Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"Organic Gardening" -- oil on canvas -- 48x36" -- Margie Guyot

Woke up this morning at 3:15 and jumped out of bed. I wasn't about to miss this morning's famed lunar eclipse! Nothing really got started until at least 5 AM, I discovered. Southeast Michigan was blessed with clear skies for a change. Around 5 I saw a smokey haze at the top part of the moon. My neighborhood, you can stand out at 5 AM in your pajamas and nobody notices. Anyway, it was a most exciting vision to watch! The moon slowly got covered in shadow and kept getting darker and darker until I couldn't find it anymore.

So it was an invigorating way to start the day! The astrologers are saying lots of people will be having stressful days and much change is going to happen. But I had a pretty good day. Very productive. I finished up the final touches on this still life. It was done in my downstairs studio. I'd bought this cement statue and wanted to use it in a painting. Also bought about 8 cabbages. Do you know how hard it is to find cabbages in the grocery store with leaves on these days? They always strip them bare-naked. I had to tell the stock clerk to hold back his knife. This painting was done over the course of about a week and let me tell you, those cabbages were looking mighty nasty at the end! For the final touch I picked some flowers from my backyard. Late August is not the prime time for flowers in my backyard, other than a few black-eyed susans, phlox and queen anne's lace. The patterned tile floor is kind of a tricky one to draw in. The cement boy is actually throwing a rock (supposedly), but he kind of reminds me of a figure in Van Gogh's famous "The Sower" painting.

I love painting cabbages! They have the most interesting colors. Besides green, you see shades of blue, yellow ochre, purple, etc. I could just sit and paint cabbages over and over -- and enjoy it for a long, long time.

Maybe I should change the title to "Genetically Modified....". The hot topic in agriculture these days is the GMO controversy. Genetially Modified plants have been banned for the most part in Europe. The way this painting is composed, with the carefully controlled placement of the cabbage on the tiles, reminds me of the carefully planned GMO industry. You do notice the absence of weeds, don't you?

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"Downtown Milford" -- plein air oil study -- 9x12" birch panel -- Margie Guyot

My friend Tammy and I decided to meet in Milford yesterday morning at 7 so we could paint some long-shadow paintings. Most plein air painters love early mornings or late afternoons because of the exciting shadow and light combinations. Or, as my favorite teacher, Clyde Aspevig says, "Mid-day you sit in the shade and drink wine."

The first place we painted was in Milford's little park, overlooking a pretty lake. It looked just like something out of a Thomas Kinkade print (ha ha). Golden light was streaking across the drifts of waterlilies, ducks were paddling about and the trees were glowing, with wonderful blue shadows contrasting against the glowing greens.

About 10 minutes into our paintings, the park maintenance trucks roared up to dismantle the tents and porta-potties from the weekend's festival. They loaded all the porta-potties onto a trailer and parked it close by us. Last week we painted downwind from a pig farm; now this! Across the lake, workmen started cutting down trees, in preparation for tearing down an old house (undoubtedly to be replaced by one of those big "monster" houses). So painting isn't always the idyllic experience.

This painting shown above is the second one I did yesterday morning. We'd gone for a great breakfast at Dimitri's in town and set up our easels on Main Street. There are small locust trees planted along the sidewalk and we stood under one for shade. Besides being "stunk-out", we're very tired of being "fried in the sun".

When Tammy had said she wanted to paint buildings, I wasn't thrilled about the idea. All those doggone windows! All those rectangles! I shuddered. However, to tell the truth, I AM getting a little tired of painting all that green and blue. And it seemed highly unlikely that a truckload of porta-potties would be parked in front of us there, so I doggedly proceeded to paint.

Heck -- I was surprised to find that I enjoyed painting this! Not so much that I enjoyed painting the windows, but I enjoyed painting "colors other than green". And it was fun to paint the sharp, angular shapes of the buildings. In other words, it was a refreshing challenge!

Besides stinky situations and burning sun, another problem arrived: trucks parked in front of us, blocking our view! A big van parked right in front of Tammy. The people didn't put any money into the parking meter and they left to go shopping for about 3 hours. So she was pissed-off the whole time.

I finished mine early and sat at a little table on the sidewalk, enjoying a beer. Then went shopping ---- yaaaaaay!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

"August: Kent Lake" -- plein air oil study -- 11x14" -- Margie Guyot

Added note on 8/28/07: This painting is being donated to the Oakland Land Conservancy's annual "Music Under the Stars" charity event. The date of the event is September 29th, from 7 - 10 PM. The place is the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center - 1516 Cranbrook - Birmingham, Michigan

As I painted this, a bunch of young kids dressed in Civil War era garb were pretending to shoot each other, shrieking and clamboring in the willow tree behind me. They were arguing about who should volunteer to be shot next. Volunteers would die in increasingly dramatic variations, falling into the dewy grass. They were with their parents at Kensington Metropark for the weekend, camping out in Civil War-era style tents, dressed in period clothing. Besides the yelling and death tumbles into the grass, muskets were blasting in the distant field. Occasionally the motley crew of Confederate (or was Union?) soldiers would march along, a fife and drum playing. Egads -- the smoke! Every campsite had a cooking fire going, plus there was a blacksmith with a coal fire. Can you tell I'm not a big smoke fan?

Noise and smoke -- and one of my poor little piggies was on the fritz! I'd rubbed the skin off the inside of one toe when sand had gotten caught in my sandals. O day of pestilence & tribulation!

It would have been nice to paint some scenes of Civil War types and their tents, but I didn't think anybody to care to sit still for an hour or two. So I found this great spot under a big willow tree at the edge of Kent Lake. The ziggy-zaggy shoreline design (notice the line of washed-up seaweed?) really caught my eye. And I liked the morning shadows and sunlight patterns in the grass. The heavy dew (on the shaded grass) was reflecting the blue of the sky. The water was really fun to paint, with some of it in sun and some in shadow. And the ripples are like the frosting on the cake! Isn't that a great-looking willow tree, hanging out over the water? Willows always remind me John Singer Sargent. He did some fantasic paintings of willows and water. Several kayakers paddled by, some in costume, curious about what I was up to. One of the young Civil War girls watched me for a while and said she liked to draw. Said she couldn't draw faces, though. I told her that it just takes a lot of practice to get good at drawing a likeness. Just keep at it and don't give up. It's just a skill that needs to be worked on.

Eventually the smoke got to me. And it was another blisteringly-hot day here. I figured I should quit while I was ahead and go home to take care of my poor, skinless toe.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

"Muskrat Love: Self-Portrait" -- oil on canvas -- 20 x 20" -- Margie Guyot

Don't you just love the muskrat? It's a real one (stuffed, of course). Borrowed it on Monday from my friend Tammy, who'd borrowed it from one of her friends. "Bring it back on Saturday!" she said. I'd originally planned on putting it into a big still life painting, but since I didn't have much time, I thought this would work better.

I've always loved muskrats. And possums. Give me your tired, your poor, your exhausted.... give me your wretched muskrats... As long as they're not living in my crawl space under the house, that is! For years those stinky old possums would winter-over under my house and lordy-lordy, honey chile -- do they ever STINK! But that's another story.

Getting back to the muskrats: I've heard that some of the Downriver bars serve muskrat dinners and that mean-spirited people sometimes take foreigner tourists (like from Japan) there. Then laugh about it. I suppose eating a big plate of muskrat & fries sounds repulsive to many, but I'd like to try it. Why not? Muskrats live a cleaner, happier life than hogs at a hog farm. "But they look like big RATS!" you say. OK, maybe you're right. But they're still prettier than a hog.

Which reminds me of other "taste adventures". When I was little, my dad told me about how some Southerners ate robins. Warning to parents: be darn careful what you tell your children! So when I found a dead robin lying in the alley, it seemed perfectly logical to me to try eating it. Waste not, want not. There was a smouldering trash fire nearby, so I took a stick and shoved the robin into the fire. Came back later in the day and pulled it out of the ashes. Who knows how long it had been dead? Had it been maggoty? I remember so clearly pulling the skin and feathers back from the charred head and taking a bite. Ugh. Not so good.

Muskrats. They also remind me of my high school days. I was in the marching band and one of the girls wore her hair in braided pigtails and had on round sunglasses (this was during the Hippie Era). I remember her looking so cool as she marked around the practice field, playing her clarinet, wearing her aunt's old muskrat coat! It became my quest to find a muskrat coat for myself (and I did - eventually).

Muskrats also remind me of my Wapsi days. Dad had a cabin he'd built on the Wapsipinnicon River, in Iowa. I grew up out there, learning to swim, walk and how to identify poison ivy. Other girls played with dollies; I played with turtles and frogs. Such a butterfly collection I had! My dad pointed out a farmer's field one time, telling me it had been the site of a failed muskrat farm years ago. The landowner had tried raising muskrats for the fur coat craze, but apparently the demand fell and good-bye, muskrats.

I also remember watching the muskrats swimming from fishing pole to fishing pole, down at the Credit Island Lagoon (back in Davenport, Iowa). Back then, everybody fished with a bamboo pole and bobber, with worms for bait. We'd see the bobbers disappear below the surface, then a big swirl and the bobber would pop back, the hook stripped. The next person's bobber would take a dive and so on. The muskrats were going right down the line, having a nice worm dinner. The adults would be angry, but I thought it was great fun. I'd jump up and down, shrieking with excitement, watching those clever little muskrats stealing the bait.

But I am blathering. Do you really want to read about muskrat memories or do you want to hear about this painting? That hat -- my favorite hat of the summer! Found it at a resale shop and I feel like Katherine Hepburn in that hat. It's made of straw, but it's covered at the crown in leopard-print chiffon. The same fabric is attached underneath like a scarf. It's wonderful for windy days. It's very sheer fabric, so I painted it in thin washes. Notice the white hoop earrings showing from behind the fabric?

Yes, I DO own that pink leopard sweater! Even have stiletto heel booties to match. I'd started to paint in leopard-print sunglasses (which I have), but found it was too much.

I did my face in thin glazes. A couple weeks ago I'd been out in New Mexico, where I'd taken a class in portrait painting from Russian artist Leonid Gervits. He showed us the glazing technique (which I detested and thought I'd never, ever use in a million years). Ha ha. When I started painting my face (wearing my hat, looking into a big mirror, naked and sweating buckets up in my hot studio in the 96 degree heat & 99% humidity), I was surprised at how dark-toned my face looked. I'm pretty tan this summer from all the outdoor painting (even though I always wear a hat). And the hat blocks a lot of the light, so that made my face even darker.

When I painted in the sunglasses, it was surprisingly easy to paint the green lenses. They're just thin washes. I'd tried painting in leopard-print frames, but they didn't work. Had to revert back to the plainer style.

I had a vase of wilting sunflowers, which I used for the background. But they had no leaves! I had to go across the street and ask the neighbors if I could cut a stalk of sunflowers so I could see how the leaves looked.

I could have painted the sky more realistically, toning the blues down with a touch of orange, compressing the sky canopy (as I was taught by Clyde Aspevig), but I chose to stretch it into a more surrealistic look. I had a tube of paint marked "turquoise" and was hot to trot to use it. I think it helped achieve the rather surrealistic look I wanted. Kind of like a Madonna-pose, kind of like a Mona Lisa smile kind of thing.

Somebody asked me where I'd show this. What show would you enter this one into? What juror would accept it? Good question. Sometimes I just need to paint something for the pure fun of it!

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

"Hot August Afternoon" -- plein air oil study -- 11x14" -- Margie Guyot

Imagine standing in the hot sun, with rivlets of sweat pouring down your legs and arms, downwind of a hog farm and listening to some little idiot birdie singing the same 5-note song every 4 seconds for about an hour and a half! It was 96 degrees here yesterday afternoon, with the humidity probably around 90-something percent. Kinda nasty conditions, but still -- I'd rather be out painting and sweating than working in the auto factory and sweating.

My friend Tammy and I drove to this new nature preserve out by Fenton. We didn't arrive there until quite late in the day, possibly 6 PM. There were pretty views to paint in every direction. Because it was so late in the day, the shadows were becoming very interesting. I liked this diagonal shadow that was snaking up the little hill. I'd thought that surely it would be cooling off as evening approached, but soon into the painting I noticed I was drenched in sweat. Remarkably, the mosquitoes and flies weren't bothering me. I think they were all going for Tammy, who had taken a shower that morning with sweet-smelling soap. I could hear her up at the top of the hill, cussing at the bugs and slapping. You can just keep those bugs up there!

I love painting landscapes this time of the year in Michigan! The past couple weeks we painters have begun noticing the grasses are turning shades of gold and bronze. Even some of the maple trees are hinting at oranges and reds. The lavendar star thistle and spotted knapweeds are filling the fields with color. And the Queen Anne's Lace is absolutely gorgeous this time of year. I have some that drifted into my garden at home and although some people think of it as a weed, I love it. Most of the trees in this painting are red cedars. In summer they are green but turn shades of purple, mauve, rust and plum in winter.

When we got back to Tammy's I saw she had a real stuffed muskrat in her studio. "Let me borrow it!" I begged. So -- be forewarned: keep your eyes peeled for my next self-portrait, holding the muskrat!