Jolie Guillebeau

Archive for April, 2012

2nd grade

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

My second grade teacher was all sharps and edges compared to Mrs. Cotton, and I remember very little but anxiety and stress in that classroom.

The irony is that I moved schools in first, third, and fifth grades. My fourth grade teacher had a baby in the middle of the year, so my second grade teacher is the only teacher I had all year long.

And I was miserable.

Mrs. Gattis hated Trapper Keepers. And I showed up for school on the first day with a Trapper Keeper. Mrs. Gattis wasn’t that happy with left-handed students either. And I was a lefty.

I say was because Mrs. Gattis tried her best to make me right handed. She kept a ruler on her desk and used it pretty liberally if she caught me using my left hand.

So I used my right hand… when she was looking. I started writing on the left side of the page with my left hand, and the right side of the page with my right hand.

It’s actually pretty helpful now. I can switch hands to write, or apply mascara, or even sometimes when I’m painting. But on the first day of third grade my teacher watched me move back and forth across the page switching hands as I went, and she sighed, crouched down at my desk and took both of my hands.

She looked me in the eye and said, “Jolie. I don’t care which hand you use, but I want you to just pick one and stay with it.”

Not that I hold a grudge (well, maybe a little one) but it’s quite satisfying to tell you that I painted this painting with my LEFT hand.

“Southpaw.” 4×4 Oil on Canvas. $95

1st grade.

Saturday, April 28th, 2012
My first grade teacher’s name was Lucy Cotton. And she was everything that the name implies. I remember her with nothing but softness and light and fuzzy thoughts.
I joined her class mid-year wearing a lot of metal in my mouth and a Polly Flinders dress embroidered with daisies. Being the new kid is never fun, and the adjustment to a new class was especially difficult that year.

But Mrs. Cotton was nothing but kindness. I loved her. I wanted better handwriting so she’d be happy with me. I wanted to master those big giant fat pencils with perfection. Instead, I rushed through my seatwork every day because I spent more time daydreaming.

But even as she called me to her desk to lecture me about the importance of doing my work properly, she always patted my shoulder or tied my shoe. She rarely showed her frustration– though I’m sure I was infuriating.

She’s the kind of teacher I later aspired to be.

“Cotton.” 4×4 Oil on Canvas. $95


Friday, April 27th, 2012

That’s how much it cost to ship marshmallows to West Africa, in case you’re wondering. But it was worth it.

Country number eight for me was Togo. As a school, we took a field trip inland. I’ve told that story before though– that was the trip where I developed a sudden distaste for mango.

But there were other adventures on that trip as well. One of those was building a bonfire.

See, if your parents are aid workers in West Africa, you don’t get many “normal” kid experiences. And as a teacher, it was my job to create as many of those as possible for these kids.

So we planned a bonfire. And I had marshmallows shipped to Togo. They were a little stale by the time they arrived, but since we roasted them, that didn’t matter.

Our hosts were bewildered by the puffy white things we put on sticks over the fire, but after the first taste, they quickly found their own stick and joined us.

This bonfire was a turning point for me. I was tired, bug-bitten, sticky with mango, and days from a proper shower. And you should know that there are few things I value more than sleep and long showers. But I realized that night that I was tougher than I thought I was. And that some things are worth more than sleep and showers.

“Worth it.” 6×8 Oil on Canvas. $130

26 hours.

Thursday, April 26th, 2012
December 31, 2004. We were returning to West Africa after spending the holidays with family in Alabama, and we had 26 hours in Paris.
It was my first trip, and it was just enough.
It was a place of between. The old year was over, but the new one hadn’t begun. We’d left home, but weren’t back athome yet. It wasn’t quite a trip to Paris, but it was more than a day of transit.

It was magic, that place of between. It was four Nutella crepes without feeling guilty, wandering under the Eiffel Tower, Mona Lisa magic.

Any other trip would’ve needed planning and preparation. But we just decided to make the most of the space in between. And once we boarded the plane and Air France brought me the last decent cheese I’d eat for months, I looked out the window and watched the sky.

We were between. Not quite with the stars, but of course, not on the ground. Gradually the lights of Europe faded and I was left looking out for the occasional tiny light of a large fire.

We landed at 11pm and our friends picked us up for a quick ride from the airport to the ship. When we drove in to the port, the ship’s horn blew signalling the start of the New Year.

“Between.” 5×5 Oil on Canvas. $125

Number 7.

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

I painted this landscape from memory. It was the view from my classroom window for months and months.

In Sierra Leone the sky was never blue. It was gray, or bright yellow. In December, the Harmattan turns everything dusty and golden. There were days that we couldn’t even see those hills or any of the buildings beyond the port.

It was country number seven for me, but my first steps in Africa were in Sierra Leone. I can still sing the National Anthem. It’s the place where I became a storyteller. It’s the place where I became myself.

This view is full of stories for me– it’s hard to choose only one to tell you. There’s the story of the giant grasshopper, or the sailing sheep, or running in the port at 5am because it was too hot at 6am.

Mostly, it’s the story of a girl who was looking for adventure and found it.

“High we exalt thee.” 6×6 Oil on Birch Panel. $120

1000 Fifth Ave.

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Chris and I took our first trip together to New York City in 1998. We did all the standard touristy things. Except for one.

We didn’t go the Met. I don’t know how I missed it, but that first trip we didn’t even make it up to Museum Mile. We were poor, so the bargains of Chinatown were more appealing than the splendor of 5th Avenue, I suppose.

I don’t know what I was thinking.

Thankfully I’ve made up for it with every return trip. Once I even convinced a security guard to sneak me in to a closed room so I could see William again.

And I’m already planning my next visit– looking at what’s on exhibit, planning sketches of old favorites. It’s going to be good.

I’m also planning some other good stuff while I’m there. On May 9th, Jen Lee and I are cooking up something fun. If you’re in the area, we’d love for you to join us.

Speaking of Jen Lee, she’s got something special up on her site today– maybe you wanna go look?

“Pilgrimage.” 4×6 Oil on Birch Panel. $120

1 of 52

Thursday, April 26th, 2012
I’ve been to 52 countries. In any other house that might be impressive, but here at Chez Guillebeau I’m still an amateur traveler.
I didn’t leave North America until I was 25. But in the past ten years, I’ve made up for lost time. My first stamp in the passport was China. And it was incredible.
We flew to China in the summer of 2002 to teach English for four weeks. In an amazing stroke of luck, we were upgraded to business class, which forever jaded my perspective on international travel.

As a kid, I’d been obsessed with the Sesame Street specialBig Bird in Chinawhich I watched everytime my kindergarten teacher gave us the chance. I couldn’t wait to go to the Great Wall. We found a tour that took us a little farther out, so instead of crowds of tourists we were the only group there that day. Some parts of the wall were crumbling and the climb was steep, but I was thrilled. I took dozens of pictures.

The funny thing is, when I think of China, I don’t really remember the Great Wall. Instead, I remember sitting in a park for English Corner answering questions like, “Why is New York called the Big Apple?” and “Is your husband hen-pecked? What does this mean?” and “Why does Rocky keep fighting so many times?”

Because while the Great Wall is impressive, it’s just stone– and Big Bird wasn’t there.

“Great People– good wall.” 6×6 Oil on Birch Panel. $120

20 dollars

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012
Another thing I’m not very good at?
Apparently it’s the soul of wit, but I think it’s kind of boring. As you might guess from my paintings, I’m facscinated by details and layers. And in my enthusiasm for a story, I expect that everyone else is fascinated too.

My grandfather said once, “Ask Jolie the time, and she’ll build you a watch.”

It’s true. Often I find myself so deep in the background of the story I’m telling that I’ve forgotten the thread of the story. So I use a trick that my friend Kristian taught me.

As soon as I realize I’ve hit the end of the rabbit trail, I immediately say, “And then I found twenty dollars.”

It works every time.

“Rabbit Trails” 12×24 oil on canvas $220.

40 days.

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

I have a confession. I’m a terrible poet.

Maybe it’s the brevity or the fact that I can’t let go of the idea that poems should rhyme, so my attempts at poetry usually result in hours wasted searching for something that rhymes with almond or shadow or silver.

Hint: those words don’t rhyme with any other word. Ask me how I know.

Thank God for Maya Stein. Because not only does she write beautiful poetry, she shows other people the way through words, too.

And Maya has an amazing project planned.


You’ll want to go read about it here– and watch the trailer– you’ll see me appear about 50 seconds in.

This is the chance to be a part of a story as it unfolds. So go read, and watch, and help.

And the proceeds from today’s painting sale will also go toward the TYPE RIDER project. Because it’s awesome.

“Type Rider” 4×4 oil on canvas $95.

5 minutes.

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012


This is what I’d like my studio to look like all the time.

But, like my black thumb, I’m not known for my ability to see clutter. It makes my poor husband crazy.

With his help, I manage to keep the house from looking like a pigpen, but my studio ends up cluttered more often than I’d like.  Especially after a busy week. And between the Buckman show, books and my birthday, I let things get a little out of control.

So before I started painting, I picked up for just a few minutes. I can see the floor again! (Just don’t look at my desk.)

“Creativity is messy” 4×12 oil on canvas $140.