Thursday, February 28, 2008

Day #6 -- "White Duck" -- oil on canvas -- 30x40" -- Margie Guyot

Here we are at day #6 of working on this painting. And you'll soon learn 2 things about me: I eat roadkill and I use black!

As usual, it
was another day of constant interruptions: a visit from a notary (signing refinancing papers) and dealing with the rodent situation. Red squirrels have gotten into my studio, where they have been climbing around, knocking my glass vases to the floor. Oy vey! Well -- I've got a plan for those little boogers! I'm going to buy a rat trap. When I catch them I'll skin & gut them. Stick the meat into a ziplock freezer bag. When it's full, it's squirrel stew, baby!

Today's session involved painting in the little details in the black & white fabric backdrop. That black paint is still pretty wet (after 2 days), so I might have to touch up here and there because the whites were wanting to smear. Usually you think of white paint taking a long time to dry, but black also takes a surprisingly long time.

Black paint: yes, I use it. Some consider it total sacrilege, but it is OK to use -- if you know how. Mix in some ultramarine blue or alizarin crimson and you'll get a rich, deep black. Used alone, black is said to be flat and lifeless. But sometimes just a little touch of black can be effective in dulling-down a mix, which might be just exactly what you want. Some people are horrified at the thought of using alizarin crimson, too. It's a good mixer color. I think it's OK to experiment with colors. You won't go to Hell if you use black. Try it. You might like it.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Day #5 -- "White Duck" -- oil on canvas -- 30x40" -- Margie Guyot
A typical overcast day here in NW Michigan. I was glad I'd had a sunny day on Sunday to nail in some of the shadow forms after my houseguests left. Spring must be on its way -- I saw a small bug on the mailbox this afternoon. The knee-deep snow is beginning to melt. I did mostly nit-picking on this painting today, using a small brush to paint in some of the details on the white doily and the floral details in the black & white backdrop fabric. Played around with the fishing bobbers, too. Everybody complains they can't draw a straight line. Well, I can't either! And circles are tough! I sorta-kinda got them in and will have to correct them when the paint gets a little more dry. I really am enjoying painting those bobbers. Not because of the shape, but because of the marvelous colors and the shading and highlights. And that bright neon-yellow in the one bobber is a trip! I dug out a tube of cadmium yellow lemon and some other exotic greenish yellow color to try to get something close. That yellow scarf is quite the booger, too! I've painted it once before (see "Froggy Serenade"). It's quite a challenge, but the colors are fun in a still life, so I'll probably use it again. Kind of like keeping on painting the same thing, hoping to finally "nail" it. Either I'll eventually nail it or give up (for a while). Think of Monet and his haystacks.

I may have to skip painting tomorrow to allow some of the wet, gooey paint to dry so I can paint in more of the floral design in the backdrop. I need to work on my income taxes anyway, so that's my excuse!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Day #4 -- "White Duck" -- oil on canvas -- 30x40" -- Margie Guyot

This is day #4 of working on this painting. I'd been unable to get into my studio last week, due to a number of urgent tasks. And I had a house full of guests all weekend. Soon as they left this afternoon, I made a beeline out into the studio, turned on the radio to "Prairie Home Companion" and started in.

This was our 3rd day of bright sunshine here in the Traverse City/Charlevoix area, and it was quite a change to see my setup in actual sunlight. So I tried taking advantage of it to bring out a bit more definition in the shadows and highlights. Added the stems of the chinese lanterns (and their corresponding shadows). I was seeing portions of the white paper being backlit, so I added those changes. The glass vase was showing a lot of sparkle, so I spent a little time on that as well. Started adding a bit of the print detail in the yellow scarf. Played with the feathers a bit and added the duck's eye.

I took a short break and went back into the house for a couple minutes. When I went to the door, there were 3 deer out in the front yard, chewing on corn. The snow's about knee-deep here and they're having a hard time finding food. Soon they bounded off and I went back in to the studio.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Day #3 -- "White Duck" -- oil on canvas -- 30x40" -- Margie Guyot
Got a bit of a late start out in the studio today. NW Michigan is having a huge blizzard that started yesterday, roared all night and continues into this evening. The high today is zero. The winds have been gusting to 50 mph, with probably 6" of snowfall (at least). Kind of fun as long as you don't have to go out in it. And -- if your furnace is working! I had trouble with mine and had the repair guy over for a few hours.

After the repair guy left I fixed a small cup of coffee, pulled on the heavy down coat and slogged through the drifts out to the studio. Thank goodness that heater works! Turned on Diana Krall again and got to work on this painting. I wanted to try to establish the shaded and lit parts of the black & white tablecloth. And slug away on getting the white paper bag to looking like a wrinkled paper bag that it is. Which sure ain't easy! All those whites are different. The paper bag got a lot of orange-toned reflected light from the chinese lanterns which was fun to notice. It's tougher to paint a wrinkly white paper bag than you'd think. At least it was for me!

Now when I run into a stumbling block I have another thing to do to "buy time". Like when a cat gets confused, it will stop & lick its paw to give the impression it's not that concerned, just "thinking about it". Now that I have my sax in the studio, I sit down with it for 5 or 10 minutes and go over some etude studies. When my lip give out I go back to the painting. Back & forth. Eventually the painting will be figured out and my sax chops will come back!

Day #2: "White Duck" -- 30x40" -- Margie Guyot
This is the 2nd day's work on my newest piece. It was back to the typical overcast weather, which I'm finding I like. At least it's consistent up here in NW Michigan. I wanted to try to tackle working on the subtle whites of the ceramic duck and the white doily and white paper wrapping around the chinese lanterns. They are all different whites. The duck is a warm ivory-type white. The doily is almost a hint of blue-ish. And the wrapping paper is another shade.

As usual, I'll look at something and initially think it will be easy to paint. But quickly discover how difficult it all is! This happens all the time. With the ceramic duck, not only is the color tricky, but it's also challenging to convey the quality of the smoothness and reflection shapes.

Painting fabric is always a trial. I want to show the folds and ripples -- and make them believable. Make it look like it's really the heavy cotton that it is, and not satin. And there is orange embroidery on the doily. How to handle that? I had the thought to thinly block in the orange shape and later hatch in some thin streaks of the white, giving the effect of orange stitching. Maybe it'll work; maybe not. But it's worth trying.

And wow -- the crinkly, wrinkled paper! Is that ever fun! I want it to show the crispness of the folds and wrinkles, which are quite different from the folds of the doily. Lots of the paper is in shadow and some of that shadow is picking up the orange reflected light from the chinese lanterns.

Found myself playing around, painting in some of the chinese lanterns. That would be something I should leave for later, but it's like taking a taste of the frosting when decorating a cake. Kind of irresitable sometimes.

Just got my saxophone back from the repair shop a day ago and occasionally I am taking little breaks from painting (to clear my head) and doing a little playing. I hadn't played in about 30 years and want to get my chops back so I can play in the Charlevoix Community Band this spring. It's good to step away from one's painting anyway, to get a fresh eye.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Day #1: "White Duck" -- oil on canvas -- Margie Guyot

Setup for "White Duck"

Yesterday I had a lot of errands to run, including getting a massage, visiting the library, etc. I only had a short while to take a gander (pun intended) at this new little still life setup before the darkness was setting in. Detroit and mid-Michigan were getting hammered with snow and ice, but miraculously we were spared up here in the Charlevoix area -- for a change. I'd found the duck soup tureen at an estate sale last fall and just had to use it in a painting! Bought a package of chinese lanterns wrapped in paper when I was in town that pick up the orange duck beak. And the antique doily is from a resale shop, chosen for its orange embroidered flowers.

I parked a couple plein air paintings to use as part of the background. The big oak tree I'd painted last spring out in Kensington Metropark. The colors went well and I like the dashes of blue sky. And I had to use the plein air painting of the rowboat to continue with the "nature, water, wildlife" theme. It has some blue touches in it (not too visible in this photo). And in the center is a pottery vase with a bunch of macaw feathers and one wild turkey feather. The macaw feathers are so interesting! They vary in shade from olive to bronze to wine to red to blue! Again, the blue tips were just too cool to not use here.

The fishing rods just HAD to be in there! I like to include some bold, strong lines, so these gave some good shapes. And they add to the nature-outdoors feel. Ah -- that reminds me: I will actually have time to go fishing now that I'm retired! Lake Michigan's one mile west of me, so there won't be any more excuses.

As you can see in the photo, it was a very bright, sunny day here. Kind of a shock, actually. It's cloudy most winter days here, and the sudden bright sun made it difficult to work, throwing all sorts of shadows onto the setup and canvas that will not be there tomorrow. So I spent all my time today drawing in the composition with my brush and trying to lay in a few of the darkest areas I knew would not change the next time I look at this setup. Really looking forward to working on this one again! Tomorrow will be impossible, though. I need to run to Traverse City and pick up my saxophone from the repair shop, meet a friend to go swimming and lunch, visit the fireplace store -- and just a jillion errands in "The Big City of the North". Back on Saturday!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

"Froggy Serenade" -- oil on canvas -- 36x36" -- Margie Guyot
I just finished this one today, so there was a bit of glare when I photographed it in my studio. It was a lot of fun to do! I'm always kind of sad to see them come to an end. If you've just tuned in to this blog, take a peek at the past few entries and you'll see a daily progression of this painting.

What next? That's always tough. Setting up a new still life is about as hard as trying to paint it. After snapping this photo, I put away all the props and folded the fabric. Tentatively I've laid a black & white asian-inspired fabric print on the table and fished a white ceramic duck soup tureen out of a box. After moving, it's a miracle I can find anything these days. It will probably take me several days of adding stuff to the new setup, removing, adding, subtracting -- until I end up with a view that I like. If I just marched out into my studio tomorrow morning and started painting, without having taken the time to get things "just right", the painting just wouldn't turn out.

I'd originally thought I was going to do a painting on the theme "bad back", since I'd been suffering last week with a bout of sciatica. I had a couple objects in my hand to use (a hornet's nest, for one), but I just couldn't feel inspired. The painting that ended up a reality was something bright & joyous. Joyous is what I feel about being up here, in my new home in NW Michigan! And I'm looking forward to hearing the froggies singing back in my swamp this spring.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Day #4: "Froggy Serenade" -- oil on canvas -- 36x36" -- Margie Guyot
Nearly done! And I got a late start on it today. Was in my jammies until about 11 this morning. Mercury's in Retrograde and all kind of odds and ends needed attention. Phone calls, letters, you name it, to follow up on business transactions that got mired down, insurance numbers that wouldn't go through, etc. EBay packages to wrap, Amazon books to pack for shipping -- you name it, it had to be pawed over this morning. Oh, to just hand that over to the servants....!

Another ideal servant duty: tending the mouse traps! I've got 3 mouse traps set in the studio to get the little boogers that are eating the sunflower seeds. What if they decide to chew up my canvases? That just wouldn't do! This morning when I walked into the studio, there was one mouse dead in the trap and a second mouse still alive, but with his poor little foot caught in the trap. I felt really awful to have to do it, but I squashed that poor thing with my foot. Threw them both out into the snow. Came back inside, turned on my Diana Krall CD and turned up the heat a little and got to painting.

Finally I had to get down to a #4 flat brush for some of this detail work. I needed it for the little frogs that sit along the top edge of the big glazed vase (left foreground). Got the yellow & black frog (lower left) painted in. Darkened up a little bit of the scarf details in the foreground. Oh, and I added the NO TRESSPASSING sign in the background. The previous owner of this property left it behind in the barn and since it was such a cool color, why not use it?

I had always planned on putting in some forsythia branches and started to do so this afternoon. But it was getting late and the light was fading fast. We were getting a beautiful snowfall. The flakes were huge and fluttering straight down. Just now I had to run out to the art studio and the snow has changed to freezing rain. Tomorrow I'll go out there & work a bit on the forsythia and probably call it "done".

This has been fun, to post daily progressions of my painting. But now I feel under the gun to keep going with it. Thank goodness my sciatica is beginning to get better! Hmmm.... I'll have to think of what next to paint.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Day #3: "Froggie Serenade" -- oil on canvas -- Margie Guyot
Trying to play catch-up with my blogging on this one. This is at the end of my 3rd day of working on this painting. I'm still using my #8 flat brush exclusively. I just love it: it's an Ultrex Ultra. And they don't make them anymore! Doggone! I love it because it holds it shape wonderfully. I can get a nice, fine line by running it along its side. What were they thinking by stopping production on this great brush?

This photo looks a little strange, as all the paint is wet and has a glare to it. I have to stop painting at 4:30 PM, when the light starts to grow dim up here in Michigan. But it's just as well -- most of the surface is pretty wet and I'd have to stop painting anyway.

The yellow fabric behind the frog on the left: yes, I know it's distracting. Don't worry -- baby, I got a plan for that! Come back tomorrow & you'll see.

When I came back to this painting this morning, I noticed the big frog on the right (holding the umbrella) needed his (her?) head adjusted. It was too big. That's what I love about oils: they dry slowly, so I can come back a day later and wipe away anything that needs to go. The right side frog is an interesting mix of viridian, cerulean blue and bits of black & red. The frog on the left is more green, with a pure green in just a very few spots, by the highlights.

The large pottery vase on the left foreground is fun to play around with. I started darkening it up today. There will be small frogs on each of the "wings" along the top. I haven't tried painting them in yet because I wanted to do all I could with my #8 brush before I start getting nit-picky. If there's one thing I've learned NOT to do is to pull out a little brush too soon. It can just end up ruining a painting. Get too picky, too soon and you can end up pulling your hair out & screaming!

OK, a word about the yellow sandals: would you believe that for most of my life, I only felt it necessary to have 3 pairs of shoes? A black, a brown and a bone pair. What changed me, you ask? I was in a resale shop once and saw the most spectacular pair of orchid suede high heels! They took my breath away! Sadly, they were a size too small. I realized that all too often, all I'd ever see were black or brown clunky, mannish-looking shoes for us women with size 9's and 10's. Sacrilege! We like bright colors, too! After that, I began a search for bright, dazzling, colorful shoes. Hey -- life's too short to wear beige! Besides, if I don't wear them, I can always use them in a painting....

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Day #2: "Froggie Serenade" -- oil on canvas -- 36x36" -- Margie Guyot
I started on this still life on February 1st. This is my second day working on this painting. I'm working from life, using a #8 flat brush and turpentine as my only medium. I'm still working on refining my drawing and work from dark to night. I've found it helpful when painting fabric with folds and wrinkles to try to paint in the shapes of the shadows (a.k.a. dark areas) first. This makes it somewhat easier to come back and paint in the printed pattern on the folds. Otherwise, I've found that if I start out painting the pattern shapes, I forget where the heck the folds are going to be and it's a big nightmare.

I like to hit the darkest areas first. After that, I try to stick to the medium tones. If I have a certain color/tone on my brush and I see more places it can be used, I go ahead and hit those. I've seen where some painters will start painting in the upper left corner & just work down from there, completing each section before moving on. That would drive me absolutely nuts! People always say they're surprised at how fast I paint. It's probably because when I find the right color (or shade or value), I stick it everywhere that I know it belongs. So I don't have to re-invent the wheel all the time.

Actually, this painting session was interrupted by about 3 hours mid-day. Otherwise I would have gotten further. They asked me to attend a start-up meeting for a social club whose main goal is to get their own liquor license so they can drink cheap beer. Ha! Hell, if I want a beer, I go to the grocery store, buy a 6 pack and take it home and open one. I don't have the time or desire to drive to a bar and sit around. One thing that apparently I'm still learning is how to say NO. One of the most valuable phrases a friend told me (that I should use more often!) is "I wish I could help you!" And then just shut up. Oh well -- tomorrow is a new day!
"Froggie Serenade" -- end of day 1 -- 36x36" oil on canvas

Studio setup -- Day 1 -- "Froggie Serenade"

The last big still life I did was back in August, at my old house. Right after that, I bought a new house in NW Michigan and my time was devoted to moving. The two houses are about a 5-hour drive apart. I thought I'd go mad, packing everything, loading it onto rental trailers and trucks, making the long drive. Friends thought I was amazingly brave, but believe me, I had my periods of panic! Eventually I slipped into quiet resolution (no way to stop now!) and just "rode the wave" and got it all done. The weathers here along the NW coastline of Michigan can change suddenly, with blinding snowstorms. I'd heard horror stories of friends who had slid off the road into a ditch while pulling their trailers full of stuff. I was determined to be done moving before winter struck! The very last load I drove up was in my Explorer, which was packed to the gills, with my 2 cats in their cages, on December 10th. That morning Detroit was having a big ice storm and about midway up north, I ran into snow about Bay City. The rest of the drive was a white-knuckle, one-lane crawl up Interstate 75. As I pulled into my driveway, 3 deer bounded off my front lawn. Home at last!

So that is why you haven't seen any big still lifes from me in a while. I've been up here at the new house, unpacking since mid-December. And I had the big pole barn converted into my art studio, with large windows and an industrial heater -- and doors that lock. People up here say they never lock their doors. But I read in the local papers that there are thefts occurring all the time. No, I learned years ago, back when I first bought my old house, to keep my doors locked. I'd been standing at the stove in my T-shirt and underpants, cooking, when the front door opened and in walked Wiley Boley, one of my old friends from the trailer park! Living in a suburb of Detroit, I'd keep my doors locked ALL the time.

All the heavy lifting of the move did a number on my back. My sciatica came back with a vengance. I think the "straw that broke the camel's back" was when I made the gigantic snow squirrel in front of my studio building a couple weeks ago. I'd rolled the big snowball up and down the driveway until it was about 4 feet in diameter. Those last 15 feet of rolling were really hard. I don't think I'll be making any more of those!

So the past couple weeks I'd been spending 90% of my time in bed. Lying flat was the only way to relieve the pain. Massages made me feel good -- for an hour. I finally broke down and saw a doctor last week for some drugs! He gave me a 10 day supply of steroids, a pain pill and a muscle relaxer. Said this sciatica should go away in a couple weeks. I think this experience was a reminder to me to be very grateful for every morning I can wake up feeling good!

So this new still life: I knew that when I'm absorbed in a painting, especially a large still life, I forget about any aches and pains. Other people notice this phenomenon, too. I went out into my studio, thinking I'd set up a still life with the theme "Back Pain". I had a big hornet's nest and a stuffed possum (it hangs by its tail). It seemed like something I just had to do.

But when I picked up the hornet's nest, I turned it around and over, trying to imagine just how I'd compose the painting. It's a miraculous piece of construction, but there's something very unsettling about it. It reminds me of the cyclone in "The Wizard of Oz". I even could hear the music soundtrack going in my head (remember that flurry of violins, with the Wicked Witch & her cackling?). It's an ugly shade of gray swirls. Kind of scary. Did I really want to paint that?

I set it down and looked at my frog collection. Over the years I've bought all kinds of silly frog figurines of all sizes. There was something about the glimmer of all those shiny, beady little eyes that made me giggle. I'd just unwrapped a large, painted, cement frog that I'd bought way back in 1978. He's playing the clarinet. I've used him a number of times in paintings. Ah, I held him and just knew I had to paint this next still life with frogs! They make me smile.

Of course there has to be a background, and the wilder, the better! By some miracle, I happened to have a bunch of fabric pieces neatly folded nearby (as opposed to being buried somewhere and God-knows when the heck I'd find them). I knew the Asian-inspired fabric with the red, yellow and black tones would be spectacular. I've also found that it's a good thing to have a few brightly-colored scarves around, and I laid a yellow paisley scarf in the foreground. Then I remembered a pair of yellow sandals upstairs. I turned on my stereo and listened to one of Diana Krall's CDs. I've always got music going, whether it's in my head or on the stereo.

The unpacking can wait!

I decided to snap photos of the painting at the end of every painting session and post on this blog. Maybe people would like to see how my paintings progress. As you can see in the top photo on this blog, I start out with a lightly-toned canvas, with the composition forms lightly sketched in with lines of oil paint.

I'm far, far too impatient to take a slide of the setup, send the film in for processing, then project and trace onto the canvas! That can take weeks! And I think people can tell at a glance if a painting was done from life or if it was projected and traced. I just take my time to draw in the composition. There is always a lot of wipe-outs. Sometimes it takes days to draw it in. Having read "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" by Betty Edwards, I learned how to ignore that part of my brain that wants to go into a panic, that part that tries to say "this looks awful!". I just know to keep plugging away & re-measuring things, I'll figure it out. I do run into problems, though, when I step back to observe -- and I step back into a slightly different vantage point each time. That can be quite a problem at times.

I really love having a painting in progress! I wake up each morning, excited for sunrise, so I can get out there and work on my "new puzzle"!

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