I Could Straighten Everything Out If People Would Only Let Me Be the Boss of Everybody.

Someone has to say it, so it might as well be me: Jeeze. I go away for a year and LOOK at the mess  the world gets itself into. So I’m very happy to be baaaaaaack: Voice of Reason, thy name is Vivian.

Thank you all, Dear Readers, for all your notes last week, welcoming me back to the inter webs.

As per your requests, I will be catching you all up on What I Did on My Year Off, starting today.

One of the things that kept me very, very aggravated busy in 2014 was writing and illustrating the Damn Garden Book. Although I am contractually forbidden from publishing any more than 10% of the content of what is, at this point, the paid-for intellectual property of BloomsburyUSA (YES — they put that in my contract!) I know I’m not flouting my legal obligations to show you these few pages of The Damn Garden Book.

This is Exhibit # 1:

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This book, like my first two, is another  Traveler’s Journal, this one on the Meaning of Life and Gardens.  In it, I travel to thought-provoking gardens far and near; FAR — Rio de Janeiro, Marrakech, Edinburgh, London, Key West, and New Orleans. NEAR —  a Japanese folly garden and a dead poet’s orchard here on my own home turf in Great Gatsby territory on the Isle of Long.

But I start the garden tour in the city were  I have done some of the best gardening in my life. I mean , of course, Paris, The Gardening Capital of the World.

Exhibit #2  is a self portrait, which I call  This is how I do my best “gardening” in Paris:

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Obviously, I’m “gardening” metaphorically. And it’s a rainy day.

 

Both Exhibit #1 and Exhibit #2 are rescues. If you look carefully at Exhibit #1 , you’ll see that the edges of the trees’ foliage casts a shadow. (You can scroll up now. I’ll be still be here when you get back.)

Here’s the story: My big idea for the Damn Garden Book was to immerse my Dear Readers  in the various garden experiences. In order to do that, I had to — cripes — paint full-page pictures, which I am not very good at. In fact, I stink.

I’m a miniaturist for DoG’s sake, but hey, why try to live an artful life if you’re just going to keep on doing what you’ve always been doing? So I tried something new, and painted a lot of full page-size pix, and was extremely impressed by my derring-do. I was much less impressed by the results.

About half of the pix turned out OK.  But the other half looked as if I’d  painted them blindfolded. Or drunk.  I wish!

Most times, I re-paint the pic until I get it right. But sometimes I don’t. Like with Exhibit #1.

Painting those background apartment buildings was sooooo tedious that there was no way I was going to re-paint all those dastardly Juliet balconies. So I just painted new trees on a separate sheet of paper, cut them out, and glued them right on top of the offending verdure. I know! It’s amazing what you can get away with!

Exhibit #2 is also a clever run-around. I compensated for my lack of painting-a-window-that-looks-like-a-window skill by cutting out the window panes of the cafe and pasting  in a separate illustration of a Paris street scene. ***That white goop on the right edge is hiding a mistake I made in painting my shadow.  Computer-machine magic will get rid of the noticeable surface texture when it goes in for production.

In Exhibit #3 we arrive at the gorgeous Paris garden that I think was worth writing 14 pages about:

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Do you recognize it? Here’s a hint: the garden actually is in the shape of a triangle.

Yes, it’s the Square du Vert-Galant on the tip of the Ile de la  Cite!:

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*-*-*-*-

Changing subjects, please consider Exhibit #4, a photo I took on my last visit to the City of Light, in 2013:

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Nice garden!

Here is something that I haven’t  told my editor yet but I’m telling you: I want to  include 6-8 watercolor prints that can be removed from the Damn Garden Book… in other words,  pages that are suitable for framing.  Like, as my gift to my Dear Readers.

One of the subjects I can envision as a suitable for framing is Exhibit #4.

I think the idea of rip-out-able pages is a good one, and I think that if I can pull off painting this charming scene (with enhanced greenery, artistic license, etc.) it could be a collector’s piece. Yes, I said it: Collector’s Piece.

Thoughts? (I enabled Comments!!)

Meanwhile, let’s move on to the Author Photo: As you’ve seen in my previous book jackets, I like to have fun with my Author Photo. No itty bitty postage-stamp size mug shot for me! I want to send a message with my Author Photo, mostly something about how I’m kind of cute.

I was thinking that this photo, taken last September in my favorite cosmo patch along the Garden State Parkway, in New Jersey, near Atlantic City, might do:

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My plan was to photoshop this pic heavily. Add many more cosmos to this field,  swap out my frizzy hair for the hair in this pic (below) (of me on a Good Hair Day):

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But last week, I cut my hair:

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I do not know why I had to show both hands in this selfie.

So back to the drawing table.

By the way, were you wondering, in that Good Hair Day photo,  What’s with the cocker spaniel?

Well, that’s my cocker spaniel, my very own, the one and only Boogie Girl:

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Because another one of the things that I did in my year off that kept me on my toes and put a whammy on my love of sitting around and never leaving the house was I got a DoG. The DoG of my heart, the best damn DoG anyone ever had. She was really something.

Next week: all about the wonderfulness of the Boogie Girl and the havoc her ilk causes in a previously cat-only household.

And when I say “havoc”, I mean it in the most awesome sense of the word.

 

 

Life is Like a Blue Birthday Cake

Since I only bake one cake a year I insist on making it the time-honored olde-fashioned way, same way my ancestors did back in the Olde Country, when we lived in harmony with nature down on the  Olde Estate, down the road from the 7-11 just off Pennsylvania Turnpike exit 8. Here’s how I do it:P1000028

Life is like a bowl of cake batter, and blue food coloring is Science:

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Behold :

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I leave you to come to your own conclusions:

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Pour batter into cake pans, put pans in oven.

Remove pans from oven when batter has finished reincarnating as solid food:

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Yes, Dear Readers, I use a colander as my cake pan cooler because one day I will have reached the Nirvana of Ultimate De-Clutter when I own only 100 pieces of stuff and everything I has to do double-duty.  In the case of the colander, it triples as holy headgear, for Lo, I am a member of the world’s fastest growing carbohydrate based religion, Pastafarianism.

Cooking Tip Most Likely to Make You Go Doh!: The fastest way to bring a stick of frozen butter to “room temperature” is to grate it:

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Life is a like a bowl of butter cream icing, and blue food coloring is all our wishes that eating butter cream icing would be one third of the food pyramid:

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Now, that’s what I call Magical Thinking:

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Pre-cake plate:

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Bottom layer of icing:

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This is the first year that I completely gave up trying to make a decent cake, given that all the blue cakes in my past have turned out hideously. So of course, this happens:

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I know there’s a Life Lesson in there somewhere.  But don’t ask me for it — do I look like Oprah?

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And the champagne wasn’t the least bit like a Slurpee:

P1000061Je suis Charlie.

 

Please Don’t Spoil My Day, I’m Miles Away

Here it is,  your 2015 Champagne-O-Meter!

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Yeah, I know; you expected a bang and all you got was this whimper. And the total re-design of my blog isn’t ready, either. Sorry, but we have to put up with sans-serif font for just a little while longer.

Luckily, after a week of 20 degree weather here on the shores of the Long Island Sound, you know our bubbly will be nice and popsicle-y for when we pop it open for our annual Ugly Cake Contest later today.

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In the meantime, I want to welcome myself back to the interwebworld! I’ve missed you!  And I want to thank all youse who have stopped by to pay a visit! I could use some cheering up!

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I’ve had a terrible, terrible streak of everything-should-revolve-around-me-level of bad luck this year so yesterday, when the Customer Service guy at Staples (His name tag said “Awesome”. Really, it did. ) replied to my customer serve issue with a smile, and says, as if to gladden my day,

“C’est la vie”

something in me snapped.

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Being mistaken for the kind of emotionally well-balanced and friendly person who finds it endearing when some self-appointed Buddha decides that the Customer Service Desk at Staples is the perfect place to be the beacon that shines a little light on my path to enlightenment, well, that does NOT bring out the best in me.

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And After All, I’m Only Sleeping.

One of the things I did, on my year off from blogging, was get a solid “C” in my Anger Management course so, no, the…uh… conversation did not end up the way it usually does, with the guy from Staples threatening to call the cops. But I made sure that the next time he tells a customer “C’est le vie”,  he better be prepared for an ear beating in very loud, at least 70% correctly conjugated, don’t-fuck-with-me French.

Yesterday, the day I wanted to make something special for this Re-Boot Post, things got so bad that I ate cake batter for lunch.

But then, later that evening, when I saw the carrier of the Last Straw heading my way, I made the conscious decision that at that point, all I could do was laugh. That’s how I ended up, doubled over in my driveway at 7:30 PM in the sub-freezing cold, laughing and laughing and laughing about how I had just spent a half hour in the dark and freezing cold FOR NO REASON AT ALL (long story, the LIRR was running late, that kind of thing), laughing and laughing. Seriously. I could not keep a straight face at that point.

Then I went into the house, poured me a glass of wine, and laughed and laughed and laughed some more. That was dinner.

Upshot is: Give me until cocktail hour tea time to do today what I tried, oh, how I tried, to do for you yesterday.

And then we will get the party started!

P.S. HA ha ha ha hahahahahahaha.  The Comments on this post are CLOSED (I closed them when the blog went floringe in 2013) and I can’t OPEN them!!!  Don’t ask me why/how, but whacking the side of my computer doesn’t help.  I would love to hear from you — I’m at vivianswift at yahoo dot com.

 

 

Paws Up!

 

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I wish you happy holidays, Dear Readers,

and a joyful new year!

Meet me back here on

January 16, 2015

when this blog re-boots  for further mountain-making from the molehills of life and art here on the shores of the Long Island Sound.

The thing I’m most looking forward to about my new blog is getting serifs. Oh, how I have missed my serifs on this lousy Atahualpa theme. In 2015 it will be Times New Roman all the way. You have no idea how happy this will make me. Happier than playing Twister with Ryan Gosling, that’s how happy my new serifs will make me.

Here It Is: Your 2014 Champagne-O-Meter

Dear Readers, it’s Tuesday, a day of the week that is worth celebrating. Because if you are like me and see no reason to celebrate End-of-Weekend Sunday or Back-To-The-Grind Monday, then you know how very ready you are to praise the Wine Gods by Tuesday.

Dang. I forgot to put the bubbly in the fridge last night. “Whatever shall I do for a quick chill to ease my desperate  thirst?” I ask myself, since I like my gratification to be as immediate as possible…

This is the snow in my backyard:

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***

This is my Tuesday happiness:

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***

 This is my Tuesday happiness fixing to make me much, much happier, in the snow in my backyard:

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Yeah. It’s been a long, long Winter.

Thank you, Dear Readers one and all, for stopping by my hibernating blog. We’re closing up shop this year, but keep tuning in for a fabulous upcoming announcement!

 

My Favorite Breakfast of the Year

If it’s January 17, it must be left-over birthday cake:

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As you Dear Readers may know, every January 16 I make a blue cake, which I wrote about last year in the post called

Blue in a Good Way:

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This is my winning entry in the Ugly Cake Contest of 2013.

And I wrote about in 2011 in the post called

Born at the Right Time:

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If you want, you can click onto the links which are highlighted in *blue* to read the entire posts of which I speak.

And in 2010 I put in the post called

The Breakfast of Champions:

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This year I made my bluest cake ever…

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…thanks to the vat of precious blue food coloring that my dear Top Cat found on the inter webs. And, thanks to Dear Readers Maryanne and Jeanie, this year I also got a shot of my all-important Vitamin C[hampagne] in blue. (People, this stuff came all the way from Reims, France!) BTW, Penelope wants to thank you, Maryanne and Jeanie, too, for her collateral gift:

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That is, she thanks you for the box that the champagne came in.

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Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who sent birthday wishes.

Yes, me and this blog are still in hibernation, but please feel free to hang out and browse the archives.

How to Paint an Entire Fall Landscape in One Single Leaf

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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)…

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…and still keep all the other cells clean and bright and not muddied-up as you add to the leaf (cell by cell):

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I’ll just let you watch for the next few frames as I paint in details, cell by cell:

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I have to say that I find Fall Leaf Painting to be very relaxing, especially when I add the tiniest details.

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The great thing about Fall Leaf Painting…

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…is that in the end, you have a leaf that will never fade or crumble or get disgusting looking (tea bag included for scale):

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This is what happens to your Fall Leaf the day after you finish painting it, poor thing.

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 unusually ripe oak leaf this year and was able to paint it before the poor thing went the way of all fallen leaves.

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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.

 

 

Nothing Rhymes With Orange

We love Pumpkin Time here on the shores of the Long Island Sound.

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I detect a slight flaw in the Pumpkin Placement Plan here.

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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.

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Here are some pictures of City Orange from my outing yesterday:

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Upper West Side brownstone.

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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!

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Saki basement bar in the East Village.

And what Secret Garden would be complete without a touch of orange?

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Which reminds me, we are painting a Secret Garden today:

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Of course, it all starts with a pencil sketch and masking fluid:P1190993

I use folded sheets of scrap paper to cover up bits of the picture before I begin to paint the gravel:

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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:

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This is not really my Dental Hygine Toothbrush. This is my Dedicated Paint Flicking Toothbrush.

Let dry, and voila:

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Here’s a painting tip: I save the bottle caps of Top Cat’s favorite GatorAid to use as mixing pans.

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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.

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Here is where I add some detail to the background wash:

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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:

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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:

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I am thinking that for this picture I want to leave the foliage looking very watercolory, like this:

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So far, I am quite happy with the way this picture is going. So now I start to add plants:

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I’m being careful not to over-do it:P1200010

But here is where I ruined it all:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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You can compare for yourself:

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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:

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Twilight in Pumpkin Time.

I love the low light of a Fall evening:

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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:

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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:

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The lights that are seen from a distance:P1200145

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, and 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 doesn’t go away forever. It only goes floringe.

Meaning, there’s always a light left on. You’ll always be able to find your way to my door.

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How to Paint a Secret Garden

This is why I am illustrating my Damn Garden Book instead of photographing it:

Joann's Secret Grden

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:

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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:

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I apply masking fluid with a tooth pick:

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And I use my second-fattest paint brush to lay in some sunlight:

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In this illustration I will be working mostly from the back to the front, laying in background foliage before I hit the foreground:

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P1190949I’m adding detail now:

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Working the middle ground now:

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Something told me that I could stop here…

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…but a pain in the ass little voice urged me to go on, put in some really dark, dark background:

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Tree branch-painting time:

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Before removal of the masking fluid:

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After removal of the masking fluid:

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Painting in the blank bits left by the removal of the masking fluid:

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Finished:

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(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).

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This (below) is what is at the far end of that little walkway into my neighbor’s Secret Garden:

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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?

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I took another look at it and found that it was lacking in narrative. So I futzed around with it and…

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…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…

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…Giverny…Majorelle…

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… and they never get it right.

Illustrated Garden Book to the rescue.

Feel free to discuss the awesomeness of illustration over photography.

 

Here Kitty, Kitty: How to Paint a Cat Part Three

So first, we drew le chat reduced to its lumpy, adorable snowman-like proportions:

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Then I found an image of a really cuuuuute kitty on the internets:

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She is of course la Lizzie Cosette of the marmeladegypsy blog.  I drew Lizzie in snowman-esq style, just to rough out her shape:

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I filled in a few shadows, to familiarize  myself with her markings and stuff..

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…and then I traced the bare outlines of that sketch onto watercolor paper:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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I painted the eyes in and, before the paint got too dry…

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…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:

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For the inside of Miss Lizzie’s ear, I used a very pale blueish-grey:

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I used the same blueish-grey to paint Lizzie’s chin and I let it dry….P1190870

…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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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I’m not painting the whiskers — I don’t have a brush fine enough and also, I like the look of pencil here:

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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:

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That’s better. Also, I notice that I’ve made one ear too pointy, so I go back and add some round-ness:

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And I’m going to add a sliver of height to her darling little head between them adorable ears:

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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):

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Then I beef up her Cleopatra eye liner:

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Add the whiskers back in:

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And DONE.

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Smooch, smooch, smooch. I love kitties.