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Carmela's Lilacs again again again

What is more enjoyable than coffee or tea and mellow conversation shared with a friend, in any kind of weather?  My friend, Carmela, came for a morning visit last week.  It was warm and sunny, but early enough in the day to sit outdoors yet still savor hot, strong coffee.  Later, we would have switched to iced tea.

Carmela brought an armful of lilacs, white and shades of lavender, from her yard.  I don’t think she realized that lilacs are a huge passion of mine.  She simply and instinctively brought the perfect gift—beautiful, fragrant, and in season.

Later in the day I began to paint the lilacs, which by then were comfortably at home in a vase of cool water.  Since I normally let the paint do a lot of the talking, somehow an illusion of a great blue heron flew into the piece.  Can you see the heron?  His presence suggests that there is water nearby, as the heron lives on fish.

We do have plenty of water here in Lake Country, and great blue herons fly over our roof constantly en route between our myriad of lakes.  But maybe the above painting, “Carmela’s Lilacs”, is a flashback to our home up north where we lived for eight years, beside a bay with plenty of great blue herons in our neighborhood—and huge, ancient common lilac bushes pressed against the front deck of our home.

Margaret L. Been — May 26, 2016

 

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Up North 4

Our Christmas Day celebration was memorable with a great blend of good company, good food, and—as usual when we gather with family and friends—loads of laughs, some of which erupted from a series of hilarious selfies.  Our family tends to goof it up when posing for pictures, and when you can see the results instantly it’s all the more fun!

The only thing missing here in Southern Wisconsin was snow.  Instead we had something which has not happened very often in recent weeks:  a day of welcome sunshine.  But we love a beautiful snowfall, and in Wisconsin we think “Christmas and snow”.

Lately I was especially thinking snow, due to a photo in a holiday greeting from a friend, professional artist, and fellow poet Diana Randolph, who lives way up where we natives call “Up North”*.  The individuals in the photo are set in that incredibly pristine landscape of Up North snow.

So for days I went around remembering Joe’s and my eight years of living full time, UP NORTH.  I kept seeing our Northern home in my mind’s eye**.  There is a kind of light Up North even on overcast snowy days, until night—and then one frequently sees what appear be a million stars.  My mind’s eye was visualizing that light in the process of the above painting in watercolor and gouache.

So thank you, Diana, for your inspiring photo and Christmas greeting—and for your encouragement as well!   You can meet Diana and view her beautiful art on her website.  Just GOOGLE Diana Randolph, Northern Wisconsin Artist.

Margaret L. Been, December 2014

*Roughly speaking, in Wisconsin we consider “Up North” to be most anywhere north of Highway 10.  But for me the term has also become symbolic of a contented way of living and the quality of experiencing a “whole” life wherever we live.  Some day I may develop this theme on my everyday life blog:  Northern Reflections.

**Like so many commonly used expressions, “the mind’s eye” comes from The Old Bard—this phrase via Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act 1, Scene 2.  Shakespeare is indeed immortal, with countless figures of speech and phrases enduring through the centuries—along with wisdom, wit, and insight concerning the human heart and mind.  🙂

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Karen's Patio

Recently a friend posed a question that has inspired me to ponder.  Knowing I’d only been making art for a few years, she asked, “Do you think you are getting any better at it?”

After pondering long and hard, I keep coming up with the same answer:  “No, I’m not improving—only changing.  And definitely growing!”  Not only growing in the sense of experimenting with my paints and stretching into areas I never dreamed of before, but I think I’m growing as a human!  After all, the intensive reading of art history and studying centuries of great art (mostly via books and periodicals, not galleries) cannot fail.  Learning any new thing will result in growth in comprehension and appreciation—and that growth fans out to impact many other areas of life.

I’m learning to see with fresh eyes—similar, perhaps, to the eyes of a child.  I’m discovering beauty in off-beat places—like the weathered and rustic back alley behind the stores in our up-north small town, and a case of colorful gelato in our local coffee bistro.  Just last week hundreds of teensy tadpoles slithering about in the shallows of the Rock River set my mental paintbrush slithering on hypothetical 140 lb. cold press paper.

More than ever before, I think in pictures and translate mental pictures into shapes not readily discernible to anyone but me.  When I paint a picture from my mind, or from an experience I want to remember, one or more facets of that scene or experience will surface in colors which convey mood and emotions.

Below you will see an example of painting an experience—a rendering which I shared awhile back, and am repeating in this instance because it shows the technique of expressing one or more facets to tell a story, rather than trying to replicate a scene in photographic detail:

Jamie and Leo's Day

The experience dates back to a wedding in September, 2013.  Family members and friends of our granddaughter Jamie and her sweetheart Leonardo were waiting outside of St. John’s mini cathedral in Delafield, Wisconsin for that moment when we could enter the church for the ceremony.  Anyone who has experienced the best of a typical Wisconsin autumn can reconstruct the scene in his or her mind:  warm sunshine, crisp air, blue sky, and the sleepy droning of cicadas.  The day—mellow beyond words.  Jamie and Leo—even more mellow and precious than the day.  When a scene or experience is mellow beyond WORDS, only a picture will suffice.

So in this rendering—“Jamie and Leonardo’s Day”—you will see sunlight, the Norman architecture of the St. John’s cathedral and campus, and the suggestion of trees in early autumn while the grass is still summer-green.  I could not begin to paint Jamie and Leo, but I could record the happiness I experienced at their wedding.

Growing through art.  Along with growing in ways to see, I’m growing in a tolerance for messes.  Life in process can be messy, but I’ve always been a neat freak.  From the onset of my art adventure, I’ve had to relax with messes and even enjoy them when they reflect a work in process.  There are paint stains on the carpet around my art table, and splatters on the strip of drywall behind where I work.  Part of the décor!  Evidence of a life lived with the exuberance of freedom from fussing and fretting about things that don’t matter!

No, not better.  Just changing and growing.  The painting at the top of this page is a rendering of my friend Karen’s patio.  I did this back in 2007, from a photo that I’d taken when visiting Karen.  I had my original painting reproduced at a print shop, to a place mat size, and then laminated—so we have placemats of Karen’s patio.  I also gave her some of the placemats, and she recognized her patio.

Were I to paint the same scene today it would be vastly different—not only because Karen is always assembling fresh details of vintage beauty in her home and garden, but because today I would not even dream of trying to reproduce a scene camera style.  Certain features of the patio décor would grab me, and I would express those features—colored by my mood and the essence of that day.

The mention of “mood” brings me to the realization that perhaps only in the arts can one’s subjective mood be the prominent and dominating factor.  In our everyday world, objectivity is absolutely essential—for survival, for accuracy in our work, in our understanding of other people, and for a correct view of life itself.

Contrary to much current thought, we live in a world which is objectively BLACK AND WHITE—in terms of TRUTH AND NON-TRUTH, GOOD AND EVIL, RIGHT AND WRONG.  But in the arts, we can express with subjectivity—life as we see and experience it, uniquely from the inside out.  Considering the countless benefits of (and reasons for) art, perhaps that is one of the greatest:  the arts are windows to subjective aspects of the human experience.

No, not better.  As far as I can see, just changing and growing.  At age 80, I’m blessedly free of a competitive spirit in my work.  Thus, art making is pure pleasure and excitement for me—devoid of any sense of struggle or drive which would mar my freedom, spontaneity, and joy.  If I can express just those three things—freedom, spontaneity, and joy—I’m delighted.  And completely contented!

Here is a very recent example called “Blue and Old Pottery”—done in gouache (with hints of watercolor and acrylic) on Yupo paper.  Not better, just changing and growing.  And different!  That’s part of the excitement of art.  No two paintings are alike!  🙂

blue and old pottery 2

Margaret L. Been — July, 2014

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What is more fun than sharing a hobby with a friend?  As well as getting together for painting sessions, my friend Barb and I frequently exchange our home grown “art” cards, proving that (for us, anyway) the U.S. Postal Service still provides the most enjoyable kind of mail!

I’ve saved all of Barb’s personalized creations over the years!  She began messing around with paints, scissors, and glue long before I did, and she’s tremendously accomplished at all she puts her hands to.  I consider Barb to be the mentor of my Messy Palette studio!

Above is a shot of my birthday card to Barb, a watercolor on Yupo® paper, ready to be mailed for her early September birthday.  Happy Birthday, Friend!

©2011, Margaret L. Been

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I’m not knocking it, Facebook that is.  Of course I like faces, and I’m very fond of friends.  But I’ve just de-activated my account on that great worldwide “hold hands around the campfire” site, because I am totally convinced that Facebook is not for me.

I joined Facebook a few weeks ago, inspired by our son Eric who said:  “Mom, you should do Facebook just to see the precious pictures of your great-grandchildren.  I love photos, and my great-grandchildren are indeed precious as well as highly photogenic—as you can see from the 4 faces (4 of 15!) pictured above. 

So I did.  I signed on—creating yet one more password based on the cuteness of Pembroke Welsh corgis.  What a shock I received when I “arrived” on Facebook and discovered a raft of individuals evidently just swimming around there waiting to be my “friend”!  I knew most of these folks, and I’d really thought they already were my friends.  But then there were some I didn’t recognize.  I guess they were friends of my friends.

Over the ensuing weeks, I kept getting emails saying “So and so wants to be your friend.”  Not wishing to be offensive, I accepted these people—again, most of whom already were my friends plus some relatives who are also friends.  Trying to get in the proverbial swim, I even asked some people if they would be my friend! 

A corker was one email I received, containing a long list of unknowns who wanted to be my friend because—like me—they’d attended Colorado U. at Boulder.  I wonder if they had any idea I’d “been there, done that” way back in 1951-1952!

Then I got an email asking me if I would receive a hug from a young friend.  Now this person is very special to me, and if I were to run in to her at the supermarket or anywhere else, I’d certainly give her a huge hug.  But a cyber hug?  I didn’t know how to do that.  Anyway, again being my pleasant (most of the time) self, I agreed to the hug.  I had to access Facebook to do this, and behold—I was confronted with a string of names and the caption, “Would you like to give these people hugs?”  Is that silly, or what?

One day I decided to use the Facebook facility for one purpose which is tremendously useful:  that of locating a long lost friend with whom one has completely lost touch.  I entered the name of a friend from the late 1940s and early ’50s.  This young man had been born in the USA so he was an American citizen.  But he was raised in Switzerland by his Swiss parents, and then returned to the USA during his high school years.  He had a distinctly German Swiss name.  All Joe and I knew, after last seeing him, was that he’d joined the air force during the Korean war and finally settled somewhere over the rainbow in California.

I entered the man’s first name (Hans) along with his last name (___________________) and up came a page of men with that name.  One of them was about the age that our friend Hans would be.  The Facebook Hans was pictured with his smiling wife.  Indeed it was a Germanic type face, but much different from that of the Hans I remembered.  Our Hans was tall and angular with deep set, brooding eyes.  The Facebook Hans had a full, jolly face.  He looked more like a knackwurst and beer-garden Hans.

How much can people change in 60 years?  A lot, I thought.  Maybe the smiling wife had something to do with Hans turning plump and jolly.  So I clicked the box asking Hans if he would be a friend of Margaret Been.  Somehow, I then meandered to a page where this Hans’s activities and other friends were listed.  That page was all in German, and so were all of Hans’s jolly friends. 

Ooops!  Our Hans would have been all in English.  As a young adult he’d refused to return to Switzerland to claim Swiss citizenship.  He’d chosen to be an American!  I have to grin when I think of the Teutonic Facebook Hans wondering who in the world is this American woman who wants to be his friend!  As far as I know, I never did strike up a relationship with him!

Finally, there was a place at the bottom of the page where one could click on info about more people with the name “Hans ____________________.”  I clicked, and alas.  Our Hans came up on the top of a GOOGLE page—or rather his obituary came up. 

The obit ran true down to every detail we’d known of him until we’d lost touch, and the remaining information fit.  Hans died in 2007, of a rare cancer.  The rest of my day was poignant.  I mourned the loss of a person I hadn’t seen in decades.  Circuitously Facebook had made the connection. 

After all of that, and a few more forays to see those darling great-grandchildren’s photos, it dawned on me that I simply don’t have time for Facebook—as efficacious as it may be for many people.  I see the great-grandchildren in person!  I have photos of them, given to me by their parents!  I take snapshots myself! 

Blogging and shopping comprise all the time I want to spend staring at a monitor!  So, late last night, I de-activated my account.  The screen indicated that many hearts would be broken because I was leaving.  “Your friends will miss you,”  Facebook said.  As if that were not enough to germinate a guilt trip for turning my back on all these friends, I then had to give an excuse for leaving. 

All my life I’ve taught children never to make excuses.  “Just say yes or no”, I’ve said to the little people in my life.  But that wasn’t enough for Facebook.  Facebook was so smitten with me that I had to give a reason before it would let me go!

Whew!  Now if any of you Facebook buddies happen to be reading this, PLEASE know that you are still my friend.  Email me.  Snailmail me.  Call on the phone, or just drop in!  I’ll give you a hug!  You know where I live—as well as where I went to college, etc.  Please stay in touch! 

But if you look for me on Facebook, you won’t find me—or my face.  I’m outta there!  🙂

Margaret L. Been ©2011

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