Archive for the ‘Redeeming failed watercolor paintings’ Category

It’s that time again—when it’s all about flowers and most anything green. Spinach salads, trips to the local garden center to find more INDOOR PLANTS, dreaming of the outdoor gardens while the temperature beyond our doors and windows hovers below freezing, and frequently below zero.

The end of our lane contains a pristine white mountain, where the plow has heaped snowfall after snowfall so that we in our condo community can get out of our garages. This is Wisconsin, USA, and that snow mountain may be with us for several more weeks. But all I can think is FLOWERS.

The above allusion to flowers has seen many mutations since its beginning in late January. Several times it almost got pitched in the recycle bin, but with each frustrating session I came back with renewed vigor and determination. I simply had to have something to show for the New Year!

This painting is 16″ x 20″, and is now framed in a lovely antique wood frame, on the wall beside my piano. I like the rendering, but up until a couple of days ago I definitely did not! Here is why: It started out with a photo realism approach—something that normally doesn’t work for me! The flowers were a dark magenta, with blobs of yellow here and there and something that was supposed to represent sky—in overly predictable blue.

The magenta was overpowering. My well educated husband walked by my art table and preempted my thoughts by commenting, “It needs some white.”

So I attacked the magenta flowers with white gouache (always my friend in coverups.) But somehow the white took over. More yellow. More magenta. Then some alizarin crimson to deflect the winey magenta.

Then more yellow to light it up even more, more blue to anchor the piece to the table—but this time aqua blue, always a winner. This all sounds fast and frenzied, but it took weeks punctuated with days for drying (I tend to gob the paint on thickly), excursions to our local medical clinic where our body parts are kept in running order, and time out to eat and be sociable. And sometimes I slept.

Finally the paper was so clotted with layers of watercolor and gouache IMPASTO style, that I had a fleeting sense of nausea. “You are going to have a bath,” I almost shouted at the paper which was actually curling up on its edges from the barrage of paint.

A bath indeed. Not a shower, but a soaking in our kitchen sink. I brought the dripping mess back to my table and plunked it down thinking I would attack it once again, as it began to dry. But then the magic appeared.

The gross top layers of paint were gone. Somehow much of the yellow had turned to a soft green when blending into the aqua. The magenta/crimson combo had turned a light lavender when confronted with shades of blue. While the paper was still damp, I covered it with plastic food wrap and squished the wrap with my fingers to create creases.

When I removed the plastic the next day, I felt like apologizing to what I found—a lovely bit of art for which I could hardly take credit. As is so often the case, the paint knows best! ūüôā

Margaret L. Been — March 2nd, 2019

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Heading Home for Good.jpg

I doubt there is any middle ground with Yupo paper.¬† One either loves it or hates it.¬† The “haters” are those artists who demand control of their paints, and always work with an unflappable agenda in mind.¬† These folks create beautiful¬†works of abject realism, and often artists of palpable realism are highly trained and amazingly gifted—especially if they achieve high end realism in watercolors.¬† Everyone knows that chasing watercolors is a bit like herding cats.

I am neither highly trained nor amazingly gifted, and fortunately the art I love the most does not fall in the category of abject realism.¬† My favorite artists, the French Impressionists, Post Impressionists, Les Fauves, etc. who worked largely in oils¬†were realistic to a degree, but always with an intensely¬†personal voice.¬† For anything other than “personal voice” I would use a camera—and for me, that wouldn’t be half as much fun as getting out the Yupo and letting the paints fly hither and thither.

Last week my good friend and fellow artist, Vikki, and I shared an art day at our dining room table.¬† We began on Yupo.¬† My rendering was, for starters, terribly generic and¬†dreadfully similar to stacks of other paintings I’ve done:¬† tree – space – tree – space; ¬†leaves and blossoms on tree – space – etc; and plomp – plomp – plomp –¬†ad nauseum.

Now I detest—and desire to always eschew—the¬†plagiarizing of¬†any thing or any person, including myself.¬† So that night I looked over this Yupo thingy, almost upchucked, sprayed it with my trusty water bottle, pressed plastic clingy food wrap onto the entire surface, and went to bed.

The next day I removed the cling film and VOILÀ!  Something I could further develop and live with:  the suggestion of a Viking ship* with sails, and lots of turbulence all over the place.  So much better than plomp Рplomp Рplomp!

I added delineation and definition via gouache to the¬†vessel and its surrounding sky and water—leaving a plethora of confusion, color, and turbulence in the sails as if the depicted journey was, like many of life’s journeys, fraught with distractions, dead-ends, and disasters.

However I am always a positive-note person, so then I named the piece:¬† “Heading for Home the Last Time”—reflecting my blessed assurance in a¬†glorious destination through it all,¬†and eternal joy in the presence of¬†my Lord Jesus.

Margaret L. Been, May 2017

*Because this painting is matted and framed to 12″ x 16″, it was too large to entirely fit in my scanner.¬† Thus the ends of the ship do not completely show on the print.¬† The original in its full size is more representative of an actual Viking ship.¬† Since my husband is descended from Vikings, and loves ships, I wanted to be somewhat realistic.¬† ūüôā

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At one point the above rendering looked exceedingly dark and dreary:¬† blues, greens, and browns—nice colors but in need of some life.¬† As I often do, I thought of the late artist, Thomas Kincade.*¬† In one of his books, he shared that his favorite part of every painting was at the very end, when he added the light.

Now recalling Kincade’s work, I think what he had in mind was a subtle, airbrushed glow of light and not the Van Gogh-ish streaks you see here.¬† But light is light.¬† With all due respect to Kincade who obviously¬†was extremely¬†gifted, I really love Van Gogh—and inexperienced as I am, it shows.¬† So streaks of light transformed this work from a dreary rainy day in late summer to rollicking autumn.¬† And that’s what I’ve named the piece:¬† Rollicking Autumn.

Margaret L. Been — 9/14/16

*I believe that Thomas Kincade was a tremendously sensitive man with a huge soul.¬† His tragic end stands in contrast to the content of his art—which, although not the kind of thing I like to hang on my walls, is quietly soothing and nostalgic.¬† His life¬†was a sobering testimony to the travesty of fame and success √° l√† Hollywood with all its phony glitz and deceptive glamour.

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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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Blood Moon 1

Two nights ago, around 12:30 a.m., I woke up and as I often do in summer, wandered into our living room¬†to open the patio door and step out to enjoy¬†our nocturnal garden and courtyard.¬† I was “stun-gunned” by the sight that greeted me:¬†¬†a blood red moon rising in a bluish purple and red sky, over the wildlife preserve to the east beyond our park.¬† I should have run for the camera, but—to¬†employ a corny fictional expression—I stood¬†transfixed.

The red moon was not fiction.¬† In the¬†sky, traces of distant lightning flashed.¬† Minutes later the lightning moved in close, followed by¬†gentle thunder and a steady, quiet rain which lasted until dawn.¬† Meanwhile, I went back to bed, thinking the red color had something to do with the stormy atmosphere—not surprising given our infamous SE Wisconsin summer humidity.¬† The previous day had been a scorcher.

The next day I couldn’t get that mysterious and almost eerie scene out of my mind, and I began trying to capture the experience of that sky at my paint table.¬† Above is my first attempt.¬† As I worked, I recalled reading in the Bible about blood moons.¬† Joel 2:31 states:¬† “The sun shall be turned to darkness, and¬†the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”

Some preachers have connected recent blood moons with immediate fulfillment of the End Times prophecy.¬† But¬†many diligent¬†Bible scholars agree that this concept does not hold water.¬† In his 2014-published book, BLOOD MOON RISING, Mark Hitchcock wrote:¬† “. . . don’t get caught up or carried away in any speculation about some great cataclysmic event in 2015 surrounding the appearance of the blood moons.”

Obviously we are now¬†after the fact of 2015, and although filled with plenty of global tragedy 2015 was very sadly just like many other years—unless you call the appearance of Donald Trump in the political circus a “great cataclysmic event”.¬† (He may think he is exactly that, but I for one do not.)

Regardless,¬†the sight of a blood moon was a rare privilege which I’ve never before experienced, and may never enjoy again.¬† I did a bit of GOOGLING on the subject, and see that the June, 2016 phenomenon has something to do with the full moon occurring around summer solstice.¬† Not being a scientist, I can’t¬†divulge any more than that from what I read—except that the Algonquin Indians called the June full moon the “Strawberry Moon”, not due to color but rather for the obvious reason of ripening strawberries.¬† That was an understandable and¬†enjoyable bit of information.

Actually¬†the June moon I witnessed did look something¬†like a huge strawberry.¬† My subsequent attempts to improve the above “start” of a painting are even worse than the first, and I now wish I’d quit while I was ahead.¬† Here are Blood Moons 2 and 3:

Blood Moon 2

Blood Moon 3

Pretty awful.  I should have known not to round out the moon and create variety in the sky with (of all things) yellow and blue paint.  Those colors on top of the red turned the sky a yucky brown.  Duh!  Yellow and blue make green, and green plus red equals brown!  My great grandkids know that, because I demonstrated it for them.

I’ll keep working on this, and if not satisfied I’ll simply begin again.¬† Maybe I’ll let it all dry, and then¬†try remedying the mess by adding¬†water soluble oils.¬† Artist Barbara Nechis shares that she always finishes a painting, even when she knows it isn’t going well.¬† She finds that working on a perceived failure gives her the freedom to attack it wholeheartedly—and sometimes the results are surprisingly acceptable.¬† Barbara encourages her readers (and DVD viewers) by adding “It’s only a piece of paper”. ¬† ūüôā

So I will continue messing about with my piece of paper, or I’ll start a new one¬†of the blood moon.¬† If I come up with something frame-able, I’ll post it on this blog.¬† But please do not hold your breathe.¬† If you never see this effort again, we’ll¬†move on to something else—maybe more flowers.

Wise artist, Barbara Nechis has also said, “When we try to compete with nature, nature always wins.”

Margaret L. Been, June 27th, 2016

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In the last post, I shared the bottle painting—initially thought to be¬†a failure¬†but then, after a water bath,¬†not so bad after all.¬† I had attributed the shiny reflection to that desperate act of dousing the work with water.

After much deliberation and messing about at my art table, it dawned on me:¬† It was not the water bath that added to the shine.¬† In that painting I’d used a substance called Gum Arabic which is known to add ease of flow, and shine when applied to¬†with paint.¬† How exciting to have an “art epiphany”!¬† Now I can “shine” whenever the mood hits.

Determined to make more bottles with shiny reflections, I did the below encore on smaller paper to be framed at 11″ x14″:

Dans la Fenetre 4

After framing these bottles and hanging the painting near the aforementioned big one, I kept looking at the smaller painting and thinking BORING!¬† It was too “ploomp, ploomp, ploomp”, like those disgustingly trimmed and groomed evergreens planted around commercial buildings and clinics—or a battalion of hostas marching in a row, planted because someone had no concept of anything more wild, lovely, free, and¬†imaginative to plant in the shade.

So I unframed the above and invested another half hour in¬†messing about, arriving at the conclusion pictured below.¬† Now, I LIKE it!¬† It belongs¬†on the wall with¬†the 24″ x 20″ original—Gum Arabic and all.¬† Oh, so much better!

Dans la Fenetre 2

Margaret L. Been — May 10th, 2016

 NOTE:  Here is the wall.  After a few days of studying the paintings, I realized that the painted bottles were in sync with a shelf of real glass bottles in cobalt blue.


Bottles on the wall

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This painting, matted and framed to 24″ x 20″,¬†is obviously too large to scan on my printer.¬† I would have to take it to Office Max or whatever, and I just don’t want to do that.¬† So instead, I propped it on¬†the couch and photographed it (without the glass) with my I-pad, emailed it to myself, and viol√†.¬† Here it is.

The painting, “Dans la Fen√™tre” (“In the¬†Window”), has an arduous history in its making.¬† I’ve been working on creating reflections, shadows, and the look of a wet still life or landscape.¬† Here I set out to simply do some bottles and their reflections.

Unlike my normal mode, I carefully measured and sketched the window sill and the¬†borders of the painting onto the Arches 140lb cold press art paper.¬† Then I folded pieces of typing/printer paper in half vertically and¬†cut the bottles outward from the fold.¬† When the papers were opened, I had bottles with perfectly symmetrical sides—something like a Rorshach.¬† I lightly traced the bottles onto the window sill, thinking I would (for a change)¬†paint something that actually looked like it was intended to be—in other words, make representational art.¬† ūüôā

Then I began negative painting, around the shapes rather than starting with the actual bottles I’d so carefully transferred onto the¬†paper.¬† The negative painting (background) grew more and more atmospheric as the colors blended.¬† Next, I dropped quinacridone gold, shades of magenta and opera pink, and a touch of¬† French ultramarine¬†into the bottles to reflect their setting.¬† These¬†merged and did their own thing which was to create a rusty,¬†well-worn appearance.¬† Meanwhile, the background had grown a bit muddy so I washed¬†a film¬†of white gouache over the negative painting and into the bottles as well.

Suddenly I realized¬†this was about the ugliest painting I’d ever produced.¬† I was disgusted with myself for (what I thought was) having ruined a¬†large paper.¬† The back side was also a mess from¬†the paint overflow which had seeped in¬†from the table.¬† What to do!!!???¬† By now it was 1:00 a.m.¬†and I was exhausted.¬† I ran a few inches of water in the tub, thinking the piece was too gooey to put in the garbage¬†with all that mucky paint on it.¬† A good rinse would make the disposal a neater operation.¬† Having rinsed, I left the paper to dry off while I slept.¬† Tomorrow (now “today”) I would throw it out.

In the morning, when I went to pick up my disaster, I was stun-gunned.¬† Whatever anyone else might think, I felt this was an amazingly wonderful¬†accident.¬† I loved the painting.¬† Somehow the gunky look had been washed off, exposing the original colors that had been applied.¬† The rinsing created a shiny reflection, much like the mirror image of the bottles was sitting in water.¬† To complete what I now felt was a huge victory, I slightly dabbed outlines here and there on the bottles—to add a hint of structure.¬† What had started out as a very structured piece had become illusory* so the Inktense¬ģ Colored Ink, Water Soluble¬†pencil¬†lines simply propped the bottles up a bit.

BB 1

Here is the framed painting on the wall.  The photo of the picture behind glass does not begin to do justice to the life, light, and shine in the piece.  I had to photograph it in the evening, because in the daylight the glass reflected and transferred everything on the opposite wall onto the image of the bottles.  It was borderline hilarious.

But you can get an idea.¬† I will try to achieve this effect again, although it is challenging—sometimes impossible—to reconstruct an accident!¬†¬†At least I’ve discovered one more way to salvage a less than wonderful effort:¬† just float it and douse it with water.

Margaret L. Been —¬† April 24th, 2016

*Our “artist’s voice” will win out every time.¬† I simply AM NOT a representational painter, even when I measure and draw lines.¬† When displaying art at local venues, we are always given a form to fill out¬†where (among other things) we are asked to¬†list¬†a category which best describes the art.¬† I always write, “ABSTRACT REALISM.”¬† Perhaps that sounds like an oxymoron, but I can’t think of a better term at the moment.¬† ūüôā

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White Roses 3

What do St. Bernard dogs, 911, and gouache have in common?¬† You’ve got it:¬† RESCUE.¬† The above rendering was rescued by gouache from having an unsightly case of the speckles, kind of like art measles.

A rescue job was necessary on this floral because whenever I love something I tend to go over the top, refusing to quit.  This characteristic has resulted in nearly 63 years of a great marriage, a lifelong addiction to maple sugar candy (those little maple leaves obtainable from the Vermont Country Store), and whatever painting trick has captured my heart.

I’d read about “color sanding” in books by Northern Wisconsin fine artist, Karlyn Holman but I only tried it recently.¬† The trick requires watercolor (or ink) pencils and sandpaper or a fingernail¬†emery board.¬† When a colored pencil is shaved over wet paint, delightful speckles form—delightful that is until the entire page is covered with speckles.¬† I managed to do this on the above painting until suddenly¬†the piece was (no kinder way to put it) butt ugly.

Of course great professional artists such as Karlyn Holman always recommend circumspection and moderation when it comes to tricks.¬† And let’s face it, the great artists don’t even need tricks; they only use them cautiously for a bit of extra fun.¬† ūüôā¬† Just leave it to me, to carry the “fun” to extremes.

But then, there’s always gouache to the rescue!

Margaret L. Been¬† —¬† March 5, 2016¬†


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Intanglibles 1

“When do I quit?” is the most challenging question when working with gouache, and probably with acrylic and oil as well.¬† Watercolor speaks for itself, and calls its own shots.¬† There comes a time when¬†rag watercolor paper will say, “Enough!”¬† To continue beyond that point will most¬†definitely create the infamous mud, as layering transparent colors is something¬†a watercolor artist can only get away with three, and perhaps at a max¬†four times—at least that has proven true in my limited experience.¬† Maybe an expert could go further with transparent layers.

But gouache (like acrylic and oil) is opaque and it can be layered from here to infinity.¬† If one wanted to spend a lifetime on just one¬†painting, it could possibly almost¬†be done with gouache—especially on YUPO paper, which is a glass-like smooth surface, willing to accept¬†numerous wash-offs and fresh starts.¬† With multiple layers,¬†the build-up can¬†get pretty¬†fragile,¬†and perhaps¬†crumbly—and I certainly cannot imagine wanting to spend a lifetime on JUST ONE “masterpiece”.¬† However mistakes are easily corrected with opaque paint—hence the potential for infinite layers.

With watercolor we must call the permanent mistakes “happy accidents”, and they can be wonderful.¬†¬†Yet there is another way to go with irretrievable watercolor errors when the mistakes are not wonderful.¬† That way to go is¬†called gouache.¬† So we are back to the intriguing opaque¬†stuff which faithfully layers light over dark while building texture.¬† And¬†the eternal question:¬† “When do I quit?”

Sooner or later I simply have to say, “That’s it.”¬† Thus I finally pronounced an “It is finished” sentence on the above YUPO paper rendering where I laid an initial watercolor wash plus the brown textured pot (?) on the right, then dabbed with gouache,¬†added more gouache in different colors, kept on layering the opaque colors plus white—and finally QUIT.

Time involved?¬† Approximately one hour twice daily for four days.¬† If that sounds like a doctor’s prescription,¬†it could be:¬† a prescription for FUN!

Margaret L. Been, © 2014

NOTE:¬† The “Simply Art” page has been updated.¬† Feel free to pop in and check it out.¬† ūüôā MLB

Another Note:¬† Here are the countries represented in the last month’s “Views and Visitors”.¬† At a time in life where I no longer travel in person, I can travel in words.¬† What a joy!!!

(“Views” represent the number of articles actually read, as compared to “Visitors which are the number of people who access the site.¬† My views always exceed my number of visitors—and the number of views or “reads” per visitor is averaged, showing that rather than hit and run my visitors linger and read normally more than one entry and often three or four.¬† Rewarding!¬†)

Country Views
United States FlagUnited States 257
United Kingdom FlagUnited Kingdom 12
Canada FlagCanada 12
India FlagIndia 6
Korea, Republic of FlagRepublic of Korea 5
Philippines FlagPhilippines 4
Sweden FlagSweden 3
Germany FlagGermany 2
Macao FlagMacao 2
Nigeria FlagNigeria 1
Romania FlagRomania 1
Japan FlagJapan 1
Australia FlagAustralia 1
Saudi Arabia FlagSaudi Arabia 1
Russian Federation FlagRussian Federation 1
Italy FlagItaly 1
Finland FlagFinland 1
Netherlands FlagNetherlands 1

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Lands Beyond

It took me about 5 years to come up with this one:  another way to be sure of creating painterly edges. 

For starters, you will see blurs around the trees.  These were formed first by charging wet paint onto the clean, wet Arches 140 lb. cold press paper.  Then I washed in the sky and rolled a wad of facial tissue (without lotion) over the blue.  The trees (or whatever they are beyond the sky) were achieved by dropping more color on the wet surface.  I dabbed in the flower type thingies in the foreground, and outlined the tree trunks with a knitting needle.  Finally I filled blank areas with yellow. 

Okay, but not okay.¬† I felt there was still a harsh, cut and dried look to the painting.¬† So I ended with¬†my new trick—new to me, that is.¬† I’m certain that many others have done this trick, but I’m delighted to say I “happened” on it by myself.¬† Rather than waiting for the painting to dry before wetting the back of it and weighting it face down between paper towels, I ran water over both the front and back and then weighted it.¬† Additional edges got fuzzy in the process, colors ran into one another, and the paper toweling blotted the diffusing paint.¬† Voila!¬† A painterly painting!

Many of my past renderings turned out to be bla/bla/bla to my eyes, due to boring concise edges.¬† A chair, a table, a bowl of fruit—so what else is new?¬† Or mountains that looked like paper dolls.¬† No thank you!¬† Recently, I’ve recycled some of my former duds, by using the wet surface trick and it¬†seldom disappoints me!

Again and again,¬†I see¬†proof of what my favorite watercolorist artists claim to be true in their experience:¬† that the medium is the artist.¬† With a minimum of manipulation, paint and water do their own thing far more beautifully than I could ever dream of doing!¬† ūüôā

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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