Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"Sycamore" -- plein air field study -- 16x20" -- oil on canvas -- Margie Guyot

I woke up this morning at 5, thinking about the giant sycamore tree I'd seen at Cranbrook Gardens. I sprang out of bed (well, moved as quickly as a 55-year-old can), excited at the thought of going to paint it. 2 months ago I found a group that meets at the Cranbrook Gardens every Tuesday morning. I went to paint with them once, then had several trips in the following weeks and totally forgot about them. Forgetting names, titles of books, movies -- it's amazing how much one seems to forget at this age! But this morning I remembered Cranbrook, the painting group and this monster-sized sycamore. By golly, I'm going!

Michigan's mired in another miserable heat wave. It got up to 93 degrees today. My ancestors were of colder climates, and I must have a genetic dislike of heat. I loaded my painting gear into my "old lady" collapsible grocery cart and pulled it down steps and wood chip paths to The Tree.Yes, I could carry it all, but why suffer? After baking in the sun last weekend up at the big paint-out affair in Petosky, shade was what I wanted. Happily, I found a shady nook in the bushes behind the sycamore.

Rather than attempting to paint the whole tree, I chose this closeup view of the powerful trunk area. If I'd painted the whole tree, it would have had to be painted so small to fit onto the canvas that you wouldn't notice the interesting bark patterns. The bark reminds me of a giraffe's markings. Chunks of this thin bark layer molts off, littering the ground. This scene shows the tree back-lit. The large leaves were glowing bright, pale yellow and green in the strong sunlight. There was a dried-out lawn expanse in the background, with a thick stand of cool-blue pines across the field.

I got this home, looked at it and thought the leaves looked too dark. I took it up to my studio and wiped the paint away from the leaf portion, down to the bare canvas. Then re-painted the bright yellow leaves so they seemed to glow more. People might be surprised at how much wiping-off we painters do. We go through LOTS of paper towels! That's the great thing about oil paint. It dries so slowly, you can wipe away things you don't like and repaint. Like getting a fresh, clean start. It works out better to do it this way than to try to glob on more paint on top of thick, gooey wet paint. I watched a friend attempting to do do this up at Petosky and I just wanted to grab his brush away & fix his painting for him! Ah, sometimes you just have to turn & walk away.....

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Monday, July 30, 2007

"July Morning -- Boat Dock" -- plein air oil study -- 9x12" -- Margie Guyot

Late summer in Michigan and 2 Saturdays ago we painted along a small, private lake. I did one scene of the waterlilies, raked by early morning sunlight. What to do next? I spied this small boat dock a few feet over. It was at the bottom of a steep, tree-covered hill and was mostly all in shade. You can see just a few little rays of sun falling on the wood planks in the foreground. And the sun was hitting the waterlilies beyond the dock (at the top of this photo). What's unusual about this painting is that it's nearly colorless. The still water was reflecting the hazy sky above. About the only note of color was the few green waterlily pads and the yellow ochre at the back of the boat. The boat blocked some of the sky's reflection, allowing the ochre-colored bottom of the lake show through.

This past weekend I was up in northern Michigan, participating in a one-day "paintout", hosted by the Crooked Tree Art Center in Petoskey. Some of my painting buddies talked me into going at the last minute. There were all kinds of fairs and festivals along the Lake Michigan coast, so it was impossible to find a motel room (unless you didn't mind paying $400 a night). I got the very last available campsite left in a state park.

Oy vey! I must be getting too old & rickety to tent-camp! That old favorite of mine, the Therma-rest camping mattress, just wasn't as comfortable as I remember it used to be. It didn't help that my tent was sitting on lumpy ground. It's one of those 2-man tents that would comfortably serve 2 midgets, maybe. I felt like a crazed hamster, miserably shifting my camping mattress & sleeping bag around, back & forth, desperately trying to locate a comfortable spot. I moved my pillow from one end back to the other several times. Tossing & turning. It was hot. It was smokey. It was noisy. My back hurt. I'd had to wash my face with Colgate (forgot my soap). Hopeless. I didn't sleep worth a darn.

What's it like to sleep in a filled-to-capacity state park, you ask? Envision wall to wall RVs, tents, campers (some decorated with Christmas lights or potted geraniums), airstream trailers, barking dogs, screaming babies, partying teens, shrieking children on bikes -- and all shouting, laughing, shooting off fireworks, radios blaring, with blazing campfires at every site. Hell, in other words. I guess camping in the wilds of Peru spoiled me. Thank goodness for earplugs!

Usually I'm quite organized. I don't know what happened this time. I forgot to pack soap, deoderant, an alarm clock and swimsuit. Went swimming anyway in Lake Charlevoix in all my clothes. Note to self: always pack 3 towels because I immediately get one of them horribly dirty within the first few minutes of any trip.

But I DID remember all my painting gear, thank goodness! We artists got our blank canvases stamped by the gallery at 8 AM and then set out to paint masterpieces anywhere in that general area. The star thistle was blooming everywhere, so I did 2 paintings of meadows filled with lovely lavendar blooms. Painting #3 was of the Lake Michigan shoreline. And painting #4 of late-day, puffy clouds over a hillside. But I forgot to take photos of them -- darn!

All paintings had to be framed and turned in by 6 PM. Crooked Tree Arts Center held a wine and cheese reception. Within the first 15 minutes my first painting sold. Yippee! The show will continue through the end of August.

I still feel like a roast beef, having roasted all day in the hot sun. Would do it again (but will double-check for my swimsuit, soap & deoderant next time). Northern Michigan is BEAUTIFUL!


Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Steelhead" -- oil on canvas -- 30x40" -- Margie Guyot

Last week I had to drive down to U of M Dearborn to pick up 2 paintings from a show. On the way home I was taking the back roads, snaking along the quieter streets, avoiding the freeways. Saw a sign for an estate sale (one of my weaknesses). Ooo-la-la! It was a redneck's estate sale! As I walked through the house, all I saw were piles of junk. Old, musty, dusty junk that should have just been thrown out. Oh, the pain of disappointment! I went down into the basement, into more junk. On the wall was this big stuffed fish and a very dusty stuffed Canada goose. A sign said Not For Sale. BUT I WANT THE FISH! I yelled. The guy came down and said he'd sell it to me for $10. I slapped the 10 bucks into his hand, grabbed my treasure and fled.

I got home, laid the fish onto the kitchen table and looked at it. What have I done??? Good Lord. I'm supposed to be cleaning out my house, getting it ready to sell and now I've added to the junk! It laid there a few days and I tried ignoring it.

Then I got an idea: why not try putting it into a still life painting? Right away I just knew it would be perfect atop the zebra fabric. And what better way to use the molto expensivo, new Japanese scarf I'd splurged on at the Santa Fe Flea Market? Only the day before I'd found the beautiful blue glass vase at a garage sale for $1. Aha! I envisioned something in orange and blue.

There is a market a few miles north of here called Strawberry Hill. They have the most sumptuous assortment of flowers. Just the other day I'd seen these fabulous red-dyed sunflowers. So it was back into the traffic again, in search of Things Orange. The checkout clerk rang me up and said you bought everything orange! Good eye, girl!

One thing I found out: carrots wilt miserably fast. Within 1 day of having laid out on the table, they looked like something that had come out of the Mummy's tomb. To finish things up this morning I had to go pull one out of the refrigerator, to get a second look at how a carrot should look.

Still stuck with the problem of what to do with the fish! Sell it on eBay?

Sunday, July 22, 2007

"July Morning -- Lilypond" -- plein air oil study on stretched canvas -- 9x12"

A fantastic morning in Michigan: low humidity, clear skies and about 65 degrees! Seems like it's either been a steambox (temperature and humidity both in the 90's) with rain, or a steambox without rain. Don't get me wrong -- I actually like humidity, but only in cool weather. Humidity's great -- makes my hair fluffy and my skin feel great. You can just keep the dang heat!

Some of my friends and I found this little pond yesterday morning, just as the sun was raking across the lilypads. Notice the oranges and reds of the young trees on the island? It's only mid-July, but the trees were showing some color change. I think they were maple trees. Maybe new growth shows that color? I don't know why they were shades of red this early.

There is some infestation of purple loosestrife on the small island. That's a pesky invader to this region, threatening to crowd out all native water plants. Yes, it's pretty, but it's the kiss of death to our native water species. I'm not sure how much is being done here in Michigan to eradicate it.

One of the women who lives on this lake said that it's not a deep lake, only about 10 - 15 feet at its deepest point. She said a couple winters ago it got so cold that the lake froze deeper than usual, resulting in most of the larger fish dying. Mostly there are small fish, she says. Thank goodness nobody had those infernal jet skis! It was very nice to stand there painting in the cool, morning light, hearing nothing but an occasional frog splashing around in the water.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

"Moth Orchid" -- oil on canvas -- 20x22" -- Margie Guyot

My friend Nancy moved to California last year and she gave me this beautiful moth orchid. Some orchid species languish miserably at my house, but the moth orchids seem to love it here. I set them outside in the shade every summer and sprinkle them with the hose several times a week. They sit on trays of pea gravel, which they share with the toads. I bring them inside before the first frost hits, where they winter-over in my upstairs studio.

After using this orchid in 2 large still life paintings lately, I wanted to "milk it" for another painting before setting it outside for the summer. Again, I used the natural north light, having to pull the west window shades (which makes it hard to see the canvas!). Maybe someday I'll get a better studio setup. The tablecloth was a bit challenging with its pattern and folds, but I just couldn't paint it without the pattern & folds!