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Here is another British watercolorist who inspires me again and again through her books and DVDs.  Ann Blockley creates unforgettable, unique scenes which are, in her words unlike the “candy box scenes” we are accustomed to seeing.  Rather they are imaginative, and deeply personal—inspired by sights, sounds, and fragrances of familiar places around Ann’s home in the Cotswolds.

While demonstrating techniques for using watercolor in tandem with India ink, water soluble crayons and ink sticks, salt, plastic wrap, texture and granulating mediums (employed with a relaxed realization that the tools and techniques may decide their own path on paper, different from that which the artist has foreseen) Ann has challenged me not only to experience nature with all my senses, but also to take a deeper look at my photo books and computer files of favorite places I have lived:  to let the essence of these scenes penetrate my mind and heart, with the goal of more effectively expressing beloved places in my art.

The photos recall a lifetime of favorite places including:  my small-town Wisconsin  childhood home with a quiet stream at the base of our apple orchard; the Wisconsin Northwoods and waters where we vacationed when our children were young and where Joe and I lived full time for eight years beginning in 2001; my “home away from home”, Colorado where I spent a year at school, where Joe and I lived during his stint at Ft. Carson, and where we have visited many times since; more western vacation areas—Northern New Mexico and the farthest NW corner of Washington State; and our present home in Wisconsin’s Southeastern  Lake District:  a pleasant blend of small communities northwest of Milwaukee with lakes, rivers, woods, and a few remaining farms.

I will never live long enough to even begin capturing on paper the abundance of beauty which has underscored and punctuated my 83 years.  But I’m making a start, greatly motivated by the work and encouragement of UK artist Ann Blockley.  Here are a few of many scenes which I’m studying with a mind to painting—not with photographic accuracy but rather in response to their essence, in the coming year:

my-childhood-river

my-prairie

goldenrod

autumn-bog

DIGITAL CAMERA

under-our-windows

river-bank

gorgeous-clouds

Margaret L. Been — 1/22/17

NOTE:  If you GOOGLE Ann Blockley’s website, you are in for a TREAT!  MLB

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out-for-a-stroll-2

In upcoming blogs I would like to share helpful lessons I have gleaned from books and DVDs by contemporary professional artists.  One (among many) who has inspired me greatly is British watercolorist Jean Haines.  If you just GOOGLE her name and access Jean’s website, you will undoubtedly be as awestruck as I am by her amazing art.  I have three each of Jean Haines’ books and DVD tutorials, which I read and play again and again.

Jean teaches what I will call her “principle of three”:  When painting a subject in three parts make one the star, one less prominent, and one nearly obscure.  I am happy with the above rendering, “Out for a Stroll”, in which I applied the principle of three.

Jean frequently introduces a wash of one color on damp paper from an upper corner, followed by adding another color or colors—often contrasting—in the opposite corner from the first wash.  She leaves a space of white paper between the washes, and then dabs that space with a wet brush—inviting the colors to mix and do their own thing.

In her books and DVDs, Jean stresses the need to avoid meddling and fiddling with these first washes.  Instead, we can benefit by sitting back and basking in the beauty as the colors “fuse”.  How refreshing to forget about control, and just let the colors flow.  Later, when the initial paints have mingled and dried, details may be added—but very carefully so as to preserve the freshness of the work.  Thank you, Jean!

Margaret L. Been — December 7th, 2016

quarry-and-mossflower

In recent months I have read mainly documentaries, political commentary, and eschatological tomes.  Very riveting and educational.  But I’d all but forgotten how much fun it is to read for FUN!  One should never forget that!

A deal via Amazon set me back on track:  The first 20 novels of Brian Jacques’ REDWALL series.  There are 2 more, which I hope to find another time.  I had read 4 or 5 of these years ago, and never realized there were 22 in the entire series.

I began by re-reading the first book, REDWALL.  Again I was captivated, enthralled, and totally charmed.  The characterizations, the cliff hanging plot which never gets boring, the hilarious satire—I love these books.  As a child, all my favorite fiction featured “talking animals”.  Some things don’t change!

What I’d forgotten about the REDWALL BOOKS, and am so delighted to recall, is Brian Jacques’ writing: packed with visual imagery.  The scenes literally come alive on the stage in my head!  The language is just plain painterly.  Maybe that has hit me more bombastically than it did when I read these books back in the 90s because then I was not yet into making my own visual art.  Playing with paints has opened the big wide world, and especially the world of the arts, to proportions of which I’d never dreamed possible.

I finished the first book late last evening, and couldn’t sleep because I was so inspired to paint what I hope will be a series of renderings to reflect the REDWALL novels.  Above is the first painting:  THE QUARRY AND MOSSFLOWER WOOD.

Margaret L. Been — November 26th, 2016

under

far-out

No, I haven’t been lazy since the last entry.  But most recent renderings have been too large to put through my scanner—like 16″ x 20″ and 20″ x 24″.  Large paintings can be photographed, but that never works for me as well as a scan.

Featured above are a couple of little guys that I’ve sandwiched in between the biggies.  In the top painting, the watery effect was achieved with thinned white gouache drifted randomly over the rocks.  The second painting was experimental, with lots of goopy gesso topped with acrylic bead gel.  When the gesso and gel were thoroughly dry, paint was added to drizzle and drip on the textured ground.

Meanwhile, I currently have a hole in my head.  Maybe that’s not so funny as it sounds, but HEY!  Let’s laugh.  Arthritis is the creator of a one centimeter gap, causing (GOOGLE this one!) a diagnosis of Atlanto Axial Instability.  In plain talk, I’m a BOBBLEHEAD—the treatment of which, at this stage and perhaps in lieu of surgery, is a very fashionable neck/head brace fitted for me at our local Hanger Clinic.

The pleasant young man who fitted the brace commented that I have a long neck.  Then he chuckled when I shared that my maiden name is “Longenecker”.  I doubt very much that he caught the double entendre cached in my name; he is too young.  Had he fully grasped the joke, his chuckle might have been a guffaw.  Moreover, unless you readers have connections with the 1930s and 40s you may not realize that once upon a time the word “neck” was a verb as well as a noun—with “necking” being an active, enjoyable present participle!  🙂

Grammar and vintage fun aside, my brace is downright elegant.  With a red tint in my hair, I look something like Queen Elizabeth the First.  So what in the world does this stream of consciousness wandering have to do with art?  Namely, this:  for years I’ve painted standing up, with my head bending over a waist high table.  Now that I’m de-bobbled by a neck brace, this position is no longer comfortable.  When the head falls forward and down, I feel more like Elizabeth the First’s motherthe Unfortunate Anne.

I refuse to stop painting, so what to do?  Joe and I cuddled on the couch with my I-Pad, and scrolled down pages of standing easels.  Unanimously we concluded that spending an arm and a leg just to accommodate my compromised head would be stupid.

Then suddenly a light went on in said head:  my sturdy, adjustable music stand.  Although my violin retired from active duty years ago, the music stand has continually served in the capacity of displaying art.  Now the music stand has morphed into a standing easel.

Voila!  There’s always a way to make minor adjustments—even major ones when needed.  Life is GOOD!  🙂

music-stand

Margaret L. Been — November 20th, 2016

NOTE:  Happy Thanksgiving!

winter-sunrise-4-1

Like many Wisconsin children in the 1930s and 40s, I loved winter.  We would race home from school, scarf down some hot cocoa and cookies, put on a few extra layers, and go outside to build snow forts or bombard each other with snowballs.  In the depths of winter, it would be almost dark by the time we quit and went inside to hang our wet wool snowsuits on a steam radiator to dry.  (Oh, the aroma of wet wool heating up!)

I recall several occasions where I realized I was getting sick and could feel a fever rising in my body.  Thinking the outdoor cold would squelch the flu bug (or whatever),  I’d avoid mentioning how I felt to my very solicitous mother, and stay outside as long as I could stand my hot cheeks and shivering self before going indoors and allowing myself to be put to bed with hot lemonade and honey.

(“Sick” was no joke in pre-penicillin days when front doors of homes frequently sprouted warning signs such as:  Scarlet Fever, Diptheria, Measles, etc.  Children were put to bed when they had a fever, no matter what!)

What in the world does all this nostalgia have to do with THE MESSY PALETTE?  Simply this:  Now I am 83 years old and I no longer LOVE winter!  I have become a WUSS!  Granted, snow is beautiful.  In fact, I actually go out and tramp around in the first couple of snowfalls.  But in recent years winter has gotten old very fast.  By March, when I’ve wanted to peel off layers of clothing and renew my store of solar energy, I have found the snowy cold weather to be absolutely annoying.

Now, suddenly, I am tired of being such a WUSS!  I have some really fun and funky leggings and tights, and a drawer full of lovely, colorful sweaters.  I can dress like a clown.  And I’m psyching myself up for winter with my paints.  Case in point is the above sample titled “Winter Sunrise.” 

Determined to put a positive spin on the days ahead, I have created a Three Pronged Plan:  1) putting on another sweater when the indoor temperature drops to 70 or 68 degrees, rather than bumping the thermostat to 75;  2) staying outdoors longer each time I need to take my beloved corgi out to do his jobs; and 3) the aforementioned—celebrating winter with my paints.

Sometimes old geezers* go into a second childhood mode.  Since our corgi Dylan LOVES to roll in the snow, maybe I’ll start rolling with him.  🙂

Margaret L. Been – 10/1/16 

*Yes, I know.  The expression “old geezers” is certainly not politically correct.  Yikes!  Who cares?  Anyway, I can use the label because I am one!  And proud of it!

art-statement-photo

Remember the Light!

rollicking-autumn

At one point the above rendering looked exceedingly dark and dreary:  blues, greens, and browns—nice colors but in need of some life.  As I often do, I thought of the late artist, Thomas Kincade.*  In one of his books, he shared that his favorite part of every painting was at the very end, when he added the light.

Now recalling Kincade’s work, I think what he had in mind was a subtle, airbrushed glow of light and not the Van Gogh-ish streaks you see here.  But light is light.  With all due respect to Kincade who obviously was extremely gifted, I really love Van Gogh—and inexperienced as I am, it shows.  So streaks of light transformed this work from a dreary rainy day in late summer to rollicking autumn.  And that’s what I’ve named the piece:  Rollicking Autumn.

Margaret L. Been — 9/14/16

*I believe that Thomas Kincade was a tremendously sensitive man with a huge soul.  His tragic end stands in contrast to the content of his art—which, although not the kind of thing I like to hang on my walls, is quietly soothing and nostalgic.  His life was a sobering testimony to the travesty of fame and success á là Hollywood with all its phony glitz and deceptive glamour.

The Look

The Sound 6.JPG

It’s possible that many of you readers are not ancient enough to remember the 1930s and 40s Big Band leader, Glenn Miller. His band was known for its one-of-a-kind sound, explained by the following quote from Wikipedia:

“Miller . . . realized that he needed to develop a unique sound, and decided to make the clarinet play a melodic line with a tenor saxophone holding the same note, while three other saxophones harmonized within a single octave.”

This technique worked beautifully, and Glenn Miller’s music contrasted with other Big Band era “greats”, due to its quality which I can best describe as “mellow”.  And I was there, growing up with the Saturday Night Hit Parade during WWII.

Unfortunately, Miller and the plane he was flying in that war were lost over the English Channel in 1944.  But his smooth melodies live on.  In 1954, a film was released of Glenn Miller’s life, THE GLENN MILLER STORY starring Jimmy Stewart in the lead role.

What in the world does a Big Band sound have to do with art?  Not much, except that I have been thinking of Glenn Miller a lot lately.  I recall the film, and can still hear Stewart alias Miller saying:  “I have got to find ‘the sound’!”   Evidently Miller experienced the sound in his head before he realized how to create it.  Likewise, regarding my art I have been visualizing and saying, “I have got to find ‘the look‘!”

The look I’ve envisioned is textured, rich in color nuances, and layered to resemble an oil painting without the oils.  Oils would not make my lungs happy.  Water soluble oils?  I have tried those, with no success.  As with traditional oil paints, the water soluble oils take a long time to dry.  I simply do not have space in my studio to begin new paintings while works in progress to sit around forever  and a day drying.

Acrylics?  Call it irrational, and I guess it is.  But, I JUST DO NOT LIKE ACRYLICS.  They are fine in the hands of other artists, but my hands can’t handle them.  And open medium notwithstanding, the acrylics dry too fast?

So what is JUST RIGHT?  What can achieve the look with none of the above?  Of course you know from my past entries, it’s GOUACHE!  But gouache on watercolor paper has limits, texture-wise.  My Glenn Miller epiphany?  Gouache on Gallerywrap Canvas Panels.

I begin by generously covering the panel with gesso, streaking the brush in whatever direction suits me, to create lumps, ridges, and other textural marks.  That’s the foundation for “the look”.  Then, when the gesso is dry I apply a thin wash of watercolor in various shades which I want to feature in the finished picture.

When the watercolor wash is completely dry, I take my time with the gouache and I may spend a week on one painting.  Gone are the days when I thought I had to bang out several works in a week.  My walls and shelves are loaded with my art, and I can afford to slow down—savoring the pleasure of each stage, analyzing carefully after the initial color fling, and working deliberately to improve each section of the painting.  I purposefully leave dabs and ridges of gouache to build up in areas while smoothing out other parts of the painting.  I strive for polishing detail on some of the canvas while leaving other parts vague and blurry.  This augments the look I desire to achieve.

Now maybe you are saying, “Yes, but . . . .”  And you would be right, considering Gallerywrap Canvas Panels are normally to be left unframed.  Gouache is a rather moisture-vulnerable medium to hang in the open air, especially in Wisconsin’s “good old summertime”!  However, a thorough spray job with an acrylic fixative takes care of the “but”.  No longer vulnerable, my sprayed gouache panels are sealed—if not forever, at least for a very long time and certainly a lot longer than I will be around.

I know that touching art is a huge NO-NO!  I would never do that in a gallery, museum, someone else’s home, or any other place featuring art.  But I can’t resist occasionally touching my sprayed panels, with the back of my hand of course—so that no fingerprints will be left behind.  Along with the look, I enjoy the feel!

Margaret L. Been — September 10, 2016

Note:  My photography is limited in its representation of art.  First I took the picture with my I-pad and emailed it to myself.  The colors were nothing like the original; only the primaries showed, with no innuendoes of color.  Then I tried my I-phone, and that was no better.  Finally I got out my digital camera, and the above was the best I could manage—better than the pad and phone, but still lacking in the multitude of subtle shades on the painting where colors phase into their neighbors. 

Since the panel is a vertical hanging rectangle, I couldn’t include the whole job in the photo without the wall showing on each side of the painting.  And texture shows up best in real life as well.  If you are in the neighborhood, you are welcome to drop in and see for yourself.    🙂