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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 décor!  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 décor 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!  🙂

blue and old pottery 2

Margaret L. Been — July, 2014

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My Incredibly Beautiful Future 2

I believe I’ve been converted to the nuances and moods of layered watercolors!  Yes, undoubtedly I’ll retreat on occasion to directly splashing and sloshing heavy increments of paint—especially when working on YUPO®.  But transparent layering has opened new territory for me, that I don’t really ever want to leave—at least for very long—without returning!

A great advantage of layering transparent nuances and moods (often resulting in colors I never even dreamed of!) is TIME—a plethora of time in which to rest between applications of paint while knitting a few inches, fixing a meal, taking a walk, or sleeping.  Thus the process of creating a single “masterpiece” (every painting which gives us pleasure should be called that!), is prolonged—along with an intrinsic sense of purpose, commitment, and fulfillment therein!

The above layered work, called “My Incredibly Beautiful Future” was mainly created by the rolling tissue trick.  I learned this technique from Canadian artist Karin Huehold via her amazing DVD,  A LITTLE WATERCOLOR.  A tissue (the cheapest I can find—as in 99¢ per standard size box) is torn in half, and one part is rolled into a finger-like shape.  Then the “finger” is rolled on wet paper charged with wet paint, wherever one chooses to create clouds, mountains, or mysterious “things”.   

After rolling the first increment of tissue I left the painting to dry, and then I thoroughly rewetted it with my 2 inch Simmons Skyflow brush.  (Arches 140 lb. cold press paper allows plenty of drying and rewetting without causing bleeding and/or lifting of the dried paint.) 

Then I applied different transparent colors, and rolled those areas with the other half of my tissue.  (One would probably not need to be so penurious as I am.  Especially on a larger painting, an entire tissue could be used for one roll.  I just happen to be part Scottish.  I tend to skimp once in awhile—but not that often!  🙂 )

After the 2nd rolling, I allowed the paint to dry again.  Then—without rewetting the paper again, and with more transparent paint in still different colors—I negative-painted* around some of the tissue-created mountains, clouds, and things.  In a few spots, I even rolled into the negatively painted areas while these were still damp. 

This could go on and on, depending on how much knitting we want to accomplish, what we are fixing for dinner, how far we want to walk, or how late we want to sleep.  There can never even possibly be a duplicate, using this technique.  We will always be surprised/astounded/wiped out with amazement by our spectacular results!  Happy rolling!

*Negative painting is simply painting on the outside rather than the inside of shapes.  It can be done on blank paper, to create a background for shapes which will then materialize because we’ve painted a background around them, or (the easier way which I normally choose) by painting on the outside of shapes that we have already created.

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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The Haunted Mesa . . . inspired by Louis L'Amour's novel by that name . . .

In the above painting, inspired by one of my favorite novels—THE HAUNTED MESA, by Louis L’Amour—I began with the “dampen the paper/charge the paint/and back off” concept but backing off simply did not work.  Instead, I spent hours letting layers dry, painting new layers, sponging off muddy parts (Arches 140 lb. cold press paper takes a lot of sponging and reworking without falling apart), and much consternation to the point of nearly tossing the whole bit into the waste basket.  Hour after hour and layer upon layer, I just couldn’t seem to make the painting come alive.

Then I accidentally turned the paper (to what I’d thought was) upside down, and voilà—THE HAUNTED MESA materialized before my eyes.  I like this one as much as any I’ve ever done.  I guess my punch line is, in the words of Winston Churchill, “Never give in . . . .”

The painting is large enough that it wouldn’t completely fit into my scanner.  (It will be matted and framed to the outside dimension of 16″ x 20″.)  But I was able to scan aspects which especially appeal to me:  the yellow-green sky and the faded background layers, as well as a good amount of the alizaron crimson/permanent magenta/ultra-marine violet foreground. 

The cloudy areas in the foreground were created by randomly rolling a wadded up facial tissue over the freshly painted, wet surface.  I’m just a bag of funny tricks!!!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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What a fun weekend we just enjoyed!  Along with a couple of Father’s Day celebrations, Joe and I attended a gallery Open House Reception at our local Delafield Arts Center (Delafield, Wisconsin) where three of my watercolors are currently on display with an exhibit featuring works from the Pewaukee Area Arts Council—of which I’m a member.  (Whew!  That was a long sentence!  🙂 )

It was my first juried show, and I am still floating a bit from the happy surprise of having work selected.  My above-pictured painting is “Out of Ashes”—a watercolor on my beloved YUPO® paper.  Many artists in our group had never heard of YUPO, and wondered how I could get such vibrant color with watercolors.  YUPO—a glass-like synthetic surface—is the answer.

The funny white parallelogram in the upper right section of the painting is not a part of the picture; it is an odd reflection of light from something in the room, which bounced off the glass into my camera lens.

Below you will see my other two selections in the exhibit, which will remain on display in the DAC Community Room until July 31st:  “Amethyst Quartz” and “Lost Ocean”. 

Six summers ago, when I purchased my first watercolors, brushes, and paper, I never dreamed of the whole new life awaiting me.  I just thought I was going to have a bit of fun.  Perhaps the most amazing surprise of all has been the friendliness of people who participate in the arts.  There is room for everyone, and all are welcome!  As a newcomer, I never expected to be so accepted and encouraged.  What a wonderful world within a world! 

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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This is the time of year when we’ve occasionally gone to New Mexico in the past.  I am traveling in my mind, and my paintbrush follows—all the way to Santa Fe.

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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Too wonderful!

Belgium 89
United States FlagUnited States 59
Malaysia FlagMalaysia 5
Australia FlagAustralia 4
Taiwan, Province of China FlagTaiwan 2
Canada FlagCanada 2
Bulgaria FlagBulgaria 2
Russian Federation FlagRussian Federation 2
Oman FlagOman 2
Indonesia FlagIndonesia 1
Czech Republic FlagCzech Republic 1
Saudi Arabia FlagSaudi Arabia 1
United Kingdom FlagUnited Kingdom 1
Germany FlagGermanyThese are countries from which readers have accessed this site in the last week.WordPress is now making this information available on our “back pages” where we get the stats.

I don’t know how to include the chart and type out of the box, so I am simply typing in the box.

To communicate with people all over the world–I never dreamed of anything so wonderful before.

Dear Readers from other places–I’d love to hear from you and about you!

Margaret Been

(Sorry, Belgium.  Somehow your flag missed the copy and paste.)

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I don’t draw or paint animals very well.  They always seem to look like people, especially in the area of the eyes and facial expressions.  Now it may be argued that dogs are practically people—at least that goes for Collies and Pembroke Welsh Corgis.  But Ground Hogs are definitely not people, so I won’t try to paint them.

Meanwhile, I’ve always LOVED Ground Hog Day.  In Wisconsin, the traditional “take” on the day is confusing.  Whereas in some quarters 6 more weeks of winter may be considered “bad news” (for those who don’t ski), in our proverbial neck of the woods ONLY 6 more weeks is cause for a big HOORAH (provided you don’t ski).  Whatever . . . .

Here is a painting of what the Ground Hog may see, not in 6 weeks but perhaps in a few months—when he does come out to inspect my garden.  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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