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ink 1

Recently I attended a workshop on the use of alcohol inks.  The class was held in a studio a few lovely country miles from our home, in a neighboring community.  There were 15 of us in the workshop.

Alcohol ink only works its great magic on a non-absorbent surface, so we used my beloved Yupo paper for our introduction to the medium.  For our first of 3 renderings, the instructor talked us through a basic technique which we all followed; we made rings of dots from drops of the ink, in colors of our choice, then blew through a straw to move the ink around.  We added more blobs, blew some more, etc.

The beautiful freckles on the above sample, my 1st, were created by holding the surface of the work up horizontally and spraying horizontally from a bottle filled with Isopropyl Alcohol.  The bottle needs to be significantly up and away from the painting so that the drops will fall gently on the paint, rather than in torrents—which would send the colors flying in additional directions.

From these humble beginnings, each of us created our first alcohol ink art, and every painting was totally unique.  Clone-type workshops are currently in vogue, where a group of people follow a formula and all come up with nearly identical paintings—wine consumption notwithstanding.  I have heard raves about these gatherings, as if they were some kind of a Renaissance Revolution.  But conformity and uniformity in art are unspeakably dull, I think:  as lackluster as painting by number.  An art class such as the one I’m describing, where each participant makes something different and one of a kind, is a GOOD CLASS!

For our second rendering we were encouraged to make a close-up of flowers popping up out of grass.  The instructor had one of her paintings as a sample.  A few in the class mimicked the leader’s choice of colors and format, but most of us simply did our own thing.  Here is my #2:

ink 2

We concluded with one more piece.  My #3 was my very favorite, but alas; the next day, I sprayed all 3 paintings with a fixative, got the spray too close to the surface of #3, and caused the ink to revitalize and run.  So #3 got altered, not to my liking.  Nonetheless, it is pictured below:

(Try to imagine that the magenta blur on the top half of the painting is not really a blur, but rather a hint of foxgloves hanging like bells—as in the lair of the Foxy Gentleman in Beatrix Potter’s TALE OF JEMINA PUDDLEDUCK.)

ink 3

Blurred foxgloves nonetheless, the alcohol ink workshop inspired me.  In July, the same instructor will show us how to apply the medium to glass, metal, and ceramic tiles.  Meanwhile, I’m eager to share this newly-discovered art with my great-grandchildren* who live nearby.  Too much fun!

Margaret L. Been  —  May 29th, 2017

*Divided between Wisconsin, Florida, Minnesota, and California, Joe and I have 18 great-grandchildren.  And #19 is scheduled to appear in South Carolina on Christmas Day, 2017. 

Now wasn’t that a sneaky way to get in a big brag?!!!  🙂

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Heading Home for Good.jpg

I doubt there is any middle ground with Yupo paper.  One either loves it or hates it.  The “haters” are those artists who demand control of their paints, and always work with an unflappable agenda in mind.  These folks create beautiful works of abject realism, and often artists of palpable realism are highly trained and amazingly gifted—especially if they achieve high end realism in watercolors.  Everyone knows that chasing watercolors is a bit like herding cats.

I am neither highly trained nor amazingly gifted, and fortunately the art I love the most does not fall in the category of abject realism.  My favorite artists, the French Impressionists, Post Impressionists, Les Fauves, etc. who worked largely in oils were realistic to a degree, but always with an intensely personal voice.  For anything other than “personal voice” I would use a camera—and for me, that wouldn’t be half as much fun as getting out the Yupo and letting the paints fly hither and thither.

Last week my good friend and fellow artist, Vikki, and I shared an art day at our dining room table.  We began on Yupo.  My rendering was, for starters, terribly generic and dreadfully similar to stacks of other paintings I’ve done:  tree – space – tree – space;  leaves and blossoms on tree – space – etc; and plomp – plomp – plomp – ad nauseum.

Now I detest—and desire to always eschew—the plagiarizing of any thing or any person, including myself.  So that night I looked over this Yupo thingy, almost upchucked, sprayed it with my trusty water bottle, pressed plastic clingy food wrap onto the entire surface, and went to bed.

The next day I removed the cling film and VOILÀ!  Something I could further develop and live with:  the suggestion of a Viking ship* with sails, and lots of turbulence all over the place.  So much better than plomp – plomp – plomp!

I added delineation and definition via gouache to the vessel and its surrounding sky and water—leaving a plethora of confusion, color, and turbulence in the sails as if the depicted journey was, like many of life’s journeys, fraught with distractions, dead-ends, and disasters.

However I am always a positive-note person, so then I named the piece:  “Heading for Home the Last Time”—reflecting my blessed assurance in a glorious destination through it all, and eternal joy in the presence of my Lord Jesus.

Margaret L. Been, May 2017

*Because this painting is matted and framed to 12″ x 16″, it was too large to entirely fit in my scanner.  Thus the ends of the ship do not completely show on the print.  The original in its full size is more representative of an actual Viking ship.  Since my husband is descended from Vikings, and loves ships, I wanted to be somewhat realistic.  🙂

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Here is a bold venture:  a painting which turned out to be too large for the ready-made frames at our local craft stores.  I had grabbed an entire sheet of Yupo® and had a blast, painting and thinking I would crop the finished work to fit a 24″ x 20″ frame which I had on hand.  But I was pleased with the entire piece, and couldn’t figure out where, if any, I wanted to sacrifice part of it.

A brainy idea:  custom framing.  This is pricey indeed, and I will not do it very often.  But the result is satisfying.  Below you can see The Big One on a living room wall:

Wall 2

AW.JPG

Many layers of gouache were piled onto this painting, over washes of watercolor.  Actually called “Waterfall”, this rendering evokes memories of a real waterfall we had on our 14 plus acres up north, where we lived full time for eight years.

Our land bordered on two roads, one up and one down a hill.  Our home was on the downhill road, next to a lake.  In the spring, snow and ice melted from the above road and roared downhill to our back yard, over boulders and brush.  The sound was stirring, and so loud that it resonated through closed windows.  In the summer, the waterfall morphed into a trickling downhill creek—always refreshing to sit beside on one of the big boulders.

How beautiful to have mellow memories, and then to paint them (and have them framed)!

Margaret L. Been — April, 2017

NOTE:  Obviously I couldn’t scan this painting on my home scanner, so I photographed it with my cell phone.  Because the piece was framed with non-glare glass I could do that.  But I failed to get the entire bit into the top photo.  In the shot of the painting on the wall with its surrounding environment, you get a better idea of how the waterfall fans out at its base.

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Ex 4

Ex 2

Ex 3

EX 1.jpg

Years ago I giggled when I heard of art instructors telling workshop participants:  “The paper is talking.  Listen to the paper!”  But now, in my eleventh year of art-making and experimenting with different watercolor grounds, I no longer giggle.  Paper talks!  Paper says different things about the paints and techniques applied.  For a fun demonstration of this fact, I did an almost identical landscape on the above four papers using identical techniques, with a slight variation in my DaVinci artist grade* colors.

First, I applied clear water to a wide horizontal strip at the top, and a smaller swath on the bottom—leaving a dry streak between the wetted areas.  Then the top wetted strips were washed with blends of phalo and French ultramarine blues—and the sky areas were sprinkled with Kosher salt.  Avoiding the dry parts, I added color to the dampened below sections:  red, green, gold, and a bit of blue—while, as always, letting the paints mingle on the papers rather than on my palette.  On each piece, I pressed plastic food wrap onto the bottom area while the paint was still wet.

The papers represented are, from top to bottom:  1) Yupo paper with its especially unique voice, particularly in the way it talks back to applications of plastic wrap; Numbers 2) and 3) 140lb sketching pad paper—American Journey available online at CHEAP JOE’S, and Canson available at many chain craft stores; and 4) Arches 140lb cold press paper by the sheet, available at online art stores (and neighborhood fine art stores, if you have one.)  (Arches is pronounced “Arshe”.  Remember it’s French, and I may scream if you pronounce it like those golden thing-a-ma-jiggies on the MacDonald’s fast food signs!)

Yupo has no tooth whatsoever; rather it has a shiny, slippery surface so it will always make it’s own statement, without even trying to imitate.  You may notice a smoothness because of a lack of tooth on the 2 middle papers as well:  the sketch pad papers.  Also, note that on the 2nd of the smooth-surfaced sketch pad papers the food wrap film caused the paint to slide up and nearly obscure the strip which I had left white and dry.

The Arches 140lb cold press displays more texture around the salt, and somewhat more under the plastic film, due to the presence of tooth.  And on the Arches sample there is a charming bit of “cauliflowering” where wet paint has oozed into the dry area, also caused by tooth.

(Cauliflowers will normally be very prominent on paintings where wet colors collide on Arches 140lb cold press and comparable fine papers—especially when freshly painted strokes touch not-yet-dry parts.  Traditional watercolorists will practically do headstands to avoid cauliflowers, while I perform similar gymnastics just to make sure that I create and preserve them!  “Different strokes for different folks!”)

Different papers have different stories to tell.  By listening (LOOKING!) you can begin to ascertain what more you might want to add or change to complete the work, or do alternatively on another kind of paper.  In the above cases, done mainly for the purpose of illustrating variations in papers, I have done nothing more to any of the samples.

Margaret L. Been —  April, 2017

*My husband and I are blessed with many great-grandchildren.  (Dare I brag?  Well, I’m going to:  we are blessed with 18 of them—so far!)  Frequently, we have art days at our dining room table; what a delight!  Although I sometimes let the very young children slosh around on the economical sketch pad 140lb papers before launching into the high quality “Arshe” sheets which I nearly always use for my own finished work, I am terribly fussy about 2 aspects of art for all ages:  good brushes and artist grade paints.  No matter how young the beginner, good quality brushes and paints are essential.  Poor quality yields disappointing results, and the potential future joy in a pastime of art-making is not to jeopardized:  not at my table!!!

And that’s no April Fool!

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Here is another British watercolorist who inspires me again and again through her books and DVDs.  Ann Blockley creates unforgettable, unique scenes which are, in her words unlike the “candy box scenes” we are accustomed to seeing.  Rather they are imaginative, and deeply personal—inspired by sights, sounds, and fragrances of familiar places around Ann’s home in the Cotswolds.

While demonstrating techniques for using watercolor in tandem with India ink, water soluble crayons and ink sticks, salt, plastic wrap, texture and granulating mediums (employed with a relaxed realization that the tools and techniques may decide their own path on paper, different from that which the artist has foreseen) Ann has challenged me not only to experience nature with all my senses, but also to take a deeper look at my photo books and computer files of favorite places I have lived:  to let the essence of these scenes penetrate my mind and heart, with the goal of more effectively expressing beloved places in my art.

The photos recall a lifetime of favorite places including:  my small-town Wisconsin  childhood home with a quiet stream at the base of our apple orchard; the Wisconsin Northwoods and waters where we vacationed when our children were young and where Joe and I lived full time for eight years beginning in 2001; my “home away from home”, Colorado where I spent a year at school, where Joe and I lived during his stint at Ft. Carson, and where we have visited many times since; more western vacation areas—Northern New Mexico and the farthest NW corner of Washington State; and our present home in Wisconsin’s Southeastern  Lake District:  a pleasant blend of small communities northwest of Milwaukee with lakes, rivers, woods, and a few remaining farms.

I will never live long enough to even begin capturing on paper the abundance of beauty which has underscored and punctuated my 83 years.  But I’m making a start, greatly motivated by the work and encouragement of UK artist Ann Blockley.  Here are a few of many scenes which I’m studying with a mind to painting—not with photographic accuracy but rather in response to their essence, in the coming year:

my-childhood-river

my-prairie

goldenrod

autumn-bog

DIGITAL CAMERA

under-our-windows

river-bank

gorgeous-clouds

Margaret L. Been — 1/22/17

NOTE:  If you GOOGLE Ann Blockley’s website, you are in for a TREAT!  MLB

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quarry-and-mossflower

In recent months I have read mainly documentaries, political commentary, and eschatological tomes.  Very riveting and educational.  But I’d all but forgotten how much fun it is to read for FUN!  One should never forget that!

A deal via Amazon set me back on track:  The first 20 novels of Brian Jacques’ REDWALL series.  There are 2 more, which I hope to find another time.  I had read 4 or 5 of these years ago, and never realized there were 22 in the entire series.

I began by re-reading the first book, REDWALL.  Again I was captivated, enthralled, and totally charmed.  The characterizations, the cliff hanging plot which never gets boring, the hilarious satire—I love these books.  As a child, all my favorite fiction featured “talking animals”.  Some things don’t change!

What I’d forgotten about the REDWALL BOOKS, and am so delighted to recall, is Brian Jacques’ writing: packed with visual imagery.  The scenes literally come alive on the stage in my head!  The language is just plain painterly.  Maybe that has hit me more bombastically than it did when I read these books back in the 90s because then I was not yet into making my own visual art.  Playing with paints has opened the big wide world, and especially the world of the arts, to proportions of which I’d never dreamed possible.

I finished the first book late last evening, and couldn’t sleep because I was so inspired to paint what I hope will be a series of renderings to reflect the REDWALL novels.  Above is the first painting:  THE QUARRY AND MOSSFLOWER WOOD.

Margaret L. Been — November 26th, 2016

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