Archive for the ‘Great Reading’ Category


Brian Jacques’ REDWALL Chronicles* are a treasure trove in every way:  gripping cliff-hanging plots, amazing characterization, plenty of humor—both subtle and downright slap-stick hilarious, AND painterly descriptions on every page.

Now I have the entire series of 22 novels, and am reading them in order.  Currently, I am into the 4th book, and have begun underlining or otherwise notating passages which may move my brushes and paints into action.

Above is another rendering of “Mossflower Wood and the Quarry”.  When I first painted this 24″ x 20″, I positioned the rocklike slabs at the top, and the nebulous tree shapes and foliage at the bottom of the horizontal format.  After matting and inserting the painting in its protective, clear plastic envelope, I accidently turned the piece “upside down” and immediately decided that I would hang the “upside down” as “right side up”.  That’s part of the fun of abstract art; it’s flexible and open to many interpretations!

Margaret L. Been, 1/26/17

*I have an inkling that Brian Jacques was a fan of Charles Dickens, judging from some of the hilarious names in the REDWALL Chronicles, especially the names of the scoundrels who are typically personified foxes, rats, stoats, ferrets, weasels,  and predatory birds:  names like Dripnose, Halfnose, Skinpaw, Ashleg, Ratflank, Darkclaw, Deadglim, Fishgill; and these are merely starters.  🙂


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When teaching writing workshops, I encourage participants to “Read, read, read various genres and styles of writing—and write, write, write, because only through intense application to reading and writing can one discover his or her individual voice.

When I began painting six years ago, I was not aware of having any particular aptitude for art—only an intense desire.  I sketched and painted apples, pears, eggplants, mushrooms, pumpkins, flowers, trees, rocks, clouds, and rivers—with occasional forays into replicating houses, teapots, chairs, and bottles on windowsills. 

I struggled for accurate representation, and predictably—after a year or two—these renderings failed to satisfy.  The goal of realism faded into the background and imagination surfaced, resulting in colors and shapes bearing less (if any) resemblance to the subject (if any) of the painting.  

Now I was happy, beyond my wildest dream.  Now I could make art for the sheer joy of it without worrying about whether or not it was “good” or “correct”, or whether or not my work would ever resonate with another living soul.

Along with constant painting, I studied:  art technique books, bios of famous artists, art history documentaries, etc.  I immersed myself in art literature, and soon discovered the kinds of paintings I loved—as well as the varieties of art that failed to move me.  

Through reading, I gleaned that every maturing artist develops a style—a “look”, which is equivalent to a writer’s voice.  From experimenting with various media and methods, the painter’s personality emerges.  Media and methods may change over the years as an artist grows, but individuality remains—if the artist is being true to himself, and not just painting to please a teacher or an audience.  This individuality springs from deep within.  It’s a blend of one’s DNA as well as temperament, life passions, and personal history.

I kept on reading and painting, enjoying myself immensely yet considering myself to be such a square-one beginner that I couldn’t possibly have any individual style or “painter’s voice”.  Being advanced in years, I probably figured I might never live long enough to attain that personal look which is the artist’s signature.  So certain that beginners don’t really have any style, I was happily awakened to a new plane of thinking by someone close to me, a person 43 years younger than I—yet possessing that amazing gift of intellectually and verbally “hitting nails on their heads”.  

Two years ago, this person came to our home, looked at a painting I’d just completed, and commented:  “That makes me think of a Russian folk tale.”  So I named the painting “Russian Autumn”.  But I was too new at the craft, and too self conscious, to realize that here was input worth considering.   

Then just last week, my discerning critic visited.  She studied a recent rendering and made another telling appraisal:  “That looks ‘Tolkien-ish’.”  This time I woke up, and began to think!  I responded by reviewing the stacks and shelves full of my completed paintings, matted and waiting for frames.  In a spirit of evaluating, I toured our four room home and critically viewed the plethora of my renderings which we have hung on our walls. 

Light!  Epiphany!  Folk Art!  Or more specifically “Fantasy and Fairy Tale Art”.  To me this discovery is indescribably wonderful—because I know it’s a real break-through!  Nothing on earth characterizes my past more than a delight in imaginative literature.  Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm, read to me by my mother ever since I could sit and listen, were the cause of my passionate desire, at age five—to learn to read and be able to read my very own books. 

Anthropomorphic fiction has always enthalled me:  Felix Salten’s BAMBI, Thorton Burgess’ MOTHER WEST WIND Series, Kipling’s “JUST SO”.  How sterile were the adventures of Nancy Drew, and colorless—despite her yellow roadster!  How boring were stories about people, compared to sagas of animals who acted like people.  Now, as an adult, I find Brian Jacques’ REDWALL novels satisfying beyond description—and I periodically re-read Richard Adams’ WATERSHIP DOWN.

Of course many other kinds of reading consume me—particularly English mysteries and the novels of Charles Dickens, Wilke Collins, and Louis L’Amour (among many others), bios of artists/scientists/or statesmen, and most any documentaries to do with cultures, historical trends and movements, pestilence, politics, exploration, or shipwrecks. 

But none of these can transport my mind and fill my soul with color, excitement, and enchantment more than the “talking animal stories” do.  And nearly every day I reflect the impact of fairy tales when I sit at my spinning wheel and produce yarns for knitting—yarns evoking images of Briar Rose’s castle and that nasty little creature, Rumpelstiltskin.   

Now all that early programming is spilling from the pages of books, via colorful paint, onto paper.  Voilà!  A voice!  In recognition of discovering my voice, I completed still another folkish/fantasy landscape—pictured above:  Tolkien-ish, Brothers Grimm-ish, Brian Jacques-ish, or whatever.  Too much fun!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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One point most artists agree upon is the wisdom of painting a favorite subject again and again—as a series or a lifetime of renderings, as evidenced in Monet’s many water lily paintings.  If the subject is something we dearly love, it will always hold our interest and we can capture this love in a plethora of colors, aspects, viewpoints, and styles. 

From little on, I have been fascinated by the vanished culture of the cliff dwellings in the four corners—Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico—and other parts of the “Grand Circle” surrounding Mesa Verde where these states meet.  The history of the area is fraught with enigma, unanswered questions, and infinite speculation concerning how the people lived and why they abandoned their cities in the cliffs.  The area itself abounds in beauty which borders on the bizarre.

Although the term “Ancients” has been applied to many past cultures around the world, and even to fictional space aliens, the “Ancients” who capture me are those historic people who maintained a working civilization in the Grand Circle from approximately 1200 B.C. to 1300 A.D.—the Anasazi (meaning “ancient”), or Ancient Pueblo Native Americans.  Many sites in the Grand Circle are named after these people, who are generally referred to as “The Ancients”.

I have traveled in the Grand Circle, and I never tire of reading about the area—its history, cultural ruins, and theories as to what life may have been like for the cliff dwellers.  In recent years, my interest in the Southwest USA has intensified from reading many novels by Louis L’Amour set in that locale.  Not only does this author describe the region in painterly paragraphs which virtually pop off the page and into one’s imagination, but he creates an aura of mystery about the people who lived there—and fictionalizes this mystery into “cliff-hanging” plots which have kept me reading far into the night on several occasions.

Given my love for the Southwest, and my love for Louis L’Amour’s books, it is not surprising that aspects (usually dreamed up and fictionalized) tend to fall off my paintbrush onto paper.  The above, “hot off the palette” piece is titled Lost Amethyst Mine of the Ancients.  This is pure fiction.  I have no knowledge that the Ancients did any mining, or that there is amethyst quartz in the area.  Thus far I have found no online documentation that mining may have been part of that ancient culture.  I simply capture what comes to my mind when I think of Western mines and the culture of the Ancients.  I also love the color of amethyst!

I’ve been painting the Southwestern theme for months—and my zeal shows no indication of flagging.  Awhile back I produced a “favorite” which I named Lost Canyon of the Ancients. I may have posted it before, and a cropped version of it appears above in the header, but in any event here it is again:  ↓

This above bit of fantasy is now framed and hanging over our (electric) fireplace. 

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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