Archive for the ‘Summer in Wisconsin’ Category

Regardless of the lure of my gardens, and the joy of spinning Merino wool mixed with gorgeous silk, I am making art. Trees seem to be stuck in my head. Oh well—Monet and haystacks, Been and trees. Not that the comparison goes beyond the fact of repeating subject matter.

In fact, I have a hilarious protection against the plight of the over-padded ego; and I have shared this with countless friends who, like me, are attached to their I-pads. Or phones. Or laptops.

Here is my protection. Just GOOGLE: “Pig Who Paints” or “Pigcasso”. This character never fails to make me smile. And she also appears to be smiling on the several U-tubes that feature her producing art. Which proves that art makes us happy whether we are a person or a porker! ūüôā

Margaret L. Been — July 16, 2019

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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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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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Another another.jpg

And still more

I did a bunch of blood moons which are now stashed away on my recycle pile, and finally came up with these two.  The bottom one of the above is my favorite.  I was unable to work in the red sky (which was across the entire eastern horizon that night) and still have the moon pop out prominently.

A lot of artists recommend doing a series of renderings of any subject that strikes us as unforgettable.  That is obviously what has been going on here continually, considering the wall-to-wall garden paintings in my storage closet as well as on our walls!  Now the moons are hanging in our dining area to add some contrast.

Meanwhile, my Joe has encouraged me to set up another studio at our dining room table.¬† Currently gallerywrap canvasses,¬†and acrylic paints and brushes are dominating the dining table annex—with bins of collage papers, fabrics, and random odds and ends stored under the table.¬†¬†Fortunately there is still room for dining at one end.¬† ūüôā

Margaret L. Been — July 11, 2016

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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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Karen's Patio

Recently a friend¬†posed a question that has inspired me to ponder.¬†¬†Knowing I’d only been making art for a few years, she asked, “Do you think you are getting any better at it?”

After pondering long and hard, I keep coming up with the same answer:¬† “No, I’m not improving—only changing.¬† And definitely growing!”¬† Not only growing in the sense of experimenting with my paints and¬†stretching into areas I never dreamed of before, but I think I’m growing as a human!¬† After all, the intensive reading of art history and studying centuries of great art (mostly via books and periodicals, not galleries) cannot fail.¬† Learning any new thing will result in growth in comprehension and appreciation—and that growth fans out to impact many other areas of life.

I’m learning to see with fresh eyes—similar, perhaps, to the eyes of a child.¬† I’m discovering beauty in off-beat places—like the weathered and rustic back alley behind the stores in our¬†up-north small town, and a case of colorful gelato in¬†our local coffee bistro.¬† Just last week hundreds of teensy tadpoles slithering about in the shallows of the Rock River set my mental paintbrush slithering on hypothetical 140 lb. cold press paper.

More than ever before, I think in pictures and translate mental pictures into shapes not readily discernible to anyone but me.  When I paint a picture from my mind, or from an experience I want to remember, one or more facets of that scene or experience will surface in colors which convey mood and emotions.

Below you will see an example of painting an experience—a rendering which I shared awhile back, and am repeating in this instance because it shows the technique of¬†expressing one or more facets to tell a story, rather than trying to replicate a scene in photographic detail:

Jamie and Leo's Day

The experience dates back to a wedding in September, 2013.¬† Family members and friends of¬†our granddaughter Jamie and her sweetheart Leonardo were waiting outside of St. John’s mini cathedral in Delafield, Wisconsin for that moment when we could¬†enter the church for the ceremony.¬† Anyone who has experienced the best of a typical Wisconsin autumn can reconstruct the scene in his or her mind:¬† warm sunshine, crisp air,¬†blue sky, and the sleepy¬†droning of cicadas.¬† The day—mellow beyond words.¬† Jamie and Leo—even more¬†mellow and precious than the day.¬† When a scene or experience is mellow beyond WORDS, only a picture will suffice.

So in this rendering—“Jamie and Leonardo’s Day”—you will see sunlight, the Norman architecture of the St. John’s cathedral and campus, and the suggestion of trees in early autumn while the grass is still summer-green.¬† I could not begin to paint Jamie and Leo, but I could record the happiness I experienced at their wedding.

Growing through art.¬† Along with growing in ways to see, I’m growing in a tolerance for messes.¬† Life in process can be messy, but I’ve always been a neat freak.¬†¬†From the onset of my art adventure, I’ve had to relax with messes and even enjoy them when they reflect a work in process.¬† There are paint stains on the carpet around my art table, and splatters on the strip of drywall behind where I work.¬† Part of the d√©cor!¬† Evidence of a life lived with the exuberance of freedom from fussing and fretting about things that don’t matter!

No, not better.¬† Just changing and growing.¬† The painting at the top of this page is a rendering of my friend Karen’s patio.¬† I did this back in 2007, from a photo that I’d taken when visiting Karen.¬† I had¬†my original¬†painting reproduced at a print shop, to a place mat size, and then laminated—so we have placemats of Karen’s patio.¬† I also gave her some of the placemats, and she¬†recognized her patio.

Were I to paint the same scene today it would be vastly different—not only because Karen is always assembling fresh details of vintage beauty in her home and garden, but because¬†today I would not even dream of trying to reproduce a scene camera style.¬† Certain features of the patio d√©cor would grab me, and I would express those features—colored by my mood and the essence of that day.

The mention of “mood” brings me to the realization that perhaps only in the arts can one’s subjective mood be the prominent and dominating factor.¬† In our everyday world, objectivity is absolutely essential—for survival, for accuracy in our work, in our understanding of other people, and for¬†a correct¬†view of life itself.

Contrary to much current thought, we live in a world which is objectively BLACK AND WHITE—in terms of TRUTH AND NON-TRUTH, GOOD AND EVIL, RIGHT AND WRONG.¬†¬†But in the arts, we can express with subjectivity—life as we see and experience it, uniquely from the inside out.¬† Considering the countless benefits of (and reasons for) art, perhaps that is one of the greatest:¬† the arts are windows to¬†subjective aspects of the human experience.

No, not better.¬† As far as I can see, just changing and growing.¬†¬†At age 80, I’m blessedly free of a competitive spirit in my work.¬† Thus, art making is pure pleasure and excitement for me—devoid of any sense of struggle or drive which would mar my freedom, spontaneity, and joy.¬† If I can express just those three things—freedom,¬†spontaneity, and joy—I’m delighted.¬† And completely contented!

Here is a very recent example called “Blue and Old Pottery”—done in gouache (with hints of watercolor and acrylic) on Yupo paper.¬† Not better, just changing and growing.¬† And different!¬†¬†That’s part of the excitement of art.¬† No two paintings are alike!¬† ūüôā

blue and old pottery 2

Margaret L. Been — July, 2014

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Summer Saturday

Many of us who love to make art will invariably respond to the season we are in and what is going on outdoors.¬† My most beloved seasons¬†are Summer,¬†Spring, and Autumn.¬† There¬†is a fourth season in Wisconsin which I really don’t care much for.¬† I¬†have lived with Number 4 most of my life, and compensate by concentrating on its pristine beauty.¬† But beauty devoid of bodily comfort can leave one cold, and that’s exactly what a Wisconsin Winter does to me when I am out in it—at least on days below 20 degrees and especially during those spells of 10-20 degrees¬†BELOW ZERO.

I’ve painted¬†some winter scenes, but quite honestly they make me shiver when I look at them.¬† Consequently¬†indoor still lifes¬†make a¬†better alternative from November through March (sometimes overlapping at each end).¬† There is something about rendering tea cups and a vase of flowers on a wrinkly table runner (no matter how abstract) that warms¬†my heart on a chilly day.¬† Or I’m also apt to paint an outdoor¬†patio and iced tea scene smack in the bare bones of winter as a kind of escape,¬†much more pleasant to me than the concept of traveling on a¬†cruise ship carrying hundreds of noisy people¬†engaging in¬†mindless “vacation fun”.¬† Better to be at home with silence, solitude, and¬†a depth of¬†life quality¬†(even when cold) than warm and jammed in a vacationing mob—or any other kind of a mob for that matter.

Meanwhile, outdoor¬†living in¬†my good seasons¬†offers plenty of subjects for art.¬† A favorite subject—especially toward autumn—is local produce.¬† We have a¬†farmer’s market just¬†6 minutes from home.¬† A delightful Summer Saturday morning begins with coffee and rolls, quiche, or whatever, at a bistro in Delafield—followed by a short (less than one block) stroll to the market.¬† Along with produce, some cutesy craft items are sold there—and a local guitarist strums and sings,¬†adding¬†an extra dash of ambience¬†to the¬†morning.

Voil√† the above watercolor on YUPO¬ģ paper, titled “Summer Saturday”. ¬†Small town living is hard to beat in any season!

Margaret L. Been, 2013


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