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Posts Tagged ‘Summer in Wisconsin’

Argyl.JPG

Now and then I get the above question—always in response to that rare effort with which I’m really happy.

Some of my paintings are okay (no more than that), and some are (in my opinion) frame-able.  But occasionally (once in a red moon?) something happens that actually delights my heart.  Like this one which I have titled “Recalling Argyll”.

In this case, along with other paintings which have evoked the “How did you do that?” query,  I had to answer an interested friend with my standard reply:  “I honestly don’t know!”

What I do know is that I nearly pitched the thing in my wastebasket.  It went through several yucky stages, compounded by the fact that I had nothing whatsoever in my mind when I began painting.  Often that works beautifully, especially with transparent watercolors on YUPO paper which happily does its own thing and produces surprising results when you keep your paintbrush in check or use it lightly.

But in the above case, the transparency got buried too quickly in layers of gouache.  Gouache is my ever-ready friend, but here I let it get overly friendly.  In lieu of simply pitching the work, I decided to just let it alone so the mess of gouache could dry properly—no easy task in our famous Southeastern Wisconsin summer humidity.

Several days later, I revisited the mess and gave it one last fling—this time globs of white gouache blotched randomly to cover up the muddiest layers of the original paint.  And instantly the scene popped out at me:  Argyll.

Back in 1993, Joe and I rented a car and drove (actually Joe did all the driving since it was on “the other side of the road”) 2200 miles–mostly on back roads in Scotland, England, and Wales.  I was raising sheep here in Wisconsin at the time, for wool for my hand spinning and because I love animals—even the silliest of varieties.  So we had planned ahead to stay at sheep farms on this trip of a lifetime.

We landed at Glasgow, and spent our first two days and nights on a farm in Argyll—a  familiar household name in my childhood home.  My Grandma Kate was a Campbell* and pointed proudly back to some 11th century Duke of Argyll.

How did I do this painting?  If I can think up a more helpful answer in addition to the explanation of ruining a painting with piles of gouache and then blotching it up with white paint, I’ll let you know.”  🙂

But maybe Argyll popped up because in 1993 I felt a deep down sense of belonging there, either due to the 11th century Duke or simply because Argyll is a poignantly beautiful part of the world.

Margaret L. Been —August 3rd, 2016 

*If you read Scottish history, you will discover that the Campbells behaved atrociously to the Mac Donalds—something I would hope will stay buried in the past.  Anyway, here is my peaceful finale:  They came to the USA, where the Campbells made soup and the Mac Donalds made hamburgers.

(Do I hear groans?)

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Patio Afternoon

 Brewed in the sunshine

poured over mountains of ice

laced with garden mint . . .

Margaret L. Been August 2015 

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Winged Life 1

“It is well to have some water in your neighborhood, to give buoyancy and to float the earth.”  Henry David Thoreau, WALDEN

We Wisconsin natives are akin to water.  Forming a border on three sides of our state (Lake Michigan, Lake Superior, and “Old Man River”—the Mississippi) water defines whom we are, to a great degree.  I grew up with water—a friendly creek at the base of my family’s property, a summer lake home, the gorgeous Black River bluffs outside my grandparents’ door, water/water/water.

For eight years Joe and I lived full time on a quiet flowage with the Big Elk River just around the corner from our bay.  A favorite summer pastime of mine was to take my paddle boat, a book, suntan lotion and plenty of iced tea plus peanut butter and jelly sandwiches up the river where I dozed, read, swam, and ate my lunch.  The latter was a bit foolish, due to a plethora of black bears nearly as abundant as water in the vicinity.  As the years passed, we got more savvy about bears and Joe put a stop to my solitary picnics—but I could still paddle upstream, read, doze, and swim.

Now we live not on water, but surrounded by lakes and rivers in the unique Lake Country of Southern Wisconsin.  A considerable benefit of water proximity is the abundance of winged water life:  an abundance we enjoy every single day from March through mid-November.  Great blue heron, sandhill cranes, Canada geese. and many kinds of ducks fly over constantly, along with additional shorebirds such as sandpipers and egrets.

Along with these seasonal neighbors, our little garden and patio area host year round friends—cardinals, sparrows, chickadees, etc., and summer residents:  Baltimore orioles, mourning doves, robins, and those occasional warblers which stop enroute to northern nesting sites.  And throughout the year, we watch nature’s undertakers—the turkey vultures soaring with their frayed wings over the woods beyond the park, while scouting for a decaying meal.

Winged life is as much of whom we are as the water which surrounds us.  Thus it follows that birds appear in my art, along with water and wild woods.  Also, frequently present are something we do not have in Wisconsin but rather are native to my “home away from home” state—Colorado.  Obviously, that “something” would be mountains.  We paint what we love!  For me that also includes clouds and mist hanging over the water, woods, mountains, or whatever.

Just as we writers have a voice, ever developing as we live and grow, artists also speak through their work. I began in 2006—trying to paint realistic scenes which were at best colorful, but at worst totally humdrum and thoroughly uninspired.  I’ve saved many of the early renderings, and I can’t get over how unoriginal they are.

Not skillful enough to produce a beautiful photo-realistic scene (which I greatly admire from fine artists!) it was only when I cut the fetters that had bound me to standard, realistic shapes and colors that I realized I actually do have an artist’s voice.  Through books and DVDs, fine artists Barbara Nechis and (Wisconsin’s own) Karlyn Holman encouraged me to cut loose and sing!  With my one and only true “strength” which is color, this was (and is!) possible.

When I paint what I love, invariably someone else will love it as well.*  Time and again, I’ve offered a family member to choose from a group of paintings and he or she will pick what I like best.  For 2 summers now, I’ve presented to a jury—to select paintings for inclusion in a summer exhibit at our local arts center; and each time the jury has chosen the paintings I prefer.  I would never paint primarily to please others, but it seems a given that when we please ourselves others are pleased as well!

So curvilinear shapes of birds, trees, mountains, and flowers are continually surfacing—those things I love best.  Having been translated from years of living in a semi-wild environment to a suburban locale, occasional abstractions of buildings and bridges will appear.  But nearly always, these traces of man’s ingenuity float among masses of curvilinear shapes—often the shapes of winged life!

Margaret L. Been, ©2013

*Note:  often when painting what I love, I think of a late fine artist in oils who painted what he loved—while amassing a fortune because so many others (including the Walt Disney Company) loved his work.  Thomas Kinkade, the “Painter of Light” came to a tragic end.  Yet his art tells me that despite his very human failings, he had a beautiful soul!

From blog browsing I’ve discovered that Kinkade’s paintings are controversial.  Many object because they are either:  1) too realistic; 2) not realistic enough; 3) too idealistic; 4) not credible because one cannot tell where the light is coming from; 5) too commercialized; 6) ugly because they are popular; 7) not ugly enough (this critic believes that “real” art should be ugly because he believes that life itself is ugly); and 8) on and on ad nauseum.

I’m working hard on trying not to get unnecessarily angry,  but these comments have taxed my resolve to the max.  Although Kinkade’s art is not what I would choose to adorn my home, I believe that a valid function of the fine arts is to rise above the mundane while attempting to express a beauty intended for man before he (or she!) bit into that apple.  My belief stands unaltered by the stupid criticisms listed above.  Each artist has his or her personal concept of beauty, but striving for beauty is certainly a worthy raison d’être!

I question whether or not those critiquing Kinkade’s work are actually artists.  My exposure to the art world has revealed to me a tremendous spirit of love and acceptance among those involved because:  1) making art is never easy, although it may look easy to the uninitiated viewer; and 2) every artist should be considered free to make art as they see life. 

This spirit of love and acceptance has also caused me to realize that a penchant for beauty need not be the driving force behind all who make art.  Showing life as it really is in this fallen world is also valid, along with showing even the ugliness of some people’s “reality”—whether or not I like that kind of art.

Some critics maintain that Kinkade was not a “real artist” because he was intensely popular during his career.  He has been called a “hack”—a term normally applied to writers who produce for profit.

Hello, critics.  Have you ever heard of William Shakespeare?  I rest my case, although I might add, perhaps you “. . . doth protest too much, methinks.”  Shakespeare’s HAMLET, Act III, scene II.

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I have never been able to appreciate the dilemma of individuals who say, “I’d like to write, but don’t know what to write about.”  My answer is, “You have a life!  So write your life!  Write about the people and places you love!”

Over the last six years, since I began painting, I’ve often recalled my own advice!  Although I’d love to paint the people I love, alas.  My skills are inadequate, at least at this point.  But I can, have, and continually do paint the places I love.

You will recognize the above paintings as representative of “Out West”.  That region of our nation is dear to my heart— especially Colorado (my “second home”), plus New Mexico and Northern Arizona (my “adopted second homes”).

Next you will see glimpses of a part of my actual lifelong home, known to most Wisconsinites as “Up North”:

And here is my current home in Southern Wisconsin. ↓ These renderings were inspired by life inside and outdoors in our beloved Nashotah:

So there you have it.  I’ll never run out of excitement over the places I love—past and present!  And “future” is going to be the most exciting of all!  But my finite mind cannot begin to comprehend how to depict the new Heaven and earth!  I’ll just have to wait and see!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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Those of you who also visit http://northernreflections.wordpress.com/ know that our patio is, for me, a very special bit of Heaven.  It opens through sliding doors right outside our living room, so it seems like we live outdoors year around.  The patio is beautiful in winter, piled with drifted snow, but it’s especially wonderful in spring, summer, and autumn.  It faces due east, and is sheltered by a roof and the rest of our building from all but the east wind.  We face a park and nature preserve—beyond which is the wild end of Lake Nagawicka—so wildlife abounds in the neighborhood. 

Canada geese, great blue heron, sandhill cranes, turkey vultures, and hawks soar across the open sky over our park every day.  We are surrounded by lakes in our corner of the world, so shorebirds as well as field and meadow flyers are at home here.  Occasionally sea gulls venture inland from Lake Michigan, in search of food.  (I often see gulls at shopping centers where people are apt to drop a potato chip or some pop corn.)  Recently a cormorant cruised over our park—exciting, as in the past I’d only seen that large bird in Wisconsin’s far North wetlands. 

To make bird and cloud watching, reading, and sipping iced tea on the patio complete we needed some funky art—preferably with my beloved Southwest flavor.  A gallery wrapped canvas and some acrylic paints did the job, and now we have art for living outdoors.  I sealed my rendering (“My Santa Fe”) with acrylic gloss medium, so barring blizzards it should be weatherproof.  I’ll bring Santa Fe in late next fall.  Meanwhile, the painting is living outdoors—with me!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, 2012

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May in Wisconsin can be as blustery as an icy blast on the North Sea, or it can be an euphoric spell of something like Heaven on earth.  The last week has been euphoric.  My days are spent outdoors—either puttering in the garden, strolling with Baby Dylan (corgi), or reading and sunning.  But evenings are, as always, spent at my messy palette. 

The renderings produced in our bedroom studio are not always indicative of the season at hand.  I have a pleasant enough truce with winter, because it’s inevitable here in the northland.  But when shoved to the wall, I have to admit that I’m not overly fond of near zero temperatures and the color white—except in clouds, flowers, birds, animals, pearls, and bridal gowns.  (I do like all colors of people.) 

Winter scenes (by me or anyone else) rarely hang in our home gallery, although branches laden with fresh snow are exquisitely lovely!  Invariably the seasons I paint are spring, summer, and autumn—and especially SUMMER!

I have a pet theory which probably has no objective research whatsoever behind it, yet it’s my theory:  that contented individuals tend to love the season (and month) in which they were born.  That theory is fact in at least one case—my own!  I’m summer born, August born to be exact.  Having loved living and been a contented person ever since I remember, I love summer with a passion.

Obviously, it’s only May—and May is still spring.  But we are having summer weather, so it’s summer in May.  We wake to birdsong, and sleep to the clicking and clacking of tree frogs under our window.  We steep our tea in the sun, and rejoice on our covered patio in the rain.  We’re overwhelmed by the beauty and goodness of it all—and those qualities are what I want my art to represent:  beauty and goodness!

So happy spring, summer, autumn, and even winter—since we can always celebrate summer in our deepest heart!  Winter is beautiful as well!  And without our Wisconsin winters, our summers would not be so ineffably precious and sweet!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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Our outside thermometer registered 105° F this afternoon, in the sun.  Later in the day, near sunset, the reading dropped to 100°.  Perhaps the temperature gage (not showing in the above photo) is a bit off, as it was a “cheapie” sale purchase which I bought mainly because the instrument is encased in a cute crow which presides over that area of garden.  But give or take a little, 100° is HOT!

Yesterday Joe and I did something totally unprecedented for us:  we turned on our air conditioning.  We never had AC before we moved to our present home, and certainly never believed that we needed it.  For 30 years we had deep woods homes with large windows shaded by commodious overhangs, and rooms aired by ceiling fans.  Now we have plenty of lovely trees, but no deep woods on our side of the park.  We do have a ceiling fan in each room here, helpful but suddenly not quite helpful enough.  So we are running the AC.

At first it seemed downright eerie to me, being encased indoors with all of beautiful nature barred by closed windows and doors.  But every time I step outside, I realize that nature has gone a bit berserk.  Given the heat and Joe’s heart condition, cooler air has become a priority for us.

Still, we have early mornings and evenings to live outside.  For 2 mornings, I’ve pulled weeds and watered gardens at 6:00 a. m. when the thermometer registered a reasonable 75°.  At night I lie on the patio lounge for awhile, watching fireflies and basking in the warm night air which is pleasant in the dark.  (Happily, we have no mosquitoes!)

For two days I’ve been reflecting on our pioneer history, trying to imagine what it was like traveling west in a wagon train through places like Kansas and Death Valley, California.  Those intrepid souls contended not only with heat (or cold!) but with brutal winds, dust, potential hunger and thirst, realities of sickness and death on the trail without the comfort of a home, arduous labor, and the ominous possibility of getting scalped! 

I’m as comfort-loving as a cat!  I think I might have preferred to stay “back east” in a shady little town, rather than to venture into the unknown!  Yet who knows?  I love to read about the American West.  If I’d been a young wife in the mid 1800s I just might have gone there with my man!

Meanwhile if weather promises count, we’ll experience relief in the next 24 hours.  A forecast of 85° sounds WONDERFUL.  If and when that happens we’ll turn off the AC, throw open the windows and doors, breathe the outside air, and live beside our garden once more. 

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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