Archive for the ‘Watercolors’ Category

Art Tools

Here are some more items in my bag of tricks.  Working down through the horizontals:  a large comb for making streaky marks*.  I also use a small, rat tail comb; a tooth brush for spattering wet paint; tongue compressors—I can’t recall where in the world I got those things but they are great for measuring and marking on those rare occasions when I use a pencil; a candle for creating areas of wax resist; a defunct credit card for scratching lines—making streaky grasses, etc; a knitting needle for making branches; and a jar lid mainly for making moons.  I have several different size jar lids.

The verticals are craft Q tips of which I found hundreds—I think a lifetime supply—at a church rummage sale years ago, and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser which rubs out areas of paint for various effects.

Not pictured are masking tape for masking out trees or buildings in order to preserve the white paper while painting a background, facial tissue for dabbing out clouds in a wet sky wash, and probably some other odds and ends which momentarily escape me.

I have always been a pack rat (albeit a very well organized one) and it’s so much fun to have an ongoing excuse for packing stuff in!  Fortunately, I grew up with parents who let me have my own bit of Heaven in my childhood bedroom (probably because I was compulsively tidy); and for nearly 64 years I’ve been blessed with a husband who also enjoys being a pack rat.  It could be disastrous if we disagreed on what is important in life! 🙂  MLB

*One of my favorite artists whose books and DVDs I treasure, British artist Shirley Trevena, introduced me to the comb streaking trick.  Shirley’s still life watercolors are intriguing.  Shirley says what she aims for is “an incredibly messy painting with lots of drips and blobs”, and she demonstrates how she “destroys” a painting—often with a comb streaked through wet paint, blurring the colors.  Shirley’s “incredibly messy”, “destroyed” paintings are gorgeous—whereas when I try her tricks the results are often simply incredibly messy and destroyed.  Good grief!!!

Anyway, for a treat you can GOOGLE “Shirley Trevena, artist”.  You won’t be disappointed!  🙂


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I often giggle when I think of what comes out of my studio in contrast to the work of gifted, well-schooled artists!  Highly skilled artists may be among the most generously-encouraging-to-beginners group of professionals on earth.  We all are included in a vastly diverse culture where there is a place for most anyone at any level and inclination.

But I have a library of art books—both “how to” tutorials by well-known artists, and tomes of art history and criticism.  I love to study these books, and I do know the difference between classic art and smoke and mirrors—my off-the-cuff “hashtag” for a bag of tricks which I am delighted to share with any beginner who is eager to paint and willing to spend hours each week, building an inventory of paintings in his or her studio.

My 12″ x 16″ rendering below is titled “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”, and it is composed of tricks that my seven-year-old great-grandsons could perform if they decided to sit or stand still long enough,  I began by slathering gesso on the 140# cold press paper to create rocky slopes.  After the gesso dried, I sprayed the surface with water and applied different watercolors—jiggling the paper so the paints could blend and do their own thing,  When those paints dried, I streaked a thinned application of white gouache here and there to add mystery and a sense of age to the rocks.  Voilà.  Smoke and mirrors.

A Rock and a Hard Place

The next example displays a couple of favorite tricks:  plastic wrap and salt.  (I use Kosher salt, but any will do—creating slightly varying effects).  The paper used here is Yupo, that glass-like surface which is not really paper, but rather an amalgamation of chemicals.  (There is no middle ground with Yupo.  Artists either love it or hate it.  The lovers are the “let it all hang out” group of which I am one, and the haters are the perfectionists who do well with lots of control.)

Where you see crinkles and wrinkles, that is where the plastic wrap was applied.  It takes a long time for the paint to dry under plastic wrap on Yupo, and less time on a rag surface which is absorbent.  The spots and phased-out parts were done with salt.  The salt technique is far more spectacular on rag paper than on Yupo.  The painting at the top of this page shows the result of salting the wet paint on rag paper.  Salt can make snowflakes, clouds, stars, dandelion fluff, and many additional effects,

Thus you can see that whenever art making is a person’s dream, it can be done.  And every dream will materialize differently—as each of us is unique.  What fun we can have, sharing our ways to implement the smoke and mirrors!  🙂

Smoke and Mirrors.JPG

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panel a

I came up with another excuse for putting off blogging:  my mouse died.  After countless years with my pet mouse, he (it) bit the dust.  I simply cannot get the hang of keyboarding with my pinkie.  But now I have a brand new purple mouse from Office Max, and I’m eager to blog.  I LOVE the color purple!

Obviously, the long skinny panel above wouldn’t fit into my phone camera without showing the surround of our front door and a rug.  But you get the idea that by February in Wisconsin those of us who do not care to ski, skate, or roll in snow are dreaming—even pining—for spring.  Nowhere does this longing express itself more blatantly than in our home.  Flowers are blooming all over the place!

This gallery wrap canvas experienced many mutations.  The pink at the top began as foxgloves, those deadly but lovely bell-shaped flowers that always remind me of Beatrix Potter’s foolish duck who laid her eggs under the “protection” of the Foxy Gentleman who lounged among the foxgloves.

My foxgloves were rather ugly, so I tried to morph them into tulips.  The tulips were equally unpleasant, so I dabbed away—adding gouache—until the tulips became those fragrant blossoms that most anyone can render convincingly:  lilacs.

Yes, May!!!  Next down the line were purple irides (otherwise known as irises), something I can normally manage to paint because of their ruffles.  Then more lilacs or maybe pink irides, and finally my beloved mertensia—Virginia bluebells.

A lot of gouache was layered onto this watercolor flower arrangement, giving the panel a nice textured effect.  I painted the sides with acrylic, because when I spray the finished panel with an acrylic fixative for preservation it is easy to cover the flat surface—but the sides are harder to spray.  I want to make sure my gallery wrap panels will last, at least for a few decades and perhaps longer.

In a little over two weeks, daylight saving begins.  Hurray!  And it’s already spring within the walls of our home!  🙂

Margaret L. Been — 2/23/18

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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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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® 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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Ex 4

Ex 2

Ex 3

EX 1.jpg

Years ago I giggled when I heard of art instructors telling workshop participants:  “The paper is talking.  Listen to the paper!”  But now, in my eleventh year of art-making and experimenting with different watercolor grounds, I no longer giggle.  Paper talks!  Paper says different things about the paints and techniques applied.  For a fun demonstration of this fact, I did an almost identical landscape on the above four papers using identical techniques, with a slight variation in my DaVinci artist grade* colors.

First, I applied clear water to a wide horizontal strip at the top, and a smaller swath on the bottom—leaving a dry streak between the wetted areas.  Then the top wetted strips were washed with blends of phalo and French ultramarine blues—and the sky areas were sprinkled with Kosher salt.  Avoiding the dry parts, I added color to the dampened below sections:  red, green, gold, and a bit of blue—while, as always, letting the paints mingle on the papers rather than on my palette.  On each piece, I pressed plastic food wrap onto the bottom area while the paint was still wet.

The papers represented are, from top to bottom:  1) Yupo paper with its especially unique voice, particularly in the way it talks back to applications of plastic wrap; Numbers 2) and 3) 140lb sketching pad paper—American Journey available online at CHEAP JOE’S, and Canson available at many chain craft stores; and 4) Arches 140lb cold press paper by the sheet, available at online art stores (and neighborhood fine art stores, if you have one.)  (Arches is pronounced “Arshe”.  Remember it’s French, and I may scream if you pronounce it like those golden thing-a-ma-jiggies on the MacDonald’s fast food signs!)

Yupo has no tooth whatsoever; rather it has a shiny, slippery surface so it will always make it’s own statement, without even trying to imitate.  You may notice a smoothness because of a lack of tooth on the 2 middle papers as well:  the sketch pad papers.  Also, note that on the 2nd of the smooth-surfaced sketch pad papers the food wrap film caused the paint to slide up and nearly obscure the strip which I had left white and dry.

The Arches 140lb cold press displays more texture around the salt, and somewhat more under the plastic film, due to the presence of tooth.  And on the Arches sample there is a charming bit of “cauliflowering” where wet paint has oozed into the dry area, also caused by tooth.

(Cauliflowers will normally be very prominent on paintings where wet colors collide on Arches 140lb cold press and comparable fine papers—especially when freshly painted strokes touch not-yet-dry parts.  Traditional watercolorists will practically do headstands to avoid cauliflowers, while I perform similar gymnastics just to make sure that I create and preserve them!  “Different strokes for different folks!”)

Different papers have different stories to tell.  By listening (LOOKING!) you can begin to ascertain what more you might want to add or change to complete the work, or do alternatively on another kind of paper.  In the above cases, done mainly for the purpose of illustrating variations in papers, I have done nothing more to any of the samples.

Margaret L. Been —  April, 2017

*My husband and I are blessed with many great-grandchildren.  (Dare I brag?  Well, I’m going to:  we are blessed with 18 of them—so far!)  Frequently, we have art days at our dining room table; what a delight!  Although I sometimes let the very young children slosh around on the economical sketch pad 140lb papers before launching into the high quality “Arshe” sheets which I nearly always use for my own finished work, I am terribly fussy about 2 aspects of art for all ages:  good brushes and artist grade paints.  No matter how young the beginner, good quality brushes and paints are essential.  Poor quality yields disappointing results, and the potential future joy in a pastime of art-making is not to jeopardized:  not at my table!!!

And that’s no April Fool!

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