Archive for the ‘The joy of music’ Category

An inventory of what I have done in my studio over the last year has proved a bit surprising—or maybe not!  For 8 months out of the 12, I have been gimped with ortho issues. A shoulder replacement in late 2017 had only just begun to heal when a hip kicked in saying, “Hey, it’s not fair. I want some of this attention.”

Two major hip surgeries later (the 1st, a total hip replacement and the 2nd, to repair a severely fractured femur with screws, metal hooks, and wires that make me think of civil engineered bridge construction) I am still hobbling and spending much of the time off my feet.

For several weeks it was 1 leg only, to navigate this “kid in an old body” to and from a cozy living room couch (my 24/7 hangout) to a bathroom (about 5 yards away), my piano right behind my couch, and an extra art studio which my wonderful husband set up for me at the nearby end of our dining room table.

Books, limited piano practice which—although done sitting down—wore me out, my French tutorial apps and a Public Television app on my I-pad (I re-watched the entire DOWNTON ABBEY), serial-shopping on Amazon (FUN/FUN/FUN!), Van Cliburn and other geniuses streaming through my devices into our fine speakers day and night (1 of which speakers was conveniently located beside my ear on my 24/7 couch), my knitting (how many cowls does anyone need?), and ART made up my life for much of 2018.

Who needs to cook, scrub floors, vacuum, and dust anyway?

I normally avoid medical discussions except with those professionals to whom Medicare is paying me to complain, but the above diatribe is to demonstrate how life can be a lot of fun under rather strange circumstances! And how art can thrive, when pain and disability prevail. One’s pain can literally be “drowned” in paint, especially the wet into wet method of working which I prefer.

Anyway, my inventory yielded a surprising 35 paintings that I actually like. (There are always the “duds” which get stashed on a shelf for possible reworking or salvaging parts; or sometimes they are so outrageous that I trash them.)

The keepers range from (3) 20″ x 24″ biggies, a 16″ x 20″, a handful of 11″ x 14″ renderings, and a preponderance of 12″ x 16″ paintings—obviously my favorite size. The paintings are predominately woodland scenes and funky individual trees—with a smattering of flowers, a sailboat in trouble, some landscapes with distant castles, a still life (my least favorite), and a huge, totally abstract on Yupo Paper which I LOVE most of all.

Although my inventory preferences are not exactly written in the proverbial stone, they are indicative—and it was fun reviewing a year of art making, body disability notwithstanding.

The year’s earnings amounted to $700.00 which constituted a donation to, and sale at, our local art group’s annual fundraiser. My dislike of office type stuff is such that I can find no record of which paintings I donated. I believe they were “masterpieces” from former years.

Also, I give paintings to interested friends and family members. As with club donations, my right hand (very happily) does not know what my left hand is doing.

I share many of my favorites via prints glued to notecards, thus bragging about my art while facilitating my passion for writing actual letters as opposed to emails.

Above are the end of 2018 renderings, hardly even dry when I photographed them with my I-phone camera. They tend to make me think of Spring, and they are my HAPPY NEW YEAR to you!

Margaret L. Been, December 31st, 2018

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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 – plomp – plomp!

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.  🙂

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When the deep purple falls

“When the deep purple falls, over sleepy garden walls . . . .”  Lyrics by Mitchell Paris, Music by Peter de Rose

I play this beautiful oldie on my piano a lot.  It takes me back to the courtship days which my love and I still recall and relive—we are still joyously courting!  Anyway, the deep purple got under my skin and came out in my paintbrush—on wonderful YUPO® paper.  🙂

Margaret L. Been, 2013

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Happiness 1

It may be assumed that every craftsman (or woman) who loves the craft also loves his (or her) tools.  The carpenter loves his hammer and saw, the chef loves his knives, the plumber loves his wrenches, the photographer loves his camera, and perhaps the dentist even loves his drill—although that does sound a bit weird.

But this craftsman (actually, woman) loves HER brushes, paints, papers, and all those miscellaneous accoutrements known to the watercolorist.  There are many fine brands of supplies available.  Like most people who love a craft I do have my favorites.

My “Messy Palette” is a JOHN PIKE.  There are many palettes out there, and most of them look fantastic.  My favorite brushes are Daniel Smith’s aquarelles—flat and round in several sizes, Jack Richeson’s small flats, and Robert Simmons’ 2″ SkyFlow wash brush. 

The paints on my palette are mostly AMERICAN JOURNEY—wonderfully vibrant buttery-quality paints in more colors than I ever dreamed of.  I tend to buy mainly the transparents and skip most of the earth tones, as they can be created by combining two primaries and adding a complement.  Sometimes, if I want an opaque touch, I use a bit of gouache—any brand.  There are a few WINSOR & NEWTON colors that I keep handy: New Gamboge, Olive Green, Brown Madder (really a chestnut red/brown), and the Winsor Blues—green shade and red shade.  The Winsors are drop-dead gorgeous, and they bleed/diffuse/blossom/fray into whatever colors are next to them creating amazing art with no effort on the part of the artist.  (Some individuals do not like the blossoms and diffusions, but I love them.)

My papers are Arches 140 lb. cold press and YUPO (pictured above).  I consistently alternate between these two supports, as I like them equally.  They are totally different—Arches being the traditional rag paper great for transparent laying, and YUPO being a glasslike surface which is non-absorbing and full of funky surprises.

Then there are the miscellaneous items:  a candle for creating a wax resist; scraping tools such as a credit card (an obsolete one) and a small paring knife; a pan scrubber to scrunch across wet paper for blurry effects; old knitting needles for painting scratchy lines; rubbing alcohol for spattering and making snowy blurbs or ocean waves; Q tips for dabbing; a toothbrush (not the one I use on my teeth) for spattering the alcohol or blotching the paint; salt and my soapmaking cosmetic powders to create texture and interest; plastic wrap and waxed paper for pressing into wet paint to create rocks, etc; a couple of drinking straws to blow paint around on the support; spray bottles containing various liquid paints; a large and small spray bottle for spraying water—one with a large spray and one with a fine mist; dummy matts in various sizes; a deckle edge scissors for cropping when necessary; facial tissues for making clouds and mountains; paper towels for wiping brushes; water containers; water soluble ink pencils and watercolor crayons for drawing on the support (I rarely do this, but when drawing is needed the ink pencils and watercolor crayons are better than graphite pencils because when dampened the ink and crayon marks blend into the paint); sandpaper and nail files for scraping ink pencil into wet paint and making textured color blobs; Winsor & Newton Texture Medium which creates a grainy surface to paint over—great for rocks and trees; and more.

Happiness 2

I have named the above photos “Happiness 1 and 2.  You can imagine why I gave them that name.  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©

NOTE:  I order my painting supplies online from Daniel Smith, Jerry’s Artarama, Dick Blick, and Cheap Joe’s.  As far as I know, the wonderful American Journey paints are only available from Cheap Joe’s—and only Daniel Smith carries Daniel Smith’s aquarelle brushes. 

Some supplies may be found in an art supply store.  But the stores normally price the stuff higher than the online suppliers do.  The selection in stores is often sadly limited.  And only online can I find American Journey paints! 

I do recommend professional rather than student quality for all painters and would-be painters—even for children who seriously love to make art.  It’s worthwhile to splurge here, and cut corners elsewhere. 

Inferior quality products simply do not satisfy.  Early encouragement and pleasure in a discipline are terribly important.  We would never want our children to learn music on an off-key, tinny piano—and there is no sense in being penurious with art supplies IF we can somehow manage to buy the best.

Hereby smolders a potential blog topic for http://northernreflections.wordpress.com/  Parents often manage to buy costly athletic equipment, electronic stuff for their kids, name brand clothes, or a new and bigger house.  WHY?  In my world art/music/drama/crafts/books are infinitely more important than any of those “latest things” that many seem driven to purchase! 

I’ve always been contented with frayed furniture and an outdated TV (which I rarely watch).  I love dressing “to the nines” in resale attire and eschewing the “latest fad”.  But I spend BUCKS on music, art, and books!!!

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I love music, and the music I favor varies with my mood.  Some days are just right for Pavaratti, Yo-Yo Ma, or most any Philharmonic.  On other occasions my ethnic roots surface, and only Celtic will do. 

Drums and skirling pipes stir me to a point where I visualize my Campbell of Argyl ancestors pacing and piping with that characteristic dignity and reserve known to few outside the Scottish Highlands.  I’m so enamored with the pipes, that I’ve prematurely (I think, anyway) procured a piper to play “Amazing Grace” for my going-home celebration. 

We have a sizable library of Irish CDs.  A thoughtful mindset calls for poignant ballads, best rendered via harp.  We have several harpists on discs.  The ambience of harp music has a way of transporting the listener to another world.

Rollicking, high energy days call for the Chieftans, the Irish Rovers, or the Clancy Brothers.  Their ballads include accounts of pubs, pretty wenches, that famous Irish anesthesia—whiskey, travelers bound for “Cali – forn – I – aye” (in search of gold, no doubt), and lovers wandering hand in hand beside rivers and green woods. 

Recently I was making art in the evening.  I decided I wanted to paint autumn, because that’s where we are at the moment.  I tried to focus on red, gold, and orange—with a little terra cotta and burgundy thrown in—attempting to capture the brightest autumn imaginable, vibrant with sugar maples.  But for some reason, my brush kept making forays into the greens on the palette—or sometimes into yellows and blues.  My masterpiece in process kept jumping out of season—recalling summer.

Why did this happen?  It dawned on me that a melody and lyrics had been rolling in my head all day, and the music continued to roll as I painted.  I’d played the Clancy Brothers that morning, to provide a peppy background and beat for a day of spinning some gorgeous wool roving into yarn.  Consequently my mind kept echoing:  “He whistled and he sang till the green woods rang, and he won the heart of a lady.”

The result of such a brainwashing simply had to be green woods!  And here it is, on that amazing YUPO® paper.  🙂

Fine artist Barbara Nechis warns against “self-plagiarism”—in other words, painting the same scene or object over and over.  I’ve wondered if I am doing that with my plethora of trees, rocks, and rivers.  But I paint what I love, and I’m in good company.  Claude Monet certainly repeated himself with water lilies and haystacks.

Obviously, as Nechis points out, the solution for painting in series is to vary each rendering so that one is saying something new about the subject with each work:  using different colors and shapes, and striving for a diversified mood with each painting. 

There is no reason why trees have to be grey/black/brownish.  They can be purple, pink, or blue.  Leaves don’t have to be green in summer and red/yellow/gold in autumn.  They can be lavender or black.  I’ve painted fiery red waters (the Shenendoah River actually is red), green and burgundy skies, and every available color of rock. 

If only children, from 2 years old to 90, could realize that we are FREE when we pick up a paintbrush!  If we are truly free in our art making, we can constantly repeat ourselves with impunity!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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“In order for a woman to write fiction  she needs money and a room of her own.”  Virginia Woolf

While I agree that financial resources are necessary to pursue any of the arts—at least to provide the basics for living and supplies for one’s craft—I disagree with Virginia Woolf on the matter of “a room of her own”.  For many years I wrote (some fiction, and a lot of everything else) in various places around the home—starting with a kitchen corner counter where I sat on a stool and wrote for 2 hours most every afternoon while dinner simmered or baked, and our small children tumbled and bumbled around me.

From the kitchen, I graduated to a writing desk in the corner of our master bedroom.  Then came some interim years where I did have a spare hobby room in the home, and now I’ve happily returned to a desk in the master bedroom.  In this same bedroom we have a generous window sill and table for houseplants, and 2 work surfaces where I can paint and build collages.  A second desk with shelves and drawers holds painting supplies, along with 3 commodious stacking units of plastic drawers from HOME DEPOT. 

A room of one’s own can be a few square feet in most any multi purpose room.  Private space can be managed most anywhere, when we enjoy planning and accommodating our working needs to whatever is available.  It’s amazing how much furniture (and how many objects!) can be efficiently and attractively crammed into a given area, when one is willing (and in my case, eager) to be creative and somewhat “far out”.  I’ve always loved arranging my home in ways that would make most conventional “interior decorating” gurus shudder—just as I thrive on decorating with stuff that the conventional folks would take to the dump, or toss out to the curb. 

The main challenge with private space is to create an area where projects may be left out while in process.  The drawback of working at a kitchen counter or dining room table is obvious; the writer or artist must clean up his or her act in order to prepare and serve a meal.  One artist said she was happy to finally move her art space out of the kitchen, because she was tired of getting peanut butter on her brushes.

I subscribe to art magazines and enjoy gazing at the spacious studios where professional artists work.  But I simply do not covet these studios one teeny bit.  The professional artist who hangs his work in galleries frequently does large renderings.  Gallery displays— especially of oil paintings but also of acrylics, water media, and collages—tend to measure out in feet rather than inches.  

At this point, I have not been motivated to “work big”.  My largest pieces are 11″ x 14″, matted and mounted in 12″ x 16″ frames.   The above pictured card table could accommodate a larger support, and will—if I ever decide to expand my paintings.  I’d simply have to move my palette and brushes somewhere else for the duration.  Meanwhile, smaller works are fun! 

Our entire 4 room condo (plus 2 bathrooms and great storage areas) could be called a “studio”.  A corner of our living room has been turned into a fiber arts studio, pictured below.  ↓

Joe’s den is his “sports viewing studio”, and it is his computer area as well.  There 2 things on earth which Joe and I cannot share:  1) a toothbrush and 2) a computer.  Joe and I each have our own cyberspace.  He has a recliner chair in his den, so it’s also a “napping studio”.

Then there is a “music studio”, in another part of our living room. ↓

And finally, you might call the houseplant areas (3 places around our home) “horticulture studios”—or maybe conservatories.  Here is one of our conservatory/horticulture studios. ↓

Whether for writing, making art, reading, sipping tea, or just sitting and zoning out, every person needs a “studio space”—even if it’s only one small table and a chair in a corner of a room.  Private space!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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Here is our view at dusk, over the bay at our northern home.  The original photo is beautiful, but not quite so colorful.  I beefed up the color, and also added the stars, on my HOME PHOTO STUDIO program.

I have a couple of friends who are so vehemently opposed to computers that they wouldn’t be caught dead accessing a website or reading a blog.  Yet these friends enjoy my printed out art and photos, sometimes digitally enhanced and glued to cardstock.  I’ve not bought any note papers or stationery for years, as my originals are fun to produce—and my note papers are appreciated.

Since 1995, when I got my first computer (of which I was terrified at first) I’ve enjoyed opportunities for learning, viewing art, and listening to music which I never before dreamed of.  It baffles me how anywould think our technology is “cold and impersonal” when it brings so much life, vitality, and creativity to our fingertips!  I cannot get to art museums, and even our local libraries are limited in art literature—yet online I can find centuries of “immortality” in the arts.

Technology has opened a wonderful world of sharing!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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Last evening I had a BDN.  That’s “Bad Disc Night”—not “disc” as in computers, boom boxes, or DVD players, but discs in the lumbar region of my body.

Joe and I like to go to bed early with our books and George Winston.  George is not actually present in person in our home, but we have 3 and 1/2 hours of him on our IPOD mounted on a boom box.  We play all kinds of music in the daytime—from opera, to requiems, to symphonies, and Celtic harp.  But at night only that poet of the piano, George Winston, will do.

Last night even George, my achey/bakey (a flannel bag filled with feed corn and heated in the microwave), and my prescription pain medication were no help.  Bad discs!

I was studying a newly purchased book:  ART MAKING, COLLECTIONS & OBSESSIONS, by Lynne Perella.  This book, packed with pictures and inspiring text, contains “An Intimate Exploration of the Mixed-Media Work and Collections of 35 Artists.”

I read, viewed, and savored page after page of wonderfully funky stuff—shelves and boxes crammed full of tantalizing junk, plus art and unique groupings fashioned from junk by imaginative minds with skillful hands.  But even the delectable contents of my book, in tandem with the above-mentioned remedies, couldn’t tame those bothersome lumbar discs.

The book finally catapulted me out of bed and into the living room.  Suddenly I just had to create something—a little vignette on the coffee table by one of our sofas.  I gathered odds and ends, puttered, and voila:  the above table laden with some of my (many!) favorite things.

From left to right behind the platter of shells you will see:  the corners of two 1917 nature books with gorgeous watercolor illustrations given to me by a precious friend, Georgian, who married my Dad when he was a 95 year old widower; a watercolor sketch of Joe fishing, quickly done by me as I sat behind him in the boat while dipping my paintbrush in the lake; a Cheerios® mug containing not cereal, but rather a baby jade plant; and my watercolor rendition of a wolf cub howling his heart out.

On the mirrored platter you will find:  a variety of Atlantic Ocean shells and some coral; a 1920s crystal door knob; an elegant little notebook given to me by our daughter, Judy; a battery operated tea light in a green glass votive dish; a piece of tattered lace; and (left front) a diminutive, ornately framed photo of my two sisters when they were young—Ardis who was 8 years older than I, and Shirley, the sister who died before I was born.

After creating this scenario of beauty, and surveying my personal “art making” with much satisfaction, I went back to bed and also to sleep—raging discs notwithstanding,  

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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When we moved into our Southern Wisconsin condo home in September, 2009, we were immediately “warned” by a neighbor woman that the man in the condo above us was “grumpy”. 

Joe and I simply smiled at this indictment, as we prefer to follow our own instincts where people are concerned, and we do not truck with the estimations and opinions of others.

Joe met the man upstairs (from now on he will be referred to as TMU) shortly after we settled, and they discussed gardens.  Here is how our condo gardens work:  the downstairs owners have a nice patio garden and some space outside of their garage as well.  The upstairs people have a commodious deck, and they get to garden the long strip of earth along the side of their garage.

In his garage side garden, TMU had some beautiful tomatoes which he pleasantly shared with Joe and me.  Grumpy?  I don’t think so!

Come spring, TMU mentioned that his daughter’s family had bought a country property, and his garden would be there rather than here at the condos.  TMU graciously “gave” his generous garden space to me, via Joe.  Grumpy?  I don’t think so! 

I thanked TMU, and last spring I happily planted the wonderful extra garden facing east and southeast—perfect for a lot of plants.  And over the winter I’ve been mentally filling that space with a lot more!  TMU didn’t seem grumpy to me!

Meanwhile, I have been very careful about my (almost) daily piano practise, as I don’t want to wear out our welcome with TMU.  Our units are soundproof, but occasionally we hear some flushing, or a faint hum of a vacuum cleaner.  So I have been in the habit of only practising somewhere between 8:30 a.m. and about 5:00 p.m.  I limit my practise sessions to 1 hour at the most, sometimes picking up another hour later in the day. 

Still I wondered, could TMU hear the piano?  I will never give it up, but I do want to be sensitive to the rest and serenity of those around us.  I would certainly negotiate times of practise with TMU, if necessary!

Then I received the shock of the century, a few weeks ago.  Joe was chatting with TMU outside by our garages, when TMU said, “Tell your wife I LOVE to hear her play the piano!  I always turn my TV off, and listen.”

This blew me away, not only because TMU had originally been mispresented to us but because my piano skills are neophyte!  My main instruments over the years have been violin and voice, and I only studied piano for a few months when I was very young.  After that I took off on my own, in leisure moments. 

Since moving here, I have worked diligently at my piano.  One breakthrough is being able to play while not looking much at the piano keyboard.  This frees me up considerably.  (Maybe computer keyboarding has helped my music!) 

I do have many bumps and grinds while practising—many times of going over and over rough spots, playing one hand separately until I feel confident of the passage.  My mother would have been delighted with that, but TMU? 

Perhaps TMU likes the music because he is elderly, and has a German last name.  Many older Germans love the composers I love best:  Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, etc. 

Currently I’m working on George Winston’s arrangement of Pachelbel’s Kanon.  This piece of work is so magnificent, it sends me soaring every time I work on it—although I will never come even remotely near George Winston in tempo or performance!  (Winston is a genious!) 

As I play and soar, I wonder if TMU is enjoying Pachelbel as much as I am! 

Grumpy?  I don’t think so!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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