Monday, February 27, 2012

A Doodle Becomes a Series

Savannah Schroll Guz,
"Herringbone Shine" (2012)
watercolor, colored pencil, ink
on Strathmore 400 Series paper

It's strange, the series that are born from idle doodles. Well,  I suppose the first 'doodle' wasn't necessarily idle. I was starting to experiment with watercolor because I knew that I couldn't work forever in only black ink on white paper. My shop had begun to look monochromatic and bland *yawn*.  I also began experimenting because I wanted to stretch beyond what I was comfortable with, beyond what I knew. So, with my fingers hanging from my beltloops in an aisle of Hobby Lobby, I decided on a set of Niji watercolors. After some false starts, I've begun this series, which I've talked about here before. However, "Herringbone Shine" was just completed today.

Savannah Schroll Guz, "Sea Stars"
(2012), watercolor and ink on
Strathmore 400 Series paper

Watercolor itself is so, so different than acrylic. There is little room for error. Obviously, you can't simply paint over a portion you don't like without losing the gorgeous translucence that makes watercolors so visually appealing. Watercolor is almost like a thin scrim of fabric pulled over a light box. It glows from within. And I like these brilliant jewel tones. I remember having tried watercolor in college and having had a subtle dislike for it because I couldn't 'work' the colors. It had no bulk to build up or move around easily. I like to make the images I create with acrylic bend and shift. But watercolor...watercolor stains the paper and dries. Period. Plus if I did apply wet color on top of dry color, as I often do with acrylic, everything would go all muddy on me. A subtle veil of glaze (glaze = watered down pigment washed over an existing image painted on canvas), which usually covers a multitude of canvas-bound sins, simply doesn't work in watercolor. And, perhaps most disquieting, is that watercolor wrests control from the may not have intended for the pigment to explode into the surrounding moisture like a broken capillery, but it often does. And, as with ink, you have to work with that new pattern of pigmentation. So, not only can you not fix mistakes, you, as a watercolorist, must incorporate the accidental seeping of color or the mistaken brushstroke. All of this makes the artist--at least this artist--feel very vulnerable. But I'm starting to get the hang of things...I've got so much more to learn.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sunshine, Mini-Canvases, and Guz Bees T-Shirt....

There's a more substantial update to come very soon, but in the meantime, enjoy some pictures of a new work, a shot of the morning sun inside our house, and our new beekeeper t-shirts....

Sunshine in our hallway! Isn't it beautiful?
Savannah Schroll Guz, "Untitled Indigo", mixed media on mini-canvas
You can see it in my shop by clicking here!

Guz Bees T-Shirt! Just shipped from Vistaprint....

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bridge Implosions, mini-canvases, and new works....

Yesterday, around quarter after 7 in the morning, when Michael was in the shower, I heard a tremendous rumble, one that sounded like a thunderstorm was directly overhead. The house shook, and I stopped what I was doing (wrapping items for shipment) and said, "What the heck was that?" Michael asnwered, from the shower, "It sounded like thunder." And then we realized, almost at the same time, that it was the detonation of explosives used to demolish the Fort Steuben Bridge, a bridge that has linked Ohio and the northern panhandle for 90 years. It was a demolition that made national news last night.

When I realized that the local news station had rented a helicopter to capture footage, I felt immediately cynical, thinking that it only fed people's desire to see things blow up, like a real-life Jerry Bruckheimer film. The news anchors spoke about the multiple camera angles they had planned, how their correspondents were the only ones allowed close enough to take genuinely visible footage of the destruction. I continued to think how sad this was, that it reflects how much our culture is obsessed with pyrotechnics, deafening noise, and destruction rather than nuturing quiet, sustained creation. And I think there is truth to this, on some levels. However, when Michael sent me a link to the video of the bridge imploding, I realized that there is an art to destruction. Really, I mean it: the first few seconds of the bridge destruction are visually stunning. Specifically, before the bridge exploded, an orange line of light zipped across the floor, growing brighter for an instant at each ignition point. It lasted just a few seconds, but it was a kind of performance art in a way. You can see what I mean here: Fort Steuben Bridge Implosion Videos

Illustration for "Pigeon Lover"
appearing in The Famous &
The Anonymous
(BNS, 2004)
 In other news, I'm really excited to share that I sold three Famous and Anonymous illustrations to a very nice Bakersfield, California man, who read the book. He purchased the original illustrations for the front cover, the back cover, and the chapter illustration for the story, "Pigeon Lover".

I've also been working on conceiving some new illustrations for my story about the radium girls, which I titled "The Color of Silence is Radium Green". I originally wrote the story in response to a sci-fi prompt from a journal whose name I no longer recall. And I have a very specific 'film' reel in my head for the way story plays out. I just have to determine how best to divide the moving imagery I have--what stop-motion images should I focus on to effectively tell the story? And when we focus on each of the girls, especially Doreen who is both troublemaker and victim, how does she look, down to the last detail (especially since this is historical fiction and should have some basis in fact). I see the project as a single-edition booklet, graphically executed in a palette of greens and yellows.

Also, I've gotten a double packet of these! They're little mini-cavases that come with their own easels. They're tiny, but perfect for abstract works involving vintage buttons and sparkly sequins. Oooooo....I can't wait to get started on them!

 Finally, I've been using up my spare squares and rectagles of watercolor paper, and doing my daily Zen-ritual. Obviously, it's not genuine Zen, but it is my daily kind of meditation, which I've labeled my "illustration in an hour" series. In the most recent installament, below, I've incorporated India ink, colored pencils to the usual watercolor and ballpoint pen combination. It's made a darker, more dusk-like atmosphere for the stars to shine in, but in the process, I'm getting more used to working with media, with which I was less comfortable working before. It's exciting. Here's the newest work, called "Serpent Stars":

Savannah Schroll Guz,
"Serpent Stars" (2/21/12)
India Ink, watercolor, colored
pencil, ballpoint pen

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Camille and Claude and new work....

Monet, "Camille Monet, Death Portrait"
Right now, in the evenings, I'm reading the novel, Claude & Camille by Stephanie Crowley. In the portion I'm reading, he hasn't yet Camille, but is simply finding himself as a painter, having moved away from the somewhat lucrative production of caricatures to landscape painting on a challenge from the older painter Boudin. 

I find it a terrible twist of irony that Camille--who died of virtual starvation, tuberculosis, a botched abortion, or pelvic cancer, depending on whom you ask--never got to see Monet's success or experience the cuisine at Giverny, cuisine that was filled with more sugars and fats than she had likely seen since she was a child. When I started to study art history, my Mum bought Monet's Table, which is rich with photographs of Givery's lovely yellow and blue kitchen. Its blue and white delft tiles are bright in the mid-day sun, while shafts of light gleam on copper pots. Several images show the opulent dining room table heavy under the weight of food: big, goggle-eyed fish; jellied compotes; pots of butter. I didn't think about how terribly ironic Camille's death was until I saw her death portrait (pictured above) in my college Impressionism course. I remember my art history professor saying that Monet himself explained that he couldn't help but to paint her, when he saw her lying there, enshrouded. The light and shadows on her face were too beautiful. Certainly, I understand that people grieve differently, but that statement struck me as somehow insensitive, even back then, when I was in my early 20s. Giverny and its rich cuisine was still relatively far into Monet's future, but I then began to put together the difference between his life when Camille was alive with his life after Camille's death.

Claude Monet and his first wife, Camille Doncieux
Photo credit

I never got to see Giverny when I had the chance to visit Paris, since I was there in March (of 1998) and it closes for the winter for part of each year. I'd like to back and see the gardens that are dedicated to Camille, who was Monet's principal supporter in his leanest times, who ultimately gave her life for his art.

In my own studio, a few things are brewing: 1) a label for our honey products and 2) a watercolor and ink collage, or as I like to call it, 'fun with india ink and paper'. The honey label features my husband's paternal grandfather, known by the Polish nickname for grandpa, or 'Dziadek' (pronounced, at least in our family as "Judgie"). Originally, what was at the end of the reins was a large, black horse. I had a little fun with Photoshop and replaced the draft horse with a bee. We're raisining bees on the farm now and selling honey after all! Here are the images:

Guz Bees honey bottle label, featuring Thomas Guz
a.k.a. "Dziadek" (Polish for grandpa)

Savannah Schroll Guz, "Super Nature"
watercolor, india ink, ballpoint pen, paper collage

Monday, February 13, 2012

And back in 1999....

"Danny" 1999, acrylic, jute, paper, and ink
on canvas

The week before last, Michael and I went into Pittsburgh to visit my folks at my old apartment, which we've had since I was in graduate school, a period that is receding ever more rapidly into the past. While I was working on my thesis, and in between my on-campus jobs, I painted people I had known in Germany. This was part nostalgia, part reverse-homesickness. I came back from Germany in July 1998, we settled on the house in which the paintings now hang, and classes began all within the space of two weeks.

"Danny" here is based on the boyfriend of a friend from Israel, named Yasmin, with whom I've lost contact since I returned to the States. Danny came over to Munich from Tel Aviv twice to visit Yasmin. On his second visit, while we were at a Muenchner Freiheit bar, he told me, and I quote: "Savannah, your only problem is that you don't have legs up to your neck." Uh, okay. Thanks?

The bottom image, "Dead Boyfriends" is of a man who shall remain nameless. However, I'm sure he would recognize himself if he were to see it. But he hasn't, and he won't. Ha, fun.

The photos, taken with a cellphone camera, are less than stellar, but document stuff I forget about when I'm working on new things. They aren't seen often enough. I'd like to get them out more, but where to show....where to show? Plus the second one is huge and hard to move.
"Dead Boyfriend" (1998-99), acrylic, glass, and colored paper on
canvas. Size: the 3rd floor stairway wall at 613 Ivy Street

Detail of "Dead Boyfriend"

Thursday, February 9, 2012

New work....reading The Yellow House

Savannah Schroll Guz, "The Stars Shone Above Them" (2012)
watercolor, ink, paper
Last week, I began a series of "Illustrations in an Hour", my personal form of meditation. For sixty or so minutes, I go into my office, where my drafting table is located, and I freehand a design, then watercolor it, and finally augment it with ink. My first in the series appears at left. I'm working on a second (of course now more than an hour will have gone into its production), which I began yesterday while talking on the phone. Although it might seem like placing (relative) time constraints on the time in which a piece is produced would create stress, it actually serves as a Zen moment in a day that I usually have packed full of projects. Creat lecture notes, check. Two hours for syllabus creation, check. Two hours for book reviews, check. On the exercise machine by 1 p.m. (um, yeah, I'm a bit late with that today). Anyway, this brings a little color and sparkle to my daytime schedule and allows me to descompress for sixty minutes. Now, will they sell? Eh, who knows. I put them in my shop, but I'm not truly able to move any of my works. *shrugging*

     Speaking of that particular conundrum and the ability to sympathize with another person's serious difficulty, I'm reading Martin Gayford's The Yellow House, which describes the period of time, very close to the end of Van Gogh's life, in which he lived in a small rented house in Arles with Gauguin. It was dubbed the "Yellow House" because Van Gogh had it painted that color, both inside and out, before Gauguin arrived from Brittany. Gayford's work is highly descriptive and effectively communicates the frustrations of Van Gogh's life. He was absolutely unable, despite his brother Theo's best efforts as an art dealer, to get anyone to buy his work. Theo could move Gauguin's, but not Van Gogh's, which made Van Gogh increasingly anxious and prone to self-berating. Even Cezanne, who by that time had achieved significant notoriety, looked at Van Gogh's work and declared them to have been painted by a mad man. I can just imagine how absolutely disspiriting that kind of persistent rejection would have been. Combine that with his teasing by the local children and his failure to be included in shows other than the ones he organized himself in taverns, and it seems little wonder that his mental state deteriorated to such an extent. It was not more than a year later that he cut his ear after an argument with Gauguin and gave it to a favorite prostitute named Rachel for safe keeping (not as a gift as popular legend relates). The year after that, even with a visit to the Saint Remy asylum and a move to Auvers to be treated by Dr. Gachet, he fatally shot himself in the chest. And although he was able to walk home, he suffered for 29 hours before he died. Ironically, he had been praised that year in the Mercure de France for being "a genius", but I suspect the praise came too late. He had already been hallucinating for some time and had several relapses that February.

Vincent Van Gogh, "Starry Night Over the Rhone", 1888
      His painting style changed everything, everything after him.

     He's buried in Auvers, although this was not his original burial spot--he was disinterred and relocated when someone else bought Dr. Gachet's house (which, according to legend, involved hacking away the roots of tree that firmly gripped his coffin...another interesting tale involving an almost supernatural relationship to the chemical thujone, the principal intoxicant of absinthe and carried by the tree that gripped his coffin...but that's another story for antoher time). Somewhere I have a picture of his grave and that of his brother Theo's: they are buried side by side and covered in ivy. I went there with a friend when I visited Paris on a day when, sadly, the Absinthe Museum was closed.
     Now, back to book reviews. Check.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Since I have very few words right now, allow me to provide some images, or rather, a few videos. Here is who I am reading about now...troubled, fascinating, magnetic, sad. In the second video, she is definitely high.