Jolie Guillebeau


Archive for August, 2013

920: Elusive

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

“Painting is dead.”

I’ve heard variations of that phrase for years, and someone asks me at least once a month why painting is necessary in this age of photography when everyone has an amazing camera in their pocket.

The problem is that the camera isn’t always there. But my eyes are. And painting 919 (so far!) paintings has trained me to notice things much more.

Which brings me to my quest to capture the clouds just as they changed from dark to light. Yes, I’m still that crazy woman looking up at the sky.

I noticed something one night.

The thinner wispy clouds turned darker first.

Probably because they were higher in the sky, so they lost the sun as it dipped lower in the sky.

It was an elusive moment, because before I could even open my camera the sky had changed. So I tried to reclaim that image here.

And I got close. It’s still not perfect, but it’s closer than a camera.

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919: Depth

Monday, August 26th, 2013

“There is nothing deep down inside us except what we have put there ourselves.” –Richard Rorty

I started this painting like always. I worked in my usual palette, getting the layers of wax as smooth as possible. Then I started creating an image.

Pretty soon I realized it wasn’t working. So I scraped back, added a few more layers and tried again. Nope.

I set it aside for a few days and moved on to a different painting. When I came back to it, I knew just what to do. I poured ink on the wax, then applied heat. The ink gets hotter than the wax pretty quickly and it’s a fun effect.

The surprise came when I left it alone for a bit. This ink contains tiny copper flakes, so it stayed hotter for a long time, which melted the wax. Because it wasn’t working before, I had applied extra layers, so there was more room for depth.

It’s a good metaphor, yes? The things that go wrong often leave us with a deeper understanding.

Paint as a teacher once again.
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918: Bloom

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

My first year as a teacher, I was desperate for classroom decorations. Those white concrete block walls were bleak, but my tiny paycheck was only covering food, rent, and student loan payments.

So I gratefully accepted hand-me-down posters from other teachers. One was an image of a big sunflower growing in the middle of a landfill that said, “Bloom where you’re planted.”

I hated that poster.

So much.

It just had a sense of fatalism about it. The message seemed to be, “Make the best of your circumstances, because you can’t change them.” Instead, I wanted to say to my students, “You have a brain! And legs! You don’t have to stay in a terrible place– you can decide for yourself.”

Much of my life has been about reclaiming that sense of purpose and decision. In 2009, I was feeling so powerless and trying to make the best of what I had. But once I began this project, then my surroundings began to change.

So instead of blooming where I was planted, I started changing the soil. I figured out what nourished me and made more time for that, and I thought about what depleted me and got rid of it.

Over the past year, I feel like I’m finally beginning to bloom properly. Maybe for the first time. Thankfully that poster is long gone, but maybe this image is a better example of what it really means to bloom.

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917: Familiar

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Sometimes I find myself in familiar moments. Just a word or someone’s tone can take me back to a completely different time and place that seems suddenly familiar.

I had one of those yesterday in the dentist’s chair. You might know about my tooth history already, but if not, the short version is that I spent a lot of time in the dentist’s office as a kid.

It’s been twenty years since the last work was done and this summer my dentist decided it was time for an update. So we’re doing a series of procedures to correct what time and wear have done to the previous work.

It’s not fun, but I’m grateful that I can take care of it and get back to my usual smile with only a few days of hassle.

Though I wish the dentist’s chair was less familiar and landscapes like this were more familiar. I’m thinking a pilgrimage to the Oregon Coast might be my reward for all this dental work.

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916: Ease

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013
Maybe it’s just me, but in both painting and life I find myself trying to make things harder for myself than they should be. I tend to think that if there’s not a struggle, then it’s not really art.

But I occasionally let go of my ego and just flow. That’s part of why painting is so good for me. And painting with wax? Well, it feels like I’m home.

I guess if you’re the kid that dreams of a paraffin wax manicure when you learn about them, or ruins several jars of homemade jam because you can’t leave the wax layer alone, or melted dozens of crayons with a hair dryer once, or even destroyed your Aunt Lucille’s red candlesticks because you wanted to see what the center looked like, then painting with wax would be the obvious step.

Even the teenager who stained her new white comforter with red melted candlewax, because she just couldn’t leave it alone would approve.

If you’re the adult who burns her thumb regularly on hot wax at the dinner table, when you finally really begin to work in wax you have only one question.

What took so long?

A new lesson for me is to just enjoy the ease of this project.

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915: Edges and Lines

Sunday, August 18th, 2013
Yesterday I spent hours on the phone working on an application for a big project that I’m almost ready to talk about.

One part of this process for this project is talking to an academic about my work. She was confused. She kept asking, “So are you a story-teller? That would put your work in the category of performance art.”

I explained that I was a story-teller, but mostly a visual artist. I explained that my visual work seems incomplete without the story.

She kept saying, “Yes, but most artists don’t do this. You’re right on the line between these two categories. You don’t quite fit in anywhere.”

Once I got past my middle school issues of “fitting in,” I knew she was right. But while I think she sees it as a disadvantage, I see it as a good thing.

I don’t want to be in a normal box, doing normal things with normal artists. I want to be on the edge of my work, whatever that is.

The edges are the part of a painting that are interesting to me. I love painting the edges between sea and sky, or sand and shore. In my oil paintings, I can spend hours coaxing edges in to perfect submission. The edge is where the action happens. It’s where the eye rests.

And if this project has taught me nothing else, it’s taught me to draw my own boundaries and make my own labels. May I always be out on that edge.

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914: Waves

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Occasionally I have moments where I look back at who I was when I began this project and discover that I’m now a completely different person.

One of those moments happened yesterday.

I was talking with a friend about girly things like makeup and magnifying mirrors. I have one, but I think they’re bad for the soul. They’re a very tiny piece of the whole view. No one else looks at our face that closely, so where we see flaws and bumps, everyone else sees our face.

Suddenly I remembered the Jolie from 2010. I had a moment where I remembered how critical I was of myself– no wonder I got so little done. I was too busy paying attention to those soul-crushing thoughts and ideas in my head.

I can’t say that I don’t still have those moments, but now at least I can ride the wave and know that the way I feel (high or low) isn’t the whole truth.

It’s just a very small part of the whole picture– just like that magnifying mirror.

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913: Ctrl-Z

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

There are very few things that can’t be undone. Especially in painting.

It’s why I like knitting and painting so much. You can always start over. In mere minutes I can have a skein of yarn or a blank canvas if what I’m working with isn’t working.

In fact, that’s been one of the big lessons of this project. If I don’t like what I’m doing, I can always begin again.

That’s what happened with this painting. It was dark and gloomy, and I was really unhappy with it, so I heated the wax and scraped back to the beginning.

Then I went in the opposite direction. Instead of grays and blues, I started with white and pinks. And instead of working to get the surface super smooth, I played with a little more texture.

It took a little longer than simply pressing Ctrl-Z, but the result was the same. Hooray for beginning again.

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912: Be True

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

The sky is full of possibility and wonder. I’ve always loved it.

As a little girl, I flew between my house and my grandmother’s house a lot. I remember flying Eastern Airlines between Mobile and Huntsville, Alabama all by myself. The flight was only an hour.

My mom dropped me at the gate and my grandmother was there at the bottom of the stairs waiting for me. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to be on the flight alone– the rule was that you had to be five, and it was just a few days before my fifth birthday.

My mom had told me that it was okay, but I knew we were breaking a rule, and I got nervous when the flight attendant asked me how old I was.

Once I was on the ground and with my granny, I was so relieved. I had worried the whole way that they would find out I was only four and throw me out of the plane. I imagined myself with a parachute hovering over the skies of Alabama somewhere in the clouds.

I still think of that story every time I fly alone. I look out at the clouds and imagine myself there.

In this case, I looked up at the clouds. There was a bright spot of blue right over my head, and I craned my neck back as far as I could then took a photo. I added at least six layers of blue to the painting before I felt like I was remotely close to the color I had seen in the sky.

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911: Trust Yourself

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Yesterday some friends and I were talking about how there are some things that you think you’ve figured out and suddenly you’re right back in the middle of a lesson you thought you’d learned.

For me that lesson is trusting myself.

So many of the messages I absorbed in the past were about ignoring my own intuition or feelings about things. Somehow I managed to give away all my authority and forgot to rely on my own ideas or God-given sense.

Hell, I couldn’t even decide what I wanted for dinner most nights. “I don’t know, hon. What do you want?” It drove Chris crazy.

At some point, it started driving me crazy, too. Because I’d spent so much time trying to please other people, I’d forgotten how to figure out what I wanted. I felt like the Ugly Duckling– shaped entirely by others’ perceptions of who I was.

So I started painting. The small decisions about painting helped me find my way through to the bigger decisions about dinner, or even pointing the way toward bigger dreams.

I bought a necklace this summer that’s stamped with a quote from Goethe:

“Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live.”

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