Archive for the ‘Winter in Wisconsin’ Category

It’s that time again—when it’s all about flowers and most anything green. Spinach salads, trips to the local garden center to find more INDOOR PLANTS, dreaming of the outdoor gardens while the temperature beyond our doors and windows hovers below freezing, and frequently below zero.

The end of our lane contains a pristine white mountain, where the plow has heaped snowfall after snowfall so that we in our condo community can get out of our garages. This is Wisconsin, USA, and that snow mountain may be with us for several more weeks. But all I can think is FLOWERS.

The above allusion to flowers has seen many mutations since its beginning in late January. Several times it almost got pitched in the recycle bin, but with each frustrating session I came back with renewed vigor and determination. I simply had to have something to show for the New Year!

This painting is 16″ x 20″, and is now framed in a lovely antique wood frame, on the wall beside my piano. I like the rendering, but up until a couple of days ago I definitely did not! Here is why: It started out with a photo realism approach—something that normally doesn’t work for me! The flowers were a dark magenta, with blobs of yellow here and there and something that was supposed to represent sky—in overly predictable blue.

The magenta was overpowering. My well educated husband walked by my art table and preempted my thoughts by commenting, “It needs some white.”

So I attacked the magenta flowers with white gouache (always my friend in coverups.) But somehow the white took over. More yellow. More magenta. Then some alizarin crimson to deflect the winey magenta.

Then more yellow to light it up even more, more blue to anchor the piece to the table—but this time aqua blue, always a winner. This all sounds fast and frenzied, but it took weeks punctuated with days for drying (I tend to gob the paint on thickly), excursions to our local medical clinic where our body parts are kept in running order, and time out to eat and be sociable. And sometimes I slept.

Finally the paper was so clotted with layers of watercolor and gouache IMPASTO style, that I had a fleeting sense of nausea. “You are going to have a bath,” I almost shouted at the paper which was actually curling up on its edges from the barrage of paint.

A bath indeed. Not a shower, but a soaking in our kitchen sink. I brought the dripping mess back to my table and plunked it down thinking I would attack it once again, as it began to dry. But then the magic appeared.

The gross top layers of paint were gone. Somehow much of the yellow had turned to a soft green when blending into the aqua. The magenta/crimson combo had turned a light lavender when confronted with shades of blue. While the paper was still damp, I covered it with plastic food wrap and squished the wrap with my fingers to create creases.

When I removed the plastic the next day, I felt like apologizing to what I found—a lovely bit of art for which I could hardly take credit. As is so often the case, the paint knows best! ūüôā

Margaret L. Been — March 2nd, 2019

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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!¬† ūüôā

Margaret L. Been — 2/23/18

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Forsythia . . .

and lilacs.


The sun grows stronger

moving north a little more

each day.

Dreams explode on my art table.

Meanwhile . . . .

Gathering for Change

a cozy winter view

of our park.


Margaret L. Been — January 16, 2016

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Red Cabin in Winter

Our Wisconsin Summer lasted far longer than usual this year, and then after a week of welcome rain we had more Summer, a quick frost, and now the most gorgeous Indian Summer.¬† The leaves are finally turning—weeks beyond the norm for us, in fact many have blown down without turning.¬† What a poignant, breathtaking time of year.

Yet we know the “inevitable” is literally around the corner.¬† I confess that I no longer welcome winter like I did as a child.¬† Okay, the first snowfall sends me reeling with delight—and I’ll be out with my camera when that happens.¬† And the second, and the third—hopefully through Christmas.

I don’t even mind the January cold that much, although it’s no fun to be out and about at minus 10 degrees.¬† Wool is my good friend, after years of raising sheep, knitting, weaving, and spinning—and continuing to spin and knit in the present tense.

Yes, wool!¬† But a heartfelt “NO” to the weeks of darkness before and after the winter solstice.¬† Around solstice time, I print out the length of day charts for January, February, and March—and consult the stats almost daily until early March when that sudden surge of light turns into abject exuberance.¬† Then I recycle the chart papers for another year when I plan to print out more.

This year I’m getting ready for the inevitable with winter paintings.¬† Several other local artists and I supply¬†a bank, a family restaurant, a chiropractic clinic, and a hospice with paintings which we change every three months around the year.¬† Last December the person in charge of coordinating the displays¬†called me and requested some winter art.¬† I protested that “I don’t do winter because winter is simply not my favorite season”—but my resistance failed and, on very short notice, I produced some winter art—specifically the below rendering titled “Up North”.

Up North 4

“Up North” turned out to be one of my favorites, maybe because I love the vicinity of Wisconsin Up North with a passion.¬† I also managed some wintery mountain scenes for the remaining local gallery sites—but they are not my favorites.

Now certainly one could¬†rotate paintings from site to site.¬† It’s fairly unlikely¬†that someone visiting a hospice in Oconomowoc would also be sitting in a bank boardroom in Waukesha—at least in the same time period.¬† Unlikely, but not impossible.

Maybe a bit of repetition would be helpful.¬† But no, I’m insisting on fresh exposure everywhere in every season.¬† I love the motivation, the actual work involved, and knowing that each piece will have¬†a singular viewing.¬† Inventory is building and¬†I have a lot of framed paintings on hand for anyone who may want to tour my home studio.

So unless we get snow tonight, this year’s winter¬†art will be ready for¬†the first snow.¬† The watercolor/gouache painting at the top of this entry is a sample.¬† It’s name is “Red Cabin in Winter”.¬† I guess part of me will always be “Up North”.

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Up North 4

Our Christmas Day celebration was memorable with a great blend of good company, good food, and—as usual when we gather with family and friends—loads of laughs, some of which erupted from a series of hilarious selfies.¬† Our family tends to goof it up when posing for pictures, and when you can see the results instantly it’s all the more fun!

The only thing missing here in Southern Wisconsin was snow.¬† Instead we had something which has not happened very often in recent weeks:¬†¬†a day of¬†welcome sunshine.¬†¬†But we¬†love a beautiful snowfall, and in Wisconsin we think “Christmas and snow”.

Lately I was especially thinking snow, due to a¬†photo¬†in a holiday greeting from a friend, professional artist, and fellow poet Diana Randolph, who lives way up where¬†we natives¬†call “Up North”*.¬† The individuals in the photo are set in that incredibly¬†pristine landscape of Up North snow.

So for days I went around remembering Joe’s and my eight years of living full time, UP NORTH.¬† I kept seeing our Northern home in my mind’s eye**.¬†¬†There is a kind of¬†light Up North even on overcast snowy days,¬†until night—and then one frequently sees what appear¬†be a million stars.¬† My¬†mind’s eye was visualizing that light in the process of the above painting in watercolor and gouache.

So thank you, Diana, for¬†your inspiring photo and Christmas greeting—and for your encouragement as well!¬†¬† You can meet Diana and view her beautiful art on her website.¬† Just GOOGLE Diana Randolph, Northern Wisconsin Artist.

Margaret L. Been, December 2014

*Roughly speaking, in Wisconsin we consider¬†“Up North” to be most anywhere north of Highway 10.¬† But for me the term has also become¬†symbolic¬†of a¬†contented way of living and the¬†quality of experiencing a “whole” life wherever we live.¬† Some day I may develop this theme¬†on my everyday life blog:¬† Northern Reflections.

**Like so many commonly used expressions, “the mind’s eye” comes from The Old Bard—this phrase¬†via Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act 1, Scene 2.¬† Shakespeare is indeed immortal, with countless figures of speech and phrases enduring through the centuries—along with¬†wisdom, wit,¬†and¬†insight concerning the human heart and mind.¬† ūüôā

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Eternally Snowing--Winter 2014--2

The salt trick is too much fun!¬† ‚ÜĎ Here is “Eternally Snowing — Winter, 2014”,¬†sprinkled with¬†very coarse salt.¬† Our Wisconsin world!

But every year about now I begin dreaming, and my dreams morph into paintings.¬† Voil√† “Windy Summer Day” ‚Üď .¬† This one was embellished with Kosher salt.

Windy Summer Day

After¬†the painting¬†dries the salt is scraped off, leaving textural marks plus a bit of “shine”.¬† The coarser the salt, the more of a job it is to remove.¬† A credit card works well for scraping, but hopefully not the¬†card which is¬†currently being used.¬† ūüôā

Margaret L. Been, February 2014

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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.¬† ūüôā

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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For the last two decades, Joe and I¬†have made a pilgrimage West at least once a year—frequently in the Winter or early Spring.¬† Our destinations were Colorado and New Mexico, and we combined our love for the West with a visit to loved ones who live near Denver.

This year, the trip is not happening—but never mind.¬† My paintbrush travels to the High Rockies of Colorado, to the adobe houses of Taos and Santa Fe, NM, and to those fascinating Cliff Dwellings on the Four Corners.¬† Just as I never tired of traveling West, I will always love reading about the West via documentaries, histories, and Louis L’Amour novels.¬† And likewise, I probably will never tire of¬†painting the West.

My favorites of L’Amour’s novels are those mysterious tales of lost canyons, valleys,¬†and ancient cities in the regions surrounding the Cliff Dwellings.¬† My mind paints as I read, and eventually the paint materializes on paper.¬† Hence the above pair—Lost Valley of the¬†Ancients I & II.

The paintings are propped on another passion of mine—my piano.¬†¬†A¬†collection of Scott Joplin rags peeks over the painting on your right as you view the photo.¬†¬†Playing a Joplin rag never fails to make me smile!¬†¬†Such mellow music, with soul!¬†

To the left of Scott Joplin, sits¬†my venerable¬†book of classics by Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, Beethoven, etc., which are¬†infinitely satisfying to play.¬† (That’s why they are classics!)¬† The book¬†was my mother’s, and it dates to the¬†late 1920s or early 30s.¬† Not only did she¬†gift me with her love for music, and of course the¬†music lessons,¬†but she left me the actual music books to enjoy.¬†¬†My fingers don’t flow as effortlessly across the keys as hers did, but with practise I can play.¬† Mom would be¬†pleased!¬†

Meanwhile, with books, paints, and a piano I really don’t need a “vacation”!¬† It’s all here, at home!¬† ūüôā

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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Winter is beautiful, at least in Wisconsin.  Winter is a wonderful time for hunkering down and losing track of time while immersed in creative activites.  A winter walk can be enjoyable, when we are buffered in layers against the elements.  And the cup of tea or cocoa upon returning home is reason for euphoria.

I love to¬†paint the seasons. ¬†Above, you will see my rendering “Deep Powder” in watercolor on YUPO¬ģ paper.¬† Below you’ll find the same painting, scanned and digitally altered.¬† Maybe that one should be called “Deep Powder at Evening”.

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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The days are stretching out at both ends.¬† Every year about now, I go into a state of abject euphoria over the growing daylight and¬†anticipation of our wet and wonderful, cold, fragrant Wisconsin spring.¬† Here in Southern Wisconsin, one can get euphoric by mid-February, as the redwing blackbirds will probably be back by early March.¬† In the past we’ve seen and heard them about 40 miles southeast, in the town of Whitewater, by the last week of February.¬† If we get any¬†sort of a thaw in the next couple weeks,¬†we’ll be Whitewater-bound for dinner at a favorite steak house there–and our first “hello” to the returning redwings.

Each year about now I get a power surge to change things around in our home, especially in my writing and painting studio which–since we moved “south”–is located at one end of our sunny bedroom.¬† Yesterday I accomplished a great re-do of the studio, so everything is lovelier now¬†and more convenient.

The butt-ugly laptop, scanner and printer are tucked into an obscure corner and covered by gorgeous handwoven runners, when not in use.¬† Most prominent now are my easel, brushes,¬†and paintings in process.¬† The accoutrements of art are beautiful, while writing¬† paraphernalia tends to be an eyesore¬†in this age of technology.¬† Quill pens, inkwells, and parchment were indeed beautiful to behold–but not so efficient as¬†my butt-ugly computer and attachments.¬† Hence the disguise, in woven works of art.

The above desk is one of¬†two in my studio, along with¬†two work tables.¬† A small TV hunkers under another woven runner.¬† The TV is not hooked up for reception, Heaven forbid!¬† It’s simply here for viewing my art tutorial DVDs, JEEVES AND WOOSTER, and¬†other¬†beloved British productions.

A power surge!¬† In a few weeks, that great silent power will¬†surge underfoot, and we’ll have a revolution of GREEN!

Margaret L. Been–All Rights Reserved

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