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Archive for the ‘Beautiful Autumn!’ Category

Red Cabin in Winter

Our Wisconsin Summer lasted far longer than usual this year, and then after a week of welcome rain we had more Summer, a quick frost, and now the most gorgeous Indian Summer.  The leaves are finally turning—weeks beyond the norm for us, in fact many have blown down without turning.  What a poignant, breathtaking time of year.

Yet we know the “inevitable” is literally around the corner.  I confess that I no longer welcome winter like I did as a child.  Okay, the first snowfall sends me reeling with delight—and I’ll be out with my camera when that happens.  And the second, and the third—hopefully through Christmas.

I don’t even mind the January cold that much, although it’s no fun to be out and about at minus 10 degrees.  Wool is my good friend, after years of raising sheep, knitting, weaving, and spinning—and continuing to spin and knit in the present tense.

Yes, wool!  But a heartfelt “NO” to the weeks of darkness before and after the winter solstice.  Around solstice time, I print out the length of day charts for January, February, and March—and consult the stats almost daily until early March when that sudden surge of light turns into abject exuberance.  Then I recycle the chart papers for another year when I plan to print out more.

This year I’m getting ready for the inevitable with winter paintings.  Several other local artists and I supply a bank, a family restaurant, a chiropractic clinic, and a hospice with paintings which we change every three months around the year.  Last December the person in charge of coordinating the displays called me and requested some winter art.  I protested that “I don’t do winter because winter is simply not my favorite season”—but my resistance failed and, on very short notice, I produced some winter art—specifically the below rendering titled “Up North”.

Up North 4

“Up North” turned out to be one of my favorites, maybe because I love the vicinity of Wisconsin Up North with a passion.  I also managed some wintery mountain scenes for the remaining local gallery sites—but they are not my favorites.

Now certainly one could rotate paintings from site to site.  It’s fairly unlikely that someone visiting a hospice in Oconomowoc would also be sitting in a bank boardroom in Waukesha—at least in the same time period.  Unlikely, but not impossible.

Maybe a bit of repetition would be helpful.  But no, I’m insisting on fresh exposure everywhere in every season.  I love the motivation, the actual work involved, and knowing that each piece will have a singular viewing.  Inventory is building and I have a lot of framed paintings on hand for anyone who may want to tour my home studio.

So unless we get snow tonight, this year’s winter art will be ready for the first snow.  The watercolor/gouache painting at the top of this entry is a sample.  It’s name is “Red Cabin in Winter”.  I guess part of me will always be “Up North”.

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Karen's Patio

Recently a friend posed a question that has inspired me to ponder.  Knowing I’d only been making art for a few years, she asked, “Do you think you are getting any better at it?”

After pondering long and hard, I keep coming up with the same answer:  “No, I’m not improving—only changing.  And definitely growing!”  Not only growing in the sense of experimenting with my paints and stretching into areas I never dreamed of before, but I think I’m growing as a human!  After all, the intensive reading of art history and studying centuries of great art (mostly via books and periodicals, not galleries) cannot fail.  Learning any new thing will result in growth in comprehension and appreciation—and that growth fans out to impact many other areas of life.

I’m learning to see with fresh eyes—similar, perhaps, to the eyes of a child.  I’m discovering beauty in off-beat places—like the weathered and rustic back alley behind the stores in our up-north small town, and a case of colorful gelato in our local coffee bistro.  Just last week hundreds of teensy tadpoles slithering about in the shallows of the Rock River set my mental paintbrush slithering on hypothetical 140 lb. cold press paper.

More than ever before, I think in pictures and translate mental pictures into shapes not readily discernible to anyone but me.  When I paint a picture from my mind, or from an experience I want to remember, one or more facets of that scene or experience will surface in colors which convey mood and emotions.

Below you will see an example of painting an experience—a rendering which I shared awhile back, and am repeating in this instance because it shows the technique of expressing one or more facets to tell a story, rather than trying to replicate a scene in photographic detail:

Jamie and Leo's Day

The experience dates back to a wedding in September, 2013.  Family members and friends of our granddaughter Jamie and her sweetheart Leonardo were waiting outside of St. John’s mini cathedral in Delafield, Wisconsin for that moment when we could enter the church for the ceremony.  Anyone who has experienced the best of a typical Wisconsin autumn can reconstruct the scene in his or her mind:  warm sunshine, crisp air, blue sky, and the sleepy droning of cicadas.  The day—mellow beyond words.  Jamie and Leo—even more mellow and precious than the day.  When a scene or experience is mellow beyond WORDS, only a picture will suffice.

So in this rendering—“Jamie and Leonardo’s Day”—you will see sunlight, the Norman architecture of the St. John’s cathedral and campus, and the suggestion of trees in early autumn while the grass is still summer-green.  I could not begin to paint Jamie and Leo, but I could record the happiness I experienced at their wedding.

Growing through art.  Along with growing in ways to see, I’m growing in a tolerance for messes.  Life in process can be messy, but I’ve always been a neat freak.  From the onset of my art adventure, I’ve had to relax with messes and even enjoy them when they reflect a work in process.  There are paint stains on the carpet around my art table, and splatters on the strip of drywall behind where I work.  Part of the décor!  Evidence of a life lived with the exuberance of freedom from fussing and fretting about things that don’t matter!

No, not better.  Just changing and growing.  The painting at the top of this page is a rendering of my friend Karen’s patio.  I did this back in 2007, from a photo that I’d taken when visiting Karen.  I had my original painting reproduced at a print shop, to a place mat size, and then laminated—so we have placemats of Karen’s patio.  I also gave her some of the placemats, and she recognized her patio.

Were I to paint the same scene today it would be vastly different—not only because Karen is always assembling fresh details of vintage beauty in her home and garden, but because today I would not even dream of trying to reproduce a scene camera style.  Certain features of the patio décor would grab me, and I would express those features—colored by my mood and the essence of that day.

The mention of “mood” brings me to the realization that perhaps only in the arts can one’s subjective mood be the prominent and dominating factor.  In our everyday world, objectivity is absolutely essential—for survival, for accuracy in our work, in our understanding of other people, and for a correct view of life itself.

Contrary to much current thought, we live in a world which is objectively BLACK AND WHITE—in terms of TRUTH AND NON-TRUTH, GOOD AND EVIL, RIGHT AND WRONG.  But in the arts, we can express with subjectivity—life as we see and experience it, uniquely from the inside out.  Considering the countless benefits of (and reasons for) art, perhaps that is one of the greatest:  the arts are windows to subjective aspects of the human experience.

No, not better.  As far as I can see, just changing and growing.  At age 80, I’m blessedly free of a competitive spirit in my work.  Thus, art making is pure pleasure and excitement for me—devoid of any sense of struggle or drive which would mar my freedom, spontaneity, and joy.  If I can express just those three things—freedom, spontaneity, and joy—I’m delighted.  And completely contented!

Here is a very recent example called “Blue and Old Pottery”—done in gouache (with hints of watercolor and acrylic) on Yupo paper.  Not better, just changing and growing.  And different!  That’s part of the excitement of art.  No two paintings are alike!  🙂

blue and old pottery 2

Margaret L. Been — July, 2014

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Jamie and Leo's Day

For most of my life, I have recorded moments—joyous and otherwise–in words.  In the process of experiencing life, my main thought was always, “I have got to write this!”

Now my entire being has undergone a paradigm shift.  I’m still the same person, and I experience life as deeply (if not more so) as before, but my main response to the moment has become, “I have got to paint this!”

The above selection is titled “Jamie and Leonardo’s Day”.  Our granddaughter, Jamie, married her Mexican sweetheart, Leonardo, on September 28th, 2013.  The autumn day was quintessentially perfect with a turquoise sky and soft breezes soughing in ancient trees above our heads as we visited outside the Delafield, Wisconsin, St. John’s Northwest Military Academy replica of a Norman cathedral— while waiting for the wedding ceremony to begin.

As we waited and chatted with family members and friends, I kept thinking:  “I have got to paint this moment!”  Thus the result, featured above.

I love the Episcopal Church’s tradition of red doors to symbolize the shed blood of Christ, so an arched red door was foremost in the rendering—just as the arched red door stands out on the gorgeous mini Norman style cathedral in our nearby little town of Delafield.  Also vital to me was a hint at the Norman architecture (which characterizes the entire St. John’s campus).  And in the painting, sunlight predominates—just as it did on Jamie and Leonardo’s day.  Likewise, I pray and believe sunlight will prevail in Jamie and Leonardo’s life together!

The entire day and evening were memorable beyond description.  The reception was held at a nearby fine dining restaurant on the lake which borders our communities.  A Mariachi band played faithfully and fervently for hours.  At one point, the groom donned a huge sombrero, and sang romantically to his bride (in Spanish, of course) while gazing into her eyes.  Most of us had not realized that Leo could sing.  He’s very good!

Rather than clinking knives on crystal to evoke kisses, each guest had a maraca to shake—painted pink, with Jamie and Leonardo’s name and the date to remember.  Mothers and grandmothers gathered up the abandoned maracas at the end of the party, to share with little people who always love to shake something.

The old saying applies:  “A good time was had by all!”

Margaret L. Been, 2013

For those of you who may appreciate a bit more definition, here is a photo of the St. John’s Catherdral.  The photo was taken in winter, so you’ll need to imagine the glory of a September day.  But the beauty of the architecture stands out clearly in winter.

St. John's 1

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A week ago we were sweltering in Southern Wisconsin’s famous heat and high humidity.  Then suddenly we experienced the annual turning, always around Labor Day weekend and always exciting to behold! 

Now the days are once again crisp, and the wind is whooping through our “wind tunnel”—that alley space between our condo building and the units across the way.  I love the wind tunnel and the whooshing, rattling noise it makes as it passes through, bombarding the aluminum panels outside our bedroom wall as we drift off at night.

The park beyond our front door has once more come to life with fall activities.  It was a mecca for softball games and happy gatherings through July, but grew strangely quiet during the August weeks of brutal heat and humidity.  Now the park hums once more.  We never lived beside a park before, and can’t get over how much fun it is.  We take our visiting great-grandchildren to the playground there, and they’re convinced that it is our very own park!

The path around the park will continue to be a haven for dog walkers, until winter descends with its treacherous ice.  As well as walking our Baby Dylan around the park, we relax in our living room, or on the patio, and watch the dogs trotting by.  Dylan responds to the sight and smell of every canine with a low, ominous rumble from deep inside his throat.

My garden still thrives when watered, but it is desperately trying to say, “Please, let me go to bed now”—with the exception of the newly planted mums who love the cool autumn air, and promise to color our sweet little world for many weeks to come.

Suddenly I have this craving for anything to do with apples—apple cider, applesauce, apple crisp dessert, and that great fruit all by itself.  Our local apples will mature to tangy excellence after the first frost.

There are more kinds of apples than (as my mother would have said) “you can shake a stick at.”  My all-time favorite always has been (and will be) the honorable MacIntosh.  Maybe that’s due to shades of my Scottish heritage surfacing after all these centuries.

We have a tradition of going appling with our son, Eric, and his wife, Cheri.  We did this for years when their children were growing up.  What memories we have of apple outings with the children.  When we moved up north for 8 years, I grieved every autumn—thinking of not being able to go appling with Eric and his family. 

But now we are back here again, and—as of last autumn—the tradition was resumed,  Although their children (3 of our 13 grandchildren!) have grown up and gone on about their lives, Eric and Cheri look forward to appling as much as Joe and I do.  Come the first frost, we’ll be off to Walworth County with our loved ones—appling again!

Margaret L. Been, ©2010

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