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IF

When we lived up north a decade ago, I was part of a local writers’ group.  One of the members was an artist, and he had paintings on display in an area hospital.  At the time I thought that was the ultimate.  How wonderful for this man, how amazing!  I was totally absorbed in writing and self-publishing my book of essays and poems, A TIME UNDER HEAVEN.  It never entered my head that in just a few months I would pick up a paint brush, and consequently begin an entirely new life adventure.

I’d always enjoyed visual art and thought I would love to paint, but I kept telling myself I didn’t have any talent.  Upon mentioning this to my friend Dee, she said “Why don’t you just do it?”.  Something snapped that day, and I decided who cares about “talent”?  I’m just going to have fun!

When we moved to Southern Wisconsin, I joined PAAC—the Pewaukee Area Arts Council, a group which promotes many disciplines including photography, creative writing, and music.  I had thought my thrust would be what it always has been, writing and especially poetry.  But one meeting called for participants to bring paintings for Show and Tell.  A couple of artist members honed in on my watercolors and urged me forward.  To this day, I’m grateful for that encouragement*—and to my friend, Dee, who gave me an initial shove!

Currently, along with other PAAC visual artists, I have paintings on exhibition in four locales:  a chiropractic clinic, a bank, a family restaurant, and an area hospice.  We change our work every three months, to accommodate the new season.  This miracle (I will always consider it that!) benefits me in two ways:

1)  The gallery opportunities keep me painting purposefully nearly every day, a work which I enjoy immensely and find infinitely refreshing.  My desire is to hang something new every single time, in every place, rather than rotate a painting from one site to another—something I could do if necessary but would rather not.

2)  The paintings are growing larger!  Whereas my max was previously 16″ x 20″ (outside mat size), I’m now venturing into 20″ x 24″.  One of the gallery sites contains a long, high wall.  The 11″ x 14″ renderings which I happily hang in our home might get lost in that exhibition.  Larger pieces are appropriate for the other galleries as well.  And BIG is FUN!

Were paintings to exceed 20″ x 24″, I could work at our son Eric’s office in nearby Waukesha.  There I have a door on filing cabinets, all to myself.  So far I’ve used that resource for messy acrylics, collages, and water soluble oils, which I do very sparingly in the limited space at home in our carpeted bedroom.  Eric has hung a couple of the collages on his theretofore bare walls, to my great satisfaction.  (The approval of one’s family members is best of all!)

The above watercolor and gouache, “Sunspeak”, is “hot off the palette”, and framed in a 20″ x 24″ ready-made dark blue frame.  Beautiful ready-made frames are available at the BEN FRANKLIN store a few miles from our door.  Colorful frames have consistently dominated our walls at home, but suddenly I began to crave the mellow warmth of wood—maybe because we’ve had winter/winter/winter around here since early November.

Now my husband and I have begun to explore the St. Vincent de Paul Thrift Store (actually there are two of them close by) where we find lovely wooden frames for the proverbial song.   A measuring tape has taken up permanent residence in my handbag, and we search and measure at least once a week.  Joe removes the backing—paper or thin board, staples, whatever, and secures the hanging wires on the frames.  I line each frame up in Joe’s work area—either vertically or horizontally so he knows which way to attach the wire.

Here’s a sample of a recent painting presented in a St. Vinnee’s frame:

Wood Frame 1

My art is a series of baby steps, I know.  There are real artists out there with real training and real ability!  But every little baby step is a MIRACLE!

Margaret L. Been, February 2015

*NOTE:  I can’t say enough about the value of encouragement.  I’m continually amazed by the generosity of artists I’ve met—people whose work far exceeds my wildest dream.  Quite honestly, I didn’t always experience encouragement from fellow writers; my writing approbation came from contests, sales to magazines, and from people who enjoyed reading what I wrote.

I’ve often pondered why that should be so.  Perhaps writers tend to be more introspective than a lot of people and thereby preoccupied with whatever they are thinking.  I admit I’ve been that way at times—especially when processing the deeper things in life.  But to encourage another person is such a joy!  I’ve basked in that joy through teaching writing classes over the years.

Like writers, visual artists are tuned in to the world around them—to seeing and experiencing.  But then writers must retreat into the process of distilling their gleanings into words.  Words are miracles too,  But writing is a LONELY craft, at best—and it does demand periods of detachment.  We may be satisfied with our words, while wondering if anyone else will ever read them.  And maybe no one ever will—thus the conduit to sharing is severed.

Conversely, artists translate their impressions into explosions of shapes and color.  Regardless of level of expertise or lack of it, these visuals provide gratification.  We are tremendously fulfilled when we are pleased with our colors and shapes.  We can SEE our work, and others can see it as well.  Varieties of art are endless; each one of us is unique.  This very fact, plus the perk of seeing with our eyes, may create a glorious freedom to encourage others, and be encouraged!

Now isn’t the introspective writer coming out in this discourse?!  Gnawing, ruminating, analyzing, processing thoughts into intangible words?!  No wonder we writers can become ingrown toenails, even oblivious.  Time to go back to the palette and let the colors fly.  🙂

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The Cliffs Were Weirdly Lit

I am greatly blessed with the gift of a visual mind.  When I read, the scenes described in a book loom large before my eyes in living color.  Although I dearly love words, it’s actually the pictures which words evoke that thrill me—or terrify me, whatever the subject of the text may be.  Plot and character development are “biggies” in successful fiction, but for me it is a sense of place and the scenery which rise up larger than life.  I’m perfectly happy with a virtually plot-less novel and one with few characters, if the book abounds in adjectives and adverbs which delineate a scene so vividly that I think I am really there—en plein air!

Visually oriented people are tremendously contented with being “armchair travelers”.  I can take extensive voyages, pilgrimages, and treks anywhere in the world—all from the comfort of my sofa or my “read in bed” 1/2 armchair which serves as a sit-up pillow.  (What an economical way to go!!! 🙂 )

One of my favorite American recent writers is Louis L’Amour.  Yes, Louis was tremendously skillful at plotting, and his characters are amazingly individualistic—never the fare of “canned” formula fiction.  But most of all, I love this author for his painterly writing.  And he is my first assignment in my self-programmed Autumn Painting Agenda of painting en plein air via literature.  With words before me, I can pick up my brush and render my take on the scene described.

The above watercolor on Arches (pronounced “ARSH”—it’s French) 140 lb. cold press paper was inspired by the following description in Louis L’Amour’s SACKETT BRAND:  “The sun was just below the horizon and the red rock cliffs were weirdly lit.  Out of the west a tiny puff of dust lifted, grew, and became a fast running horse.”

I’m very excited about painting passages of literature.  Additional Louis L’Amour scenes may be forthcoming, plus quotes from painterly poems—including my own poems.  From long before I found the courage to pick up a paint brush—in fact for most of my life since early childhood—I have happily painted with words.

Margaret L. Been, 2013

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Since May, with a few brief interludes where a light sweater was welcome, we’ve experienced an old-fashioned summer in Southern Wisconsin.  High heat and humidity—that special Lake Michigan area feature I’d nearly forgotten about in 8 years of Northwoods living—have reigned supreme, reminding me of those childhood years when we spent our summer evenings sitting on porches with fans.

Although we have air conditioning, Joe and I dislike the unnatural feel of it—so we have never turned it on.  We have 2 large windows which face south, and a patio door plus a front door facing east  The east side of our home is shaded from noon on, by a patio roof and the building on either side of our alcove. 

Each room in our home has a ceiling fan.  With everything open and the fans at full tilt, we are comfortable in the hottest, most humid of days.  Life is good!  How we are enjoying our languid summer! 

But yesterday we were reminded that we still do live in Wisconsin where seasonal change is a significant part of life.  We had news-breaking rain, flash floods, and violent thunder storms. 

The monstrous thunder cracks right outside our windows were disconcerting, until I immersed myself in the last chapters of Job, and reflected on the awesome power of our God.  Weather is our major reminder that, whatever happens and whatever people and governments may do, God is in control

God never changes, but weather does.  Here in beautiful Wisconsin, we are experiencing whispers of change.

Margaret L. Been, ©2010

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Wisconsin begins a new year with brilliant sunshine, so lacking in recent weeks.  The price we pay for this sunshine is a thermometer reading of zero and below.

Never mind.  I always say the deep cold is good for our souls.  And with the deep cold comes a gradual, inexorable increase of daylight minutes.

At our lowest ebb in December, we had 8:59 minutes of daylight here at our home in Southern Wisconsin.  Where we lived up north, there are something like 8 hours and 39 minutes on the shortest days.  That’s a lot of darkness, and it is dreary.  I shudder to imagine what Alaska is like during the downward plunge.

But the downward plunge is worth it all!  What a joy, to welcome a new year of daylight.  Now, on New Year’s Day, we have 9 hours and 3 minutes of daylight–not including the twilight which will stretch out more and more as January progresses into February.

In about 8 weeks, the redwing black birds will begin returning.  We have a spot about 20 miles SE of us, where we will venture to see them before they fly into our neighborhood.  And hear them!  My blood surges just to think of hearing redwing blackbirds.

Meanwhile, the cheer cheer cheer of the cardinal will begin in just a few weeks–perhaps by the end of the month.  The mourning dove will start mourning sometime in mid-February.  It happens every year!

Great is Thy faithfulness, oh Lord!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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