Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Brandywine" -- oil on canvas -- 18x24" -- Margie Guyot

A few days ago I was visiting my neighbors, chatting away on their front porch, when I happened to see this marvelous tomato sitting in their windowsill. I loved the greenish-yellow "shoulders", contrasted with the red. It gave me goosebumps! I knew I just HAD to paint this tomato. Sue and Shirley graciously let me borrow it. They told me it's one of their heirloom tomatoes they plant every season: a brandywine.

I'd bought this lovely purple cabbage last week and had planned on using it in a painting as well. I love painting cabbages! Could paint them all day. Love the colors!

The next step for me was to dig through my collection of vintage linens. I just love tablecoths out of the 40's and 50's! I don't have dozens of them and am always on the lookout.

The cherry crop up here in Michigan was abundant, and I happened to have a bag full in my fridge. I thought the dark red sweets looked good with this arrangement. Used a glass dish from a garage sale to set them in. I love the design, with its ridges and how it allows bits of the tablecloth design to show through.

And those striped glasses! They were also from a garage sale. Guess I've got a "thing" for painting stripes and often use them in my still lifes. Sure, it's really tough to paint them, but I love a good challenge. Painting is, after all, nothing but a big puzzle. Instead of laboring over a crossword puzzle, I'd sooner spend that time figuring out my own puzzles.

Finally, I really love showing a strong sense of light and shadow in my paintings. One thing Clyde Aspevig taught me is to lay down your shadows early and stick with them. This still life was set up next to a big window and as I painted, the sun and shadows moved. Clyde told us to just establish the shadows early on and to avoid changing them (or you'll just go nuts!). I really enjoy establishing the color changes between the lighted areas and the shadows.

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"August Sunset" -- oil on canvas -- 12x24" -- Margie Guyot

I used a small field study to paint a larger version in my studio. The sunsets over Lake Michigan can be quite spectacular. I love trying to paint them. It's challenging, though, to paint them for several reasons. For one, the scene is constantly changing -- have you ever watched how fast clouds can move? And it's nearly impossible to capture the brilliance of the colors. Oil paint, when you start mixing it, often tends to turn muddy. Probably a good way to work out this problem is to paint the bright, strong passages in pure white, leave them dry, and then do thin glazes of pure color, mixed with Liquin.

The brilliant red color in the center is "coral red", straight from the tube.

I live right down the road from 4 Lake Michigan parks. My favorite one, Rex Beach, is the one I tend to go to for painting sunsets. You can drive right down to the water at Rex Beach, instead of having to park and carry all your painting gear for blocks.

There have been times this summer when it was impossible to paint anywhere on the lake because of swarms of hatching bugs. I don't know what kind of bugs they are, but there are clouds of them, landing in your eyes, wet palette, painted surface, etc. I learned not to even try during these bug swarms. Thank goodness these bug swams don't last long!

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

"Scott Road" -- plein air field study -- oil on stretched canvas -- 12x24" -- Margie Guyot

This is the road I live on. Lake Michigan lies 1 mile west (as the crow flies). I moved up here nearly 2 years ago, after participating in a daylong paintout with the Crooked Tree Art Center (Petoskey). I hadn't been up this way in 30 years, so it was quite a surprise to see how beautiful it was up here. It kind of reminds me of the rolling hills of Vermont. The summers are packed with tourists, but the winters are rather brutal. Only the toughest old birds stay here.

I've always loved the look of this road, especially in late afternoon, with the long shadows running across the road. As a plein air painter, I especially like scenes where I can paint while standing in the blessed shade.

Normally I don't paint such large canvases, but there are a couple shows coming up that called for this type of wide format. I actually painted this on 2 afternoons, returning to the same spot.

"Sunset - 8/23/09" -- plein air field study -- oil on stretched canvas -- 12x24" -- Margie Guyot

Again, I normally don't paint in this wide format en plein air, but I was wanting to put this into a show that was looking for this size. Sunsets are beautiful to paint, but they're also the devil. The light and cloud formations are changing so rapidly, it's best to arrive on the scene early, try to pre-mix an anticipated range of colors, use a big brush and a small canvas.

After several days of gusty winds and rain, it was calm on Sunday night. I drove down to my favorite spot for sunset paintings, Rex Beach, just south of Charlevoix, MI. The advantage to this spot is that you can drive right down to the water. Other parks dot the shoreline here, but you have to schlep your gear for 3 - 4 blocks, up & down a long hill and across sand dunes.

As I painted, a car of people pulled up to enjoy the sunset, too. Two of the men got out their fishing rods and casted for panfish. I didn't see them catch anything, though.

The cloud formations always amaze me. They roll in off the western side of the lake and are wonderful. Trying to paint the glowing reds and golds is tough. If I use this study for a later studio painting, what I'd do is paint the red and gold areas with white, leave it dry, then give thin glazes of color. That's the only way I know to get anywhere near the brilliance.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

"Shady Road" -- plein air field study -- oil on canvas 11x14" -- Margie Guyot

I wish I knew the name of this road! This was my last painting of the day, painted across the street from Les Heney's farm, near Empire, Michigan. As it was a hot, steamy day, I was looking for a cool, shady spot to paint. Love this road.

At first it looked quite crazy as I laid it in. Sometimes my paintings do look crazy at first. Almost enough to scare even me! But I think that sometimes being successful at painting requires the ability to control one's panic.

Paintings quite often are similar to taking an algebra test. When I would be handed the test, I'd be in complete panic mode, flipping through the pages. I don't know how to do ANY of these! But finally I'd see a problem I could do. Then I'd flip around and see another problem I could solve. Eventually I'd finish the entire test. Painting, for me, is kind of like that: all kinds of things to solve. Just keep from freaking out and giving up. Do what you can, keep plugging away, and you (usually) figure it out. Somebody once told me they thought painting came easily to me. No! I just know to quiet that little voice that says this looks horrible! and continue figuring things out.

Besides doing a lot of painting, the thing that helped me most in my painting was Betty Edwards' "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain". I'd first read it in 1980. She says that "if you can see, you can draw". The key is to learn to block out that part of your mind (the left brain) that tells you you can't draw -- and to just concentrate on looking and judging sizes, angles, lightness or darkness.

I was happy to find out this particular painting won 2nd place in the Glen Arbor Art Association's first annual Paint-Out.

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"Welch Rd. - Near Empire, MI" -- plein air field study -- oil on canvas 8x10" -- Margie Guyot

This is the second painting I'd done this morning. My friend Karen and I were participating in the Glen Arbor Art Association's first annual Paint-Out. Time was of the essence: the goal was to paint a maximum of 3 good paintings between 8:30 AM and 4:30 PM. Frame them and have them back at the gallery by 4:30 PM. So there was not a lot of time for lollygagging.

This area is in the Leelanau Peninsula of Michigan. I really love it here. Lush, rolling hillsides, small farms and orchards, lakes and it's surrounded by Lake Michigan. Everywhere you look, there's a painting.

We decided to stop at the top of this hill and paint the long view. It's a popular road for bicyclists, as many cycled by us as we painted. Karen and I were grateful to find a shady spot to paint in, as the temperature rose to nearly 90 again.

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"Heney's Green Acres" -- plein air field study -- 6x8" -- Margie Guyot

My friend Karen and I had been driving around near Empire, Michigan, looking for interesting things to paint. We stopped at a beautiful little farm that had a cardtable out front, with a sign that said "Apricots for sale". Les Heney, the farmer, was mending a fence out past the rhubarb patch. He gave us permission to paint anywhere we wanted. Amazing man -- he said he'll turn 94 on September 8th! He soon left, driving his 95 year old wife to the hairdresser! I'm always happy to find older people in such lively shape!

I really loved this barn! It was a little tricky to draw in, but the patterns of sun and shade were what I loved most. I also appreciated being able to stand in the shade to paint this, as it was up near 90 degrees.

Karen and I each bought some of his apricots -- only $1 for a quart!

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Friday, August 14, 2009

"Rex Beach" -- 12x16" plein air field study -- oil on canvas -- Margie Guyot

Yesterday morning two friends and I drove over to meet other painters in an orchard. But nobody was there. Luckily, my friend Jerry had his cell phone and called a contact number. Turns out the orchard was going to spray their cherries, so our location was suddenly changed to Rex Beach. Right down the road from where I live. Rex Beach is right on Lake Michigan, south of Charlevoix.

Rex Beach is great for painting sunsets, but during mid-day I think the light is too flat and it's rather uninteresting to paint (to me, at least). It took me quite a while to finally decide what view to paint. I nearly wiped this out. The tough thing about paint this was that the sand and grass in the foreground is very bleached-out by the sun. So to be true to what's in front of us, we have to paint it looking rather bleached-out. What I loved most about this view is the distant bank of trees and the sparkle of the water.

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

"Laid to Rest" -- plein air field study -- oil on canvas panel -- 8x10" -- Margie Guyot

After painting "Blue Umbrella" (see previous post), I drove over to the Tillotson's Orchard, near Ellsworth. I'd been there last week to pick cherries and had seen a wonderful, big orange truck. Planned on painting it. Alas -- it was gone!

I drove over by the barn, where I saw these 2 old GMC trucks, abandoned in the grove of young aspen trees. I parked at a 90 degree angle to them, threw open the liftgate on my Flex, set my Soltek easel inside the cargo area, and was able to paint in the still-falling rain. I find images of old cars and trucks to be more interesting than the same old, gloomy scenes of rain on the lake.

After painting, I walked over to a big pile of rotting, fermenting cherries and scooped up a few handfuls into a bag. Got home and gave them to my chickens. Later, as I left to drive up to Harbor Springs, I could hear some excited cackling going on back in the coop.

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"Blue Umbrella" -- plein air field study -- 0il on canvas panel 9x12" -- Margie Guyot

It was raining cats & dogs! And it was the morning of the Tvedten Fine Art Galley's annual Paint-Out. What to paint that wouldn't look so dreary? In desperation I threw down my blue umbrella onto the sidewalk in front of my porch. Loved the blues! I have a bunch of red geraniums (some 5 years old) that looked great with it.

Stood underneath the porch overhang to paint this. Was able to run 2 loads of laundry at the same time. Nothing like multi-tasking! And it was convenient to be able to run out to the studio to get my tube of cobalt blue. I normally don't carry that color around with me. There are some colors that just can't be mixed. Some of the reds & blues -- you just need to have the tube.

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Monday, August 03, 2009

"Common Mullen" -- plein air field study -- oil on stretched canvas -- 30x15" -- Margie Guyot

Mullen is a favorite wildflower of mine. The first time I ever noticed how beautiful it is was when I was out in Boulder, Colorado, about 12 years ago. They practice natural landscaping out there and somebody had a whole grove of this stuff in their front yard. It was glorious! Back in the suburb of Detroit (where I lived at the time), if I'd tried growing a grove of this in my front yard, the city would come, cut it down & send me a bill.

Now I've got hundreds of these plants in my yard. I've used the leaves for tea to help relieve congestion. From what I've read, mullen was introducted to America hundreds of years ago from Eurasia. Some people call it "Forester's TP". But I can tell you from personal experience, those fuzzy leaves leave you itching!

This is the biggest size I've ever attempted doing en plein air. I wanted to do something long and narrow, and the 30x15" canvas was the only thing I had on hand. But I had nothing else planned for the afternoon, so I just decided to take my time and see if I could paint this. At times early on I wondered if I could make it work. Oh -- and I had to duct-tape this onto my Soltek easel.

This was also my first use of the new BestBrella I'd bought. The instructions say to hand-tighten the screws, but I had to use pliers. And re-tighten things occasionally, as it was quite windy. But I probably couldn't have done this painting without an umbrella. The sun's glare would have been too blinding. I also had on a longsleeve shirt, hat and SPF 70.

Those leaves were quite a challenge! Well, when I start a painting, EVERYTHING seems like quite a challenge! But I just kept plugging away, painting what I could figure out. It's like doing a puzzle, only all the pieces are wet paint blobs!

I loved this scene especially because of the background, too. The mullen plants were growing amidst white yarrow, calendula and black-eyed susans. 4 hours just flew by! And thank goodness for left-overs, so I didn't have to cook dinner.

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"Sunset -- 8-01-09" -- plein air field study -- oil on canvas panel -- 9x12" -- Margie Guyot

After painting in Petoskey all day for the Crooked Tree Paint-Out, some buddies of mine and I decided to meet at Rex Beach for sunset painting. Rex Beach is part of the Antrim Creek Natural Area, 2 parks that are along the east coast of Lake Michigan. The advantage to painting at Rex Beach is that you can drive your car right down to the water, instead of having to park and schlep all your gear for several blocks down a trail and across a sand dune.

It was a beautiful evening to be out on the beach! There were only a few swarms of newly-hatched midges. Not at all as bad as the swarms in June.

There was pizza there and I was offered some, but it's impossible to paint anything so fleeting while eating anything! I always use at least a #8 flat brush and paint as quickly as I possibly can. The light and cloud formations are changing every second.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

"Cherry Pie" -- plein air field study -- oil on canvas -- 5x7" -- Margie Guyot

I'm calling this a plein air field study because it WAS painted en plein air. I was participating in the 4th Annual Crooked Tree Art Center's Paint-Out yesterday up in Petoskey. Right after painting "Bear River Bridge" (see below), the rain started. I'd had foresight to buy a slice of cherry pie on the drive up. I had the perfect little, ornate frame and canvas. There had been a 60% chance of rain predicted, so I wanted to have something I could paint under shelter.

I set the pie on a blank canvas board and painted the whole thing under the shelter of the liftgate of my Flex. The rain poured down, ruining the many sidewalk sales also underway in Petoskey, but I was happy as a clam.

Of course I sat in the car upon finishing this painting, enjoying some Starbucks coffee I'd brought from home and this cherry pie! Waste not, want not.

"Bear River Bridge" -- plein air field study -- oil on canvas -- 9x12" -- Margie Guyot

Last Monday my friend Evelyn Wujcik and I had to drive through Petoskey on our way up to play in the Harbor Springs Community Band concert. I asked Ev (a fantastic trumpet player) if she knew of any pretty places in Petoskey. She showed me this great little park on Lake Street. Besides this beautiful bridge, there are also a waterfall, boat harbor and historical buildings. Thanks to Ev, I knew right where to go. I knew the rain wouldn't hold out for long and I couldn't afford to be driving around, searching for something to paint.

A crew of volunteers were cleaning out trash from the Bear River and shoreline. Besides the usual junk, they carried out a waterlogged full-sized mattress!

I stood under a giant maple tree to paint this view. It's always a rare pleasure to find a spot interesting enough to paint that isn't also in the blinding, hot sun!

I think it took longer for me to draw in this bridge than to paint the whole picture. Very complicated, but lovely architectural details. It was very overcast, but I tried to brighten up the colors a little.

During the salmon runs, this river is lined with fishermen. It's quite a sight. The Bear River empties out into Lake Michigan at this point and it's amazing to watch the big salmon and steelhead trying to head upstream to spawn. Huge boulders all along the sides, thundering sounds of rushing water, clean, crisp air -- it's a wonderful place.

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