Posts Tagged ‘The beauty of crafts’

ink 1

Recently I attended a workshop on the use of alcohol inks.  The class was held in a studio a few lovely country miles from our home, in a neighboring community.  There were 15 of us in the workshop.

Alcohol ink only works its great magic on a non-absorbent surface, so we used my beloved Yupo paper for our introduction to the medium.  For our first of 3 renderings, the instructor talked us through a basic technique which we all followed; we made rings of dots from drops of the ink, in colors of our choice, then blew through a straw to move the ink around.  We added more blobs, blew some more, etc.

The beautiful freckles on the above sample, my 1st, were created by holding the surface of the work up horizontally and spraying horizontally from a bottle filled with Isopropyl Alcohol.  The bottle needs to be significantly up and away from the painting so that the drops will fall gently on the paint, rather than in torrents—which would send the colors flying in additional directions.

From these humble beginnings, each of us created our first alcohol ink art, and every painting was totally unique.  Clone-type workshops are currently in vogue, where a group of people follow a formula and all come up with nearly identical paintings—wine consumption notwithstanding.  I have heard raves about these gatherings, as if they were some kind of a Renaissance Revolution.  But conformity and uniformity in art are unspeakably dull, I think:  as lackluster as painting by number.  An art class such as the one I’m describing, where each participant makes something different and one of a kind, is a GOOD CLASS!

For our second rendering we were encouraged to make a close-up of flowers popping up out of grass.  The instructor had one of her paintings as a sample.  A few in the class mimicked the leader’s choice of colors and format, but most of us simply did our own thing.  Here is my #2:

ink 2

We concluded with one more piece.  My #3 was my very favorite, but alas; the next day, I sprayed all 3 paintings with a fixative, got the spray too close to the surface of #3, and caused the ink to revitalize and run.  So #3 got altered, not to my liking.  Nonetheless, it is pictured below:

(Try to imagine that the magenta blur on the top half of the painting is not really a blur, but rather a hint of foxgloves hanging like bells—as in the lair of the Foxy Gentleman in Beatrix Potter’s TALE OF JEMINA PUDDLEDUCK.)

ink 3

Blurred foxgloves nonetheless, the alcohol ink workshop inspired me.  In July, the same instructor will show us how to apply the medium to glass, metal, and ceramic tiles.  Meanwhile, I’m eager to share this newly-discovered art with my great-grandchildren* who live nearby.  Too much fun!

Margaret L. Been  —  May 29th, 2017

*Divided between Wisconsin, Florida, Minnesota, and California, Joe and I have 18 great-grandchildren.  And #19 is scheduled to appear in South Carolina on Christmas Day, 2017. 

Now wasn’t that a sneaky way to get in a big brag?!!!  🙂

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Scarves and shawls, plus capes and sweaters, fulfill as much of my creative energy as do paints.

Above are samples of pure silk blanks (available online via Dharma Co., CA) painted with Sharpies fine (brush tip are great) permanent markers (not the oil base ones).  This is too much fun.  Just color/color/color the scarf to your heart’s content, and when satisfied spray (saturate) with rubbing alcohol.  Allow to dry, then press with a hot steam iron.

These recently sold well at a pre-holiday fair.  Everyone loves them.  The selection of blanks is great—Dharma even has dancing veils.


Here Pinkie is happily modeling the world famous Potato Chip Scarf–so named 1) because it curls and 2) because you can’t just make one.  They are as addictive as the edible, salty variety.

And below we have Pinkie again, cowling it up.


Knitted, of course.  I go on yarn surges.  A few years ago, it was Debbie Bliss’s Baby Cashmerino.  Then Cascade 220.  Then Cascade Sunseeker.  Now it is Malabrigo Silky Merino:  49% silk and 51% merino wool.  All are wonderful.  All are unabashedly overflowing and falling out of countless baskets, many of which I have made in former years of “also passions”.

And shawls.  I make long shawls—prayer shawls, gift shawls, and some for myself.  A long shawl is the perfect wrap for our autumn and spring weather, either layered over a blazer and sweater or by itself.  And I love these little guys:


(The borders are crocheted.)  No, I didn’t make the penny quilt.  For me, knitting needles are relaxing—but sewing needles and machines are nerve wracking.  This quilt is a beauty.  It was some unknown artist’s masterpiece, possibly during the Great Depression, as the fabrics are apparently used clothing.  The quilt is huge, even on our queen bed.  We won it at a local auction years ago.  It’s been moved two times, stored on a high closet shelf, and now we are featuring it on our bed.  Things are to be used and enjoyed, especially with a good number of years behind us and not quite so many years left.  Why not?  🙂

spinning in the summer

Finally, spinning.  The basket filled with color contains wool roving, and the white fiber in the pink basket is silk.  Two excellent Jensen wheels, Wisconsin made, grace our living room and in this case one of them is (characteristically in seasonable weeks) working on our patio.  What a joy to make yarn, and knit it.  I still have a lot of gorgeous deep brown Shetland from my last two silly sheep, in the late 1990s.

But the patio leads out to even one more of many passions:

Faithful Bleeding Heart

Coming SOON!  I can hardly wait.  How about you?

Margaret L. Been — February 28th, 2016

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soap 3

I think I featured this one awhile back, on this blog.  But anyway, here goes.

My “soap opera” began in 1976, when like so many of that era I was crazy to do every earth mother craft possible.  A group of us women met at a Milwaukee church kitchen.  We brought bacon drippings and roast beef fat trimmings, kettles and cooking spoons, and cardboard boxes for a day of “fun”.  Although I can’t recall having rendered the meat drippings at home, I must have done that—or perhaps I did not render them at all (rendering meaning to simmer with water, cool, and skim off the clean fat for use while discarding the sludge).  Anyway, at the church kitchen we heated our fats and cooled down the mixture.

Someone had brought that old product, RED DEVIL LYE.  We sprinkled this into cold water, and after a bit of cooling time the lye water got stirred into our grotesque mixture of fat.  We stirred and stirred.  I can’t remember that anything significant happened to the stirrings, except for perhaps a slight thickening.  Finally, we poured our stirrings into cardboard boxes lined with something—shelf wrap, waxed paper, whatever—and home we went.

The day was in late February.  As I left the church, Canada Geese were winging northward bringing with them the euphoria that early spring signs always bring.  The Geese were the best part of the day.  By the day I got my box home, loose lye had sloshed and sprayed all over the box.  As I lifted the box out of the (would you believe?) station wagon (where are those beautiful vehicles?  I miss them!), I got nasty little stings from the lye.  At home the mess went to our basement, and finally in the garbage.  It was awful!  In retrospect, I wonder how many of those women ever tried again.  For me, such a colossal failure is like the proverbial red flag to the bull.  I had to succeed at soapmaking, and I persisted until finally things began to work.

Old bacon drippings and fat from roast beef, pork, venison, etc. were the only available base oils on the frontier, but I soon learned that beautiful fats are necessary for beautiful soap.  Most butchers will part with fat cuttings from raw meat.  For years I purchased the tallow from a local butcher (good quality bird suet is the best) and rendered it myself.  Lard is good, also, but beef tallow makes a harder, longer lasting soap.  One fat which will not work at all is poultry fat.  Never, no never use that!  For those who object to using animal fats, pure vegetable oil soaps are beautiful as well—olive oil soap being the best!

Now I order rendered tallow from an online source, along with vegetable oils which make up the soap’s base:  olive oil (the Lamborghini of vegetable oils), palm oil, coconut oil, apricot kernel oil, etc.  All of my other supplies* (except for the utensils) are delivered to my door as well:  sodium hydroxide (generally called “lye”), fragrance oils (or essential oils if you prefer), decorative molds, and colorants.

I will not post instructions for soapmaking, as it is a touchy chemical process.  Friends come on occasion, to observe and take notes—as that is the very best way to learn.  There are plenty of books and online sources for soapmaking as well, and some of these are fine.  But there are also some downright screwy books out there.  Buyer beware!  Learning from another person is the best method.  Nearly every local farmer’s market will feature a vendor of homemade soap—and that’s a great place to make inquiries and possibly find a teacher.  Meanwhile, the entire procedure is so exciting that, as with paints and yarn, it is downright overwhelming

Immediately after making the soap, it must sit covered in a warm spot for twenty-four hours.  For years I poured the mixture into lined wooden boxes, and covered the boxes with wool blankets.  This was fussy and space-consuming in the kitchen!  Now I simply cover the molds with plastic wrap and stack them between heavy cardboard dividers in my oven.  (An insulated, draft free box!)  I put a bit of masking tape on the oven door and dial—just to make sure someone doesn’t preheat the oven and pop in a pizza!  🙂

The soap MUST CURE uncovered, on a platter in your home for two or three weeks.  Then it will be totally, perfectly SAFE AND FOOL PROOF TO USE.  It is safe and luxurious to use on your face, or on a baby’s butt:  perhaps the safest possible cleanser—far better than anything on the shelves at the drugstore or supermarket.

Commercial soaps (with rare exception) are made with some petroleum oil.  That’s detergent.  Cosmetic sales people are absolutely correct to discourage people from using most commercial soaps, as these are rarely good.  But cured homemade soap cannot harm the face or body.  What’s more, the homemade soap will do the face and body worlds of good.  Whereas the skin softening ingredient known as glycerin is removed from most commercial soaps and sold for pharmaceuticals or ingredients in explosives, homemade soap retains its glycerin—a natural byproduct of saponification (soapmaking).

Amazingly, when the fat and sodium hydroxide mingle, they form a complete new thing—SOAP.  The fat is no longer fat, and the lye is no longer lye.  It’s all about soap.  So when you go to a farmer’s market and see a table of homemade soap, you can buy it and use it with confidence—providing the soap has been allowed to cure for two or three weeks.  If you have any doubts about the aging time, just buy the soap and let it sit for two weeks before using it.  You will never regret that purchase, and chances are you will go back for more!

Often venders will offer a line of soap with no perfume or colorants, for those who are sensitive to those additives.  I actually do make plain soap for one family member who likes “plain” best.  But the amounts of perfume and colorant which I use are so slight, and the quality of these ingredients is so fine, that there simply are no problems with my beautiful soap.  People always come back for more!!!

Margaret L. Been, 2014

*For my online sources, just GOOGLE:  Base oils—Columbus Foods; Fragrance and/or Essential Oils—Lavender Lane, Symphony Scents, Brambleberry; Colorants—Symphony Scents;  Molds—Brambleberry; Sodium Hydroxide—The Chemistry Store.

Some of the suppliers listed above carry most of the necessary ingredients:  base oils, fragrances, color, and molds for those who prefer one-stop shopping.  I’ve just mentioned my favorite sources for each thing.  But the sodium hydroxide must be purchased from a chemistry supplier.  The Chemistry Store requires buyers to fill out and sign a form renewable every year, attesting to your age and waiving the company’s responsibility for your use of the sodium hydroxide—a very dangerous, toxic product.

If RED DEVIL LYE can still be found, DO NOT USE IT.  Reportedly, it now contains other ingredients with the sodium hydroxide—things like bleach.  IT WILL NOT WORK.  And DO NOT EVEN DREAM OF USING DRAINO!   Fine for clogged plumbing, but never for soap!!!

Rubber gloves, a cheap disposable mask, and goggles or glasses should be worn when working with the sodium hydroxide.  I NEVER make soap when children or pets are underfoot.  As aforementioned, my first experience at saponifying involved a group.  Poor planning!  Soapmaking is not a groupie thing.  I will invite ONE person to join me on occasion, a friend or family member who wants to learn the procedure.  Rarely, two people will be included.

Here are some extra tips:  You can custom make soap for different kinds of skin.  Check out the properties of various herbs which may be dried, crushed or powdered, and added to your soap.  I use my homegrown lavender, roses, and mint.  Dried herbs and flowers are available online for a reasonable price, at Frontier Herbs.  Calendula and chamomile flowers are especially wonderful.

Most homemade soap is tremendously moisturizing; for years elderly people have loved my soap for this reason.  Coconut oil is the secret to achieving soap which lathers in cold water, but I use very limited amounts of coconut oil to assure a highly moisturizing soap.  However, for teen- agers with acne and oily skin I ramp up the coconut oil.  Acne and other irritating skin conditions will disappear on a regimen of good homemade soap!

ENJOY!2012 Soap 3


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Sometimes a painting will look okay to me except for 1 corner, or 1 section, which simply refuses to cooperate or edify the whole work in any way.  I have extra mats in all standard sizes, which I can move around to isolate parts of a piece.  This helps me to decide what is worth saving, and what to pitch—or perhaps cut off, rinse, and re-work.  (On Yupo paper, the rinsing works really well.  The original white sheet is restored.)

Above, is a sample of 1 large painting (watercolor and gouache on Yupo paper) cropped into 1 medium and 2 smalls.  The left over piece is on my table, with many colors mingled on it.  Currently this “discard” is serving as a spare palette and a surface on which to wipe my brush when working on other paintings—but eventually the reject may become a rendering worth matting and saving.

The problem solving involved in making art (of any kind!) is a great part of the fun.  It’s amazing to see what one can salvage and redeem from an apparently lost cause!  Never think “failure”.  When in doubt, just crop!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

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“Water Media Art” rather than just “Watercolors” would be a better summary of what I love to do.  The above piece contains 4 different kinds of water media, all working together to produce interesting effects.

The twisted vines were created with Elegant Writer® pens, by SPEEDBALL.  These felt tip pens are incredibly fun.  You write or draw with them, and at this point your work simply looks like lines.  Then you go over the lines with a small damp round brush, and the lines activate into a painterly blur.  I bought the pens at our BEN FRANKLIN store, but any craft store which carries calligraphy materials will probably stock the Elegant Writer®.  I found black, green, blue, red, and brown pens. 

The watery blobs on the branches were formed by dabs of wet watercolor crayons.  I have a tin of 24 LYRA AQUACOLOR® crayons, and there are other brands. 

The dense clusters of magenta flowers (at least I think that’s what they are) were painted with gouache—an age old paint which I’m beginning to enjoy a lot.  Gouache is simply watercolor paint with white paint (which is opaque) added.  One can make gouache by adding white paint to any watercolor, but I purchased tubes from one of my online sources.  Most art paint manufacturers offer gouache.  The opacity of the gouache contrasts beautifully with transparent watercolor paints or crayons.  It can be used as is, or blended into watercolors for variations of tone and hue.  Not clear on this computer scanned version, but noticeable on my original, is the raised quality—rendering the feeling of velvet.  This texture appeared because I layered the gouache over applications of the watercolor crayons.  With gouache, one can build an impasto look, and even to a slight degree simulate oils  (Oils are forbidden fruit for me, due to lung issues.)

One “Buyer Beware” concerning gouache.  Unless you work in acrylics and have brushes set aside for that medium, make sure you do not buy an acrylic base gouache.  There are probably several brands, but the one I have seen is TURNER ACRYL GOUACHE®.  This would ruin your watercolor brushes.  However, any acrylic media can be used in connection with watercolors, watercolor pencils or crayons, and watercolor based gouache so long as you have separate brushes for the acrylics.* 

(I do use acrylics in my collages.  The permanent, stay fast quality of acrylic paint works well where many layers of paint and an assortment of extra materials are applied.  Many layers can be painted on without the danger of smudging.   I do my collage work on gallery wrapped canvas.  Rather than covering with glass, I apply 2 coats of acrylic gloss medium for archival purposes—and the piece will last.  Meanwhile, viewers can run their hands over the collages and appreciate the textures.)

Finally, the background in the above piece was dabbed with water and a few drops of watercolor paint.  Voilà!  Watercolor plus!

Margaret L. Been, ©2012

*Note:  Occasionally I apply acrylic Interference® paints by GOLDEN, to add a pearlescent glow to a watercolor painting.  But I am hyper about keeping the brushes separate, as my watercolor brushes are beloved—and they should last longer than I will!

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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® 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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I think I’m getting somewhere in the process of artmaking, because I’ve learned to think about what I’m doing and why!  Learning to paint has been something like my long ago experience on skis.  Our family went all out for skiing when our children were young.  My husband and children thrived on skis, but I did not.  I went along to be a good sport, but it was never my thing.  I was leary of the rope tows on Wisconsin slopes (if you can call our hills “slopes”) and absolutely terrified when riding the chair lifts in the high Rockies. 

The trip down the hill or mountain was no better, and I frequently descended on my butt.  When actually standing on skis, I was so intensely involved on just staying alive that I couldn’t coordinate what I’d been told do with what I was actuallly doing.  The only things about ski trips that I enjoyed were wearing my handknit wool sweaters and sitting by the fire in lodges.

Although I did not find art to be life threatening, and I didn’t have to brave the elements to do it, the same mindless approach was transferred from my attempts at downhill skiing to my first years of painting.  I didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t know how to do it.  I just did it.  I never thought to pause and analyze during the “survival” stage, and I was always amazed when a painting pleased me or someone else—normally a very loving friend or relative!

Again and again, I read in the art tutorial books, “Stop and think!  Decide what your painting needs!”  Although most artists agree that a spontaneous spirit makes for fresh art, there is always a time when we should pause and evaluate.  I’m guessing that even Jackson Pollock had to pause and evaluate now and then.

For years this wisdom did not sink in—or at least I couldn’t apply it.  Then suddenly, whammo, I got the idea.  Working on YUPO® paper, with its glasslike surface on which paint can be applied and removed many times, has made the difference.  I can look at a painting and contemplate what could be added or subtracted to make the piece more aesthetic. 

A light has gone on in my head.  Metaphorically speaking I’m negotiating those “slopes”, be they Wisconsin hills or Colorado mountains—art slopes that is!  And unlike skiing, painting has definitely become “my thing”—one of my all time FAVORITE THINGS!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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“In order for a woman to write fiction  she needs money and a room of her own.”  Virginia Woolf

While I agree that financial resources are necessary to pursue any of the arts—at least to provide the basics for living and supplies for one’s craft—I disagree with Virginia Woolf on the matter of “a room of her own”.  For many years I wrote (some fiction, and a lot of everything else) in various places around the home—starting with a kitchen corner counter where I sat on a stool and wrote for 2 hours most every afternoon while dinner simmered or baked, and our small children tumbled and bumbled around me.

From the kitchen, I graduated to a writing desk in the corner of our master bedroom.  Then came some interim years where I did have a spare hobby room in the home, and now I’ve happily returned to a desk in the master bedroom.  In this same bedroom we have a generous window sill and table for houseplants, and 2 work surfaces where I can paint and build collages.  A second desk with shelves and drawers holds painting supplies, along with 3 commodious stacking units of plastic drawers from HOME DEPOT. 

A room of one’s own can be a few square feet in most any multi purpose room.  Private space can be managed most anywhere, when we enjoy planning and accommodating our working needs to whatever is available.  It’s amazing how much furniture (and how many objects!) can be efficiently and attractively crammed into a given area, when one is willing (and in my case, eager) to be creative and somewhat “far out”.  I’ve always loved arranging my home in ways that would make most conventional “interior decorating” gurus shudder—just as I thrive on decorating with stuff that the conventional folks would take to the dump, or toss out to the curb. 

The main challenge with private space is to create an area where projects may be left out while in process.  The drawback of working at a kitchen counter or dining room table is obvious; the writer or artist must clean up his or her act in order to prepare and serve a meal.  One artist said she was happy to finally move her art space out of the kitchen, because she was tired of getting peanut butter on her brushes.

I subscribe to art magazines and enjoy gazing at the spacious studios where professional artists work.  But I simply do not covet these studios one teeny bit.  The professional artist who hangs his work in galleries frequently does large renderings.  Gallery displays— especially of oil paintings but also of acrylics, water media, and collages—tend to measure out in feet rather than inches.  

At this point, I have not been motivated to “work big”.  My largest pieces are 11″ x 14″, matted and mounted in 12″ x 16″ frames.   The above pictured card table could accommodate a larger support, and will—if I ever decide to expand my paintings.  I’d simply have to move my palette and brushes somewhere else for the duration.  Meanwhile, smaller works are fun! 

Our entire 4 room condo (plus 2 bathrooms and great storage areas) could be called a “studio”.  A corner of our living room has been turned into a fiber arts studio, pictured below.  ↓

Joe’s den is his “sports viewing studio”, and it is his computer area as well.  There 2 things on earth which Joe and I cannot share:  1) a toothbrush and 2) a computer.  Joe and I each have our own cyberspace.  He has a recliner chair in his den, so it’s also a “napping studio”.

Then there is a “music studio”, in another part of our living room. ↓

And finally, you might call the houseplant areas (3 places around our home) “horticulture studios”—or maybe conservatories.  Here is one of our conservatory/horticulture studios. ↓

Whether for writing, making art, reading, sipping tea, or just sitting and zoning out, every person needs a “studio space”—even if it’s only one small table and a chair in a corner of a room.  Private space!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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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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