Posts Tagged ‘Battling Unimaginative Minds’

Growing more and more enamored with abstraction, especially that which is soft-edged, flowing, and organic as opposed to geometric, hard-edged, and harsh, I was tremendously pleased with the above 24″ x 20″ rendering—so pleased that I framed it and the mysterious painting is hanging high in our living room, brightening up the entire wall.

When I study the painting, I imagine different scenarios:  a moonlit swamp; a campfire; the triumph of light over darkness and joy over sorrow; the vicissitudes of a long life on earth.  The print which you see does not do justice to the colors therein; they vibrate and rock.  Recently, the “vibrate and rock” appealed to a seven year old great-grandson/friend who came for a visit and art making.

“I want to do one like that,” Deacon decided after studying my various paintings on our walls.  Then he excited me up to my earlobes by saying, “I like the way the colors run together.”  Do I have a kindred soul here, or what?

Deacon proceeded to create his own mystery painting.  He learned that simply painting color over color with a loaded brush creates blackish-brownish mud, which I praised and applauded because children’s art is ALWAYS wonderful.  Then I showed him how gently introducing colors to different areas of wet paper, while jiggling the paper to let the wet colors mingle, causes mysterious marks never to be reproduced in the exact same way.

There wasn’t time to introduce salt and plastic wrap which add texture to a painting, but hey—we quit art making in order to fly kites with Deacon’s great-grandfather (my Joe) in the park outside our front door.  Kites are important, and highly symbolic of our free and funky Boho lifestyle.

My, aren’t we full of metaphors and similes today!?!  Having written poetry most of my life (since I could first wield a pencil or pen), I tend to think in metaphors and similes.  They are everywhere and—like paintings and kites—the colorful ones are the most fun! 🙂

Margaret L. Been  —  May 2nd, 2018

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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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The Cliffs Were Weirdly Lit

I am greatly blessed with the gift of a visual mind.  When I read, the scenes described in a book loom large before my eyes in living color.  Although I dearly love words, it’s actually the pictures which words evoke that thrill me—or terrify me, whatever the subject of the text may be.  Plot and character development are “biggies” in successful fiction, but for me it is a sense of place and the scenery which rise up larger than life.  I’m perfectly happy with a virtually plot-less novel and one with few characters, if the book abounds in adjectives and adverbs which delineate a scene so vividly that I think I am really there—en plein air!

Visually oriented people are tremendously contented with being “armchair travelers”.  I can take extensive voyages, pilgrimages, and treks anywhere in the world—all from the comfort of my sofa or my “read in bed” 1/2 armchair which serves as a sit-up pillow.  (What an economical way to go!!! 🙂 )

One of my favorite American recent writers is Louis L’Amour.  Yes, Louis was tremendously skillful at plotting, and his characters are amazingly individualistic—never the fare of “canned” formula fiction.  But most of all, I love this author for his painterly writing.  And he is my first assignment in my self-programmed Autumn Painting Agenda of painting en plein air via literature.  With words before me, I can pick up my brush and render my take on the scene described.

The above watercolor on Arches (pronounced “ARSH”—it’s French) 140 lb. cold press paper was inspired by the following description in Louis L’Amour’s SACKETT BRAND:  “The sun was just below the horizon and the red rock cliffs were weirdly lit.  Out of the west a tiny puff of dust lifted, grew, and became a fast running horse.”

I’m very excited about painting passages of literature.  Additional Louis L’Amour scenes may be forthcoming, plus quotes from painterly poems—including my own poems.  From long before I found the courage to pick up a paint brush—in fact for most of my life since early childhood—I have happily painted with words.

Margaret L. Been, 2013

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Serenity Despite 1

I expect I’ll never get over my fascination with this strange, amazing stuff known as Yupo paper.  Not really paper, Yupo is a polypropolene surface which feels like glass.  Paint slides around on it, and never soaks in; thus many artists hate Yupo.  I’ve discovered that there is no neutral ground.  It’s either love or hate.  And I love!

I have two different Yupo artists on DVDs—one whose work I do not at all care for, and another whose work I love.  I won’t mention the name of the one whose art I can’t warm up to.  My dislike for this individual’s work is purely personal, biased by the fact that the artist achieves a kind of studied perfection and (what I consider to be too much) control which defies the magic of the watercolor-on-Yupo process.  I believe that photo realism is better displayed in actual photography—or by art on traditional supports such as watercolor paper for watercolors, pastel paper for pastels, and canvas for oils or acrylics.  Yupo is, quite simply, SOMETHING ELSE.  It’s like a cat—best when accepted on its own terms.

The Yupo artist whose work I love is a Florida woman, Taylor Ikin.  Her DVD, DANCING WITH YUPO, has inspired me ever since it arrived in my mailbox three years ago.  Were it a video cassette instead of a DVD, I’m sure it would be literally worn out by now. 

Taylor Ikin’s paintings can best be described by a simple word:  FREE!  Although her subject matter is always discernable (at least in what I’ve seen of her work), it conveys the essential freedom of the best abstract expressionism.  Taylor’s working method on Yupo is unique; even just beginning to get the hang of it has taken me a long time.  But one of many endearing charactistics of Yupo is that one can paint on it, and then wash part or all of the rendering off in order to start again.  There need never be a total failure if one has the patience to make numerous trips to the sink.

Here is Taylor Ikin’s method—unlike any I’ve ever witnessed anywhere else.  She begins with an idea (in the DVD she has photos of a waterfall in a beautiful Oregon forest), spritzes a bit of water on the Yupo, and digs into fresh-from-the-tube-paints—swiftly slathering great quantities in colors befitting the subject.  She slathers and smears the paint around with bold strokes (no dinky puttering here) and lets the paints overlap and blend.  Then, before beginning to define much, she lets the initial slathering dry (naturally, not with a blow dryer; heat might mess up the paper’s surface). 

When the Yupo is dry, or nearly so, Taylor begins to lift paint with a clean, damp brush.  She moves colors around, adds colors, etc.—gradually carving out her subject, while taking care to wipe off her brush before swipes.  Through a process of editing, drying, and editing many times the painting evolves.  Having begun with intuition, Taylor completes the work with careful consideration as to “What will make this a better painting?”.

I try this method again and again.  In the case of flowers it works for me, but I have yet to manage anything else.  My Yupo paper results are normally determined by paint on the support rather than my inclination.  I throw the paint, wait to see what happens, and invariably a subject emerges to surprise me.  But I’m constantly working on Taylor Ikin’s method.  At least I can come up with flowers that delight my heart!

When people come to my home for an art day, I like to introduce Taylor Ikin’s Yupo method.  The responses are radically polarized.  Free spirits LOVE Yupo paper, although admittedly they get as frustrated as I did at first exposure, and the control folks HATE it.  A familiar slogan certainly applies to art:  “Different strokes for different folks.”  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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A Place Within

I have been studying art history, and I’m constantly realizing how little I know while rejoicing in the fact that I have time to learn.  Especially since the Parisian Art Revolution which began in the 1860s when those “isms” which warm my heart began to develop in rapid succession, my head spins as I sort out the many fascinating developments of art. 

There is one particular aspect of pictorial language that resonates with me, a language which I understand from the inside out:  the language of color.  Here I’m thoroughly at home in my adopted country of visual art.  I’m on familiar ground, surrounded by artists with whom I could chat at a sidewalk café most anywhere in the civilized world. 

Perhaps that’s because my art is completely subjective.  Like my poetry, my art is a place where I’m free to express myself—a world within.  Even more than the components of light and shadow, typical of the Old Masters’ works, color speaks to me!  As effectively as poetry, color portrays that highly personal inner place—my soul. 

This art adventure parallels a new stage of life, a transition from country to community living.  Thirty three years ago, in the press of demanding circumstances, my husband and I moved to a country home where (like Thoreau at Walden) I could learn to live deliberately.  From that country home we moved to a wild location where there were more deer than humans, a visibly large population of black bears, and a substantial number of timber wolves.  Beautiful background for feeding the soul. 

I believe that God created each of us with a personality to be shaped and honed as He wills.  For nearly thirty years He shaped my world within through nature and solitude and (like Thoreau) I actually learned to live deliberately.  Then suddenly we were translated to a community setting.  My husband and I did what we never thought we could do; we moved from our haven of wild serenity to the accelerated pace of a city suburb—albeit quiet, and definitely not urban. 

And here I am, still living deliberately.  Meanwhile, what am I learning from art history?  I’m learning that art really is all about freedom, even freedom from the isms.  

For me, that means freedom to express my world within—specifically through COLOR

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

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I have two artist friends who do not dislike YUPO paper, they hate it!  Now I was taught from little on, that one only uses the word “hate” for things that are truly horrible and hateful—like race prejudice or war.  But with YUPO, it seems there is no middle road.  It’s either “hate” or “love”.  I Love YUPO paper, with a capital “L“.

Still controversial in high end circles, the use of this synthetic painting ground has infused the art world with fresh energy and boundless potential.  YUPO paper is not really paper at all; it is a chemically created polypropolene* surface:  archival, tree-free, pollution free, bio-degradable, recyclable, and everything else one could want—environmentally speaking.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out just why the anti-YUPO people hate the product so vehemently:  it is nearly impossible to control.  If you begin your painting with a firm idea fixed in mind, great flexibility is needed to make the experience a happy one for you.  As the accomplished YUPO artist Taylor Ikin affirms, you simply have to let the paint tell you where it wants to go! 

(Many artists eschew watercolors altogether for their carefree, unpredictable qualities.  Traditional painting with watercolors is frequently considered to be “harder” than painting with oils.)

From the beginning of my adventures with YUPO, I discovered that a “still life” rendering on this ground is seldom “still”!  Waterfalls and turbulent skies abound, as paint slithers hither and thither on YUPO’s glass-like surface.  For those of us who don’t give a hoot for control, that’s the joy of it!

Although my YUPO paintings may look random and unplanned, I can assure you that time and consideration have gone into the completion of them.  Here is how I work on the paper which is not really paper: 

For starters, I spritz the YUPO with my WINDEX® bottle (filled with pure water, not the cleaning solution).  Into the blotches of water, I charge a few colors—normally primaries:  Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, and French Ultramarine Blue.  (Sometimes I substitute Permanent Magenta and Dioxazine Purple for the Alizarin and Ultramarine—and Lemon Yellow for the Cadmium.)

Next, I lift the sheet (I always paint on a flat surface—although I have an easel).  I flip, jiggle, and wiggle the YUPO back and forth,  causing the paint to run in rivulets and fan out in feathers.  As we all know, most any color can result from blending primaries—and any form can evolve from flipping, jiggling, and wiggling one’s paint.  With all of that, I’ve never seen the same outcome twice!

Then I return the YUPO to my table, to dry.  When the surface has dried, a subject or theme typically emerges in the form of a definitive shape or shapes:  rocks, flowers, rushing water, perhaps a cliff or a cavern, and frequently creatures—mythical or identifiable birds or animals, or something faintly homo sapiens (often leaning toward the humanoid).  Hence, my penchant for fantasy awakens.  I’m up and away—and frequently way out!

In the above piece, “Pirates’ Lair”, the initially emerging shapes were those gemlike forms in the approximate center and upper center—separated by vertical lines caused by rivulets of paint.  The other form fashioned by wet paint sliding around on the slick surface was that attractive yellow oval, complete with some of the stairs, toward the lower right of the picture.  With those features already in place, I could proceed with a theme created by the mingling of YUPO and watercolors:  a pirates’ lair of precious gems, with an escape—that ready-made oval of light with its built-in staircase.

I considered how I could amplify the existing features of the piece, adding enhancing shapes and eliminating anything extraneous.  With a clean, damp brush I phased out distracting elements—filling the resulting spaces with alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, and dioxazine purple (colors of gems I love—rubies, garnets, sapphires, and amethysts).  While the paint was still wet, I sprinkled those areas with 1) salt on the crimson parts on the left and 2) lavender-tinted cosmetic pigment powder on much of the purple paint.  (The pigment powder was lifted from my soap-making supplies; I use high grade cosmetic pigments to color my soap.  Not every artist has access to a saponifier’s stash, but happily I do have! 🙂 )

Finally, additional interest was needed in the top third of the painting, a bit to the left of center.  So I included another window in the lair—one more view to the way out, replete with its diminutive stairway.  Also, I inserted more stairs into the lower right oval of light.

All of this took about three hours to complete—three hours of actual work, not counting the drying time.  Thus you can see that a considerable amount of analysis, cogitation, and consideration are necessary “givens” between brush strokes, when using the capricious and fiercely independent medium of watercolor on that capricious and fiercely independent surface known as wonderful YUPO!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

*According to the Wisegeek website, “Polypropylene is a plastic polymer used in everything from carpets to car parts”.  And we know that includes art!

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“Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”  Pablo Picasso

Our four (almost five) year old Great-granddaughter Brynn’s first question upon arriving at our home was, “Can we do a craft project?” 

I never cease to be inspired by the experience of watching a young person who has been turned loose with paint, water, a brush, and some paper.  Brynn knew about the primary colors—and how to get green from blue and yellow, and purple from red and blue.  I gave her a 11″ x 14″ piece of YUPO paper, and explained that if she wanted to start over with her work we could simply rinse the sheet off and begin again with a white surface. 

Brynn began by eagerly combining all her primaries, and of course got brown.  That was interesting to her, but she decided to get rid of the brown and start over.  The concentration, enthusiasm, and confidence of a child with a paintbrush is wonderful to behold.  I simply stood back and marveled. 

Here is the finished painting.    Brynn created the circles with a trick I showed her:  squeezing drops of rubbing alcohol on spots of wet paint.  She was delighted with the designs created by the alcohol.

I sprayed Brynn’s painting with a fixative so it will be archival, set the piece in a 16″ x 20″ outside dimension mat and matboard, and encased it in a clear plastic sleeve.  Tomorrow Brynn will return, to pick up her masterpiece and present it to her parents.

What a beautiful piece of art!  I plan to print out my computer copy and frame it so that Joe and I can enjoy the painting and remember a very special afternoon. 

After painting, Brynn served “snacks and juice” in play dishes to Joe and me, a couple of dolls, and my big pink Teddy bear.  Then we read.  Brynn did a lot of the reading, as she has her phonics nailed down very well!  Suddenly her Grandma, our daughter Debbie, came to pick Brynn up—and we realized we’d had so much fun that we forgot about ice cream!  Oh well, next time for sure—and I hope the “next time” will be soon!  🙂

Brynn is blessed to have parents and other family members who will encourage her along the way, in whatever she chooses to do.  I fervently pray that she’ll never encounter some misguided teacher who thinks students should always paint skies blue and grass green—or, horror of horrors, that children should “color within the lines”!  Children are free and creative by nature, until someone comes along and makes them feel self conscious!  There are far too many “walking wounded” adults in this world, who were shot down as children by some unimaginative person who failed to appreciate the beauty of a child’s inspiring art!

Margaret L. Been, 2012

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When I’m feeling peppy, I delight in venturing into uncharted territory.  That’s when the abstract shapes and surprising textures appear.  Yet there are days, and more likely evenings, when I’m weary.  Yet I still want to paint.

At weary moments, I persist in making art while celebrating beloved and familiar shapes and themes—those subjects where I can hardly miss, such as still lifes or trees.  Yet I’m constantly aware of trying to avoid clichés, overworked aspects of a piece which could potentially add up to ho-hum art.   My goal is to make every painting unique and different from any others I’ve done.

One way to prevent sameness in renderings is to vary color chords.  Tonight I decided to use black gouche—something I’ve never tried before.  I was instantly transported by the richness of black, and probably overdid it in the above painting titled “Dried Bounty”. 

Oh well, if I don’t overdo the black gouache in the next still life I won’t make a cliché of it!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

P. S.  Recently I ventured into new territory by selling a painting.  For a few days after that, I wasn’t aware of using my legs.  I floated!

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I frequently hear negative comments about “modern art”, meaning abstract or semi-abstract art—which, understandably enough, doesn’t appeal to everyone.  The comments crack me up because abstraction is anything but modern.  It came into being from the late 1800s to early 1900s and peaked in the famous 1960s.  If there is such a thing as “modern”, it is representational art—judging by what I see as I wander around art fairs.  Barns, ships, still lifes, street scenes, landscapes, and portraits are as popular and sought after as ever before.  

The most commonly heard remark concerning abstraction is one I’ve often made myself—and still do:  “A kid could do that!”  This comment applies especially to watercolor paintings, and particularly to paintings on Yupo paper—where the paint and water do about 75% of the work.  

Sometimes I have to agree—at least concerning my entry level renderings.  Maybe a kid could do what I’m doing!  Kids do amazing art, because they are free.  We adults need to follow the Biblical injunction to become as a little child—not only in faith and trust but in the freedom required to make expressive art of any kind, be it realistic, semi abstract, or purely non-representational. 

A kid could have dropped the various colors of paint on the above pictured Yupo® paper and watched an abstract rendering develop before their eyes.  But would a kid have the patience to go back to the piece many times, removing blotches of paint to restore parts of the paper to its original white?  Would a kid have considered the contrast of complementary colors, and softened the transition between them?  Would a kid have plopped increments of rubbing alcohol from a medicine dropper, to create the circles which are scattered hither and thither?  Or added small details after the initial work dried?

Yes, I think some kids might do any of that.  Not every kid—and definitely not the kid whose heart is forever on the soccer field, or dependent on his or her peers.  But there are kids who could do that, providing they have the motivation and materials! 

Meanwhile, I’m thankful to be a kid at heart!  Perhaps the thing that distinguishes us kids from the rest of the world is that when it comes to making stuff we simply love to play.  I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing!”  If that’s true, then my art—whether an attempt at photographic realism or a plunge into way out abstraction—is a virtual “Fountain of Youth”!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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