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IF

When we lived up north a decade ago, I was part of a local writers’ group.  One of the members was an artist, and he had paintings on display in an area hospital.  At the time I thought that was the ultimate.  How wonderful for this man, how amazing!  I was totally absorbed in writing and self-publishing my book of essays and poems, A TIME UNDER HEAVEN.  It never entered my head that in just a few months I would pick up a paint brush, and consequently begin an entirely new life adventure.

I’d always enjoyed visual art and thought I would love to paint, but I kept telling myself I didn’t have any talent.  Upon mentioning this to my friend Dee, she said “Why don’t you just do it?”.  Something snapped that day, and I decided who cares about “talent”?  I’m just going to have fun!

When we moved to Southern Wisconsin, I joined PAAC—the Pewaukee Area Arts Council, a group which promotes many disciplines including photography, creative writing, and music.  I had thought my thrust would be what it always has been, writing and especially poetry.  But one meeting called for participants to bring paintings for Show and Tell.  A couple of artist members honed in on my watercolors and urged me forward.  To this day, I’m grateful for that encouragement*—and to my friend, Dee, who gave me an initial shove!

Currently, along with other PAAC visual artists, I have paintings on exhibition in four locales:  a chiropractic clinic, a bank, a family restaurant, and an area hospice.  We change our work every three months, to accommodate the new season.  This miracle (I will always consider it that!) benefits me in two ways:

1)  The gallery opportunities keep me painting purposefully nearly every day, a work which I enjoy immensely and find infinitely refreshing.  My desire is to hang something new every single time, in every place, rather than rotate a painting from one site to another—something I could do if necessary but would rather not.

2)  The paintings are growing larger!  Whereas my max was previously 16″ x 20″ (outside mat size), I’m now venturing into 20″ x 24″.  One of the gallery sites contains a long, high wall.  The 11″ x 14″ renderings which I happily hang in our home might get lost in that exhibition.  Larger pieces are appropriate for the other galleries as well.  And BIG is FUN!

Were paintings to exceed 20″ x 24″, I could work at our son Eric’s office in nearby Waukesha.  There I have a door on filing cabinets, all to myself.  So far I’ve used that resource for messy acrylics, collages, and water soluble oils, which I do very sparingly in the limited space at home in our carpeted bedroom.  Eric has hung a couple of the collages on his theretofore bare walls, to my great satisfaction.  (The approval of one’s family members is best of all!)

The above watercolor and gouache, “Sunspeak”, is “hot off the palette”, and framed in a 20″ x 24″ ready-made dark blue frame.  Beautiful ready-made frames are available at the BEN FRANKLIN store a few miles from our door.  Colorful frames have consistently dominated our walls at home, but suddenly I began to crave the mellow warmth of wood—maybe because we’ve had winter/winter/winter around here since early November.

Now my husband and I have begun to explore the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store (actually there are two of them close by) where we find lovely wooden frames for the proverbial song.   A measuring tape has taken up permanent residence in my handbag, and we search and measure at least once a week.  Joe removes the backing—paper or thin board, staples, whatever, and secures the hanging wires on the frames.  I line each frame up in Joe’s work area—either vertically or horizontally so he knows which way to attach the wire.

Here’s a sample of a recent painting presented in a St. Vinnee’s frame:

Wood Frame 1

My art is a series of baby steps, I know.  There are real artists out there with real training and real ability!  But every little baby step is a MIRACLE!

Margaret L. Been, February 2015

*NOTE:  I can’t say enough about the value of encouragement.  I’m continually amazed by the generosity of artists I’ve met—people whose work far exceeds my wildest dream.  Quite honestly, I didn’t always experience encouragement from fellow writers; my writing approbation came from contests, sales to magazines, and from people who enjoyed reading what I wrote.

I’ve often pondered why that should be so.  Perhaps writers tend to be more introspective than a lot of people and thereby preoccupied with whatever they are thinking.  I admit I’ve been that way at times—especially when processing the deeper things in life.  But to encourage another person is such a joy!  I’ve basked in that joy through teaching writing classes over the years.

Like writers, visual artists are tuned in to the world around them—to seeing and experiencing.  But then writers must retreat into the process of distilling their gleanings into words.  Words are miracles too,  But writing is a LONELY craft, at best—and it does demand periods of detachment.  We may be satisfied with our words, while wondering if anyone else will ever read them.  And maybe no one ever will—thus the conduit to sharing is severed.

Conversely, artists translate their impressions into explosions of shapes and color.  Regardless of level of expertise or lack of it, these visuals provide gratification.  We are tremendously fulfilled when we are pleased with our colors and shapes.  We can SEE our work, and others can see it as well.  Varieties of art are endless; each one of us is unique.  This very fact, plus the perk of seeing with our eyes, may create a glorious freedom to encourage others, and be encouraged!

Now isn’t the introspective writer coming out in this discourse?!  Gnawing, ruminating, analyzing, processing thoughts into intangible words?!  No wonder we writers can become ingrown toenails, even oblivious.  Time to go back to the palette and let the colors fly.  🙂

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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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Castle at Oban, County Argyll #2

Have you ever noticed the plethora of paintings that abound at garage sales, resale shops, and sometimes even in an antique mall?  These works, often created by people like you and me (home-grown, everyday artists as opposed to those who are world class or at least widely known) may be sold for anywhere from $15.00 to 75 cents by the artist himself or some family member who simply doesn’t have space (or an inclination) for “Grandma’s art”—or whatever else it might be.

I have purchased a lot of these works at rummages, and I’m always happy to make room for them in our home—even if it’s a bit of floor space against a cabinet or desk.  I marvel at the skill represented in “rummage art”, and always wonder why it’s up for grabs at a ridiculous price rather than adorning someone’s wall, or standing in the studio of its still-producing creator.

Perhaps in many of these cases, the artist just quit making art.  Somewhere along the line he or she lost interest in the process—while quite possibly thinking:  “I’ll never be “good enough”; so why bother?”

Most artists (whether well known or otherwise) agree that given an absolute passion for making art and access to good quality materials, anyone can be an artist!  Of course along with the passion and the materials, one must be willing to devote time—lots of time—to one’s chosen medium of expression.

Likewise, most painters agree that every artist encounters periods of self-doubt—days when nothing goes right in the studio, and times of incriminating flashbacks where we consider a previously accomplished piece far superior to anything we are producing at the moment.  In my life-long discipline and profession of writing, this experience is called:  “Writer’s Block”.

As a writer, what have I done with Writer’s Block?  I’ve gone right on writing.  Thus, with what we can call “Painter’s Block”, I am determined to go right on painting—regardless of whether or not my chimes (or anyone else’s) are ringing over the work in progress.  There are ways to deal with the dry spells, and sometimes even prevent them.  Here are a few:

1)  Periodically invest in new-to-you colors of paint, from different manufacturers.  There is nothing like squeezing a generous blob of fresh, gooey paint from a brand new tube onto one’s palette, to give a person a kick in the rear (reminiscent of the commercial for V-8 Juice®).

2)  On “down days”, generate prints from your computer file of your own scanned-in art.  I produce lots of 3″ x 5″ prints, and affix them to artist quality blank stationery by Strathmore—a fine company located right here the Fox River Valley Paper Kingdom of Wisconsin.  I rarely buy commercial greeting cards or stationery anymore, as I have a huge inventory of art to share.

3)  Try a different technique, paint medium, or variety of art.  Periodically I branch out into gouache, and get excited all over again with its possibilities in combo with transparent watercolors.  On days when the watercolors don’t flow the way I want them to, I may move to my collage table and get atrociously messy with acrylics paints and mediums plus my bins full of saved “everything under the sun”—from Oriental papers, cheesecloth, feathers, sequins, ribbons, family photos, dried flowers and leaves, symphony programs, theatre tickets, wedding invitations, old letters, and scraps of yarn—to dog hair.

Recently I ordered a set of Winsor & Newton water soluble oils.  This is tremendously exciting, as traditional oils are off-limits to my tetchy breathing apparatus.  Scientists have discovered a method of changing the molecular structure of the oil base (linseed oil, most likely) so that “oil paints” will dissolve in and clean up with water!  No turp, no toxic fumes.

4)  Take out a dud which you very fortunately neglected to file in your trash bin.  (Some flops are worth saving, for reworking.)  The above-pictured example was a really stressed out piece of Arches 140 lb. cold press paper—apparently “ruined” on both sides with failed attempts at a landscape.  I had one more go at vigorously scrubbing* the paper, removing all but faint tints of the paint.  (Arches holds up remarkably under such abuse—whereas some other brands of 140 lb. paper will not).

Due to the scrubbing, virtually all of the sizing was removed from the paper, creating a totally different effect from work on fresh, clean Arches cold press.  Without sizing, there is no resist and the paint soaks and soaks.  Therefore any paint containing sediment is apt to look more “sedimentary” with this process; the paint soaks away and the sediment remains—along with the scribble scrabbles of fiber which surface when you were destroy your paper.  Never mind all that.  Just keep plugging along, to see what will happen!

Not all my duds are as satisfying when reworked as this one, which is called “Castle at Oban”—because it recalls a trip my husband and I made to my ancestral home of Argyll.  Scrubbing the living daylights out of paper can create a total mess, but my Scottish Castle turned out to be kind of moody.  I like it.  It enabled me to work through Painter’s Block, and the very next day I created a work that truly delighted my heart.  Here it is:  Kingdom at Sea”.  I must have castles on the brain—and probably beautiful Scotland as well!

*A fantastic aid for scrubbing out paint, is the MR. CLEAN “Magic Eraser”®.  This unbelievable product removes stains and spots from all over the home, as well as on art paper.  My husband says, “It’s just a sponge.”  But I never knew a sponge could do what MR. CLEAN accomplishes with his “Magic Eraser”!

Kingdom at Sea

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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I have never been able to appreciate the dilemma of individuals who say, “I’d like to write, but don’t know what to write about.”  My answer is, “You have a life!  So write your life!  Write about the people and places you love!”

Over the last six years, since I began painting, I’ve often recalled my own advice!  Although I’d love to paint the people I love, alas.  My skills are inadequate, at least at this point.  But I can, have, and continually do paint the places I love.

You will recognize the above paintings as representative of “Out West”.  That region of our nation is dear to my heart— especially Colorado (my “second home”), plus New Mexico and Northern Arizona (my “adopted second homes”).

Next you will see glimpses of a part of my actual lifelong home, known to most Wisconsinites as “Up North”:

And here is my current home in Southern Wisconsin. ↓ These renderings were inspired by life inside and outdoors in our beloved Nashotah:

So there you have it.  I’ll never run out of excitement over the places I love—past and present!  And “future” is going to be the most exciting of all!  But my finite mind cannot begin to comprehend how to depict the new Heaven and earth!  I’ll just have to wait and see!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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The collages just keep coming!  Given the plethora of photographs in boxes around our home, textural items stashed in storage units under tables, and jars and bottles of acrylic paints and other media stacked in crates, the collages may never quit!

Last week I took a trip in my mind to Northern Wisconsin, where we have a home (actually two houses) and some acreage on a quiet flowage bay.  Photos propelled me into a landslide of memories, as the cool woodsy/lake colors flowed onto a large gallery wrapped canvas—too big to run through my scanner.  I took the above shot with my digital camera which never quite does justice to colors and textures.  But anyway, here it is.

At the moment this collage hangs over our fireplace in the living room.  I have more art work than spaces here, so I rotate the big pieces.  That in itself is a lot of fun, like rediscovering an old friend when we take one painting down and hang another.  A cool “up north” collage is just the thing for the high 90s we are currently experiencing!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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I’m on a role with memory collages.  The lady featured here is my beautiful mother.  I made copies on my computer, of Mother’s portrait photographed around 1914.  (She was born in 1896—a Victorian.)  The center copy on the picture is unaltered, and the above and below copies have been embellished with HOME PHOTO STUDIO special effects. 

The photos were applied on a gesso covered board which was first coated with GOLDEN® Copper Metallic liquid acrylic paint, plus dabs of Nickel Azo Yellow by the same manufacturer.  After gluing the pictures on, I added textural papers, photos of antique books and vintage teacups (Mother’s books and her china pattern), and a snippet of a violin music score.  (My mom played the piano, and I played the violin.)

Finally I coated the collage with GOLDEN Interference Green-Orange, a spray fixative, and an additional sealer of gloss medium. 

The frame was procured online.  I ordered two of these, and they did not include glass—so using them for watercolor paintings was out of the question.  Solution?  Collages, which are best when preserved with an archival medium and framed free of glass to display the beautiful textures.

Other collages are brewing in my head, as that is where everything I do starts! 

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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