at Ft. Benning Ga–and will finish Infantry Training in mid July. (I just had to brag a bit. Very proud of our soldier!)

Margaret L. Been — May 6th, 2021

And flowers to you! Not yet in my garden, but always in my work area indoors.

If these pics look similar, they are! Although cropped a bit on the bottom in the editing page, the top one is actually a print of the original watercolor/goauche painting. The next three are called, “Fun with the I-phone editing function.”

The phone IS fun! Whereas I used to have to scan the art into the computer, and could scan no more than computer paper-sized work, now I can photograph anything, any size—and just email it to myself, and voila! Into the computer art file.

And then to YOU! HAPPY EASTER!

Margaret L. Been — April 2nd, 2021

Awhile back I shared my frustration over being unable to sketch or paint a reasonably accurate rendering of the beautiful facial profile typical of all cats–from my precious grey and black Macro Tabby Louis, to his exotic cousins whom I love to view again and again via the PBS app on my I-pad.

Still unable to do faces, I am managing the back side of a cat, as well as a fairly good job of a curled-up sleeping cat. When I add my one strong point–color–things work out to my satisfaction, including the above feline who is matted, framed, and hanging on the wall above my piano.

Meanwhile, I am a bit pumped up because I’ve discovered that I am in very good (even famous) company. In a totally charming book called LETTERS TO CHILDREN, the author–C. S. LEWIS of all people–confesses in one his letters that he simply cannot draw the face of a cat, but he can draw the backside. He includes a sketch of a rear view.

Since C. S. Lewis is one of my very favorite people, I am delighted to be on the same page with him–at least concerning the matter of drawing cats.

But please don’t give up on me. Some day I may surprise you with a fantastic likeness of the guy pictured below–LOUIS THE GREAT, with whom I am incredibly besotted! Till then, I will just have to share photos.

LOUIE ATTENDING VIRTUAL CHURCH (He sleeps, but I stay awake and take notes.)

AND LOUIE SEES THE LIGHT (This one got put on “bounce”. I love the I-phone camera!)

What a beautiful profile!!! And Louie knows he is beautiful.

Margaret L. Been — March 21st, 2021

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