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

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:

DIGITAL CAMERA

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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Swamp Fire

Awhile back I experienced a kind of “painter’s block” where I felt like I would never again be able to paint anything which might serve to slightly elevate my very low blood pressure, let alone anyone else’s.  This has happened to me fairly regularly over the past six years in which I’ve been making art.  Because I love art with a passion, I refuse to give up where my painting is concerned and I’ve discovered ways to boost my psyche out of any potential creativity block.

Along with “keeping on keeping on”, it helps immeasurably to add a new medium or avenue of expression to the art-making so that the process never becomes routine.  I have no desire to become stylized by reproducing cookie-cutter, look-alike work; hence I’ve added gouache to my watercolor stash and periodically I produce collages from a large collection of saved “everything” in terms of visual appeal, textural quality, and treasured memorabilia.  A new-to-me paint color, often from a new-to-me manufacturer, is another exciting form of recharging my art batteries and crashing through the artist’s block.

DVDs and books by artists are an ongoing source of inspiration to me.  I view and read them over and over, constantly finding something fresh and applicable.  Hence I have not one but many teachers.  Recently I received an absolute no-fail “block-buster” via a new-to-me DVD, by a new-to-me artist/art instructor:  British watercolorist, Ann Blockley.

Ms Blockley’s love for nature springs to life through her exquisite paintings achieved with a variety of methods.  She uses acrylic ink, oil pastels, and other materials in her work, reflecting a vitality and sense of beauty in the smallest details of nature alongside a background of landscape bordering on abstract forms which I find tremendously compelling.

Ann’s color choices leap over any possible boundaries which might threaten to confine a painter enamored with, or driven by, objective realism.  Much as I appreciate the incredible skill represented in realistic art, my head and heart are stirred by work that overcomes those boundaries—work that embodies mystery and stirs the imagination.  If I want realism, I enjoy photography—another fantastic art.

In her DVD, Ann Blockley stresses what most artist’s value:  painting what we love, from our experience.  Although Ann paints in her studio (a charming antique outbuilding surrounded by her lush garden on her English country property) she gathers inspiration in time spent outdoors with nature in all seasons.  She sometimes sketches details which capture her interest when walking, and gathers information concerning subject matter to develop in her studio—along with branches of seed pods, leaves, and flowers which bring nature indoors.

I feel akin to this artist, as I never never can go for a walk without bringing in something:  pine cones, some fallen nuts (even just nutshells cleaned out and abandoned by squirrels), stones, leaves, dried on the branch flowers, etc.  Our visiting great-grandchildren love to sort through my numerous stones and rocks—plus shells that I’ve collected myself on inland beaches along with gorgeous ocean shells which have been given to me by friends who spend time on ocean beaches.  Thus, after viewing the Blockley DVD a few times, the above rendering of a swamp emerged.  Like THE GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST, I have always loved swamps, and Joe and I were privileged to live overlooking a Northern Wisconsin swamp for several years.

So thanks to one more British artist, I have leaped over another incident of artist’s block and I’m re-energized—raring to go on.  My list of favorite and most inspirational water media teachers, through books and DVDs, has grown again.  The list includes one Canadian artist, one American, and four from Britain.  Those stats tell me that since the venerable art of watercolor painting (or rather watercolour) was long-ago perfected in England, we “colonists” can be eternally grateful for our heritage!!!  I know that I am!!!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, November 2014

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.Beautiful Bouquet for Jamie

Recently our Denver son, Karl, visited us “back East”—in Wisconsin.  He spotted a painting I’d done for his sister, our daughter Debbie,  Rather than continuing to lose you readers in a string of our family connections, I’ll simply state that after seeing the painting, Karl said, “I’d like one like THAT.”

Wonderful!  So satisfying when someone likes your art, right?  But “one like THAT”—similar to, and in the time frame of, the above-pictured rendering–was done three years ago.  Now I’m trying to paint “one like THAT”, but I always come up with something different.

Maybe because of writing articles and stories for magazines and newspapers for decades, I’m sensitive to the ominous significance of plagiarism.  I have always been super cautious not to plagiarize someone else in my work.  Now that visual art has pushed my writing career to the background, I cannot even pick up a paintbrush and plagiarize myself!

Every individual who devotes huge chunks of time to art will attest to the fact that we change and grow.  I’m constantly exposing myself to different and new techniques and styles through books and DVDs.  When too weary at the end of a day to actually work in my studio (a card table in a corner of our bedroom), I immerse myself either in volumes of my beloved mid-to-late 19th century French artists or in the theories and works of present day water-media artists whom I find greatly inspiring:  Cheng-Khee Chee, Charles Reid, Barbara Nechis, Jean Haines, Shirley Trevena, Taylor Ikin, Clare Harrigan, and Karlyn Holman*, to name a few.

Although I never sit down at my art table with an open book or a DVD screen before me, I know that ideas for different approaches seep in through a kind of soul osmosis.  Constantly I enjoy delving and exploring fresh possibilities—even some that I’ve discovered on my own, such as mounding gouache on top of watercolors to achieve a textural effect resembling that of oil on canvas.

Hence I may never able to reproduce “one like THAT”.  But I’ll continue trying, and something will connect!  Scanned and emailed images of various new paintings are bombarding Karl, and when the right one appears on his computer screen he will reply, “Stop!  That’s it!”

One like THAT!

blue and old pottery 2

 

More Equinox

©Margaret L. Been, September 2014

*Many water-media artists tape their paper to a board before beginning to paint.  I prefer not to do this, as I enjoy tipping and wiggling my paper so that colors will run and form beautiful “cauliflowers”.  Some of the paper taping is done simply to prevent 140# cold press watercolor paper from buckling when wet.  Through her teaching, Karlyn Holman demonstrates the perfect solution for that—forever freeing artists for the need to tape their watercolor paper to a board.  Here is Karlyn’s wonderful trick.

Thoroughly wet the back of your finished painting.  Then make a sandwich:  a plastic placemat on a table or counter; clean paper toweling over the placemat; the painting face down on the paper toweling; another layer of paper toweling on top of the painting’s wet back; another layer of plastic placemat or whatever; and a large book, or several books, to weight down the sandwich.

Leave the sandwich overnight, and voila.  A perfectly flat painting.  If the watercolor paper is still damp, I repeat the sandwich process (omitting the wetting stage of course) until the painting is dry enough to mat.  COOL!  Thank you, Karlyn.  Wisconsin people are indeed brilliant!!!  🙂 )

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Boreal Twilight

It is the night before the night before Christmas—a time of great joy for our family (50 immediate family members counting children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, husbands, wives, and significant others).  There are also friends whom we consider to be family—some who have been an integral part of our lives for decades, our children’s close friends among them.

Meanwhile, this is an art blog.  How I love sharing art talk with kindred readers!  I’ve been thinking big time about the people who have encouraged and instructed me in this late-in-life experience which has become an absolute passion and joy!

My family has been an incredible support, and they like to have some of “me” on their walls.  Joe smiles when the UPS drops packages at our patio door—brown boxes loaded with brushes, tubes of paint, and huge increments of paper.  At one time he said, “Don’t artists use the 3 primaries to get all their colors?”  My answer was “Yes, that can be done, but just look at what manufacturers have produced in recent decades.”  Joe got the point, which is pretty obvious when one views the two generous containers in my studio:  one overflowing with partially squeezed tubes, and the other abounding in delicious brand new tubes waiting their turn to get squeezed.

The support of those whom I consider to be “real artists”, has been an amazing surprise and blessing at every turn.  By real artists I mean exactly that.  These are the individuals who were often drawing and painting as children—just as I was always writing a poem or an essay.  They are professional in every sense of the world—whether in teaching or selling (and frequently they are doing both).

As a fumbling, embarrassed beginner (not that long ago—it was 2006) I never dreamed of getting encouragement from artists who know what they are doing.  But I soon discovered that collectively artists are actually the most out-going, supportive people on earth—creative souls who love nothing more than to share their passion while inspiring others to experiment and grow.

Most painters (and this is probably true in other visual art disciplines) realize that each of us is one of a kind.  We learn from each other, however each person’s work will have a signature which is unique.  There is art for all people, at all levels.  I certainly know the difference between the four to six digit paintings which hang in the most discerning of galleries, and my own art which may be displayed and very occasionally sold at an Art Walk on the sidewalks of our small neighborhood community.  I am contented, and tremendously happy to be a part of the entire scene!

I owe more than words can say to a friend, fine artist in pastels, and encouraging teacher in the gorgeous Wisconsin Northwoods—Diana Randolph.  I attended two of Diana’s workshops held at a school a couple of hours from our Northern home—one a drawing class and the other an introduction to those beautiful buttery, silky pastels.

Drawing was (and I admit still is) my very weakest thing (I can’t call it a skill)!  This is a sobering admission since the reading of Art History reveals that down through the ages drawing has been the very basis of art.  Years were spent, simply drawing.  Pre-Raphaelite English fine artist and critic John Ruskin believed that color should only be introduced after an intense discipline of drawing-drawing-drawing.  Sorry, John.  I simply couldn’t go there, and my heart does not leap at the sight of a pencil or charcoal stick.

But COLOR!  There I was immediately hooked/grabbed/enamored/and fulfilled—body and soul.  To add color!  Well I had been doing that in decorating my home and body nearly forever.  Why not add color to paper or canvas?  Diana’s pastels got me so excited that I ordered high quality soft and hard sticks, the right surface, the sandpaper, the solvent to smear in strategic spots, the whole bit—only to discover that pastel dust did nothing worthwhile for my tetchy breathing apparatus.

Realizing that pastels were out, I deduced that oils would also be a problem for this confirmed asthmatic.  So what was my logical medium for COLOR?  Water/water/water and wonderful 37ml tubes of watercolor.  (Winsor & Newton, Da Vinci, and American Journey all come in these large tubes.  I also love some Daniel Smith colors which are available in smaller sizes.)

Diana Randolph is the only “real life” teacher I’ve worked with.  But a long time friend, fine artist Jan Roberts, has also been a constant source of inspiration.  Jan works in most every medium, and I have three of her magnificent oils hanging in our home.

My bookshelves groan with contemporary watercolorists who have shared through their books.  I have studied via books and DVDs—reading and viewing over and over and then some.  Each of these artists is unique, and they have varying views on many aspects of what to do, and how.  All of them encourage beginners, and acknowledge that they once were novices as well.  (Maybe when they were three years old! )

Book and DVD studies are also refreshing and freeing!  I respond to some techniques and am not so crazy about others.  This, perhaps, is the birth of an artist’s voice—compounded from much exposure from books, films, and actual galleries whenever possible!  A person can never learn it all, and knowing that I am a student, forever growing, thrills me right down to my toes!

Here is my list of surrogate teachers in watercolor painting:  Americans—Charles Reid, Cheng-Khee CHEE, Barbara Nechis, Karlyn Holman (Wisconsin proudly claims Karlyn!), and Taylor Ikin (the “YUPO Queen”); Canadians—Karin Huehold and Linda Kemp; and British—Shirley Trevena and Jean Haines.  These are amazing teachers who differ in many ways—their main similarity being the creation of fantastically beautiful work.  Due to the marvels of technology, I have received email encouragement from some of these artists.  The profusion of encouragement never fails to remind me of Hans Christian Andersen’s THE UGLY DUCKLING.  I realize that I’m not quite a “swan”, but the swans have really made me feel like I belong—and this is a beautiful feeling!

Currently, I’m enjoying practicing a method from UK fine artist Jean Haines’ DVD, AMAZING WAYS WITH WATERCOLOR.  Jean begins some of her paintings with a single spot on the paper, and letting the subject reveal itself from that spot by streaking lots of color and water in a diagonal.  Jean stresses the need to let each stage dry completely, and to enjoy the beauty of each stage—the color fusions and the way a subject will evolve for future development.

Jean demonstrates painting cockerels (of course that’s UK for roosters).  She loves cockerels and so do I having raised numerous fancy breeds of cockerels (I think I’ll call them that!), hens, and chicks for eighteen years on our little funny farm in Eagle, Wisconsin.  So I have been experimenting, and here is one of my studies—called “Overdressed for the Occasion”.

Overdressed for the Occasion 2

It will undoubtedly take many more “bloggings” to share the countless ideas I’ve incorporated from books and DVDs.  I hope to do that in 2014.  But this blog entry has grown so long, I wonder if anyone will make it to the finish.

Nevertheless, I don’t want to edit a single word of thanks to all of my teachers, and to you readers.  You mean so much to me!!!  🙂  Merry Christmas!!!

Margaret L. Been, December 2013

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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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Winged Life 1

“It is well to have some water in your neighborhood, to give buoyancy and to float the earth.”  Henry David Thoreau, WALDEN

We Wisconsin natives are akin to water.  Forming a border on three sides of our state (Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and “Old Man River”—the Mississippi) water defines whom we are, to a great degree.  I grew up with water—a friendly creek at the base of my family’s property, a summer lake home, the gorgeous Black River bluffs outside my grandparents’ door, water/water/water.

For eight years Joe and I lived full time on a quiet flowage with the Big Elk River just around the corner from our bay.  A favorite summer pastime of mine was to take my paddle boat, a book, suntan lotion and plenty of iced tea plus peanut butter and jelly sandwiches up the river where I dozed, read, swam, and ate my lunch.  The latter was a bit foolish, due to a plethora of black bears nearly as abundant as water in the vicinity.  As the years passed, we got more savvy about bears and Joe put a stop to my solitary picnics—but I could still paddle upstream, read, doze, and swim.

Now we live not on water, but surrounded by lakes and rivers in the unique Lake Country of Southern Wisconsin.  A considerable benefit of water proximity is the abundance of winged water life:  an abundance we enjoy every single day from March through mid-November.  Great blue heron, sandhill cranes, Canada geese. and many kinds of ducks fly over constantly, along with additional shorebirds such as sandpipers and egrets.

Along with these seasonal neighbors, our little garden and patio area host year round friends—cardinals, sparrows, chickadees, etc., and summer residents:  Baltimore orioles, mourning doves, robins, and those occasional warblers which stop enroute to northern nesting sites.  And throughout the year, we watch nature’s undertakers—the turkey vultures soaring with their frayed wings over the woods beyond the park, while scouting for a decaying meal.

Winged life is as much of whom we are as the water which surrounds us.  Thus it follows that birds appear in my art, along with water and wild woods.  Also, frequently present are something we do not have in Wisconsin but rather are native to my “home away from home” state—Colorado.  Obviously, that “something” would be mountains.  We paint what we love!  For me that also includes clouds and mist hanging over the water, woods, mountains, or whatever.

Just as we writers have a voice, ever developing as we live and grow, artists also speak through their work. I began in 2006—trying to paint realistic scenes which were at best colorful, but at worst totally humdrum and thoroughly uninspired.  I’ve saved many of the early renderings, and I can’t get over how unoriginal they are.

Not skillful enough to produce a beautiful photo-realistic scene (which I greatly admire from fine artists!) it was only when I cut the fetters that had bound me to standard, realistic shapes and colors that I realized I actually do have an artist’s voice.  Through books and DVDs, fine artists Barbara Nechis and (Wisconsin’s own) Karlyn Holman encouraged me to cut loose and sing!  With my one and only true “strength” which is color, this was (and is!) possible.

When I paint what I love, invariably someone else will love it as well.*  Time and again, I’ve offered a family member to choose from a group of paintings and he or she will pick what I like best.  For 2 summers now, I’ve presented to a jury—to select paintings for inclusion in a summer exhibit at our local arts center; and each time the jury has chosen the paintings I prefer.  I would never paint primarily to please others, but it seems a given that when we please ourselves others are pleased as well!

So curvilinear shapes of birds, trees, mountains, and flowers are continually surfacing—those things I love best.  Having been translated from years of living in a semi-wild environment to a suburban locale, occasional abstractions of buildings and bridges will appear.  But nearly always, these traces of man’s ingenuity float among masses of curvilinear shapes—often the shapes of winged life!

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

*Note:  often when painting what I love, I think of a late fine artist in oils who painted what he loved—while amassing a fortune because so many others (including the Walt Disney Company) loved his work.  Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light” came to a tragic end.  Yet his art tells me that despite his very human failings, he had a beautiful soul!

From blog browsing I’ve discovered that Kinkade’s paintings are controversial.  Many object because they are either:  1) too realistic; 2) not realistic enough; 3) too idealistic; 4) not credible because one cannot tell where the light is coming from; 5) too commercialized; 6) ugly because they are popular; 7) not ugly enough (this critic believes that “real” art should be ugly because he believes that life itself is ugly); and 8) on and on ad nauseum.

I’m working hard on trying not to get unnecessarily angry,  but these comments have taxed my resolve to the max.  Although Kinkade’s art is not what I would choose to adorn my home, I believe that a valid function of the fine arts is to rise above the mundane while attempting to express a beauty intended for man before he (or she!) bit into that apple.  My belief stands unaltered by the stupid criticisms listed above.  Each artist has his or her personal concept of beauty, but striving for beauty is certainly a worthy raison d’être!

I question whether or not those critiquing Kinkade’s work are actually artists.  My exposure to the art world has revealed to me a tremendous spirit of love and acceptance among those involved because:  1) making art is never easy, although it may look easy to the uninitiated viewer; and 2) every artist should be considered free to make art as they see life. 

This spirit of love and acceptance has also caused me to realize that a penchant for beauty need not be the driving force behind all who make art.  Showing life as it really is in this fallen world is also valid, along with showing even the ugliness of some people’s “reality”—whether or not I like that kind of art.

Some critics maintain that Kinkade was not a “real artist” because he was intensely popular during his career.  He has been called a “hack”—a term normally applied to writers who produce for profit.

Hello, critics.  Have you ever heard of William Shakespeare?  I rest my case, although I might add, perhaps you “. . . doth protest too much, methinks.”  Shakespeare’s HAMLET, Act III, scene II.

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