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Archive for the ‘Battling Closed Minds and Limited Imaginations’ Category

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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The Cliffs Were Weirdly Lit

I am greatly blessed with the gift of a visual mind.  When I read, the scenes described in a book loom large before my eyes in living color.  Although I dearly love words, it’s actually the pictures which words evoke that thrill me—or terrify me, whatever the subject of the text may be.  Plot and character development are “biggies” in successful fiction, but for me it is a sense of place and the scenery which rise up larger than life.  I’m perfectly happy with a virtually plot-less novel and one with few characters, if the book abounds in adjectives and adverbs which delineate a scene so vividly that I think I am really there—en plein air!

Visually oriented people are tremendously contented with being “armchair travelers”.  I can take extensive voyages, pilgrimages, and treks anywhere in the world—all from the comfort of my sofa or my “read in bed” 1/2 armchair which serves as a sit-up pillow.  (What an economical way to go!!! 🙂 )

One of my favorite American recent writers is Louis L’Amour.  Yes, Louis was tremendously skillful at plotting, and his characters are amazingly individualistic—never the fare of “canned” formula fiction.  But most of all, I love this author for his painterly writing.  And he is my first assignment in my self-programmed Autumn Painting Agenda of painting en plein air via literature.  With words before me, I can pick up my brush and render my take on the scene described.

The above watercolor on Arches (pronounced “ARSH”—it’s French) 140 lb. cold press paper was inspired by the following description in Louis L’Amour’s SACKETT BRAND:  “The sun was just below the horizon and the red rock cliffs were weirdly lit.  Out of the west a tiny puff of dust lifted, grew, and became a fast running horse.”

I’m very excited about painting passages of literature.  Additional Louis L’Amour scenes may be forthcoming, plus quotes from painterly poems—including my own poems.  From long before I found the courage to pick up a paint brush—in fact for most of my life since early childhood—I have happily painted with words.

Margaret L. Been, 2013

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Serenity Despite 1

I expect I’ll never get over my fascination with this strange, amazing stuff known as Yupo paper.  Not really paper, Yupo is a polypropolene surface which feels like glass.  Paint slides around on it, and never soaks in; thus many artists hate Yupo.  I’ve discovered that there is no neutral ground.  It’s either love or hate.  And I love!

I have two different Yupo artists on DVDs—one whose work I do not at all care for, and another whose work I love.  I won’t mention the name of the one whose art I can’t warm up to.  My dislike for this individual’s work is purely personal, biased by the fact that the artist achieves a kind of studied perfection and (what I consider to be too much) control which defies the magic of the watercolor-on-Yupo process.  I believe that photo realism is better displayed in actual photography—or by art on traditional supports such as watercolor paper for watercolors, pastel paper for pastels, and canvas for oils or acrylics.  Yupo is, quite simply, SOMETHING ELSE.  It’s like a cat—best when accepted on its own terms.

The Yupo artist whose work I love is a Florida woman, Taylor Ikin.  Her DVD, DANCING WITH YUPO, has inspired me ever since it arrived in my mailbox three years ago.  Were it a video cassette instead of a DVD, I’m sure it would be literally worn out by now. 

Taylor Ikin’s paintings can best be described by a simple word:  FREE!  Although her subject matter is always discernable (at least in what I’ve seen of her work), it conveys the essential freedom of the best abstract expressionism.  Taylor’s working method on Yupo is unique; even just beginning to get the hang of it has taken me a long time.  But one of many endearing charactistics of Yupo is that one can paint on it, and then wash part or all of the rendering off in order to start again.  There need never be a total failure if one has the patience to make numerous trips to the sink.

Here is Taylor Ikin’s method—unlike any I’ve ever witnessed anywhere else.  She begins with an idea (in the DVD she has photos of a waterfall in a beautiful Oregon forest), spritzes a bit of water on the Yupo, and digs into fresh-from-the-tube-paints—swiftly slathering great quantities in colors befitting the subject.  She slathers and smears the paint around with bold strokes (no dinky puttering here) and lets the paints overlap and blend.  Then, before beginning to define much, she lets the initial slathering dry (naturally, not with a blow dryer; heat might mess up the paper’s surface). 

When the Yupo is dry, or nearly so, Taylor begins to lift paint with a clean, damp brush.  She moves colors around, adds colors, etc.—gradually carving out her subject, while taking care to wipe off her brush before swipes.  Through a process of editing, drying, and editing many times the painting evolves.  Having begun with intuition, Taylor completes the work with careful consideration as to “What will make this a better painting?”.

I try this method again and again.  In the case of flowers it works for me, but I have yet to manage anything else.  My Yupo paper results are normally determined by paint on the support rather than my inclination.  I throw the paint, wait to see what happens, and invariably a subject emerges to surprise me.  But I’m constantly working on Taylor Ikin’s method.  At least I can come up with flowers that delight my heart!

When people come to my home for an art day, I like to introduce Taylor Ikin’s Yupo method.  The responses are radically polarized.  Free spirits LOVE Yupo paper, although admittedly they get as frustrated as I did at first exposure, and the control folks HATE it.  A familiar slogan certainly applies to art:  “Different strokes for different folks.”  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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A Place Within

I have been studying art history, and I’m constantly realizing how little I know while rejoicing in the fact that I have time to learn.  Especially since the Parisian Art Revolution which began in the 1860s when those “isms” which warm my heart began to develop in rapid succession, my head spins as I sort out the many fascinating developments of art. 

There is one particular aspect of pictorial language that resonates with me, a language which I understand from the inside out:  the language of color.  Here I’m thoroughly at home in my adopted country of visual art.  I’m on familiar ground, surrounded by artists with whom I could chat at a sidewalk café most anywhere in the civilized world. 

Perhaps that’s because my art is completely subjective.  Like my poetry, my art is a place where I’m free to express myself—a world within.  Even more than the components of light and shadow, typical of the Old Masters’ works, color speaks to me!  As effectively as poetry, color portrays that highly personal inner place—my soul. 

This art adventure parallels a new stage of life, a transition from country to community living.  Thirty three years ago, in the press of demanding circumstances, my husband and I moved to a country home where (like Thoreau at Walden) I could learn to live deliberately.  From that country home we moved to a wild location where there were more deer than humans, a visibly large population of black bears, and a substantial number of timber wolves.  Beautiful background for feeding the soul. 

I believe that God created each of us with a personality to be shaped and honed as He wills.  For nearly thirty years He shaped my world within through nature and solitude and (like Thoreau) I actually learned to live deliberately.  Then suddenly we were translated to a community setting.  My husband and I did what we never thought we could do; we moved from our haven of wild serenity to the accelerated pace of a city suburb—albeit quiet, and definitely not urban. 

And here I am, still living deliberately.  Meanwhile, what am I learning from art history?  I’m learning that art really is all about freedom, even freedom from the isms.  

For me, that means freedom to express my world within—specifically through COLOR

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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I have two artist friends who do not dislike YUPO paper, they hate it!  Now I was taught from little on, that one only uses the word “hate” for things that are truly horrible and hateful—like race prejudice or war.  But with YUPO, it seems there is no middle road.  It’s either “hate” or “love”.  I Love YUPO paper, with a capital “L“.

Still controversial in high end circles, the use of this synthetic painting ground has infused the art world with fresh energy and boundless potential.  YUPO paper is not really paper at all; it is a chemically created polypropolene* surface:  archival, tree-free, pollution free, bio-degradable, recyclable, and everything else one could want—environmentally speaking.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out just why the anti-YUPO people hate the product so vehemently:  it is nearly impossible to control.  If you begin your painting with a firm idea fixed in mind, great flexibility is needed to make the experience a happy one for you.  As the accomplished YUPO artist Taylor Ikin affirms, you simply have to let the paint tell you where it wants to go! 

(Many artists eschew watercolors altogether for their carefree, unpredictable qualities.  Traditional painting with watercolors is frequently considered to be “harder” than painting with oils.)

From the beginning of my adventures with YUPO, I discovered that a “still life” rendering on this ground is seldom “still”!  Waterfalls and turbulent skies abound, as paint slithers hither and thither on YUPO’s glass-like surface.  For those of us who don’t give a hoot for control, that’s the joy of it!

Although my YUPO paintings may look random and unplanned, I can assure you that time and consideration have gone into the completion of them.  Here is how I work on the paper which is not really paper: 

For starters, I spritz the YUPO with my WINDEX® bottle (filled with pure water, not the cleaning solution).  Into the blotches of water, I charge a few colors—normally primaries:  Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, and French Ultramarine Blue.  (Sometimes I substitute Permanent Magenta and Dioxazine Purple for the Alizarin and Ultramarine—and Lemon Yellow for the Cadmium.)

Next, I lift the sheet (I always paint on a flat surface—although I have an easel).  I flip, jiggle, and wiggle the YUPO back and forth,  causing the paint to run in rivulets and fan out in feathers.  As we all know, most any color can result from blending primaries—and any form can evolve from flipping, jiggling, and wiggling one’s paint.  With all of that, I’ve never seen the same outcome twice!

Then I return the YUPO to my table, to dry.  When the surface has dried, a subject or theme typically emerges in the form of a definitive shape or shapes:  rocks, flowers, rushing water, perhaps a cliff or a cavern, and frequently creatures—mythical or identifiable birds or animals, or something faintly homo sapiens (often leaning toward the humanoid).  Hence, my penchant for fantasy awakens.  I’m up and away—and frequently way out!

In the above piece, “Pirates’ Lair”, the initially emerging shapes were those gemlike forms in the approximate center and upper center—separated by vertical lines caused by rivulets of paint.  The other form fashioned by wet paint sliding around on the slick surface was that attractive yellow oval, complete with some of the stairs, toward the lower right of the picture.  With those features already in place, I could proceed with a theme created by the mingling of YUPO and watercolors:  a pirates’ lair of precious gems, with an escape—that ready-made oval of light with its built-in staircase.

I considered how I could amplify the existing features of the piece, adding enhancing shapes and eliminating anything extraneous.  With a clean, damp brush I phased out distracting elements—filling the resulting spaces with alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, and dioxazine purple (colors of gems I love—rubies, garnets, sapphires, and amethysts).  While the paint was still wet, I sprinkled those areas with 1) salt on the crimson parts on the left and 2) lavender-tinted cosmetic pigment powder on much of the purple paint.  (The pigment powder was lifted from my soap-making supplies; I use high grade cosmetic pigments to color my soap.  Not every artist has access to a saponifier’s stash, but happily I do have! 🙂 )

Finally, additional interest was needed in the top third of the painting, a bit to the left of center.  So I included another window in the lair—one more view to the way out, replete with its diminutive stairway.  Also, I inserted more stairs into the lower right oval of light.

All of this took about three hours to complete—three hours of actual work, not counting the drying time.  Thus you can see that a considerable amount of analysis, cogitation, and consideration are necessary “givens” between brush strokes, when using the capricious and fiercely independent medium of watercolor on that capricious and fiercely independent surface known as wonderful YUPO!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

*According to the Wisegeek website, “Polypropylene is a plastic polymer used in everything from carpets to car parts”.  And we know that includes art!

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Ever beautiful in my eyes, are collages which tell a story solely through color and texture.  There is something wonderful about art that doesn’t have to hide behind glass.  I finish my collages with an acrylic gloss medium, so they will last for at least many decades—and probably centuries.

A couple of years ago, an older woman who had been painting most of her life challenged my proclivity for imaginative art.  She said, “There is so much beauty out there.  Why would you want to paint anything other than a scene as it really is?”

I could have answered, “How wonderful that you can replicate nature exactly as it is.  I didn’t think even the most sophisticated cameras could do that!”  But my childhood training in graciousness would undoubtedly have stopped me.

Most of my abstractions contain enough familiar shapes to provide clues of reality.  Actually, I enjoy making some representational art as well.  On occasion I like to paint still lifes, cityscapes, or tree-lined country roads.  When I’m very tired, or when my disintegrating back rachets me out of bed late in the evening, I’ll seek refuge in painting a vase of flowers or the familiar territory of my patio garden.  There will invariably be a touch of fantasy, whimsy, or color that nature never intended—but the finished painting will clearly say “Flowers” or “Patio Garden”. 

My off-the-wall fantasy emerges on days when I’m supercharged.  Invariably, it is the off-the-wall renderings that please me the most.  They broadcast LIFE, ENERGY, COLOR, and FREEDOM—those inner qualities that keep me believing I’m young even when my family and doctors know better.

In any art conversation, we need to delineate between “art” and “ART“!  Lower case art is what I do—at entry level, of course.  Lower case art is what I see in our local galleries.  Lower case art exists at many levels—the bottom strata of beginners like I am, and the advanced layer of veterans who price their work in four digits on the left side of the period.

Then there is ART—those paintings hanging in museums which I’ll probably never visit in person.  I visit this kind of ART online, or via magazines, and I’m thrilled to shreds.  Given the size alone of much fine ART, a real life viewing might finish me off. 

Regarding upper case ART, I favor those works which somehow augment or supplement reality.  Monet was a master at turning gardens and ponds into breathtaking fragments of light and color; to me, his work is the ultimate in excellence and appeal.  But there are realists who move me to the bone as well.  Andrew Wyeth’s poignant “Christina’s World” is heartbreakingly sensitive, and I believe it ranks among the world’s greatest ART.  

We artists are known to grow, and sometimes change in the process.  We may use a brush indoors today, or pour our paint outside and spray it with a garden hose tomorrow.  We may paint barns one year, and strange creatures from the bottom of the ocean in the next.  We may paint a dog that looks like a dog, or—in my case—dogs that look more like people.  That may be because I’ve always viewed my dogs as people.  But that’s totally beside the point!  🙂

“Art” and “ART“!  There’s room enough on our planet for all of it—and for all artists, whether we are representational, moderately expressionistic, or thoroughly off-the-wall!  We should never have to defend what we like to paint, or why!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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Even though I will always consider myself a student and a “beginning artist”, my favorite books by artists are not the beginner’s “how to” books.  These are generic in content, and they often infer that there is “one way” to do art.  The basic and necessary info on how to run a wash, dry brush vs. wet on dry or wet on wet, plus the properties and characteristics of various paints, papers, and brushes, constitute only a few pages in any book—and those instructions may be found online, involving the printing out of perhaps 2 or 3 sheets of paper.  The basics do not warrant the price of purchasing an entire book, if that book is limited in scope.

Most of the material in a beginner’s “how to” book demonstrates how that particular author/artist puts a painting together, as if his or her method were set in stone.  The most typical approach is to draw a picture with a pencil, and then paint in the picture.  While I have never been claustrophobic in elevators or caves, I confess to wanting to scream and run when I look inside a “how to” book that stresses some sort of method of painting within lines.*  The line technique may produce a predictable look, but that look is simply not my heart’s desire.  For me it would be about as creative and individualistic as messing around with a “paint by number” kit.  The only way I can negotiate lines is to draw them for starters, and then ignore them by painting over (and outside) them!

The art books I love are in a special class by themselves.  They are deeply readable with profound insights on which to chew, and I read them over and over and over every single week of my life.  Rather than feeling trapped, I want to be challenged and recharged—eager to explore more, experiment more, try more, dream and imagine more, and push out any preconceived walls that might threaten to enclose me.   

The “how to” book presents recipes, and of course recipes have their place—especially in baking, where chemistry is involved.  But a thought provoking art book will progress beyond recipes, into the infinitely exciting and challenging world of ideas.  The “how to” art book will show you how to paint like someone else, but a meaty art book will encourage you to paint like you!

In an earlier post I mentioned WATERCOLOR FROM THE HEART—by fine artist, Barbara Nechis.  This book details the author’s philosophy of art, her sources of inspiration, and many samples of her exquisite paintings along with a description of different techniques she employs—with the idea of inspiring other artists to experiment and venture into their own uncharted territory:  in essence, to find that personal “voice”.  So helpful is this book to me, that I wish I could personally thank its author for the exilarating sense of freedom I derive from reading it.

Another treasure in my art library is A PASSION FOR WATERCOLOR—Painting the Inner Experience, by Stefan Draughon.  Like WATERCOLOR FROM THE HEART, Stefan Draughon’s book delineates her journey in finding her own way and discovering her very own art. 

Finally ABSTRACT AND COLOUR TECHNIQUES IN PAINTING, by Clare Harrigan is a gem which I read again and again.  Don’t be fooled by the word “techniques” in the book’s title.  The word far exceeds “how to”; rather it explores many dimensions of seeing, understanding, and expressing in terms of a variety of media—ultimately leading to the discovery of personal “techniques” which may or may not be considered, according to the reader’s choice. 

These favorite books along with DVDs—DANCING WITH YUPO DVD by Taylor Ikin, and WATERCOLOR FROM WITHIN by Barbara Nechis—comprise my ongoing Art Study Program.  More resources may be added as I find them, along with inspiring biographies of well known artists from the past.

I know that basics are important.  We need to learn the rudiments in order to develop skill—in art, and most everything else in life.  Techniques are worth studying.  But we should never be in bondage to someone else’s idea of what works in art.  That’s where reading way beyond the beginner’s “how to” book is essential.  Each artist is unique, every means of expression is individual, and every style is personal.  My reading must augment all that is in me to produce work which is totally my own—unique, individual, and personal—so that I can continue to derive tremendous soul satisfaction from making art! 

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

*I believe that most every child has an innate art spirit.  But teachers and parents who instruct eager children to paint or color within the lines compromise one of the greatest deterrents to human creativity. 

I know people who absolutely WILL NOT pick up a paint brush simply because they were scolded as youngsters, for “going out of the lines”.  Due to negative feedback in early years, these adults are bunged up and terrified to try anything which is not prescribed, dictated, or specifically outlined with “how to” instructions from another person.  The bunged up person has never known the joy of escaping from a potentially soul-destructive box!

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