Saturday, January 27, 2007

"Northville Dam - January '07" -- plein air oil study -- 12x16" on stretched canvas
Another gray, dark, drizzly day in Michigan. My friends and I met at the Northville Historical Park this morning, dressed warmly and ready to paint. This place is kind of like a little Greenfield Village, with many Victorian-style buildings. I just wasn't in the mood to paint houses (all those straight lines!), so I piled my antique sled with my painting gear and dragged it over to the north end of the park, to a small dam. To the right of this picture is a beautiful little lake, right in the center of town. It was frozen over and covered with about 2" of snow. Nobody was out on the ice. Too thin (we've had an unusually warm winter). When I walked up to this spot I just fell in love with the abstract design of it. I was looking down at the edge of the dam, with the water cascading down to the left. On the right side of the dam is the thin edge of the ice. To the left are some rocks and clumps of snow-covered ice. It was invigorating to stand there, listening to the roar! I only used 5 colors to paint this: white, yellow ochre, black, pale yellow and ultramarine blue.

"The Bride" -- oil on canvas -- 48x48"-- Margie Guyot

OK, finally I'm posting a surreal piece. I don't do them often -- only when I'm inspired. This is an autobiographical rendering of my marriage. Years ago, after my divorce, I ran into an Ann Arbor psychic, who told me I should do a painting about my marriage -- that it would help in my healing process. Immediately I saw a vision of what I wanted to paint. A few weeks earlier I'd found this 50's bride doll in a garage sale. She was spooky, with eyes that fluttered wildly, like she was possessed, if you moved her at an angle.

People ask me about the flying dog heads. I bought this one out in San Jose because of its goofy face. In a way, this goofy expression reminded me of some of the men I'd known: silly, opportunistic, greedy creatures. Sorry, guys -- not all of you are like this! In this painting, the dog heads are swirling around the bride, biting her wrist (see the blood-spattered gown?), ripping roses from her bouquet and destroying her dress.

But the little bride (me!) is oblivious to this behavior, stuck in the "Barbie Doll Effect", seeing only her dream: the classic, vine-covered cottage with white picket fence, and happy little family. She does not notice the reality of her situation: the dreary trailer court, the miles of laundry on the clothesline and the erupting volcano in the background, belching streams of molten lava and black smoke. The volcano represents my ex-husband, who kept me in a state of terror for many years with his threats of suicide. I was on my tippy-toes ever since the honeymoon. Keeping a calm demeanor was a way of surviving, of avoiding hearing the suicide threats. Why not see a marriage counselor or a therapist, you ask? The family was ultra-religious, forbidding contact, claiming that "therapists are of the DEVIL!"

The shotgun blowing apart the skeleton's ribcage? That represents my ex sister-in-law's suicide shortly before my wedding. She blew herself away when presented with her philandering husband's divorce papers. Looking back, I am certain that if I hadn't left him, I would be dead now.

I did experience a relief, a closure, painting this. I wanted to post this to my blog site now because it is going to be in an exhibit at the Duderstadt Gallery in Ann Arbor, in the "Venus of Willendorf: Redefining the Goddess" show. Opening reception is February 9, 2007 from 5 - 9 PM.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"Red Cedar" -- plein air study -- oil on 9x12" birch panel
Finally we got some snow here in Michigan! And even more amazing: sun! My artist friends and I were thrilled to get out and paint this morning, even though it was only 10 degrees. This was a new spot for us -- on Sleeth Road, just east of Milford. This used to be farmland. Across the street, to the north, is a huge subdivision: Sherwood Forest, complete with a vast man-made lake.

I'd been itching to paint some of these red cedars. In winter they turn the most amazing shades of burgundy, rust, gold, deep blue -- like an old oriental carpet. Usually the deer browse away the lower branches.

One of the great things about a sunny snow scene is the wonderful, deep blue shadows. My favorite landscape teacher, Clyde Aspevig, told us to lay the shadows down and stick with them -- don't keep moving them as they change, or you'll drive yourself mad!
"White Pines -- November" -- plein air oil study on birch panel -- 9x12"
Painting trees is always tricky. Sure, you can make something look like a generic tree, but it's harder to get a likeness of a specific tree, with all its peculiar twists of branches. Like painting a face -- you can make it look humanoid, but will it look like that person? And the sky -- when do you paint that in? It's nearly impossible to paint dark forms over wet, light areas. So painting trees and sky always seems to be a juggling act. I start out by lightly painting in the general stick-forms of trees and foliage, then start dabbing in some sky. I work back and forth, puzzling over it the whole way. I also like crossword puzzles, by the way!

This was one of the landscapes I did last November out at the horse staging area, just east of Kensington Metropark, near Milford, Michigan. We've had a nearly snowless winter. One of my painting buddies calls our multi-shades of browns (which get depressing after a while) "sour owlshit brown". We finally got a dusting of snow yesterday, so we're excited about getting out there this morning to paint some long-awaited snow scenes. Thank goodness for high-tech longjohns -- it's 10 degrees out there and windy.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

"Going Sledding" -- oil on canvas -- 9x12"
After months of dreary "sour owl s--- brown" here in SE Michigan, winter arrived with a vengance last weekend. The big ice storm that stormed through the Midwest roared through here Sunday night, coating everything with about 1/4" of ice. There's only a dusting of snow, but the ice has remained for the past 3+ days. Amazingly, the power has stayed on in my neighborhood.
I did this little painting a couple years ago. The background is entirely invented, from memories of sledding back in Iowa. One of my uncles had a car like this one. Remember the old wood sleds? I still have mine out in the garage. If we get enough snow to go sledding this winter, I'd like to give it a whirl out on the slopes at Kensington Metropark. People think there isn't much color in winter, but there IS. Especially when there's snow on the ground. Some of the trees are quite honey-brown, even rust or orange-toned. Then the snow isn't white -- it's usually blue (reflecting the sky) or even pale gold (when reflecting the sun's angled rays). The undersides of the clouds are reflecting the warm browns of the leafless trees and dried grasses.
If the ice storm-coated trees hold a while longer, I hope to get out to paint a picture. When I'm at work the sun shines on the ice, creating amazing, sparkling "diamonds". Soon as I get home, the dark clouds roll in! Ah, life!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

"Bell Creek Park -- January 7, 2007" -- plein air on 16x20" canvas
Normally I paint on smaller canvases for plein air studies, but this morning I knew the light would hold for a couple hours. Maybe I felt reckless as well! It took me a good hour to draw this composition in (I use a big brush with thin paint). Lots of wipe-outs until I got it right. Last night I'd been driving up Beech Road and knew I had to come back today to paint it. We've had lots of rain and the creek was high and the surrounding fields were soggy and flooded. I loved these big, old black willow trees that were hanging over the water. Many had fallen into the water, blocking the flow. Maybe in the spring I will find oyster mushrooms on some of the willows. There were also mulberry, box elder and dead ash trees. Dozens of wild mallard ducks were swimming along and I saw a muskrat. When I got there around 9 this morning, the grass was covered in light frost. It was supposed to be a sunny day but it was bleak -- the usual cloudy drizzle. I imagine this little park is quite lovely in the spring and summer.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

"Self Portrait 1-1-07" oil on canvas -- 9x12"
Every once in a while I like to practice doing portraits -- and I'm always available (!), so I plopped down in front of the mirror and painted this. I haven't had any classes in portrait painting, but would love to study under a master someday. It was after 3 PM and such a dark, dreary day outside that I barely could see what color I was putting on the canvas. Why didn't I turn on the lights? They create a glare on the canvas that makes it nearly impossible to see what I'm doing, so I avoid them. I've always loved the loose, brushy style and would love to do a lot more portraits. People's faces are so interesting to me! It's hard to find people who will sit still for an hour or two these days. But portrait-painting is my next frontier. At the very least, it's a nice break from the "sour owl brown" of a snowless Michigan winter.

Monday, January 01, 2007

"Foggy Morning" -- plein air oil painting -- 11x14" on stretched canvas
My friend Heiner Hertling has an apt name for the color of Michigan winters: sour-owl-shit-brown (lovingly referred to as "sour-owl"). This winter we've been suffering from an especially bad case of sour owl here in southeast Michigan. Oh, for just a bit of that wonderfully reflective snow! Many painters have fallen into a depressed funk, only curable by spending an afternoon in a roomful of red poinsettias. Since Thanksgiving we've had a light dusting of snow, melted after a single day. Mostly it's been in the mid-40's with cloudy, drizzly skies. This past Saturday morning we woke to a thick fog, so dense you could easily imagine the Hounds of the Baskervilles, leaping out of the soggy underbrush to rip out unsuspecting plein air painters' throats. My buddies and I drove to a horse staging area just east of Kensington Metropark and proceeded to paint fog paintings. This clump of white pines appeared to be the only thing I could see that had any definable shape. By the time I'd gotten to the end of this painting, the sun was rising behind these pines, beginning to burn through the fog. The brushwork reminded me of Russian artist Nicholai Fechin's loose style. Stay tuned for more adventures with the sour owl....