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Posts Tagged ‘Louis L’Amour’

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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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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One point most artists agree upon is the wisdom of painting a favorite subject again and again—as a series or a lifetime of renderings, as evidenced in Monet’s many water lily paintings.  If the subject is something we dearly love, it will always hold our interest and we can capture this love in a plethora of colors, aspects, viewpoints, and styles. 

From little on, I have been fascinated by the vanished culture of the cliff dwellings in the four corners—Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico—and other parts of the “Grand Circle” surrounding Mesa Verde where these states meet.  The history of the area is fraught with enigma, unanswered questions, and infinite speculation concerning how the people lived and why they abandoned their cities in the cliffs.  The area itself abounds in beauty which borders on the bizarre.

Although the term “Ancients” has been applied to many past cultures around the world, and even to fictional space aliens, the “Ancients” who capture me are those historic people who maintained a working civilization in the Grand Circle from approximately 1200 B.C. to 1300 A.D.—the Anasazi (meaning “ancient”), or Ancient Pueblo Native Americans.  Many sites in the Grand Circle are named after these people, who are generally referred to as “The Ancients”.

I have traveled in the Grand Circle, and I never tire of reading about the area—its history, cultural ruins, and theories as to what life may have been like for the cliff dwellers.  In recent years, my interest in the Southwest USA has intensified from reading many novels by Louis L’Amour set in that locale.  Not only does this author describe the region in painterly paragraphs which virtually pop off the page and into one’s imagination, but he creates an aura of mystery about the people who lived there—and fictionalizes this mystery into “cliff-hanging” plots which have kept me reading far into the night on several occasions.

Given my love for the Southwest, and my love for Louis L’Amour’s books, it is not surprising that aspects (usually dreamed up and fictionalized) tend to fall off my paintbrush onto paper.  The above, “hot off the palette” piece is titled Lost Amethyst Mine of the Ancients.  This is pure fiction.  I have no knowledge that the Ancients did any mining, or that there is amethyst quartz in the area.  Thus far I have found no online documentation that mining may have been part of that ancient culture.  I simply capture what comes to my mind when I think of Western mines and the culture of the Ancients.  I also love the color of amethyst!

I’ve been painting the Southwestern theme for months—and my zeal shows no indication of flagging.  Awhile back I produced a “favorite” which I named Lost Canyon of the Ancients. I may have posted it before, and a cropped version of it appears above in the header, but in any event here it is again:  ↓

This above bit of fantasy is now framed and hanging over our (electric) fireplace. 

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!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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