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Archive for the ‘Overcoming artists’ block’ Category

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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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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Swamp Fire

Awhile back I experienced a kind of “painter’s block” where I felt like I would never again be able to paint anything which might serve to slightly elevate my very low blood pressure, let alone anyone else’s.  This has happened to me fairly regularly over the past six years in which I’ve been making art.  Because I love art with a passion, I refuse to give up where my painting is concerned and I’ve discovered ways to boost my psyche out of any potential creativity block.

Along with “keeping on keeping on”, it helps immeasurably to add a new medium or avenue of expression to the art-making so that the process never becomes routine.  I have no desire to become stylized by reproducing cookie-cutter, look-alike work; hence I’ve added gouache to my watercolor stash and periodically I produce collages from a large collection of saved “everything” in terms of visual appeal, textural quality, and treasured memorabilia.  A new-to-me paint color, often from a new-to-me manufacturer, is another exciting form of recharging my art batteries and crashing through the artist’s block.

DVDs and books by artists are an ongoing source of inspiration to me.  I view and read them over and over, constantly finding something fresh and applicable.  Hence I have not one but many teachers.  Recently I received an absolute no-fail “block-buster” via a new-to-me DVD, by a new-to-me artist/art instructor:  British watercolorist, Ann Blockley.

Ms Blockley’s love for nature springs to life through her exquisite paintings achieved with a variety of methods.  She uses acrylic ink, oil pastels, and other materials in her work, reflecting a vitality and sense of beauty in the smallest details of nature alongside a background of landscape bordering on abstract forms which I find tremendously compelling.

Ann’s color choices leap over any possible boundaries which might threaten to confine a painter enamored with, or driven by, objective realism.  Much as I appreciate the incredible skill represented in realistic art, my head and heart are stirred by work that overcomes those boundaries—work that embodies mystery and stirs the imagination.  If I want realism, I enjoy photography—another fantastic art.

In her DVD, Ann Blockley stresses what most artist’s value:  painting what we love, from our experience.  Although Ann paints in her studio (a charming antique outbuilding surrounded by her lush garden on her English country property) she gathers inspiration in time spent outdoors with nature in all seasons.  She sometimes sketches details which capture her interest when walking, and gathers information concerning subject matter to develop in her studio—along with branches of seed pods, leaves, and flowers which bring nature indoors.

I feel akin to this artist, as I never never can go for a walk without bringing in something:  pine cones, some fallen nuts (even just nutshells cleaned out and abandoned by squirrels), stones, leaves, dried on the branch flowers, etc.  Our visiting great-grandchildren love to sort through my numerous stones and rocks—plus shells that I’ve collected myself on inland beaches along with gorgeous ocean shells which have been given to me by friends who spend time on ocean beaches.  Thus, after viewing the Blockley DVD a few times, the above rendering of a swamp emerged.  Like THE GIRL OF THE LIMBERLOST, I have always loved swamps, and Joe and I were privileged to live overlooking a Northern Wisconsin swamp for several years.

So thanks to one more British artist, I have leaped over another incident of artist’s block and I’m re-energized—raring to go on.  My list of favorite and most inspirational water media teachers, through books and DVDs, has grown again.  The list includes one Canadian artist, one American, and four from Britain.  Those stats tell me that since the venerable art of watercolor painting (or rather watercolour) was long-ago perfected in England, we “colonists” can be eternally grateful for our heritage!!!  I know that I am!!!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, November 2014

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