Archive for the ‘Inspiration from reading’ Category

Art Tools

Here are some more items in my bag of tricks.  Working down through the horizontals:  a large comb for making streaky marks*.  I also use a small, rat tail comb; a tooth brush for spattering wet paint; tongue compressors—I can’t recall where in the world I got those things but they are great for measuring and marking on those rare occasions when I use a pencil; a candle for creating areas of wax resist; a defunct credit card for scratching lines—making streaky grasses, etc; a knitting needle for making branches; and a jar lid mainly for making moons.  I have several different size jar lids.

The verticals are craft Q tips of which I found hundreds—I think a lifetime supply—at a church rummage sale years ago, and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser which rubs out areas of paint for various effects.

Not pictured are masking tape for masking out trees or buildings in order to preserve the white paper while painting a background, facial tissue for dabbing out clouds in a wet sky wash, and probably some other odds and ends which momentarily escape me.

I have always been a pack rat (albeit a very well organized one) and it’s so much fun to have an ongoing excuse for packing stuff in!  Fortunately, I grew up with parents who let me have my own bit of Heaven in my childhood bedroom (probably because I was compulsively tidy); and for nearly 64 years I’ve been blessed with a husband who also enjoys being a pack rat.  It could be disastrous if we disagreed on what is important in life! 🙂  MLB

*One of my favorite artists whose books and DVDs I treasure, British artist Shirley Trevena, introduced me to the comb streaking trick.  Shirley’s still life watercolors are intriguing.  Shirley says what she aims for is “an incredibly messy painting with lots of drips and blobs”, and she demonstrates how she “destroys” a painting—often with a comb streaked through wet paint, blurring the colors.  Shirley’s “incredibly messy”, “destroyed” paintings are gorgeous—whereas when I try her tricks the results are often simply incredibly messy and destroyed.  Good grief!!!

Anyway, for a treat you can GOOGLE “Shirley Trevena, artist”.  You won’t be disappointed!  🙂


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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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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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In upcoming blogs I would like to share helpful lessons I have gleaned from books and DVDs by contemporary professional artists.  One (among many) who has inspired me greatly is British watercolorist Jean Haines.  If you just GOOGLE her name and access Jean’s website, you will undoubtedly be as awestruck as I am by her amazing art.  I have three each of Jean Haines’ books and DVD tutorials, which I read and play again and again.

Jean teaches what I will call her “principle of three”:  When painting a subject in three parts make one the star, one less prominent, and one nearly obscure.  I am happy with the above rendering, “Out for a Stroll”, in which I applied the principle of three.

Jean frequently introduces a wash of one color on damp paper from an upper corner, followed by adding another color or colors—often contrasting—in the opposite corner from the first wash.  She leaves a space of white paper between the washes, and then dabs that space with a wet brush—inviting the colors to mix and do their own thing.

In her books and DVDs, Jean stresses the need to avoid meddling and fiddling with these first washes.  Instead, we can benefit by sitting back and basking in the beauty as the colors “fuse”.  How refreshing to forget about control, and just let the colors flow.  Later, when the initial paints have mingled and dried, details may be added—but very carefully so as to preserve the freshness of the work.  Thank you, Jean!

Margaret L. Been — December 7th, 2016

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In recent months I have read mainly documentaries, political commentary, and eschatological tomes.  Very riveting and educational.  But I’d all but forgotten how much fun it is to read for FUN!  One should never forget that!

A deal via Amazon set me back on track:  The first 20 novels of Brian Jacques’ REDWALL series.  There are 2 more, which I hope to find another time.  I had read 4 or 5 of these years ago, and never realized there were 22 in the entire series.

I began by re-reading the first book, REDWALL.  Again I was captivated, enthralled, and totally charmed.  The characterizations, the cliff hanging plot which never gets boring, the hilarious satire—I love these books.  As a child, all my favorite fiction featured “talking animals”.  Some things don’t change!

What I’d forgotten about the REDWALL BOOKS, and am so delighted to recall, is Brian Jacques’ writing: packed with visual imagery.  The scenes literally come alive on the stage in my head!  The language is just plain painterly.  Maybe that has hit me more bombastically than it did when I read these books back in the 90s because then I was not yet into making my own visual art.  Playing with paints has opened the big wide world, and especially the world of the arts, to proportions of which I’d never dreamed possible.

I finished the first book late last evening, and couldn’t sleep because I was so inspired to paint what I hope will be a series of renderings to reflect the REDWALL novels.  Above is the first painting:  THE QUARRY AND MOSSFLOWER WOOD.

Margaret L. Been — November 26th, 2016

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