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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