Archive for the ‘Nostalgic Reflections’ Category

Memories of Manitou Springs, Colorado

We have nearly made it through another Wisconsin winter. Not a rough one, simply a bit long!

I began the new year with a passion for creating texture in my art. The above was one of the first renderings of 2020. It hangs over our piano, beneath a huge painting of rugged cowboys rescuing cattle in a crevasse—a treasure which I found at a thrift store years ago for little more than the proverbial song.

The mountains in my (16″ x 20″) “Memories . . . .” were formed with heavy modeling paste on YUPO paper which is not really paper; it is a kind of plastic with a slick, shiny surface.*

Then I added—almost dripped—the paints in various spots, jiggled the YUPO around, made a “cuppa Joe” in our beloved Keurig, and sat down to spin beautiful silk and merino yarn on one of my two Jensen spinning wheels. (Fibers—as in spinning and knitting—are another of my many passions.)

I love just letting the surface and paint do the work, with very little interference from “moi”. The results are frequently more delightful than products of obsessive meddling with brushes.

But I do use brushes also, and they can do wonderful things, especially with florals. I begin with watercolor, paint the flowers, and then add the background.** When this dries, I go back in with GOUACHE.

The gouache builds texture and dimension similar to the effect of oil paints. Sometimes I get carried away and the textures are layered so deeply that I spray the finished painting with an acrylic fixative, as the chalky gouache is otherwise apt to crack and flake away over the years.

Probably that would not happen to paintings immediately secured under glass, but the majority of my renderings live in protective plastc sleeves until switched around with framed works, given away as a gift, or (once in awhile) sold. When I paint on gallerywrap canvas panels, I always spray with a fixative because these are never framed.

Below is an example of a floral done with watercolor and many layered gouache accents.

Again and again, I paint flowers. I think of flowers day and night. Soon we will actually see them, springing from the ground! ūüôā

Margaret L. Been — March 19, 2020

* Artists either love or hate YUPO. Often the “haters” are the purists who seek detailed perfection. I do not care for detailed perfection, so I am in the group that LOVES YUPO. Good thing I don’t hanker after perfection; I am incapable of achieving it !!!

**Watercolor rules (which I am very fond of breaking) dictate BACKGROUND FIRST. I normally do BACKGROUND LAST, having been greatly inspired and influenced by fine artist Barbara Nechis who usually paints the background last, because until her piece is finished she doesn’t know what kind of a background she wants.

Good reasoning! The color of the background is most compelling when chosen from colors in the completed subject. Seeing is deciding! Plus, it is so beautiful when damp background colors subtly phase into the body of the painting—either a still life or landscape.

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Throughout weeks of laying low after surgery to mend a broken femur, I have nestled close to 1 of 2 speakers which stream the finest music of the Western World from my I-Phone to my ear.

Among my favorites are Brahms’ incredibly stirring Hungarian Dances.  I have all 21 of them on my phone and pad, performed by the Berliner Symphoniker—and they make me want to fling myself around the room in wild abandon*, gimpy leg notwithstanding.

But in lieu of flinging, I have been painting—between earfuls of Brahms’ haunting Gypsy style refrains.  And the resulting art?  Well it has been wisely said that music is never neutral.  It pervades our psyche and helps to make us whom we are!

In my case, a Boho soul.  I have named the above renderings my “Boho Trees” series.  If you think the trees are strange, just blame Brahms.  Or better yet, stream his Hungarian Dances and get with the flow!

Margaret L Been — December 11th, 2018

*Flinging myself about a room in wild abandon is what I did regularly, as a young child.  My mother was a classical pianist.  She played the Hungarian Dances, and many other selections which motivated me to bounce from couch to chair, whirl in circles till I was dizzy, and then fall on the floor.  So maybe you can view the art and blame Mom!  MB

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Fall Night - Copy

Six months since my last entry.¬† I always taught our 6 children that they should never feel pressured to make excuses.¬† Reasons, okay, but excuses are lame.¬† Just admit, “I didn’t do it, make it, remember it, whatever.”

My only reason for not sitting down to my computer would be a feeble excuse:¬† I don’t like to have to stay indoors in the summer.¬† Well that doesn’t fly:¬† 1) I could take my laptop outdoors; 2) I could blog on my I-pad; 3) Even in the summer there is some indoor weather in Wisconsin; and 4) Summer of 2017 is long gone.

All such flim-flam aside, here I am:¬† getting ready to celebrate the miraculous birth of our Lord with a wonderful big family.¬† (There are momentarily 53 of us, and number 54 is due today to come out, to meet the tribe.¬† She is our 19th great-grandchild, already named as of her 1st ultra-sound—“Margaret Rose” after her 2 paternal great-grandmas, of them being “moi”.¬† How wonderful is THAT!)

And here is some art, “Autumn Garden at Night”.¬† ‚áϬ† The piece is gouache on a gallerywrap canvas, and it comes with poignant memories.¬† Beginning last March, our precious Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Dylan, started to decline.¬† He need to be taken out many times in a 24 hour period, so—like Robert Frost—I became very “acquainted with the night”.

March, April, and May nights were blustery, damp, and cold—but summer and early autumn were lovely.¬† Dylan and I, attached at the hip since Joe and I brought him home from a farm in Iowa in early 2004, had countless precious nocturnal jaunts in our quiet courtyard lit by the patio light and the rosy solar lights in my gardens.¬† Hence the above rendering.

Our Denver son, Karl, would like this painting and it will be his as soon as I find a way to get it to him, hopefully barring UPS or Priority Mail.  But I am happy to have the picture in my computer, and on prints which I can share.  Dylan died peacefully in my arms on October 16th.  I think he had that famous corgi smile on his face right up to his last sigh.

Meanwhile, I worship a Living Savior and praise Him for LIFE—for people to love and “all creatures great and small”.¬† May God bless you and your families with a beautiful holiday season—wherever, and whomever you are.

Margaret L. Been — 12/18/17

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Here is a bold venture:¬† a painting which turned out to be too large for the ready-made frames at our local craft stores.¬† I had grabbed an entire sheet of Yupo¬ģ and had a blast, painting and¬†thinking I would crop the finished work to fit a 24″ x 20″ frame which I had on hand.¬†¬†But I was¬†pleased with the¬†entire piece, and couldn’t figure out where, if any, I wanted to sacrifice part of it.

A brainy idea:  custom framing.  This is pricey indeed, and I will not do it very often.  But the result is satisfying.  Below you can see The Big One on a living room wall:

Wall 2


Many layers of gouache were piled onto this painting, over washes of watercolor.¬† Actually called “Waterfall”, this rendering evokes memories of a real waterfall we had on our 14 plus acres up north, where we lived full time for eight years.

Our land bordered on two roads, one up and one down a hill. ¬†Our home was on the downhill road, next to¬†a lake.¬† In the spring, snow and ice melted from the above road and roared downhill to our back yard, over boulders and brush.¬† The sound was stirring, and so loud that it resonated through closed windows.¬† In the¬†summer, the waterfall morphed into a trickling downhill creek—always refreshing to sit beside on one of the big boulders.

How beautiful to have mellow memories, and then to paint them (and have them framed)!

Margaret L. Been — April, 2017

NOTE:¬† Obviously I couldn’t scan this painting on my home scanner, so I photographed it with my cell phone.¬† Because the piece was framed with non-glare glass I could do that.¬† But I failed to get the entire bit into the top photo.¬† In the shot of the painting on the wall with its surrounding environment, you get a better idea of how the waterfall fans out at its base.

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Here is another British watercolorist who inspires me again and again through her books and DVDs.¬† Ann Blockley creates unforgettable, unique scenes which are, in her words unlike the “candy box scenes” we are accustomed to seeing.¬† Rather they are imaginative, and deeply personal—inspired by¬†sights, sounds, and fragrances of familiar places around Ann’s home in the Cotswolds.

While demonstrating techniques for using watercolor in tandem with India ink, water soluble crayons and ink sticks, salt, plastic wrap, texture and granulating mediums (employed with a relaxed realization that the tools and techniques may decide their own path on paper, different from that which the artist has foreseen) Ann has challenged me not only to experience nature with all my senses, but also to take a deeper look at my photo books and computer files of favorite places I have lived:  to let the essence of these scenes penetrate my mind and heart, with the goal of more effectively expressing beloved places in my art.

The photos¬†recall a¬†lifetime of favorite places¬†including: ¬†my small-town Wisconsin¬† childhood home with a quiet stream at the base of our apple orchard; the Wisconsin Northwoods and waters where we vacationed when our children were young and where¬†Joe and I lived full time¬†for eight years beginning in 2001; my “home away from home”, Colorado where I¬†spent a year at school, where Joe and I lived during his stint at Ft. Carson, and where we have visited many times since; more western vacation areas—Northern New Mexico and the farthest NW corner of Washington State; and our present home in Wisconsin’s Southeastern¬† Lake District:¬† a¬†pleasant blend of small communities northwest of Milwaukee with¬†lakes, rivers, woods, and a few remaining farms.

I will never live long enough to even begin¬†capturing on paper the abundance of beauty which has underscored and punctuated my 83 years.¬† But I’m making a start, greatly motivated by the work and encouragement of UK artist Ann Blockley.¬† Here are a few of many¬†scenes which I’m studying with a mind to painting—not with photographic accuracy but rather in response to their essence, in the coming year:









Margaret L. Been — 1/22/17

NOTE:¬† If you GOOGLE Ann Blockley’s website, you are in for a TREAT!¬† MLB

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No, I haven’t been lazy since the last entry.¬† But most recent renderings have been too large to put through my scanner—like 16″ x 20″ and 20″ x 24″.¬† Large paintings can be photographed, but that never works for me as well as a scan.

Featured above are a couple of little guys that I’ve¬†sandwiched in between the biggies.¬† In the top painting, the¬†watery effect was achieved with thinned white gouache drifted randomly over the¬†rocks.¬† The second painting was experimental, with lots of goopy gesso topped with acrylic bead gel.¬†¬†When the gesso and gel¬†were thoroughly dry, paint was added to¬†drizzle and drip on the textured ground.

Meanwhile, I currently have a hole in my head.¬† Maybe that’s not so funny as it sounds, but HEY!¬† Let’s laugh.¬† Arthritis is the creator of a one centimeter gap,¬†causing (GOOGLE this one!) a diagnosis of Atlanto Axial Instability.¬† In plain talk, I’m a BOBBLEHEAD—the treatment of which, at this stage and perhaps in lieu of surgery,¬†is a very fashionable neck/head brace fitted for me at our local Hanger Clinic.

The pleasant young man who fitted the brace commented that I have a long neck.¬† Then he¬†chuckled when I shared that my maiden name is “Longenecker”.¬† I doubt very much that he caught the double entendre cached in my name; he¬†is too young.¬† Had he fully grasped the joke, his chuckle¬†might have been¬†a¬†guffaw.¬† Moreover, unless you readers have connections with the 1930s and 40s you may¬†not realize that once upon a time the word “neck” was a verb as well as a noun—with “necking” being an active,¬†enjoyable present participle!¬† ūüôā

Grammar and vintage fun aside, my brace is downright elegant.¬† With a red tint in my hair, I look something like Queen Elizabeth the First.¬† So what in the world does this stream of consciousness wandering have to do with art?¬† Namely, this:¬† for years I’ve painted standing up,¬†with my head bending over a waist high table.¬† Now that I’m de-bobbled by a neck brace, this position¬†is no longer comfortable.¬† When the head falls forward and down, I feel more¬†like Elizabeth¬†the First’s motherthe Unfortunate Anne.

I refuse to stop painting, so what to do?  Joe and I cuddled on the couch with my I-Pad, and scrolled down pages of standing easels.  Unanimously we concluded that spending an arm and a leg just to accommodate my compromised head would be stupid.

Then suddenly a light went on in said head:  my sturdy, adjustable music stand.  Although my violin retired from active duty years ago, the music stand has continually served in the capacity of displaying art.  Now the music stand has morphed into a standing easel.

Voila!¬† There’s always a way to make minor adjustments—even major ones when needed.¬† Life is GOOD!¬† ūüôā


Margaret L. Been — November 20th, 2016

NOTE:  Happy Thanksgiving!

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Like many Wisconsin children in the 1930s and 40s, I loved winter.  We would race home from school, scarf down some hot cocoa and cookies, put on a few extra layers, and go outside to build snow forts or bombard each other with snowballs.  In the depths of winter, it would be almost dark by the time we quit and went inside to hang our wet wool snowsuits on a steam radiator to dry.  (Oh, the aroma of wet wool heating up!)

I recall several occasions where I realized I was getting sick and could feel a fever rising in my body.¬† Thinking the outdoor cold would squelch the flu bug (or whatever),¬† I’d avoid mentioning how I felt to my very solicitous mother, and stay outside as long as I could stand my hot cheeks and shivering self before going indoors and allowing myself to be put to bed with hot lemonade and honey.

(“Sick” was no joke¬†in pre-penicillin days when front doors of homes¬†frequently sprouted warning signs such as:¬† Scarlet Fever, Diptheria, Measles, etc.¬† Children were put to bed when they had a fever, no matter what!)

What in the world does all this nostalgia have to do with THE MESSY PALETTE?¬† Simply this:¬† Now I am 83 years old and I no longer LOVE winter!¬† I have¬†become a WUSS!¬† Granted, snow is beautiful.¬† In fact, I actually go out and tramp around in the first couple of snowfalls.¬† But in recent years winter has gotten¬†old very fast.¬† By March, when I’ve wanted to peel off layers of clothing and renew my store of solar energy, I have found the snowy cold weather to be absolutely annoying.

Now, suddenly, I am tired of being such a WUSS!¬†¬†I have some really fun and funky leggings and tights, and a drawer full of lovely, colorful sweaters.¬†¬†I can dress like a clown.¬† And I’m¬†psyching myself up for winter with my paints.¬† Case in point is the above sample titled “Winter Sunrise.”¬†

Determined to put a positive spin on the days ahead, I have created a Three Pronged Plan: ¬†1) putting on another sweater when the indoor temperature drops to 70 or 68 degrees, rather than bumping the thermostat to 75;¬† 2) staying outdoors longer each time I need to take my beloved corgi out to do his jobs; and 3)¬†the aforementioned—celebrating winter with my paints.

Sometimes¬†old geezers*¬†go into a second childhood mode.¬†¬†Since our corgi Dylan LOVES to roll in the snow, maybe I’ll start rolling with him.¬† ūüôā

Margaret L. Been Р10/1/16 

*Yes, I know.¬† The expression “old geezers” is certainly not politically correct.¬† Yikes!¬† Who cares?¬† Anyway, I can use the label because I am one!¬† And proud of it!


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Now and then I get the above question—always in response to¬†that rare effort with which¬†I’m really happy.

Some of my paintings are okay (no more than that), and some are (in my opinion) frame-able.¬† But¬†occasionally (once in a red moon?) something happens¬†that actually delights my heart.¬† Like this one which I have titled “Recalling Argyll”.

In this case, along with other¬†paintings which have evoked the “How did you do that?” query,¬† I had to answer an interested friend with my standard reply:¬† “I honestly don’t know!”

What I do know is that I nearly pitched the thing in my wastebasket.  It went through several yucky stages, compounded by the fact that I had nothing whatsoever in my mind when I began painting.  Often that works beautifully, especially with transparent watercolors on YUPO paper which happily does its own thing and produces surprising results when you keep your paintbrush in check or use it lightly.

But in the above case, the transparency¬†got buried too quickly¬†in layers of gouache.¬† Gouache is my ever-ready friend, but here I let it get overly friendly.¬† In lieu of simply pitching the work, I decided to just let it alone so the mess of gouache could dry properly—no easy task in our famous Southeastern Wisconsin summer humidity.

Several days later, I revisited the mess and gave it one last fling—this time globs of white gouache blotched randomly to cover up the muddiest layers of the original paint.¬† And instantly the scene popped out at me:¬† Argyll.

Back in 1993, Joe and I rented a car and drove (actually Joe did all the driving since it was on “the other side of the road”) 2200 miles–mostly on back roads¬†in Scotland, England, and Wales.¬† I was raising¬†sheep here in Wisconsin at the time, for¬†wool for my hand spinning and because I love¬†animals—even the silliest of varieties.¬† So we had planned ahead to stay at sheep farms on this trip of a lifetime.

We landed at Glasgow, and spent our first two days and nights on a farm¬†in Argyll—a¬† familiar household name¬†in my childhood home.¬† My Grandma Kate was a Campbell* and pointed proudly back to some 11th century Duke of Argyll.

How did I do this painting?¬† If I can think up¬†a more helpful answer in addition to the explanation of ruining a painting with piles of gouache and then blotching it up with white paint, I’ll let you know.”¬† ūüôā

But maybe Argyll popped up because in 1993 I felt a deep down sense of belonging there, either due to the 11th century Duke or simply because Argyll is a poignantly beautiful part of the world.

Margaret L. Been —August 3rd, 2016¬†

*If you read Scottish history, you will discover that the Campbells behaved atrociously to the Mac Donalds—something I would hope will stay buried in the past.¬† Anyway, here is my peaceful¬†finale:¬† They came to the USA, where the Campbells made soup and the Mac Donalds made hamburgers.

(Do I hear groans?)

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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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