Archive for the ‘Books can be the greatest art teachers!’ Category

Art Tools

Here are some more items in my bag of tricks.  Working down through the horizontals:  a large comb for making streaky marks*.  I also use a small, rat tail comb; a tooth brush for spattering wet paint; tongue compressors—I can’t recall where in the world I got those things but they are great for measuring and marking on those rare occasions when I use a pencil; a candle for creating areas of wax resist; a defunct credit card for scratching lines—making streaky grasses, etc; a knitting needle for making branches; and a jar lid mainly for making moons.  I have several different size jar lids.

The verticals are craft Q tips of which I found hundreds—I think a lifetime supply—at a church rummage sale years ago, and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser which rubs out areas of paint for various effects.

Not pictured are masking tape for masking out trees or buildings in order to preserve the white paper while painting a background, facial tissue for dabbing out clouds in a wet sky wash, and probably some other odds and ends which momentarily escape me.

I have always been a pack rat (albeit a very well organized one) and it’s so much fun to have an ongoing excuse for packing stuff in!  Fortunately, I grew up with parents who let me have my own bit of Heaven in my childhood bedroom (probably because I was compulsively tidy); and for nearly 64 years I’ve been blessed with a husband who also enjoys being a pack rat.  It could be disastrous if we disagreed on what is important in life! 🙂  MLB

*One of my favorite artists whose books and DVDs I treasure, British artist Shirley Trevena, introduced me to the comb streaking trick.  Shirley’s still life watercolors are intriguing.  Shirley says what she aims for is “an incredibly messy painting with lots of drips and blobs”, and she demonstrates how she “destroys” a painting—often with a comb streaked through wet paint, blurring the colors.  Shirley’s “incredibly messy”, “destroyed” paintings are gorgeous—whereas when I try her tricks the results are often simply incredibly messy and destroyed.  Good grief!!!

Anyway, for a treat you can GOOGLE “Shirley Trevena, artist”.  You won’t be disappointed!  🙂


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I often giggle when I think of what comes out of my studio in contrast to the work of gifted, well-schooled artists!  Highly skilled artists may be among the most generously-encouraging-to-beginners group of professionals on earth.  We all are included in a vastly diverse culture where there is a place for most anyone at any level and inclination.

But I have a library of art books—both “how to” tutorials by well-known artists, and tomes of art history and criticism.  I love to study these books, and I do know the difference between classic art and smoke and mirrors—my off-the-cuff “hashtag” for a bag of tricks which I am delighted to share with any beginner who is eager to paint and willing to spend hours each week, building an inventory of paintings in his or her studio.

My 12″ x 16″ rendering below is titled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”, and it is composed of tricks that my seven-year-old great-grandsons could perform if they decided to sit or stand still long enough,  I began by slathering gesso on the 140# cold press paper to create rocky slopes.  After the gesso dried, I sprayed the surface with water and applied different watercolors—jiggling the paper so the paints could blend and do their own thing,  When those paints dried, I streaked a thinned application of white gouache here and there to add mystery and a sense of age to the rocks.  Voilà.  Smoke and mirrors.

A Rock and a Hard Place

The next example displays a couple of favorite tricks:  plastic wrap and salt.  (I use Kosher salt, but any will do—creating slightly varying effects).  The paper used here is Yupo, that glass-like surface which is not really paper, but rather an amalgamation of chemicals.  (There is no middle ground with Yupo.  Artists either love it or hate it.  The lovers are the “let it all hang out” group of which I am one, and the haters are the perfectionists who do well with lots of control.)

Where you see crinkles and wrinkles, that is where the plastic wrap was applied.  It takes a long time for the paint to dry under plastic wrap on Yupo, and less time on a rag surface which is absorbent.  The spots and phased-out parts were done with salt.  The salt technique is far more spectacular on rag paper than on Yupo.  The painting at the top of this page shows the result of salting the wet paint on rag paper.  Salt can make snowflakes, clouds, stars, dandelion fluff, and many additional effects,

Thus you can see that whenever art making is a person’s dream, it can be done.  And every dream will materialize differently—as each of us is unique.  What fun we can have, sharing our ways to implement the smoke and mirrors!  🙂

Smoke and Mirrors.JPG

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Blood Moon 1

Two nights ago, around 12:30 a.m., I woke up and as I often do in summer, wandered into our living room to open the patio door and step out to enjoy our nocturnal garden and courtyard.  I was “stun-gunned” by the sight that greeted me:  a blood red moon rising in a bluish purple and red sky, over the wildlife preserve to the east beyond our park.  I should have run for the camera, but—to employ a corny fictional expression—I stood transfixed.

The red moon was not fiction.  In the sky, traces of distant lightning flashed.  Minutes later the lightning moved in close, followed by gentle thunder and a steady, quiet rain which lasted until dawn.  Meanwhile, I went back to bed, thinking the red color had something to do with the stormy atmosphere—not surprising given our infamous SE Wisconsin summer humidity.  The previous day had been a scorcher.

The next day I couldn’t get that mysterious and almost eerie scene out of my mind, and I began trying to capture the experience of that sky at my paint table.  Above is my first attempt.  As I worked, I recalled reading in the Bible about blood moons.  Joel 2:31 states:  “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”

Some preachers have connected recent blood moons with immediate fulfillment of the End Times prophecy.  But many diligent Bible scholars agree that this concept does not hold water.  In his 2014-published book, BLOOD MOON RISING, Mark Hitchcock wrote:  “. . . don’t get caught up or carried away in any speculation about some great cataclysmic event in 2015 surrounding the appearance of the blood moons.”

Obviously we are now after the fact of 2015, and although filled with plenty of global tragedy 2015 was very sadly just like many other years—unless you call the appearance of Donald Trump in the political circus a “great cataclysmic event”.  (He may think he is exactly that, but I for one do not.)

Regardless, the sight of a blood moon was a rare privilege which I’ve never before experienced, and may never enjoy again.  I did a bit of GOOGLING on the subject, and see that the June, 2016 phenomenon has something to do with the full moon occurring around summer solstice.  Not being a scientist, I can’t divulge any more than that from what I read—except that the Algonquin Indians called the June full moon the “Strawberry Moon”, not due to color but rather for the obvious reason of ripening strawberries.  That was an understandable and enjoyable bit of information.

Actually the June moon I witnessed did look something like a huge strawberry.  My subsequent attempts to improve the above “start” of a painting are even worse than the first, and I now wish I’d quit while I was ahead.  Here are Blood Moons 2 and 3:

Blood Moon 2

Blood Moon 3

Pretty awful.  I should have known not to round out the moon and create variety in the sky with (of all things) yellow and blue paint.  Those colors on top of the red turned the sky a yucky brown.  Duh!  Yellow and blue make green, and green plus red equals brown!  My great grandkids know that, because I demonstrated it for them.

I’ll keep working on this, and if not satisfied I’ll simply begin again.  Maybe I’ll let it all dry, and then try remedying the mess by adding water soluble oils.  Artist Barbara Nechis shares that she always finishes a painting, even when she knows it isn’t going well.  She finds that working on a perceived failure gives her the freedom to attack it wholeheartedly—and sometimes the results are surprisingly acceptable.  Barbara encourages her readers (and DVD viewers) by adding “It’s only a piece of paper”.   🙂

So I will continue messing about with my piece of paper, or I’ll start a new one of the blood moon.  If I come up with something frame-able, I’ll post it on this blog.  But please do not hold your breathe.  If you never see this effort again, we’ll move on to something else—maybe more flowers.

Wise artist, Barbara Nechis has also said, “When we try to compete with nature, nature always wins.”

Margaret L. Been, June 27th, 2016

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Rustic Vase 3.jpg

. . .  just keep on painting   Perhaps I’m not the only artist who occasionally hits a wall—the wall of questions and doubts.  We writers call that “writers block”, something I have never allowed to discourage me; I kept right on writing through the block.

So it’s logical to approach a painter’s wall the same way, and keep right on painting through the wall.  While doing this recently, I had the following dialogue with Myself:


Myself:  Who am I to call myself an artist anyway?  I simply began painting 10 years ago, at age 72.  Never went to art school.  Never thought I had any talent—just a love for art.

I:  Shame on you for thinking that way.  You, of all people.  You are always telling others that everyone has an artist inside them, and they should have the courage to try it if they have the desire!

Myself:  But lately it seems that I am plagiarizing myself.  All I’m painting are flowers, and sometimes I wonder if flowers are the only thing I’m certain that I can paint!

I:  Lots of people paint the same thing over and over.  And lots of artists love to paint flowers.  Have you ever heard of Monet?

Myself:  Are you comparing me to Monet?  Shame on YOU!

I:  Of course none of us is comparable to him.  We are all different, and that’s the way God intended us to be.  But we can study the GREATS, and learn from them!  You are always telling other people to do that.  Yikes!  Why don’t you practice what you preach?

Myself:  Okay.  I get it.  I should encourage myself the way I like to encourage other people.  I’ll keep plugging along with my brushes.  I do love art with a PASSION!

I:  Good for you.  Now you are talking sensibly!  And even if you are on a flower painting roll, you can look for a different emphasis—like varying your colors or background, and finding a fresh focus of interest along with the flowers.  Then suddenly you’ll inadvertently (or maybe on purpose!) stick a cabin, fencepost, river, or trail in among the flowers.

Whew!  That’s over.  This week Myself took the advice of I, so We will switch to the first person voice.

I spent a couple of evenings browsing through my flower art books to see what might make a difference.  The idea of working on the background (or in the above result, the surround) grabbed me.  As always, I let my colors blend on the paper—and then added every texture agent I had on hand (salt, granulating medium, texture medium, crackle medium, dabbing with tissue, etc.).  That was so much fun, so I gave the vase the same cavalier treatment.  And named the painting “Rustic Vase”.

Now I will pass on some encouragement to YOU—the Reader*.  If you tend to hit a wall, don’t let it slow you down.  Just keep on painting through the wall!

Margaret L. Been — June 9th, 2016

*My stats page shows that you Readers are all over the world—on every continent and on many islands as well. This excites me more than I can say.  🙂

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White Roses 3

What do St. Bernard dogs, 911, and gouache have in common?  You’ve got it:  RESCUE.  The above rendering was rescued by gouache from having an unsightly case of the speckles, kind of like art measles.

A rescue job was necessary on this floral because whenever I love something I tend to go over the top, refusing to quit.  This characteristic has resulted in nearly 63 years of a great marriage, a lifelong addiction to maple sugar candy (those little maple leaves obtainable from the Vermont Country Store), and whatever painting trick has captured my heart.

I’d read about “color sanding” in books by Northern Wisconsin fine artist, Karlyn Holman but I only tried it recently.  The trick requires watercolor (or ink) pencils and sandpaper or a fingernail emery board.  When a colored pencil is shaved over wet paint, delightful speckles form—delightful that is until the entire page is covered with speckles.  I managed to do this on the above painting until suddenly the piece was (no kinder way to put it) butt ugly.

Of course great professional artists such as Karlyn Holman always recommend circumspection and moderation when it comes to tricks.  And let’s face it, the great artists don’t even need tricks; they only use them cautiously for a bit of extra fun.  🙂  Just leave it to me, to carry the “fun” to extremes.

But then, there’s always gouache to the rescue!

Margaret L. Been  —  March 5, 2016 


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Wisconsin Winter Dogwood 2

All the years (nearly ten!) that I’ve been making art have been satisfying, but without a doubt 2015 has been the most productive for me so far.  I’ve done more experimenting, begun to work larger (20″ x 24″), and enjoyed the privilege of exhibition opportunities including changing and hanging art four times a year at a restaurant, bank, chiropractic clinic, and hospice, and currently displaying twenty-nine watercolor and gouache paintings at a fun and trendy local restaurant.

I’m in awe of this, because it has simply “happened”.  I never dreamed of being able to display my work, and never pushed in that direction.  When we moved to the Lake Country Northwest of Milwaukee six plus years ago, I joined a group which features all artistic disciplines—mainly to get acquainted with writers and poets and find opportunities for poetry readings.

For one meeting of the group (the Pewaukee Area Arts Council) we were asked to bring visual art for a kind of “show and tell”.  I really stressed out about this.  Should I or should I not even dare to bring a few paintings to share?

For several years I’d studied via books and DVD tutorials.  I’d absorbed some basics.  I’d spent countless hours every week playing with my paints and brushes, because making art had become an overwhelming passion for me—as it continues to be today, ever-green and ever-growing.  I had consistently challenged myself with goals for trying new ideas and a variety of different methods and materials.  I’d embarked on a study of art history and past artists—an ongoing, fascinating research of which I never tire.

But no, I hadn’t considered that I’d ever share my work beyond a circle of family members and friends who would encourage whatever I do simply because they love me.  I was making art because it brought joy to my heart, beyond my ability to express.

With misgivings and absolutely no positive expectations, I did decide to bring three framed paintings to that meeting.  In retrospect, I was something like Hans Christian Andersen’s UGLY DUCKLING.  I saw the swans and they were so beautiful that I was inexplicably drawn to them, even though, in a metaphorical duckling’s motif they might “kill” me.

Well, my fellow artists did not “kill” me; they responded with enthusiasm and encouragement.  Suddenly I realized that even though inexperienced and limited, I might also be some kind of a swan.

While ever mindful that these new and exciting opportunities are Heaven sent—pure grace to a lady of advanced years—I can definitely say that 2015 has been a very good year for art.  In retrospect, all of my years have been good in one way or another—dating back to 1933.

MC 3Meanwhile:  Happy New Year to you from Joe, Margaret, and the sweetest corgi imaginable—Dylan Been.

Margaret L. Been — December 29. 2015

NOTE:  The above painting is titled “Wisconsin Winter Dogwood”.

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NIght Blooming 2

. . . is SPRING!  That is enough to spring most anyone out of bed in the morning!!!  When daylight saving starts in a few days, I’ll think I am home free—bounding into my favorite half of our Wisconsin year. 

I have a goal in mind.  I love to walk; my desire is to carry a sketch book, and sketch along the way.  Also, I want to take more photos in my gardens—catching new spring buds, mature flowers, and later in the season those beautiful seedpods.

Suddenly flowers are dominating the art corner in our bedroom.  I’m extra-inspired to do flowers thanks to Ann Blockley’s exciting book, EXPERIMENTAL FLOWERS IN WATERCOLOUR.  For breathtaking views of Ann Blockley’s art, you can GOOGLE “UK Artist Ann Blockley”.  Her blog can be accessed through the website, as well—and it’s delightful to read. 

Along with a focus on flowers, Ann has inspired me to sketch and photograph subjects for painting—landscapes as well as close-ups.  I’ve read the same protocol from other artists, but finally the idea is beginning to make sense to me.  I’m also beginning to keep a log with each painting, listing the colors I use plus additional mediums such as acrylic ink, acrylic paints, water-soluble colored pencils, etc.  You can detect a desire for more discipline in my approach to painting.  Access to galleries has motivated me to make more art more efficiently, while growing and learning.

As for the sketching, I know that I can’t get any worse than I am now at it—so some improvement is bound to follow.  The strolling will be a joy in itself.  And I already have a lot of garden shots to pore over for inspiration.

Below is a favorite one, and someday I hope to be able to paint this little fellow:

Little Treasure

He must have been just out of the nest, with absolutely no fears in his head.  I stroked his back; his fur was like silk.  He sat docilely, as if he enjoyed the stroking.  Then I ran indoors to fetch my camera.  When I returned to the garden he was still there waiting to be stroked again.

Our neighborhood prairie preserve:

My Prairie

And a character who came calling one Sunday afternoon when we lived up north:


I didn’t try to pet that guy.  I took his picture while sheltered by our living room window.

Anyway, if I choose to render any of the above on my Arches or Saunders Waterford paper, the subjects won’t look anything like they did to begin with!  🙂  So why not just dive in?!

Margaret L. Been, March 2015

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