Jolie Guillebeau

Archive for September, 2013

938: Popcorn

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Yesterday was a blustery, rainy day in Portland.

We went out to brunch, then we watched a movie, and I made some popcorn. Around 2pm, I looked up and said, “It’s officially Fall.”

Later we ate some soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Often days are fully of meaning and purpose. And for that I’m grateful. But do-nothing popcorn days are pretty spectacular too. There’s just as much meaning there.


937: Optimism

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

Sometimes your optimism just runs out.

Maybe your laptop stops cooperating, and you spend the morning at the Apple Store. Then you get stuck in a crazy traffic jam, get lost in a parking garage and end up paying $12 in unnecessary parking.

From there, you spend two hours in the dentist’s office and he still can’t decide why your recently repaired tooth suddenly hurts desperately. He decides you’ll probably have to have ANOTHER dental surgery and that means they’ll have to undo some of the work that they just completed.

The only thing that could make this day any worse would be to step on a piece of glass. Oh wait, that happened, too.

You’re drooping. You’re totally over this day. And you don’t have your painting finished. Really you just want to sit on the couch and watch Netflix.

But you paint. And even though nothing else changed, suddenly you feel a little better when you’re done.

This. This is why I’ve painted 937 paintings over the last three and half years.


936: Emerge

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

A few of you have asked about the process of encaustic and I thought I could supply some answers today. The short version is that basically it’s a process of layering wax and removing wax.

Yes, “Wax on, wax off.”

I start with several layers of clear wax, then begin to apply color. With each layer, I’m adding heat, so that the layers of wax adhere to one another and create a solid structure to the piece. For that, I usually use a butane torch, but I’ve also used an iron, a heat gun and even matches.

I keep my wax colors in small metal tins on a pancake griddle, so they’re ready and waiting. And I use all sorts of things for pulling the wax away– like potter’s tools, a few random things from the kitchen, and even a dental pick.

Once the wax is warm, I start drawing with one of the tools. Then I’ll lay another color down in to whatever I’ve carved away. Then I’ll let that cool and scrape away the excess. Perhaps I’ll start applying color then, and all the while I’m adding a layer or two of clear wax to help hold everything together and add a little depth.

Eventually something begins to emerge.

The challenge is that one little distraction while applying heat, or a slip of a sharp metal point in to warm wax can totally change a painting. It can be delicate work.

But it’s also forgiving. If I don’t like what I see, I can always melt it back and begin again. I try to remember– if I created it once, I can always recreate it. (Sometimes that helps. Sometimes I just stomp my foot and sigh.)

The moment of magic is when the image begins to emerge– it’s not fully formed, yet it’s clearly exactly what I’m aiming for. That’s the sweet spot. If I work much more, usually I’ll lose the magic.

It means that sometimes things aren’t as precise as I’d like, or maybe the edges are a little fuzzier that I intended. But that’s how life is, right?

You add what you need, then take away what isn’t working. Eventually, something begins to build and while you don’t see every angle, you know you have something good happening.

It’s another lesson in trusting myself.


935: Restraint

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Now that I’m figuring out the texture that I’ve wanted for so long, I want to use it everywhere. I think I could make a whole painting just of those wobbly lines.

But I’m practicing restraint. And it’s not easy.

See, I’ll listen to the same album over and over for weeks before I get tired of it. And I’ll eat the same breakfast every single day for months at a time. I’ll stick with oatmeal for ages, then switch to toast for several months, until suddenly I want yogurt.

Usually I change with the seasons. And yesterday, as I snapped a shot of a wilting flower branch clearly indicating fall is coming, I knew I’d want to capture it in just the right way– so I’d need to go easy on the high temperatures and the flame.

So I let myself add just a little texture to a painting that was close to done. It needed a tiny bit of magic, and I wanted to see how these layers would look in other colors.



934: Perseverance

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

I distinctly remember the first time I saw the word “Perseverance.” It was on my grandmother’s tombstone. She had died just a few weeks before, and we were at the cemetery for the placement of the stone.

There were three words. “Love, Hope, Perseverance.”

I was seven and I asked immediately, “What does that mean?”
My uncle (who chose the word) said, “It means you stick with something even if it’s hard.”
I replied, “Oh, kind of like stubborn?”
He said, “Yes, I guess so.” Then he explained context to me.

My grandmother was born in the Depression, to poor farmers in rural Alabama. She was stubborn. She had to be. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at 36, and fought it for 15 years at a time when survival rates were dismal. Perseverance allowed her to see all three of her children married and know one of her grandchildren.

Last week, at the Indie Kindred screening someone asked me the story about becoming an artist. As I kept telling it, and realizing how long it actually is, I realized I have that same stubbornness she did.

I’ve been experimenting with different textures in the wax– you’ve seen some of them. Ink, graphite, different temperatures… each offers unique results. But I wanted this cobwebby delicate line, and nothing worked. I’ve seen it in other work, so I knew it was possible, but I didn’t quite know how to achieve it.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve scraped back dozens of paintings due to dismal results. But! Yesterday… Eureka!

I figured it out. And I love it.


933: Capable

Friday, September 20th, 2013

On Thursday, I bought one other thing from Jill the florist. But I never expected to show it to you.

It was a small Persian Buttercup, with layers of orange and yellow and white and a tiny dark green center. As I picked up the stem, I said to Jill, “This probably won’t last very long, but it’s so pretty– I can’t resist.”

She replied, “I don’t know, they’re stronger than they look. You might be surprised.”

It reminded me of one of my certainties again. I know that I’m capable of more than I give myself credit for. I tell this story about myself that I’m a delicate flower, or that I’m not very strong.

Then I break a couple of boards in TaeKwonDo or find myself telling a story and realize how many times I’ve persevered and suddenly I remember that I’m stronger than I think I am.

Saturday morning I got up, walked past this flower on my mantel and went to my promotion test for TaeKwonDo. I’m now a BLUE BELT! It means I’m officially no longer a beginner. And yesterday in class, that means I was held to a higher standard. I had to be a little faster, a little stronger and a little more fierce that I usually am.

So when I came home to see that flower still holding up perfectly four days later even with a few swats from the cat, I knew it was the painting for today. It’s stronger than it looks. And maybe I can let go of being a delicate flower, too.

Do you have any stories to let go?


932: Luck

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Number ten on my “19 things I know for sure” list is that we make our own family. This week has proven that over and over.

The Indie Kindred screenings, long talks in the car on the drive between Seattle and Portland, stories over tea and saying, “Have you heard this song?” at least twelve times.

All of these things are just part of how awesome this week has been. Because of this project, because of my work in the world, I get to have a week of wonderful like this.

Monday night onstage in Seattle, Kelly Barton said, “These women are my family.” And I felt so lucky. I was standing on stage with wonderful women who are my kindred.

Then today I stopped by my favorite little flower shop. I bought a pretty little succulent plant and spent nearly thirty minutes talking to the owner while we created the most beautiful little still life arrangement.

I’m so lucky that this is my work and my life.


931: Tradition

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Every year since 2007 I’ve had two painting traditions. I paint a self-portrait on my birthday and I paint the first fallen leaf.

Somehow I think of it like the first star of the evening. That first fallen leaf of the season is special. In a few weeks the leaves will be mushy and everywhere, but yesterday it was 96 degrees in Portland.

So when I saw that little red leaf on the sidewalk I was thrilled.



930: Fog

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Over the past couple of days, I’ve driven a lot. We went up to Seattle for the Indie Kindred screening Monday, and returned yesterday in time for the Portland screening last night. Both events were super!

Driving up though, there was a bit of fog. No big deal, it’s the Northwest after all. But I kept noticing how I could only see just what was right in front of me.

Yet, as I moved forward I could still see exactly what I needed to see. So I kept going forward. Just like this daily painting project. Or life.

There’s a little bit of bravery in trusting that the road ahead is there even on a foggy day. But with each bit of forward motion, we get to see exactly what we need to see to keep going.


929: Second Bloom

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

A house in my neighborhood has the most colorful yard I’ve ever encountered. The flowers fill every inch between the house and the street, and even creep over the fence on to the sidewalk.

Right along the fence is a cluster of big giant poppies. I see them every spring, but they only last a couple of weeks.

As the weather has gotten cooler here, I noticed one little bud in the shade by the fence. Last week, it burst open with a miniature version of those same giant poppies.

I had to reward its effort with a painting.