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Acrylic2

Back after a long hiatus—time enough for a new hip, a lazy summer, and plenty of physical therapy.  But artmaking was a huge part of the therapy.  Standing is easier for me than sitting, no matter what.  And regardless of whatever this body is up to, if I can create something I am a happy woman!

Above is a 20″ x 24″ painting that should be titled, “Love/Hate”.  Being a bit vociferous about opinions, I have long claimed that I hate acrylics.  They have seemed so fake appearing and stupid to me—stubborn, inflexible, hard to shove around, incapable of producing those wonderful watercolor “cauliflowers”, and totally lacking in subtlety.  Especially when gouache can do the job of building depth and texture, although gouache needs to be preserved with glass or an acrylic (there is that word!) fixative–and acrylic paint needs only itself for permanence.

Then, amazingly, I came across books and a DVD by a new-to-me British artist:  Soraya French who has painted in most all media, but absolutely LOVES acrylics.  The material struck me as somewhere out there, to begin with.  But after reading, re-reading, viewing, and reviewing, “somewhere out there” closed in on me.  Soraya French has pried open my closed mind.

I recently completed “Love/Hate” and still was not sure which it was:  love or hate.  The piece went through many mutations, layer upon layer, changes of theme and subject matter, as well as variations of color dominance.  But hey, that’s acrylics:  layer upon layer.

While the painting was at its final stage of dampness, I truly thought it was tacky—like something one might win at the county fair for knocking off a row of mechanical ducks.  But suddenly the piece was dry and it took on a whole new life.  I kept staring at it, as it penetrated my psyche.  Hate disappeared, and Love became at least a “Like”.  The painting is now hanging in our dining room.

Love/Hate has a new name.  My original idea was to suggest autumn foliage.  The foliage changed to bare branches for winter, sailboat masts on a stormy sea, finally returning to the tree motif—but with an attitude more like spring than autumn.  So the new title is “An Autumn That Looks Like Spring”.  Fitting, as we have had a gloriously warm/hot September, and today is once again in the high 70s.

For me, trees are like lilies and haystacks to Monet—although repetition is where the comparison ends between Claude and me.  Rather ridiculous to mention the two of us in the same sentence.  But I am as genuinely obsessed with trees, as Monet was smitten with his favorite subjects.

Over the summer and my surgery-recovery-period I did some more trees, with a focus on texture and application of mixed media along with watercolors and gouache:  soft pastels, hard pastels, oil pastels, India ink, Derwent Inktense Sticks, and water soluble crayons (all of artist quality as anything less would prove disappointing).  Here is some of that harvest of trees:

TT2.jpg

More Tree Textures 2

Oil Pastels.JPG 2.JPG

In closing, I urge you to check out Soraya French’s website.  Another inspiring British lady—who has re-opened the doors to individuality, personality, and freedom in art.

Whereas from around the turn of the 19th/20th century right up to a couple of decades ago, freedom of expression in art was “trendy” (almost a given), in recent years there has been a definite swing back to photo-realism:  creating recognizable art such as “The Old Village Bridge”, “Apple Farm”,  “Country Church”, or realistic city scenes.

In our Wisconsin neighborhood, a familiar scene is the church with three spires high on a rural hill.  The site is called, “Holy Hill”.  It has been painted realistically more times than I can imagine, and a rendering of Holy Hill is recognized by anyone who has been around here for any time at all.

Beautiful!  Such art requires great skill, and deserves its place of respect.  But it is not, generally speaking, the art I desire to have much of on my walls.  More and more, I am drawn to mystery, unanswered questions, and the energy of abstraction–or semi-abstraction with a touch of realism, all with a focus on being as beautiful as possible.

In the arts, I see no value in trying to reproduce the ugliness of much of the world.  Art is a precious commodity, a timeless gift in keeping with great music and poetry—bestowed upon us to lift our souls.  Yes, we can and should portray all of life in terms of great sadness and poignancy as well as great joy; but the means of portrayal can be beautiful and the message behind the means, one of hope and anticipation of a better world.

Isn’t that why our Creator God has allowed us to reflect a token of His creativity, by making things with the gifts and resources He has provided for us—that we might in some tiny way attempt to fashion a better world?

Margaret L. Been  —  October 3, 2018

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Ice Tea again

It is often said that artists can create the world the way they wish it would be!  This may be true of most of the arts, and many crafts as well—where one is fashioning beauty from ashes—or victory in the midst of something that seems like defeat.  In my poetry, I have often featured the presence of light in apparently dark circumstances.

Without getting more ponderous, when indeed my mood is upbeat as I share with you, the above painting is the world the way I’m eager to experience it—and will in a few weeks.  Having lived in Wisconsin for all but three of my eighty-four years, I should know (and do!) that April in my home state is not like “April in Paris”.

Sometimes we get teased a bit with warm splashes, and these are meant to be savored but not viewed as the permanent seasonal weather change.  Meanwhile, we can paint (sing, write, dance) whatever weather we want—thereby creating our own reality:  our own private world.  A case in point is this painting, titled “Ice Tea Again”, reflecting a pastime which is HUGE in my estimation:  drinking ice tea on our patio beside our pretty little patio garden, while watching the birds and chipmunks that enjoy the hospitality of our feeders.

I have done many ice tea type paintings, but this one is unique.  Were you to actually see the painting, now framed in a 16″ by 20″ softly gilded frame, you would probably observe that something new has been added:  touches of mixed medium accents which add texture and individuality to the piece.

At this moment two amazing British artists—Ann Blockley and Soraya French—are vitalizing, coaching, and inspiring me via books and (in Ann’s case) DVDs to experiment with mixed media.  So “extras” have been added to this watercolor and gouache rendering, including areas of enhanced color on and around the flower shapes made with hard pastel pencils and Derwent Inktense sticks.  The winding vines were formed by streaking India ink from a pipette and letting it ooze around on the damp paper.  You may notice the sketchy lines drawn by oil pastels* in areas alongside the vines.  And, as always, thick applications of gouache have covered a plethora of boo-boos.

The above-mentioned artists, and many others, stress the importance of playing with the mediums, learning what they can do and not worrying about the outcome.  JUST PLAY!  This really appeals to me after a rather dragged out autumn and winter beginning with the loss of my beloved corgi in October and adding a challenging shoulder replacement to the mix.  I intend to play, while drinking volumes of ice tea!

Included in the “play”, is the fact that I am diving into water soluble oils.  This is happening at my newly acquired hardwood easel.  The easel doesn’t work for watercolor painting, as there is not room enough in the bedroom studio to flatten out the surface.  But oils can be done on a tilt.  While watercolors, gouache, and mixed medium play happens at my dining room studio, oils are slowly drying and developing on the easel.

Margaret L Been — April 14th, 2008

*When I received my order from DICK BLICK of a beautiful, magenta colored wood box of 60 oil pastels (Van Gogh brand) I reverted to childhood.  I can’t express the wonder and joy of running my fingers over the surface of these sticks, marveling at the gorgeous color gradations.

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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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winter-sunrise-4-1

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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