Jolie Guillebeau

2015: The Year of Symmetry

December 26th, 2014

Light. Shadow. Up. Down. Grow. Shrink. Create. Destroy. Left. Right. Off. On. Open. Closed. Rhyme. Reason.

As a classically trained painter, I learned to avoid symmetry. The way to keep the eye interested in your two dimensional surface was to stay a little off balance. Symmetry is boring.

However, I’ve decided lately that I like boring.

In fact, I’m aspiring for boring this year.

“Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” –Tolstoy, the first line of Anna Karenina

When I was in art school, one of my professors told a story about Piet Mondrian. I can’t find anything anywhere that actually substantiates this as a factual story, but the story sticks with me,  and since truth is often present even without facts, I’m sharing it here.

Basically, the premise of the story is that Mondrian and another painter were often working together and inspiring one another, when an important patron noticed their work and began supporting them. They continued working together and began exploring Cubism and more Avant Garde work, veering away from the landscapes that started their careers. But the patron didn’t like the new work.

So Mondrian’s friend returned to the familiar, traditional landscapes that sold well, because he had a family. Mondrian jilted his fiancee and left for Paris, where he revolutionized the art world. We don’t even remember the friend’s name.

When my teacher told us that, he was trying to inspire us to artistic greatness. He said something about “selling out” and encouraged us to think of our legacy as artists.

But I might’ve burst that bubble. I raised my hand.

“They’re still both dead, right?”

My instructor paused and looked at me with a bewildered expression. “What’s your point, Jolie?”

And here at this moment, I solidified a core tenet of how I wanted to life my life.

“I’m just saying, sir, that the unnamed painter was able to feed his family and support himself doing something he loved, right? He made a living as a painter, and presumably had a boring and happy life in the Netherlands. Mondrian died alone in a studio in Brooklyn, far from his family and anyone that he loved. Sure, he came to be recognized as a genius, and we admire his work now, but that doesn’t matter to him anymore, because he’s dead. I’d rather live happily and be forgotten, than be miserable and well-remembered.”

Now, of course, I realize the truth is probably somewhere between those two extremes. The unnamed painter probably felt frustrated and bored occasionally. Maybe his wife was a nag, or one of his kids was a brat. Mondrian likely still had friends and smiled on a regular basis, even though he stuck to his principles and created a legacy.

But if I’m choosing between interesting as fraught with drama and angst, or boring and happy. I choose boring and happy. Because, in pottery symmetry is the goal. Pots that are off-balance don’t work.

Maybe that means you don’t want to read or notice my work here anymore. Maybe you’re only here hoping to see a train wreck. Feel free to click the little red circle at the top and close this window.

Because I’m aiming for the most boring year ever. And I dare you to be boring, too.

(More about 2015 coming soon.)



TEDx, Thousands, Tiles and Thoughts.

May 6th, 2014

The past few months, I’ve been working on a big project. I painted my second 1000 paintings. Yet instead of four years, I took four months.

Because I’m crazy like that.

My studio has been stacked with hundreds of plexiglass squares since January. They looked like this.

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I painted 110 red squares, 110 yellow squares and 110 blue squares, 200 mirrored squares and 520 clear squares. Jon Hart, the stage manager and awesome project coordinator for this, helped by cutting all those squares in to 5×5 inch pieces, then delivered them to my studio.

I used acrylic paint, which isn’t my usual favorite, but with 1000 paintings drying time is critical, so oils were out of the question. The fun part was watching the patterns emerge after I had painted a few hundred. I also used my typewriter!

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I spent a lot of time thinking about how words were such a big part of the original 1000 paintings, and I wanted words to be a visual part of this project, too. Over the past few months, I’ve been typing out my morning pages. Then I cut them in to small squares and pasted them to some of the clear plexiglass in different patterns.

Once I’d finished painting the squares I returned them to Jon, who then drilled holes in the top and bottom of each square. That’s 2000 holes!

While he was doing that,  I spent hours and hours working in Photoshop to figure out the right layout for the piece. We’d decided to hang the squares as strands, sort of like a beaded curtain. This part required math skills. Scary. 1000 squares= 80 strands of 25 squares each. I wanted a bit of depth to the hanging, so we created a front row and a back row and staggered the strands. Then we split the strands. The front row had 12 squares and the back row had 13.

My adventures in Photoshop looked like this.


The colored squares here represent the colored plexiglass, but the black squares represent mirrored squares. The media team and the lighting designer were concerned about light reflections, so I went with an arc of mirrors to avoid any crazy reflections at center stage. You can see the arc from this shot at the back of the room.


All that planning finally built to the assembly day. A few volunteers turned up throughout the day, as we prepped the squares and threaded the strands for hanging. The final step with each square was to create a frosted effect with spray paint on the back of each clear square. This helped diffuse the light and allowed my paintings to show up.

Then we pulled out my charts, and made stacks. Each stack was labeled. A=front side B=back. So A12 was the 12th strand in the front row.

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From there, we threaded the squares on to thick black stage cord. It took us about 10 minutes per strand.


In the meantime, I was also prepping my talk and choosing the perfect outfit. I found the shoes months ago, because they matched what I was hoping the installation would look like. They were little embroidered squares attached by strings. (Honestly, I really worried that the installation wouldn’t look the way I imagined it in my head, so I really bought these shoes with fear and trembling.) And yes, my toes matched too. No one saw them that day but me, but I knew! And that helped a little.


Finally, we were ready to hang!

On Thursday morning, I got to the university early, and then I ended up waiting a while because the tech team wasn’t ready. Maybe I was a little eager?

We put the stacks in order below the truss, and I trained the volunteers in knot tying. Another secret worry: that a knot would come undone while someone was speaking. (Yikes!) Thankfully, all knots held fast.

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The pieces began to come together and I started to get excited. There was movement! And sparkle! And color! Just as I hoped.

We got all the strands tied, and then began adjusting the squares to get things lined up properly. I’d get a few rows straight, then the tech guys would raise the truss a bit. Every time I felt a thrill. In fact, sometime during the day, I downloaded the Hallelujah Chorus to my phone. Each time they raised the truss a few feet, I’d play it. They were all just lucky I didn’t sing along. It was pretty amazing to watch something I’d imagined for months actually come together and look the way I hoped it would.

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Then… it got better. Steve Harper, lighting designer extraordinaire, got to work. I went home for the day.

When I came back Friday morning, I walked in to this:

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Whatever I’d done, Steve had magnified. In this case, the lighting really made the art dazzle. I was stunned that the installation looked better than I could have imagined it would. My only problem? There was no time to celebrate, because the pressure was on– all this work was pointless if I goofed up the talk.

So I practiced again and again. We got out the ladder and straightened a few more squares (the cord had stretched once gravity took hold) and I practiced the talk in my head as I climbed up and down that ladder. Then there was a tech rehearsal, and dinner and bed.

I woke at five Saturday morning. We didn’t leave the house until 7:45, but I was ready and sitting by the door at ten after seven. I looked like this.


I was the third speaker. First up, Tyler, who killed it. He made everyone laugh and really delivered an amazing talk. He came off stage as I was getting mic’d and he said to me, “This– right now– feels really good.” I only hoped I could agree with him in 30 minutes time.


As I walked to the stage, I had two distinct thoughts. The first: “Okay, Jolie. You’ve worked on this for months. It all comes down to this. Don’t mess it up.”

And then as the lights came up on stage, I had a clear feeling of all the people watching from Idaho to Florida, Brooklyn to Berlin. I realized how many people were rooting for me and I sunk very deeply in to my skin and started just the way I’d planned. Once I had that first laugh from the audience, I knew I was going to nail this talk.

I still haven’t seen the video, but I already know a few things I’d do differently next time. I’ll spare you the self-critique, but it’s always good to know how to improve.

Once I stepped off stage, I was finally able to look at this installation– almost as if for the first time. I returned to my seat and looked up and thought, “Holy hell. I made that.” It wasn’t a moment for the Hallelujah Chorus, but it felt like a bigger triumph. All day, I watched as the lighting changed and people responded to the work. It’s a pretty spectacular thing to see people interact with my work in that way. I’m still pondering it.


Verbal processor that I am, I’m betting you might read a bit more about the impact this project had on me over the next few weeks. The strands are down now, but the pictures and video are yet to come. Stay tuned.

1000: Shift

January 7th, 2014

Whoa. This is it.

There’s so much I could say, but I think the best message I can leave you with is the idea that four years ago, I couldn’t even call myself an artist.

Shifts occur gradually, but with enough time and gentle work, even continents move.

What are you wanting to change in your world? Take a tiny step in that direction today. Redraw your own landscape.

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999: Penultimate

January 4th, 2014
It’s been fun!
Tomorrow I’ll see you…
for the last one.

Thanks for being here with me for this.

Four years ago this month, I spent hours writing in my journal and attempting to figure out my life. The short version of all those words can be summed up quite succinctly.

Painters paint.

I wasn’t sure I could really call myself an artist. But I knew I had to paint, so I just started paintings. I decided to paint every day for three months and see what happened.

Four years later, tomorrow I’m finishing the daily painting project with 1000 small paintings. (Hell yeah, bitches!) I have plans and schemes for ways to commemorate this properly, but I’m going to tell you about those some other day.

You’ll still hear from me regularly, of course. I’m planning to send you an update of all the things I’m up to, plus progress on the TEDx project and a story or two every Wednesday for a few weeks. That way we don’t miss one another too much. (I couldn’t go cold turkey– you guys are such a big part of my days.)

Meanwhile, here’s the penultimate painting.

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998: Step

January 3rd, 2014
Coming to the end,
Not much left to do,
Now the paintings are down to two.

Thanks for being here with me for this.

As I got dressed yesterday morning, I breathed a deep sigh of relief.

It’s a return to normal.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays.

But there’s a little pressure to pin all our hopes and plans to one single day, isn’t there?

Everyone asks, “How was your Christmas?” I feel bad when I answer honestly. “Actually, I was in bed with bronchitis for most of last week, and I didn’t do much to celebrate.”

The grocery store cashier, the bank teller, and the guy at the art supply store all looked so disappointed.

So I just started saying, “Wonderful, and yours?”

The thing is, my life is pretty good most of the time. I don’t need holidays as much if every regular day is a day that I’m taking tiny steps toward something wonderful.

It’s like that guy who makes patterns in the snow. The steps seem inconsequential, but looking from a wider angle, the pattern is really beautiful.

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997: Fuel

January 2nd, 2014
Not much left to see,
because the paintings are down to three. 

Thanks for being here with me for this. I know the plan was to end yesterday, but I got behind while I had bronchitis last week, so we still have a couple of paintings left.


I spent a long time yesterday fighting with my butane torch. The flame was inconsistent and kept going out. So the wax wasn’t melting and I kept getting frustrated.

Finally, I gave up. I threw the old can away, and replaced it with my spare can of fuel. Whoosh! Suddenly, I had a torch again! The flame was crazy powerful, and quick to ignite.

It made me realize how long my tank had been low on fuel. I’d forgotten how effective it is when you’re working with enough fuel.

It’s probably a lesson I can apply to other parts of my life, I bet.

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996: Slate

January 1st, 2014
Don’t want to be a bore,
Only four paintings more! 

Thanks for being here with me for this.


After the confetti falls, the year opens wide before us.
It’s a big blank slate.

How will you make your mark on 2014?

Happiest of New Years to you.
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995: Stage

December 31st, 2013


Five paintings left! Thanks for being here with me for this.


Before I get out the index cards, I spend a few days journaling and sketching about my hopes for the year. I think through what I already have planned for the year and what I want to do.I always choose a word as my guiding point for the year. This year, I’ve chosen the word Stage.

I’ll be on stage a few times this year. And my TEDx project will of course be a stage installation, but my theme of the year is about something more.


a point, period, or step in a process or development.
a section of a journey or race.
a raised floor or platform, typically in a theater, on which actors, entertainers, or speakers perform.
in geology, a range of strata corresponding to an age in time or a a period of time marked by a characteristic climate.
present a performance of (a play or other show).
organize and participate in (a public event).
cause (something dramatic or unexpected) to happen.
from the Old French “estage” meaning dwelling or home.One key point: Stages require Actors, and in 2014, I plan to ACT.

For me 2014 is the year of the Stage– and the curtain opens tonight.

Are you ready?
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994: Steps

December 30th, 2013


Whew! Last week was a little rough over here. But I’m once again vertical and I’m back with a new painting. Only six left! Thanks for being here with me for this.


I spent most of the weekend finishing up my goals for 2014.Chris and I go on vacation together to plan and review for the year, and I generally leave with a clear idea of what I want for the year ahead. However, I’ve learned that I really need to be back in front of my desk with a pile of blank index cards to properly plan my next steps.

First, I start by clarifying each role– there are eight total and they’re things like artist, teacher, creative learner, family member, and friend.

Then I write a statement about each one that encompasses my hopes and aspirations for the year. I try to be pretty specific. So for example, my Creative Learner role is one that takes up a lot of space in my planning. My goal for that role is:

In 2014, I’ll fulfill my creative learning goals by taking a pottery class, completing another alphabet recipe project, finishing my colorwork sweater, getting my purple belt in TaeKwonDo, hosting six parties, typing 250 journal pages, giving three talks on stage, and attending three workshops.

From there, I pull out the index cards and make a card for each of those goals. Then I think through what the finished result would be and work my way back through every single tiny step to get there. Each goal becomes a project, and each project has dozens of steps.

Finally, once that’s done for every role, goal, and project. I work my way through the cards and create a giant to-do list of first steps. That way I know exactly where to start to begin the year well.

The hardest part of anything for me is knowing where to begin, and once I make that to-do list and break it down in to tiny tiny steps it all becomes much more manageable.

Baby steps will get you far.

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A Pause for Coughing

December 26th, 2013

Still seven left! I’ll explain below.

You know how radio announcers have a cough button that momentarily mutes the broadcast, but then allows them to continue as normal? Let’s pretend I have one too, okay?

Over here, our Christmas was filled with orange juice and acetaminophen, because we both have bronchitis. Since hot wax gives off fumes that aren’t too good for breathing, I’m taking a pause today.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a painting I made today from the couch. It’s from a photo I took last week in the Caribbean. Yay for clouds and for iPad painting!

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