My criteria for the Perfect Fall Leaf is that it contain every color of the season in one feuille. Obviously, as soon as I laid eyes on this beauty I knew I’d found perfection for this year’s Annual Fall Leaf Painting Tutorial (2013).
If in previous years you’ve followed my Annual Fall Leaf Painting Tutorial, you already know that after I’ve laid my leaf on 90-pound Canson watercolor paper and traced its entire outer edge, I divide the leaf into its “cells”. The secret to painting a Fall leaf is to paint it cell-by-cell.
I am using size 0 and 00 brushes and my cute little set of Windsor Newton watercolors here — the colors are very bright and rich. Let the watercolor dry throughly before you start a new cell.
This way, you can let the paint colors bleed into each other within each cell (see below, I’m letting my yellow paint bleed into the green)…
…and still keep all the other cells clean and bright and not muddied-up as you add to the leaf (cell by cell):
I’ll just let you watch for the next few frames as I paint in details, cell by cell:
I have to say that I find Fall Leaf Painting to be very relaxing, especially when I add the tiniest details.
The great thing about Fall Leaf Painting…
…is that in the end, you have a leaf that will never fade or crumble or get disgusting looking (tea bag included for scale):
This is especially true with oak leaves! Hoo boy, nothing dies faster and uglier than an oak leaf. That’s why I was overjoyed when I found an usually ripe oak leaf this year and was able to paint it before the poor thing went the way of all good (this being a botanical illustration, I am breaking out the Latin) Quercus o-kay eef-lays.
For more Fall Leaf Painting Tutorials, please check the Archives of this blog under Watercolor Tutorials. Sure, you might have to wade through some Cat Painting and a lot of Garden Painting and loads of Watercolor Failures that I’ve posted from time to time…but enjoy the browse and if you care to send me a note you can always reach me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com.
We love Pumpkin Time here on the shores of the Long Island Sound.
I detect a slight flaw in the Pumpkin Placement Plan here.
Pumpkin Time is a good time to remember the most lonely word in the English language: Orange. The color gets a bad rap for being garish and unfriendly but some of my favorite things in the world are orange.
Here are some pictures of City Orange from my outing yesterday:
Upper West Side brownstone.
Yes! I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday! The bridge is undergoing loads of restoration so it is u-g-l-y at the moment, but as you can see, the City of New York spares no expense in making tourists feel welcome!
Saki basement bar in the East Village.
And what Secret Garden would be complete without a touch of orange?
Which reminds me, we are painting a Secret Garden today:
Of course, it all starts with a pencil sketch and masking fluid:
I use folded sheets of scrap paper to cover up bits of the picture before I begin to paint the gravel:
When the base paint is dry, I put my toothbrush to good use (which, in between the three times a day I use it for dental hygiene, lays around doing absolutely nothing). I load it up with a mix of grey and black watercolor and then I flick it at the illustration:
This is not really my Dental Hygine Toothbrush. This is my Dedicated Paint Flicking Toothbrush.
Let dry, and voila:
Here’s a painting tip: I save the bottle caps of Top Cat’s favorite GatorAid to use as mixing pans.
To get the many shades of green I need for a garden illustration I mix three different hues of green with two different hues of yellow and/or three different hues of blue. BUT to get the pure yellow that I prefer for my painting I mix two different yellows — Cadmium Yellow and Lemon Yellow. (Alone, Cadmium Yellow is too orange and Lemon Yellow is too bright). And I keep my pure yellow isolated in a GatorAid bottle cap because I can’t be trusted to keep them clean if I put them in a palette-thingy.
Here is where I add some detail to the background wash:
For this illustration I wanted to try out an idea I had, about using some blue in the foliage, maybe to get a more dream-like effect:
I am still using my chalky Grumbacher paints mixed with the tubes of Windsor Newtons, mostly because I love what the chalky paints do when they dry. They leave an interesting residue on the paper, interesting textures that are purely accidental that I really like:
I am thinking that for this picture I want to leave the foliage looking very watercolory, like this:
So far, I am quite happy with the way this picture is going. So now I start to add plants:
I’m being careful not to over-do it:
But here is where I ruined it all:
I tried to paint tree trunks in ochre, which was bad enough, but then I made the mistake of painting them with straight lines. I knew it was wrong immediately. I was instantly unhappy with these wimpy, ugly tree trunks. But still, I thought I could soldier on, finesse the picture with other distracting details:
But those tree trunks just kept bothering me. So, i finally had to ditch the whole picture, having admitted what I knew all along: There is no rescuing a picutre that has a fatal flaw:
Several days later, I went back and had another go at it. The steps were exactly the same as above, but the end was this:
You can compare for yourself:
Yes, the sad fact is that whenever you try something new, there’s a 80% chance that you will blow it. But hey: it’s only a bit of paper and paint. That doesn’t stop me from taking a whack at something new. And, for those times when making a crappy illustration feels too much like failure, there’s always champagne.
One of these days I hope to work up the nerve to paint my favorite time of day:
Twilight in Pumpkin Time.
I love the low light of a Fall evening:
I have to learn how to paint this most beautiful shade of orange. In fact, I think that when we finally invent a word that rhymes with orange, and it must have something to do with this quality of light:
I’m thinking that “floringe” might be the word, to describe the look of artificial lights glowing in a Fall evening. Floringe would be used especially in the case of the lights that shine from the inside out:
The lights that are seen from a distance:
To extrapolate, then, floringe, as the wisp of illumination that almost holds its own against the night, floringe could also be the word used when a blog goes dark.
Yes, dear readers, it’s that time.
I have been blogging for six years. My blog has evolved from a really crappy stream-of-concisouness diary into a weekly presentation of what I hope is interesting and useful and honest information and about the trials and errors of living a creative life. I take a lot of pride in making my blog live up to the intelligence and humanity of my community of readers, dear readers, many whose stories and names and cats I have come to know and treasure, as friends and inspiration. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
And in the same way that I know when my painting lacks necessary oomph, I know when my blog is running out of steam. As both painter and blogger, sometimes I have to get away and be more of a person living in the world than a person who observes it.
So. I will not be here next Friday, or the next. Or the next. I will be writing my Damn Garden Book full time, and showing up as a Commentor on my favorite blogs — if you are not reading The Miserable Gardener you are missing the best gardening blog written by a pure bred border collie ever — and herding my cats. Doing what I can to gather steam.
I do plan on being back in the blogosphere, someday, say, January 1, the start of a New Year. If I were to re-start a blog, that seems like a good time. I might even post something here from time to time, so please drop by. I’ll have to post updates about theDamn Garden Book, of course — I’m under contract to finish it sometime in 2014. And you can always reach me at vivianswift at yahoo dot com, because I do want more garden photos. We’ll stay in touch.Because when a blog goes dark, it only goes floringe.
Meaning, there’s always a light left on. You’ll always be able to find your way to my door.
This is why I am illustrating my Damn Garden Book instead of photographing it:
This (above) is the entrance to the Secret Garden belonging to my neighbor (and most excellent Chilled Wine Cocktail On The Patio Hostess). You have to walk through the wooden doorway to get to this:
Now, if I were a mere photographer I could only give you, the viewer and eventual Dear Reader of the Damn Garden Book, one or the other view of this nifty Secret Garden. GOOD THING I am an illustrator and in possession of an Artistic License. So I can give you both views at once:
I apply masking fluid with a tooth pick:
And I use my second-fattest paint brush to lay in some sunlight:
In this illustration I will be working mostly from the back to the front, laying in background foliage before I hit the foreground:
I’m adding detail now:
Working the middle ground now:
Something told me that I could stop here…
…but a pain in the ass little voice urged me to go on, put in some really dark, dark background:
Tree branch-painting time:
Before removal of the masking fluid:
After removal of the masking fluid:
Painting in the blank bits left by the removal of the masking fluid:
(Yeah, the lantern looks wonky. That will be a later fix-up.)
Hmmmm….I think the dark stuff adds punch to this illustration, and the view is definitely more narrative than anything a mere photograph of the garden could relate….but I think that for my next illustration I will see if I can leave it at the point where something tells me that I can stop here (see above).
This (below) is what is at the far end of that little walkway into my neighbor’s Secret Garden:
I’ll be painting this for you next week and, being as I have either already had a shot at painting this or I can time travel, I already know that it does not go well. But try, try again is my motto. Stay tuned.
Speaking of try, try again, do you recall when I painted this Annie E. Casey Seattle Waterfall Garden for you?
I took another look at it and found that it was lacking in narrative. So I futzed around with it and…
…yes, that female figure is a cut-and-paste (literally). To get a model for that figure, I pulled a chair to the bottom of our living room stairs and I asked Top Cat to stand on the fifth stair and take a photo of me. Photos, of course, lie. The figure of me was foreshortened (as photos tend to do) so I had to improvise in getting the legs right even though I know I would cover them up with a cut-and-paste fern frond.
Tricks of the trade.
Thank you to the many Dear Readers who have sent me photos of their Secret Gardens. If this post gives you an idea of how I will be presenting your garden, should I decide to include it in the Damn Garden Book, I hope this encourages more of you to send me your snaps. And even if you can’t get Fluffy or Fido to post in the actual garden, or there’s a particular bit that won’t fit in a frame, feel free to include that too. As you can see, I am not limited by Earthly geography.
In fact, I think photography is the reason so many garden books are so damn boring. You can’t possible get a great garden captured in lousy photos. There’s always something that gets hidden, or overlooked, or cropped, or foreshortened. I’ve seen photos of famous gardens I’ve been to…
… and they never get it right.
Illustrated Garden Book to the rescue.
Feel free to discuss the awesomeness of illustration over photography.
Breaking News: Congratulations Canada! Couldn’t happen to a nicer country: Alice Munro wins the Nobel Prize for Literature! I’ve been meaning to read her short stories and ow, well, I’m just going to HAVE to.
Other hot literary news: William Todd Schultz has a new book about Portland (OREGON) singer/songwriter Elliot Smith called Torment Saint.
If you know about Elliot Smith then I don’t have to tell you that he was the thinking man’s Kurt Cobain (without the skanky wife but with similar tragic end). William Todd Schultz is an acclaimed author of biographies about Diane Arbus and Truman Capote AND we share the same literary agent — the sainted Betsy Lerner — and the same editor at Bloomsbury — the inimitable Kathy Belden. (Yeah, I know, it’s a miracle I’m in that kind of company but the big DoG in the sky looks out for morons.) And if you are in Seattle on October 29, you can see William todd Schultz discuss Elliot Smith at Town Hall with Mark Baumgarten, author of Love Rock Revolution.
I know that some of my Dear Readers are dyed-in-the-wool Seattle hipsters and I KNOW you’ll be there.
See you next Friday. (It is chilly here on the shore of the Long Island Sound. One day it was Summer and the very next day there were Autumn leaves on the ground and wooly sweaters over the shoulders and no Qantas airplanes flying overhead. Bummer.)
So first, we drew le chat reduced to its lumpy, adorable snowman-like proportions:
Then I found an image of a really cuuuuute kitty on the internets:
She is of course la Lizzie Cosette of the marmeladegypsy blog. I drew Lizzie in snowman-esq style, just to rough out her shape:
I filled in a few shadows, to familiarize myself with her markings and stuff..
…and then I traced the bare outlines of that sketch onto watercolor paper:
The paints that I’ll be using for most of the color in this kitty portrait are grey (Davy’s Gray in the tube) and my trusty ancient Grumbacher watercolors:
I will mix these colors right on my brush, getting various shades of brownish-grey, blackish-grey, and rusty-grey as needed, and for the most part I’m going to let the pint and the water do what it wants to do:
I do love the chalky texture of these paints.
I am going to start with the face because if I don’t get the face right I will trash the whole thing and start over. So I will work quickly to get some black markings in on top of wet brownish-grey:
I painted the eyes in and, before the paint got too dry…
…I laid in some black around the eye, but I didn’t let it bleed as much as before because bleeding colors is OK for getting a nice effect for fur, but this is not fur:
For the inside of Miss Lizzie’s ear, I used a very pale blueish-grey:
I used the same blueish-grey to paint Lizzie’s chin and I let it dry….
…and then I went back with my paint brush dipped in clear water to “pick up” the paint. I do this because I want a very delicate shading effect here, and subtracting paint is a good way to make an area look outlined, but painterly:
OK, I think I got the face alright, so now I’m going to start painting the fur. Lizzie is a tabby tuxedo, so to give shade to her white bits I use a very watery light blue wash. I just like the look of a very light blue shadow to indicate whiteness:
And, again, I’m going to work wet-in-wet, that is, I’m going to dab some brown and black and grey into the very wet blue wash, to get a nice watercolor effect:
All that, above, is done before any of the paint has a chance to dry. I’m not going to over-do the fur…I’m going to leave the body impressionistic. But I am going to get a lot of detail in the punim because she is soooooo cute:
I’m not painting the whiskers — I don’t have a brush fine enough and also, I like the look of pencil here:
And now I check it against my reference photo. It looks to me that I placed Lizzie at slightly the wrong angle on the paper; she’s leaning too far to the right. To correct that, all I have to do is crop the paper:
That’s better. Also, I notice that I’ve made one ear too pointy, so I go back and add some round-ness:
And I’m going to add a sliver of height to her darling little head between them adorable ears:
And I have to add some white paint over some brownish-grey stuff I painted on her cheek (I erased the penciled-in whiskers on that side before I painted, FYI):
Then I beef up her Cleopatra eye liner:
Add the whiskers back in:
Smooch, smooch, smooch. I love kitties.
Now, I did not paint cats like this from the get go. In my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, I put in the two cat portraits that were actually the first cats I ever painted:
These girls are on page 178, for those of you reading along.
These are the Sweetie Sisters, Candy and Honey, sister cats that I adopted from the New Rochelle Animal Shelter when they were senior citizens, turned in when their long-time human companion died. I was told they were 13 years old. They lived with me for three more years, and they were the sweetest girls EVER, and they passed away within six months of each other.
I am showing you these cats because they are sweet cats and because I think these are good cat paintings. What they lack in technique and drafting skill they make up in lopsided charm and wonky humor. I kind of wish I weren’t so compulsive and conformist and could continue to paint lumpy cats like this …. but you can! If you can’t paint a Lizzie cat today, I bet you can paint a wonderful dough-girl. Let me know!
And because I happen to think that tabby tuxedo cats are the coolest cats in the world, let me show you the coolest tabby tuxedo cat in the universe:
This is Larry.
He is English.He has a very important job in the cabinet of Prime Minister David Cameron.
No, it’s not as Goodwill Ambassador. The story is that Larry is kind of ornery and he doesn’t like many people but he did take a shine to President Obama, only of course when the cameras started clicking god forbid that Larry give evidence that he can be a nice cat.
Larry’s job title is Official Mouse Catcher at 10 Downing Street.
He is said to be very, very good at his job.
But he has to be reminded, every now and then…
… that he’s supposed to catch mice INSIDE the house, not out.
Larry thinks to himself…”You call this door service????”
And now for something completely different:
I am looking for your photos of your Secret Garden. I now understand that if I were a gardener I would not have waited until FALL to ask for pix but as I do not even own a house plant, you can see that I am brainless when it comes to horticulture. That’s why I need your help.
I would love to see your garden photo (I guess I assumed that gardeners take photos of their creations just for the joy of it all year round and always have pix handy) OR a photo of any place that you consider “your” Secret Garden.
Yes, if your jardino secreto seems to be a good fit for my Damn Garden Book, I will do an illustration of it (and capture the process for a future blog) and it will be published in hard copy, with of course attribution to the Dear Reader.
So please send me photos of your refuge/still center of a turning world/secret garden to:
vivianswift at yahoo dot com.
How happy will I be to receive your photos? This happy:
So, it’s Friday evening and I’ve poured myself a nice cold of Pinot G., and I’ve met my deadlines for the week (yes, Dear Readers, sometimes people actually pay me to write, even if it’s a fraction of what freelance writing used to be able to command back before blogging cheapened the value of the wri….oh. Wait. Never mind.) and you and me can discuss the crucial issues of the day.
Namely, Summer is over. I watched it go, sitting in my backyard, at 4:44 pm Daylight Savings Time on the Long Island Sound Sunday, Sept. 22. More of a bummer this year than usual. Don’t get me started.
I did not pick up a paintbrush this whole past week (spent all my time wordsmithing, you know) but I do have something worthy to show you from a spot of painting (let us all now assume English accents) from yonder fortnight.
Two weeks ago I was working on an illustration of the beloved children’s tale, Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter is my idol when it comes to illustration, and I have a chapter on London Gardens in my work in progress, the Damn Garden Book, so I was not going to miss the opportunity to reference my childhood infatuation with All Things English, starting with Peter Rabbit.
You know the story. For my illustration, I had to get the lay of the land, namely farmer MacGregor’s garden:
The wondrous Beatrix illustrated it as a walled garden on the edge of a woods. And my favorite scene:
Voila, Le Chat. (they call them moggies in England, by the way.) See how this ties into our whole Paint a Cat saga?
So, here is my interpretation of Peter Rabbit at this most crucial part of the whole story of Peter Rabbit:
(I have blocked out the left hand side for future text, FYI.)
As soon as the paint dried on this thing I knew there was a problem with the cat but I didn’t know what.
I put it away for 48 hours, took a fresh look at it, and it hit me like Thumper:
The cat’s head is too small. Of course!! That’s why it looks more like an ermine than a C-A-T.
But the thing had already been painted, and it’s watercolor, so o lordy, what to do?
I am now going to tell you, Dear Readers, a Trick of the Trade.
All I did was paint a new (right) cat on a separate bit of Canson 90 pound cold press paper (the only paper I use — I love love love this paper) . Then I cut it out, and glued it over the ermine, like thus:
Here’s a close up:
I know from experience that when this picture is scanned for print and published in a book, the fact that it’s a cut out will never register with the reader:
In fact, if I am not about tell blab about it right now, you probably would never have noticed that Peter himself is a cut out, pasted in front of the MacGregor garden in the background:
And you know what? I feel A-OK about this because I have recently discovered that our darling Miss Potter did the exact same thing back in the day when she was watercoloring her way to immortality.
Take a look at this illustration below:
See that DoG? Look closely:
Yep. He’s a cut out. Underneath that Pomeranian, probably, is some small-headed Pug that gave the delightful Miss P. second thoughts.
Thank you, Dear Readers, for your kind messages re: the lateness of this post. I have cleared the decks for some real cat painting tomorrow, so count on it that next Friday there will be actual cat painting on this blog. As most of you know by now, the insanely cute kitty that I plucked from the internets is not some unknown moggie but our own dear sweet Lizzie Cosette, familiar of The Marmelade Gypsy blog.
We also happily welcome back our gumnut Baby Reader, Bev from Australia, just back from her month-long visit to Paris. I really, really want to learn how to speak French with a Strine accent.
And Nancy V., thank you for your timely note of encouragement. It got me here today.
Last Sunday Top Cat took me into a magical woods on the southern shore of the Long Island Sound…
…otherwise known as The Gold Coast of Ye Olde Long Island…
…where Ye Olde Money of yore transplanted ancient yew trees from the Olde Worlde to make Instant Stately Homes (now gone to ruin)…
…and where the haunted forest is reclaiming ye olde acres of lawns into native wild flower meadows once more…
…where I came upon yon ancient cottage…
…which beckoned me to pause…
…and consider its perfectness as a refuge from the madding world…
…where I could gather inspiration from nature and light and where cats could roam free…
…but there was just one little problem…
…scale. For this magical realm goes by the name of The Muttontown Preserve (I’m not making this up) and it encompasses the last American address of — I’m not making this up — King Zog, the last, deposed monarch of Albania and I conjecture that ye Ole King had a young Princess for whom nothing would do but she had a play house in the American Colonial vernacular.
I can not tell you how much I want this house. If you hear about some crazy cat lady claiming that she is the reincarnation and rightful heiress of the late great King Zog — that’ll be me, staking my claim to this itty bitty ranch house in Muttontown. I’m not making this up.
But speaking of crazy cat ladies…
…it’s time to draw us some kitty cats!
OK. Here’s how I decided was the best way to share my minuscule amount of knowledge of the visual arts, of which I am not a certified practitioner of. First, I am going to show you how I draw a cat from memory:
I start with a bottom-heavy oblong shape:
Then I add hips — by the way, I’m doing this from memory to make a point:
The point is that since I have been looking at cats my whole life I have internalized the basic structure of Le Cat:
And as you can see, the basic structure is no more complicated than that of a snowman:
So really, when I paint a cat, I don’t actually have to sketch out this blueprint — it’s already “on the paper” before I pick up a brush:
But I am showing you the building blocks that I visualize when I look at a cat:
And when I say “sketch”, I don’t mean make those crappy wispy wimpy scritching marks that a lot of people do when they “sketch” — I mean commit yourself to making a strong, unequivocal line:
Voila, The Cat. Now, to make a cat head on, you use the exact same strategy…but let’s go through the basics of the dear little kitty face:
OK. So, now we’ll make another snowman:
And we’ll erase some lines to make the kitty face front:
I hope you can see that drawing a cat isn’t all that hard. But it’s something that every cat lover should know how to do, in case of emergency:
I like this kitty’s little smile. But really, those ears? That tail? Those dangling front legs?
I got this Lost Cat poster from a new book that I just started reading:
It’s very cute and I recommend it. But it got me thinking….how can I apply my cat-snowman lesson to a real life cat?
So I found a really cute cat from the internets:
And now all I have to do is interpret this cutie as a kitty snowman:
You see? All I had to do was get the basic building blocks of this sweet kitty to start her portrait. Again, I have to say, this is a drawing of what I usually only visualize before I start to paint. It took me a long time before I understood that the time I spend just thinking about what I’m going to paint before I paint makes all the difference between a good painting and one that is a crap shoot, so yes, I spend a fair amount of time visualizing. I’m just saying.
Next, I picture the particular markings that make this sweet kitty her own self. She’s a darling tuxedo tabby, which in my mind looks like this:
Then I plot out where the dark and the light spots are:
And now I’m ready to paint.
Which I will do next week. I will paint this adorable sweet kitty girl and show you how I do it, brush stroke by brush stroke.
However, if you are new to cat painting, you can draw your kitty like I did, and do a nice watercolor wash over your pencil drawing and it will look really nice too. I would have done this to my pencil drawing here but I ran out of time this week. SORRY.
As for an update on the Damn Garden Book that I’ve been working on lo these many moons: I’m asking you, dear readers, for help.
I need your photos of Secret Gardens, preferably yours, to put in my Damn Garden Book.
For example, my lovely neighbor Joann has a darling secret garden that looks like this:
If you would like to have your Secret Garden included in my Damn Garden Book, and you are willing to answer my Secret Garden Questionnaire (sample question: Does your Secret Garden have a name?) stay tuned.
Next week I will tell you where to send your fab fotos and secrets and how to get your garden and your name in the Damn Garden Book.
But now I want to take this time to answer some questions that arose from last week’s post, about the London garden watercolor I did:
1. Why did you paint this front-to-back?
I panted it front-to-back because I was thinking like an embroiderer. Long before I picked up a paintbrush, I used to embroider gardens all the time. Here are two embroidered gardens from my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam:
So, in painting like an embroiderer, I painted each little plant in a different texture, which can only be done front-to-back. For the background of my London garden illustration, however, I knew I wanted a more impressionistic look, so that I painted back-to-front…
…and if you go back and look at my step-by-step photos last week you’ll see that the front-to-back painting and the back-to-front painting eventually met up in the middle ground and voila: the illustration was finished!
P.S. to Alexandra. Yes, this did increase the drying time down-time. But I was working on another illustration while I waited for my London garden watercolor to dry. And yes, I took photos of that too, which I will show next week. Here’s a hint:
2. What are those little clay pots on the poles for?
I’m glad that Jeannie and Kate asked this question, and I’m soooooo glad that Patricia answered it (in the Comments section last week) because I had no idea. I saw them there on those poles and I thought they looked cute, so I included them in the illustration.
3. Why don’t you put all your watercolor lessons all together in a book?
Thank you, Whimsy2 and Susie for asking. As a matter of fact, I am thinking more and more along those lines myself. A dear reader (GG, you know who you are) has emailed me a file that she collected, with a great many of my past watercolor lessons on it, and yes I think I just might sort through them and put out a How I Done It book. And for the Damn Garden Book that I am currently working on I plan to paint a secret garden (see above) and photo the work in progress. I think that would be neat to show. It might even be your secret garden (see above).
4. Mary asks, How do you know that that plane flying over your back yard is the 6:05 Qantas from LAX?
I know because I have actually downloaded the app that gives me real-time arrival info on every airliner landing at JFK International airport in Queens, New York. That’s how much I love plane spotting in my back yard.
And now, for the Winner of our fabuloso Elizabeth Gilbert The Signature of All Things Give Away:
Top Cat picked : Melissa! Melissa, please send me your snail mail address at vivianswift at yahoo dot com and I will send you this beautiful book a s a p. Melissa is a new dear reader — welcome!
As a writer/illustrator who doesn’t want to bore my dear blog readers I tend to focus on the illustrating party of my work because if I wrote about writing all you’d see is …
… yeah, that: Me sitting around thinking.
For the record, I have never ever chewed on a pen, pencil, quill, or crayon. Ew. Ew. Ewwwwwwwwww. I mean, if I were oblivious to the germs that accumulate on writing instruments I’d just lick the surface of my desk for oral gratification.
But getting back to writing, in this past week there has been a big development in my writing career that I will take a moment to tell you about before we get back to the fun and pix of illustrating.
Last week I got some wonderful negative feedback from both my agent and my editor, who both identified the same weakness in the manuscript of the Damn Garden Book. They are both very smart readers (naturally, since it’s their calling in life to read and make books) and they both zero’d in on the same blind spot, a fatal flaw that I had been oblivious to, about what was not working in my narrative. I am ever so thankful that they were honest enough to point it out to me.
I won’t go into what the criticism was. You’d have to have read the first three chapters of the manuscript to get it and I’m sure you don’t want me to go into that kind of detail but here’s a promise: When I do a book event for the Damn Garden Book in your town and you come and sit in the front row, you can ask me what the fatal flaw was and I will hold up the visual aid (the Damn Garden Book) show you book, chapter, verse how it could have gone oh, so wrong. We’ll laugh and commiserate and think deep thoughts about the mystery of the writer’s craft and then go out for a glass of Pinot Grigiot.
As a result of this fine negative information that was gifted to me last week, I have to reboot the DGB. Here is a picture of a writer, thinking very hard about her reboot:
Come to think of it, that pose — with pen/pencil/quill at the mouth — is probably just illustration shorthand for “thinking really hard”. So yes, this past week I have been gleefully tearing apart my manuscript, putting pages in a new order (which is why I always use a loose-leaf notebook to hold my manuscript: makes it very mutable) and deleting great swaths of text and writing new bits of exposition…
…which would be very dull to write about almost impossible to photograph. If I wanted to bore the dear readers of this blog I might as well blog about unpacking from that road trip to the Delaware Bay that I took two weeks ago:
Which I have not yet actually fully un-packed from. Yes, when I go on a car trip I haul out my biggest, ugliest suitcase and pack it with my own comforter and pillows because I do not use hotel blankets and pillows. Ew. Ew. Ewwwwwwwwww. (See: above, re: chewing on pens, pencils, etc.). As you can see, when Penelope decides that this un-packed suitcase is her new favorite place to nap well, then, that suitcase stays un-packed until it becomes a hazard to life and limb (I’ve already tripped over it once, in the dark, when I forgot that there was a big stonking suitcase in the doorway between the dining room and the living room).
I took this picture last week, one week after than the one above it. I could walk into my living room right now and take anothear pic just like it.
Honest to DoG, I just took this pic, a WEEK after the one above: That black lump on the EMpire-style chair is Cindy and that’s Taffy, eyeing the Sweet Spot from under the coffee table.
And we all know that as long as Lickety and/or Taffy and Cindy are hovering nearby, dying to take their own turn on this amazing new fabulously comfortable napping hot spot, Penelope will never, never relinquish control of the big stonking suitcase, which will probably rot in this corner of the livingroom before I have the heart to take it way from her. (See: nice Empire-style chair, above, re: how I let these cats re-purpose every object in this house including, now, suitcases.) Which reminds me:
I want to take this opportunity to apologize to the universe for the six doses of Frontline I use every month in May, June, July, August, September, and October. For two tablespoons-worth of Frontline (approx. equivalent to a tea bag’s worth of tea), I generate this much trash, most of it plastic:
This ought to be a crime. This is excessive packaging and I hate it..but what can I do? Fleas are nasty and disgusting and germy and give my cats scabs (See:above, re: chewing on pens, pencils, etc.).
Universe, please forgive me.
And now, without further ado, let’s paint!
I had already painted most of the rock face before I thought of taking photos.
But Step One was prepping this picture with masking fluid:
And here’s how to paint small falls of water (I’m using a combination of light blue and greenish-blue):
First, I brush in strokes of clear water:
And then I drop the paint into the water:
I like the effect, very watercolor-y. I’m just letting water and paint do what they do when you put them together. (I also leave small areas of dry white paper showing.)
I had intentionally left some of the rock face unpainted so it would make a soft boundary to the water:
When I paint rock (which, by the way, I LOVE to do), I paint one rock face at a time. Here is how I do it: I brush in clear water on an area (let’s call it a “cell”) that I have drawn as a surface:
I am using my beloved cheapo Grumbacher paints here because with all the chalk filler in them, they blend really well (that is to say, they don’t really blend well at all, which is what I like) when I drop them into the “cell” that I have prepared for them. I mix four color right on my little bitty brush — blue, black, brown, and grey/flesh:
Here is what happens when you lightly drop your brush, which is loaded with paint, into a “cell” that is full of clear water:
I go back a dab in some black on the edges, and then I let dry. Where I used a lot of brown to paint that bit of rock (above), here I am going with more of a blue-grey color:
You never know what you are going to get! Well, sure, you can control the areas that need to be light or dark, blue or brown (so that the whole rock face makes sense), but within each “cell” you ever know how it’s going to dry — look at all that texture and interest that is in each rock:
And yes, you can see that I had to write “ROCK” with arrows on this drawing so I didn’t get confused as to what was rock and what was waterfall. Also, you can see that I have now lifted of the masking fluid that I had previously put down…I changed my mind on how I wanted this main section of waterfall to look.
Truth is, I had never painted a waterfall before I did this picture, so I did some preliminary sketches:
I tried out several different ways of painting a waterfall, and I cut out bits so I could hold them against what I’ve already painted to see how it would look. In the end, I decided to go for a much loser effect that did not require masking fluid:
And then I painted the rest of the picture:
This is one of the best things about re-booting the Damn Garden Book…
…I can open up the scope of the book, thanks to the wonderful negative criticism I got last week.
And to answer a dear reader’s question last week…no, the title of the Damn Garden Book is not The Damn Garden Book. I call all of my books-in-progress the Damn [fill in the blank] Book because most of the time that’s how I feel about all my books-in-progress. They are such a damn pain in the ass to write, and I wish they would write their damn selves,but they are, in the end, the best pain-in-the-assy things I’ve ever done.
I have a totally different working title for the Damn Garden Book which my agent and editor use. I don’t make them say “Damn Garden Book”.
And, to answer another FAQ, no, Top Cat does not take these photos. I take them myself. I use my right hand to hoist the camera, point, shoot, and hope I catch something useful. Half the photos I take are useless.
I was very happy to paint this new illustration because this is one of the most delightful consequences of receiving that wonderful negative criticism last week and opening up the narrative …
I get to add Seattle to the Damn Garden Book!!
This is the famous and beautiful Waterfall Garden Park in downtown Seattle. (I had to leave empty space for text, TBA.)
Dear Readers, I hope that you are all making it a point to head out to a local garden park to experience these last fine moments of Summer 2013. Top Cat and I spent a fine Saturday evening at Morgan Park here on the North Shore of Long Island:
I rarely take a vacation from blogging, dear readers, but between this Damn Garden Book re-boot and these final perfect days of Summer, I must call Time Out.
I am taking the next two weeks off, dear readers, to both get stuff done and do nothing. I forgot to tell you that in spite of the things that my publisher wants fixed about the Damn Garden Book, the DGB is a GO and the sooner I write the damn thing, the sooner it will appear in stores and libraries. I also want to hang out with men in kilts (the Long Island Scottish Games are this weekend), and re-boot my brain.
I will leave the Comments section open until Sept. 6 so please feel free to leave a comment or question about writing, illustrating, cats, or tea, or whatever. Because I will check in often and use my spiffy new Reply function to answer any and all queries; as for the future of this blog, I have a tutorial all about painting cats already planned for Sept 13…
…and a new tutorial called Why It Is So Hard To Copy An Oil Painting In Watercolor:
But, as there are only so many Summer sun sets until Autumn, I must bid you all a fond See You Later, and hope to see each one of you back here on September 13.
Now get out there and goof off!
It is December, 1966. I am ten years old and in sixth grade at North Willow Grove Elementary School. In a parallel universe there is a girl my age with perfect hair walking to school with her little sister:
In this parallel universe this girl’s name is Elizabeth Terry (although it appears that we use the same Lennes Arithmetic book):
(N. J.Lennes was the chairman of the mathematics dept. at The University of Montana, a fact that I was not aware of until I googled it five minutes ago.) Yes, I drew this picture when I was ten years old in December 1966 (I dated the pic on the back). From the same year I also have two short stories that I wrote and illustrated, both with a main character named Peggy Anne who lives in Oklahoma and made friends with a new girl who had just moved from Canada.
When I was ten years old I thought Oklahoma was the coolest state in the union but I don’t remember why. I am not showing you those two short stories, which I made into chapbooks, because it creeps me out: I have to tell you that it does not give me any pleasure to look at this old stuff. Me and Johnny Rotten both agree (and if you have not read Johnny Rotten’s memoir, titled Rotten, you are missing out on a memoir that speaks to my heart and soul): we hated being children.
It’s not about having a sad, bad, or dangerous childhood. Me and Johnny Rotten were born old souls and neither one of us has anything good to say about being trapped in that powerless, dependent, and repugnant phase of life called childhood. I hated being a child, hate it with a white-hot a fury that incinerates my peace of mind even now, 40 years after the fact, and to this day I don’t like being around things or people who remind me of it .
However, in spite of the fact that it floods me with memories of a terrible time of my life, I can look at that drawing of mine from 1966 and see that I had pretty good draftsmanship for a ten year old. Yes, I always knew I could draw. Yes, I used to amaze the dim wits in my elementary school that I could draw FREEHAND, especially since I’m a leftie. No, I do not remember deriving any particular satisfaction from the fact that I could draw well.
Which brings me to the Thought Of The Day.
Drawing well is the worst thing that can happen to an artist.
Thomas Kinkade, the so-called Painter of Light, whose over-priced mass-produced “art” hangs on the wall of one in 20 American households, could draw.
I’m picking on him because he is dead and I do not want to call a living artist (oh, honey, I could name names…) banal … but sadly, that’s the trap of being able to draw well. It’s like being born beautiful. Pretty girls don’t have to dig deep to find a personality or an I.Q.; good draftsmen don’t have to dig deep to find their own unique style. Pretty girls and good draw-ers tend to be bo-o-o-o-o-o-o-ring.
Claude Monet couldn’t draw…that’s why he invented impressionism:
Edward Gorey himself said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, March 2, 1986…
“Sometimes I think my life would have been completely different id I had ever learned to draw.”
Edward Gory: All his people look the same, he draws them wearing fur coats and in profile so he doesn’t have to bother with clothes or faces, his “settings” are rudimentary…and yet, his work oozes with portent and depth and connotations…
Maira Kalman can’t draw either:
Really? This is the best you can do with freaking OMAHA BEACH????
Maira Kalman: Can’t draw a recognizable human figure, doesn’t have a hint of perspective, can’t even draw a believable TREE … but her work is saturated with nuanced color, and humanism, and yes, love.
Maira Kalman and Edward Gorey are two of the most famous, beloved, successful artists around because they had to go beyond draftsmanship and create style.
So, if you can not draw as well as the ten year old me (see above), STOP TRYING. And start looking at what you can do well, what you can do really, really well — color, subject matter,composition, point of view, etc. — and let that be your springboard to make the art that only YOU can do.
Meanwhile, here’s what I did this past week to make my art a little less banal:
I’m working on a memory of a Brazilian garden for my Damn Garden Book. At first, I painted it like this:
But this did not seem true to my memory of it. So I hit upon the idea to represent it more like a true memory:
Yes, I sliced it. (Truth to tell, I sliced it and then painted over bits of it, and then re-constructed it whole for the blog — which is why there are some subject matter discrepancies in the “before” shot, if you know what I mean.) Now the image looks more memory-like and the text will look interesting on the page.
I liked this idea of slicing up an image so much that I did it for all of my Brazil illustrations, and even tried it out on a banal picture of Long Island:
Maybe I’ll make a collage-type page out of it:
But maybe not. Maybe I’ll have to re-do the whole thing. It’s a work-in-progress.
Speaking of collage, I did a flower for my Brazil garden, the Datura metel:
This flower blooms at night, so the only way I could show it on a night-timey background was to paint it, and then cut it out, and glue it onto a watercolored background. Yeah, I’m pretty good with the scissors, considering that I cut right-handed. I can’t use left-handed scissors, although I can only use my left hand if I’m cutting with a mat knife, which I had to use in this case to get at some of those small bits between blossom and petal.
Next week I will have some news about the Damn Garden Book, having heard from my editor and publisher about the first three chapters that I sent to them last week. So, until we meet again next Friday, I hope you’re all hanging out in the back yard and enjoying these last wonderful Summer days.
I had a really bad idea last week.
But first, a quick digression: Check out this window of W H Smith, the largest English bookstore in Paris, on the Rue de Rivoli (did I mention that it’s in PARIS? As in PARIS, FRANCE?):
Thank you, Carol Gillot of Paris Breakfasts for sending this spiffy photo.
As I post this, Top Cat and I are on the road, taking a little 300-mile mosey around the Delaware Bay area on the east cost.
We left the Isle of Long via the Williamsburg Bridge…
The most beautiful skyline in the world.
…and then we drove down the Garden State Parkway through the Garden State (Surprise! It’s New Jersey!) which is a drive that we love because, for one, the Garden State Parkway…
…is planted with fields of wild cosmos…
…and leads us to Top Cat’s favorite playground…
…Atlantic City. I, too, love AC because I get to say howdy to my favorite feathered friends on the boardwalk:
This is what my feathered friends look like one second after all the french fries that I was feeding them are gone.
Other sights from the Delaware Bay:
Somers Point is NJ’s best kept secret.
Rose-Marsh (not Marsh-Roses, which would make more sense) in Cape May, NJ.
Ochre-colored wooden door with louvres on colonial house in Smyrna, Delaware.
Our hunt for secret gardens took us to the perfectly preserved Revolutionary village of New Castle, Delaware:
But even on a road trip, I haul my Damn Garden Book-in-progress with me:
That’s me, working on the London chapter of The Damn Garden Book from the 16th floor hotel room of The Water Club at Borgata Casino in Atlantic City.
The Damn Garden Book got one step closer to publication this past week. I finally got my first three chapters illustrated and written and I submitted it to my agent — I do not “workshop” my writing; I re-re-re-re-rewrite it until I think it’s 99% of exactly what I want (I never get to 100%) and then I show it to my agent. Her feedback was very positive and she thought the book was ready to submit to Bloomsbury as is. So the manuscript is at my editor’s at Bloomsbury now and as soon as she approves the concept, we’ll negotiate a publication date and voila: the Damn Garden Book will be a reality.
One thing my agent observed was how much my painting has become more sophisticated. Well, I said, that’s what happens when you paint every day — you can’t help but get better. For example, here’s a little tiny illustration that appears in my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam (Bloomsbury, 2008)…it’s on page 45 for those of you reading along.
I drew this little illustration from reference photographs that I’d taken of my old, pre-marriage-to-Top-Cat kitchen:
Photo montage of my dear old kitchen.
I loved my old kitchen. It had a corner, as you can see, that was just right for turning into a shrine to my love of all things Tea. About a year ago I re-did this illustration, expanding it to a full-page illustration. First, I drew it all over again:
And then I painted it from scratch:
I also changed cats — in the first illustration I put my cat Honey on the table — in this new illustration I put Woody Robinson on the table, in his favorite place: with his head under the lampshade.
As I so proudly boasted earlier, when you paint almost every day you can’t help but get better…which brings me to the really bad idea I had. It looks like this:
For a chapter about a rose garden for my Damn Garden Book I got the great idea to paint a dozen rose petals. So I bought a rose bouquet, and I picked off a dozen big petals, and I scattered them on two sheets of watercolor paper. And then I painted them life-sized and exactly as they fell — isn’t that genius? Such authenticity! Such spontaneity! (I had to re-paint the petal down o the bottom there, on the right hand side — that’s a replacement petal taped to the orig. illustration; that “fix” won’t show when it’s scanned for the Damn Garden Book). And then I added text:
Oh, lordy; I think the text here looks awful. AWFUL. And the shape of the text is, in my thrill for painting a perfectly random picture. So I had to make some edits:
I don’t know if you notice, but I had to cut out the petals individually and re-paint their shadows to get them all lit from the same light source.
In the end, I got a much better-looking text lay-out while preserving as much fo the old by-accident composition of rose petals:
But I can not leave you with just these few rose petals. It’s August! My favorite month of the year! So, in honor of August, I’m re-running a favorite post from 2010 that I call: Painting August.
And, finally, we crop it:
So until next Friday, I hope you’re all enjoying the best month of Summer with road trips real and imagined.
Have a fab weekend.