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Two Rivers Paperr 1

. . . the art must go on.

I am currently a one legged wonder, due to surgery upon surgery.  In 3 plus weeks I hope to be able to stand and paint but at the moment art has become a sit down affair.

Very fortunately this hiatus has included something wonderful:  handmade papers from a company called Two Rivers, deep in the British countryside.  This amazingly textured paper is produced in the centuries old pre-industrial revolution method of paper making, and it is beautiful beyond description.

I have a sketchbook of heavy watercolor sheets, and have indulgently ordered two more books.  The Two Rivers Paper is making convalescence a joy.  I feel my art does not warrant the quality and expense of the paper, but hey.  If I could, I might consider traveling to Britain to see the locale of such a delight as this handmade paper.  Since personal travel is out, I am letting the paper travel to me.

The textured paper goes well with my assortment of mixed media materials–in the above sample:  Van Gogh Oil Pastels, Elegant Writer Pens, Derwent Inktense Sticks, Derwent Watersoluble Ink Pencils, Sharpies Ultrafine Markers, and a few dashes of Da Vinci Professional Grade Watercolors.

Each evening I render an addition to my sketchbook.  While I am looking forward to standing again and working on the full sheets of paper, also from Two Rivers, the present is GOOD–making art Wherever, However.

Margaret L. Been — 11/09/18

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On the Edge 2.JPG

Glancing back over decades of freelance writing, I don’t recall ever experiencing that dreaded infirmity called “Writer’s Block”.  Perhaps that is because, as I am doing at this moment, I always wrote from real life rather than fiction–although I love to read fiction at well as documentary and other forms of non-fiction.

The term “Writer’s Block” amuses me because my writing has always been a form of talking.  I certainly have never suffered from “Talker’s Block”.

Art is different.  Frequently I have a spell where I think I can never again produce anything “suitable for framing”.  Many artists have similar periods when they struggle with doubts and a dearth of that nebulous thing called “inspiration”.  My antidote for Artist’s Block is simply to plow right through it.  There may be days of frustration over perceived failures, but I find comfort in keeping on and working through the block.

Oxymoronic as it may appear, my dual approach to the block is to:  1) try something totally new either in subject, materials, or methods and 2) try to bang out something that has worked before.  Above is a sample of both options–a sailboat in trouble, an often rendered subject but this time in acrylics, still new and challenging to me.

Our family had many years of pleasant sailing on local inland lakes where falling in the warm water meant a fun swim and turtling the boat made for uproarious storytelling in retrospect.  But one family sail was not so pleasant.  In our cub boat we foolishly set out from a quiet cove which was sheltered from the elements, with the plan to explore one of the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior–the Great Lake which allegedly “never gives up her dead”. *

And if you know the Great Lake–at least the two that I’ve experienced, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior–you are very familiar with the adjective “COLD”!

Anyway, we left that quiet cove, out into the immense lake (I believe the second largest inland water in the world–the first largest being somewhere in Russia) and horrendous winds bombarded us seemingly from all directions.  There were five of us in the boat–my husband, myself, our two teen-age sons Eric and Karl, and our lab/collie Duffy.

I praise God for my husband Joe’s Viking DNA.  He miraculously sailed us back to land with the help of the boys.  Duffy and I were ballast.  We huddled in the bottom of the boat, praying–at least I was praying.  I hung on to Duffy as hard as I could, and I think he was as terrified as I was.

So why in the world do I love to paint sailboats in trouble?  More than reliving an experience, I think the reasons are motion and water, since both make for interesting visuals.  Motion and water are easy for me to paint.  And due to incorporating acrylic paints which are still stretching me, the above painting titled “On the Edge” (part of a series) proved to be a complete therapy.

Voila.  Once again I’ve immerged from the block.  Three happy starts of paintings were produced in my studio this very evening.  The starts are happy enough that I decided to share my method of working through the block!  🙂

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*I knew the phrase about Lake Superior “never giving up her dead” came from Canadian troubadour Gordon Lightfoot’s classic ballad–“The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” which helped to immortalize that historic 1975 tragedy.

Also I wondered if the phrase had actually been a traditional saying, perhaps passed down through Native American cultures in the region.

GOOGLE only reinforced the fact that the saying came from Gordon Lightfoot’s ballad, and I can find no extra specific info.  But the following Wikipedia quote indicates that Lake Superior’s reputation is well-founded since Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes:

“The Great Lakes, a collection of five freshwater lakes located in North America, have been sailed upon since at least the 17th century, and thousands of ships have been sunk while traversing them.  Many of these ships were never found, so the exact number of shipwrecks in the Lakes is unknown; the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum approximates 6,000 ships and 30,000 lives lost, while historian and mariner Mark Thompson has estimated that the total number of wrecks is likely more than 25,000. 

“In the period between 1816, when the Invincible was lost, to the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald in 1975, the Whitefish Point area in Lake Superior alone has claimed at least 240 ships.”

Margaret L. Been — October, 2018

 

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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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Growing more and more enamored with abstraction, especially that which is soft-edged, flowing, and organic as opposed to geometric, hard-edged, and harsh, I was tremendously pleased with the above 24″ x 20″ rendering—so pleased that I framed it and the mysterious painting is hanging high in our living room, brightening up the entire wall.

When I study the painting, I imagine different scenarios:  a moonlit swamp; a campfire; the triumph of light over darkness and joy over sorrow; the vicissitudes of a long life on earth.  The print which you see does not do justice to the colors therein; they vibrate and rock.  Recently, the “vibrate and rock” appealed to a seven year old great-grandson/friend who came for a visit and art making.

“I want to do one like that,” Deacon decided after studying my various paintings on our walls.  Then he excited me up to my earlobes by saying, “I like the way the colors run together.”  Do I have a kindred soul here, or what?

Deacon proceeded to create his own mystery painting.  He learned that simply painting color over color with a loaded brush creates blackish-brownish mud, which I praised and applauded because children’s art is ALWAYS wonderful.  Then I showed him how gently introducing colors to different areas of wet paper, while jiggling the paper to let the wet colors mingle, causes mysterious marks never to be reproduced in the exact same way.

There wasn’t time to introduce salt and plastic wrap which add texture to a painting, but hey—we quit art making in order to fly kites with Deacon’s great-grandfather (my Joe) in the park outside our front door.  Kites are important, and highly symbolic of our free and funky Boho lifestyle.

My, aren’t we full of metaphors and similes today!?!  Having written poetry most of my life (since I could first wield a pencil or pen), I tend to think in metaphors and similes.  They are everywhere and—like paintings and kites—the colorful ones are the most fun! 🙂

Margaret L. Been  —  May 2nd, 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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Bottle Fantasy--6Condo at Santa Fe--1WindowsWindows Series 2.jpgwindow scene made strange abd strangerMilwaukee South SideJars in a WindowDans la Fenetre 2.JPGBottles and Jars.jpg

When I began art making in in 2006, I entertained a short period of thinking each rendering had to be of a different subject.  But I quickly realized how silly that was, having had some exposure to art history in college.  Didn’t Monet do a lot of haystacks?  And lilies?

And how about Degas with his ballerinas?  Winslow Homer at sea?  Not to mention (but I will) Georgia O’Keeffe with her massive flowers and striking New Mexico scenes.  Not that I am placing myself on a level with the above, but rather to simply say it is good to paint favorite subjects again and again.  Each work will differ from its predecessor, and there is infinite variety possible via palette, season, details, mood, and the list goes on.  Again and again.

I like to do waterfalls, ships in peril (I don’t want to BE on one, just to paint it), trees waving in the wind, adobe structures, gardens, bowls of fruit—and pots, pitchers, bottles, and jars often in the setting of a windowsill.  There is something about the bones of structure, even in the evanescent ideas I like to present.

At the top of the page you see what is one of my very first attempts at watercolor.  In a book, I’d found a repro of a painting by Fine Artist Jeanne Dobie, where she portrayed bottles in a window not by painting the bottles themselves but rather through showing the liquid color contents of the bottles surrounded by white paper representing light.  Pretty leaky bottles (mine—Jeanne’s were stunning).  But that was 2006 and it was what it was.

The next one down is a quick colored pencil sketch through the window of a rented condo in Santa Fe NM, where we spent a wonderful Easter week with our son, Karl, and his family in 2008.  The NM scene is followed by three more window bits with stuff in the windows, then followed by an albeit primitive and super child-like rendering of Milwaukee’s South Side as viewed through a lobby window at St Luke’s Hospital where my husband was undergoing cardiac care.  That painting, as odd as it is, is close to my heart because of the stressful time it represents in our family.  Painting IS therapeutic!

The domes of Milwaukee’s South Side, historically Polish and Serbian, are followed by a 2013 window scene—getting just a little bit more presentable.  Then comes a 2016 scene which I like a lot.  The print doesn’t do the painting justice, as in real life the colors and shine are noteworthy—and so is the real life size, which is 20″ x 24″.  I like wet, blurry effect, which was achieved with Gum Arabic.  (I tend to get that name mixed up with what I put in my gluten-free baking:  Xanthum Gum.  I hope I don’t get the gums mixed up in the cookies!))

One more of blurry bottles.  I like the frayed and fringy effect in the yellow/purple on the right side—produced by wet color introduced alongside another, slightly drying paint.  This works best on wet paper, and I love it even though it drives some watercolorists crazy.

And finally, the 12″ x 16″ pictured below is my very latest studio creation.  The wood on the window was textured by dropping Winsor & Newton Texture Medium onto the wet paint with a pipette or medicine dropper—one more tool of the trade available with acrylic ink bottles, or from your local pharmacist.

Since I will probably go on doing window scenes, along with Peril at Sea, etc., I am covering the latest in this series with one name, “Dans la Fenêtre”—because I am besotted with the FRENCH LANGUAGE (in which my proficiency is nearly zero on a scale from one to ten.  🙂

Margaret L. Been — March 18, 2018

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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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